Sunday, April 26, 2009

Slouching Towards Nestorius

In attempting to familiarize myself with the modern crop of TV preachers, I've noticed a few buzz words that come up a lot. Everybody is "sowing seeds" and "reaping harvests," for example. You also have a lot of "anointing" and "covenant" talk. These were concepts not really mentioned (that I recall) by the preachers I knew, whether in my sojourns to Baptist churches with my family or in my casual contacts with Jerry Falwell or Walter Martin.

The one that I've been mulling over a lot lately, though, is "Jesus was God in the flesh," or some paraphrasing thereof. Of course, there's a perfectly ok way of saying this. The more I watch these guys, the more I'm convinced that these preacher folks don't mean what John was talking about. When they say "God in the flesh," they really mean that God came down and, rather than uniting Himself in a human nature with a human soul and will, He put on a man-suit of flesh. Jesus's humanity, in other words, was just having a body, rather than actually "being" human.

We've seen this before. Over 1000 years before, but it's still Nestorianism. This was the heresy condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431. You may also know this as the Council that declared the Blessed Mother as Theotokos (God-Bearer) since she bore not only a human man-suit, but a single divine person, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

I wonder if this sort of thinking is linked to Protestant rejection of Marian dogmas.

As with most heresies, one bad idea usually leads to all sorts of worse ideas down the road. One of which is the idea of "penal substitution," which I have heard taught in Protestant circles. Basically, it means that Christ's atonement was by His own damnation. Damnation, of course, means total separation of God, which is impossible to claim and still maintain any belief in the Trinity. When I've heard this in the past, it's usually been with the idea that Christ, as God, didn't suffer in hell, but His flesh did. So we ditch either the hypostatic union or the Trinity. Take your pick.

Imagine my surprise when I find out that this thread of Nestorianism runs all the way back to the Reformers. Thanks to Nick for assembling these quotes.

I'm now going to be watching for signs of this on my preacher shows to see how many of them are denying the Trinity. We've talked before about the new emergence of anti-Trinitarian thought. Looks like it might be even more widespread than I figured.


Nick said...


Thanks for posting about this. This is a serious issue which has unfortunately not been discussed for a long time. I actually go more into the Nestorianism issue in my Penal Substitution debate.

I found this post because I've been doing a search for "penal substitution" on Google's Blog Search and found a bunch of Protestant blogs discussing it.

Quote: "So we ditch either the hypostatic union or the Trinity. Take your pick."

That's right, you see it very clearly. It should be a basic Christian principle, if a Christological heresy is arising due to a doctrine, you should think twice about accepting it. Unfortunately, presupposing Sola Fide violates this very principle.

Bob said...

Historically Puritanism did slouch into Arianism or Nestorianism by the late 17th or eary 18th century. Perhaps that is because Sola Scriptura also allows all old questions to be reopened.

Anyway English Dissent was very Unitarian after the Restoration. If it's happening now I wouldn't be surprised

Nathan B. Spooner said...

So What is it with Nestorius?

Discussions: Laura Abate and Nathan Spooner

Nestorius (Νεστόριος; c. 386 – 450) became the Archbishop of Constantinople in 428. Three years later he was condemned as a heretic. The General Council at Ephesus, at Pentecost, condemned him in 431 AD and sent him off to the Libyan Desert to expire. In his name, the world’s greatest evangelistic outreach florished and still exists in the Syriac liturgy in the Church of East.

The Nestorian Monument, erected in 781 in Xi’an, China documents 150 years of history of early Christianity in China.

Nestorius claimed that Mary should not be called the mother of God. He tried to understand/explain how it could be that the creator sent its self to earth in the form of Jesus and that Jesus and the creator are essentially one being, one entity.

What happened? Did he get it all wrong? Did his position make sense? Did he have a clear explanation of the relation of the three persons of the trinity?

What do you think?

The extremely difficult question at issue here is basically,
What is the relationship of the eternal with the temporal?
That is to say:
-The creator: all powerful, all knowing, omniscient and omnipresent.
-The earthly person: a temporary, fleeting, physical entity.

How can one become the other?
How can they be the same?

If we call Mary the mother of the creator, does that not mean she is also of the same substance?

Could we establish they are the same elemental being??

As for Mary, how can a woman give birth to a person infinitely older than herself?? And so if Jesus is the eternal one, then how could Mary give birth to the one who predates her?

How do you answer that one?

Since God the Creator is eternal and predates human birth, then how can Mary, a human, bear God the Creator who is older than she?

Another way to ask: How can a mortal being give birth to an eternal being that has no beginning?

Now one might just say that the creator is perfectly capable of emerging through a woman’ womb if the creator so desires. Yet can this make sense in simple terms that we humans can understand?

Is anyone listening?

Laura Abate, I know you’re out there. Where do we go from here?

Hello Nathan,
Thank God for Nestorius who was courageous and thoughtful. Throughout history and today people are persecuted for standing up for the truth.

Although as you say the Creator is perfectly capable of doing anything He wants which usually goes beyond our understanding. Nowhere in the Bible does it speak of Mary being divine yet the Catholics created the idea that she is divine. She did not remain a virgin. Was Jesus born from a virgin? I believe so.

The trinity is a mystery. Why cannot the creator God express Himself as a man? The sameness question may be one of semantics in that rather than being the same one is an expression of the other. People on LSD will have experiences of being one with a tree, God or another infinite entity. Even that term infinite entity is somewhat contradictory.

Mother of the Creator is a contradiction b/c creator means the force/presence before anything. Jesus is the eternal one yet he did live on Earth only 33 years. Mary is also referred to as the mother of God. Jesus is human and God at the same time so b/c of His humanity and divinity Mary did function as His mother. Still she is not a God-mother or mother-God.

Come, let gather together and contemplate these great questions and ponder the mysteries of life and beyond.


© Used with permission of the authors.

Published in "Voices from the Arroyo"