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!

Posted on June 24, 2011, in Christology, Church History, Early Christian Studies, Historical Theology, Theology. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. We need more uplifting posts about Cyril, thanks Billy!

  2. Andy, don’t get me wrong. He was a bloodthirsty rebel who couldn’t control his own goonies, but I appreciate him anyway. He’s kind of like the Christian Conan the Barbarian.

  3. What?!? How dare you slander him you, you Origen guy! 🙂

  4. Just watched a movie on NetFlix this weekend, called “Agora,” set in Alexandria, dealing with Cyril, Orestes, and the philosopher Hyapatia.

    • What did you think? I commented a while back on a piece that David Hart did about the movie, but I still haven’t seen it myself, though it is on my Netflix queue.

      • Wonderful sets displaying the grandeur of Alexandria. Good period costumes.

        I know there are many times when Christians haven’t been very Christ-like, and we have to recognize them, but it seemed very one-sided in its portrayal of Cyril’s thirst for political power, and typical of the modern secular tendency to demonize historical Christian figures. Though the film was in Engilsh, I noticed a lot of the production credits, including the film company, had Spanish names. It seems in trying to make up for the Inquisition, the Spaniards are going overboard the other direction in criticizing the Church.

        I found the young Cyril’s walking on hot coals to prove the power of his message about Christ more Hindu than Christian. And then he grabs a Hellenist philosopher and throws him onto the coals to prove that the Greek gods don’t have that power, setting the man’s clothes on fire.

        In all, nice cinematography and “feel” for the historical period, but obviously made with an anti-Christian bent.

      • Cyril of Alexandria – only Greek Father featured in both a movie and popular novel (albeit in Arabic). He’s the man.

  1. Pingback: Elsewhere (06.27.2011) | Near Emmaus

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