Orthodox Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ is one person, having both a human and a divine nature. Nestorius, powerful fifth-century preacher, disagreed. Two separate persons indwelled the incarnate Christ, he taught, one divine and the other human. “I separate the natures, but I unite the worship. Consider what this must mean,” he said. “He who was formed in the womb of Mary was not himself God, but God assumed him.”

A violent controversy ensued. Nestorius, a popular orator, had been named patriarch of Constantinople by Emperor Theodosius II. Preachers, monks, and bishops exploded in their pulpits against him. The pope condemned him in a set of 12 anathemas (the word anathema means “cursed”) and demanded he recant within 12 days.

Emperor Theodosius, stunned by the theological war fragmenting his empire, called a general church council in Ephesus in 431. From the beginning it proved to be animated and stomach-wrenching. Nestorius arrived with 16 bishops, an armed escort, and the backing of the emperor. But he was badly outnumbered, and the verdict went against him: “Whosoever does not anathematize Nestorius, let him be anathema; the true faith anathematizes him; the holy council anathematizes him. Whoever holds fellowship with Nestorius, let him be anathema. We all anathematize the letter and doctrines of Nestorius. We all anathematize Nestorius and his followers and his ungodly doctrine.”

But Emperor Theodosius declared the decree invalid because not all the bishops had yet arrived in Ephesus. More politics, intrigue, and anxiety followed; but in the end the result was the same. Nestorius was deposed as patriarch of Constantinople, and on October 25, 431 his successor was nominated. Nestorius was banished to Egypt where he died after writing his autobiography and titling it Tragedy. The Council of Ephesus was one of the bitterest councils in church history, but it preserved the orthodox doctrine of Christ. A small group of eastern bishops, however, refusing to accept its decisions, constituted themselves into a separate church, centered in Persia. Remnants of the Nestorian Church survive to this day in western and central Asia

This good news is about his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ! As a human, he was from the family of David. But the Holy Spirit proved that Jesus is the powerful Son of God, because he was raised from death. (Romans 1:3-4)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Oct.25.

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