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Heresies & Heretics
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by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Nestorianism, a fifth-century heresy which held there were two distinct persons in the Incarnate Christ, one human and the other divine, as against the orthodox teaching that Christ was a divine person who assumed a human nature. The name is taken from Nestorius, a leading exponent of the heresy, whose views were condemned by the Council of Ephesus in 431.
The theology of Nestorianism can best be understood as a reaction to Apollinarianism, which separates the two natures in Christ to the point of denying His humanity. Nestorius went to the opposite extreme. While correctly insisting against Apollinarius that Christ had a perfect human nature, Nestorius could not conceive a complete existing nature that was not also a person, namely, an autonomous subject of existence and its own activity. Consequently, though he admitted that in Christ there was a divine person, he claimed there was also a distinct human personality.
Nestorianism did not disappear with the Council of Ephesus. Twenty years later the Council of Chalcedon (451), which condemned the Monophysite Eutyches for his theory that Christ had but one nature, the Divine, also took issue with Nestorius. And in the next century, the second Council of Constantinople (553) again rejected the Nestorian theory.
Through the efforts of Ibas, bishop of Ephesus from 435, and Barsumas, bishop of Nisibis from 457, Nestorianism was developed into a rounded theology and transported to Persia and Asia Minor where a small but influential sect was founded. The Nestorian Church survives to the present day under the name of Assyrian Christians.
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