An Equality of Honor

“One therefore is Christ both Son and Lord, not as if a man had attained only such a conjunction with God as consists in a unity of dignity alone or of authority. For it is not equality of honour which unites natures; for then Peter and John, who were of equal honour with each other, being both Apostles and holy disciples [would have been one, and], yet the two are not one.”

St. Cyril of Alexandria’s Third Letter to Nestorius

47 Responses to An Equality of Honor

  1. David Smith says:

    “fight” I was thinking my mixed metaphor would tip you off that my tongue was in cheek, but perhaps it also covered my eyeteeth and you couldn’t see my wink. Sorry. I was just implying I had no agenda in asking these questions beside attempting to understand other viewpoints.

    Ontologically, yes, but I’m happy that St. Paul seems to have used the LXX to the same end. I only noticed that recently.

    My question about ‘Lord’ was mainly to clear the field–I would be foolish to assume something that wasn’t true–as well as to pick up some background data.

    Robert seems to have answered my question about the melding, but, of course, I haven’t seen the original nor have read enough to know how Cyril thought. As of now, I would consider a surmise that he saw the Apostles on the same level *based on the melding of concepts here* as unproven but still plausible. I’ll move on with life.

    Thank you all for your gracious answers to my questions.

  2. ioannis says:

    David Smith,

    The words God and Lord are synonyms. Ontologically only the God is Lord and the Lord can not be but God. The whole creation is servant to God.

    I think that St. Cyril refers to the separation of Christ that Nestorius made into two persons, the Son of God and the Lord Jesus, claiming that the former, through dwelling in the latter, elevated him into the same honor resulting in a relative union of the two persons.

  3. Robert says:


    Yes it appears that St. Cyril is using “Lord” in that way, however I am not so sure we can separate deity from authority in this passage (and they are not necessarily mutually exclusive concepts), so I would hesitate taking that line of thought too far (and to what end?).

    As to getting to the equality of the Apostles’ authority by means of the construct you suggest, earlier in the letter St. Cyril refers to “honor *and* authority” albeit this is in clear reference to Christ and he makes there no reference to the Apostles whatsoever.

    I wasn’t aware we are in a fight. Just sharing my thoughts.

  4. David Smith says:

    I’m assuming that Cyril was using “Lord” as reference to deity, then and not authority.

    “consists in a unity of dignity alone or of authority. For it is not equality of honour which unites natures”

    Apparently he is melding dignity and authority together to get honor. Assuming this is true, wouldn’t it then be true that he is thinking that Peter and John were therefore equal in dignity AND authority?

    Next question. Did Cyril meld dignity and authority together in this manner? Any answers?
    (Personally, I only have a rather feeble mouse in this dog fight, but curiosity only killed the cat.)

  5. Canadian says:

    I agree bare positive delineation without truth is obviously not acceptable. But do bare denials without concretely delineated affirmations get you where you want to go? Where do you want to go is a question I have. It seems the Russian Church is very actively engaging Rome right now, do you agree with this? I guess I am curious, are you saying that no matter what you will not submit to the bishop of Rome (DENIAL of papacy, period), or are you saying “we acknowlege the position and authority of the bishop of Rome but not as it is now (AFFIRMATION of papacy under certain conditions).
    The Orthodox appeal to Conciliar authority seems to stunt their ability to procure unity and teaching authority in the present. Some want reunion with the pope, some detest it etc, etc.
    I need to look at what you are referencing in the 5th Council.
    Thanks for your irenic comments.

  6. Robert says:

    “it doesn’t follow that I am reading into the text something that isn’t there” – then pray tell me what does the text say. Maybe we are looking at different documents altogether.

  7. Robert,

    Well it isn’t a matter of agreesing to disagree. It was claimed I was reading into the text something that is not there. so far, i haven’t seen an analysis showing that to be the case.

    I agree the remark is one in passing. That makes the evidence incidental, but it doesn’t follow that I am reading into the text something that isn’t there.

    I am not claiming that we should interpret this in isolation from other evidence, which is why I supplied some of it.

  8. Robert says:

    David Smith,

    I would think this term was and is used both ways.

  9. Robert says:

    Perry we will have to agree to disagree. St. Cyril merely makes a passing reference to the equality of honor shared by Sts. Peter and John in his Christological argument to Nestorius. This much and no more can be established about St. Cyril’s view on the Apostles equality of honor from this text. It does demonstrate he and (I think we can reasonably infer) *his* equals certainly did not hold that the Apostles were unequal in honor or rank. What that exactly means we would have to obtain from other sources, just as we have to go beyond Acts 2:42 to come to an accurate understanding of the type of prayer to which St. Luke makes a reference.

  10. Robert,

    My argument wasn’t that it was his aim to do so. No more so than Luke’s aim in Acts 2:42 to give a demonstration of liturgical prayers. That doesn’t eliminate its evidentary value, does it? Lots of evidence in the NT works this way in terms of being indirect. That doesn’t imply eisegesis.

  11. Robert says:


    Absolutely right you are, we are in complete agreement. However it is not St. Cyril’s aim to address those distinctions, if any, in *this* document. Using it for those purposes constitutes eisigesis in my book.

  12. David Smith says:

    “One therefore is Christ both Son and Lord”

    Do the Orthodox read “Lord” differently than most? Do they see the word “Lord” more in the context of authority, which is the primary way I’ve heard it used, or in the sense that the LXX uses it–i.e., as a term that strongly infers His Deity?

    Curious in my profound ignorance.

  13. Canadian,

    I don’t deny that Rome had an important function and that there is sufficient evidence of that. But none of that seems to be sufficient to show that there was a Petrine chrism in the sense of V1. Further, much of that evidence for Rome also includes the fact that Antioch and Alexandria were also considered Petrine sees, which was their basis for opposing the elevation of Constantinople, which wasn’t.

    Assuming what you say in terms of denial were true, the question would be whether those denials were correct or not. Even if the Orthodox were short on a positive delineation, if their assessment of Roman distinctives were correct, that would be sufficient all by itself for excluding Rome as a destination.
    The fact that Rome can clearly delineate its position doens’t imply its truth. The Eunomians could clearly delineate their position and mocked the Nicenes for worshipping in ignorance.

    Further it would carve out the logical space for seeing what was possible between a mere honorific title and one with near absolute executive muscle.

    Also, such was a widespread view for a long time even in the west as is evidenced by the Counciliar movement prior to the Great Western Schism. I’d pick up Brian Tierny’s, Foundations of the Counciliar Theory. Non-Orthodox western writers didn’t have this idea in their heads because they were reading Meyendorff. They did so because it was in the canonical tradition.

    I agree that the details in much of the English literature can be frustrating, but this is not completly true. In my own reading I’ve found discussions of it that sketch out the limits of primacy as grounded in the canons. Such is even more the case with the literature out of Greece for example, but my problem is that I am not competant to translate modern Greek, let alone theological monographs in that language.

    Further, I have appealed to authoritative sources that put forward a position and these have largely been ignored either in the blogsphere or in Catholic works on the papacy in everything I’ve read for the last 150 years. Take the Synodal Horos of the Fifth council which spells out the relationship of the Apostles and the Apostolic sees in relation to normative judgments. It says there is “no other way” for a judgment to come about. Now, you can look in any of the more sophisticated works like Journet or pop stuff from Hahn and Co. but you’ll never seen that discussed, or if it is, in anything other than a dismissive fashion. So when you speak of picking and choosing parts from this or that council, that seems to be what Catholic apologists have done here. Now how do we square the material from the 5th synod with what the legates said in the third council? What are your suggestions?

    What I am trying to do is hold both together. How do I put both peices of evidence together in a plausible way?

  14. Robert,

    That may be true that it doesn’t preclude other distinctions. But we would need a few things. First, evidence for those other distinctions. Second, that Cryil thought that there was a Petrine Chrism that distinguished Peter from the other apostles. Third, that the comparison is qua apostle irrespective of the Petrine Chrism.

    Added to this is the other fact that Catholic apologists point out to how higher Peter is honored as evidence of the Petrine Chrism, both in the NT and in other sources. So I can use the argument in the other direction-Catholic arguments tht turn on the honor given to Peter and the popes doesn’t imply a distinction since we have statements of fundamental equality and no evidence of an office over and above that of apostle.

  15. Canadian says:

    Robert’s last comment about the papacy is basically what I was getting at with my comments. The voluminous references throughout the ancient church to a very distinct function and position of Rome’s Pope is obvious. Answers to various questions such as Perry and others raise regarding that See are not so obvious, hence the disagreement between Rome and EO. The EO method seem rather apophatic regarding the Pope–he isn’t this and he isn’t that–but never having concrete answers as to what he is (not just was). This is where you guys sound like the Protestantism I’m fleeing from (see if you can cast enough reasonable doubt on those you disagree with, but not appealing authoritatively to a positive unified position.)

  16. Robert says:

    Papacy >> I agree with you, but I don’t see how this letter supports your conclusion, without reading into it. Equality of honor or rank does not eliminate the possibility of other distinctions between the Apostles, such of function, charism or jurisdiction. St. Cyril here is concerned with other matters however.

    Christological point >> The letter raises several Christological issues, but I stand by my read on the narrow quote in question.

    Now please, let me enjoy my therapy. 🙂


  17. Robert,

    Relative to what? The papacy or the Christological point? Where is your argument that the point relative to Peter is eisegesis?

  18. Robert says:


    For a defense of my understanding of this passage see my response to David. And what is your position?

  19. Robert,

    Expressions of bald claims may be therapuetic, but they aren’t arguments. If you make a claim that I am eisegeting a text, then give a reason for thinking so. Otherwise I can just dismiss your assertion.

  20. David Richards says:


    I would point out that Christ is subject, but not subordinate, to the Father. It appears that the Papacy claims supremacy for itself in the sense that all other Sees are subordinate to that office. I would defer the rest to Perry, who is more familiar with Church history and Latin ecclesiology than I am.

  21. David Richards says:


    Fr. McGuckin’s book, St. Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy, is probably what Perry has in mind.

  22. Robert says:

    Methinks that using this reference to the Apostles in this quote to address the issues related to Rome (for or against) is a case of eisigesis.


    Any specific works of McGuckin you have in mind that you recommend?

  23. Robert says:


    The office of the pope as it came to be developed by Rome is but part of an ecclesiology which constitutes a radical departure. “First among equals” simply makes no sense in that context. This affects important concepts such as unity and authority.

  24. Canadian,

    What you say of the Trinity is so, but is the Father of greater honor than the Son? How should we honor the Son? (Jn 5:23) The same or different than the Father?

    Second, what divine person does the episcopate refer to?

    And Third, why do you suppose that there is nothing in between a mere honorific title and the definition of Vat 1? Is there no logical space between the two? Is that something we have to assume or is it something that has to be proved?

    Fourth, I am not using my own interpreative authority because I am not issing a normative judgment binding on the consciences of others. I am making an argument with respect to what can be known. Knowledge and normativity are not co-extensive. So the question is one of knowing, not an ultimate authority here. And the conditions on knowing are far easier to fulfill such that most people can do so.

    Further, I am doing nothing different than when Catholics argue from the evidence for their claims. If that required interpretative authority to do so, then theyshould stop speaking and just refer us to official documents.

  25. ioannis says:


    Not everything that we can find in the Acts of the Councils are binding because that would mean that even the statements of the heretics and of those condemned are binding. Only the statements which have been synodically expressed are binding. That means that only the Council’s decisions and canons are binding. And a Council expresses synodically itself only on those matters that it dealt with. The Council of Ephesus was not concerned about the relation of St.Peter with the bishop of Rome. Whatever a certain individual said in passing for various reasons, even rhetorical ones, is of secondary importance.

    The Acts were signed by those involved in order to confirm that they were the true records and that they had not been fabricated. They were kept for similar reasons that today’s trial records are kept but that by no means mean that everything that the accuser stated in them is necessarily correct or that everything that the defendant and perhaps convicted says in them is necessarily false. What matters is the final verdict of the jury which is only about those issues the court was summoned to pass judgment on.

  26. Canadian says:

    Cyril said “it is not an equality of honor that unites natures…”. That is his point, that Christ and the Father are united in nature of which an equality of honor or dignity cannot procure. Honor and dignity are extrinsic descriptions or qualities of persons and can be just words to show an empty equivelancy (which is what Cyril I think is attacking). Cyril is hammering home to the heretics that Christ is intrinsically God by nature. I wouldn’t proof text his words about Peter and John against Rome when he is not talking about human rankings.
    You wish to lay Peter and John flat level, yet even in the Trinity is not the Father the supreme fountainhead, the begetter of the Son and does not the Spirit proceed from him?

    1 Corinthians 11:3
    But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.

    If you do not reject the office of the pope “per se” then what would be the point of an office of “first” bishop among equals that has no ability, authority or purpose other than to be laid flat with all the other bishops? (especially when we don’t agree with him.)

    If the Council carries with it a gift of infallibility as both the EO and Rome agree, then to start personally selecting what statements we like and don’t like and then using our own interpretive authority to say what we think they mean seems just way too Protestant for this poor seeking Protestant’s ears.

  27. ioannis says:


    I believe that Cyril’s passage is about the one person of Christ. Nestorius was claiming that Christ was two persons, one divine and one human, that they got united in one person through an equality in dignity and honor. Cyril responds that that can not be correct because if dignity and honor were to unite persons that would mean that Peter and John are one person (or nature in the terminology of Nestorius).

    It seems that the Alexandrian Fathers were using the philosophical terminology of their age which identified nature with hypostasis. It is the Cappado.cian Fathers that distinguished between nature and hypostasis and identified the term nature with the tern essence. It seems that what is today the standard termonology of Christianity had not yet been fully introduced in Alexandria when Cyril writes against Nestorius.

  28. Robert says:


    I apologize I attempted to add emphases in the quote above but WordPress wasn’t taking it.

    I take “not as though man had connection simply with God” and “For the Word of God united…is God of all” to be the operative, thematic phrases. He goes on to say about Christ, “He is God by Nature and of His Essence” and “Himself spake the Law and is Lawgiver *as God*.” The mention of Christ being Man is used merely to support the operative phrases; and, moreover, the hypostatic union is mentioned merely in passing.

  29. Canadian,

    If Cyril means to use Peter and John as an example without respect to their offices, what would be the significance of the example? How could he assume that their stations in life apart from those offices gave them equal honor or as some translations put it, “rank?” If on the other hand, it was in reference to their offices, then the point seems to hold.

    I am well aware of what the legates say, but we need to look at what they say and see if we can get from what the text licenses to the Catholic claims for it. I do not see why one cannot admit that Peter was the “head” of the apostles. In fact in his epistle to Nestorius Cyril speaks of “heads” of the churches. Peter being the preeminent capita doesn’t of itself imply the Catholic gloss. Much the same goes for pillar and foundation which could be taken in reference to the Petrine confession.

    Second, the language of binding and loosening, are we to take that in an exclusionary sense or in a representative sense? That is, did Peter alone and his successors alone receive that power such that all other derive it from him or did Peter receive it qua apostle as representative of the apostolic band and so all received what Peter did? So I don’t see a good reason why I can’t sign off on the statements without endorsing what Vat 1 has in mind.

    Now, if we look at what Cyril writes to Nestorius, he pulls in the weight of the **council** at Rome, in which Celestine presided. He doesn’t pull in a Petrine chrism that Rome enjoys above and apart from any council or any other see. Second, Cyril joins his authority of his see as a “head” to that of Rome to argue that on the basis of this union, Nestorius will be excluded from the priesthood. Cyril joins the judgment of his synod with that of Celestine, combining their authority. If Vat 1 were true, what could Cyril’s see add to Celestine’s judgment in principle if Celestine’s was essentially different than his own? Unless of course we wish to think that the capacity in which Celestine was operating was not terms of the Petrine chrism. If so, then the legate’s language doesn’t make sense as far as a Catholic gloss since Celestine wasn’t operating in that capacity.

    Also, in Cyril’s correspondence with John of Antioch, Cyril appeals to the “holy Roman synod” in terms of a judgment against Nestorius and not a Petrine chrism that Celestine enjoys. And he says that all must comply with it, if they do not wish to be cut off from communion with the entire **West**. In John of Antioch’s correspondence to Nestorius, he uses the same kind of argument and language as Cyril. This is why Cyril refers to the “common sentence of all” and the bishops refer to the judgment of the “one episcopate” in reference to the council.

    It is also significant that Cyril signs the documents first, prior to the legates. And he signs as bishop of Alexandria.

    Other facts should be kept in mind. When Chrysostom was deposed and then some time later Cyril ascended to the Alexandrian throne, Cyril in defiance of Rome for the better part of a decade refused to put John’s name in the diptychs (until 419) even though this meant being out of communion with Rome. Cyril so argued that to do otherwise would be contrary to canon law. Yet Cyril in no way took himself to be out of communion with the Church Catholic. Why?

    So Cyril’s example of John and Peter being of equal honor seems more consistent with what we know of the council and what Cyril taught. And in that context we need to read the legate’s words.

  30. David Richards says:


    Sorry if I am being dense but I am still unclear as to how this passage refers to the union of Christ with the Father rather than the union of deity with humanity. It still “reads” to me as referring to the hypostatic union. Why you think this refers primarily to the union of Christ with the Father?

  31. Robert says:


    In the wider context of the document St. Cyril refutes diverse heretical positions. In this statement, if I read it correctly, his concern is about Christ’s “conjunction with God”, namely Christ’s being “God by Nature and of His Essence”. Here is a wider context which sheds some light:

    “There is therefore One Christ and Son and Lord not as though man had connection simply with God as by unity of dignity or of authority (for equality of honour doth not unite natures. And verily Peter and John were of equal honour one with another, in that they were both Apostles and holy disciples, yet were not the two one), nor yet do we deem of the mode of connecting [as being] by juxta-position (for this suffices not unto unity of nature), nor yet in the way of an external participation, as we too being joined to the Lord, [1 Cor. 6:17] as it is written, are one spirit with Him; yea rather we refuse the term connection as insufficient to express the Union. But neither do we call the Word of God the Father the God or Lord of Christ, lest again we openly sever into two the One Christ and Son and Lord, and incur the charge of blasphemy, making Him God and Lord of Himself. For the Word of God united (as we already before said) to Flesh Personally, is God of all, ruleth over every thing, but is Himself neither servant nor lord of Himself (for it were silly, yea rather blasphemous also, so to think or say). For he called the Father His God (John 20:17), albeit He is God by Nature and of His Essence: yea, we are not ignorant that together with being God, He became also Man who is under God, according to the Law that befits the nature of the humanity: but how can He be God or Lord of Himself? Therefore as, being Man and as far as pertains to what befits the measures of the emptiness, He says that He is with us under God: so hath He been made under the Law too, albeit Himself spake the Law and is Lawgiver as God.”

    It is worth reading the entire document.

    I hope my initial question, “What then is the unity of the Divine nature?” makes more sense now.

  32. Robert says:

    Perry, some technical difficulties, I placed a post, but it doesn’t appear. I submitted twice, so please discard 2nd one. Much thanks.

  33. David Richards says:


    Whether or not St. Cyril’s intent was to “cut against the Papacy” (by which I meant the current doctrine of Papal supremacy and not the office per se) he does say that the holy Apostles Peter and John are of equal honour which I believe signifies rank. Where do you see the distinction between persons and the offices they bear? Also, do you think the quote you provided teaches the same doctrine as, say, Vatican I? I am not sure they teach the same thing, when not even a hundred years prior, at another Ecumenical Synod, the Pope was called “first among equals” which seems to indicate honour rather than jurisdiction – hard to see how other bishops can be equal when the Pope is granted privileges not granted to the other Sees (doctrine ex cathedra for example).

    Perhaps I should read it in context, but where does St. Cyril indicate that he means to refer to the union of natures between Christ and the Father? In the context of his dispute with Nestorius I am not sure what would compel him to make that argument since it centered on the hypostatic union.

  34. Robert says:


    Thanks for that observation about the usage of physis/nature and hypostasis/person. That makes much sense. It appears very strange to me why St. Cyril would be using these very different meanings interchangeably. Any idea why this is so? Are we in agreement that this passage is about Christ’s divine nature (shared with the Father), and not about the two natures within Christ’s Person?

  35. Canadian says:

    The statement is part of the Acts of the third session of an Ecumenical Council and these Acts had to be signed off by those involved. Cyril and the bishops gave approval. Do you imply that because it was a statement by papal legates that it was not fully accepted by all present and recorded as part of the Council itself?

  36. ioannis says:


    Of course, in refuting one of Nestorius’ arguments, Cyril’s intent is not to cut against anybody. On the contrary, his words gain more importance by the fact that he was struggling against the primacy gained by Constantinople over his own See in the 2nd Ecumenical Council and his interest was to promote Rome and to downgrade Constantinople.

  37. ioannis says:


    That’s not a statement of the Council but of presbyter Philip, one of the legates of Pope Coelestine.

  38. ioannis says:

    Robert (if you permit me),

    One reason why I think that that Saint Cyril’s passage is an excellent finding on the part of Perry Robinson is that, apart from what it denies in relation to the claims of Vatican, it also shows us that, at least sometimes, Cyril uses the word “physis/nature” in the sense of “hypostasis/person”. Cyril says that Peter and John are not one nature. Of course Peter and John, and Cyril knows it, are one nature/essence. They are not one hypostasis though.
    From such a passage we can understand that when Cyril says “one nature of the God Logos incarnate” he rather means “one person”.

  39. Robert says:

    Yes Canadian I agree with you, this quote is about the Father and the Son, not the two natures in Christ.

  40. Canadian says:

    I’m not sure you could say Cyril’s intent was to cut against the papacy when that very Council of Ephesus also stated:

    “There is no doubt, and in fact it has been known in all ages, that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince (ἔξαρχος) and head of the Apostles, pillar of the faith, and foundation (θεμέλιος) of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of the human race, and that to him was given the power of loosing and binding sins: who down even to today and forever both lives and judges in his successors. The holy and most blessed pope Cœlestine, according to due order, is his successor and holds his place….” (Acts of the Council of Ephesus, session 3).

    In the post’s quote, Cyril is adressing Christ’s conjunction with the Father and that an equality of honor can not bring unity of natures which the Father and Christ have. Peter and John though having equality of honor are not united in nature. They have equality of honor as persons but not necessarily in the offices they bear.

  41. Robert says:

    St Cyril in the passage you quote would seem to me to concern the divine *nature* of Christ, not the union of the two natures in Christ.

  42. Robert, the basis for the union for Cyril is the phusis, which he takes to be the concrete individual or the individual that unifies in the concrete, in other words the person.

    Try McGuckin for further reading.

  43. David Richards says:

    Isn’t the basis for the union the person of Christ?

  44. Robert says:

    Yes I concur. But it leaves my questions as to what *is* the basis for the union and what is the nature of the Nature.

    If you deem it off-topic, then never mind!

  45. Robert,

    I didn’t post it because of Cyril’s (correct) claim that Nestorian “connection” was an insufficient basis for the union.

    David got my point.

  46. David Richards says:


    I do not pretend to be able to fully unpack this but I know Nestorius taught that the person of Christ is the *product* of His two nature natures, divine and human, whereas the Orthodox maintain that the divine and human natures are united in His person. It would seem from the above that Nestorius conceived of the union between the natures in terms of rank (the human is equal in honour to the divine) rather than in terms of a Person. St. Cyril argues that this will not work and uses the Apostolate as an example, because the Apostles were of equal dignity yet were many rather than one. This cuts against the Papacy as well. Nice work, Perry, and may you slap me silly if I got your point wrong.

  47. Robert says:


    This would seem to be an important distinction. Tell us more. Obviously Nestorianism is the context of this passage, but why did St. Cyril think this important? What then is the unity of the Divine nature? If this is a valid question: What is the nature of that Nature?

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