Cyril and the Condemning of Nestorius at the Council of Ephesus
The more I study Christian history the more I’m convinced that every Christian needs to have a solid foundational knowledge of it in order to guard themselves from bad theology, understand the origin of their own beliefs, and better realize the forgotten concept of what it means to be the universal church. We stand on the shoulders of faithful men and women who have gone before us, many times without realizing it. Thus, Wednesday (sorry I’m late on this) should officially have been “Thank a Dead Guy Day.” On June 22, 431 Cyril of Alexandria called the Council of Ephesus in order to address the teaching of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius. Nestorius had been wrongly teaching that there was a division between the humanity and divinity of Christ. The way he spoke of Jesus made it sound like there were really “two separate sons”: the Son of God and the Son of Man, the human being the part that the divine Son dwelt in intimate association with. For Nestorius this helped explain several Scriptures that spoke of divine as well as human attributes when speaking about Jesus. After all, how could God be hungry or tired (Matt. 4). Furthermore, people were speaking of Mary as the theotokos (Mother of God) and Nestorius felt it his duty to stop such talk. Enter Cyril! He saw the danger of Nestorius’ teaching. If Jesus was not fully divine, he could not redeem sinners. If Jesus was not fully human, he could not represent man. If Jesus was only a human being with an intimate divine connection, how was he any different from Old Testament prophets? He rightly saw the Jesus was not a split person, but one person with two natures. Jesus was fully man AND fully divine. Cyril referred to the union of deity and humanity in Jesus as the “Hypostatic Union.” Furthermore, since Jesus was God in the flesh, one could, strictly speaking, talk of Mary as the Mother of God. At the end of the Council of Ephesus the teaching of Nestorius was condemned and he was excommunicated for his refusal to recant his false teaching. The decision of the council in 431 has been the orthodox view of the church ever since. Seems fitting to remember this in a day when people want to speak of Jesus as merely a good prophet, teacher, or even divinely inspired human being. He was much more than that!