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False Teachings
Historic Heresies: Nestorianism

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Nestorianism is a Christological heresy from the fifth century concerning the unity of the person of Christ. It is commonly attributed to Nestorius, a monk and presbyter at Antioch. Nestorius insisted that the divine and human natures of christ were separate and not essentially united in the person of Christ. Christ - according to Nestorius - was actually two persons, rather than one. As such, it is the antithesis of the monophysitic heresy that shortly followed. Nestorius was condemned for his false teaching at the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD and firmly objected to in the Chalcedonian Creed from 451 AD.

The Teaching Summarized
The Nestorian controversy initially arose over the word, theotokos, which is the Greek word meaning "God-bearer." Applied as a title to Mary, Nestorius objected that Mary was not the mother of God but instead the mother of man (anthropotokos). While Nestorius was right that Mary was not the originator of Jesus' divine nature, he pushed his argument so far that he regarded Christ as two persons with separate natures, divine and human. Pictorally, Nestorius' christology is shown in the following figure:

In Nestorian Christology, there is no real or essential union of the two natures within Christ. The divine and the human are so separate as to constitute two persons, a Jekyl-Hyde type of schizophrenic Jesus. Later Nestorians went so far as to insist verses like Acts 20:28 should actually read "church of Christ" instead of "church of God."

As with all teachers of the extreme, Nestorius too ended up in error. He was condemned first by Cyril of Alexandria and then ultimately by the Church at the Council of Ephesus (431 AD). That the union of the two natures within Christ was more than a moral unity was clear from the scriptures (See the article, Two United Natures in One Person). Furthermore, Nestorius' removal of the real union of the two natures made Christ no different than any believer who is united with the Holy Spirit through faith. This is clearly an inaccurate and lowly reduction of the deity of Christ, who was fully God (see the article The Deity of Christ). And, while within the Trinity there is an "I-Thou" relationship, there is no such multiplicity within the Christ. Christ is always referred to as "he" or "I," instead of "they" or "we." Nestorianism fails to uphold this premise of the scriptures.

Again, the error in Nestorius' teaching was not that Mary really did originate the divine nature of Christ. She did not, as the divine nature was eternal and uncreated. It is right in that sense to distinguish between the two natures. But, to separate the two results in the heretical problems described above. Whatever is true of either nature united in Christ is true of Christ. Therefore, it is proper to refer to Mary as the mother of God, since she was the mother of Christ, who was and is God. For that matter, it is also right to refer to Mary as the mother of Christ or man. To insist, therefore, that theotokos is improper, is to forward error.

The Chalcedonian Creed contains language about Christ, that is explicitly anti-Nestorian:
  • "born of Mary the virgin, who is God-bearer"
  • "without dividing them"
  • "both natures concur in one "person" and in one subsistence"
  • "not divided or cut into two persons"
The Church appropriately rejected Nestorius' teachings and has unitedly done so since the Council Chalcedon. Christians across the world affirm the reality of Christ's full humanity and deity, and the union of the two as declared in the scriptures and summarized by the (Chalcedonian Creed).

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