The Council Of Ephesus - 431 A.D.

part one of three

For document sources noted, see Abbreviations

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Second letter of Cyril to Nestorius - approved
  3. Second letter of Nestorius to Cyril - condemned

    part two

  4. Third letter of Cyril to Nestorius - approved
    • Twelve Anathemas Proposed by Cyril and accepted by the Council of Ephesus
  5. The judgment against Nestorius
  6. Synodical letter about the expulsion of the eastern bishops (et al.)
  7. Definition of the faith at Nicaea [6th session 22 July 431]

    part three

  8. Definition against the impious Messalians or Euchites
  9. Resolution : that the bishops of Cyprus may themselves conduct ordinations
  10. Formula of union between Cyrill and John of Antioch
  11. Letter of Cyril to John of Antioch about peace
  12. Excerpt from the Council of Chalcedon accepting the Letter of Cyril to John of Antioch about peace.

Introduction

Nestorius, who had been condemned in a council at Rome on 11 August 430, asked the emperor Theodosius II to summon this council. The emperor therefore decided to summon it together with his co-emperor Valentinian III and with the agreement of Pope Celestine I. Theodosius's letter of 19 November 430 requested all those who had been summoned to be present at Ephesus on 7 June 431, the feast of Pentecost.

On 22 June, however,

  • before the arrival either of the Roman legates or the eastern bishops led by John of Antioch,
  • Cyril of Alexandria began the council.
  • Nestorius was summoned three times but did not come.
  • His teaching was examined and judgment passed upon it, which 197 bishops subscribed at once and others later accepted.

    Shortly afterwards John of Antioch and the easterners arrived: they refused communion with Cyril and set up another council. The Roman legates (the bishops Arcadius and Projectus and the priest Philip), on arriving, joined Cyril and confirmed the sentence against Nestorius. Then the council in its fifth session on 17 July excommunicated John and his party.

    The documents of the Cyrilline council, the only one which is ecumenical, are included below and are as follows.

    1. The central dogmatic act of the council is its judgment about whether the second letter of Cyril to Nestorius, or Nestorius's second letter to Cyril, was in conformity with the Nicene creed which was recited at the opening of the council's proceedings. Both are here printed. Mention is made of Cyril's letter in the definition of Chalcedon.
    2. The 12 anathemas and the preceding explanatory letter, which had been produced by Cyril and the synod of Alexandria in 430 and sent to Nestorius, were read at Ephesus and included in the proceedings.
    3. The decision about Nestorius.
    4. The letter of the council advising all the bishops, clergy and people about the condemnation of John of Antioch; and some paragraphs dealing with the discipline of the Nestorian party.
    5. A decree on the faith, approved in the sixth session on 22 July, which confirmed the Nicene creed, ordered adherence to that alone and forbade the production of new creeds.
    6. A definition against the Messalians.
    7. A decree about the autonomy of the church of Cyprus.

    Both councils sent legates to the emperor Theodosius, who approved neither and sent the bishops away. Nestorius had already been given permission to revisit his monastery at Antioch, and on 25 October 431 Maximianus was ordained patriarch at Constantinople. The decrees of the council were approved by Pope Sixtus III shortly after his own ordination on 31 July 432.

    The reconciliation between the Cyrilline party and the eastern bishops was not easy. In the end, on 23 April 433, Cyril and John of Antioch made peace. John's profession of faith was accepted by Cyril and became the doctrinal formula of union. It is included here, together with Cyril's letter in which he at some length praises John's profession and accepts it, adding to it some explanation about his own expressions; this letter is mentioned in the definition of Chalcedon. Shortly afterwards, probably in 436, Nestorius was definitely sent into exile by the emperor .

    The English translation is from the Greek text, which is the more authoritative version.


    Second letter of Cyril to Nestorius

    [Declared by the council of Ephesus to be in agreement with Nicaea]

    Cyril sends greeting in the Lord to the most religious and reverend fellow-minister Nestorius

    I understand that there are some who are talking rashly of the reputation in which I hold your reverence, and that this is frequently the case when meetings of people in authority give them an opportunity. I think they hope in this way to delight your ears and so they spread abroad uncontrolled expressions. They are people who have suffered no wrong, but have been exposed by me for their own profit, one because he oppressed the blind and the poor, a second because he drew a sword on his mother, a third because he stole someone else's money in collusion with a maidservant and since then has lived with such a reputation as one would hardly wish for one's worst enemy. For the rest I do not intend to spend more words on this subject in order not to vaunt my own mediocrity above my teacher and master or above the fathers. For however one may try to live, it is impossible to escape the malice of evil people, whose mouths are full of cursing and bitterness and who will have to defend themselves before the judge of all.

    But I turn to a subject more fitting to myself and remind you as a brother in Christ always to be very careful about what you say to the people in matters of teaching and of your thought on the faith. You should bear in mind that to scandalise even one of these little ones that believe in Christ lays you open to unendurable wrath. If the number of those who are distressed is very large, then surely we should use every skill and care to remove scandals and to expound the healthy word of faith to those who seek the truth. The most effective way to achieve this end will be zealously to occupy ourselves with the words of the holy fathers, to esteem their words, to examine our words to see if we are holding to their faith as it is written, to conform our thoughts to their correct and irreproachable teaching.

    The holy and great synod, therefore, stated that

  • 1. the only begotten Son, begotten of God the Father according to nature, true God from true God, the light from the light, the one through whom the Father made all things, came down, became incarnate, became man,
  • 2. suffered, rose on the third day and ascended to heaven.

  • 1. We too ought to follow these words and these teachings and consider what is meant by saying that the Word from God took flesh and became man. For we do not say that the nature of the Word was changed and became flesh, nor that he was turned into a whole man made of body and soul. Rather do we claim that the Word in an unspeakable, inconceivable manner united to himself hypostatically flesh enlivened by a rational soul, and so became man and was called son of man, not by God's will alone or good pleasure, nor by the assumption of a person alone. Rather did two different natures come together to form a unity, and from both arose one Christ, one Son. It was not as though the distinctness of the natures was destroyed by the union, but divinity and humanity together made perfect for us one Lord and one Christ, together marvellously and mysteriously combining to form a unity. So he who existed and was begotten of the Father before all ages is also said to have been begotten according to the flesh of a woman, without the divine nature either beginning to exist in the holy virgin, or needing of itself a second begetting after that from his Father. (For it is absurd and stupid to speak of the one who existed before every age and is coeternal with the Father, needing a second beginning so as to exist.) The Word is said to have been begotten according to the flesh, because for us and for our salvation he united what was human to himself hypostatically and came forth from a woman. For he was not first begotten of the holy virgin, a man like us, and then the Word descended upon him; but from the very womb of his mother he was so united and then underwent begetting according to the flesh, making his own the begetting of his own flesh.

  • 2. In a similar way we say that he suffered and rose again, not that the Word of God suffered blows or piercing with nails or any other wounds in his own nature (for the divine, being without a body, is incapable of suffering), but because the body which became his own suffered these things, he is said to have suffered them for us. For he was without suffering, while his body suffered. Something similar is true of his dying. For by nature the Word of God is of itself immortal and incorruptible and life and life-giving, but since on the other hand his own body by God's grace, as the apostle says, tasted death for all, the Word is said to have suffered death for us, not as if he himself had experienced death as far as his own nature was concerned (it would be sheer lunacy to say or to think that), but because, as I have just said, his flesh tasted death. So too, when his flesh was raised to life, we refer to this again as his resurrection, not as though he had fallen into corruption--God forbid--but because his body had been raised again.

    So we shall confess one Christ and one Lord. We do not adore the man along with the Word, so as to avoid any appearance of division by using the word "with". But we adore him as one and the same, because the body is not other than the Word, and takes its seat with him beside the Father, again not as though there were two sons seated together but only one, united with his own flesh. If, however, we reject the hypostatic union as being either impossible or too unlovely for the Word, we fall into the fallacy of speaking of two sons. We shall have to distinguish and speak both of the man as honoured with the title of son, and of the Word of God as by nature possessing the name and reality of sonship, each in his own way. We ought not, therefore, to split into two sons the one Lord Jesus Christ. Such a way of presenting a correct account of the faith will be quite unhelpful, even though some do speak of a union of persons. For scripture does not say that the Word united the person of a man to himself, but that he became flesh. The Word's becoming flesh means nothing else than that he partook of flesh and blood like us; he made our body his own, and came forth a man from woman without casting aside his deity, or his generation from God the Father, but rather in his assumption of flesh remaining what he was.

    This is the account of the true faith everywhere professed. So shall we find that the holy fathers believed. So have they dared to call the holy virgin, mother of God, not as though the nature of the Word or his godhead received the origin of their being from the holy virgin, but because there was born from her his holy body rationally ensouled, with which the Word was hypostatically united and is said to have been begotten in the flesh. These things I write out of love in Christ exhorting you as a brother and calling upon you before Christ and the elect angels, to hold and teach these things with us, in order to preserve the peace of the churches and that the priests of God may remain in an unbroken bond of concord and love.


    Second letter of Nestorius to Cyril

    [condemned by the council of Ephesus]

    Nestorius sends greeting in the Lord to the most religious and reverend fellow-minister Cyril. I pass over the insults against us contained in your extraordinary letter. They will, I think, be cured by my patience and by the answer which events will offer in the course of time. On one matter, however, I cannot be silent, as silence would in that case be very dangerous. On that point, therefore avoiding longwindedness as far as I can, I shall attempt a brief discussion and try to be as free as possible from repelling obscurity and undigestible prolixity. I shall begin from the wise utterances of your reverence, setting them down word for word. What then are the words in which your remarkable teaching finds expression ?

    "The holy and great synod states that the only begotten Son, begotten of God the Father according to nature, true God from true God, the light from the light, the one through whom the Father made all things, came down, became incarnate, became man, suffered, rose."

    These are the words of your reverence and you may recognise them. Now listen to what we say, which takes the form of a brotherly exhortation to piety of the type of which the great apostle Paul gave an example in addressing his beloved Timothy: "Attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, to teaching. For by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers". Tell me, what does "attend" mean? By reading in a superficial way the tradition of those holy men (you were guilty of a pardonable ignorance), you concluded that they said that the Word who is coeternal with the Father was passible. Please look more closely at their language and you will find out that that divine choir of fathers never said that the consubstantial godhead was capable of suffering, or that the whole being that was coeternal with the Father was recently born, or that it rose again, seeing that it had itself been the cause of resurrection of the destroyed temple. If you apply my words as fraternal medicine, I shall set the words of the holy fathers before you and shall free them from the slander against them and through them against the holy scriptures.

    "I believe", they say, "also in our Lord Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son". See how they first lay as foundations "Lord" and "Jesus" and "Christ" and "only begotten" and "Son", the names which belong jointly to the divinity and humanity. Then they build on that foundation the tradition of the incarnation and resurrection and passion. In this way, by prefixing the names which are common to each nature, they intend to avoid separating expressions applicable to sonship and lordship and at the same time escape the danger of destroying the distinctive character of the natures by absorbing them into the one title of "Son". In this Paul was their teacher who, when he remembers the divine becoming man and then wishes to introduce the suffering, first mentions "Christ", which, as I have just said, is the common name of both natures and then adds an expression which is appropriate to both of the natures. For what does he say ? "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped", and so on until, "he became obedient unto death, even death on a cross". For when he was about to mention the death, to prevent anyone supposing that God the Word suffered, he says "Christ", which is a title that expresses in one person both the impassible and the passible natures, in order that Christ might be called without impropriety both impassible and passible impassible in godhead, passible in the nature of his body.

    I could say much on this subject and first of all that those holy fathers, when they discuss the economy, speak not of the generation but of the Son becoming man. But I recall the promise of brevity that I made at the beginning and that both restrains my discourse and moves me on to the second subject of your reverence. In that I applaud your division of natures into manhood and godhead and their conjunction in one person. I also applaud your statement that God the Word needed no second generation from a woman, and your confession that the godhead is incapable of suffering. Such statements are truly orthodox and equally opposed to the evil opinions of all heretics about the Lord's natures. If the remainder was an attempt to introduce some hidden and incomprehensible wisdom to the ears of the readers, it is for your sharpness to decide. In my view these subsequent views seemed to subvert what came first. They suggested that he who had at the beginning been proclaimed as impassible and incapable of a second generation had somehow become capable of suffering and freshly created, as though what belonged to God the Word by nature had been destroyed by his conjunction with his temple or as though people considered it not enough that the sinless temple, which is inseparable from the divine nature, should have endured birth and death for sinners, or finally as though the Lord's voice was not deserving of credence when it cried out to the Jews: "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.'' He did not say, "Destroy my godhead and in three days it will be raised up."

    Again I should like to expand on this but am restrained by the memory of my promise. I must speak therefore but with brevity. Holy scripture, wherever it recalls the Lord's economy, speaks of the birth and suffering not of the godhead but of the humanity of Christ, so that the holy virgin is more accurately termed mother of Christ than mother of God. Hear these words that the gospels proclaim: "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham." It is clear that God the Word was not the son of David. Listen to another witness if you will: "Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called the Christ. " Consider a further piece of evidence: "Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, she was found to be with child of the holy Spirit." But who would ever consider that the godhead of the only begotten was a creature of the Spirit? Why do we need to mention: "the mother of Jesus was there"? And again what of: "with Mary the mother of Jesus"; or "that which is conceived in her is of the holy Spirit"; and "Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt"; and "concerning his Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh"? Again, scripture says when speaking of his passion: "God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh"; and again "Christ died for our sins" and "Christ having suffered in the flesh"; and "This is", not "my godhead", but "my body, broken for you".

    Ten thousand other expressions witness to the human race that they should not think that it was the godhead of the Son that was recently killed but the flesh which was joined to the nature of the godhead. (Hence also Christ calls himself the lord and son of David: " 'What do you think of the Christ ? Whose son is he ?' They said to him, 'The son of David.' Jesus answered and said to them, 'How is it then that David inspired by the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, "The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand"?'". He said this as being indeed son of David according to the flesh, but his Lord according to his godhead.) The body therefore is the temple of the deity of the Son, a temple which is united to it in a high and divine conjunction, so that the divine nature accepts what belongs to the body as its own. Such a confession is noble and worthy of the gospel traditions. But to use the expression "accept as its own" as a way of diminishing the properties of the conjoined flesh, birth, suffering and entombment, is a mark of those whose minds are led astray, my brother, by Greek thinking or are sick with the lunacy of Apollinarius and Arius or the other heresies or rather something more serious than these.

    For it is necessary for such as are attracted by the name "propriety" to make God the Word share, because of this same propriety, in being fed on milk, in gradual growth, in terror at the time of his passion and in need of angelical assistance. I make no mention of circumcision and sacrifice and sweat and hunger, which all belong to the flesh and are adorable as having taken place for our sake. But it would be false to apply such ideas to the deity and would involve us in just accusation because of our calumny.

    These are the traditions of the holy fathers. These are the precepts of the holy scriptures. In this way does someone write in a godly way about the divine mercy and power, "Practise these duties, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress''. This is what Paul says to all. The care you take in labouring for those who have been scandalised is well taken and we are grateful to you both for the thought you devote to things divine and for the concern you have even for those who live here. But you should realise that you have been misled either by some here who have been deposed by the holy synod for Manichaeism or by clergy of your own persuasion. In fact the church daily progresses here and through the grace of Christ there is such an increase among the people that those who behold it cry out with the words of the prophet, "The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the water covers the sea". As for our sovereigns, they are in great joy as the light of doctrine is spread abroad and, to be brief, because of the state of all the heresies that fight against God and of the orthodoxy of the church, one might find that verse fulfilled "The house of Saul grew weaker and weaker and the house of David grew stronger and stronger".

    This is our advice from a brother to a brother. "If anyone is disposed to be contentious", Paul will cry out through us to such a one, "we recognize no other practice, neither do the churches of God". I and those with me greet all the brotherhood with you in Christ. May you remain strong and continue praying for us, most honoured and reverent lord.


    See Part Two of the Council of Ephesus