Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Nesto­rian Her­esy and The Third Ecu­me­ni­cal Council

When all those who had dared to speak against the san­ctity and purity of the Most Holy Vir­gin Mary had been redu­ced to silence, an attempt was made to destroy Her vene­ra­tion as Mot­her of God. 

In the 5th cen­tury the Arch­bis­hop of Con­stan­ti­nople, Nesto­rius, began to preach that of Mary had been born only the man Jesus, in Whom the Divi­nity had taken abode and dwelt in Him as in a temple. At first he allowed his pres­byter Anast­a­sius and then he him­self began to teach openly in church that one should not call Mary “Theo­tokos, since She had not given birth to the God-Man. He con­si­de­red it deme­a­ning for him­self to wors­hip a child wrap­ped in swad­dling clo­t­hes and lying in a manger.

Such ser­mons evo­ked a uni­ver­sal dis­tur­bance and une­ase over the purity of faith, at first in Con­stan­ti­nople and then eve­rywhere else where rumors of the new tea­ching spread. St. Pro­clus, the disciple of St. John Chryso­stom’ who was then Bis­hop of Cyzi­cus and later Arch­bis­hop of Con­stan­ti­nople, in the pre­sence of Nesto­rius gave in church a ser­mon in which he con­fes­sed the Son of God born in the flesh of the Vir­gin, Who in truth is the Theo­tokos (Bir­t­h­gi­ver of God), for alre­ady in the womb of the Most Pure One, at the time of Her con­cep­tion, the Divi­nity was uni­ted with the Child con­cei­ved of the Holy Spi­rit; and this Child, even though He was born of the Vir­gin Mary only in His human nature, still was born alre­ady true God and true man.

Nesto­rius stub­bornly refu­sed to change his tea­ching, saying that one must distingu­ish between Jesus and the Son of God, that Mary should not be cal­led Theo­tokos, but Chri­sto­tokos (Bir­t­h­gi­ver of Christ), since the Jesus Who was born of Mary was only the man Christ (which sig­ni­fies Mes­siah, ano­in­ted one), like to God’s ano­in­ted ones of old, the prop­hets, only sur­pas­sing them in ful­l­ness of com­mu­nion with God. The tea­ching of Nesto­rius thus con­sti­tu­ted a denial of the whole eco­nomy of God, for if from Mary only a man was born, then it was not God Who suf­fe­red for us, but a man.

St. Cyril, Arch­bis­hop of Ale­xan­dria, fin­ding out about the tea­ching of Nesto­rius and about the church disor­ders evo­ked by this tea­ching in Con­stan­ti­nople, wrote a let­ter to Nesto­rius, in which he tried to per­su­ade him to hold the tea­ching which the Church had con­fes­sed from its foun­da­tion, and not to intro­duce anyt­hing novel into this tea­ching. In addi­tion, St. Cyril wrote to the clergy and people of Con­stan­ti­nople that they should be firm in the Ort­ho­dox faith and not fear the per­secu­tions by Nesto­rius against those who were not in agre­e­ment with him. St. Cyril also wrote infor­m­ing of eve­ryt­hing to Rome, to the holy Pope Celestine, who with all his flock was then firm in Orthodoxy.

St. Celestine for his part wrote to Nesto­rius and cal­led upon him to preach the Ort­ho­dox faith, and not his own. But Nesto­rius remai­ned deaf to all per­su­a­sion and replied that what he was prea­ching was the Ort­ho­dox faith, while his oppo­nents were her­e­tics. St. Cyril wrote Nesto­rius again and com­po­sed twelve anat­he­mas, that is, set forth in twelve para­graphs the chief dif­fe­ren­ces of the Ort­ho­dox tea­ching from the tea­ching prea­ched by Nesto­rius, ack­now­led­ging as excom­mu­ni­ca­ted from the Church eve­ry­one who should reject even a single one of the para­graphs he had composed.

Nesto­rius rejected the whole of the text com­po­sed by St. Cyril and wrote his own expo­si­tion of the tea­ching which he prea­ched, likewise in twelve para­graphs, giving over to anat­hema (that is, excom­mu­ni­ca­tion from the Church) eve­ry­one who did not accept it. The dan­ger to purity of faith was increa­sing all the time. St. Cyril wrote a let­ter to Theo­do­sius the Youn­ger, who was then reig­ning, to his wife Eudo­cia and to the Emperor’s sister Pul­che­ria, entre­at­ing them likewise to con­cern them­sel­ves with ecc­lesi­a­sti­cal mat­ters and restrain the heresy.

It was deci­ded to con­vene an Ecu­me­ni­cal Coun­cil, at which hie­rar­chs, gat­he­red from the ends of the world, should decide whet­her the faith prea­ched by Nesto­rius was Ort­ho­dox. As the place for the coun­cil, which was to be the Third Ecu­me­ni­cal Coun­cil, they chose the city of Ephe­sus, in which the Most Holy Vir­gin Mary had once dwelt toget­her with the Apostle John the The­o­lo­gian. St. Cyril gat­he­red his fel­low bis­hops in Egypt and toget­her with them tra­vel­led by sea to Ephe­sus. From Antioch over­land came John, Arch­bis­hop of Antioch, with the Eastern bis­hops. The Bis­hop of Rome, St. Celestine, could not go him­self and asked St. Cyril to defend the Ort­ho­dox faith, and in addi­tion he sent from him­self two bis­hops and the pres­byter of the Roman Church Phi­lip, to whom he also gave instructions as to what to say. To Ephe­sus there came likewise Nesto­rius and the bis­hops of the Con­stan­ti­nople region, and the bis­hops of Palestine, Asia Minor, and Cyprus.

On the 10th of the calends of July accor­ding to the Roman rec­k­o­ning, that is, June 22, 431, in the Ephe­sian Church of the Vir­gin Mary, the bis­hops assem­b­led, hea­ded by the Bis­hop of Ale­xan­dria, Cyril, and the Bis­hop of Ephe­sus, Mem­non, and took their pla­ces. In their midst was pla­ced a Gospel as a sign of the invi­sible heads­hip of the Ecu­me­ni­cal Coun­cil by Christ Him­self. At first the Sym­bol of Faith which had been com­po­sed by the First and Second Ecu­me­ni­cal Coun­cils was read; then there was read to the Coun­cil the Impe­rial Pro­c­la­ma­tion which was brought by the rep­re­sen­ta­ti­ves of the Emper­ors Theo­do­sius and Valen­ti­nian, Emper­ors of the Eastern and Western parts of the Empire.

The Impe­rial Pro­c­la­ma­tion having been heard, the rea­ding of docu­ments began, and there were read the Epi­st­les of Cyril and Celestine to Nesto­rius, as well as the replies of Nesto­rius. The Coun­cil, by the lips of its mem­bers, ack­now­led­ged the tea­ching of Nesto­rius to be impious and con­dem­ned it, ack­now­led­ging Nesto­rius as depri­ved of his See and of the pri­est­hood. A decree was com­po­sed con­cer­ning this which was sig­ned by about 160 par­ti­ci­pants of the Coun­cil; and since some of them rep­re­sen­ted also other bis­hops who did not have the opportu­nity to be per­so­nally at the Coun­cil, the decree of the Coun­cil was actu­ally the deci­sion of more than 200 bis­hops, who had their Sees in the various regions of the Church at that time, and they testi­fied that they con­fes­sed the Faith which from all antiquity had been kept in their localities.

Thus the decree of the Coun­cil was the voice of the Ecu­me­ni­cal Church, which clearly expres­sed its faith that Christ, born of the Vir­gin, is the true God Who became man; and inas­much as Mary gave birth to the per­fect Man Who was at the same time per­fect God, She rightly should be reve­red as THEOTOKOS.

At the end of the ses­sion its decree was imme­di­a­tely com­mu­ni­ca­ted to the wai­ting people. The whole of Ephe­sus rejoi­ced when it found out that the vene­ra­tion of the Holy Vir­gin had been defen­ded, for She was espe­ci­ally reve­red in this city, of which She had been a resi­dent during Her eart­hly life and a Patro­ness after Her depar­ture into eter­nal life. The people gre­e­ted the Fat­hers ecsta­ti­cally when in the eve­ning they retur­ned home after the ses­sion. They accom­pa­nied them to their homes with ligh­ted tor­ches and bur­ned incense in the stre­ets. Eve­rywhere were to be heard joy­ful gre­e­tings, the glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of the Ever-Virgin, and the pra­i­ses of the Fat­hers who had defen­ded Her name against the her­e­tics. The decree of the Coun­cil was dis­played in the stre­ets of Ephesus.

The Coun­cil had five more ses­sions, on June 10 and 11, July 16, 17, and and August 3 1. At these ses­sions there were set forth, in six canons, mea­su­res for action against those who would dare to spread the tea­ching of Nesto­rius and change the decree of the Coun­cil of Ephesus.

At the com­plaint of the bis­hops of Cyprus against the pre­ten­sions of the Bis­hop of Antioch, the Coun­cil decreed that the Church of Cyprus should pre­serve its inde­pen­dence in Church gover­n­ment, which it had pos­ses­sed from the Apost­les, and that in gene­ral none of the bis­hops should sub­ject to them­sel­ves regions which had been pre­viously inde­pen­dent from them, “lest under the pre­text of pri­est­hood the pride of eart­hly power should steal in, and lest we lose, rui­ning it little by little, the fre­edom which our Lord Jesus Christ, the Deli­ve­rer of all men, has given us by His Blood.”

The Coun­cil likewise con­fir­med the con­dem­na­tion of the Pelagian her­esy, which taught that man can be saved by his own powers wit­hout the neces­sity of having the grace of God. It also deci­ded certain mat­ters of church gover­n­ment, and addres­sed epi­st­les to the bis­hops who had not atten­ded the Coun­cil, anno­un­cing its decrees and cal­ling upon all to stand on guard for the Ort­ho­dox Faith and the peace of the Church. At the same time the Coun­cil ack­now­led­ged that the tea­ching of the Ort­ho­dox Ecu­me­ni­cal Church had been fully and clearly enough set forth in the Nicaeo-Constantinopolitan Sym­bol of Faith, which is why it itself did not com­pose a new Sym­bol of Faith and for­bade in future “to com­pose ano­t­her Faith,” that is, to com­pose other Sym­bols of Faith or make chan­ges in the Sym­bol which had been con­fir­med at the Second Ecu­me­ni­cal Council.

This lat­ter decree was vio­la­ted seve­ral cen­turies later by Western Chri­sti­ans when, at first in sepa­rate pla­ces, and then throug­hout the whole Roman Church, there was made to the Sym­bol the addi­tion that the Holy Spi­rit pro­ce­eds “and from the Son,” which addi­tion has been appro­ved by the Roman Popes from the I I th cen­tury, even though up until that time their pre­de­ces­sors, begin­ning with St. Celestine, firmly kept to the deci­sion of the Coun­cil of Ephe­sus, which was the Third Ecu­me­ni­cal Coun­cil, and ful­fil­led it. Thus the peace which had been destroyed by Nesto­rius sett­led once more in the Church. The true Faith had been defen­ded and false tea­ching accused.

The Coun­cil of Ephe­sus is rightly vene­ra­ted as Ecu­me­ni­cal, on the same level as the Coun­cils of Nicaea and Con­stan­ti­nople which pre­ce­ded it. At it there were pre­sent rep­re­sen­ta­ti­ves of the whole Church. Its deci­sions were accep­ted by the whole Church “from one end of the uni­verse to the other.” At it there was con­fes­sed the tea­ching which had been held from Apo­sto­lic times. The Coun­cil did not cre­ate a new tea­ching, but it loudly testi­fied of the truth which some had tried to replace by an inven­tion. It pre­ci­sely set forth the con­fes­sion of the Divi­nity of Christ Who was born of the Vir­gin. The belief of the Church and its jud­g­ment on this question were now so clearly expres­sed that no one could any lon­ger ascribe to the Church his own false rea­so­nings. In the future there could arise other questions deman­ding the deci­sion of the whole Church, but not the question

Sub­sequent Coun­cils based them­sel­ves in their deci­sions on the decrees of the Coun­cils which had pre­ce­ded them. They did not com­pose a new Sym­bol of Faith, but only gave an expla­na­tion of it. At the Third Ecu­me­ni­cal Coun­cil there was firmly and clearly con­fes­sed Pre­viously the Holy Fat­hers had accu­sed those who had slan­de­red the imma­cu­late life of the Vir­gin Mary; and now con­cer­ning those who had tried to les­sen Her honor it was pro­clai­med to all: “He who does not con­fess Imma­nuel to be true God and there­fore the Holy Vir­gin to be Theo­tokos, because She gave birth in the flesh to the Word Who is from God the Fat­her and Who became flesh, let him be anat­hema (sepa­ra­ted from the Church)” (First Anat­hema of St. Cyril of Alexandria).

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