Thursday, January 19, 2006


Its clear to me now that this blog needs some more heresy on it. Let me take a crack at some ideas that have been wobbling around in my head. It deals with the person and nature of Jesus Christ. These are very mysterious waters in which to wade. But I don't mind, at least for just a few moments, diving into the mystery of Christ.

Nestorius took beating for condemning the phrase "theotokos." This was the claim that Mary, the mother of Jesus was the "God-bearer." He preferred "christotokos." He wanted his fellow Constantinopleans to see Mary as the Christ-bearer rather than the God-bearer. His reasoning makes sense. Who wants a God who is "born?" Afterall, God is eternal, omnipotent and Creator. How is possible for him to be born?

Now there is a lot of mumbo-jumbo about Jesus having two persons and two natures that Nestorius spewed out that I don't agree with. Orthodoxy didn't agree with him either. But what if he was right about this one point? What if Mary really wasn't the God-bearer but the Christ-bearer?

In my admittedly limited understanding of the incarnation, it seems that the all-powerful God of creation "self-limited" in order to enter time, history and humanity. Now while I agree that that incarnation was full and complete, I am not so sure the incarnate Logos (A.K.A. Jesus Christ) was "fully" God.

Before you bust out the timber and burn me at the stake, let me explain. I believe the necessary language for Jesus Christ is that he was "truly" human and "truly" divine. But I believe that the incarnation necessitated a self-limitation on behalf of God. And only God in all his power could limit Himself. And yet I believe he did do that in the second person of the Trinity in the incarnation.

Since humanity in its original form was created in the image of God, it makes sense that the Logos could become human by way of self-limitation. I don't, however, think God retained his transcendent powers as the person Jesus. I believe his abilities to seemingly read minds, heal sicknesses, walk on water and the like are not so much a product of Him enacting His Godly powers as much as the result of "perfected humanity in perfect relationship to the Father." The miracles Jesus did on earth we too could do in a state of perfection and in perfect relationship to the Father. The only problem being that we will have neither until we are in eternity.

So in the Father we have fullness of the powers of God, yet in Jesus we have the fullness of God in his self-limiting form. For me, the language that communicates this the best is to say that Jesus was "truly" God rather then saying he was "fully" God. This is why I am comfortable with "christotokos" as the best definition of Mary the mother of Jesus. To say that Mary gave birth to God could be misconstrued to mean that Mary gave birth to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The fullness of God is expressed in all three persons of the Trinity simultaneously. When we speak of the birth of Christ, we are really only dealing with the birth of the second person of the trinity, the Son, the Logos.

And further, when the Logos became Jesus Christ in history, he entered humanity through self-limitation. Thus, it seems more correct for me to claim that Mary was the bearer of Christ than it does for me to claim that she was the bearer of God. At most I could say that Mary is the bearer of the self-limited, second person of the Triune God. But to say that she was the God-bearer seems irresponsible. IMO, Mary did not bear the "fullness" of God but the "trueness" of God by giving birth to Jesus Christ. I would like to hear your thoughts on it. I know what I just wrote is jumbled so please clear up or correct my arguement where it is necessary.


At 5:04 PM, Blogger gar said...

Coward that I am, I need a few beers before I can repond to that one ...

At 4:35 PM, Blogger The Table Guy said...

Gteat thoughts mark. If my hand weren't freezing, I might type a little more. :)

Can't wait to see you...

At 4:39 PM, Blogger Jeff Mount said...

Unless you believe in strict determinism (in which God would dictate every occurrance, past, present and future), then one would have to admit that God self-limits in more than just the case of the incarnation, but rather each and every time he interacts with human free will.

And if that's true, and your post is also true about Christ's self-limiting nature did not make him "fully" God, then at no time and in no way is any part of God "fully" God, on the basis of self-limitation.

And again, I can see that being true only if there were a temporal reality we were dealing with. But just as Mary entered into interaction with an eternal reality when she was obedient to the message God sent her through the angel, so we enter an eternal truth anytime we experience God in a situation where our will is engaged.

The simplest way to put my thought is this: On this earth, in this temporal reality, yes, Mary only bore Christ, and did not in fact bear the fullness of God as this world can comprehend the fullness of God.

But concurrently with this bearing of a self-limited Christ, she also bore the fullness of God, in an eternity where the reality and fullness of the persons of the Trinity cannot be logically seperated, categorized, or understood.

I'm interested to know what the arguments were that condemned Nestorius on this point, or whether his main issue with the essence of Christ lost him credibility and people stopped listening to him altogether.

At 2:59 PM, Blogger Mark said...

Nestorius said much more than I am saying here and thus wandered into heresy. I will try not to go into all of that here.

As far as Jesus Christ not being fully God, I think it is his self-limitation combined with his incarnation and his only being the second person of the trinity that does it for me.

God's self-limitation is unique in Christ because of the incarnation. While I agree this isn't God's only act of self-limitation, it certain is uniquely his greatest act of self-limitation. To become a part of His own creation certainly requires a unique self-limitaion as opposed to just interacting with His creation.

Also, when God self-limits as he interacts with the free will of his creation, it is in all three persons of the trinity. The incarnation uniquely deals only with the self-limitation of the second person of the trinity. I don't think orthodoxy would affirm that God the Father or the Holy Spirt died on the cross.

This is why I believe the early Father chose to say that Jesus Christ was "truly" human and "truly" divine. Following this language, they should have been able to affirm Mary as the "Christotokos" rather than "Theotokos." But, IMO, the backdrop of political manipulation and fear of the Nestorian heresy kept them from doing so.

At 3:23 PM, Blogger Jeff Mount said...

Well, those same church fathers would easily condemn us Protestants for much more blatant acts of heresy than that.

I agree that God's self-limitation in Christ is unique. But today, in this present age, can we really say that it is Jesus who convicts us of sin? Or the Father who gives us words to say when people press us? No, it's the Spirit. So, as in the incarnation there was a unique act of self-limitation, so now there is when it comes to the Spirit at work in the world around us.

I know you don't think this, but I think a lot of the wording in your post lent itself to perceiving Christ as 1/3 of the whole of God.

I may just be nit-picking. But it was one of the few blogs where you specifically requested feedback :)

At 10:36 PM, Blogger bargar said...

I couldn't find a translation that says that "in Christ all the [trueness] of the Deity lives in bodily form", but I'm not a greek kind of a guy, so I guess I'll go with the common translations. Interesting suggestion. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on Col 2:9, though.

Thanks for going out on a limb.

Sorry for being an ass - It's my nature!!

At 12:23 AM, Blogger Mark said...

Jeff and Bargar,
Indeed you both bring up good points. And as admitted in my post, anytime we wander into these mysterious waters we run the risk of drowning.

As far as Col. 2:9, I don't disagree that Jesus was the fullness of God "in bodily form." But as soon as Paul added that last phrase, he points to God's need to self-limit in the incarnation. Now if there was something other than God himself which limited Jesus Christ, then he wouldn't be "truly" God. But God was the one who limited Himself as He entered His own creation.

Thus, in the pre-incarnate Logos, I don't believe the second person of the Trinity was limited. But I do believe that in the incarnation, the Logos became the man history knows as Jesus of Nazareth and who we know as Jesus the Christ. And I believe Jesus was truly human, limited as a truly human person would be.

I do agree with Paul in Col. 2:9, that Jesus was the fullness of God according to his essence but not according to his person. In the Trinity we have one essence and three persons. In the incarnation of Christ, I think we see in Jesus the fullness of the being or essence of God but a limitation in his person. The second person of the Trinity in eternity, the Logos, self-limited as He became the second person of the Trinity in history, Jesus of Nazareth.

But alas, much like Nestorius, the more I articulate my view, the closer I dance on the line of heresy. I hope I was clear enough in my language this time around.

At 12:49 PM, Blogger Jeff Mount said...

Mark, wasn't your MDiv concentration in liturgical dance?

I know I don't feel like I need to correct your speculations. Usually I don't even know if I understand someone correctly until I try to criticize someone.

At 9:27 PM, Blogger gar said...

Protestants are always trying to define every detail. DOH! Wait ... that's the Catholics!

Perhaps there's not much difference after all ...

At 11:34 PM, Blogger Mark said...

I learned a long time ago in the days of the big wheel that one should always take to heart the life lessons shared from someone who rides their bicycle to work. :)

At 1:27 AM, Blogger Ali said...

G'day Mark.

How close is this to your understanding?

In the same way an adult person learning (for example) English is unable to express everything he is capable of expressing because he is limited by the amount of English he knows, the Son of God was (self-)limited by His flesh. Therefore, Jesus is the fullness of God expressing Himself in a necessarily limited way through the flesh.

As God incarnate, the Son of God expressed Himself through His flesh. In other words, He expressed His Godness in humanese.

If that is your understanding, those are my thoughts too. However, I would go further.

Take another analogy. Many people have gifts and talents that they are unaware of until they put their hand to it. And even then, they need to develop those gifts. Yet, undiscovered gifts are still present.

In the same way, I believe that Jesus was fully God, but human growth only expressed certain aspects of that Godness as different stages of life were reached. This does not mean Jesus was not fully God; it means Jesus was fully God but limited in expression.

I cannot see, therefore, that this would mean that Nestorius was right. In our relationships with others we do not express the totality of ourselves - we show different sides/utilise different areas of our personalities in different situations. That does not make us less "fully" ourselves at those times.

Mary was the "God-bearer" because Jesus was fully God, even if He didn't express all of His Godness through His flesh.

(And yes, I agree that the mechanics of Jesus' relationship with His Father was like any human's can be - that's part of His self-limitation as you have said. See, I don't totally disagree.)

At 11:54 PM, Blogger Mark said...

Thanks for your thoughts. I think we can agree that Jesus was fully the self-limited second person of the trinity.
Where I hesitate with Jesus being called the fullness of God rather than truly God is that He was not the fullness of the Trinity embodied in flesh. He was only the fullness of the second person of the Trinity. This is why I lean toward Jesus as truly God rather than fully God. And also why I lean toward Mary as the Christ-bearer.

At 9:35 AM, Blogger Doctor Clockwork said...

Wow! What a discussion.

Well, Mark, in short, I definitely appreciate your distinction that Jesus was 'truly' God and that we need not necessarily claim that he was 'fully' God; Not that this claim would be inaccurate in the way that Ali rightly pointed out but that it is unncessarily convoluted.

At 6:23 PM, Blogger Ali said...

At the risk of making everything more convoluted - especially so many weeks (and months?) after your comments...

You make a very interesting point, one that makes me realise that I am much more prone to think of the Trinity as Three rather than One. And while I can't at this stage answer the distinction you make between "truly God" and "fully God", I'm not convinced that your bent toward calling Mary the "Christ-bearer" rather than the "God-bearer" bears out :).

I see it like this: God the Father is also only one member of the Trinity, and therefore by your definition is "truly God" but not "fully God". (The same with the Spirit). And yet the most common appellation for God the Father in the Bible is "God".

Therefore, my contention is this: Calling Mary the "God-bearer" does not necessarily communicate that she is bearing the whole Trinity, because the word "God" can apply to each member of the Trinity separately.

But calling Mary the "Christ-bearer" does not necessarily communicate divinty, because the word "Christ" is a term that does not necessarily involve divinity.

The reason the term "God-bearer" was adopted, as I understand it, was to emphasise the incredible and mindboggling truth that - despite the fact that "God is eternal, omnipotent and Creator" - God was born - God, not just a human Messiah. It is meant to be confronting; it is meant to seem incongruous. To use "Christ-bearer" does not emphasise the divine side of the One being born, so "God-bearer" - whether referring to Jesus as "fully God" or as you prefer, "truly God" - is preferable.

So you see, I can't see your concerns about the phrase "God-bearer" as really "bearing" up :) under scrutiny.


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