Some Notes on the Christology of Nestorius

Since there seems to be widespread misunderstanding regarding the heresy of Nestorianism and what Nestorius actually taught, I’ve decided to post some notes illustrating and explicating Nestorius’ teaching. I have used McGuckin’s, Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy. I’ve numbered selections for ease of reference. There are a number of things to notice in the notes. Notice the problem of mixture. This was a significant issue all by itself in antiquity since for Platonists as well as Aristotle, matter was not intrinsically extensional as the modern conception has it. A mixture was a meeting of powers. Notice also that Nestorius takes the will to be almost exclusively hypostatic rather than natural so that there is only one will in “Christ.”  Terms like “Christ” also do not refer to the eternal Logos exclusively but the end result of the union. There is also an apparent confusion between person and nature as manifested in Nestorius’ language concerning the eternal hypostasis of the Logos,where hypostasis seems to do double duty to refer to the divine essence as well as the divine person. A person then seems to be an instance of a kind. It is entirely unclear where or what the divine person of the Logos is. Also notice the extrinsic relation he posits between the two instantated essences or “hypostases” where one uses the other in an instrumental way such that the union transcends nature and is one of “grace.” Christ was then the chief moral examplar. It isn’t hard to see why the Pelagians cuddled up to the Nestorians. On the other end, the instruemtnalization of Christ’s humanity with the union as one of “grace” as superior to nature maps onto Augustine’s Christology. Some overlap into semiotics is also important as well as the preceding history of medical science in the notion of prosopon as a “sign” of a nature or a somewhat metaphysically thined out energy.

1. “To be fully human, on the other hand, demands that one must be ready to attribute to Christ the fully panoply of human characteristics, excepting sin which is not a ‘humanising’ characteristic or even a defining human attribute in any case.  He must have a human mind, a human soul with human feelings choices and limitations, both mental and physical, involving him in a range of testing situations (the temptations of the Lord) which proved and refined his virtue as a man, and which involved him inexorably in all the suffering consequent on being human.  Nestorius was unswerving on the point that this demanded that the approach of Apollinaris  represented a dead-end…here it will suffice to remark that Apollinaris had found no place for a human limited consciousness in Christ, or for a human soul which could be considered as the seat of genuine human choices. Apollinaris’ logic demanded that these things must be sacrificed in the interests of the unity of the person of Christ, if one were to accept the infinite mind of the Logos inhabited his human frame. Nestorius took the earlier Christological heresy of Docetism as an extreme form of the same tendency in Apollinaris to acknowledge merely the appearance of fleshly limitations in the divine Christ who was really unlimited.

For Nestorius it was this tendency to absorb or evaporate away the human reality in the face of the divine that was the chief deficiency of Apollinaris’ heresy, and like Gregory Nazienzen before him he attacked such presuppositions on soteirological grounds, for a theory of incarnation that wiped away the human reality in the advent of  the deity constituted not only a failure of revelation theology but an inability to value the extraordinary role which the Christian Gospel gave to human experience in its conception of God’s redeeming work. Nestorius taught that such ‘absorption theory’ in Christology was sub-christian or mythological, inevitably involving its proponents in concepts of incarnation based upon Krasis or mixture. He was ever on the look out for the ‘mixture’ or ‘confusion’ of divine and human spheres of reality in Christological discourse, and regarded this as the most serious deficiency of Cyril’s work.  He regarded all sense of ‘mixture’ as inevitably connoting change, and even the annihilation, of the individual elements that were so mixed.”

John Anthony McGuckin, St. Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy, SVS, 2004, 130-131.

2. “Cyril’s stress on the union of the two realities in the incarnation, and his equal insistence on using this very term of ‘unification’ (henosis), that is ‘making-one-reality’ seemed to Nestorius to be logically synonymous with the doctrine of the mixture and confusion of those two natures-hence Apollinarianism resuscitated, pure and simple.  But this habit Nestorius had of positing only two alternatives, either an understanding of two distinct but related natures abiding in Christ or an Apollinarist confusion of the two things into a third hybrid was his fatal logical mistake.”

 McGuckin, 132.

3. “Following on from this, the more moderate view that proposes Christ could be conceived as fully human since he was the divine Logos who truly shared ‘our flesh was also challenged by Nestorius. This was a view that had long been classical in the school of Alexandria, taught by Athanasius and maintained by Cyril. On this view, neither Docetic nor Apollinarist, it was enough for the divine Logos to know bodily experience.  He himself did not suffer (qua God) but in so far as his body suffered he can be said to have suffered in the body. [Athanasius, De Incarnatione 17-18] Such an approach can maintain that Christ is fully human, but it would never choose to say (without qualification) that Christ is a man, in case the statement was heard to imply  either that he was ‘only’ a man, or that he was a man alongside the divine Word in a bi-polarity of subject.  To avoid any risk of such misunderstanding the Alexandrian tradition consistently preferred to talk of the Word’s humanity, and in all statements dealing with the subject of the incarnation, the personal pronoun referred strictly and unfailingly to the divine Lord who had assumed the flesh.”

McGuckin, 133.

 4. “Modern readers find the distinction difficult to imagine, for personality it largely defined today in terms of subjective intellectual consciousness, but for Cyril intellectual awareness was not the defining factor of personhood, but one of its functions; and he was certainly regards the immaterial person of the Logos as the creative originator of the human consciousness of Christ (the ‘soul’ in terms of the ancient psychology) not the fruit of it.”

 McGuckin, 134.

 5. “Nestorius is clear that orthodoxy demands that there can only be one Son, one Christ, who is fully divine and also fully human, in two distinct natures.  His difficulty is to explain how once he has renounced the validity of the Alexandrian approach with its vision of the divine Logos acting eternally as a single subject/person assuming a body to act in history, he is able to conceive of the subjectivity of this one Christ, one Son.”

McGuckin, 136

6. “In other words, descriptions of divineness and humanness conflicted in a most obvious way. How could they be posited of one being? This problem was not merely one of obscure semantics, it involved the whole sense of the rationality of a faith that held Christ to be at once divine and human, and it challenged that faith to articulate itself meaningfully as how the two statements could be posited…In order to articulate this central issue of the Christological union there were four terminological possibilities, or key terms, available to fifth century theologians.  The possible range of meanings for these could be extended by a graded series of qualifying adjectives or adverbs.  The exact combinations of these semantic variables came, in the end, to be a matter of critical importance. The four major terms were as follows:

 Ousia: Essence, substance, being, genus, or nature.

Physis: Nature, make up of a thing. (In earlier Christian thought the concrete reality or existent.)

Hypostasis: The actual concrete reality of a thing, the underlying essence, (in earlier Christian thought the synonym of physis.)

Prosopon: The observable character, defining properties, manifestation of a reality.

Even at first sight it is clear that the words bear a range of meanings that overlap in some areas so as to be synonymous.  This is particularly so with the terms Physis and Hypostasis which in the fifth century simultaneously bore ancient Christian meanings and more modern applications.. In relation to Physis, Cyril tended to use the antique meaning, Nestorius the modern. In relation to Hypostasis the opposite was the case.”

McGuckin, 138-139.

7. “Ousia is the genus of a thing.  Once can think, for example of the genus ‘unicorn.’  Such a genus exists, but only theoretically, not practically or concretely.  It does not exist, that is, ‘in reality’ as we would say today.  Nonetheless, it makes sense to talk of the necessary characteristics of a unicorn such as its magical horn, its horse like appearance, its whiteness, its beard and lion’s tail, and so on. Thus the genus of unicorn is the ousia, that which makes up the essential being of a thing.. The notion of the physis of our unicorn is intimately related to this.  It connotes what we might call the palpable and ‘physical’ characteristics of a unicorn such as outlined above-but always understanding that his possession of a physis-nature still does not necessarily imply that such a creature is real…In some circles, especially those represented by the Christian thinkers of Alexandria following Athanasius, the word physis signified something slightly different from this sense of ’physical attributes’ and had been used to connote the physical existent-in the sense of a concrete individual reality.  In the hands of Cyril the word is used in two senses, one in what might be called the standard ‘physical usage where it connotes the constituent elements of a thing, and the other in which it serves to delineate the notion of individual existent-or in other words individual subject.  This variability in the use of a key term on Cyril’s part goes some way to explaining Nestorius’ difficulties in following his argument over the single Physis of the Incarnate Word (Mia Physis tou Theou Logou Sesarkoene).  By this Cyril meant the one concrete individual subject of the Incarnated Word. Whereas Nestorius heard him to mean the one physical composite of the Word (in the sense of an Apollinarist mixture of fusion of the respective attributes of the natures of man and God.)

McGuckin, 139-140.

8. “He [Cyril] was entitled to use the term physis to signify individual existent in so far as that was the ancient tradition of his Alexandrian predecessors, but subsequent theological usage, culminating in the Chalcedonian settlement, restricted the significance of the term to the connotation of physical constituents, and Cyril himself, in the negotiations with the Antiochenes after the council of Ephesus, began to realize that for clarity’s sake the use of physis as a subject referent could no longer be sustained.”

McGuckin, 140.

9. “If we wanted to take our discussion of the ‘nature’ of a thing into a more specific domain, in this period, a further term needed to be employed. If, for example, we wished to discuss whether unicorns existed or not, the word that was needed was hypostasis which signified the ‘making concrete, or real’ of a generic thing in the sense of individualizing it in an existential way.”

McGuckin 140.

10. “However, in the Trinitarian debates of the late fourth century a great deal of theological, on the part of the Cappadocian Fathers among others, had succeeded in forging new technical senses for the word hypostasis.  The trinity doctrine had thus defined that God was one ousia expressed in three hypostases.  In this more modern sense, hypostasis was already well along the road to signifying individual concretization, or subjectivisation, rather than connoting (as it had done once) the simple nature of a thing.”

McGuckin, 140.

11. “Nestorius on the other hand, consistently read hypostasis in the antique sense of meaning something closely allied to physis or ousia; either a synonym of the preceding terms, or the term that signified their concrete grounding in a precise ‘nature.’  He confesses at several points in his writings that he cannot understand what the term ‘hypostatic union’ can mean in Cyril, except to posit the union on the basis of the most mechanical way possible. In short, he heard ‘hypostatic union’ to be a synonym of ‘material union’ a concept which Cyril abhorred, for the same reasons Nestorius, because it would be a mythological notion involving the creation of a new kind of nature neither divine nor human but divino-human, and thus neither one nor the other in any authentic sense.” 

McGuckin, 142.

12. “He [Nestorius]  found it made much more sense to apply a different word altogether to signify the distinct individualness of a thing, and this was to be prospon. For Nestorius the meaning of hypostasis should be restricted to connoting the concretization of a thing, and physis to signify the stuff of which it was made.”

McGuckin, 143.

13. “The prospon is the external aspect or form of a physis as it can be manifested to external observation and scrutiny.  It is a very concrete, empirical word, connoting what appears to outside observation.  Each essence (ousia) is characterized by its proper nature (physis), everything that is, which makes it up, and in turn every nature that is hypostatically real presents itself to the scrutiny of the senses in its own prosopon-that list of detailed characteristics or ‘propria’ that constitute this thing individually and signal to the observer what nature (physis) it has and thus to what genus (ousia) it belongs.  In the system Nestorius is following, every nature has its own prosopon, that such of proper characteristics (idiomata) by which it is characterized in its unique  individuality and made known to others as such.  The word carried with it an intrinsic sense of ‘making known’ and appeared to Nestorius particularly apt in the revelatory context of discussing the incarnation.”

McGuckin, 144.

14. “Moreover he [Cyril] was appalled by the way Nestorius kept referring to the different prosopa as well as to the prosopon of the union.”

 McGuckin, 144.

 15. “Throughout the Book of Heraclides Nestorius returns time and again to criticize Cyril’s notion of a Christological union based on physis or hypostasis (henosis physike, henosis kath’ hypostasin) as in involving a necessary composition of elements devoid of any freedom of choice like a biological product or a chemical reaction or a mechanical union of incomplete parts to make up the new whole of a tertium quid. For Nestorius, any such intellectual model of the Christological union provided neither for the abiding completeness of the respective natures in Christ, nor for the perfectly voluntarist character of the incarnation  which hinged not on any form of physical necessity, but solely on the graceful free choice of God to reveal himself in human form.”

 McGuckin, 150.

 16. “For Nestorius, there are two distinct genuses in Christ, the two ousiai of divinity and humanity.  It follows from this, on his terms, that there must be two natures (physeis) corresponding to the distinct genuses.  Accordingly, these two physeis will be apparent to the external observer in their respective prosopa.  One can look at the historical figure of Christ in the Gospels and see the clear signs of the two prosopa, divine and human.”

McGuckin. 151.

17. “These are all things beyond the range of a human prosopon [raising the dead and such] and they signal to the observer the existence of another kind of prosopon, one that manifests a divine physis behind it.  This holy and powerful prosopon is recognized by faith as the divine Logos.  An accurate scrutiny of the external visible signs and evidence concerning Christ, therefore, clearly tells the observer that there are two separate levels of reality in this figure; two prosopa (or prosopic sets of evidence) signaling to the intelligent exegete the fact that two different natures co-exist in this being.  Yet it is equally true to say that one encounters unity as well as diversity in the single concrete figure of ‘the Christ’, only one figure who stands before our scrutiny and somehow combines these two different sets of evidences.  This experience our exegetical senses have of the one Christ must signify that Christ himself (that is ‘he-who-combines-two-prosopic-realities’) is in some sense a single prosopic reality, and this is the prosopon which is known to experience as, and commonly designated, ‘Christ.’”

 McGuckin, 152.

18. “For Nestorius, on the other hand, it was a prime example of a deeply wrong headed approach to theology, a perfect example of non-biblical language that led Christological orthodoxy astray. Nestorius had already pronounced on this word in the early days after his election to the throne of Constantinople. He felt it was always dubious to evoke the term unless the user was willing to add the necessary balance by also confessing Mary was ‘Mother of the man’ (Anthropotokos).  This was substantially the position of Theodore of Mopsuestia, but Nestorius was particularly uneasy about the possible Arian or Apollinarinist tendencies that could lie within the word. Regarding the whole question of the communicatio idiomatum he determined that sets of attributes should be referred to the prosopon of each nature as appropriate, since neither of the natures was identical with the ‘prosopon of the union’- Christ.”

 McGuckin, 155.

 19. “If you make your way through the whole of the (New) Testament you will nowhere find death attributed to God, but either to Christ, or The Son, or The Lord. For Chist, and Son, and Lord, when applied by Scripture to the Only Begotten are terms designed to express the two natures, and reveal now the Godhead, now the manhood, now both.”

Nestorius, (Loofs, Nestoriana. Halle 1905) 269.

20.“These terms alone were the proper designation of the ‘prosopon of the union’that observable phenomenon of the one reality of Christ in whom was also experienced the reality of a single human life (the prosopon of Jesus) and the very presence of the Godhead (the prosopon of the Logos); thus two realities.”

McGuckin, 156.

21. In so far as a prosopon signifies ‘observable aspect’ or ‘communicable external appearance’ then perhaps we can sum up Nestorius; position so far as follows: The eyes of faith recognize in Christ two clearly observed aspects of his reality , which signify to the beholder divinity as well as humanity.  Christ, therefore, has two prosopa. At the same time the eyes of faith recognize that this Christ who has two prosopa is not the same as those prosopa themselves.  In other words Christ is not the Logos as such.  It would be bad theology, for Nestorius, to speak of the pre-existent Christ, since he is not eternal  as the Logos is.  Nor would it be right to make unqualified statements about the impassibility of Christ since the radical qualification of human limitations and sufferings is an integral part of what the mind understands by the word ‘Christ.’ But in just the same way as the Logos is not synonymous with Christ, neither is the man Jesus of Nazareth.  Christ, for Nestorius, was no mere man.  The word connotes far more than the term ‘the man Jesus’ in fact it connotes the whole mystery of the intimate relationship of this man with the divine Logos, and the union of the Logos with him.  Christ is not only a word for the union of these two prosopic realities, it is also the concrete experience, in some way, of how that union has taken place, how it is to be conceived, and how it ought to be articulated by the church.  The term Christ signifies the experience of the encounter with this unique composite figure of the Son of God.  In light of this it is not enough merely to insist that there are two prosopa in Christ, because the experience of the unique revelation of Christ calls for the confession that there this is also the ‘prosopon of union’ the one Christ who manifests in a single prosopon (observable reality) the differentiated prosopa of the divine Logos and the human Jesus.  There are two prosopa, and there is one prosopon.”

McGuckin, 157-158.

22. “The problem was that Nestorius was using one and the same technical term to connote the disparate concepts of differentiation and convergence: there are two prosopa (Jesus and the Logos) and only one prosopon (Christ).  There is of course, no sensible context whatsoever that would allow one to speak of three prosopa.  It may well be that this economy of language in Nestorius led to a fatal weakness in the coherence of his theory, as Cyril argued, but it is clear enough that the caricature of his teaching that described it as no more than a repetition of the old Two Sons theory is an uneven reading of his intent.  To this extent Cyril’s synopsis of his opponent was inaccurate. But Cyril had nonetheless put his finger on the key matter and his criticism still had force in the way he argued from Nestorius’ explicit statements to his necessary implications. In this regard Cyril had posed the essential question and voiced fears of many others when he asked whether such a theory had done enough to secure a concept of unitive subject in Christ.”

McGuckin, 159

23. “What Nestorius clearly does not mean by prosopon of union is a third prosopon that results from the self-sacrificing fusion of the other two prosopa that belong to the natures.  This would be no different from the Apollinarist Krasis doctrine that he felt Cyril was propounding by means of his formula of hypostatic union.  What he does mean, I suggest, is that the oneness of Christ is not compromised by being composited, which was essentially the matter on which the whole controversy was turning…As Nestorius had ruled out any approach that envisioned a unification (henosis) of natures producing a God-Man, he proposed instead the notion of ‘conjunction by interrelation’ (shetike synapheia); indwelling (kat’ enoikasin); appropriation (oikeosis); or by the habituated possession (skhesis) of the human prosopon by the prosopon of the Logos.  In each of the analogical models one discerns the eternal element of his thought to be an epmphasis on the divine provenience and initiative whereby the Logos binds himself to the man Jesus in an unassailably intimate union, without destroying any of the free capacities of the human life he graces with his unlimited power and presence.”

McGuckin, 161.

24. “This synapheia of two realities Nestorius depicted as founded on the freedom of mutual love, not on the necessities of nature-at the level of prosopon not of ousia.  He takes great care to qualify this central  term of  synapheia by a series of predicates such as perfect (akra), exact (akribes), or continuous (dienekes).  It is an ‘association’ rooted in the ‘good pleasure’ of God, that is, God’s grace, favor and loving delight wherewith he commits himself to the incarnate life of a man.  This notion of ‘association by grace/good pleasure’ (synapheia kat eudokian) was to be Nestorius’ central technical term to connote the ‘how’ of the Christological union.  He was to be attacked on the basis that it was not a term that could be ‘ontologically’ grounded, but in his eyes at least the fact that it was a union based on the love and grace of God made it incomparably superior to any conception of a union based on the dictates of natural demands. He posited a relation based on God’s will as a more elevated notion, and arguably a more stable notion, than a relation posited in terms of nature. As a result of this synapheia the prosopa of two distinct and unaltered ousiai are united so intimately by graceful love, given by the Logos, received and reflected back by the man, that the eyes of faith can  recognize one single Christ presented to the church’s contemplation with but a single will and intelligence, inseparable and indivisible.  This intimate union and singleness of subjectivity comes about not because all distinctions between essences have been abolished in a ‘physical’ synthesis, but because of the depth and rigor of the relationship of love.  This one Christ is the prosopon of the union.”

McGuckin, 161-162.

25. “The synapheia involved such perfect unanimity in the life of Christ that the spiritual subjectivity of the prosopon of union was ‘as it were’ one single being.”

McGuckin, 163.

26. “He was emptied out (phil 2:6) in a wholly incomprehensible manner in an emptying out that had no parallel, and this was manifested as one single spirit, one single will, one single intelligence, inseparable and indivisible as in one single being. God’s will was his will.”

Nestorius, The Book of Heraclides, 102.

 27. “To continue to speak in terms such as ‘God’s will was his will’, appears to attribute to the man and to the Logos a distinct will, and a distinct personal identity. His opponents thus had grounds for thinking he was maintaining Two Sons and arguing a moral association founded on grace and thus comparablre to the manner in which the Logos inspired and indwelt the prophets.  Nestorius objected to this reading of his theology, and probably never meant it from the outset, but it was undoubtably only after the events that he took time to elaborate how his theory could avoid falling into this category. He argued that on his schema Christ was no mere prophet since no ‘inspired man’ had ever achieved the synonymity with God which Christ manifested to the eyes of faith.”

McGuckin, 163.

28. “In the Book of Heraclides he was to insist that even a mind as closed against such as Eutyches could at least recognize that he had never taught this.  It was Cyril’s point, however, that a doctrine’s implicit premises are just as important as its explicit intentions, and time and again Cyril lays bare the extent to which Nestorius speaks in terms which  constantly suggest association of subjects, and thus asks how does he free himself from the charge of being comparable to the ancient adoptionist heretics?”

McGuckin, 164.

29. “The Logos took the form of a slave from his prosopon, but not for his nature, and not by any changing of essence. God the Logos is said to have become flesh, and the Son of Man, as regards the form and prosopon of the flesh, and of the man, of which he made use in order to make himself known to the world.”

Nestorius, The Book of Heraclides, 230.

30. “There are, accordingly, not Two Sons as far as Nestorius was concerned: that is not two independently conceived personal centers in Christ.”

McGuckin, 165.

31. “I did not say that the soul was one and God the Logos another. What I said was that God the Logos was by essence one thing, and the Temple (Jn 2:19-21) by essence another, but that there was one Son by conjunction (synapheia).”

 Nestorius, in Loofs, 280.

 32. “I worship him that is born for the sake of Him who bears, him that is visible for the sake of Him who is hidden.”

Nestorius in Loofs, 262.

33. “This shows Nestorius’ sense of the unity of Christ to have been a dynamic concept (based on power, might, will, prosopic manifestation) rather than an essentialist one.  The force of the prosopic union was supplied by the moral power of the adhering love of God to the human life he had chosen to adopt as his manifestation to the world.  The theory, to that extent, had a long pedigree behind it.   Its problematic was that it was unclear, at least as far as the majority of its hearers were concerned (including Antiochenes as well as Alexandrians), on  how far the humanness with which the Logos united was so discrete a reality to be more than a merely grammatical subject of reference. Nestorius way of referring to the ‘man Jesus’ only served to sharpen the question, and many found that his replies to the criticism were more in the form of dismissals than answers.”

 McGuckin, 166.

 34. “In holding firm to the sense of the abiding duality of natures in Christ we saw how Nestorius absolutely ruled out any legitimacy in considering the locus of Christological union within the domain of a ‘naturalistic’ analogy such as that of Kraisis (thef usion together of elements-such as mixed wine and water).  He regarded any form of absorption theory as unable to preserve the distinctness of the ousiai, and if the manhood did not fully endure in Christ the moral freedom of the union would have been destroyed since he did not see how anyone could posit a free human will in Jesus if such an unequal Krasis had taken place, with the immense power of the deity absorbing and drowning the fragile humanity in some envisioned process of deification.”

 McGuckin, 167.

 35. “Replacing  the notion of deification of manhood, as too dangerously suggesting some alteration in one or both of the ousiai, Nestorius instead pointed to the perfectly free will of the human Jesus, wholly obedient to the will of God (the Logos) and intimately united with him as the excelling sign and means of salvation.  Nestorius offered such a vision of Jesus as the Leader and Guide of the ethical life, at once our greatest example an our teacher, mainly because he was at heart a reformist preacher and as such concerned with Christianity as a moral paideia.”

 McGuckin, 167.

 36. “In short, rejecting the possibility of a Christological union based on natural/ousia terms, Nestorius had turned instead to the notion of will and love, the moral domain, as the locus of his Christological theory.  Theodore [of Mopsuestia] had already pondered on what basis the Christological union could be posited, and had considered three alternatives:

(a)    a union by nature (kat’ ousian);

(b)   a union by mutual engagement (kat’ energeian);

(c)    a union by God’s goo favor/grace (kat eudokian).

He had determined that the third was the only feasible option, a view with which Nestorius concurred, as we have seen.  The natural union implied such mechanical necessity, for the Antiochenes, and seemed to threaten the very survival of at least one of the natures as an objective reality, that the incarnation might be left without real moral significance.  A union by mutual engagement made no allowance for the fact that any human moral striving (energia) was wholly unequal to the power and capacity of the deity, and no real meeting of the Godhead and manhood could take place on this level with any suggestion of balance or encounter, let alone equality.  Only in the third category, God’s infinitely compassionate condescension in love and grace to his creatures, did a viable model emerge.  The unequal equation between God and man is even partly leveled here by a meeting of loving wills that unite at the highest commitment of each capacity, a meeting that is made possible and initiated by the condescension in love from the part of God.  The grace of God the Logos, therefore, ennobles the man Jesus in the totality of its love so that each reality abides wholly in the other. Nestorius seems to have made a move here which Augustine independently had reached for in his De Trinitate, Grace (charis) could be posited in relation to God as a more fundamental category than nature (physis).  In the case of Christology, Nestorius, in following Theodore’s lead, posed the terms of the union precisely on this basis.”

 McGuckin, 167-168.

 37. “Even long years after the events he seems, in the Book of Heraclides, still to have difficulties clarifying his different uses of prosopon.”

McGuckin, 170.

38. “The natures are not known in their respective diversities as if without prosopon or without hypostasis.  One does not conceive of two prosopa of sons, nor again two prosopa of men, but of a single man who is moved in the same way by the other.  The union of prosopa took place in prosopon (at prosopic level),  not in essence or nature.  One must not think of an essence without a hypostasis as if the union had taken place in essence, and that there was a prosopon of a single essence.  The natures subsist in their prosopa, and in their own natures, and in the prosopon of union.  As for the natural prosopon of each one, then one makes use of the other by virtue of the union.  In this sense there is only one prosopon for the two natures.”

Nestorius, The Book of Heraclides, 305.

 39. “The prosopon of one essence even makes use of the prosopon of the other essence.”

 Nestorius, Heraclides, 305.

40. “The divinity makes use of the humanity’s prosopon, and the humanity that of the divinity.  In this way we say that there is only one single prosopon for both.  In such a manner is God shown to be complete, since his nature suffers no diminishment from the union.  In the same way the man is complete and lacking nothing (as a result of the union) of all the functions and limitations of his nature…The natures are united without confusion and make mutual use of their respective prosopa.”

Nestorius, Heraclides, 172.

41. “We do not speak of a union of prosopa but a union of natures, for in the union there is only one prosopon but in the natures there are two, such that the prosopon (of union) should be recognized in them both. The prosopon, in short, is common, one and the same. The form of the servant (Phil 2:7) belongs to the divinity, and that of the divinity belongs to the humanity. So, the prosopon is one and the same but not the essence, because the essence of the form of God, and the essence of the form of a servant abide separately in their hypostases.”

Nestorius, Heraclides, 252.

42. “On the other hand his bluster of technical terms, where he seems to be ready to move mountains rather than face the issue of subjectivity directly (for he senses that the Logos as personal subject cannot be directly attributed with the works of the flesh),  argues that he never grasped the solution of the problem really clearly. H.E.W. Turner’s comment was entirely apposite in this regard when he noted that Nestorius’ failure did not line in positing a double personality in Christ, but rather in being unable to offer a convincing explanation of his logical terms, of why there should not have been one.”

 McGuckin, 173.


22 Responses to Some Notes on the Christology of Nestorius

  1. Atlas Lifting Up the World on His Shoulders says:

    The answer to this entire question is in this one verse from 1 Corinthians 15.

    1 Corinthians 15:45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.

    If you can understand the attributions of the ‘New Adam’ in comparison to the ‘Old Adam’ then the relationship of the Godhead to our [New] Humanity in and through the Incarnation becomes immediately clear.

    A Soteriological inter-fusion by mutual engagement.

    40. “The divinity makes use of the humanity’s prosopon, and the humanity that of the divinity. In this way we say that there is only one single [inter-fused]prosopon for both. In such a manner is God shown to be complete, since his nature suffers no diminishment from the union. In the same way the man is complete and lacking nothing (as a result of the union) of all the functions and limitations of his nature…The natures are [inter-fused] without confusion and make mutual use of their respective prosopa.”
    Nestorius, Heraclides, 172. [remixed…in a single word].

  2. Atlas,

    I don’t take new and old adam to be attributions, but realities. Moreover, if there is an argument there to make, please make it.

    As for the person, what is the person in that cited section?

  3. Atlas Lifting Up the Word on His Shoulders says:


    “I don’t take[the]New and Old Adam to be [Metaphysical]Attributions,but Realities”.

    What a wonderful thing to say. That is really uplifting.

    If you ask who is the Person in the cited section above, then my argument is for an intentional Kenotic Interfusion in the form of a Soteriological Exchange in understanding the Eschatology of the Incarnation in the context of Ephesians 2:15 ‘By abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace’

    “His purpose was to create in Himself one new man.”

    As for Nestorius, I simply changed one word to alter the substance of what he was striving to communicate, until he was stopped by the Limits of his Language.

  4. Atlas,

    I am not sure if you mean to be sarcastic or not.

    When you write, “then my argument is for an intentonal kenotic interfuion in the form of a soteriological exchange in understanding the eschatology of the incarnation in the context of Eph 2:15.”

    Care to tease that out a bit?

  5. frontierorthodoxy says:

    Guess I haven’t kept up with the debates between you two well enough. If the Old Adam and New Adam are both real persons, and we wish to refer to Ephesians, then how is Nestorios correct, Atlas? There’s no argument in your assertion. In other words, I concur with Perry asking you to explain what you think Ephesians 2:15 means.

    Perry, I agree with your recommendation. McGuckin’s is very good and helpful.

  6. frontierorthodoxy says:

    Oh, and Perry, have you posted on how the idea of “mixture” has changed over the centuries?

  7. Fr.,

    What I meant was that quatheology I take them to be fonts of the race rather than titles given to them or something along those lines.

    Have you see Wessel’s bk?

  8. frontierorthodoxy says:

    I don’t believe so . . . at least, it’s not coming to mind. Which book is that?

  9. Atlas Lifting Up the Word on His Shoulders says:


    We are Christians and I meant it in Truth.

    Let me ask you a question in the spirit of teasing out the text.

    If it is Qua-Theology for Nestorius to assert that the Kenosis of Philippians 2 is an act of ‘Synapheia'[union through “conjunction”] – “a prosporic manifestation” and can further say, “I worship him who is born for the sake of Him who bears, him that is visible for the sake of Him who is hidden” – then why does Jesus say in John 14:9b “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”

    If an act of seeing him, is a simultaneous act of Seeing Him then how can He be hidden? given that ‘Prosporon’ in the cited text is defined as an observable character,defining properties [or ‘attributions’], manifestation of a reality.

  10. Atlas Lifting Up the Word on His Shoulders says:

    Father [Frontier Orthodoxy],

    In the spirit of inclusion let me ask you a question?

    John McGuckin suggests that Nestorius proposed instead the notion of ‘conjunction by interrelation’ (shetike synapheia); indwelling (kat’ enoikasin); appropriation (oikeosis); or by the habituated possession (skhesis) of the human prosopon by the prosopon of the Logos. In each of the analogical models one discerns the eternal element of his thought to be an epmphasis on the divine provenience and initiative whereby the Logos binds himself to the man Jesus in an unassailably intimate union, without destroying any of the free capacities of the human life he graces with his unlimited power and presence.”

    Do you agree with this? Did the Logos “bind” himself to the man Jesus? and would you say this is the correct way to read Romans 8:3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man?

  11. frontierorthodoxy says:

    I agree that John McGuckin suggests that. I don’t agree that it is the most correct way to speak of Christ to say the Logos bound himself to an already existing “man Jesus.” I simply do not accept such plywood Christology. The humanity is the Word’s own humanity.

    With regard to the verse in question, I’m not sure what you’re getting at. I don’t see how Romans 8:3 proves Nestorios correct and St. Cyril wrong. Perhaps, you could help me see what you’re getting at.

  12. Atlas Lifting Up the World on His Shoulders says:

    Father (Frontier Orthodoxy)

    For the purpose of this discussion, I would like to read Nestorius from two perspectives:

    1. His early thought – Dyophysitist: In which he assumes a incarnational reading of Christ, predicated on two loosely-united natures, divine and human.

    2. His mature thought in the ‘the Bazaar of Heracleides’, where he makes thee following statement affirming the Incarnation of Christ as “the same one is two-fold” – which is a subtle revision of his earlier Dyophysitism.

    I want to also look at Cyril of Alexandria in terms of his theology predicated on two states for the Son: the state that existed prior to the Son (or Word/Logos) becoming enfleshed in the person of Jesus and the state that actually became enfleshed in and through the Incarnation – Cyril made the following conjecture: Only the Logos “Incarnate” suffered and died on the Cross and that has implications for how we read Romans 8:3.

    My contention is that there cannot be a’dislocated engagement’ of the Son in relation to Romans 8:3 and the mature thought of Nestorius is a better statement on the ‘integrated engagement’ of the Son in relation to Romans 8:3.

    How do you read Romans 8:3 in relation to Incarnational Christology a nd your Sacramental Affirmation of the Chalcedonian Credal statement on the two natures of Christ?

  13. frontierorthodoxy says:

    I am sure I read it the way you would expect: The Son of God suffered in the flesh.

    If God can suffer in his divinity, then he’s not really God.

    I realize process theology reigns supreme in some circles these days, but it is neither Orthodox nor my position. So, no suffering divinity in Orthodoxy except in the Incarnation, where it the Word’s humanity that suffers, not as a separate person, but as the locus of where the suffering occurs.

    As for Nestorios, I think you would be in good company to read the earlier and later Nestorios. Sometimes, being exiled to an oasis in the middle of nowhere can give one the time needed to rethink things. To say that “the same One” is “two-fold” is to accept St. Kyril. Read the statement from Chalcedon “one and the same” yet “in two natures.” It’s Cyrilline.

    You say subtle, I say substantive. Christotokos or Theotokos?

  14. Atlas Lifting Up the World on His Shoulders says:

    Father (Frontier Orthodoxy)

    If you choose ‘Christotokos’ then surely you converge with the contention of John Jewel, that though capable of performing supernatural acts, the flesh of Christ possessed no divine properties in reading the “self-emptying” imperative of Kenosis of Philippians 2.

    However, if your choose Theotokos – then clearly Divine Impassibilty needs to be re-examined in the context of “the Kenosis of His Signature of Divinity” in relation to Philippians 2.

    And your choice is? I would choose wisely….is that fair?

  15. frontierorthodoxy says:

    You must be confusing things, Atlas. Choosing Theotokos does not require that one jettison divine impassibility. All it presumes is the potential for the deification of humanity. It also presumes a singular, personal subject.

    I was actually hoping you might respond by saying “both Christotokos and Theotokos” but, alas, you appear quite staunchly committed your false dichotomy: no divine properties in humanity or passible divinity.

    Oh, and there’s no reason to play coy with the question asking and the “I would choose wisely.” Let us just say what we mean and mean what we say.

  16. Atlas Lifting Up the World on His Shoulders says:

    Father (Frontier Orthoodxy)

    I am picking up your interior pneuamtological profile, so I am going to address my comments carefully – I confess I gave you two ‘loaded’ [false]choices and I ask your forgiveness – I was just having some fun and you have been very charitable.

    My personal view has already been stated in the form of an Enhypostatic Inter-fusion which preserves both the Divinity and Humanity of the LORD Jesus Christ.

  17. Atlas Lifting Up the World on His Shoulders says:

    Father (Frontier Orthodoxy)

    One thing. I did not say “jettison” Divine Impassibility, I said “Re-examine and Interrogate” – if the Divine Logos in the Incarnation remains “Impassible” then how do you reconcile this verse from Ephesians 4 with Divine Impassibility:

    Ephesians 4:30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God

    How can the Spirit be grieved if God is Impassible?

    I am not writing this shedding Crocodile Tears but equally I am not laughing all the way to the Bank as I pass through Ciustoms at the Frontier.

  18. frontierorthodoxy says:


    Thank you for leveling with me. Don’t worry about needing to be forgiven. No offense was caused. I just didn’t want to go that route.

    You’re correct you didn’t say “jettison.” My assumption. Sorry about that.

    The way I’d handle Eph 4:30 and many other such texts is probably what you’d also expect from an Orthodox priest. On most issues, I’m quite predictable to those who know their Church history 😀 Of course, there are exceptions. This is not one. Here, I would fall back on apophatic theology, noting the limitedness of our language. Also, I would ask us to keep in mind that not all passions are inherently sinful and therefore less than divine. So, there may be something akin to what we call “grief,” but in a way that we cannot fully comprehend, such that we use the word but do not think the use of the word means God himself is sinfully suffering or less than God. We do this with love, do we not? God loves, and we say this, even saying “God is love” and Christ takes on blameless passions and truly has them and weeps over Lazarus, but we do not think God himself is subject to suffering in a manner that makes him subject to something outside himself.

    Concerning enhypostatic inter-fusion, “enhypostasis” has a history in Christological debates and I’m aware of its usage. The “inter-fusion” is something I’ve not encountered before. I take it you mean something along the lines of “mixture” in light of the debate above with Perry. Would I be understanding that correctly?

  19. frontierorthodoxy says:

    Oh, and I should probably add that the verb in Eph 4:30 can well mean grieve or cause sadness, and that is often what it means, but it can also simply mean harass. So, it need not mean we are the cause of some passion in God. It probably would just sound funnier to many if we said “Do not harass the Holy Spirit of God.” Why? Can’t the Spirit take care of himself? We thought he demonstrated as much in Acts 4. 😀

  20. Atlas Lifting Up the Word on His Shoulders says:


    I was an Academician [it seems like a 1,000 Centuries ago]- although after I was shot through with LIGHT! and rearranged at a sub-molecular level [or sub-cellular level]- I found like Symeon the new Theologian that it had triggered radical Cognitive and Pneumatological alterations and I sometimes switch into being a HOLY Fool – so I do ask your forgiveness and thank you for your Grace. From what I have seen of you – you are an extraordinary and creaive man with real momentum in the Spirit and a Heart for Building the Church.

    I like your treatment of Dispassion and I really like your caegory of “Blameless Passions”.

    Mixture. No. I am not keen on mixtures, I chose “Interfusion” because I wanted to capture a form of dialectical dynamic tension and kenotic exchange between the Divine and the Human aspects of Jesus in terms Trinitarian Intentionality, Soteriology and Eschatological Purpose.

  21. frontierorthodoxy says:

    Although still an “academician,” I think academics fails unless grounded in prayer and fasting. Perhaps I shall even be shot through with divine light some day. I cannot claim such for myself, though. Miracles? Yes. Directly from God? Of course. But witnessing such is not the same of what you speak. Your are quite kind, yourself, and clearly farther along the Way than I. Please keep me in your prayers.

    On blameless passions, no need to thank me. Thank St. Maximos the Confessor and other fathers who spoke thus.

  22. frontierorthodoxy says:

    Thank you for the clarification on “mixture”!

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