Well, Christmas is coming up. Christmas is the day we Christians celebrate the incarnate God. St Nicholas’s glory was on Dec. 6, though. But St Nicholas also showcases quite well what the Christian attitude regarding Christmas is. He is highly noted for actually having broken out into a fist-fight at the Council of Nicaea in 325, A.D. with the arch-heretic Arius who denied the deity of Christ. On Christmas, Christians celebrate so much about the incarnate God that often times it is neglected what other theological significances there occur on this Holy Day. Specifically, we see light coming into the world which is why Dec. 25 is the day of choice for the Church to celebrate the birthday of Christ. It is reasonable to presume Christ himself was born on Dec. 25 regardless but the actual date is relatively unknown. It is reasonable to presume this because John’s Gospel portrays the incarnate Word becoming flesh as “light coming into the world” (John 1:9-11). This is the light that was at the beginning and by God’s side when it was proclaimed, “Let there be light!” (Gen. 1:3) This is the light that was not just merely by God’s side but was in equi-divinity, fully God, true God of true God, true light of true light, with the Father before all creation (John 1:1-2, Creed of Nicaea-Constantinople). It is no accident that in the Church calendar, St Nicholas is celebrated just three weeks before as a fore-runner to this light coming into the world. The man who so defended the “true light of true light”.
But what I see from trolls quite often is a denial of another Christmas reality. That is, that the maternity of Mary is spit upon. The entire Christmas story starts with a young girl named Mary of whom an Archangel comes to visit. This Archangel is named Gabriel and he proclaims to her–“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28) Mary is announced she will bear a child named Jesus and the incarnation waits upon her submission to the angel’s call. Should she say “no” and deny this, then we have no Saviour and her role in the divine economy is obsolete. Here, the maternity of the Virgin is announced. And when she accepts the angel’s call, she rushes to her cousin Elisabeth who proclaims to her, “Mother of my Lord!” (Luke 1:43)
Here is where the trolls have encountered a lot of problems and they haven’t really given a satisfactory answer to the reality. Mary is giving birth to the incarnate God. In 431 A.D., a heretic named Nestorius ferociously opposed St Cyril’s dogmatic proclamations of Mary’s divine maternity stating Mary was not Theotokos but Christokos. The first objection I’ve met is that Mary is to be declared “Theotokos” which differentiates from “Mater Dei” because Theotokos means “God-bearer”. This objection falls flat based entirely on the proper understanding of Greek iconography and the Latin understanding of the term “Mater Dei” as well as the proper translation (contrary to that particular trolls preferences of what he thinks the Greek means) of “Theotokos”. The term “Theotokos” is more precisely translated as “God-birthgiver” and not “God-bearer”. The one is much more explicit. Literally, God came forth from the Virgin’s womb, not merely passed through it.
If anyone does not believe that Holy Mary is the Mother of God, he is severed from the Godhead. If anyone should assert that He passed through the Virgin as through a channel, and was not at once divinely and humanly formed in her (divinely, because without the intervention of a man; humanly, because in accordance with the lawsof gestation), he is in like manner godless. If any assert that the Manhood was formed and afterward was clothed with the Godhead, he too is to be condemned. Gregory the Theologian, Letters, Div. I, To Cedonius the Priest Against Apollinarius
The term Theotokos refers most specifically to the significance of the means by which God was born of Mary. In other words, that Mary gave birth to God is more explicit than just merely stating Mary is the “mother of God”. Theotokos is a more emphatic term than just simply Meter Theou which shows up a lot in Byzantine iconography. What Theotokos signifies is that God came into the womb of Mary and was divinely shaped in the womb of Mary for nine months and that when Christ was born into the world, a mother who had invested nine months of pregnancy carrying and witnessing a child developing in her womb all this time gave birth to the God-man. Meter Theou (Mother of God) is much less of an emphatic term to use. Mater Dei was the best equivalent to Theotokos that the Latin West could come up with. There isn’t a great equivalent of words to God-birthgiver in Latin as there is in Greek so to use the argument that Mary should only be considered the Theotokos is equivalent to saying “Mother of God” is a term that is an embarrassment to the English language and does not fit the description of what precisely the nine month pregnancy Mary faced is. Essentially, “Mother of God” is a defect theological term, insufficient, but the argument to use Theotokos instead backfires because it’s even more emphatic than the term “Mother of God”!
The next objection I see so many times from these trolls is that Mary isn’t really giving birth to the divine nature but only to the human nature. This argument simply concerns me about the faith of the person I hear this from. The two natures are united into one person as per Chalcedon. So is one saying that Mary did not give birth to the person of Christ? The answer is generally “yes”. But then are they saying that the human nature then is not the “person of Christ”? Part of the reason Nestorius lost was because he failed to prove that his theology did not imply there were two sons. When it is argued against Mary’s diviner maternity that she only gave birth to the human nature, this leaves lots of questions and concerns open. Who was that it died? Was it really God in his full humanity who died or just a “nature” that died? And where was the deity nature when the human nature walked on water or suffered on the cross or rose from the dead? If only the human nature did those things outside of union into one person in Christ, then who was it who was born? If Jesus is God and Mary gave birth to him, then clearly Mary is the Theotokos. But if Mary did not give birth to God, can we legitimately say she gave birth to Jesus?
Let’s remember, the full Christmas season is the incarnation of our God. But that incarnation, by a human process. The birth of Christ. Also called the Nativity of Christ from the Latin “natus”. Who was it who did the birth-giving? I vaguely remember a Virgin Mary. And she’s not just for the Holidays! (Well, actually, she is!)