A couple weeks ago at our business meeting we had some good discussion about the Creed of Chalcedon (451), specifically regarding its statement that Jesus "was born of the virgin Mary, the mother of God, according to the manhood." I'd like to give a little more information here on the blog, starting with a statement from Philip Schaff, the eminent 19th century church historian.
In his work The Creeds of Christendom, Schaff had this to say about this description of Mary as theotokos. First, he explained the original intent of the term.
the Bringer-forth of God,...is directed against Nestorius, and was
originally not so much to exalt the Virgin Mary, as
to assert the true divinity of Christ and the realness of
Next, he noted how the term is used in context.
"It is immediately after
qualified by the phrase
), in distinction from
). This is a very important limitation, and necessary
to guard against Mariolatry, and the heathenish, blasphemous, and contradictory notion that the uncreated,
eternal God can be born in time.
Third, he explained the importance of the assertion that Mary was the bearer of God. This is really the heart of the matter, so I have put it in bold.
"Mary was the mother not merely of the human nature of Jesus of
Nazareth, but of the theanthropic person of Jesus Christ; yet not of his eternal Godhead (the
), but of his incarnate person, or the Logos
united to humanity (the
Schaff illustrates this by looking at Christ's crucifixion.
"In like manner, the subject of the
Passion was the theanthropic person; yet not according to his divine nature, which in itself is
incapable of suffering, but according to his human nature, which was the organ of suffering.
Last, given the history of the church since the time of Chalcedon, Schaff gives a warning."There is no
doubt," he says, that terms like this "have greatly
(This work is available online here.)
To sum up, the question behind the term theotokos is, "Who did Mary give birth to?" The answer is that she gave birth to the God-man Jesus Christ. She did not give birth to merely a human nature, for Jesus Christ is one person "to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably."