17.05.2018 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

Nestorianism is a concept in Christian theology that refers to several similar but at the same time different teachings.

Initially, Nestorianism is associated with the concept of the Christian church figure Nestorius, whose teaching in the year 431 at the Council of Ephesus (the Third Ecumenical Council) was recognized as heresy. According to the teachings of Nestorius, Jesus Christ combined divine and human qnomas (person and nature).

Secondly, Nestorianism, having a broad meaning, refers to a later doctrine that differs in the area of use and terms. This teaching was founded by Mar Babai the Great, hundreds of years after the death of Nestorius. It is based on the teachings of Diodorus of Tarsus and Evagrius Ponticus which were edited by Mar Babai. Christian churches that preach this religion are called the Pre-Ephesian churches.

Nestorius’s creed is a version of the development of the theological school of Antioch. The Antiochian doctrine of Christ is based on the doctrines of Diodorus of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia and recognized by the Assyrian Church of the East as the forerunners of the doctrine. Nestorius, for his devotion to the liturgy of the Church of the East, is revered by them as a saint, but his teaching is rejected by this church. Since ancient times, there has been a cult of the Virgin Mary in it, which Nestorius himself did not support. In this regard, Nestorians were against this.

The doctrine of nestorianism

The basic principle of Nestorianism is that two qnomas and two natures are united in the person of Christ—God and man. Will is not a property of nature or hypostasis, but the property of the individual. The will of Christ is the God-human will, uniting the human and divine wills which are coordinated with each other. In the Chalcedonian churches, according to the concept of Nestorianism, the actions of Christ are divided into human (birth from Mary, torment, death on the cross) and divine (creation of miracles). Since the birth of Christ refers to his human incarnation, Nestorians consider the term “Holy Mother” to be inaccurate. They especially revere the human deeds of Christ. At the time of His Baptism, grace descended upon Jesus, and his two hypostases, which were in close contact before the sacrament, and thus united. By his torment and death through crucifixion, Christ shows obedience to the will of God. And God by his power resurrects him. Resurrection is the triumph over death – the main consequence of Adam’s sin.

Opposition to nestorianism

Archbishop Cyril of Alexandria, supporting the Christology of the Alexandrian Theological School, was the main oppositionist to Nestorius. Cyril insisted on the term “Holy Mother” claiming that God was born of the Virgin as a man, and not united with the person born of her. Nestorius disagreed. The results of the disputes between them were published in The Twelve Anathematisms by Cyril. They became a symbol of the struggle with Nestorius. The works of Cyril were published in 431 at the Council of Ephesus.

In 451, the Council of Chalcedon was convened because of the turmoil caused by the teachings of Eutyches, who believed that the human hypostasis of Christ had dissolved in the divine one. At the Council of Chalcedon, the teachings of Nestorius and Eutyches were recognized as alien to the doctrines of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Nestorius consequently abandoned his term “God-Receiver”.


Separation of nestorianism from christianity

In 431, the Council of Ephesus recognized Nestorius as a heretic, and he was anathematized.  At the meeting of the Antiochian delegation, Cyril of Alexandria was also recognized as a heretic. Emperor Theodosius II was involved in resolving the issue. He took the side of the resolution of the Alexandrian delegation. After that, the conflict was resolved through conciliatory religion. Some historians believe that in 451 during the Council of Chalcedon, the other Nestorians were anathematized.

The followers of the Church of the East do not consider themselves to be Nestorians: although they consider Nestorius as a saint. The creation of their church is not attributed to him. The Syriac Church did not know about the conflict between Nestorius and Cyril while both were alive. But it was recognized as instigated by Nestorians after his death.

As a result of religious persecution in the territory of Byzantium, a large number of Nestorians went to Persia and joined the Church of the East, where the Antiochian theological tradition prevailed. The Church of the East, being in opposition to Byzantine Christianity, settled in the church of the Persian Empire and then separated from Christendom. After the Council of Chalcedon, however, it began to get closer to Orthodoxy in the fight against Monophysitism. These Monophysites (Miaphysites) were the first to use the term “Nestorians”, meaning the followers of the Church of the East, the Orthodox and the Catholics. Emperor Justinian I wanted to achieve peace with Miaphysites, but in vain. As a result, there was a canonical break with the Church of the East. The Church of the East, believing that the Ecumenical Councils of the Orthodox belonged to the Church of the West, refused to send its representatives to the Ecumenical Councils and to recognize them at all.

Orthodoxy and the Church of the East have never opposed each other, unlike other churches.

History of nestorianism

History of nestorianism

Thanks to active missionary activities, Nestorianism became popular among the Iranian, Turkic and Mongolian peoples of Central Asia, the Great Steppe and the city of Ctesiphon (Iraq) became its center.

In 420, the Diocese of Nestorians was opened in the city of Merv, and Sogd became another major center. In its capital, Samarkand, for some time there were wars between Christians and Muslims. The diocese of Samarkand grew rapidly, spreading to Vazgerd.

During the Arab Caliphate, the Nestorian Church reached the peak of its power, and in 628 Patriarch Isho-Yab II d’Guedal was awarded a letter of protection from the Prophet Muhammad. This happened because the peoples enslaved by the caliphate had to renounce paganism in favor of one of the Abrahamic religions. Nestorianism was usually preferred, sometimes to avoid wars with Muslims.

In 635, Nestorianism appeared in China. The first emperors of the Tang dynasty allowed devotees to build temples and they were treated favorably. When the Ming Dynasty came to power in China, many Christians were expelled. Some Christians of India joined the Catholics but the rest remained on the side of the former religion. Nestorianism also penetrated Japan. Nestorianism, covering vast territories and a large number of followers, became the most common branch of Christianity.

In 1552, the Chaldean Catholic Church appeared which was a union of Nestorians of the Middle East and Catholics.

Nestorianism was very popular among Polovtsy, a people of the Great Steppe. Since the Orthodox Church and Nestorianism did not oppose each other, the Polovtsian girl, taken as a wife by a Russian prince, was not baptized again. Many Polovtsy merged with the Russian people after the Mongol yoke. Also, the Russians assimilated the Nestorians of Siberia after its annexation.

Today, Nestorianism is represented by the Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Assyrian Church of the East. Modern Nestorians mostly live in Iran, Iraq, Syria, India, the USA, Israel and Palestine.

In Moscow, there is a temple of Nestorians as well as the center of the Assyrian diaspora of Moscow.

By its emergence, Nestorianism brought new Christological disputes into the Church. Throughout their history, Nestorians prospered, were subjected to religious persecution, and then almost totally dissolved before assimilating with Christianity.