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§ 138. The Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, a.d. 431. The Compromise.

For the Acts of the Council, see Mansi (tom. iv. fol. 567–1482, and a part of tom. v.), Harduin, and Fuchs, and an extended history of the council and the transactions connected with it in Walch, Schröckh, and Hefele (ii. pp. 162–271). We confine ourselves to the decisive points.

Theodosius II., in connection with his Western colleague, Valentinian III., summoned a universal council on Pentecost, a.d. 431, at Ephesus, where the worship of the Virgin mother of God had taken the place of the worship of the light and life dispensing virgin Diana. This is the third of the ecumenical councils, and is held, therefore, by all churches, in high regard. But in moral character this council stands far beneath that of Nicaea or of the first council of Constantinople. An uncharitable, violent, and passionate Spirit ruled the transactions. The doctrinal result, also, was mainly only negative; that is to say, condemnation of Nestorianism. The positive and ecumenical character of the council was really secured only by the subsequent transactions, and the union of the dominant party of the council with the protesting minority of Oriental bishops.15731573   It is with reference to this council mainly that Dean Milman (Latin Christianity, i. 227) passes the following harsh and sweeping judgment on the ecumenical councils of the ancient church: “Nowhere is Christianity less attractive, and, if we look to the ordinary tone and character of the proceedings, less authoritative, than in the councils of the church. It is in general a fierce collision of two rival factions, neither of which will yield, each of which is solemnly pledged against conviction. Intrigue, injustice, violence, decisions on authority alone, and that the authority of a turbulent majority, decisions by wild acclamation rather than after sober inquiry, detract from the reverence, and impugn the judgments, at least of the later councils. The close is almost invariably a terrible anathema, in which it is impossible not to discern the tones of human hatred, of arrogant triumph, of rejoicing at the damnation imprecated against the humiliated adversary. Even the venerable council of Nicaea commenced with mutual accusals and recriminations, which were suppressed by the moderation of the emperor; and throughout the account of Eusebius there is an adulation of the imperial convert with something of the intoxication, it might be of pardonable vanity, at finding themselves the objects of royal favor, and partaking in royal banquets. But the more fatal error of that council was the solicitation, at least the acquiescence in the infliction, of a civil penalty, that of exile, against the recusant prelates. The degeneracy is rapid from the council of Nicaea to that of Ephesus, where each party came determined to use every means of haste, manoeuvre, court influence, bribery, to crush his adversary; where there was an encouragement of, if not an appeal to, the violence of the populace, to anticipate the decrees of the council; where each had his own tumultuous foreign rabble to back his quarrel; and neither would scruple at any means to obtain the ratification of their anathemas through persecution by the civil government.” This is but the dark side of the picture. In spite of all human passions and imperfections truth triumphed at last, and this alone accounts for the extraordinary effect of these ecumenical councils, and the authority they still enjoy in the whole Christian world.

Nestorius came first to Ephesus with sixteen bishops, and with an armed escort, as if he were going into battle. He had the imperial influence on his side, but the majority of the bishops and the prevailing voice of the people in Ephesus, and also in Constantinople, were against him. The emperor himself could not be present in person, but sent the captain of his body-guard, the comes Candidian. Cyril appeared with a numerous retinue of fifty Egyptian bishops, besides monks, parabolani, slaves, and seamen, under the banner of St. Mark and of the holy Mother of God. On his side was the archbishop Memnon of Ephesus, with forty of his Asiatic suffragans and twelve bishops from Pamphilia; and the clergy, the monks, and the people of Asia Minor were of the same sentiment. The pope of Rome—for the first time at an ecumenical council—was represented by two bishops and a priest, who held with Cyril, but did not mix in the debates, as they affected to judge between the contending parties, and thus maintain the papal authority. This deputation, however, did not come in at the beginning.15741574   St Augustinealso was one of the Western bishops who were summoned, the emperor having sent a special officer to him; but he had died shortly before, on the 28th of August, 430. The patriarch John of Antioch, a friend of Nestorius, was detained on the long journey with his bishops.

Cyril refused to wait, and opened the council in the church of St. Mary with a hundred and sixty bishops15751575   Before the sentence of deposition came to be subscribed, the number had increased to a hundred and ninety-eight. According to the Roman accounts Cyril presided in the name and under the commission of the pope; but in this case he should have yielded the presidency in the second and subsequent sessions, at which the papal legates were present; which he did not do. sixteen days after Pentecost, on the 22d of June, in spite of the protest of the imperial commissioner. Nestorius was thrice cited to appear, but refused to come until all the bishops should be assembled. The council then proceeded without him to the examination of the point in dispute, and to the condemnation of Nestorius. The bishops unanimously cried: “Whosoever does not anathematize Nestorius, let himself be anathema; the true faith anathematizes him; the holy council anathematizes him. Whosoever holds fellowship with Nestorius, let him be anathema. We all anathematize the letter and the doctrines of Nestorius. We all anathematize Nestorius and his followers, and his ungodly faith, and his ungodly doctrine. We all anathematize Nestorius,” &c.15761576   In Mansi, tom. iv. p. 1170 sq.; Hefele, ii. 169. Then a multitude of Christological expressions of the earlier fathers and several passages from the writings of Nestorius were read, and at the close of the first session, which lasted till late in the night, the following sentence of deposition was adopted and subscribed by about two hundred bishops: “The Lord Jesus Christ, who is blasphemed by him [Nestorius], determines through this holy council that Nestorius be excluded from the episcopal office, and from all sacerdotal fellowship.”15771577   Ὁ βλασφημηθεὶς τοίνυν παρ ̓ αὐτοῦ κύριος ·ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς ωὝρισε διὰ τῆς παρούσης ἁγιωτάτης συνόδου, ἀλλότριον εἶναι τὸν αὐτὸν Νεστόριον τοῦ ἐπισκοπικοῦ ἀξιώματος καὶ παντὸς συλλόγου ἱερατικοῦ. Mansi, iv. fol. 1211; Hefele, ii. 172.

The people of Ephesus hailed this result with universal jubilee, illuminated the city, and accompanied Cyril with torches and censers in state to his house.15781578   So Cyril himself complacently relates in a letter to his friends in Egypt. See Mansi, tom. iv. 1241 sq.

On the following day Nestorius was informed of the sentence of deposition in a laconic edict, in which he was called a new Judas. But he indignantly protested against the decree, and made complaint in an epistle to the emperor. The imperial commissioner declared the decrees invalid, because they were made by only a portion of the council, and he prevented as far as possible the publication of them.

A few days after, on the 26th or 27th of June, John of Antioch at last reached Ephesus, and immediately, with forty-two bishops of like sentiment, among whom was the celebrated Theodoret, held in his dwelling, under the protection of the imperial commissioner and a body-guard, a counter council or conciliabulum, yielding nothing to the haste and violence of the other, deposed Cyril of Alexandria and Memnon of Ephesus from all priestly functions, as heretics and authors of the whole disorder and declared the other bishops who voted with them excommunicate until they should anathematize the heretical propositions of Cyril.15791579   The Acts of this counter council in Mansi, tom. iv. 1259 sqq. (Acta Conciliabuli). Comp. also Hefele, ii. 178 ff.

Now followed a succession of mutual criminations, invectives, arts of church diplomacy and politics, intrigues, and violence, which give the saddest picture of the uncharitable and unspiritual Christianity of that time. But the true genius of Christianity is, of course, far elevated above its unworthy organs, and overrules even the worst human passions for the cause of truth and righteousness.

On the 10th of July, after the arrival of the papal legates, who bore themselves as judges, Cyril held a second session, and then five more sessions (making seven in all), now in the house of Memnon, now in St. Mary’s church, issuing a number of circular letters and six canons against the Nestorians and Pelagians.

Both parties applied to the weak emperor, who, without understanding the question, had hitherto leaned to the side of Nestorius, but by public demonstrations and solemn processions of the people and monks of Constantinople under the direction of the aged and venerated Dalmatius, was awed into the worship of the mother of God. He finally resolved to confirm both the deposition of Nestorius and that of Cyril and Memnon, and sent one of the highest civil officers, John, to Ephesus, to publish this sentence, and if possible to reconcile the contending parties. The deposed bishops were arrested. The council, that is the majority, applied again to the emperor and his colleague, deplored their lamentable condition, and desired the release of Cyril and Memnon, who had never been deposed by them, but on the contrary had always been held in high esteem as leaders of the orthodox doctrine. The Antiochians likewise took all pains to gain the emperor to their side, and transmitted to him a creed which sharply distinguished, indeed, the two natures in Christ, yet, for the sake of the unconfused union of the two (ἀσύγχυτος ἕωσις), conceded to Mary the disputed predicate theotokos.

The emperor now summoned eight spokesmen from each of the two parties to himself to Chalcedon. Among them were, on the one side, the papal deputies, on the other John of Antioch and Theodoret of Cyros, while Cyril and Memnon were obliged to remain at Ephesus in prison, and Nestorius at his own wish was assigned to his former cloister at Antioch, and on the 25th of October, 431, Maximian was nominated as his successor in Constantinople. After fruitless deliberations, the council of Ephesus was dissolved in October, 431, Cyril and Memnon set free, and the bishops of both parties commanded to go home.

The division lasted two years longer, till at last a sort of compromise was effected. John of Antioch sent the aged bishop Paul of Emisa a messenger to Alexandria with a creed which he had already, in a shorter form, laid before the emperor, and which broke the doctrinal antagonism by asserting the duality of the natures against Cyril, and the predicate mother of God against Nestorius.15801580   In Mansi, tom. v. fol. 305; Hefele, ii. 246; and Gieseler, i. ii. p. 150 “We confess,” says this symbol, which was composed by Theodoret, “that our Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, is perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and body subsisting;15811581   . Θεὸν τέλειον καὶ ἄνθρωπον τέλειον ἐκ ψυχῆς λογικῆς(against Apollinaris), καὶ σώματος. as to his Godhead begotten of the Father before all time, but as to his manhood, born of the Virgin Mary in the end of the days for us and for our salvation; of the same essence with the Father as to his Godhead, and of the same substance with us as to his manhood;15821582   Ὁμοούσιον τῷ πατρὶ κατὰ τὴν θεότητα, καὶ ὁμοούσιον ἡμῖν κατὰ τὴν ἀνθρωπότητα. Here homoousios, at least in the second clause, evidently does not imply numerical unity, but only generic unity. for two natures are united with one another.15831583   Δύο γὰρ φύσεων ἕνωσις·γέγονε, in opposition to the μία φύσιςof Cyril. Therefore we confess one Christ, one Lord, and one Son. By reason of this union, which yet is without confusion,15841584   . Κατὰ ταύτην τὴν τῆς ἀσυγχύτου(against Cyril) ἑνώσεως ἔννοιαν. we also confess that the holy Virgin is mother of God, because God the Logos was made flesh and man, and united with himself the temple [humanity] even from the conception; which temple he took from the Virgin. But concerning the words of the Gospel and Epistles respecting Christ, we know that theologians apply some which refer to the one person to the two natures in common, but separate others as referring to the two natures, and assign the expressions which become God to the Godhead of Christ, but the expressions of humiliation to his manhood.”15851585   Καὶ τὰς μὲν θεοπρεπεῖς κατὰ τὴν θεότητα τοῦ Χριστοῦ, τὰς δὲ ταπεινὰς κατὰ τὴν ἀνθρωπότητα αὐτοῦ παραδιδόντας.Gieseler says (i. ii. p. 152), Nestorius never asserted anything but what agrees with this confession which Cyril subscribed. But he pressed the distinction of the natures in Christ so far that it amounted, in substance, though not in expression, to two persons; he taught not a true becoming man, but the union of the Logos with a τέλειος ἄνθρωπος, a human person therefore not nature; and he constantly denied the theotokos, except in an improper sense. His doctrine was unquestionably much distorted by his cotemporaries; but so also was the doctrine of Cyril. Cyril assented to this confession, and repeated it verbally, with some further doctrinal explanations, in his answer to the irenical letter of the patriarch of Antioch, but insisted on the condemnation and deposition of Nestorius as the indispensable condition of church fellowship. At the same time he knew how to gain the imperial court to the orthodox side by all kinds of presents, which, according to the Oriental custom of testifying submission to princes by presents, were not necessarily regarded as bribes. The Antiochians, satisfied with saving the doctrine of two natures, thought it best to sacrifice the person of Nestorius to the unity of the church, and to anathematize his “wicked and unholy innovations.”15861586   Τὰς φαύλας αὐτοῦ καὶ βεβήλους καινοφωνίας . Thus in 433 union was effected, though not without much contradiction on both sides, nor without acts of imperial force.

The unhappy Nestorius was dragged from the stillness of his former cloister, the cloister of Euprepius before the gates of Antioch, in which he had enjoyed four years of repose, from one place of exile to another, first to Arabia, then to Egypt, and was compelled to drink to the dregs the bitter cup of persecution which he himself, in the days of his power, had forced upon the heretics. He endured his suffering with resignation and independence, wrote his life under the significant title of Tragedy,15871587   Fragments in Evagrius, H. E. i. 7, and in the Synodicon adversus Tragoediam Irenaei, c. 6. That the book bore the name of Tragedy, is stated by Ebedjesu, a Nestorian metropolitan. The imperial commissioner, Irenaeus, afterwards bishop of Tyre, a friend of Nestorius, composed a book concerning him and the ecclesiastical history of his time, likewise under the title of Tragedy, fragments of which, in a Latin translation, are preserved in the so-called Synodicon, in Mansi, v. 731 sqq. and died after 439, no one knows where nor when. Characteristic of the fanaticism of the times is the statement quoted by Evagrius, 15881588   Hist. Eccl. i. 6. that Nestorius, after having his tongue gnawed by worms in punishment for his blasphemy, passed to the harder torments of eternity. The Monophysite Jacobites are accustomed from year to year to cast stones upon his supposed grave in Upper Egypt and have spread the tradition that it has never been moistened by the rain of heaven, which yet falls upon the evil and the good. The emperor, who had formerly favored him, but was now turned entirely against him, caused all his writings to be burned, and his followers to be named after Simon Magus, and stigmatized as Simonians.15891589   For his sad fate and his upright character Nestorius, after having been long abhorred, has in modem times, since Luther, found much sympathy; while Cyril by his violent conduct has incurred much censure. Walch, l.c. v. p. 817 ff., has collected the earlier opinions. Gieseler and Neander take the part of Nestorius against Cyril, and think that he was unjustly condemned. So also Milman, who would rather meet the judgment of the Divine Redeemer loaded with the errors of Nestorius than with the barbarities of Cyril, but does not enter into the theological merits of the controversy. (History of Latin Christianity, i. 210.) Petavius, Baur, Hefele, and Ebrard, on the contrary, vindicate Cyril against Nestorius, not as to his personal conduct, which was anything but Christian, but in regard to the particular matter in question, viz., the defence of the unity of Christ against the division of his personality. Dorner (ii. 81 ff.) justly distributes right and wrong, truth and error, on both sides, and considers Nestorius and Cyril representatives of two equally one-sided conceptions, which complement each other. Cyril’s strength lay on the religious and speculative side of Christology, that of Nestorius on the ethical and practical. Kahnis gives a similar judgment, Dogmatik, ii. p. 8 6.

The same orthodox zeal turned also upon the writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia, the long deceased teacher of Nestorius and father of his error. Bishop Rabulas of Edessa († 435) pronounced the anathema upon him and interdicted his writings; and though his successor Ibas (436–457) again interested himself in Theodore, and translated several of his writings into Syriac (the ecclesiastical tongue of the Persian church), yet the persecution soon broke out afresh, and the theological school of Edessa where the Antiochian theology had longest maintained its life, and whence the Persian clergy had proceeded, was dissolved by the emperor Zeno in 489. This was the end of Nestorianism in the Roman empire.

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