The Nestorian Controversy The Co
The Council of Ephesus was called to settle the dispute which had arisen
between Cyril and the Alexandrians and Nestorius, archbishop of
Constantinople, and the Antiochians. Several councils had been held
previously, and much acrimonious debate. Both parties desired a council to
adjust the dispute. The Emperor Theodosius II, in an edict of November 19,
430, called a council to be held on the following Whitsunday at Ephesus.
The council was opened by Cyril and Memnon, bishop of Ephesus, June 22, a
few days after the date assigned. This opening of the synod was opposed by
the imperial commissioner and the party of Nestorius, because many of the
Antiochians had not yet arrived. Cyril and Memnon, who had undertaken to
bring about the condemnation and deposition of Nestorius, forced through
their programme. On June 26 or 27 the Antiochians arrived, and, under the
presidency of John of Antioch, and with the approval of the imperial
commissioner, they held a council attended by about fifty bishops, while
two hundred attended the rival council under Cyril. This smaller council
deposed Cyril and Memnon. Both synods appealed to the Emperor and were
confirmed by him. But shortly after Cyril and Memnon were restored. The
Antiochians now violently attacked the successful Alexandrians but, having
abandoned Nestorius, patched up a union with the Alexandrians, by which
Cyril subscribed in 433 to a creed drawn up by the Antiochians, probably
by Theodoret of Cyrus. Accordingly, the council of Cyril was now
recognized by the Antiochians, as well as by the imperial authority, and
became known as the Council of Ephesus, A. D. 431.
Additional source material: Socrates, Hist. Ec., VII, 29-34;
Theodoret, Epistulae in PNF, ser. II, vol. III, and his counter
propositions to the Anathemas of Cyril, ibid., pp. 27-31;
Percival, The Seven Ecumenical Councils (PNF).
(a) Cyril of Alexandria, Anathematisms. Hahn, § 219.
Condemnation of the position of Nestorius.
Cyril held a council at Alexandria in 430, in which he set forth
the teaching of Nestorius, as he understood it, in the form of
anathemas against any who held the opinions which he set forth in
order. Nestorius immediately replied by corresponding
anathematisms. They may be found translated PNF, ser. II, vol.
XIV, p. 206, where they are placed alongside of Cyril's. In the
meantime, Celestine of Rome had called upon Nestorius to retract,
though as a matter of fact the Nestorian or Antiochian position
was more in harmony with the position held in Rome, e.g.,
compare Anath. IV with the language of Nestorius and Leo, see
Tome of Leo in § 90. A Greek text of these Anathematisms of
Cyril may be found also in Denziger, n. 113, as they were
described in the Fifth General Council as part of the acts of the
Council of Ephesus A. D. 431; the Latin version (the Greek is
lost) of the Anathematisms of Nestorius, as given by Marius
Mercator are in Kirch, nn. 724-736.
I. If any one shall not confess that the Emmanuel is in truth God, and
that therefore the holy Virgin is Theotokos, inasmuch as according to the
flesh she bore the Word of God made flesh; let him be anathema.
II. If any one shall not confess that the Word of God the Father is united
according to hypostasis to flesh, and that with the flesh of His own He is
one Christ, the same manifestly God and man at the same time; let him be
III. If any one after the union divide the hypostases in the one Christ,
joining them by a connection only, which is according to worthiness, or
even authority and power, and not rather by a coming together, which is
made by a union according to nature; let him be anathema.
IV. If any one divide between the two persons or hypostases the
expressions in the evangelical and apostolic writings, or which have been
said concerning Christ by the saints, or by Himself concerning Himself,
and shall apply some to Him as to a man regarded separately apart from the
Word of God, and shall apply others, as appropriate to God only, to the
Word of God the Father; let him be anathema.
V. If any one dare to say that the Christ is a god-bearing man, and not
rather that He is in truth God, as an only Son by nature, because "The
Word was made flesh," and hath share in flesh and blood as we have; let
him be anathema.
VI. If any one shall dare to say that the Word of God the Father is the
God of Christ or the Lord of Christ, and shall not rather confess Him as
at the same time both God and man, since according to the Scriptures the
Word became flesh; let him be anathema.
VII. If any one say that Jesus is, as a man, energized by the Word of God,
and that the glory of the Only begotten is attributed to Him as being
something else than His own; let him be anathema.
VIII. If any one say that the man assumed ought to be worshipped together
with God the Word, and glorified together with Him, and recognized
together with Him as God, as one being with another (for this phrase
"together with" is added to convey this meaning) and shall not rather with
one adoration worship the Emmanuel and pay Him one glorification, because
"the Word was made flesh"; let him be anathema.
IX. If any man shall say that the one Lord Jesus Christ was glorified by
the Spirit, so that He used through Him a power not His own, and from Him
received power against unclean spirits, and power to perform divine signs
before men, and shall not rather confess that it was His own spirit,
through which He worked these divine signs; let him be anathema.
X. The divine Scriptures say that Christ was made the high priest and
apostle of our confession [Heb. 3:1], and that for our sakes He offered
Himself as a sweet odor to God the Father. If then any one say that it is
not the divine Word himself, when He was made flesh and had become man as
we are, but another than He, a man born of a woman, yet different from Him
who has become our high priest and apostle; or if any one say that He
offered Himself as an offering for Himself, and not rather for us,
whereas, being without sin, He had no need of offering; let him be
XI. If any one shall not confess that the flesh of the Lord is
life-giving, and belongs to the Word of God the Father as His very own,
but shall pretend that it belongs to another who is united to Him
according to worthiness, and who has served as only a dwelling for the
Divinity; and shall not rather confess that that flesh is life-giving, as
we say, because it has been made the possession of the Word who is able to
give life to all; let him be anathema.
XII. If any one shall not confess that the Word of God suffered in the
flesh, and that He was crucified in the flesh, and that likewise He tasted
death in the flesh, and that He is become the first-born from the dead
[Col. 1:18], for as God He is the life and life-giving; let him be
(b) Council of Ephesus, A. D. 431. Condemnation of Nestorius. Mansi,
The text may also be found in Hefele, § 134, under the First
Session of the Council.
The holy synod says: Since in addition to other things the impious
Nestorius has not obeyed our Citation and did not receive the most holy
and God-fearing bishops who were sent to him by us, we were compelled to
proceed to the examination of his impieties. And, discovering from his
letters and treatises and from the discourses recently delivered by him in
this metropolis, which have been testified to, that he has held and
published impious doctrines, and being compelled thereto by the canons and
by the letter of our most holy father and fellow-servant Celestine, the
Roman bishop, we have come, with many tears, to this sorrowful sentence
against him: Our Lord Jesus Christ whom he has blasphemed, decrees through
the present most holy synod that Nestorius be excluded from the episcopal
dignity and from all priestly communion.
(c) Council of Ephesus, A. D. 431, Ep. ad Celestinum. Mansi, IV,
The letter is very long and gives an almost complete history of
the council. It may be found complete in PNF, loc. cit., p. 237.
It is of special importance in connection with the Pelagian
controversy, as it states that the Council of Ephesus had
confirmed the Western deposition of the Pelagians.
The letters were read which were written to him [Nestorius] by the most
holy and reverend bishop of the church of Alexandria, Cyril, which the
holy synod approved as being orthodox and without fault, and in no point
out of agreement, either with the divinely inspired Scriptures, or with
the faith handed down and set forth in the great synod by the holy Fathers
who were assembled some time ago at Nicaea, as your holiness, also rightly
having examined this, has given witness.
When there had been read in the holy synod what had been done touching the
deposition of the irreligious Pelagians and Celestinians, of Celestius,
Pelagius, Julianus, Praesidius, Florus, Marcellinus, and Orontius, and
those inclined to like errors, we also deemed it right that the
determinations of your holiness concerning them should stand strong and
firm. And we all were of the same mind, holding them deposed.
(d) Council of Ephesus, A. D. 431, Canons, Bruns, I, 24.
The text may be found also in Hefele, § 141.
Whereas it is needful that they who were detained from the holy synod and
remained in their own district or city for any reason, ecclesiastical or
personal, should not be ignorant of the matters which were decreed by the
synod; we therefore notify your holiness and charity that----
I. If any metropolitan of a province, forsaking the holy and ecumenical
synod, has joined the assembly of apostasy [the council under John of
Antioch], or shall join the same hereafter; or if he has adopted, or shall
adopt, the doctrines of Celestius,(185) he has no power in any way to do
anything in opposition to the bishops of the province because he is
already cast forth by the synod from all ecclesiastical communion, and is
without authority; but he shall be subjected to the same bishops of the
province and to the neighboring bishops who hold the orthodox doctrines,
to be degraded completely from his episcopal rank.
II. If any provincial bishops were not present at the holy synod, and have
joined or attempted to join the apostasy; or if, after subscribing to the
deposition of Nestorius, they went back to the assembly of apostasy,
these, according to the decree of the holy synod, are to be deposed
completely from the priesthood and degraded from their rank.
(e) Council of Ephesus, A. D. 431, Manifesto of John of Antioch and his
council against Cyril and his council. Mansi, IV, 1271.
The holy synod assembled in Ephesus, by the grace of God and at the
command of the pious emperors, declares: We should indeed have wished to
be able to hold a synod in peace, according to the canons of the holy
Fathers and the letters of our most pious and Christ-loving emperors; but
because you held a separate assembly from a heretical, insolent, and
obstinate disposition, although, according to the letters of our most
pious emperors, we were in the neighborhood, and because you have filled
both the city and the holy synod with every sort of confusion, in order to
prevent the examination of points agreeing with the Apollinarian, Arian,
and Eunomian heresies and impieties, and have not waited for the arrival
of the most religious bishops summoned from all regions by our pious
emperors, and when the most magnificent Count Candidianus warned you and
admonished you in writing and verbally that you should not hear such a
matter, but await the common judgment of all the most holy bishops;
therefore know thou, O Cyril, bishop of Alexandria, and thou, O Memnon,
bishop of this city, that ye are dismissed and deposed from all sacerdotal
functions as the originators and leaders of all this disorder and
lawlessness, and those who have violated the canons of the Fathers and the
imperial decrees. And all ye others who seditiously and wickedly, and
contrary to all ecclesiastical sanctions and the royal decrees, gave your
consent are excommunicated until you acknowledge your fault and reform and
accept anew the faith set forth by the holy Fathers at Nicaea, adding to it
nothing foreign or different, and until ye anathematize the heretical
propositions of Cyril, which are plainly repugnant to evangelical and
apostolic doctrine, and in all things comply with the letters of our most
pious and Christ-loving emperors, who require a peaceful and accurate
consideration of the dogma.
(f) Creed of Antioch A. D. 433. Hahn, § 170.
This creed was probably composed by Theodoret of Cyrus, and was
sent by Count Johannes to the Emperor Theodosius in 431 as
expressing the teaching of the Antiochian party. The bitterest
period of the Nestorian controversy was after the council which is
commonly regarded as having settled it. The Antiochians and the
Alexandrians attacked each other vigorously. At last, in 433,
John, bishop of Antioch, sent the creed given below to Cyril of
Alexandria, who signed it. The creed expresses accurately the
position of Nestorius. In this way a union was patched up between
the contending parties. But the irreconcilable Nestorians left the
Church permanently. This creed in the form in which it had been
presented to the Emperor was at the beginning and the end worded
somewhat differently, cf. Hahn, loc. cit., note.
We therefore acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only
begotten, complete God and complete man, of a rational soul and body;
begotten of the Father before the ages according to His godhead, but in
the last days for us and for our salvation, of the Virgin Mary, according
to the manhood; that He is of the same nature as the Father according to
His godhead, and of the same nature with us according to His manhood; for
a union of the two natures has been made; therefore we confess one Christ,
one Son, one Lord. According to this conception of the unconfused union,
we confess that the holy Virgin is Theotokos, because God the Word was
made flesh and became man, and from her conception united with Himself the
temple received from her. We recognize the evangelical and apostolic
utterances concerning the Lord, making common, as in one person, the
divine and the human characteristics, but distinguishing them as in two
natures; and teaching that the godlike traits are according to the godhead
of Christ, and the humble traits according to His manhood.
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