Nestorianism

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Nestorianism

Nestorianism, Christian heresy that held Jesus to be two distinct persons, closely and inseparably united. In 428, Emperor Theodosius II named an abbot of Antioch, Nestorius (d. 451?), as patriarch of Constantinople. In that year Nestorius, who had been a pupil of Theodore of Mopsuestia, outraged the Christian world by opposing the use of the title Mother of God for the Virgin on the grounds that, while the Father begot Jesus as God, Mary bore him as a man. This view was contradicted by Cyril, patriarch of Alexandria, and both sides appealed to Pope Celestine I. The Council of Ephesus (see Ephesus, Council of) was convened in 431 to settle the matter. This council (reinforced by the Council of Chalcedon in 451) clarified orthodox Catholic doctrine, pronouncing that Jesus, true God and true man, has two distinct natures that are inseparably joined in one person and partake of the one divine substance. Nestorius, deposed after the Council of Ephesus, was sent to Antioch, to Arabia, and finally to Egypt. A work believed to be by Nestorius, Bazaar of Heraclides, discovered c.1895, gives an account of the controversy. The patriarch of Antioch and his bishops, accusing Cyril of unscrupulous action, stayed out of communion with Alexandria until a compromise was reached in 433, but though the subject was discussed in 553 at the Second Council of Constantinople (see Constantinople, Second Council of), Nestorianism was practically dead in the empire after 451. Nestorianism survived outside the Roman Empire through missionary expansion into Arabia, China, and India from the 6th cent., but declined after 1300. The doctrines that continued in the Nestorian Church had diminishing connections with those of Nestorius. The teachings of Eutyches and Monophysitism developed partially in reaction to Nestorianism. J. Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (1971); and R. Norris, ed. and tr., The Christological Controversy (1980).
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Nestorianism

 

a movement in Christianity that arose in Byzantium in the fifth century; founded by Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople from 428 to 431 (before that, a priest in Antioch, Syria).

For Nestorianism, which retained elements of classical rationalism, the mystical Christian concept of the “god-man” was the object of criticism. According to Nestorius, the Virgin Mary bore a man who subsequently rose to the level of the son of god (the messiah) after he had overcome human weakness; in Christ the human and the divine elements coexist only in a relative union, never fully merging. In contrast, orthodox doctrine emphasized the full unity of the human and the divine. Nestorius’ social support was mainly from those who still maintained classical traditions. His influence was especially great in Syria. His chief opponent was Cyril, bishop of Alexandria, who was supported by the monks and the rural population of Egypt, Palestine, and Asia Minor. At the Council of Ephesus in 431, Nestorianism was condemned as a heresy, and Nestorius was exiled. Most of the Nestorians fled to Iran (where they formed the Nestorian Church, which flourished until the mid-seventh century), to Middle Asia, and later to China.

Today there are Nestorians in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and India (along the Malabar Coast). In the early 20th century, when works by Nestorius previously known only through his opponents’ expositions were published, a tendency appeared in Western theology to prove that the doctrine of Nestorianism is not divergent from orthodoxy.

A. P. KAZHDAN

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.