By Fr. Felix López, SHM
“You gave birth to the Beginning that has no beginning, to a child before all ages, to the Virgin’s Son, the Eternal One that is nurtured in her womb; to Him who is older than His Mother...”
Theodotus was born in the 3rd century in Ancyra, in what was at the time Galatia (currently Ankara in Turkey). He was later named bishop of his native city and achieved great prestige as a theologian and defender of orthodoxy. Although he was a personal friend of Nestorius for some time, he later became his relentless adversary during the Council of Ephesus in 431, thus aiding in the condemnation of his heretical doctrine. Nestorius affirmed the existence of two Persons in Jesus Christ, denying the Virgin Mary the title of Mother of God.
Deepening into the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God, Theodotus explained with all clarity and firmly defended the truth of the existence of two natures in the only Person of Christ and especially exalted Mary’s divine maternity, along with her perpetual virginity. His death took place around the year 446. From among his works, three of his homilies about the birth of the Lord deserve special mention. The first of these was given in Ephesus in the Church of St. John the Evangelist, and the other two were read at the Council (431) and included in the Acts. The first one focuses on Christ’s unity as the necessary foundation of Christian soteriology. The second homily contains several allusions to [Mary’s] virginal maternity, employing the already traditional images and argumentation, such as the bush that burns but which is not consumed, and the consideration of the fact that the Author of Immortality not only did not corrupt His Mother, but also gave her the gift of incorruption. The third and most beautiful homily was given on Christmas Day. In the introduction, Theodotus affirms: “This feast day is both illustrious and admirable: illustrious because it has brought about the salvation of mankind; admirable because it has overcome the laws of nature. Nature knows not the existence of a virgin after giving birth, but grace reveals a mother who has remained a virgin. Grace has preserved her virginity. O earth that, without seed, has brought forth the fruit of salvation! O Virgin that surpasses the very paradise of Eden!… That earth was virginal and Mary also is a virgin, but God saw fit that the earth put forth trees, whereas the Creator became Himself the fruit of this Virgin according to the flesh. The earth did not receive shoots before producing trees, and neither has the Virgin lost her virginity giving birth” (Third Homily, n.1).
Theodotus’ presentation of the virginal birth excludes the possibility of a normal birth that at the same time preserves the virginity as some contemporary authors sustain. It is clearly seen that the virginity conserved in the birth, necessarily includes corporeal integrity. Theodotus employs the quite habitual argument that the Incorrupt One was not going to corrupt His Mother: “He has been conceived as man, and as God-Word has preserved her virginity. If our word, once conceived, does not corrupt thought, neither does the essential and substantial Word of God, once conceived, corrupt her virginity.”
In relation to the divine Maternity of Mary that Nestorius did not admit and which was proclaimed by the Council, he says: “You gave birth to the Beginning that has no beginning, to a child before all ages, to the Virgin’s Son, the Eternal One that is nurtured in her womb; to Him who is older than His Mother, and yet is nourished by Her, to the Splendor of God that presents Himself in poverty, the King who has no successor.”
We finish with the praises of Mary that Theodotus sang so enthusiastically in line with the Greek tradition. “Hail, our anticipated joy; hail, delight of all Churches; hail, name that distils sweetness; hail, face that radiates divinity and grace; hail, O Mother of splendour without decline, full of light; hail Immaculate Mother of holiness.”
©HM Magazine; nº204 September-October 2018