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§ 137. The Nestorian Controversy, a.d. 428–431.


I. Nestorius: Ὁμιλίαι, Sermones; Anathematismi. Extracts from the Greek original in the Acts of the council of Ephesus; in a Latin translation in Marius Mercator, a North African layman who just then resided in Constantinople, Opera, ed. Garnerius, Par. 1673. Pars ii, and better ed. Baluzius, Par. 1684; also in Gallandi, Bibl. vet. P. P. viii. pp. 615–735, and in Migne’s Patrol. tom. 48. Nestorius’ own account (Evagr. H. E. i. 7) was used by his friend Irenaeus (comes, then bishop of Tyre till 448) in his Tragödia s. comm. de rebus in synodo Ephesina ac in Oriente toto gestis, which, however, is lost; the documents attached to it were revised in the 6th century in the Synodicon adversus tragödiam Irenaei, in Mansi, tom. v. fol. 731 sqq. In favor of Nestorius, or at least of his doctrine, Theodoret († 457) in his works against Cyril, and in three dialogues entitled Ἑρανιστής(Beggar). Comp. also the fragments of Theodore of Mopsuestia, († 429).

II. Against Nestorius: Cyril of Alex.: Ἀναθεματισμοὶ, Five Books κατὰ Νεστορίου, and several Epistles against Nest., and Theod., in vol. vi. of Aubert’s ed. of his Opera, Par. 1638 (in Migne’s ed. t. ix.). Socrates: vii. c. 29–35 (written after 431, but still before the death of Nestorius; comp. c. 84). Evagrius: H. E. i. 2–7. Liberatus (deacon of Carthage about 553): Breviarium causes Nestorianorum et Eutychianorum (ed. Gartnier, Par. 1675, and printed in Gallandi, Bibl. vet. Patr. tom. xii. pp. 121–161). Leontinus Byzant. (monachus): De sectis; and contra Nestorium et Eutychen (in Gallandi, Bibl. tom. xii. p. 625 sqq., and 658–700). A complete collection of all the acts of the Nestorian controversy in Mansi, tom. iv. fol. 567 sqq., and tom. v. vii. ix.

Later Literature.

Petavius: Theolog. dogmatum tom. iv. (de incarnations), lib. i. c. 7 sqq. Jo. Garnier: De haeresi et libris Nestorii (in his edition of the Opera Marii Mercator. Par. 1673, newly edited by Migne, Par. 1846). Gibbon: Decline and Fall of the R. E. ch. 41. P. E. Jablonski: De Nestorianismo. Berol. 1724. Gengler (R.C.): Ueber die Verdammung des Nestorius (Tübinger Quartalschrift, 1835, No. 2). Schröckh: K. Geschichte, vol. xviii. pp. 176–312. Walch: Ketzerhist. v. 289–936. Neander: K. Gesch. vol. iv. pp. 856–992. Gieseler, vol. i. Div. ii. pp. 131 ff. (4th ed.). Baur: Dreieinigkeit, vol. i. 693–777. Dorner: Christologie, vol. ii. pp. 60–98. Hefele (R.C.): Conciliengesch., vol. ii. pp. 134:ff. H. H. Milman: History of Latin Christianity, vol. i. ch. iii. pp. 195–252. (Stanley, in his History of the Eastern Church, has seen fit to ignore the Nestorian, and the other Christological controversies—the most important in the history of the Greek church!) Comp. also W. Möller: Article Nestorius, in Herzog’s Theol. Encykl. vol. x. (1858) pp. 288–296, and the relevant sections in the works on Doctrine History.

Apollinarianism, which sacrificed to the unity of the person the integrity of the natures, at least of the human nature, anticipated the Monophysite heresy, though in a peculiar way, and formed the precise counterpart to the Antiochian doctrine, which was developed about the same time, and somewhat later by Diodorus, bishop of Tarsus (died 394), and Theodore, bishop of Mopsuestia (393–428), and which held the divine and human in Christ so rigidly apart as to make Christ, though not professedly, yet virtually a double person.

From this school proceeded Nestorius, the head and martyr of the Christological heresy which bears his name. His doctrine differs from that of Theodore of Mopsuestia only in being less speculative and more practical, and still less solicitous for the unity of the person of Christ.15501550   So Dorner also states the difference, vol. ii. p. 62 f. He was originally a monk, then presbyter in Antioch, and after 428 patriarch of Constantinople. In Constantinople a second Chrysostom was expected in him, and a restorer of the honor of his great predecessor against the detraction of his Alexandrian rival. He was an honest man, of great eloquence, monastic piety, and the spirit of a zealot for orthodoxy, but impetuous, vain, imprudent, and wanting in sound, practical judgment. In his inaugural sermon he addressed Theodosius II. with these words: “Give me, O emperor, the earth purified of heretics, and I will give thee heaven for it; help me to fight the heretics, and I will help thee to fight the Persians.”15511551   Socrates, H. E., vii. 29.

He immediately instituted violent measures against Arians, Novatians, Quartodecimanians, and Macedonians, and incited the emperor to enact more stringent laws against heretics. The Pelagians alone, with whose doctrine of free will (but not of original sin) he sympathized, he treated indulgently, receiving to himself Julian of Eclanum, Coelestius, and other banished leaders of that party, interceding for them in 429 with the emperor and with the pope Celestine, though, on account of the very unfavorable reports concerning Pelagianism which were spread by the layman Marius Mercator, then living in Constantinople, his intercessions were of no avail. By reason of this partial contact of the two, Pelagianism was condemned by the council of Ephesus together with Nestorianism.

But now Nestorius himself fell out with the prevailing faith of the church in Constantinople. The occasion was his opposition to the certainly very bold and equivocal expression mother of God, which had been already sometimes applied to the virgin Mary by Origen, Alexander of Alexandria, Athanasius, Basil, and others, and which, after the Arian controversy, and with the growth of the worship of Mary, passed into the devotional language of the people.15521552   ΘεοτόκοςDeipara, genitrix Dei, mater Dei. On the earlier use of this word comp. Petavius: De incarnatione, lib. v. c. 15 (tom. iv. p. 47 1 sqq., Paris ed. of 1650). In the Bible the expression does not occur and only the approximate μήτηρ τοῦ κυρίου, in Luke i. 43; μήτηρ Ἰησοῦ, on the contrary, is frequent. Cyril appeals to Gal. iv. 4: ” God sent forth his Son, made of a woman.” To the Protestant mind θεοτόκος is offensive on account of its undeniable connection with the Roman Catholic worship of Mary, which certainly reminds us of the pagan mothers of gods. Comp. §§ 82 and 83.

It was of course not the sense, or monstrous nonsense, of this term, that the creature bore the Creator, or that the eternal Deity took its beginning from Mary; which would be the most absurd and the most wicked of all heresies, and a shocking blasphemy; but the expression was intended only to denote the indissoluble union of the divine and human natures in Christ, and the veritable incarnation of the Logos, who took the human nature from the body, of Mary, came forth God-Man from her womb, and as God-Man suffered on the cross. For Christ was borne as a person, and suffered as a person; and the personality in Christ resided in his divinity, not in his humanity. So, in fact, the reasonable soul of man, which is the centre of the human personality, participates in the suffering and the death-struggle of the body, though the soul itself does not and cannot die.

The Antiochian theology, however, could not conceive a human nature without a human personality, and this it strictly separated from the divine Logos. Therefore Theodore of Mopsuestia had already disputed the term theotokos with all earnestness. “Mary,” says he, “bore Jesus, not the Logos, for the Logos was, and continues to be, omnipresent, though he dwelt in Jesus in a special manner from the beginning. Therefore Mary is strictly the mother of Christ, not the mother of God. Only in a figure, per anaphoram, can she be called also the mother of God, because God was in a peculiar sense in Christ. Properly speaking, she gave birth to a man in whom the union with the Logos had begun, but was still so incomplete that he could not yet (till after his baptism) be called the Son of God.” He even declared it “insane” to say that God was born of the Virgin; “not God, but the temple in which God dwelt, was born of Mary.”

In a similar strain Nestorius, and his friend Anastasius, a priest whom he had brought with him from Antioch, argued from the pulpit against the theotokon. Nestorius claimed that he found the controversy already existing in Constantinople, because some were calling Mary mother of God (θεοτόκος), others, mother of Man (ἀνθρωποτόκος). He proposed the middle expression, mother of Christ (Χριστοτόκος), because Christ was at the same time God and man. He delivered several discourses on this disputed point. “You ask,” says he in his first sermon, “whether Mary may be called mother of God. Has God then a mother? If so, heathenism itself is excusable in assigning mothers to its gods; but then Paul is a liar, for he said of the deity of Christ that it was without father, without mother, and without descent.15531553   Heb. vii. 3: ἀπάτωρ, ἀμήτωπ, ἄνευ γενεαλογίας. No, my dear sir, Mary did not bear God; ... the creature bore not the uncreated Creator, but the man who is the instrument of the Godhead; the Holy Ghost conceived not the Logos, but formed for him, out of the virgin, a temple which he might inhabit (John ii. 21). The incarnate God did not die, but quickened him in whom he was made flesh .... This garment, which he used, I honor on account of the God which was covered therein and inseparable therefrom; ... I separate the natures, but I unite the worship. Consider what this must mean. He who was formed in the womb of Mary, was not himself God, but God assumed him [assumsit, i.e., clothed himself with humanity], and on account of Him who assumed, he who was assumed is also called God.”15541554   In the original in Mansi, iv. 1197; in a Latin translation in Marius Mercator, ed. Garnier, Migne, p. 757 ff. Comp. this and similar passages also in Hefele, ii. p. 137, and Gieseler, i. 2, 139.

From this word the Nestorian controversy took its rise; but this word represented, at the same time, a theological idea and a mighty religious sentiment; it was intimately connected with the growing veneration of Mary; it therefore struck into the field of devotion, which lies much nearer the people than that of speculative theology; and thus it touched the most vehement passions. The word theotokos was the watchword of the orthodox party in the Nestorian controversy, as the term homoousios had been in the Arian; and opposition to this word meant denial of the mystery of the incarnation, or of the true union of the divine and human natures in Christ.

And unquestionably the Antiochian Christology, which was represented by Nestorius, did not make the Logos truly become man. It asserted indeed, rightly, the duality of the natures, and the continued distinction between them; it denied, with equal correctness, that God, as such, could either be born, or suffer and die; but it pressed the distinction of the two natures to double personality. It substituted for the idea of the incarnation the idea of an assumption of human nature, or rather of an entire man, into fellowship with the Logos,15551555   Πρόσληψις. Theodore of Mopsuestia says (Act. Conc. Ephes. in Mansi, iv. fol. 1349): Ὁ δεσπότης θεὸς λόγος ἄνθρωπον εἴληφε τέλειον(hominem perfectum assumpsit), instead of φύσιν ἀνθρώπου εἴληφε,or σάρξ ἐγένετο. and an indwelling of Godhead in Christ.15561556   Ἐνοίκησις, in distinction from ἐνσάρκωσις. Instead of God-Man,15571557   Θεάνθρωπος. we have here the idea of a mere God-bearing man;15581558   θεοφόρος, also θεοδόχος, from δέχεσθαι, God-assuming. and the person of Jesus of Nazareth is only the instrument or the temple,15591559   Instrumentum, templum, ναὸς, a favorite term with the Nestorians. in which the divine Logos dwells. The two natures form not a personal unity,15601560   Ἕνωσις καθ ̓ ὑπόστασιν. but only a moral unity, an intimate friendship or conjunction.15611561   Συνάφεια, connection, affinity, intercourse, attachment in distinction from ἔνωσις, true interior union. Cyril of Alexandria charges Nestorius, in his Epist. ad Coelestinum: -Φεύγει πανταχοῦ τὸ λέγειν, τὴν ἔνωσιν, ἀλλ ̓ ὀνομάζει τὴν συνάφειαν, ωὝσπερ ἐστιν ὃ ἔξωθεν. They hold an outward, mechanical relation to each other,15621562   Ἕνωσις σχετική, a unity of relation (from σχέσις, condition, relation) in distinction from a ἕνωσις φυσική, or σύγκρασις, physical unity or commixture. in which each retains its peculiar attributes,15631563   Ἰδιώματα. forbidding any sort of communicatio idiomatum. This union is, in the first place, a gracious condescension on the part of God,15641564   Ἕνωσις κατὰ χάριν, or κατ ̓ εὐδοκίαν. whereby the Logos makes the man an object of the divine pleasure; and in the second place, an elevation of the man to higher dignity and to sonship with God.15651565   Ἕνωσις κατ ̓ αξίαν, καθ ̓ υἱοθεσίαν.. By virtue of the condescension there arises, in the third place, a practical fellowship of operation,15661566   Ἕνωσις κατ ̓ ἐνέργειαν in which the humanity becomes the instrument and temple of the deity and the ἕνωσις σχετικήcuIminates. Theodore of Mopsuestia, the able founder of the Antiochian Christology, set forth the elevation of the man to sonship with God (starting from Luke ii. 53) under the aspect of a gradual moral process, and made it dependent on the progressive virtue and meritoriousness of Jesus, which were completed in the resurrection, and earned for him the unchangeableness of the divine life as a reward for his voluntary victory of virtue.

The Antiochian and Nestorian theory amounts therefore, at bottom, to a duality of person in Christ, though without clearly avowing it. It cannot conceive the reality of the two natures without a personal independence for each. With the theanthropic unity of the person of Christ it denies also the theanthropic unity of his work, especially of his sufferings and death; and in the same measure it enfeebles the reality of redemption.15671567   Cyril charges upon Nestorius (Epist. ad Coelest.), that he does not say the Son of God died and rose again, but always only the man Jesus died and rose. Nestorius himself says, in his second homily (in Mar. Merc. 763 sq.): It may be said that the Son of God, in the wider sense, died, but not that God died. Moreover, the Scriptures, in speaking of the birth, passion, and death, never say God, but Christ, or Jesus, or the Lord,—all of them names which suit both natures. A born, dead, and buried God, cannot be worshipped. Pilate, says he in another sermon, did not crucify the Godhead, but the clothing of the Godhead, and Joseph of Arimathea did not shroud and bury the Logos (in Marius Merc. 789 sqq.).

From this point of view Mary, of course, could be nothing more than mother of the man Jesus, and the predicate theotokos, strictly understood, must appear absurd or blasphemous. Nestorius would admit no more than that God passed through (transiit) the womb of Mary.

This very war upon the favorite shibboleth of orthodoxy provoked the bitterest opposition of the people and of the monks, whose sympathies were with the Alexandrian theology. They contradicted Nestorius in the pulpit, and insulted him on the street; while he, returning evil for evil, procured corporal punishments and imprisonment for the monks, and condemned the view of his antagonists at a local council in 429.15681568   According to a partisan report of Basilius to the emperor Theodosius, Nestorius struck, with his own hand, a presumptuous monk who forbade the bishop, as an obstinate heretic, to approach the altar, and then made him over to the officers, who flogged him through the streets and then cast him out of the city.

His chief antagonist in Constantinople was Proclus, bishop of Cyzicum, perhaps an unsuccessful rival of Nestorius for the patriarchate, and a man who carried the worship of Mary to an excess only surpassed by a modern Roman enthusiast for the dogma of the immaculate conception. In a bombastic sermon in honor of the Virgin15691569   See Mansi, tom iv. 578; and the remarks of Walch, vol. v. 373 ff. he praised her as “the spotless treasure-house of virginity; the spiritual paradise of the second Adam; the workshop, in which the two natures were annealed together; the bridal chamber in which the Word wedded the flesh; the living bush of nature, which was unharmed by the fire of the divine birth; the light cloud which bore him who sat between the Cherubim; the stainless fleece, bathed in the dews of Heaven, with which the Shepherd clothed his sheep; the handmaid and the mother, the Virgin and Heaven.”

Soon another antagonist, far more powerful, arose in the person of the patriarch Cyril of Alexandria, a learned, acute, energetic, but extremely passionate, haughty, ambitious, and disputatious prelate. Moved by interests both personal and doctrinal, he entered the field, and used every means to overthrow his rival in Constantinople, as his like-minded uncle and predecessor, Theophilus, had overthrown the noble Chrysostom in the Origenistic strife. The theological controversy was at the same time a contest of the two patriarchates. In personal character Cyril stands far below Nestorius, but he excelled him in knowledge of the world, shrewdness, theological learning and acuteness, and had the show of greater veneration for Christ and for Mary on his side; and in his opposition to the abstract separation of the divine and human he was in the right, though he himself pressed to the verge of the opposite error of mixing or confusing the two natures in Christ.15701570   Comp. in particular his assertion of a ἕνωσις φυσικήin the third of his Anathematismi against Nestorius; Hefele (ii. 155), however, understands by this not a ἔνωσις εἰς μίαν φύσιν, but only a real union in one being, one existence. In him we have a striking proof that the value of a doctrine cannot always be judged by the personal worth of its representatives. God uses for his purposes all sorts of instruments, good, bad, and indifferent.

Cyril first wrote to Nestorius; then to the emperor, the empress Eudokia, and the emperor’s sister Pulcheria, who took lively interest in church affairs; finally to the Roman bishop Celestine; and he warned bishops and churches east and west against the dangerous heresies of his rival. Celestine, moved by orthodox instinct, flattered by the appeal to his authority, and indignant at Nestorius for his friendly reception of the exiled Pelagians, condemned his doctrine at a Roman council, and deposed him from the patriarchal chair, unless he should retract within ten days (430).

As Nestorius persisted in his view, Cyril, despising the friendly mediation of the patriarch John of Antioch, hurled twelve anathemas, or formulas of condemnation, at the patriarch of Constantinople from a council at Alexandria by order of the pope (430).15711571   Cyrilli Opera, tom. iii. 67; in Mansi, iv. fol. 1067 sqq.; in Gieseler, i. ii. p. 143 ff. (§ 88, not. 20); in Hefele, ii. 155 ff.

Nestorius replied with twelve counter-anathemas, in which he accused his opponents of the heresy of Apollinaris.15721572   In Marius Mercator, p. 909; Gieseler, i. ii. 145 f.; Hefele, ii. 158 ff. Theodoret of Cyros, the learned expositor and church historian, also wrote against Cyril at the instance of John of Antioch.

The controversy had now become so general and critical, that it could be settled only by an ecumenical council.

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