Theotokos Reexamined

Any defender of the Council of Ephesus is quick to point out that a denial of the use of the term “theotokos” to the Virgin Mary is Nestorian.  Theotokos, popularly translated “Mother of God,” is used to force opponents into a dilemma:  If Mary is indeed the Mother of God, then why do you not venerate her?  If theotokos does not designate such, on the other hand, then Jesus was just a man, not God.

It’s a sharp argument.  Some well-meaning Protestants have recognized a problem with this argument, but generally lack the conceptual tools to deal with it.  Drake’s recent writings have demonstrated the ambiguity that early church theologians had concerning the word “God.”   In responding to Anchoretic claims and apologists, I will demonstrate that they, too, are concealing an ambiguity on this term.

If Anchorites want to gloss Theotokos as “Mother of God,” then they need to abandone some of their triadology.   For according to numerous Orthodox scholars (Fr John Behr, Fr. Thomas Hopko), the term “God” refers primarily to the hypostasis of the Father.  Worse, it is the evil, sinful West that glosses “God” to refer to the divine nature.

Therefore, the following options are available:

  1. Stop using this line of apologetics against Protestants.
  2. Accept Augustine’s reconstruction of Trinitarian theology (begin with the essence, not the hypostases; it’s not too big a jump.  You are already doing it with Theotokos).

11 comments on “Theotokos Reexamined

  1. olivianus says:

    Good extension of the triadology issues. However, i will say that i do believe the substance of theotokos that mary was indeed the mother of a divine person, not a human person or a human nature only.

  2. Benjamin P. Glaser says:

    Don;t know where else to put this so I’ll just comment here. Getting back into reading Gordon Clark. I know all the caricatures of the Scripturalist position, but as you know the caricatures of Clark are pretty ridiculous when compared to Clark’s actual writings. I have finished Gary Crampton’s book and just completed Intro to Christian Philosophy and Religion, Reason, and Revelation. Where should I go next?

  3. Evan says:

    “For according to numerous Orthodox scholars (Fr John Behr, Fr. Thomas Hopko), the term “God” refers primarily to the hypostasis of the Father.”

    This claim also bears the seed of Arianism. The semi-Arian Drake “olivianus” Shelton, who won’t admit he’s a semi-Arian, is an example of where this goes.

  4. Eric Castleman says:

    Saying that the term God is “primarily” to the person of the Father, doesn’t mean “exclusively” to the person of the Father.

    • Right, because Father implies a Son. As Basil pointed out, there is a certain taxonomy involved. Throwing around phrases like “Mother of God” threatens that taxonomy, though.

      I believe Mary brought forth a divine person. I don’t say Mother of God because Mary didn’t primarily bring forth the divine essence.

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