A Nest of Nestorians?

A few weeks ago, I preached on the importance of the Definition of Chalcedon to a right celebration of Christmas. At the same time, Gregory Shane Morris reposted something he had written defending a Protestant use of the title “Mother of God” as applied to Mary. One of my parishioners posted a clip from my sermon in the comments over at his post, one of his commenters called my reading of Chalcedon “Nestorian,” and so I thought I should say something.

Now Nestorianism emphasizes the distinctiveness of the two natures (divine and human) in Jesus such that they are tied together merely in appearance. The orthodox position is that there is a personal hypostatic union of the natures in the person of the Lord Jesus, but without confusing, mingling, or confounding the natures. One person, not a schizophrenic, with two natures. The word hypostases is the Greek word for person, and thus it is that anyone who affirms the hypostatic union, as I do, is therefore not a Nestorian.

But what does it mean to not confound the two natures? Let me repeat something I said in the sermon, and then apply it to a mistake our Lutheran brothers make. This is not to pick on them, but it highlights the issues nicely.

That which is predicated of one nature (Deity) may be predicated of the person (the Lord Jesus). That which is predicated of the other nature (humanity) can also be predicated of the person (the Lord Jesus). Thus we can say the Lord Jesus is Almighty God. Jesus is Jehovah. And we can also say that characteristics of finite humanity can be applied to Jesus, without qualification. He slept because He was tired. He ate because He was hungry. He walked because He needed to get there.

But that which is predicated of one nature cannot be predicated of the other nature. That way lies madness. Infinitude is not finite. 

In Luther’s defense of his view of the Lord’s Supper, one of his arguments rested on the ubiquity (omnipresence) of Christ’s body. His body was present “in, with, and under” the bread and wine because His body was present everywhere. But this contradicts the caution of Chalcedon. An attribute of Deity (omnipresence) cannot be predicated of Christ’s human body. Christ’s human body is exalted in the heavens, but it is finite. It is there and not here.

Now use of this argument against a Lutheran understanding of the Supper depends in no way upon a Nestorian reading of Chalcedon.

Now, on to theotokos, the phrase used in Chalcedon to describe Mary, mother of our Lord. Here it is:

“. . . but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer”

So Morris is exactly correct that “God-bearer” (theotokos) is not about Mary — it concerns Jesus. The interest was to preserve the Nicene confession of the Deity of Christ. Yes, and a thousand amens. So then, do I confess that Mary is theotokos, God-bearer? I most certainly do — as regards His manhood.  This is not a Nestorian reading. It is more like what I like to describe as a diagram-the-sentence-reading. 

So then, Mary is the mother of the one who is God. She is not the source or font of Deity, which would be absurd to confess, a point which Morris also affirms. But it is not so absurd that Chalcedon declined to guard against it—as “regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages.” His Deity is from His Father; His humanity from His mother

I mean, you could tell at a glance. He had His mother’s eyes.