Thoughts from the Early Church

Commentary by Theodotus of Ancyra

The Word was made flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory.

The Lord of all comes as a slave amidst poverty. The huntsman has no wish to startle his prey. Choosing for birthplace an unknown village in a remote province, he is born of a poor maiden and accepts all that poverty implies, for he hopes by stealth to ensnare and save us.

If he had been born to high rank and amidst luxury, unbelievers would have said the world had been transformed by wealth. If he had chosen as his birthplace the great city of Rome, they would have thought the transformation had been brought about by civil power.

Suppose he had been the son of an emperor. They would have said: “How useful it is to be powerful!” Imagine him the son of a senator. It would have been: “Look what can be accomplished by legislation!”

But in fact, what did he do? He chose surroundings that were poor and simple, so ordinary as to be almost unnoticed, so that people would know it was the Godhead alone that had changed the world. This was his reason for choosing his mother from among the poor of a very poor country, and for becoming poor himself.

Let the manger teach you how poor the Lord was: he was laid in it because he had no bed to lie on. This lack of the necessaries of life was a most appropriate prophetic foreshadowing.

He was laid in a manger to show that he would be the food even of the inarticulate. The Word of God drew to himself both the rich and the poor, both the eloquent and the slow of speech as he lay in the manger in poverty.

Do you not see how his lack of worldly goods was a prophecy and how his poverty, accepted for our sake, showed his accessibility to all?

No one was afraid to approach Christ, overawed by his immense wealth; no one was kept from coming to him by the grandeur of his royal estate. No, he who was offering himself for the salvation of the world came as an ordinary worker.

The Word of God in a human body was laid in a manger, so that both the eloquent and the slow of speech would have courage to share in the food of salvation.

Perhaps this is what the prophet foretold when he said, speaking of the mystery of the manager: The ox knows its owner and the ass its master’s manger, but Israel does not know me; my people have not understood.

He whose godhead made him rich became poor for our sake, so as to put salvation,within the reach of everyone. This was the teaching of Saint Paul when he said: He was rich, but for our sake he became poor, to make us rich through his poverty.

Who was rich, what was his wealth, and how did be become poor for our sake? Tell me, who was this possessor of great wealth who became a sharer in my poverty? Could he have been a mere man?

If so he would never have been rich, for his parents were poor just as he was. Then who was this person possessed of great riches and what ; the riches of him who became poor for our sake?

Scripture says it is God who enriches his creatures.

It must then have been God who became poor, who made his own the poverty of one who can be seen. His divinity made God rich, but he became poor for our sake.

(Homily 1 on Christmas: PG 77, 1360-1361)

Theodotus (d. 446) was bishop of Ancyra, the modem Ankara. He was at first a friend of Nestorius, but became one of his most determined opponents. Because of the support he gave to Cyril of Alexandria at the Council of Ephesus (431), he was excommunicated by the Antiochene bishops at their synod at Tarsus in 432.

 

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson