views updated Jun 11 2018


A development of the Antiochene theology as it had been formulated by Eustathius of Sebaste, Diodore of Tarsus, and theodore of mopsuestia in reaction to Arianism and Apollinarianism. It is clearly dyophysitic (duo physeis, or two natures in Christ), in contrast with the explanations of Saint cyril of alexandria, who held that in Christ there was one nature (mia physis ), in which teaching Cyril's opponents detected Apollinarian echoes.

Nestorian Teaching. The doctrine of Nestorius is known through fragments of his letters and sermons preserved in the Acts of the Council of ephesus, frequent citations in the works of Saint Cyril of Alexandria, fragments of a personal apology (Tragoedia ) composed after his deposition but before 439, and through the text of another apology, The Bazaar of Heracleides, written toward the end of his life and preserved in an interpolated Syrian version. Further information is offered by such opponents as John cassian (De Incarnatione Domini contra Nestorium of 42930) and Saint Cyril (Adv. Nestorii Blasphemias of 430), who convinced their contemporaries and posterity that Nestorius was a heretic.

Some modern historians, such as A. Harnack, F. Loofs, J. Bethune-Baker, and L. Duchesne, have sought to reestablish Nestorius's good name, saying that he was not necessarily a Nestorian; and A. Grillmeier believes that underlying the Nestorian formulas, even though these are contestable or plainly heterodox, there are valuable theological suppositions.

Christology. The Christological thought of Nestorius is dominated by Cappadocian theology and is affected by Stoic thought. Although it was not devoid of speculative value, nevertheless, in its attempt to avoid arianism and Apollinarianism, Nestorianism did not reflect the true tradition of the Church. This fact was recognized by the early historians, such as Socrates (Ecclesiastical History 8.29.30); for in his Bazaar of Heracleides, Nestorius asserted that the key word theotokos had not been used by the Fathers.

Nestorius never spoke of "two sons," nor did he consider Christ as simply a man (purus homo ); hence it was improper on the part of Eusebius of Doryleum to accuse him of the adoptionism of Paul of Samosata, a theology that saw Christ as a man who through his sufferings and virtues attained the dignity of a Son of God (Bewährungstheologie).

Cyril spoke of one sole nature (mia physis ) in Christ, a nature that could be understood in the way that Cyril intended: as a concrete, existent subject. But Nestorius defined a nature in the sense of ousia, or substance, and distinguished precisely between the human nature and the divine nature, applying in his Christology the distinction between nature (ousia ) and person (hypostasis ), which was currently in use in the trinitarian theology. Remarking that "wherever the Scriptures mention the economy [of salvation in the Incarnation] of the Lord," they attribute His birth and Passion not to the divinity but to humanity, Nestorius refused to attribute to the divine nature the human acts and sufferings of Jesus (Epist. ad Cyrillum ). This statement represents the crux of the disagreement between Cyril and Nestorius; it makes it probable that if their ideas and vocabulary could have been neatly clarified and defined, the argument as well as the schism could have been avoided.

The Theotokos. Nestorius refused to call Mary the Theotokos (God bearer), which proved to be the starting point for the whole quarrel. He held that to call Mary the Mother of God would be in effect to say that the divine nature had been born of a woman; Mary had begotten only a man, to whom the Word of God was united. Nestorius would agree to say Theotokos (Mother of God) only on the condition that one said at the same time anthropotokos (mother of man); for him the right word was christotokos (mother of Christ).

While distinguishing between the natures, Nestorius still affirmed their union. He would not consent to speak of "two sons"; but he spoke of a conjunction, a voluntary union, or one of accommodation, and gave the impression of believing in a union in the psychological or moral order rather than that of a metaphysical nature. This would be an extrinsic union like that of a temple with the divinity inhabiting it, of clothing and the wearer, or of an instrument (organon ) and the user. Certain of these examples, such as that of the temple, are found in the Scriptures and in tradition.

Nestorius affirmed the close union and conjunction of a concrete human nature with the divinity, and the termination of that union is the prosopon or person of Christ, God and man. This involves a central point of difference between the theology of Nestorius and that of Cyril as well as that which the Church made its own at the Council of ephesus and in subsequent tradition.

Saint Cyril. For Cyril, who justly drew support from the Creed of Nicaea, the unique subject is the Word (Logos ) incarnate, become man in such fashion that it can be said that it is the Word that is born, lives, suffers, and dies in the flesh; there is no distinguishing between the Word and Christ. Nestorius on the other hand made a distinction between the Logos (the divine nature) and Christ (the Son, the Lord), which he saw as a result of the union of the divine nature and the human nature. Christ for him was like the total of two natures or the expression of their union, rather than the unique divine subject of the Incarnation. Nestorius spoke likewise of a "prosopon of union," the result of the union of the two prosopa, the divine and the human.

There is no doubt that Nestorius used the term prosopon (which meant originally the mask or representation of a person in the Greek theater) in expressions that recall the "communication of idioms," and he used formulas that Cyril might have employed; but the metaphysical foundation behind this use of "nature" and "person" was insufficient to protect the personal unity represented by the "Word Incarnate."

According to É. Amann, Nestorius could not imagine a nature without its own subsistence, or which was not a concrete hypostasis or personality. He did not clearly comprehend the distinction between the concept of real existence and that of independent subsistence. According to G. Prestige, Nestorius was not able to reduce to a unique, clearly differentiated person the two natures of Christ, which he nevertheless distinguished with such admirable realism.

The Nestorian Church. After the Council of Ephesus a strong Nestorian party existed in eastern Syria around the theological school of Ibas of Edessa, who was apparently a convinced Nestorian. After the theological peace achieved in the agreement of 433 between Cyril of Alexandria and John of Antioch, a number of bishops who rejected that agreement drew closer to the Syrian Church of Persia, which officially adopted Nestorianism at the Synod of Seleucia in 486. The Nestorians were expelled from Edessa in 489 by the Emperor Zeno and emigrated to Persia. It was thus that the Nestorian Church broke away from the faith of the Church of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire.

The Nestorianism of the Persian Church was greatly strengthened at the synod of 612 when it adopted the heterodox principles of the catholicos, Babai the Grea two natures, two hypostaseis, one sole prosopon; the term theotokos was formally excluded. This Church continued to flourish in spite of periods of persecution under the Sassanids, and even after the invasions of the Turks and Mongols. Its strength is witnessed by its theological schools at Seleucia and nisibis; its monasticism; and missionary expansion in Arabia, India (Malabar), Turkistan, Tibet, and even in China, where the bilingual inscription (in Syrian and Chinese) of Si-ngan-fu attests its presence in 781. The invasion and bloody persecution by Tamerlane (1380) almost destroyed the Nestorian Church, which today is greatly reduced in size in Iraq, Iran, and Syria and has a number of congregations in the United States.

A reunion of the Nestorians of Cyprus with Rome took place in 1445. In 1553 the Nestorian patriarch John Sulaqua professed the Catholic faith at Rome and was recognized as patriarch of Mosul. The union thus achieved continues today. Since 1696 the Chaldean patriarch has the title patriarch of Babylon. The Chaldeans number about 180,000 adherents. The Nestorians of Malabar, reunited with Rome in 1599, have some 1,300,000 communicants and use the old Syrian liturgy of Addai and Mari (see syro-malabar liturgy).

Bibliography: nestorius, Nestoriana, ed. f. loofs et al. (Halle 1905); Le Livre d'Héraclide de Damas, tr. and ed. f. nau et al. (Paris 1910), Eng. tr. The Bazaar of Heracleides, tr. and ed. g. r. driver and l. hodgson (Oxford 1925). j. f. b. baker, Nestorius and His Teaching (Cambridge, England 1908). f. loofs, Nestorius and His Place in the History of the Christian Doctrine (Cambridge, England 1914). É. amann, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350) 11.1:76157. a. grillmeier and h. bacht, Das Konzil von Chalkedon: Geschichte und Gegenwart, 3 v. (Würzburg 195154) 1:120202; "Das Scandalum oecumenicum des Nestorius," Scholastik 36 (1961) 32156. p. t. camelot, Das Konzil von Chalkedon: Geschichte und Gegenwart 1:21342; Éphèse et Chalcédoine, v.2 of Histoire des conciles oecuméniques (Paris 1962). l. i. scipioni, Ricerche sulla Cristologia del Libro di Eraclide di Nestorio (Fribourg 1956). f. nau, L'Expansion nestorienne en Asie (Paris 1914). e. tisserant, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique 11.1:157323. k. s. latourette, A History of the Expansion of Christianity, 7 v. (New York 193745) 2. w. c. emhardt and g. m. lamsa, The Oldest Christian People; A Brief Account of the History and Traditions of the Assyrian People and the Fateful History of the Nestorian Church, introduction by j. g. murray (New York 1970). j. joseph, The Modern Assyrians of the Middle Eas Encounters with Western Christian Missions, Archaeologists, and Colonial Powers (Leiden and Boston 2000). s. p. brock, "The Christology of the Church in the East in the Synods in the Fifth to Early Seventh Centuries," in Aksum-Thyateira (Athens 1985) 12542.

[p. t. camelot]


views updated May 14 2018


NESTORIANISM is a doctrinal position on the nature of Jesus Christ. In its extreme form the doctrine has been condemned by Christian councils, but the ideas associated with Nestorianism have come to represent one of the two main traditions of Christological thought in Christianity and have been ably defended and articulated by successive generations of Christian thinkers. The name goes back to Nestorius, a patriarch of Constantinople in the early fifth century who was deposed at the Council of Ephesus in 431 and exiled to Egypt in 436. Nestorius was not, however, an original thinker, and the theological views that came to be associated with his name had arisen late in the fourth century among Christian thinkers in eastern Asia Minor and Syria (in the vicinity of ancient Antioch), notably Diodore of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia. The distinctive features of Nestorianism can be made clear by contrasting it with another tradition of thought associated with the city of Alexandria in Egypt.

After the councils of Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381), the majority of Christians affirmed that Christ was fully God and was one with God the Father, creator of the world. The question then arose of the relation between this divine Son of God, the eternal Logos, and the human person Jesus of Nazareth who lived in the first century and is portrayed in the Gospels of the New Testament. The Alexandrian theologians, led by Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444), taught that Jesus Christ was the eternal Logos under the conditions of humanity. All the actions predicated of Jesus (e.g., human birth, growth in wisdom, suffering, and death) were predicated of the divine Logos as well. The Antiochene theologians (the forerunners of Nestorianism) believed that Jesus Christ was the result of a union between the divine Son of God and the man Jesus. They explained this union by analogy with the Jewish prophets, outstanding men on whom the spirit of God descended, except that in the case of Christ, God indwelt as in a Son, and the union between God and the Son was inseparable and perfect.

In the early fifth century these two ways of thinking, Alexandrian and Antiochene, clashed over the issue of whether Mary was theotokos, the one who gave birth to God, or christotokos, the bearer of Christ. After Nestorius became bishop of Constantinople, one of his priests, without Nestorius's objection, criticized the concept of theotokos as theologically erroneous. He urged the use of the term christotokos, which conformed to the Antiochene way of thinking of Mary as having given birth to the man Jesus, not to the eternal son of God. The term theotokos, however, had begun to be used by Christians and had the sanction of recent tradition. To Cyril of Alexandria, as well as to the bishop of Rome, denial of the concept of theotokos implied that Mary was not the Mother of God, and hence that God had not become human in the birth of Jesus Christ and that Mary was simply the mother of an exceptional man. Nestorius appeared to teach that there were two persons in Christ, the man Jesus and the divine Son of God. A flurry of theological polemics and political maneuvering ensued. In 430 Celestine, bishop of Rome, condemned Nestorius, and a year later Cyril presided over the Council of Ephesus, which also anathematized him. Emperor Theodosius supported the decision.

Nestorius's writings survive only in fragments, except for an obscure work, Bazaar of Heracleides, discovered in 1895 in a Syriac translation from the original Greek. Nestorius wrote the Bazaar some years after the controversy as a defense against the charges of his opponents.

Nestorianism, however, is not to be identified with the teaching of Nestorius, though he is venerated by the Nestorian church (i.e., the church of eastern Syria and Persia). Nestorius's supporters thought that their views were vindicated by the Council of Chalcedon in 451. During the course of the fifth century, they constituted themselves as an independent Christian body, with a school in Edessa under the leadership of Ibas, bishop of Edessa (435457) and an ecclesiastical center and see of the patriarch (who is called catholicos ) at Seleucia-Ctesiphon on the Tigris River. A small body of Nestorians has survived into modern times.

Under the leadership of distinguished theologians such as Babai the Great (d. 628), the Nestorians forged an alternative to the way of thinking about Christ that had become normative for most Christians in the East and West. They believed that the dominance of the Alexandrian tradition, with its stress on Christ's unity with God, jeopardized the integrity of his human nature. One of their favorite biblical texts was Luke 2:52, "Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man," a passage that is extremely difficult to interpret if one does not allow genuine human growth in Jesus. Other texts came from passages in Hebrews (2:10, 3:12) that suggest that Jesus had become perfect by what he had accomplished as a human being. Long after the ancient disputes a systematic presentation of Nestorian theology was written by Abdisa (d. 1318), metropolitan of Nisibis, in The Book of the Pearl.

See Also

Nestorian Church; Nestorius.


Abramowski, Luise, and Alan E. Goodman, eds. A Nestorian Collection of Christological Texts. 2 vols. Cambridge, 1972.

Grillmeier, Aloys. Christ in Christian Tradition. Atlanta, 1975.

Grillmeier, Aloys, and Heinrich Bacht, eds. Das Konzil von Chalkedon: Geschichte und Gegenwart. 3 vols. Würzburg, 19511954.

Robert L. Wilken (1987)


views updated Jun 11 2018

Nestorianism. The Christian heresy that within the incarnate Christ there were two separate persons, the one divine, the other human. It is named for Nestorius (d. c.451), patriarch of Constantinople from 428, who rejected the title Theotokos (‘God-bearer’) for the Virgin Mary as suggesting Apollinarianism.

The so-called Nestorian Church is the ancient church of the Persian empire, now most properly called the Church of the East.


views updated Jun 08 2018

Nestorianism Christian heresy according to which Jesus Christ, the incarnate God, possesses two separate natures, one divine and the other human, as opposed to the orthodox belief that Christ is one person who is at once both God and man. The heresy was associated with Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople, who died in c.451. It was condemned by the Councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451). Nestorius was deposed and banished. His supporters gradually organized themselves into a separate church, which had its centre in Persia (Iran).