Archbishop of Constantinople
Born c. 386
Germanicia, Syria (now Kahramanmaraş, Turkey)
Died c. 451
Great Oasis of Hibis (al-Khargah), Egypt
Honored in Assyrian Church of the East
Feast October 25
Controversy Christology, Theotokos

Nestorius (in Greek: Νεστόριος; c. 386 – c. 451) was Archbishop of Constantinople from 10 April 428 to 22 June 431. Drawing on his studies at the School of Antioch, his teachings, which included a rejection of the long-used title of Theotokos ("Mother of God") for the Virgin Mary, brought him into conflict with other prominent churchmen of the time, most notably Cyril of Alexandria, who accused him of heresy. Nestorius sought to defend himself at the First Council of Ephesus in 431, but instead he found himself formally condemned for heresy and removed from his see. Thereafter he retired to a monastery, where he asserted his orthodoxy for the rest of his life. Despite his acquiescence, many of his supporters split with the rest of the church in the Nestorian Schism, and over the next decades a number of them relocated to Persia. Thereafter Nestorianism became the official position of the Church of the East.


Early life

Nestorius was born in 386 in Germanicia in the Roman province of Syria (now Kahramanmaraş in Turkey).[1] He received his clerical training as a pupil of Theodore of Mopsuestia in Antioch and gained a reputation for his sermons that led to his enthronement by Theodosius II as Archbishop following the death of Sisinnius I in 428.

Nestorian controversy

Shortly after his arrival in Constantinople, Nestorius became involved in the disputes of two theological factions, which differed in their Christology. Nestorius tried to find a middle ground between those that emphasized the fact that in Christ God had been born as a man, insisted on calling the Virgin Mary Theotokos (Greek: Θεοτόκος, "God-bearer"), and those that rejected that title because God as an eternal being could not have been born. Nestorius suggested the title Christotokos (Χριστοτόκος, "Christ-bearer"), but did not find acceptance on either side.

Nestorius believed that no union between the human and divine were possible. If such a union of human and divine occurred, Nestorius believed that Christ could not truly be con-substantial with God and con-substantial with us because he would grow, mature, suffer and die (which he said God cannot do) and also would possess the power of God that would separate him from being equal to humans.

Eusebius, a layman who later became the bishop of the neighbouring Dorylaeum was the first to accuse Nestorius of heresy but his most forceful opponent however was Patriarch Cyril of Alexandria. Cyril appealed to Celestine of Rome to make a decision on Nestorius; and Celestine delegated to Cyril the job of excommunicating Nestorius if he did not change his teachings in ten days. Nestorius's opponents charged him with detaching Christ's divinity and humanity into two persons existing in one body, thereby denying the reality of the Incarnation. This heresy came to be known as Nestorianism.

The Emperor Theodosius II (401–450) was eventually induced to convoke a general church council, sited at Ephesus, itself a special seat for the veneration of Mary, where the theotokos formula was popular. The Emperor and his wife supported Nestorius while Pope Celestine I supported Cyril.

Cyril took charge of the First Council of Ephesus in 431, opening debate before the long-overdue contingent of Eastern bishops from Antioch arrived.

The council deposed Nestorius and declared him a heretic. In Nestorius' own words,

When the followers of Cyril saw the vehemence of the emperor… they roused up a disturbance and discord among the people with an outcry, as though the emperor were opposed to God; they rose up against the nobles and the chiefs who acquiesced not in what had been done by them and they were running hither and thither. And… they took with them those who had been separated and removed from the monasteries by reason of their lives and their strange manners and had for this reason been expelled, and all who were of heretical sects and were possessed with fanaticism and with hatred against me. And one passion was in them all, Jews and pagans and all the sects, and they were busying themselves that they should accept without examination the things which were done without examination against me; and at the same time all of them, even those that had participated with me at table and in prayer and in thought, were agreed… against me and vowing vows one with another against me… In nothing were they divided.

But while the council was in progress, John I of Antioch and the eastern bishops arrived, and were furious to hear that Nestorius had already been condemned. They convened their own synod, at which Cyril was deposed. Both sides then appealed to the emperor. Initially the imperial government ordered both Nestorius and Cyril deposed and exiled. However, Cyril was eventually allowed to return after bribing various courtiers.[2]

In the following months, 17 bishops who supported Nestorius' doctrine were removed from their sees. Eventually, John I of Antioch was obliged to abandon Nestorius in March 433. On August 3, 435, Theodosius II issued an imperial edict that exiled Nestorius to a monastery in the Great Oasis of Hibis (al-Khargah), in Egypt, securely within the diocese of Cyril. The monastery suffered attacks by desert bandits, and Nestorius was injured in one such raid.

Nestorius' writings survive mainly in Syriac.


Though Nestorius had been condemned by the church, including by Syrians, there remained a faction loyal to him and his teachings. Following the Nestorian Schism and the relocation of many Nestorian Christians to Persia, Nestorian thought became ingrained in the native Christian community, known as the Church of the East, to the extent that it was often known as the "Nestorian Church". In modern times the Assyrian Church of the East, a modern descendant of the historical Church of the East, reveres Nestorius as a saint, although the modern church does not subscribe to the entirety of the Nestorian doctrine as it has traditionally been understood in the West. Parts of the doctrine were explicitly repudiated by Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV on the occasion of his accession in 1976.[3]

In the Roman Empire, the doctrine of Monophysitism developed in reaction to Nestorianism. This new doctrine asserted that Christ had but one nature, his human nature being absorbed into his divinity. This doctrine was condemned at the Council of Chalcedon, and misattributed to the non-Chalcedonian churches. Today it is condemned as heresy in the modern Oriental Orthodox churches.

Bazaar of Heracleides

In 1895, a 16th-century book manuscript containing a copy of a text written by Nestorius was discovered by American missionaries in the library of the Nestorian patriarch in the mountains at Konak, Hakkari. This book had suffered damage during Muslim raids, but was substantially intact, and copies were taken secretly. The Syriac translation had the title of the Bazaar of Heracleides.[4] The original 16th-century manuscript was destroyed in 1915 during the Turkish massacres of Assyrian Christians.

In the Bazaar, written towards the end of his life, Nestorius denies the heresy for which he was condemned and instead affirms of Christ "the same one is twofold" – an expression that some consider similar to the formulation of the Council of Chalcedon. Nestorius' earlier surviving writings, however, including his letter written in response to Cyril's charges against him, contain material that seems to support charges that he held that Christ had two persons.


  1. ^ Nestorius – Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  2. ^ John I., McEnerney (1998). St. Cyril of Alexandria Letters 51-110. Fathers of the Church Series. 77. Catholic University of America Press. p. 151. ISBN 9780813215143. 
  3. ^ Henry Hill, Light from the East, (Toronto Canada: Anglican Book Centre, 1988) p107.
  4. ^


External links

Preceded by
Sisinnius I
Archbishop of Constantinople
Succeeded by

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  • Nestorius — ou Nestorios (en grec Νεστόριος, né à Antioche vers 381, mort en exil en Égypte en 451) fut patriarche de Constantinople du 10 avril 428 au 11 juillet 431. Ses prises de position sont à l origine du nestorianisme. Sommaire 1… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • NESTORIUS — (apr. 381 env. 451) Évêque de Constantinople de 428 à 431, condamné comme hérétique au concile d’Éphèse (431). Né à Germanicie (Syrie euphratéenne), Nestorius fut probablement l’élève de Théodore de Mopsueste; il choisit la vie monastique et fut… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Nestorius — (gr. Νεστόριος, * nach 381; † um 451) war 428 bis 431 Patriarch von Konstantinopel. Er wurde nach dem Konzil von Ephesus seines Amtes enthoben, weil er behauptete, dass Maria Christusgebärerin und nicht Gottesgebärerin war. Er starb im Exil in… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • NESTORIUS — Germaniciensis, ad gubernationem Ecclesiae Constantinop. A. C. 428. Antiochiâ accersitus est, post Synesium: homo naturâ eloquens, insigni Oratione ad Imperatorem habitâ, da mihi terram, inquit, ab haereticis purgatam, vicissim tibi caelum dabo:… …   Hofmann J. Lexicon universale

  • Nestorius [1] — Nestorius, s.u. Nestorianer …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Nestorius [2] — Nestorius, Mönche u. Nonnen des St. N, aus den früheren Zeiten stammende Ordensleute im Orient; bekennen sich zu der Regel des St. Antonius, leben von Handarbeit, genießen niemals Butter, Fleisch etc., haben sechs große Fastenzeiten, wobei auch… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Nestorius — Nestorĭus aus Syrien, Mönch und Presbyter zu Antiochien, 428 Patriarch von Konstantinopel, 431 wegen seiner Lehre von den zwei getrennten Naturen in Christo (der göttlichen und menschlichen) abgesetzt und verbannt, gest. um 440 in Ägypten. (S.… …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • Nestorius — Nestorius, der Urheber des Nestorianismus, erster Presbyter zu Antiochien, seit 428 n. Chr. Patriarch von Konstantinopel, beredt u. kenntnißreich, aber auch ehrsüchtig, stolz u. anmaßend, trat heftig gegen die Apollinaristen (s. Apollinaris) auf …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • Nestorius — /ne stawr ee euhs, stohr /, n. died A.D. 451?, Syrian ecclesiastic: patriarch of Constantinople 428 431. * * * born 4th century, Germanicia, Syria Euphratensis, Asia Minor died с 451, Panopolis, Egypt Founder of Nestorian Christianity. Born of… …   Universalium

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