Theology: FAIL – Nestorianism – Know Your Heretics

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John Calvin said in his Institutes of the Christian Religion that Nestorius “devised a double Christ!”

The early church taught that Jesus Christ was one person with two natures: a divine nature and a human nature.

Nestorius (c. 381-451) was a monk from Antioch before he became the bishop of Constantinople in 428. He so emphasized the two natures that Nestorius basically turned Jesus Christ into two persons. Wanting to avoid any “mixing” of the divine and human natures of Christ (as Eutyches did), Nestorius over-emphasized their distinctness.

He argued that there are places in the Gospels where the human nature of Jesus is being described, and others where his divine nature is the subject. In doing this, it seems as if Nestorius has made two persons exist in Christ—two acting subjects, two “he’s”.

Christ is two natures in one person

Cyril of Alexandria was the main proponent of orthodox theology in response to Nestorius. Cyril condemned Nestorius’ stance of two subjects present in Christ because it meant there were also two persons—a human and a divine—present in Christ. In response to Nestorius’ position, Cyril wrote: “If any one distributes between two characters or persons the expressions used about Christ in the gospels, etc…applying some to the man, conceived of separately, apart from the Word, others exclusively to the Word, let him be anathema.”

Nestorius’ under-emphasis of the unity between the two natures of Christ is dangerous because Jesus Christ is the one and only mediator between God and humanity.

Both the councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451) condemned Nestorius. He claimed later that he was simply misunderstood and he believed in Christ’s two natures in one person.

Stephen Nichols notes of the Chalcedonian Creed, “In affirming Christ as two natures in one person, the Creed repudiates directly and explicitly the teachings of Apollinarius, Eutyches, and Nestorius…Against Nestorius, the Creed holds Christ to be two natures in one person without division or separation. It denies that Christ is two persons, two ‘he’s.’”

Why the unity of Jesus matters

Nestorius’ under-emphasis of the unity between the two natures of Christ is dangerous because Jesus Christ is the one and only mediator between God and humanity.

This unity of the one person of Jesus Christ is called the hypostatic union. It is important that we get this union right—Jesus Christ is the God-man. It is precisely in the unity of the person of Jesus Christ and his sinless life, death, and resurrection that God reconciles lost humans with his perfect self.

Two natures, without separation

A disjoining of the two natures would result in a failure in the means of Christians’ salvation. This is why the Chalcedonian Creed says, “our Lord Jesus Christ…for us men and for our salvation…[is] recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated in two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God, the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ.”


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