THE GREAT SCHISM – Samueh Hugh Moffett

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Earthly things have little interest for me.  I have died to the world and live for him…. Farewell desert, my friend … and [ farewell ] exile, my mother, who after my death shall keep my body until the resurection… as for Nestorius-let him be anathema… And would God that all men by anathematizing me might attain to reconciliation with God….

– Nestorius, The Bazaar of Heracleides

The Great Schism *

Samuel Hugh Moffett

WHAT finally divided the early church, East from West, Asia from Europe, was neither war nor persecution but the blight of a violent theological controversy, that raged through the Mediterranean world in the second quarter of the fifth century. It came to be called the Nestorian controversy, and how much of it was theological and how much political is still being debated, but it irreversibly split the church not only east and west but also north and south and hacked it into so many pieces that it was never the same again. Out of it came an ill-fitting name for the church in non-Roman Asia, “Nestorian.”

The dimensions of the schism can best be appreciated by comparing the church of 325 after the First Ecumenical Council, Nicaea, with the same Christian world a century and a quarter later in 451 after the Fourth Ecumenical Council, Chalcedon.

Both councils were called to repair deep theological divisions. In 325 the problem was Arianism, which denied the full deity of Christ. In 451 the question was more complicated and concerned the relationship of deity and humanity in the nature of Christ, as we shall see. But where Nicaea united the holy Catholic Church against the defeated Arians, Chalcedon was unable to prevent the splintering of Christendom.

For a good many years even the earlier council, Nicaea, seemed doomed to failure. Scarcely had that council adjourned before the Christian unity it had achieved began to crumble. A violent Arian reaction spread through the Roman Empire. Constantine the Creat’s own son and successor in Constantinople, Constantius, was Arian. A triumphal missionary expansion of Arianism among the Teutonic tribes, spearheaded by the saintly “apostle to the Goths,” Ulfilas  (311-383), began to separate barbarian Europe, which was rapidly converting to Arianism and seemed about to overcome the orthodox, catholic empire.

Then the orthodox center itself began to disintegrate. The great patriarchates of Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, and Alexandria were torn apart by jurisdictional jealousies that were too easily translated into doctrinal divisions.

At the beginning of the fifth century, in 404, the infamous affair of the deposition and exile of Chrysostom of Constantinople split Rome away from communion with its three sister patriarchates, 1 and the church’s internal resentments intensified. What should have


*  Excerpts from : A History of Christianity in Asia.  By: Samuel Hugh Moffett. copyright @, 1998 .Reprinted by permission of Orbis Books.

been a spreading flame bearing light and warmth from the center to the ends of the earth turned instead into a wheel of fire spinning out of control and casting off blazing masses of incendiary countermovements. For a short period at mid-century, just after Chalcedon, every major political power center in Europe was Arian.2 The far west (Spain and Gaul) remained Arian even longer. The far east (Persia, India, and east Syria) was Nestorian. Africa and the Near East (Egypt, Ethiopia, Syria, and Armenia) turned Monophysite. It was only a little more than a hundred years since Nicaea had unified the church, but to the orthodox it must have seemed that the heretics were winning the world. And the worst of the damage was done in just two decades, between 430 and 450.

The Nestorian Controversy

The theological entanglements of the period belong mainly to Western church history, but they impinge so significantly on the later development of Asian Christianity that they must be reviewed here.The landmarks are the great Christological statements of the first four ecumenical councils: Nicaea, 325; Constantinople,381; Ephesus, 431; and Chalcedon,451.

The first two, which condemned Arianism, were not a major issue in non-Roman Asia. The Church of the East, in fact, was largely ignorant of the Nicene Creed as late as the early fifth century, though it adopted it readily enough when it was presented at the Synod of Isaac in 410. 3 “Christ is truly God,” declared Nicaea against Arius, the presbyter from Egypt who had described the Lord more as a demigod, a being created by God rather than coeternal with him. 4 “Christ is truly man,” the second council, Constantinople, added, repeating on behalf of Syria and Asia Minor what had already been said at Nicaea but with an enlarged emphasis on the humanity of Christ. 5

Then at the beginning of the fifth century the early church’s quest for ever more precise theological definitions of the apostolic teaching on the person and work of Christ took a new turn. It became embroiled in a bitter argument between the theological schools of two of the great patriarchates, Alexandria and Antioch, on a vexing, unanswered question raised by the statement in the Nicene Creed that Christ is God and that he is also man. In that case, said some Christians, he must be two persons, one divine and one human. Then what becomes of his unity? Is he a split personality? On the other hand, if he is only one whole person, how can one contain two wholes (“wholly God and wholly man”)?

The school of Alexandria, led by its strong-minded, hot-tempered patriarch, Cyril, put its emphasis on the unity of the person of Christ. But in order to preserve the oneness it was difficult not to weaken either his deity or his humanity1 for “complete God” and “complete man” strongly implies duality of person. Cyril’s explanation of the two natures seemed to Antioch to weaken the humanity of Christ and to stress his deity as of higher significance. The Alexandrian school, strong on the doctrine of redemption, genuinely and naturally defended the deity in Christ’s nature, for only a divine Christ could save sinners. But in so doing, the Alexandrians ran the risk of losing some of the historic authenticity of Christ’s human nature. 6

The school of Antioch took precisely the opposite emphasis, and it was from this school that Nestorian theology derived. Its great strength was its insistence on the historic, human Christ. Antioch was as much interested in redemption as Alexandria but linked this with an equal concern for Christian ethics. It had long been known for its care for the poor and hungry. It was perhaps natural, therefore, for Christians in Antioch to emphasize Christ’s humanity, for only a completely human Christ could be an ethical and moral example to Christian men and women. 7 In any such contrast made between the two schools, however, it must be remembered that neither Alexandria nor Antioch denied that Christ was both God and man. Both prided themselves on their orthodoxy. The difference was a matter of emphasis. 8

The father of Antiochene (and therefore of Nestorian) theology was a well-born native of that city, Theodore, known to history as Theodore of Mopsuestia (350428). His youth had been erratic. At first he was attracted to the cynical sophism of a famous rhetorician, Libanius, who taught his pupils to dismiss Christianity as a pack of “ridiculous and contemptible absurdities.” 9 Surprisingly, the young Theodore was converted to the faith his teacher despised and, as is sometimes the case in such things, veered to the other extreme. Influenced by a fellow student, the later-famous John Chrysostom, who had also left the company of Libanius to follow Christ, 10 Theodore renounced the world and turned to radical asceticism. But he was no more fit for the lonely life of a monk than for that of a dilettante philosopher. He longed for marriage. Chrysostom guided him to an alternative: the life of a scholar-bishop. Here at last he found happiness, combining the busy human demands of diocesan administration with the scholastic challenge of a pioneering approach to Bible study and exegesis. In 392 he was made bishop of Mopsuestia, a town north of Antioch on the road to Tarsus, and ruled the church there for thirty-six years. His fame spread as an ecpositor of the Scriptures, and to this day he is called “the Interpreter” by the east Syrians. Theodore taught that the basic principle of biblical exposition was to concentrate on what the Bible actually said and to avoid the temptation to read into it one’s own herrneneutical interpretations. “He limited his attention to the literal sense of Scripture,” is how Socrates, the church historian who was a younger contemporary of Theodore, described it. 11 This was a sharp contrast to the allegorical style of Origen, so popular in Alexandria, which opened the Bible to often capricious interpretations by attaching two or three levels of meaning to every text. Theodore was also more careful than most not to overemphasize the prophetic and typological allusions of the Old Testament. He accepted only four psalms as specifically messianic (Pss. 2; 8; 45; and 110). At one critical point, however, he left himself open to serious criticism. To some in the West, his doctrine of sin was more Pelagian than Augustinian. Perhaps Eastern bishops like Theodore, aware of Augustine’s Manichaean past, read into Augustine’s doctrine of original sin a hint of the Manichaean heresy with which they had to contend, namely, that human nature is basically evil because it is linked to the world of matter. At any rate, in Theodore’s view sin was more a weakness than a disease or a tainted will. Weak definitions of sin will produce weak doctrines concerning the Savior from sin, so his opponents in the next generation thought and condemned him, as we shall see, along with his pupil, Nestorius, for allegedly teaching that Jesus was only “a man indissolubly united to God through the permanent indwelling of the Logos.”12

But that came later. In his own lifetime the crowds chanted, “We believe as Theodore believed; long live the faith of Theodore.” 13 It was only after he died that the smouldering theological volcano erupted and clouded his name for centuries, though now the cloud is lifting in the light of recent reappraisals of Theodore’s essentially pre-Chalcedonian orthodoxy. 14

The eruption, when it came, was touched off by Theodore’s fiend, Nestorius, who became the central figure in the most crippling controversy ever to divide the early church. Nestorius was born in Cermanicia in the Euphrates district of the patriarchate of Antioch. Not much is known of his early life save that he entered a monastery near Antioch out of which he was often called upon to preach in the city’s cathedral church. He was a powerful speaker and began to win fame as a highly popular preacher. He may have studied for a while under Theodore of Mopsuestia. In 428 he was suddenly appointed to one of the highest posts in all Christendom, that of patriarch of Constantinople. His opponents later sneeringly suggested that only his beautiful voice and fluent phrases could account for the unexpected promotion of this fairly obscure priest to the ecclesiastical throne of Eastern Rome, but when they complained to the emperor, Theodosius II coldly replied that good preaching was at least better than the bribes, violence, slander, and quarreling that was all they had to offer in his stead:

(You) monks did not agree with the clergy: the clergy were not of one mind: the bishops were divided: and the people in like manner disagreed. 15

On his journey to Constantinople to take up his new post, Nestorius stopped in Mopsuestia to visit Theodore, who warned him to be careful, be moderate, and respect the opinions of others. 16 It was good advice, but Nestorius did not heed it. Carried away by zeal at his consecration as patriarch in April 428, he cried out, “Give me, O Emperor, the earth purged from heretics, and I will give you heaven.” So saying he launched a drive against the Arian heretics and closed their only chapel in Constantinople.17 Other crusades followed swiftly; but suddenly, in an ironic twist of fate, Nestorius the heresy hunter found himself accused of heresy.

The trouble began when Nestorius celebrated the birth of Christ in a series of Christmas sermons and turned his attention to a popular phrase used in the West but not in Antioch to describe the Virgin Mary. In Constantinople she was called “the Mother of God” (in Greek, theotokos, or “God-bearer”), and this grated on the ears of an Antiochene schooled to defend the complete humanity of Jesus Christ. Others had already questioned the use of the title, and with the best of intentions Nestorius sought to mediate in the dispute:

When I came here, I found a dispute among the members of the church, some of whom were calling the Blessed Virgin Mother of God, while others were calling her Mother of man. Gathering both parties together, I suggested that she should be called Mother of Christ, a term which represented both God and man, as it is used in the gospels. 18

But the phrase Nestorius was criticizing for its loose theology had all the emotional popularity of a religious slogan, and his objection to the sacred words brought his enemies down on him like wolves. This was the opportunity that his rival, Cyril, the patriarch of Alexandria, had been hoping for. Cyril had two reasons for seeking the downfall of Nestorius. The first was political. Up to the end of the fourth century Alexandria had been the greatest patriarchate in the world next to Rome. But the Second Ecumenical Council (Constantinople, 381) had declared that Rome and Constantinople were equal, though Rome, of course, had the precedence of antiquity. So to the anguish of Cyril, Alexandria had been demoted below Constantinople. Added to this political enmity was the long-standing theological rivalry between the school of Antioch and the school of Alexandria.

On Easter Sunday in 429, Cyril publicly denounced Nestorius for heresy. With fine disregard for anything Nestorius had actually said, he accused him of denying the deity of Christ. It was a direct and incendiary appeal to the emotions of the orthodox, rather than to precise theological definition or scriptural exegesis, and, as he expected, an ecclesiastical uproar followed. Cyril showered Nestorius with twelve bristling anathemas. The Antiochenes countered with twelve equally angry counteranathemas against the bishop of Alexandria. These were attributed to the milder Nestorius but are now known not to be written by him. 19 As tempers mounted, a Third Ecumenical Council was summoned to meet in Ephesus in 431 to make peace among the warring patriarchs. All it produced was more war.

Ephesus, 431, was the most violent and least equitable of all the great councils. It is an embarrassment and blot on the history of the church. The council was called by the authority of the emperor, who favored Nestorius, but Cyril stole it away from him. When he received word that the patriarch of Antioch, who also sided with Nestorius, would arrive late and was asking the council to wait for him and his bishops, Cyril, who had brought fifty of his own bishops with him, arrogantly opened the council anyway, over the protests of the imperial commissioner and about seventy other bishops. Nestorius refused even to attend and later wrote this graphic, biased but accurate description of the proceedings:

They acted as if it was a war they were conducting, and the followers of the Egyptian (Cyril) went about in the city girt and armed with clubs with the yells of barbarians, snorting fiercely raging with extravagant arrogance against those whom they knew to be opposed to their doings, carrying bells about the city and lighting fires.   They blocked up the streets so that everyone was obliged to flee and hide, while they acted as masters of the situation, lying about, drunk and besotted and shouting obscenities….. 20

So tense was the situation that a guard was flung about the house in which Nestorius lodged to prevent his murder. At Cyril’s bidding the council proceeded obediently to vote two hundred to nil to excommunicate Nestorius. John of Antioch, with forty bishops, arrived too late to do anything but declare the result illegal and hold a countercouncil that excommunicated Cyril.

Confronted by an impasse that threatened to tear his Byzantine empire apart1 Theodosius II reluctantly decided to defuse the situation by accepting the deposition of both the rival partriarchs’ Nestorius and Cyril. They were arrested and imprisoned, but the two men reacted to the sentence in quite different ways. Cyril promptly bribed his way back to power. He bought the favor of the emperor’s adviser, the grand chamberlain, with a present of fourteen oriental rugs, eight couches, six tablecloths, four tapestries, four ivory benches, six leather benches, and six ostriches and ran the church of Alexandria into debt to the amount of around three million dollars by today’s reckoning. 21 Nestorius, on the other hand, who was often tactless and extreme but always honest and sincere, accepted the verdict with only a quiet protest at its injustice. He went obediently into exile, first to his old monastery near Antioch and then, in 435, as the opposition to him hardened, on to Petra in Arabia. Finally, so-greatly was his influence feared, he was moved far out into the Egyptian desert. There he died about 451-to the Western church a heretic, to the Persian church a hero and a martyr, but to himself neither a heretic nor a hero. Near the end he wrote:

Earthly things have little interest for me. I have died to the world and live for Him. . .  As for Nestorius-let him be anathema!  . . And would God that all men by anathematizing me might attain to reconciliation with God. . . . Farewell desert, my friend . . . and farewell exile, my mother, who after my death shall keep my body until the resurrection. . . . Amen. 22

The Church of the East never accepted the judgment of the Counsel of Ephesus in 431. It remains the only one of the first four ecumenical councils rejected by Nestorians, and they may well have been fight. Its legality is questionable. 23 Its conduct was disgraceful. And its theological verdict, if not overturned, was at least radically amended by the Council of Chalcedon thirty years later, which evened up the battle of the anathemas by excommunicating Cyril’s successor in Alexandria, Dioscurus.

“Nestorianism” Examined

For fifteen hundred years Nestorius has been branded in the West as a heretic, 24 and for most of that time, from what the West knew about him the condemnation seemed just. His writings were burned; only fragments survived. His image as left to history was that created by his enemies. Then, dramatically, in 1S89 a Syrian priest discovered an eight-hundred-year-old manuscript of a Syriac translation made about 540 of Nestorius’s own account, in Creek, of his controversies and his teachings. It had remained hidden for centuries disguised under the title The Book (or Bazaar) of Heracleides, but the author was unmistakably Nestorius. 25

Judged by his own words at last, Nestorius is revealed as not so much “Nestorian” and more orthodox than his opponents gave him credit for. Luther, for example, after looking over all he could find of his writings decided that there was nothing really heretical in them. 26 Opinions about him still differ widely, for his theological writing is difficult and often obscure. 27 But some points are clear. He took his stand firmly on the historical Christ as revealed in the Gospels. He was not at ease with technical and semantic theological distinctions. He was absolutely convinced that he was biblically orthodox. At no time did he deny the deity of Christ, as was charged against him. He merely insisted that it be clearly distinguished from Christ’s humanity. Nor did he deny the unity of Christ’s person, which was the most enduring of the charges against him. It was on this point that he was officially condemned. His opponents, the Alexandrians, maintained that by separating Christ into two “natures”  (keyane or kejane in Syriac, physis in Creek)-“true Cod by nature and true man by nature” was how Nestorius put it 28 -he destroyed the real personality of the Savior, deforming Christ into a creature with two heads. Nestorius answered, “The person (parsopa in Syriac, prosopon in Creek) is one .  .,” and “There are not two Cods the Words, or two Sons, or two only-begottens, but one.” 29

The problem lay partly in his choice of words. Nestorius used the Creek word prosopon to refer to Christ’s person as the basis of Christ’s unity. But prosopon is a weak word, used only once in the New Testament to refer to people as “persons” and more often meaning “presence” or even mere “appearance.” His opponents insisted on the use of the stronger word hypostasis (“substance,” or “real being,” as in Heb. 1:3) for Christ’s person as one being, incarnate. That, said Nestorius, is too strong-for hypostasis, like ousia, if used of Christ’s unified, essential being confuses the fact that there is still a distinction between his humanity and his deity. 30

There is a subtle distinction between “two natures” (Dyophysitism, which is what Nestorius and the school of Antioch taught) and “two persons,” which is how Alexandria interpreted the phrase, as if Nestorius were teaching “dyhypostatism.” By insisting that one person (hypostasis) can have but one nature (physis), Alexandria sought to make the teaching of Nestorius heretical. 31 But what Alexandria said he taught was not what Nestorius actually taught, even in his earlier works, and clearly not in the Book of Heracleides, his last work. 32 As early as Ephesus he struggled to find a way to express the essential unity of the person of the incarnate Christ without denying the essential reality of both the humanity and deity of the Savior and without surrendering the all-important truth that there is an ultimate1 basic distinction between deity and humanity.

The divine Logos was not one, and another the man in whom he came to be. Rather, one was the prosopon of both in dignity and honour, worshipped by all creation, and in no way and no time divided by otherness of purpose and will. 33

This doctrine of the unity of the person (prosopon) of Christ 34 in two natures may have rested on the use of a word too weak to support the theological weight it was required to bear, but it was in no sense heresy.

Nor was Nestorius guilty of another serious charge against him, the heresy of adoptionism. Alexandria complained that the Christ of Nestorius was only a man, a man who was so good and so obedient that he earned for himself an adoptive “sonship” into divinity. 35 But to Nestorius, the incarnation was not a man earning deity, but an act of God’s grace best described as in the Bible, in Philippians, as Cod emptying himself, “being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7). The divinity and the humanity, he goes on to say elsewhere, are one prosopon, the deity by kenosis (emptying), the humanity by exaltation.36

The fault, if there is one in the Nestorian “heresy,” concludes A.

Grillmeier, was neither a theology of a two-headed Christ, nor of a Jesus who earned his way into Godhead, but rather a failure to take the church’s ancient tradition of the communicatio idiomatum seriously enough. 37 That tradition, as old as Origen and Athanasius, held that whatever is said either of Christ’s human nature (for example, that he suffered) or of his divine nature (“in the form of God”) or by whatever name he is called (Son of God or Son of man) is said of one and the same person who was and is both God and man. Had Nestorius recognized that traditional concept as acceptable, he need not have balked at calling Mary “Mother of God” and there might possibly never have been a “Nestorian controversy.”

But violence and emotions had run too high at Ephesus. Between the councils of Ephesus in 431 and Chalcedon in 451 came twenty unhappy years of angry theological argument and intense political and ecclesiastical intrigue. The theological world hardened into three crystallized positions. On the right were the victors at Ephesus, the Alexandrians, ultraconservatives ready to defend the deity of Christ even at the risk of his real humanity. They were soon to be identified as Monophysites (from mono, meaning “one,” and physis, meaning “nature”). Their leaders were the patriarch of Egypt, Cyril and his successor, Dioscurus. On the left were the Dyophysites (from duo, “two”, and physis, “nature”), soon to be called Nestorians after their exiled patriarch. They seemed more liberal than their opponents in that they defended Christ’s humanity against obliteration by his deity but were less than precise in their theological definitions. Their leader (in the absence of Nestorius) was John, patriarch of Antioch.

In the center emerged a peace party characterized not so much by theological position as by a desire for unity. It was composed of a coalition of political and ecclesiastical moderates determined to save both church and empire from the perils of religious division. Their first step was to negotiate a theological truce in 433 between Alexandria and Antioch. Alexandria would drop its twelve anathemas against Antioch and accept “two natures” in Christ as taught in the Bible. 38 But this represented theological surrender for the implacable Cyril and was predictably unacceptable to the Alexandrian right wing. On the other hand the compromise also stipulated that Antioch, in turn, must accept the popular phrase “Mother of God” for the Virgin and assent to the excommunication of Nestorius. And this, of course, was ecclesiastical humiliation for John and unacceptable to loyal Nestorians. Nevertheless, under great pressure, the leaders agreed. “Behold again we are friends,” wrote John of Antioch to Cyril of Alexandria, 39 and for a while at least it seemed that the shouting and the curses might be forgotten.

But the peace fell apart at the edges. On both sides the leaders failed to carry their partisans with them into the compromise, and when the leaders died-John of Antioch in 442 and Cyril of Mexandria in 444-the truce collapsed.

First to rebel were the Monophysites in Egypt. The accidents of succession gave Antioch and Alexandria two very unequal patriarchs after the deaths of John and Cyril. The Monophysites in Alexandria found in Cyril’s successor, Dioscurus, a champion every bit as strong and stubborn and even more unscrupulous than Cyril without the saving grace of Cyril’s theological insight and acumen. He could parade shamelessly with his mistress in the streets of Alexandria and at the same time rally the faithful with shouted repetitions of Cyril’s formula for anti-Nestorian orthodoxy, “One nature after the union,” referring to the undivided human and divine in the incarnate Christ. He utterly rejected the compromise of 433. 40 By contrast, at Antioch, the successor of John was a mild and ineffectual man named Domnus.

A power struggle at the Byzantine court at the time further turned the tide in the West against the Nestorians and in favor of the extreme Monophysites. Emperor Theodosius II was a retiring soul more interested in old manuscripts than in affairs of state. He “reigned but never ruled,” as one church historian has observed. 41 Three jealous and powerful court favorites dominated him-two women and a eunuch. His wife, Eudocia, was sympathetic in re- ligious affairs to the Nestorians. His sister Fuicheria, was anti-Nestorian, but more orthodox than Monophysite. The eunuch, Chrysaphius, was a gross and wily court chamberlain, willing to support whichever side promised him financial or political advantage. He favored the compromise of 433 in the interests of religious peace but was equally willing to support whatever other settlement might bring him wealth and power if the peace failed. By 444 Dioscurus became patriarch of Alexandria; Puicheria had been forced into retirement; Eudocia had fled to exile in Jerusalem, tainted by a palace scandal; and the unprincipled Chrysaphius was in control.

The Monophysites happily discovered in him a powerful ally, aided by his godfather, a Greek monk named Eutyches, who was as fanatical an opponent of the Nestorian Dyophysites as any Alexandrian. Dioscurus, Eutyches, and Chrysaphius persuaded the pliant Theodosius to call an ecumenical council at Ephesus in 449. There Dioscurus, as supremely arrogant as Cyril at the earlier Ephesus in 431, trampled not only on his old enemy, Antioch, but on the whole moderate center, both Rome and Constantinople. Flavian, patriarch of Constantinople, who had accused Eutyches of falling into the already condemned heresy of Apollinarius, that is, of denying that Christ had a human soul, and who had failed to bribe the powerful Chrysaphius, was deposed by the council. So also was Domnus of Antioch and his theologian, Theodoret of Cyrus, whose penetrating criticism of Monophysite theology in his book the Eranistes had dismissed Monphysite theology as a “patchwork of old heresies.” The council did not even read the Tome of Pope Leo I, a statesmanlike theological position paper that Rome had prepared with great care as a possible bridge to peace between the warring schools. The Monophysites were ecstatically triumphant. But as Leo, who is called “The Great,” later wrote to Pulcheria, the church had been betrayed by a “Council of Robbers,” and by that name the Second Council of Ephesus has been known ever since.

As it turned out, the victory of the “Robbers” was a flimsy one. In less than a year, with one small turn of fate, it collapsed. Emperor Theodosius II fell off his horse and died. His sister, Pulcheria, swept back into power, executed the miserable Chrysaphius, and, disillusioned with Alexandria’s grasp for power, withdrew her former support of the Monophysites to encourage a coalition of the moderate centrists under Leo the Great at Rome. As angry reaction spread across the empire against the wholesale condemnations pronounced by the “Robber Council,” a great council of bishops was called to repudiate it; this council took its place as the Fourth Ecumenical Council, Chalcedon, 451.

Chalcedon was the greatest of the early church’s seven ecumenical councils. 42 Only the first, Nicaea, can compare to it in importance. And Chalcedon was at least a partial victory for Nestorius. Had he lived another year he might well have rejoiced to hear the Chalcedonian Creed declare: “Christ has two natures.” That was precisely what Antioch stood for and what Alexandria denied. Now it was the Alexandrians’ turn to be banished and to be branded with the stigma of a heresy of their own, Monophysitism.But the victory fell to neither side, Antioch or Alexandria. The full Chalcedonian formula was that Christ is “one person in two natures, human and divine.” “One person” (defined as hypostasis and prosopon) contradicted Nestorius. 43 And “two natures” (physis) refuted Alexandria. As for the relationship of the two natures, which had been the heart of the controversy, even Chalcedon was unable to define it. It could only confess its faith that the two are not destroyed by the union in the one person but are preserved “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.” 44

The general consensus of scholarship today would probably agree with A. R. Vine’s observation that Nestorius was the better man but Cyril the better theologian and that, though the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus was a shabby affair, Chalcedon was probably right in recognizing that Nestorius’s “prosopic union” was “not strong enough to bear the strain” of maintaining the essential unity of the person of Christ. The council, therefore, may well have been justified in clarifying and extending rather than reversing the verdict of Ephesus. The West, at least, was satisfied with Chalcedon, but not so Egypt and, to a lesser extent, Persia.


1.  See L. Duchesne, Early History of the Christian Church, vol.3, trans. Jenkins (London: Murray, 1924), 73.

2. See J. Moffatt, The First Five Centuries of the Christian Church (London: Univ. of London Press, 1938),    142.

See above; pp. 155.

4. See the summary in J. F. Bethune-Baker, An Introduction to the Early History of Christian Doctrine to the Time of the Council of Chalcedon, 3d ed. (London: Methuen, 1933), 155-72; or J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds, 3d ed. (New York: McKay, 1972).

5.  Bethune-Baker, Christian Doctrine, 187-89.

6. R. V. Sellers points out that Cyril’s theology rests, on the one hand, on Athanasian orthodoxy but, on the other, on the theology of Apollinarius with whose heresy it is often wrongly confused, Two Ancient Christologies: A Study in the Christological Thought of the Schools of Alexandria and Antioch in the Early History of Christian Doctrine (London: SPCK, 1954), 1-106. B. J. Kidd points out that Cyril never spoke of the humanity of Christ as physis, History of the Church to A.D. 461, 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1922), 3:206.

7. Sellers, Two Ancient Christologies, 107-201. See also I. A. Domer, The Development of the Doctrine of the Person of Christ, Div. 1, vol. 1 (Edinburgh, 1891), 25.

8. Sellers, Two Ancient Christologies 116ff., shows that the Antiochene “Nestorians” cannot be accused of neglecting the importance of redemption and soteriology.

9. Socrates, Ecclesiastical History, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series, vol.2 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 3, p.23.

10. Socrates, Ecclesiastical History, 8, p.2. When Libanius was dying someone asked him who would take his place. “It would have been John (Chrysostom),” he said, “had not the Christians stolen him from us.”

11. Socrates, Ecclesiastical History, 6, p. 3.

12. The phrase is H. B. Swete’s description of Theodore’s Christology, in Theodore of Mopsuestia on the Minor Epistles of St. Paul, 2 vols. (Cambridge, 1880-82), 1: 81ff. It is cited by Bethune-Baker, Christian Doctrine, 259n, who, however, in general defends Theodore’s orthodoxy; see pp.256-40.

13. Cyril of Alexandria, Epistolae 69, cited in Bethune-Baker, Christian Doctrine, 257 n. 2.

14. See A. Grillmeier’s analysis of Theodore’s Christology in Christ in Christian Tradition, vol. 1, From the Apostolic Age to Chalcedon (451), 2d ed. rev., trans I. Bowden (London and Oxford: Mowbray’s, 1975), 421-39. “This [i.e., Theodore’s Christology] was as far as theology could go before Chalcedon’s distinction between physis and hypostasis,” he writes (p. 436f.), noting Theodore’s careful use of such biblical analogies as the unity of husband and wife (Matt. 19:6) and of body and soul in one person (Romans) to illustrate but not explain the unity of the divine and human in Christ. See also R. A. Greer, Theodore ofMopsuestia: Exegete and Theologian (Westrninster MD: Faith Prsss, 1961).

15. mis was the emperor’s reply to his critics as recorded by Nestorius years later in his Apology, the Bazaar of Heracleides (pp.279-Si); cited by J. F Bethun~Baker from an anonymous translation from the D. Jenks manuscript. See his Nestorius and His Teaching: A Fresh Examination Of the Evidence  (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1908), 6f. n. 3. See also Socrates, Ecclesiastical History, 7, p.29.

16.  Kidd, History of the Church, 3:192

17.  Kidd, History of the Church, 3:192.

18. Nestorius, in a letter to John of Antioch, December 430, cited by F. Loofs, in a collection of early fragments entitled Nestoriana (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1912), 29.

19. See “Die sogenannten Gegenanathematismen des Nestorius,” in Sitzungsberichte der Bayrischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Munchen, 1922), book 1.

20. Bethune-Baker, Nestorius, 39, quoting from the anonymous translation of the Bazaar of Heraclides referred to in n. 15 above. This translation (by R. H.   Connolly) predates the Bedjan edition. Cf. the same passage in C. R. Driver and L. Hodgson, Nestorius, The Bazaar of Heracleides (Oxford: Clarendon, 1925), 266f., from the Bedjan edition.

21. The whole shameful list of bribes is painstakingly recorded and presened in Bibliotheca Casinensis, I. ii, p.47, cited by Kidd, History of the Church, 3:258. Kidd estimated the debt in 1922 at 60,000 pounds sterling.

22. Nestorius, the Bazaar of Heracleides, as translated by F. Loofs and quoted in portions in his Nestorius and His Place in the Histor’;[p-y of Christian Doctrine (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1914), 17, 19. Cf. the same passages in Driver and Hodgson, Nestorius, 329, 37880 passim. Bedjan text, 451, 519ff.

23. See however, I. Riker, Studien zum Concilium Ephesinum . . ., vol.4 (Oxenbrunn, 1934), for a painstakingly thorough defense of the verdict, if not the conduct, of the council.

24. As late as 1951 the condemnation by the Council of Ephesus was confirmed by a papal encyclical (Pope Pius I, “Sempiternus Rex Christus,” in Acta Apostolicae Sedis).

25. The best report of the discove7 and the most thorough critical study of the text and its history is L. Abramowski’s Untersuchungen zum Liber Heraclidis des Nestorius (CSCO Subsidia 22, whole no.242, 1963). The Syriac text was edited by Paul Bedjan in 1910 (Nestorius, Le livre d’Heraclide de Damas, Paris). An English translation with introduction and notes by Driver and Hodgson, Nestorius, was published in 1925 based on the Bedjan edition. L. I. Scipioni, Nestono e il conciho de Efeson (Milano, 1974), defends the authenticity of a part of the Bazaar (Book I, part 1, pp.7-86 in Driver and Hodgson), which Abramowski attributes to a “Pseudo-Nestorius” sometime between 451 and 470.

26.  Loofs, Nestoriana, 21.

27. See Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition, 1:559#8, for a sun’ey of the literature in his appendix, “The Nestorius Question in Modem Study”; and A. R. Vine, An Approach to Christology: An Interpretation and Development of Some Elements in the Metaphysic and Chris tology of Nestorius (London: Independent Press, 1948), 3~6. Of the major crifical assessments: J. F. Bethune Baker, F. Loofs, R. Seeberg, R. V. Sellers, E. Schwarz, L. Abramowski, and A.     Grilimejer all more or less clear Nestorius of the charges of heresy, though Abramowski and Grillmejer both note his points of weakness. L. Hodgson, I. Rucker, B. J. Kidd, and L. I. Tixeront consider Nestorius’s theology as at best weak and at worst heretical, agreeing (as does Grillmeier to a point) with Chalcedon’s condemnation of Nestorius. P. Bedjan and F. Nauare completely anti-Nestorian.

28.  Nestorius, Book of Heracleides, 79 (Driver and Hodgson, trans.; in Bedjan, p.116)

29.  Nestorius, Book of Heracleides, 23, 47 (Driver and Hodgson; Bedjan, pp. 34, 69).

30. “If we say ‘one ousia,’ the hypostasis of the God Logos becomes confused with the ‘changeableness of the fleshly (hypostasis)1″‘ as Severus quotes from a fragment of the First Apology of Nestorius (Ctr. Gramm. II., p. 32, cited by Abramowski, Untersuchungen, 216 n. 19). The major concern, as always, with Nestorius was “lest on account of the divinitv it should not be believed that he was also man” (Nestorius, Book of Heracleides, 91 [Driver and Hodgson; Bedjan, p.132)).

31. See Grillmeier, Christ in the Christian Tradition, 1:47~83. It is true, however, that in 612 the phrase “two hypostases” became official Nestorian doctrine, but not in quite the same sense that the phrase was being used in Alexandria a hundred and fifty years earlier. See “The Creed of the Bishops of Persia Which Kosroes Requested …,” in L. Abramowski and A. F. Goodman, A Nestorian Collection of Chris tological Texts, vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1972), 9_100.

32.  The earlier works are collected, mostly, in Loofs, Nestoriana.

33.  Loofs, Nestoriana, 224, cited in Grillmeier, Christ in the Christian Tradition, 1:461.

34. “One prosopon of the two natures” is how Nestorius put it. Book of Heracleides (Driver and Hodgson), p.219.

35. Grillmeier, Christ in the Christian Tradition, 1:467, 515.

36.  Nestorius, Book of Heracleides (Driver and Hodgson, trans.), lMf., 246f.

37. Grillmeier, Christ in the Christian Tradition, 1:518, 559, who notes that this was also Luther’s chief condemnation of Nestorius (in Luther-Werke, T. 50  [Weimar, 1914], 590, citing the passage 581-592). Interestingly enough, it was a Calvinist, I. Bruguier of Lille, who as early as 1645 was the first theologian in Europe to come to the defense of Nestorius’s orthodoxy (Disputatio de supositio, in qua plurima hactenus inaudita de Nestono tam quam orthodoxo…cited by Grillmeier). See also Bethune-Baker, Christian Doctrine, 293f.

38.  See Bethune-Baker, Christian Doctrine, 272.

39. A. Fortescue, The Lesser Eastern Churches (London: Catholic Truth Society, 1913), 74, citing PG 67, p.247.

40. On Dioscurus see the French translation bv F. Nau of his “Life” by Theophistus in Journal Asiatique, ser. 10, vol. 1(1903): 5-108, 241-310.

41. Kidd, History of the Church, 3:49.

42. It was also the largest of the largest of the seven, with as manv as six hundred bishops attending. The seven ecumenical councils were: Nicaea, 325, on Arianism; Constantinople I, 381, on Apollinarianism; Ephesus, 431, on Nestorianism; Chalcedon, 451, on Eutychianism; followed by three lesser councils, Constantinople II, 553, on the “Three Chapters Controversv”; Constantinople III, 680-81, on Monothelitism; and Nicaea II, 787, on iconoclasm.

43. The full phrase was “One and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only begotten, made known in two natures [which exist] without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the difference of the natures having been in no way taken away by reason of the union, but rather the properties of each being preserved, and [both] concurring into one Person (prosopon) and one hypostasis-not parted nor divided into two persons  (proso pa) …,” as translated by R. V. Sellers, The Council of Chalcedon (London: SPCK, 1953), 210f.

44.  Sellers, Council of Chalcedon, 210f.