a celebrated Haeresiarch of the fifth century, was born, according to Socrates (H. E.
7.29), and Theodoret (Haeret. Fabul. Compend.
4.12), at Germanicia, a city in the northern extremity of Syria, amid the offshoots of the Taurus. Marcellinus (Chronicon
) speaks of him as a native of Antioch, and Cassian is understood by some to say (De Incarnaat.
6.3) that he was baptized at Antioch; but the passage in Cassian is obscure, and the statement of Socrates is preferable to that of Marcellinus.
He was apparently of humble birth. Cyril (Homil.
iv. de Divers.
p. 357; Opera,
vol. v. pt. ii. ed. Paris, 1638), speaks of him as being "lifted out of the dunghill," a reference apparently to Ps. 113.7, and raised to the height of heaven : language which could be applied only to one of obscure origin, even by so unscrupulous a person as Cyril. Theodoret (ibid.), who was disposed to the opinions of Nestorius, and who cannot be suspected of any personal ill-will to him, states that he could not discover either the place of his education or the extent of his acquirements; and the silence of Socrates as to his possessing any other qualifications for the patriarchate, than a good voice and a fluent utterance (εὔφωνος δὲ ἄλλως καὶ εὔλαλος
), indicates that his early education was as defective as his birth was obscure.
After various changes of residence, he fixed his abode at Antioch, and having received here some instruction, was ordained presbyter.
He at once set himself to gain popularity, and succeeded: his fluency as a preacher attracted admiration; and his staid deportment, sober garb, and studious habits excited reverence. So great and general was the respect entertained for him, that when he was appointed patriarch of Constantinople, the appointment was hailed with general approval.
He was consecrated 10th April 428, according to the authority of Socrates. Liberatus places his consecration on the 1st of April (Breviar.
cap. 4) which Le Quien (Oriens Christian.,
vol. i. col. 215) observes to be more consistent with the usage of the Constantinopolitan Church, as it coincided that year with Sunday, on which day the patriarchs were usually consecrated. Theophanes places the appointment of Nestorius in A. M. 5923, Alex. era, which corresponds with A. D. 430 or 431; but his chronology is by no means accurate in this part of his work. Nestorius was consecrated rather more than three months after the death of his predecessor Sisinnius.
He gave immediately on his appointment an indication of the violent and intolerant course which he afterwards pursued.
He thus publicly addressed the emperor Theodosius the Younger (Socrat. H. E.
7.29): "Purge the earth, sire, of heretics for me, and I will in return bestow heaven on you. Join me in putting away the heretics, and I will join you in putting away the Persians."
The bigotry of some was pleased with the declaration, but wiser auditors listened with sorrow to the proof which it gave of his violent and boastful temper. His deeds were answerable to his words. The Arians had a house of prayer, in which they privately met for worship: on the fifth day from his ordination he attempted to destroy it; but its persecuted occupants chose rather to set it on fire themselves; and when the spreading conflagration had excited a tumult, they prepared, says Socrates (ibid.), but without stating in what way, to revenge the injury. The Novatians [NOVATIANUS] and the Quartadecimans of Asia were also persecuted by him; the former, according to Socrates (ibid.), from his envy of the reputation of Paulus their bishop; the latter, so far as appears, from mere intolerance.
These persecutions led to tumults both at Miletus and Sardis, in which many persons lost their lives.
The followers of Macedonius, too, [MACEDONIUS, No. 3], were goaded by persecution into outrage, and this was made the occasion ol further oppression.
But while he was thus persecuting others, he was raising up enemies against himself by enunciating doctrines at variance, at least in appearance, with the orthodox views and tendencies of the age. He had brought with him from Antioch Anastasius, also a presbyter of that city, and in his administration of the patriarchate made him his confidential adviser. Theophanes calls him his Syncellus, or personal attendant. Both Nestorius and Anastasius appear to have imbibed the disposition prevalent at Antioch, to distinguish carefully between the divine and human natures attributed to Christ, a disposition promoted by the reaction occasioned by the opposite opinion of the Apollinarists. [APOLLINARIS, No. 2].
With these tendencies Nestorius of course disapproved of the practice of some persons at Constantinople who called the Virgin Mary Θεοτόκος
, "Mother of God." Against the expression Anastasius objected in a public discourse, which, according to Theophanes Nestorius himself had prepared, and intrusted him to deliver. " Let no one," said the preacher, "call Mary 'the mother of God ;' for Miary was a human being; and that God should be born of a human being is impossible." Eusebins, then a Scholasticus or pleader at Constantinople, afterward bishop of Dorylaeum, was, according to Theophanes, the first to catch at the obnoxious objection [EUSEBIUS of DORYLAEUM]; and many both of the clergy and laity were scandalized by it. Nestorius, of course, supported Anastasius; and by continually insisting on the subject in dispute, and reiterating the objection to the term Θεοτόκος
, aggravated the quarrel.
As might be expected, his adversaries were too much inflamed to judge him fairly. Instead of recognizing his true object, which was to guard against confounding the two natures of Christ, many of them charged him with reviving the dogma of Photinus and Paul of Samosata [PAULUS SAMOSATENUS; PHOTINUS],that Christ was Ψιλὸς ἄνθρωπος
, "a mere man." Some of his own clergy preached against the heresy of their bishop, others attempted to catechize him on the alleged unsoundness of his faith.
The violence and arrogance of Nestorius could not brook this: the preachers were silenced, the catechizers cruelly beaten and imprisoned: a monk who opposed his entrance into the church, was whipped and exiled; and many of the populace, for crying out that they had an emperor but not a bishop, were also punished with lashes. (Basil. diaconi Supplicatio,
vol. i. col. 1335, &c. ed. Hardouin.). Proclus, titular bishop of Cyzicus, himself afterwards a competitor for the patriarchate of Constantinople, preaching in the great church at the command, and in the presence of Nestorius, asserted the propriety of giving the title Θεοτόκος
to the Virgin.
The audience applauded, and Nestorius rose and delivered a discourse in reply to Proclus, the substance of which is preserved in a Latin translation by Marius Mercator (Opera,
vol. ii. p. 26, ed. Garnier, p. 70, ed. Baluze; and apud Galland. Biblioth. Patrum,
vol. viii. p. 633) [MERCATO, MARIUSR].
The conflict became hotter. Dorotheus bishop of Marcianopolis, an ultra Nestorian [DOROTHEUS, No. 5], pronounced a public anathema in the church of Constantinople against all who applied the word Θεοτοκός
to the Virgin.
The audience raised a great outcry and left the church; and abbots and monks, priests and laymen, withdrew from communion with the patriarch, who countenanced Dorotheus (Cyril. Epistolae,
6, 9, pp. 30, 37; Opera,
vol. v. pars ii.). Nestorius, no wise daunted by this mark of public opinion, assembled a council of those who adhered to him, and deposed priests and deacons, and even bishops of the opposite party, on a charge of Manicheism.
As might be expected, the struggle had meanwhile extended beyond the church and patriarchate of Constantinople. Pope Coelestine I. of Rome, and the haughty and violent patriarch Cyril of Alexandria embraced the opposite side to Nestorius. [COELESTINUS; ST. CYRILLUS of ALEXANDRIA.] Cyril assembled a council of the Egyptian bishops at Alexandria; and addressed synodal letters, one to Nestorius, setting forth the faith which the Egyptians regarded as orthodox, and concluding with twelve anathemas against the presumed errors of Nestorius; another to the recusants at Constantinople, clerical and lay, animating them in their resistance to their heretical bishop; and a third of similar tenour to the monks of that city. Nestorius was not slow to retort on his adversary the same number of anathemas. Coelestine, not satisfied with the doctrinal statements sent him by Nestorius, wrote to him (A. D. 430), threatening him with deposition and excommunication from the whole Catholic church within ten days, unless he expressed his accordance with the faith of the churches of Rome and Alexandria.
He also wrote to the recusants to encourage them, and likewise to John, patriarch of Antioch [JOANNES, No. 9], to inform him of the sentence of deposition and excommunication pronounced against Nestorius. John wrote to Nestorius, inviting him to withdraw his opposition to the term Θεοτόκος
, but manifesting a very different temper from Cyril and Coelestine. Nestorius, in his reply, which is extant in a Latin version, vindicated his opposition to the word, affirming that he had, on his first arrival at Constantinople, found the church divided on the subject, some calling the Virgin "Mother of God," others "Mother of Man ;" and that he, to reconcile all, if possible, had proposed to call her "Mother of Christ" (Epistol. Nestorii ad Joan. apud Concil.
vol. i. col. 1331; comp. Evagr. H. E.
The expedient was unobjectionable; but the violence of its proposer would have prevented peace, even had the temper of the factions and the times been more peaceloving and moderate.
A general council was now inevitable; and an edict of the emperors Theodosius and Valentinian III. appointed it to be held at Ephesus. Nestorius, prompt and fearless, arrived with a crowd of followers soon after Easter (A. D. 431). Cyril, who, beside his own dignity, was appointed temporarily to represent Coelestine, arrived about Pentecost: and the session of the council commenced, although John of Antioch, and the bishops of his patriarchate had not yet arrived. Cyril and Nestorius had a sharp encounter, Cyril seeking by terror to break the resolution of his opponent, Nestorius undauntedly replying, and then withdrawing with the bishops of his party, declaring that he would not return to the council until the arrival of John and the Eastern bishops. Cyril and his party refused to wait; and having sent to warn Nestorius to attend, and their messengers having been refused admittance, they proceeded in his absence (22d June) to try him, and depose him.
A very few days afterward John and his fellow-prelates of the East arrived; and being indignant at the indecent haste and manifest injustice of Cyril and his party, and being countenanced by Candidianus, Comes Domesticorum, who was present by the emperor's order, formed themselves into a council, at which, however, Nestorius was not present, and imitating the very conduct which they blamed, deposed Cyril himself, and Memnon, bishop of Ephesus, one of his chief supporters. Cyril, supported by Juvenal, bishop of Jerusalem, retorted by deposing John; and the general council, instead of healing, seemed likely to extend the breach.
The whole church was threatened with disruption. Tumults and conflicts ensued; and John, Comes Largitionum, found it needful to place Nestorius, Cyril, and Memnon under surveillance. Nestorius appealed to the emperors; the party of Cyril did the same, as also did John and the Oriental bishops.
It is needless here to relate all the perplexed particulars of the subsequent history.
The deposition of Nestorius was ultimately confirmed, though he at last agreed for peace' sake to withdraw his objection to the word Θεοτόκος
: many of the bishops of his party deserted him at once; and although John of Antioch and a number of the Eastern bishops held out for a time, ultimately John and Cyril were reconciled, and both retained their sees.
But the deposition of Nestorius, and the reconciliation of John and Cyril, neither suppressed the opinions of Nestorius, nor healed the dissensions which they had occasioned. Other teachers arose, who held and taught the same views, and diffused them among the Christians of the East, within and beyond the frontier of the empire toward Persia. The Nestorian communities, as they have continued to be called by their opponents, separated from the communion of the orthodox church, and were, doubtless for political reasons, patronized by some of the Persian kings [Barsuamas] : and the Mahometan conquests in the seventh century, by the overthrow of the orthodox supremacy, gave scope to the spread of the Nestorians. Under the denomination of Chaldaean Christians, which is the designation they gave themselves, they still exist and are numerous in the East, having their own hierarchy of patriarchs, bishops, and inferior clergy; and retaining their characteristic tendency to distinguish carefully between the two natures of Christ, and their objection to the title " Mother of God."
After a vain attempt of Nestorius to gain the support of Scholasticus, one of the eunuchs about the court, he was ordered to retire to the monastery, apparently that of Euprepius, in the suburbs of Antioch, in which he had dwelt before his election to the patriarchate. Here he remained four years, being treated, according to his own statement (apud Evagr. H. E.
1.7), with kindness and respect.
As, however, he persisted in maintaining his opinions, or as his opponents called it, his blasphemy, he was sentenced to perpetual banishment in the Greater Oasis in Upper Egypt, probably in A. D. 435; at the instigation of his former supporter, John of Antioch [Joannes, No. 9], who was aggravated by his persistence, and by that of a few of the bishops who adhered to him. [Meletius, No. 7.] In this remote and painful exile, his spirit remained unbroken.
He wrote a work, addressed to some Egyptian, on the subject of his wrongs, and addressed various memorials to the governor of the Thebaid.
After an interval of uncertain length, he was carried off by the Blemmyes, who ravaged the Oasis with fire and sword : their compassion, however, released him, and he returned to the Thebaid.
But the vindictiveness of his enemies was not satisfied : he was harshly hurried from one place of confinement to another, and at last died miserably from the effects of a fall.
The story of his dying disease, in which his tongue was eaten by worms, which Evagrius had read in a certain work, was probably an invention springing from the mistaken notion that, in the retributive judgment of God, the member which had sinned should bear the he was living in A. D. 439, when Socrates wrote his history (Socrat. H. E.
7.34), and probably died before A. D. 450. His death did not abate the bitterness of his enemies; Evagrius records, with apparent satisfaction (H. E.
1.7, ad fin.), that he passed from the sufferings of this world to sharper and more enduring woe in the world to come.
It is impossible either to deny or justify the violent treatment of Nestorius by the council of Ephesus. Neither can we, without compassion, read his touching appeal to his persecutors (apud Evagr. ibid.), that his past sufferings might be counted sufficient.
But our ompassion is materially checked by the consideration that he reaped as he had sown; and that there is little reason to think that success would have been more mildly used by him and his partizans, had they been victorious.
Gennadius (De Viris Illustribus,
100.53) mentions only one work of Nestorius, which he describes as being “ quasi de Incarnatione Domini,
” and adds that the Haeresiarch supported his opinion by perverting sixty-two places of Scripture.
The work has perished, except that some passages, cited from the writings of Nestorius by Cyril of Alexandria, in his Adrcrsiss Nestorii Blasphemias Contradictionum, Libri V.
[CYRILLUS ST. of ALEXANDRIA] are thought to be from it. Nestorius, however, produced other works beside that mentioned by Gennadius.
Of his Homiliae,
thirteen are preserved in the works of Marius Mercator [MERCATOR, MARIUS], vol. ii. in the edition of Garier, who has diligently collected from the Concilia
and the works of Cyril various fragments in Greek of the original homilies, and of the other writings of Nestorius.
Several of his Epistolae
are preserved, some in Greek in the Concilia,
others in a Latin version in the Concilia,
or in the works of Mercator.
His Anathematismi duodecim,
in reply to Cyril, are contained, in a Latin version, in the Concilia. Alii duodecim Anathematismi
are extant in a Syriac version.
These were published, with a Latin version, from the Syriac, in the Bibliotheca Orientalis of Assemani, vol. iii. pars ii. p. 159.
Nestorius, also, wrote a history of his disputes with his opponents, which he appears to have entitled the Tragedy
; and which is probably the work mentioned by Evagrius (H. E.
1.7), as addressed, in the form of a dialogue, to a certain Egyptian.
It is mentioned by Ebedjesu the Syrian, in a catalogue of works ascribed to Nestorius.
Of the Liber Heraclidis,
mentioned also by Ebedjesu, nothing seems to be known.
A Syriac Liturgy,
ascribed to Nestorius, is mentioned by Ebedjesu, and is extant.
It was pu,lished in the original, with several similar works at Rome A. D. 1592
; and is given in a Latin version in the Liturgiae Orientales of Eusebius Renaudot, vol. ii. p. 626. 4to. Paris, 1716.
Memorial of Nestorius
A memorial of Nestorius, on his sufferings, is also cited by Evagrius H. E.
Works conjecturally ascribed to Nestorius
The following works are conjecturally ascribed to him : --
Two Homiliae De Resurrectione et Ascessione Christi
, which Combéfis, in his Auctarium Norum,
had ascribed to Athanasius.
, written before the council of Chalcedon, from a Syriac version.
Assemam gives two extracts of this in his Bibliotheca Orientalis, vol. iii. pars i. p. 36, note 5
, still in use among the Nestorians, and different apparently from that already mentioned.
Confession of Faith
A Confession of Faith
, extant in Greek, and of which a Latin version is given by Mercator, and in the Concilia :
but this con fession is more probably the work of Theodore of Mopsuestia.
The original and the version are both given by Garnier, Mercatoris Opera,
vol. ii. p. 251.
Various fragments of the works of Nestorius are cited in the Acta Concilii Ephesini,
in the Concilia :
the passages cited under the title of Τεράδια
are apparently from a collection of his Homilise
7.29, 31, 32, 34; Evagrius, H. E.
1.2-7 ; Theophanes, Chronographia;
Theodoret. Haeret. Fabular. Compend.
4.12; Liberatus, Breviarium ;
Leontius Byzant. De Sectis,
act. iv.; Gennadius, l.c. ;
Mercator, l.c.; Concilia,
vol. i. col. 1271, &c. &c. ed. Hardouil.; Fabric. Bibl. Graec.
vol. x. p. 529, &c.; Cave, Hist. Litt.
vol. i. p. 412, &c. ed. Oxford, fol. 1740-42; Tillemont, Ménmoires,
vol. xiv. passim. Fabricius has given a minute account of the works of Nestorius and of the ancient writers on the Nestorian controversy.)