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Nestorian priests in a procession on Palm Sunday, in a 7th–8th century wall painting from a Nestorian church in China

Nestorianism is a Christological doctrine advanced by Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople from 428 – 431. The doctrine, which was informed by Nestorius's studies under Theodore of Mopsuestia at the School of Antioch, emphasizes the disunion between the human and divine natures of Jesus. Nestorius' teachings brought him into conflict with some other prominent church leaders, most notably Cyril of Alexandria, who criticized especially his rejection of the title Theotokos ('Mother of God") for the Virgin Mary. Nestorius and his teachings were eventually condemned as heresy at the First Council of Ephesus in 431 and the Council of Chalcedon in 451, leading to the Nestorian Schism in which churches supporting Nestorius broke with the rest of the Christian Church. Afterward many of Nestorius' supporters relocated to Sassanid Persia, where they affiliated with the local Christian community, known as the Church of the East. Over the next decades the Church of the East became increasingly Nestorian in doctrine, leading it to be known alternately as the Nestorian Church.

Nestorianism is a form of dyophysitism, and can be seen as the antithesis to monophysitism, which emerged in reaction to Nestorianism. Where Nestorianism holds that Christ had two loosely-united natures, divine and human, monophysitism holds that he had but a single nature, his human nature being absorbed into his divinity. Both Nestorianism and monophysitism were condemned as heretical at the Council of Chalcedon. Monophysitism survived and developed into the Miaphysitism of the modern Oriental Orthodox churches.

Following the exodus to Persia, scholars expanded on the teachings of Nestorius and his mentors, particularly after the relocation of the School of Edessa to the Persian city of Nisibis in 489 (where it became known as the School of Nisibis). Nestorianism never again became prominent in the Roman Empire or later Europe, though the spread of the Church of the East in and after the 7th century spread it widely across Asia. However, not all churches affiliated with the Church of the East appear to have followed Nestorian Christology; indeed, the modern Assyrian Church of the East, which reveres Nestorius, does not follow all historically Nestorian doctrine.


Nestorian doctrine

Nestorius developed his Christological views as an attempt to rationally explain and understand the incarnation of the divine Logos, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity as the man Jesus Christ. He had studied at the School of Antioch where his mentor had been Theodore of Mopsuestia; Theodore and other Antioch theologians had long taught a literalist interpretation of the Bible and stressed the distinctiveness of the human and divine natures of Jesus. Nestorius took his Antiochian leanings with him when he was appointed Patriarch of Constantinople by Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius II in 428.

Nestorius' teachings became the root of controversy when he publicly challenged usage of the long-used title Theotokos (Mother of God) for the Virgin Mary. He suggested that the title denied Christ's full humanity, arguing instead that Jesus had two loosely joined natures, the divine Logos and the human Jesus. As such he proposed Christotokos (Mother of Christ) as a more suitable title for Mary.

Nestorius' opponents found his teaching too close to the heresy of adoptionism – the idea that Christ had been born a man who had later been "adopted" as God's son. Nestorius was especially criticized by Cyril, Pope (Patriarch) of Alexandria, who argued that Nestorius' teachings undermined the unity of Christ's divine and human natures at the Incarnation. Nestorius himself always insisted that his views were orthodox, though they were deemed heretical at the First Council of Ephesus in 431, leading to the Nestorian Schism, when churches supportive of Nestorius broke away from the rest of the Christian Church. A more elaborate Nestorian theology developed from there, which came to see Christ as having two loosely joined but distinct natures, or hypostases, the divine Logos and the human Christ. However, this formulation was never adopted by all churches termed "Nestorian". Indeed, the modern Assyrian Church of the East, which reveres Nestorius, does not fully subscribe to Nestorian doctrine, though it does reject the title Theotokos.[1]

Nestorian Schism and early history

Nestorianism became a distinct sect following the Nestorian Schism, beginning in the 430s. Nestorius had come under fire from Western theologians, most notably Cyril of Alexandria. Cyril had both theological and political reasons for attacking Nestorius; on top of feeling that Nestorianism was an error against true belief, he also wanted to denigrate the head of a competing patriarchate. Cyril and Nestorius asked Pope Celestine I to weigh in on the matter. Celestine found that the title Theotokos was orthodox, and authorized Cyril to ask Nestorius to recant. Cyril, however, used the opportunity to further attack Nestorius, who pleaded with Emperor Theodosius to call a council so that all grievances could be aired.[1]

In 431 Theodosius called the First Council of Ephesus. However, the council ultimately sided with Cyril, holding that Christ is one subsistence and nature, and that the Virgin Mary is the mother of God. The council accused Nestorius of heresy, and deposed him as patriarch.[2] Nestorianism was officially anathematized, a ruling reiterated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. However, a number of churches, particularly those associated with the School of Edessa, supported Nestorius – though not necessarily his doctrine – and broke with the churches of the West. Many of Nestorius' supporters relocated to Sassanid Persia, home to a vibrant but persecuted Christian minority.[3]

Nestorianism and the Persian Church

Persia had long been home to a Christian community that had been persecuted by the Zoroastrian majority, which had accused it of Roman leanings. In 424, the Persian Church declared itself independent of the Byzantine and all other churches, in order to ward off allegations of foreign allegiance. Following the Nestorian Schism, the Persian Church increasingly aligned itself with the Nestorians, a measure encouraged by the Zoroastrian ruling class. The Persian Church became increasingly Nestorian in doctrine over the next decades, furthering the divide between Chalcedonian Christianity and the Nestorians. In 486 the Metropolitan of Nisibis, Barsauma, publicly accepted Nestorius' mentor, Theodore of Mopsuestia, as a spiritual authority. In 489 when the School of Edessa in Mesopotamia was closed by Byzantine Emperor Zeno for its Nestorian teachings, the school relocated to its original home of Nisibis, becoming again the School of Nisibis, leading to a wave of Nestorian immigration into Persia. The Persian patriarch Mar Babai I (497–502) reiterated and expanded upon the church's esteem for Theodore, solidifying the church's adoption of Nestorianism.[3]

Now firmly established in Persia, with centers in Nisibis, Ctesiphon, and Gundeshapur, and several metropolitan sees, the Nestorian Persian Church began to branch out beyond the Persian Sassanid Empire. However, through the 6th century the church was frequently beset with internal strife and persecution from the Zoroastrians. The infighting led to a schism, which lasted from 521 until around 539, when the issues were resolved. However, immediately afterward Roman-Persian conflict led to the persecution of the church by the Sassanid King Khosrau I; this ended in 545. The church survived these trials under the guidance of Patriarch Mar Abba I, who had converted to Christianity from Zoroastrianism.[3]

The church emerged stronger after this period of ordeal, and increased missionary efforts farther afield. Missionaries established dioceses in the Arabian Peninsula and India (the Saint Thomas Christians). They made some advances in Egypt, despite the strong Oriental Orthodox (Monophysite) presence there.[4] Missionaries entered Central Asia and had significant success converting local Tartar tribes. Nestorian missionaries were firmly established in China during the early part of the Tang Dynasty (618–907); the Chinese source known as the Nestorian Stele records a mission under a Persian proselyte named Alopen as introducing Nestorian Christianity to China in 635. Following the Muslim conquest of Persia, completed in 644, the Persian Church became a protected dhimmi community under the Rashidun Caliphate. The church and its communities abroad flourished under the Caliphate; by the 10th century it had fifteen metropolitan sees within the Caliphate's territories, and another five elsewhere, including in China and India.[3]


  1. ^ a b "Nestorius". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved January 29, 2010.
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c d "Nestorian". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved January 28, 2010.
  4. ^ Campbell, Christian Confessions, p. 62.


  • Baum, Wilhelm; Winkler, Dietmar W (1 January 2003). The Church of the East: A Concise History, London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-29770-2. Google Print, retrieved 16 July 2005.
  • "Nestorius and Nestorianism". Catholic Encyclopedia. 
  • Lev N. Gumilev. Poiski vymyshlennogo tsarstva (in Russian, "Looking for the mythical kingdom"). Moscow, Onyx Publishers, 2003. ISBN 5-9503-0041-6.
  • Hill, Henry, ed (1988). Light from the East: A Symposium on the Oriental Orthodox and Assyrian Churches. Toronto: Anglican Book Centre. 
  • Rossabi, Morris (1992). Voyager from Xanadu: Rabban Sauma and the first journey from China to the West. Kodansha International Ltd.. ISBN 4770016506. 
  • Stewart, John (1928). Nestorian missionary enterprise, the story of a church on fire. Edinburgh, T. & T. Clark. 
  • Wilmshurst, David (2000). The ecclesiastical organisation of the Church of the East, 1318-1913. Peeters Publishers. p. 4. ISBN 9789042908765. 

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




From Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople (Consecrated 428).




Nestorianism (plural Nestorianisms)

  1. The heterodox religious beliefs of the followers of Nestorius. These included that Christ has two natures, one wholly human and one wholly divine, that Mary was the mother of his human nature, and that each is to be worshiped as God.


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Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

Nestorius, who gave his name to the Nestorian heresy, was born at Germanicia, in Syria Euphoratensis (date unknown); died in the Thebaid, Egypt, c. 451. He was living as a priest and monk in the monastery of Euprepius near the walls, when he was chosen by the Emperor Theodosius II to be Patriarch of Constantinople in succession to Sisinnius. He had a high reputation for eloquence, and the popularity of St. Chrysostom's memory among the people of the imperial city may have influenced the Emperor's choice of another priest from Antioch to be court bishop. He was consecrated in April, 428, and seems to have made an excellent impression. He lost no time in showing his zeal against heretics. Within a few days of his consecration Nestorius had an Arian chapel destroyed, and he persuaded Theodosius to issue a severe edict against heresy in the following month. He had the churches of the Macedonians in the Hellespont seized, and took measures against the Qrartodecimans who remained in Asia Minor. He also attacked the Novatians, in spite of the good reputation of their bishop. Pelagian refugees from the West, however, he did not expel, not being well acquainted with their condemnation ten years earlier. He twice wrote to Pope St. Celestine I for information on the subject. He received no reply, but Marius Mercator, a disciple of St. Augustine, published a memoir on the subject at Constantinople, and presented it to the emperor, who duly proscribed the heretics. At the end of 428, or at latest in the early part of 429, Nestorius preached the first of his famous sermons against the word Theotokos, and detailed his Antiochian doctrine of the Incarnation. The first to raise his voice against it was Eusebius, a layman, afterwards Bishop of Dorylaeum and the accuser of Eutyches. Two priests of the city, Philip and Proclus, who had both been unsuccessful candidates for the patriarchate, preached against Nestorius. Philip, known as Sidetes, from Side, his birthplace, author of a vast and discursive history now lost, accused the patriarch of heresy. Proclus (who was to succeed later in his candidature) preached a flowery, but perfectly orthodox, sermon, yet extant, to which Nestorius replied in an extempore discourse, which we also possess. All this naturally caused great excitement at Constantinople, especially among the clergy, who were clearly not well disposed towards the stranger from Antioch. St. Celestine immediately condemned the doctrine. Nestorius had arranged with the emperor in the summer of 430 for the assembling of a council. He now hastened it on, and the summons had been issued to patriarchs and metropolitans on 19 Nov., before the pope's sentence, delivered though Cyril of Alexandria, had been served on Nestorius (6 Dec.). At the council Nestorius was condemned, and the emperor, after much delay and hesitation, ratified its finding. It was confirmed by Pope Pope Sixtus III.

The lot of Nestorius was a hard one. He had been handed over by the pope to the tender mercies of his rival, Cyril; he had been summoned to accept within ten days under pain of deposition, not a papal definition, but a series of anathemas drawn up at Alexandria under the influence of Apollinarian forgeries. The whole council had not condemned him, but only a portion, which had not awaited the arrival of the bishops from Antioch. He had refused to recognize the jurisdiction of this incomplete number, and had consequently refused to appear or put in any defence. He was not thrust out of his see by a change of mind on the part of the feeble emperor. But Nestorius was proud: he showed no sign of yielding or of coming to terms; he put in no plea of appeal to Rome. He retired to his monastery at Antioch with dignity and apparent relief. His friends, John of Antioch, and his party, deserted him, and at the wish of the Emperor, at the beginning of 433, joined hands with Cyril, and Theodoret later did the same. The bishops who were suspected of being favourable to Nestorius were deposed. An edict of Theodosius II, 30 July, 435, condemned his writings to be burnt. A few years later Nestorius was dragged from his retirement and banished to the Oasis. He was at one time carried off by the Nubians (not the Blemmyes) in a raid, and was restored to the Thebaid with his hand and one rib broken. He gave himself up to the governor in order not to be accused of having fled.

The recent discovery of a Syriac version of the (lost) Greek apology for Nestorius by himself has awakened new interest in the question of his personal orthodoxy. The (mutilated) manuscript, about 800 years old, known as the "Bazaar of Heraclides", and recently edited as the "Liber Heraclidis" by P. Bedjan (Paris, 1910), reveals the persistent odium attached to the name of Nestorius, since at the end of his life he was obliged to substitute for it a pseudonym. In this work he claims that his faith is that of the celebrated "Tome", or letter of Leo the Great to Flavian, and excuses his failure to appeal to Rome by the general prejudice of which he was the victim. A fine passage on the Eucharistic Sacrifice which occurs in the "Bazaar" may be cited here: "There is something amiss with you which I want to put before you in a few words, in order to induce you to amend it, for you are quick to see what is seemly. What then is this fault? Presently the mysteries are set before the faithful like the mess granted to his soldiers by the king. Yet the army of the faithful is nowhere to be seen, but they are blown away together with the catechumems like chaff by the wind of indifference. And Christ is crucified in the symbol [kata ton tupon], sacrificed by the sword of the prayer of the Priest; but, as when He was upon the Cross, He finds His disciples have already fled. Terrible is this fault,--a betrayal of Christ when there is no persecution, a desertion by the faithful of their Master's Body when there is no war" (Loofs, "Nestoriana", Halls, 1905, p. 341).

The writings of Nestorius were originally very numerous. As stated above, the "Bazaar" has newly been published (Paris, 1910) in the Syriac translation in which alone it survives. The rest of the fragments of Nestorius have been most minutely examined, pieced together and edited by Loofs. His sermons show a real eloquence, but very little remains in the original Greek. The Latin translations by Marius Mercator are very poor in style and the text is ill preserved. Batiffol has attributed to Nestorius many sermons which have come down to us under the names of other authors; three of Athanasius, one of Hippolytus, three of Amphilochius, thirty-eight of Basil of Sellleucia, seven of St. Chrysostom; but Loofs and Baker do not accept the ascription. Mercati has pointed out four fragments in a writing of Innocent, Bishop of Maronia (ed. Amelli in "Spicil. Cassin.", I, 1887), and Armenian fragments have been published by Ludtke.


Nestorius was a disciple of the school of Antioch, and his Christology was essentially that of Diodorus of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia, both Cilician bishops and great opponents of Arianism. Both died in the Catholic Church. Diodorus was a holy man, much venerated by St. John Chrysostom. Theodore, however, was condemned in person as well as in his writings by the Fifth General Council, in 553. In opposition to many of the Arians, who taught that in the Incarnation the Son of God assumed a human body in which His Divine Nature took the place of soul, and to the followers of Apollinarius of Laodicea, who held that the Divine Nature supplied the functions of the higher or intellectual soul, the Antiochenes insisted upon the completeness of the humanity which the Word assumed. Unfortunately, they represented this human nature as a complete man, and represented the Incarnation as the assumption of a man by the Word. The same way of speaking was common enough in Latin writers (assumere hominem, homo assumptus) and was meant by them in an orthodox sense; we still sing in the Te Deum: "Tu ad liberandum suscepturus hominem", where we must understand "ad liberandum hominem, humanam naturam suscepisti". But the Antiochene writers did not mean that the "man assumed" (ho lephtheis anthropos) was taken up into one hypostasis with the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. They preferred to speak of synapheia, "junction", rather than enosis, "unification", and said that the two were one person in dignity and power, and must be worshipped together. The word person in its Greek form prosopon might stand for a juridical or fictitious unity; it does not necessarily imply what the word person implies to us, that is, the unity of the subject of consciousness and of all the internal and external activities. Hence we are not surprised to find that Diodorus admitted two Sons, and that Theodore practically made two Christs, and yet that they cannot be proved to have really made two subjects in Christ. Two things are certain: first, that, whether or no they believed in the unity of the subject in the Incarnate Word, at least they explained that unity wrongly; secondly, that they used most unfortunate and misleading language when they spoke of the union of the manhood with the Godhead -- language which is objectively heretical, even were the intention of its authors good.

Nestorius, as well as Theodore, repeatedly insisted that he did not admit two Christs or two Sons, and he frequently asserted the unity of the prosopon. On arriving at constantinople he came to the conslusion that the very different theology which he found rife there was a form of Arian or Apollinarian error. In this he was not wholly wrong, as the outbreak of Eutychianism twenty years later may be held to prove. In the first months of his pontificate he was implored by the Pelagian Julian of Eclanum and other expelled bishops of his party to recognize their orthodoxy and obtain their restoration He wrote at least three letters to the pope, St. Celestine I, to inquire whether these petitioners had been duly condemned or not, but he received no reply, not (as has been too often repeated) because the pope imagined he did not respect the condemnation of the Pelagians by himself and by the Western emperor, but because he added in his letters, which are extant, denunciations of the supposed Arians and Apollinarians of Constantinople, and in so doing gave clear signs of the Antiochene errors soon to be known as Nestorian. In particular he denounced those who employed the word Theotokos, though he was ready to admit the use of it in a certain sense: "Ferri tamen potest hoc vocabulum proper ipsum considerationem, quod solum nominetur de virgine hoc verbum hoc propter inseparable templum Dei Verbi ex ipsa, non quia mater sit Dei Verbi; nemo enim antiquiorem se parit." Such an admission is worse than useless, for it involves the whole error that the Blessed Virgin is not the mother of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. It is therefore unfortunate that Loofs and others who defend Nestorius should appeal to the frequency with which he repeated that he should accept the Theotokos if only it was properly understood. In the same letter he speaks quite correctly of the "two Natures which are adored in the one Person of the Only-begotten by a perfect and unconfused conjunction", but this could not palliate his mistake that the blessed Virgin is mother of one nature, not of the person (a son is necessarily a person not a nature), nor the fallacy: "No one can bring forth a son older than herself." The deacon Leo, who was twenty years later as pope to define the whole doctrine, gave these letters to John Cassian of Marseilles, who at once wrote against Nestorius his seven books, "De incarnatione Christi". Before he had completed the work he had further obtained some sermons of Nestorius, from which he quotes in the later books. He misunderstands and exaggerates the teaching of his opponent, but his treatise is important because it stereotyped once for all a doctrine which the Western world was to accept as Nestorianism. After explaining that the new heresy was a renewal of Pelagianism and Ebionitism, Cassian represents the Constantinoplitan patriarch as teaching that Christ is a mere man (homo solitarius) who merited union with the Divinity as the reward of His Passion. Cassian himself brings out quite clearly both the unity of person and the distinction of the two natures, yet the formula "Two Natures and one Person" is less plainly enunciated by him than by Nestorius himself, and the discussion is wanting in clear-cut distinctions and definitions.

Meanwhile Nestorius was being attacked by his own clergy and simultaneously by St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, who first denounced him, though without giving a name, in an epistle to all the monks of Egypt, then remonstrated with him personally by letter, and finally wrote to the pope. Loofs is of the opinion that Nestorius would never have been disturbed but for St. Cyril. But there is no reason to connect St. Cyril with the opposition to the heresiarch at Constantinople and at Rome. His rivals Philip of Side and Proclus and the layman Eusebius (afterwards Bishop of Dorylaeum), as well as the Roman Leo, seem to have acted without any impulse from Alexandria. It might have been expected that Pope Celestine would specify certain heresies of Nestorius and condemn them, or issue a definition of the traditional faith which was being endangered. Unfortunately he did nothing of the kind. St. Cyril had sent to Rome his correspondence with Nestorius, a collection of that Patriarch's sermons, and a work of his own which he had just composed, consisting of five books "Contra Nestorium". The pope had them translated into Latin, and then, after assembling the customary council, contented himself with giving a general condemnation of Nestouris and a general approval of St. Cyril's conduct, whilst he delivered the execution of this vague decree to Cyril, who as Patriarch of Alexandria was the hereditary enemy both of the Antiochene theologian and the Constantinoplitan bishop. Nestorius was to be summoned to recant within ten days. The sentence was as harsh as can well be imagined. St. Cyril saw himself obliged to draw up a form for the recantation. With the help of an Egyptian council he formulated a set of twelve anathematisms which simply epitomize the errors he had pointed out in his five books "Against Nestorius", for the pope appeared to have agreed with the doctrine of that work. It is most important to notice that up to this point St. Cyril had not rested his case upon Apollinarian documents and had not adopted the Apollinarian formula mia physis sesarkomene from Pseudo-Anathasius. He does not teach in so many words "two natures after the union", but his work against Nestorius, with the depth and precision of St. Leo, is an admirable exposition of Catholic doctrine, worthy of a Doctor of the church, and far surpassing the treatise of Casssian. The twelve anathematisms are less happy, for St. Cyril was always a diffuse writer, and his solitary attempt at brevity needs to be read in connection with the work which it summarizes.

The Anathematisms were at once attacked, on behalf of John, Patriarch of Antioch, in defence of the Antiochene School, by Andrew of Samosata and the great Theodoret of Cyrus. The former wrote at Antioch; his objections were adopted by a synod held there, and were sent to Cyril as the official view of all the Oriental bishops. St. Cyril published separate replies to these two antagonists, treating Andrew with more respect than Theodoret, to whom he is contemptuous and sarcastic. The latter was doubtless the superior of the Alexandrian in talent and learning, but at this time he was no match for him as a theologian. Both Andrew and Theodoret show themselves captious and unfair; at best they sometimes prove that St. Cyril's wording is ambiguous and ill-chosen. They uphold the objectionable Antiochene phraseology, and they respect the hypostatic union (enosis kath hypostasin) as well as the physike enosis as unorthodox and unscriptural. The latter expression is indeed unsuitable, and may be misleading. Cyril had to explain that he was not summarizing or defining the faith about the Incarnation, but simply putting together the principal errors of Nestorius in the heretic's own words. In his books against Nestorius he had occasionally misrepresented him, but in the twelve anathematisms he gave a perfectly faithful picture of Nestorius's view, for in fact Nestorius did not disown the propositions, nor did Andrew of Samosata or Theodoret refuse to patronize any of them. The anathematisms were certainly in a general way approved by the Council of Ephesus, but they have never been formally adopted by the Church. Nestorius for his part replied by a set of twelve contra-anathematisms. Some of them are directed against St. Cyril's teaching, others attack errors which St. Cyril did not dream of teaching, for example that Christ's Human Nature became through the union uncreated and without beginning, a silly conclusion which was later ascribed to the sect of Monophysites called Actistetae. On the whole, Nestorius's new programme emphasized his old position, as also did the violent sermons which he preached against St. Cyril on Saturday and Sunday, 13 and 14 December, 430. We have no difficulty in defining the doctrine of Nestorius so far as words are concerned: Mary did not bring forth the Godhead as such (true) nor the Word of God (false), but the organ, the temple of the Godhead. The man Jesus Christ is this temple, "the animated purple of the King", as he expresses it in a passage of sustained eloquence. The Incarnate God did not suffer nor die, but raised up from the dead him in whom He was incarnate. The Word and the Man are to be worshipped together, and he adds: dia ton phorounta ton phoroumenon sebo (Through Him that bears I worship Him Who is borne). If St. Paul speaks of the Lord of Glory being crucified, he means the man by "the Lord of Glory". There are two natures, he says, and one person; but the two natures are regularly spoken of as though they were two persons, and the sayings of Scripture about Christ are to be appropriated some of the Man, some to the Word. If Mary is called the Mother of God, she will be made into a goddess, and the Gentiles will be scandalized.

This is all bad enough as far as words go. But did not Nestorius mean better than his words? The Oriental bishops were certainly not all disbelievers in the unity of subject in the Incarnate Christ, and in fact St. Cyril made peace with them in 433. One may point to the fact that Nestorius emphatically declared that there is one Christ and one Son, and St. Cyril himself has preserved for us some passages from his sermons which the saint admits to be perfectly orthodox, and therefore wholly inconsistent with the rest. For example: "Great is the mystery of the gifts! For this visible infant, who seems so young, who needs swaddling clothes for His body, who in the substance which we see is newly born, is the Eternal Son, as it is written, the Son who is the Maker of all, the Son who binds together in the swathing-bands of His assisting power the whole creation which would otherwise be dissolved." And again: "Even the infant is the all-powerful God, so far, O Arius, is God the Word from being subject to God." And: "We recognize the humanity of the infant, and His Divinity; the unity of His Sonship we guard in the nature of humanity and divinity." It will probably be only just to Nestorius to admit that he fully intended to safeguard the unity of subject in Christ. But he gave wrong explanations as to the unity, and his teaching logically led to two Christs, though he would not have admitted the fact. Not only his words are misleading, but the doctrine which underlies his words is misleading, and tends to destroy the whole meaning of the Incarnation. It is impossible to deny that teaching as well as wording which leads to such consequences as heresy. He was therefore unavoidably condemned. He reiterated the same view twenty years later in the "Bazaar of Heraclides", which shows no real change of opinion, although he declares his adherence to the Tome of St. Leo.

After the council of 431 had been made into law by the emperor, the Antiochene party would not at once give way. But the council was confirmed by Pope Pope Sixtus III, who had succeeded St. Celestine, and it was received by the whole West. Antioch was thus isolated, and at the same time St. Cyril showed himself ready to make explanations. The Patriarchs of Antioch and Alexandria agreed upon a "creed of union" in 433 (see EUTYCHIANISM). Andrew of Samosata, and some others would not accept it, but declared the word "Theotokos" to be heretical. Theodoret held a council at Zeuguma which refused to anathematize Nestorius. But the prudent bishop of Cyrus after a time perceived that in the "creed of union" Antioch gained more than did Alexandria; so he accepted the somewhat hollow compromise. He says himself that he commended the person of Nestorius whilst he anathematized his doctrine. A new state of things arose when the death of St. Cyril, in 444, took away his restraining hand from his intemperate followers. The friend of Nestorius, Count Irenaeus had become Bishop of Tyre, and he was persecuted by the Cyrillian party, as was Ibas, Bishop of Edessa, who had been a great teacher in that city. These bishops, together with Theodoret and Domnus, the nephew and successor of John of Antioch, were deposed by Dioscorus of Alexandria in the Robber Council of Ephesus (449). Ibas was full of Antiochene theology, but in his famous letter to Maris the Persian he disapproves of Nestorius as well as of Cyril, and at the Council of Chalcedon he was willing to cry a thousand anathemas to Nestorius. He and Theodoret were both restored by that council, and both seem to have taken the view that St. Leo's Tome was a rehabilitation of the Antiochene theology. The same view was taken by the Monophysites, who looked upon St. Leo as the opponent of St. Cyril's teaching. Nestorius in his exile rejoiced at this reversal of Roman policy, as he thought it. Loofs, followed by many writers even among Catholics, is of the same opinion. But St. Leo himself believed that he was completing and not undoing the work of the Council of Ephesus, and as a fact his teaching is but a clearer form of St. Cyril's earlier doctrine as exposed in the five books against Nestorius. But it is true that St. Cyril's later phraseology, of which the two letters to Succensus are the type, is based upon the formula which he felt himself bound to adopt from an Apollinarian treatise believed to be by his great predecessor Athanasius: mia physis ton Theou Logou sesarkomene. St. Cyril found this formula an awkward one, as his treatment of it shows, and it became in fact the watchword of heresy. But St. Cyril does his best to understand it in a right sense, and goes out of his way to admit two natures even after the union en theoria, an admission which was to save Severus himself from a good part of this heresy.

That Loofs or Harnack should fail to perceive the vital difference between the Antiochenes and St. Leo, is easily explicable by their not believing the Catholic doctrine of the two natures, and therefore not catching the perfectly simple explanation given by St. Leo. Just as some writers declare that the Monophysites always took physis in the sense of hypostasis, so Loofs and others hold that Nestorius took hypostasis always in the sense of physis, and meant no more by two hypostases than he meant by two natures. But the words seem to have had perfectly definite meanings with all the theologians of the period. That the Monophysites distinguished them, is probable (see MONOPHYSITES AND MONOPHYSITISM), and all admit they unquestionably meant by hypostasis a subsistent nature. That Nestorius cannot, on the contrary, have taken nature to mean the same as hypostasis and both to mean essence is obvious enough, for three plain reasons: first, he cannot have meant anything so absolutely opposed to the meaning given to the word hypostasis by the Monophysites; secondly, if he meant nature by hypostasis he had no word at all left for "subsistence" (for he certainly used ousia to mean "essence" rather than "subsistence"); thirdly, the whole doctrine of Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Nestorius's own refusal to admit almost any form of the communicatio idiomatum, force us to take his "two natures" in the sense of subsistent natures.

The modern critics also consider that the orthodox doctrine of the Greeks against Monophysitism -- in fact the Chalcedonian doctrine as defended for many years -- was practically the Antiochene or Nestorian doctrine, until Leontius modified it in the direction of conciliation. This theory is wholly gratuitous, for from Chalcedon onwards there is no orthodox controversialist who has left us any considerable remains in Greek by which we might be enabled to judge how far Leontius was an innovator. At all events we know, from the attacks made by the Monophysites themselves, that, though they professed to regard their Catholic opponents as Crypto-Nestorians, in so doing they distinguished them from the true Nestorians who openly professed two hypostases and condemned the word Theotokos. In fact we may say that, after John of Antioch and Theodoret had made peace with St. Cyril, no more was heard in the Greek world of the Antiochene theology. The school had been distinguished, but small. In Antioch itself, in Syria, and in Palestine, the monks, who were exceedingly influential, were Cyrillians, and a large proportion of them were to become Monophysites. It was beyond the Greek world that Nestorianism was to have its development. There was at Edess a famous school for Persians, which had probably been founded in the days of St. Ephrem, when Nisibis had ceased to belong to the Roman Empire in 363. The Christians in Persia had suffered terrible persecution, and Roman Edessa had attracted Persians for peaceful study. Under the direction of Ibas the Persian school of Edessa imbibed the Antiochene theology. But the famous Bishop of Edessa, Rabbûla, though he had stood apart from St. Cyril's council at Ephesus together with the bishops of the Antiochene patriarchate, became after the council a convinced, and even a violent, Cyrillian, and he did his best against the school of the Persians. Ibas himself became his successor. But at the death of his protector, in 457, the Persians were driven out of Edessa by the Monophysites, who made themselves all-powerful. Syria then becomes Monophysite and produces its Philoxenus and many another writer. Persia simultaneously becomes Nestorian. Of the exiles from Edessa into their own country nine became bishops, including Barsumas, or Barsaûma, of Nisibis and Acacius of Beit Aramage. The school at Edessa was finally closed in 489.

At this time the Church in Persia was autonomous, having renounced all subjection to Antioch and the "Western" bishops at the Council of Seleucia in 410. The ecclesiastical superior of the whole was the Bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, who had assumed the rank of catholicos. This prelate was Babaeus or Babowai (457-84) at the time of the arrival of the Nestorian professors from Edessa. He appears to have received them with open arms. But Barsaûma, having become Bishop of Nisibis, the nearest great city to Edessa, broke with the weak catholicos, and, at a council which he held at Beit Lapat in April, 484, pronounced his deposition. In the same year Babowai was accused before the king of conspiring with Constantinople and cruelly put to death, being hung up by his ring-finger and also, it is said, crucified and scourged. There is not sufficient evidence for the story which makes Barsaûma his accuser. The Bishop of Nisibis was at all events in high favour with King Peroz (457-84) and had been able to persuade him that it would be a good thing for the Persian kingdom if the Christians in it were all of a different complexion from those of the Empire, and had no tendency to gravitate towards Antioch and Constantinople, which were not officially under the sway of the "Henoticon" of Zeno. Consequently all Christians who were not Nestorians were driven from Persia. But the story of this persecution as told in the letter of Simeon of Beit Arsam is not generally considered trustworthy, and the alleged number of 7700 Monophysite martyrs is quite incredible. The town of Tagrit alone remained Monophysite. But the Armenians were not gained over, and in 491 they condemned at Valarsapat the Council of Chalcedon, St. Leo, and Barsaûma. Peroz died in 484, soon after having murdered Babowai, and the energetic Bishop of Nisibis had evidently less to hope from his successor, Balash. Though Barsaûma at first opposed the new catholicos, Acacius in August, 485, he had an interview with him, and made his submission, acknowledging the necessity for subjection to Seleucia. However, he excused himself from being present at Acacius's council in 484 at Seleucia, where twelve bishops were present. At this assembly, the Antiochene Christology was affirmed and a canon of Beit Lapat permitting the marriage of the clergy was repeated. The synod declared that they despised vainglory, and felt bound to humble themselves in order to put an end to the horrible clerical scandals which disedified the Persian Magians as well as the faithful; they therefore enacted that the clergy should make a vow of chastity; deacons may marry, and for the future no one is to be ordained priest except a deacon who has a lawful wife and children. Though no permission is given to priests or bishops to marry (for this was contrary to the canons of the Eastern Church), yet the practice appears to have been winked at, possibly for the regularization of illicit unions. Barsaûma himself is said to have married a nun named Mamoé; but according to Mare, this was at the inspiration of King Peroz, and was only a nominal marriage, intended to ensure the preservation of the lady's fortune from confiscation.

The Persian Church was now organized, if not thoroughly united, and was formally committed to the theology of Antioch. But Acacius, when sent by the king as envoy to Constantinople, was obliged to accept the anathema against Nestorius in order to be received to Communion there. After his return he bitterly complained of being called a Nestorian by the Monopohysite Philoxenus, declaring that he "knew nothing" of Nestorius. Nevertheless Nestorius has always been venerated as a saint by the Persian Church. One thing more was needed for the Nestorian Church; it wanted theological schools of its own, in order that its clergy might be able to hold their own in theological argument, without being tempted to study in the orthodox centres of the East or in the numerous and brilliant schools which the monophysites were now establishing. Barsaûma opened a school at Nisibis, which was to become more famous than its parent at Edessa. The rector was Narses the Leprous, a most prolific writer, of whom little has been preserved. This university consisted of a single college, with the regular life of a monastery. Its rules are still preserved (see NISIBIS). At one time we hear of 800 students. Their great doctor was Theodore of Mopsuestia. His commentaries were studied in the translation made by Ibas and were treated almost as infallible. Theodore's Canon of Scripture was adopted, as we learn from "De Partibus Divinae Legis" of Junilius, (P.L., LXVIII, and ed. By Kihn), a work which is a translation and adaptation of the published lectures of a certain Paul, professor at Nisbis. The method is Aristotelean, and must be connected with the Aristotelean revival which in the Greek world is associated chiefly with the name of Philoponus, and in the West with that of Boethius. The fame of this theological seminary was so great that Pope Agapetus and Cassiodorus wished to found one in Italy of a similar kind. the attempt was impossible in those troublous times; but Cassiodorus's monastery at Vivarium was inspired by the example of Nisibis. There were other less important schools at Seleucia and elsewhere, even in small towns.

Barsaûma died between 492 and 495, Acacius in 496 or 497. Narses seems to have lived longer. The Nestorian Church which they founded, though cut off from the Catholic Church by political exigencies, never intended to do more than practise an autonomy like that of the Eastern patriarchates. Its heresy consisted mainly in its refusal to accept the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. It is interesting to note that neither Junilius nor Cassiodorus speaks of the school of Nisibis as heretical. They were probably aware that it was not quite orthodox, but the Persians who appeared at the Holy Places as pilgrims or at Constantinople must have seemed like Catholics on account of their hatred to the Monophysites, who were the great enemy in the East. The official teaching of the Nestorian Church in the time of King Chosroes (Khusran) II (died 628) is well presented to us in the treatise "De unione" composed by the energetic monk Babai the Great, preserved in a MS. From which Labourt has made extracts (pp. 280-87). Babai denies that hypostasis and person have the same meaning. A hypostasis is a singular essence (ousia) subsisting in its independent being, numerically one, separate from others by its accidents. A person is that property of a hypostasis which distinguishes it from others (this seems to be rather "personality" than "person") as being itself and no other, so that Peter is Peter and Paul is Paul. As hypostases Peter and Paul are not distinguished, for they have the same specific qualities, but they are distinguished by their particular qualities, their wisdom or otherwise, their height or their temperament, etc. And, as the singular property which the hypostasis possesses is not the hypostasis itself, the singular property which distinguishes it is called "person".

It would seem that Babai means that "a man" (individuum vagum) is the hypostasis, but not the person, until we add the individual characteristics by which he is known to be Peter or Paul. This is not by any means the same as the distinction between nature and hypostasis, nor can it be asserted that by hypostasis Babai meant what we should call specific nature, and by person what we should call hypostasis. The theory seems to be an unsuccessful attempt to justify the traditional Nestorian formula: two hypostases in one person. As to the nature of the union, Babai falls on the Antiochene saying that it is ineffable, and prefers the usual metaphors -- assumption, inhabitation, temple, vesture, junction-to any definition of the union. He rejects the communicatio idiomatum as involving confusion of the natures, but allows a certain "interchange of names", which he explains with great care.

The Persian Christians were called "Orientals", or "Nestorians", by their neighbours on the west. They gave to themselves the name Chaldeans; but this denomination is usually reserved at the present day for the large portion of the existing remnant which has been united to the Catholic Church. The present condition of these Uniats, as well as the branch in India known as "Malabar Christians", is described under CHALDEAN CHRISTIANS. The history of the Nestorian Church must be looked for under PERSIA. The Nestorians also penetrated into China and Mongolia and left behind them an inscribed stone, set up in Feb., 781, which describes the introduction of Christianity into China from Persia in the reign of T'ai-tsong (627-49). The stone is at Chou-Chih, fifty miles south-west of Sai-an Fu, which was in the seventh century the capital of China. It is known as "the Nestorian Monument".

Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.

Simple English

Nestorianism is a movement within Christianity. The idea behind the doctrine was that there were two different persons of Jesus. One of them was the man Jesus, the other was the aspect of son of God, or Logos. Perhaps the most prominent supporter of the idea was Nestorius, archbishop of Constantinople. Nestorius lived from about 380 to about 450 AD. The Council of Ephesus condemned this view in 431. This led to a split of the church, into the Assyrian Church of the East and the Byzantine Church.

For this reason, the Assyrian Church of the East is sometimes called Nestorian. The church holds the view that Chist has two essences (qnome) that are united in one person (parsopa).

The only two churches that teach Nestorianism today are the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Church of the East & Abroad.


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