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Nestorius (Greek Νεστόριος, Nestórios ; * around 381 in Germanicia or Germanikeia , today Kahramanmaraş ; † approx. 451–453) was a Byzantine theologian. From 428 to 431 he was Patriarch of Constantinople . Soon after his inauguration, the new bishop was the initiator of an initially mariological then christological dispute that spread throughout the empire and finally led in 431 to the convening of an ecumenical council by Emperor Theodosius II (408-450) in Ephesus. After the Council of Ephesus , Nestorius resigned from office in September 431. He died in exile in Upper Egypt.


As a youth he entered the monastery of Euprepius near Antioch. As a monk, his education was particularly shaped by the theological school of Antioch. Theodor von Mopsuestia († 428) deserves special mention among his teachers . After his ordination as presbyter, Nestorius was considered a successful catechist and important preacher in his homeland. After the death of the Patriarch of Constantinople Sisinnius on Christmas Eve 427, during the confusion surrounding his successor , Emperor Theodosius II was made aware of the famous preacher of Antioch Nestorius by the local bishop John and elected him as the new patriarch. Nestorius was subsequently ordained bishop of the imperial city on April 10, 428.

Nestorius did not understand how to balance the interests of the conflicting faiths, especially with regard to the dignity of the mother of Jesus. This was soon joined by a dispute about the nature of Christ, which escalated to such an extent that Emperor Theodosius II (408–450) was prompted to convene an ecumenical council on Pentecost 431 in the port city of Ephesus. Nestorius was initially declared a heretic by his adversaries, the Patriarch Kyrill († 444) and his followers, i.e. not by the whole Council, and deposed as Patriarch of Constantinople. He was allowed to return to his home monastery. But then in the autumn of 435 Nestorius was excommunicated by the patriarchs of Constantinople, Antioch and Alexandria: his goods were confiscated, his writings burned, and he himself was finally banished to the great oasis in Upper Egypt west of Luxor. In this loneliness he wrote two defensive papers : the Apologia or Tragoedia and the Liber Heraclidis . Nestorius found no rest here, however. He was captured by nomads, sent back and forth between individual cities, then exiled again, so that in the end his trail is lost in the dark. He must have died in Upper Egypt between 451 and 453.

His teaching in conflict

When Nestorius took office in Constantinople, he found a dispute over the person of Mary. In order to mediate between the contending parties, one of whom advocated “ Theotokos ”, the Mother of God, as the title of Mary, the other for “Anthropotokos”, the bearer of man, Nestorius suggested the biblically based title “Christotokos”, the bearer of Christ. The dispute escalated because the patriarch was accused of giving up the title "Theotokos", which had been used for decades for Maria.

Nestorius considered himself a consistent advocate of the Christology of the Council of Nicaea (325). He therefore taught the existence of two perfect and unmixed natures in Christ: the divine and the human. He said that wherever the Holy Scriptures mention the Lord's work of salvation, they ascribe birth and suffering not to God but to humanity, so that the Holy Virgin should not be called the Theotokos of God, but the Theotokos of Christ. It was by no means his intention to tear Christ apart, so to speak, so that the result was only two unconnected natures standing side by side. He saw the two natures connected by the prosopone. By this he understood a connection in which Jesus is only human, but inextricably united with the Godhead through the permanent indwelling of the divine Logos. The body is, as it were, the temple of the deity of the Son, in which the deity of the Son dwells. At the same time he emphasizes the unity and the essential separation of dwelling and inhabitant from God and humanity in Christ .

In a letter to Pope Celestine I (422-432), Nestorius brought this dispute over the title of the theotoco to Rome. Here, too, he rejected this title because he saw the teaching of the Council of Nicaea violated and for the further reason that no human woman could give birth to God. But it was not the dispute over the title of the theotics that prompted him to turn to the Pope, but rather his perplexity about dealing with some of the Latin bishops banished to the East. But the papal curia had problems with the translation of this letter, written in Greek, as well as the following, and inevitably took its time to reply. However, Rome took the problems raised, which increasingly centered on the Christology of Nestorius, extremely seriously. That is why the theologically experienced Roman deacon Leo, who later became Pope Leo the Great (440–461), commissioned Johannes Cassianus († 430/435) , founder of a male and a female monastery in Marsilia, to assess the doctrine of Nestorius theologically. This published his findings under the title De Incarnatione Domini contra Nestorium (approx. 429).

Pope Celestine considered a synodal decision on the teaching of Nestorius to be inevitable, so he called a synod in Rome on August 10, 430. The synod initially seemed to be directed against Nestorius' mariological heresy, his rejection of belief in the virginal integrity of Mary at birth . In fact, in doing so, she imputed a fundamental Christological heresy to him . Nestorius denied the deity of the Child Mary. This follows from the argument of the Pope against Nestorius at the Synod. Celestine had rejected Nestorius' justification with the verse of Ambrose († 397): “Come, Redeemer of the world, show the birth of the Virgin; the whole world should be amazed; such a birth befits God ”. For Celestine, the virgin birth was an excellent criterion for the deity of the child of Jesus. That was Rome's specific approach to the dispute with Nestorius. In contrast to the oriental dispute in Rome, the title of Mother of God for Mary played no role. Nestorius is asked to revoke his teaching within ten days of receiving the synodal decision, otherwise he would be considered a heretic and deposed. On the same day, Pope Celestine informed the clergy and the people of Constantinople, the Patriarch Cyril of Alexandria , the Patriarch John of Antioch († 441) the home diocese of Nestorius, and finally Nestorius himself about this decision of the synod. This shows its importance for Rome. Its importance was emphasized by the decision of Pope Celestine to decorate the newly rebuilt Basilica of St. Mary on the Esqulin, which is today's Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore , with mosaics, the theme of which is the demonstration of the deity of the man Jesus on the background dealing with the theses of Nestorius should be. This is where its extraordinary source value lies, see also Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore . In the existing mosaic sequence on the triumphal arch and the first mosaics on both sides of the nave, detailed reference is made to the theses of Nestorius. The following scenes from the triumphal arch mosaic cycle are cited as examples: The Holy Spirit, who sits down as a dove on Mary of the Annunciation (1st register, left), i.e. the conception of Jesus, is neither in the Bible text nor in simultaneous examples from the Representation of the Annunciation to Mary attested. Nestorius had vehemently denied the deity of the Child Mary at conception. By taking over the dove of the Holy Spirit from the Jordan scene, where it points to the sons of God, in the image of the Annunciation, the deity of the child of Jesus should be pointed out. With the representation of Jesus in the temple (1st register, right) there is no basis in Luke for the depiction of the baby Jesus as high priest and God, however, in a dispute with Nestorius, who had denied the deity of the incarnate high priest Christ. The unique throne of the child of Jesus in the magical scene (2nd register), which is unique in early Christian art, can also refer to the words of Nestorius at the Council of Ephesus: "He could not recognize a God two or three months old". The use of the cross instead of his figure in the enthronement of Christ on the heavenly throne in the crown mosaic can be understood as an answer to Nestorius' main argument against divinity that God cannot suffer. God was crucified without prejudice to his divine nature. The planning and implementation of this project took about 4 years, from the end of the year 430 to about August 5, 434, the day the basilica was consecrated.

It is also important that Celestine commissioned the Patriarch Cyril of Alexandria to oversee the implementation of the resolutions of the Roman synod. Cyril himself fought against Nestorius in the east with great commitment. Therefore, on November 30, 430, he called a synod for his parish in Alexandria, which confirmed the Roman judgment against Nestorius. He had their resolutions sent to Nestorius as a synodal letter. A creed in twelve articles was attached to it in the form of anathematisms . Nestorius did not bow to the invitation to approve the resolutions. In view of the violent dispute, Emperor Theodosius II called an ecumenical council on June 7, 431 in Ephesus. At the beginning of the council only Cyril and his followers were gathered. Cyril opened the council against the opposition of the imperial officials. Because of this, Nestorius refused to appear before the council. In spite of this, his case was negotiated, the teaching of Cyril was declared orthodox and Nestorius' teaching heresy, and Nestorius was deposed as Patriarch of Constantinople. The papal envoy agreed to this decision, although he did not appear until after the opening of the meeting. The central teaching of the Cyrillic Council was not the divine motherhood of Mary, as is so often claimed, but the divinity of Christ, the incarnate Son of God. It is taken from the 2nd letter of Cyril to Nestorius and reads:

“Now the holy and great council [of Nicaea] declared that the only begotten Son begotten of God and the Father, true God from true God, descended in his own person, became flesh and man, suffered again on the third day risen and ascended to the heavens. For the scriptures did not say that the word was united with the person of a man, but that it itself became flesh. But that means nothing else than that it has participated in blood and flesh in the same way as we have and has made our body its own and has emerged as a human being from woman without ceasing to be God. We think this is what the holy fathers thought; so they have safely called the holy virgin Theotokos, not as if the nature of the word or its deity had originated from the holy virgin, but because from her the holy body was born, which animates rationally, and which the word of the person after was united. That is why it is said that he himself was born in the flesh. "

Two ecumenical councils , that of Ephesus in 431 and that of Chalcedon in 451, dealt with the subject. Both councils condemned the teaching of Nestorius. However, only opponents of the doctrine of Nestorius took part in the Council of Ephesus and the Council of Chalcedon was not recognized by the oriental churches and the Nestorians. Ultimately, the emperor also committed himself to the chalcedony creed.

After the compromise formula was laid down at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, a first Orthodox church split off: “ Nestorianism ” became the confession of the Church of the East in 484 in the Sassanid Empire . The Nestorian Church spread far to the east. Nestorians reached India (" Thomas Christians "), Tibet , the Uyghurs in Central Asia and even as far as the then Chinese capital Chang'an (today Xi'an ) via the Silk Road . Impressive proof of this is the stele of Sianfu , excavated in 1625 , whose inscription testifies to the spread of the Eastern Church:

“There was a bishop in Syria named Alopen […] He rode through hardship and danger and arrived in Chang'an in the ninth year after Cheng-Kuans. [...] The emperor received him as a guest in the palace. The Holy Scriptures were translated in the imperial library and their teachings examined by the emperor himself. Since the emperor fully recognized that it was right and true, he expressly ordered its dissemination. "

For the West , however, only the developments in Syria and Egypt play a role. As a result, the Monophysite churches and the Church of the East separated from the Chalcedonian imperial church.


  • Luise Abramowski: Investigations of the Liber Heraclidis of Nestorius. Secrét. du Corpus Scriptorum Christianorm Orientalium, Louvain 1963.
  • Angelo Amato: Nestorius. In: Lexicon for Theology and Church. 3. Edition. Volume 7 (1998), Col. 745-749.
  • George A. Bevan: The New Judas. The Case of Nestorius in Ecclesiastical Politics, 428-451 CE (= Late Antique History and Religion. Volume 13). Peeters, Leuven 2016, ISBN 978-90-429-3259-3 .
  • Leonhardt Fendt: The Christology Nestorius ¦ Inaugural dissertation. Kösel, Kempten. 1910.
  • Alois Grillmeier: Jesus Christ in the faith of the church. 3rd, verb. and supplemented edition. Herder, Freiburg i.Br. / Basel / Vienna 1990, pp. 642–660.
  • Friedrich Loofs: Nestoriana. Niemeyer, Halle 1905.
  • Luigi I. Scipioni: Nestorio e il concilio di Efeso. Vita e Pensiero Milan 1974.
  • Lionel R. Wickham: Nestorius / Nestorian conflict. In: Theological Real Encyclopedia . Volume 24 (1994), pp. 276-286.
  • Dietmar W. Winkler : Nestorius (around 381-451 / 453) . In: Workbook Theology History. Discourses. Actors. Forms of knowledge. Vol. 1: 2nd to 15th century . Edited by Gregor Maria Hoff / Ulrich HJ Körtner , Kohlhammer, Stuttgart, 2012, pp. 148–165, ISBN 978-3-17-019113-6 .

Individual evidence

  1. a b Dietmar W. Winkler: Nestorius (around 381 - 451/453) . In: GM Hoff, UHJ Körtner (Ed.): Arbeitsbuch. History of theology. Discourses. Actors. Life forms . tape 1 : 2nd to 15th century . Stuttgart 2012, p. 148-165 .
  2. Hans Bernd Krismanek ,: The corpus of Kyrill's letters from Alexandria as a source of ancient monasticism | Church politics, Christology and pastoral care  . In: Patrologia . tape 24 . Lang, Frankfurt am Main 2010, p. 86-89, 94 f .
  3. Magister Artium Michael Dahnke: Nestorius or How does he hold him together? Grin Verlag, Munich 2000, ISBN 978-3-656-27881-8 , p. 1-16 .
  4. ^ Lionel R. Wickham: Nestorius / Nestorianischer Streit . In: Theological Real Encyclopedia . tape 24 , 1994, pp. 284 .
  5. ^ Hermann-Josef Vogt: Pope Cölestin and Nestorius . In: Georg Schwaiger (Ed.): Festschrift for Hermann Tüchle . Munich / Paderborn / Vienna 1975, p. 92 f .
  6. ^ Cassianus: De incarnatione Domini contra Nestorium . In: Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum (CSEL) . tape 17 , S. 235-391 .
  7. ^ Gerhard Steigerwald: The early Christian mosaics of the triumphal arch of S. Maria Maggiore in Rome . Schnell & Steiner Verlag, Regensburg 2016, p. 28 f .
  8. ^ Gerhard Steigerwald: The early Christian mosaics of the triumphal arch of S. Maria Maggiore in Rome . Schnell & Steiner, Regensburg 2016, p. 33-203 .
  9. ^ Hermann-Josef Vogt: Ephesus, Council . In: Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. tape 3 , 1995, Sp. 706 f .
  10. Christiane Fraisse-Coué,: The theological discussion at the time of Theodosius II. In: Ch. And L. Pietri (ed.): Originating one Christianity. History of Christianity (250-430) . 2nd Edition. tape 2 . Herder, Freiburg i. Br. 2005, p. 590-606 .
  11. Cyrillus Alexandrinus: epistola ad Nestorium II . In: Acta Conciliorum Oecumenicorum . II, 1 cap. 3-6, p. 26- 28 .
predecessor government office successor
Sisinnius I. Archbishop of Constantinople