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A History Of The Church In Seven Books by Socrates

NESTORIUS had brought with him from Antioch a presbyter named Anastasius, for whom he had the highest esteem, and whom he consulted in the management of his most important affairs. This Anastasius preaching one day in the church said, “Let no one call Mary Theotocos: for Mary was but a woman; and it is impossible that God should be born of a woman.” These words created a great sensation, and troubled many both of the clergy and laity; they having been heretofore taught to acknowledge Christ as God, and by no means to separate his humanity from his divinity on account of the economy of incarnation. This they conceived was inculcated by the apostle when he said, “Yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh; yet now henceforth know we him no more.” And again, “Wherefore, leaving the word of the beginning of Christ, let us go on unto perfection.” While great offence was taken in the church, as we have said, at what was thus propounded, Nestorius endeavoured to establish Anastasius’s proposition: and in his desire to shelter from reprobation the man for whom he had so exalted an opinion, he delivered several public discourses on the subject, in which he not only rejected the epithet Theotocos, but involved the whole question in fresh grounds of controversy. Then indeed the discussion which agitated the whole church, resembled the struggle of combatants in the dark, all parties uttering the most confused and contradictory assertions. The general impression was that Nestorius was tinetured with the errors of Paul of Samosata and Photinus, and was desirous of foisting on the church the blasphemous dogma that the Lord is a mere man; and so great a clamour was raised by the contention, that it was deemed requisite to convene a general council to take cognizance of the matter in dispute. Having myself perused the writings of Nestorius, I shall candidly express the conviction of my own mind concerning him: and as in entire freedom from personal antipathies, I have already alluded to his faults, I shall in like manner be unbiassed by the criminations of his adversaries, to derogate from his merits. I cannot then concede that he was either a follower of the heretics with whom he was thus classed, or that he denied the Divinity of Christ: but he seemed scared at the term Theotocos, as though it were some terrible phantom. The fact is, the causeless alarm he manifested on this subject, just exposed his grievous ignorance: for instead of being a man of learning, as his natural eloquence caused him to be considered, he was in reality disgracefully illiterate. His conscious readiness of expression led him to contemn the drudgery of an accurate examination of the ancient expositors, and puffed him up with a vain confidence in his own powers. Now he was evidently unacquainted with the fact, that in the first catholic epistle of John 4:2, 3), it was written in the ancient copies, “Every spirit that separates Jesus, is not of God.” The mutilation of this passage is attributable to those who desired to separate the Divine nature from the human economy: or to use the very language of the early interpreters, some persons have corrupted this epistle, aiming at “separating the manhood of Christ from his Deity.” But the humanity is united to the Divinity in the Saviour, so as to constitute but one person. Hence it was that the ancients, emboldened by this testimony, scrupled not to style Mary Theotocos. Eusebius Pamphilus in his third book of the Life of Constantine thus writes: “Emanuel submitted to be born for our sake; and the place of his nativity is by the Hebrews called Bethlehem. Wherefore the devout empress Helen adorned the place of accouchement of the God-bearing virgin with the most splendid monuments, decorating that sacred spot with the richest ornaments.” Origen also in the third volume of his commentaries on the apostolic epistle to the Romans, gives an ample exposition of the sense in which the term Theotocos is used. It is therefore obvious that Nestorius had very little acquaintance with the old theologians, and for that reason, as I observed, objected to that expression only: for his own published Homilies fully exonerate him from all identification with Paul of Samosata’s impious assertion of the mere manhood of Christ. In these discourses he no where destroys the proper Personality of the Word of God; but on the contrary invariably maintains that He has an essential and distinct existence. Nor does he ever deny his subsistence as Photinus and Paul of Samosata did, and as the Manichæans and followers of Montanus have also dared to do. I can speak thus positively respecting Nestorius’s opinion, partly from having myself read his own works, and partly from the assurances of his admirers. But this idle contention of his has produced no slight ferment in the religious world.








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