Nestorius: The Partial Rehabilitation Of A Heretic -- By: Richard Kyle

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 32:1 (Mar 1989)
Article: Nestorius: The Partial Rehabilitation Of A Heretic
Author: Richard Kyle


Nestorius: The Partial Rehabilitation Of A Heretic

Richard Kyle**

Nestorianism arose in the fifth century and is usually regarded as the heresy associated with Nestorius, which split Jesus Christ, the God-man, into two distinct persons, one human and one divine. Nestorianism distinguished between the deity and humanity of Christ, treating them as separate personal existences as though a man and God were joined together, so that Jesus Christ was not one person but two persons and that no real union of God and humanity was effected in him. Nestorianism, as it was understood, held the Word to be a person distinct from Jesus, and the Son of God distinct from the Son of Man. Therefore the adherents of Nestorianism avoided expressions pertaining to the real union of both the deity and humanity of Christ and preferred to speak of a conjunction between them. The Council of Ephesus (431) anathematized Nestorius, the bishop of Constantinople, and pronounced Nestorianism a Christo-logical heresy. The Fourth (451) and Fifth (553) Ecumenical Councils reaffirmed the decisions of the Council of Ephesus.1

Nestorius was judged on the basis of these doctrines, which he was accused of holding. He was thus condemned and exiled as a heretic. From the moment of his excommunication until the present time, many expressions of uncertainty have arisen as to whether he really taught and believed what was defined and condemned as Nestorianism. In particular, modern scholars have been asking whether Nestorius himself was a Nestorian. Did he hold to what is traditionally defined as Nestorianism? Was his doctrine such that it denied certain basic principles of the Christ’lan faith?

The Nestorian controversy arose amidst heated political and personal conflicts. Moreover Nestorius’ opponent, Cyril of Alexandria, was a man of considerable political ability, while Nestorius himself lacked tact and prudence.2 More specifically, as Henry Chadwick points out, the religious

* Richard Kyle is professor of history and religion at Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas.

motives behind the conflict were varied, with dogmatic differences not playing the role once believed. Nestorius in his sermons had put forward no innovations but proclaimed the doctrine that had been taught by Diodore of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia for almost two generations without becoming suspected of heresy. Instead, the occasion of the Nestorian controversy was the fact that four Alexandrians had gone to Theodosius II and complained of the way in which their bishop was treating them. The emperor commissioned Nestorius to exa...

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