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“Nestorius - Reply to Cyril of Alexandria's Second Letter

Should Mary have the title of "Theotokos" - God-bearer/Mother of God?

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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.

 



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original Greek text
Antiochene Christology
Cyril and Nestorius
Cyril of Alexandra anathemas against Nestorius
 

 

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