Nestorius had an associate whom he had brought from Antioch, a presbyter named Anastasius; for this man he had the highest esteem, and consulted him in the management of his most important affairs. This Anastasius preaching one day in the church said, Let no one call Mary Theotocos: for Mary was but a woman; and it is impossible that God should be born of a woman.' These words created a great sensation, and troubled many both of the clergy and laity; they having been heretofore taught to acknowledge Christ as God, and by no means to separate his humanity from his divinity on account of the economy of incarnation, heeding the voice of the apostle when he said, Yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh; yet now henceforth know we him no more.' And again, Wherefore, leaving the word of the beginning of Christ, let us go on unto perfection.' While great offense was taken in the church, as we have said, at what was thus propounded, Nestorius, eager to establish Anastasius' proposition -- for he did not wish to have the man who was esteemed by himself found guilty of blasphemy -- delivered several public discourses on the subject, in which he assumed a controversial attitude, and totally rejected the epithet Theotocos. Wherefore the controversy on the subject being taken in one spirit by some and in another by others, the discussion which ensued divided the church, and resembled the struggle of combatants in the dark, all parties uttering the most confused and contradictory assertions. Nestorius thus acquired the reputation among the masses of asserting the blasphemous dogma that the Lord is a mere man, and attempting to foist on the Church the dogmas of Paul of Samosata and Photinus; and so great a clamor was raised by the contention that it was deemed requisite to convene a general council to take cognizance of the matter in dispute. Having myself perused the writings of Nestorius, I have found him an unlearned man and shall candidly express the conviction of my own mind concerning him: and as in entire freedom from personal antipathies, I have already alluded to his faults, I shall in like manner be unbiassed by the criminations of his adversaries, to derogate from his merits. I cannot then concede that he was either a follower of Paul of Samosata or of Photinus, or that he denied the Divinity of Christ: but he seemed scared at the term Theotocos, as though it were some terrible phantom. The fact is, the causeless alarm he manifested on this subject just exposed his extreme ignorance: for being a man of natural fluency as a speaker, he was considered well educated, but in reality he was disgracefully illiterate. In fact he contemned the drudgery of an accurate examination of the ancient expositors: and, puffed up with his readiness of expression, he did not give his attention to the ancients, but thought himself the greatest of all. Now he was evidently unacquainted with the fact that in the First Catholic epistle of John it was written in the ancient copies, Every spirit that separates Jesus, is not of God.' The mutilation of this passage is attributable to those who desired to separate the Divine nature from the human economy: or to use the very language of the early interpreters, some persons have corrupted this epistle, aiming at separating the manhood of Christ from his Deity.' But the humanity is united to the Divinity in the Saviour, so as to constitute not two persons but one only. Hence it was that the ancients, emboldened by this testimony, scrupled not to style Mary Theotocos. For thus Eusebius Pamphilus in his third book of the Life of Constantine writes in these terms:
And in fact |God with us| submitted to be born for our sake; and the place of his nativity is by the Hebrews called Bethlehem. Wherefore the devout empress Helena adorned the place of accouchement of the God-bearing virgin with the most splendid monuments, decorating that sacred spot with the richest ornaments.'
Origen also in the first volume of his Commentaries on the apostle's epistle to the Romans, gives an ample exposition of the sense in which the term Theotocos is used. It is therefore obvious that Nestorius had very little acquaintance with the treatises of the ancients, and for that reason, as I observed, objected to the word only: for that he does not assert Christ to be a mere man, as Photinus did or Paul of Samosata, his own published homilies fully demonstrate. In these discourses he nowhere destroys the proper personality of the Word of God; but on the contrary invariably maintains that he has an essential and distinct personality and existence. Nor does he ever deny his subsistence as Photinus and the Samosatan did, and as the Manichæans and followers of Montanus have also dared to do. Such in fact I find Nestorius, both from having myself read his own works, and from the assurances of his admirers. But this idle contention of his has produced no slight ferment in the religious world.