The View of the Coptic Orthodox Church
Concerning Theodore of Mopsuestia
and Nestorius of Constantinople
By Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette, 1998
In spite of all defenses introduced by several theologians, especially those of the Assyrian Church of the East, with the intention of justifying both Theodore of Mopsuestia and Nestorius of Constantinople, our Coptic Orthodox Church, has always maintained the view of Saint Cyril of Alexandria, that the teachings of these two teachers are heretical and against the correct belief confessed in the Nicene Creed. Our Church also maintains the decision of the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431 AD against Nestorius and his teachings.
Both Theodore and Nestorius have maintained that the Person of the Divine Logos was different and distinct from the person of the man Jesus assumed by the Logos. They also taught that the Logos dwelled in the man assumed and was externally united to Him in what they called the ‘person of the union’. Both teachers refuse to confess natural and hypostatic union.
Both of them also refuse to confess that God the Logos Himself was born of the Virgin Saint Mary. They called her ‘Christotokos’ instead of ‘Theotokos’.
Both of them also refuse to confess that God the Logos, becoming man through incarnation, Himself for us and for our salvation, was crucified, killed and raised from the dead on the third day.
Even the Assyrian theologians and some of the Catholic theologians participating in the dialogues could not deny that Nestorius, Theodore of Mopsuestia and the teachers of the Assyrian Church of the East have taught two persons in Jesus Christ. The Assyrian theologians in the dialogue defended the same view of the fathers of their Church.
Now, we shall examine the writings of both Theodore of Mopsuestia and Nestorius of Constantinople.
Theodore of Mopsuestia wrote:
“There is a difference between the divine form and the form of a servant, between the temple which is adopted and Him, who dwells therein, between Him who was dissolved in death and Him who raised Him, between Him who was made perfect through sufferings and Him who perfected Him, and so forth.”
Charles J. Hefele, Bishop of Rottenburg, in his book “A History of the Councils of the Church” (1883), wrote that Theodore… not merely maintained the existence of two natures in Christ, but of two persons, as he says himself, no subsistence can be thought of as perfect without personality. As, however, he did not ignore the fact that the consciousness of the Church rejected such a double personality in Christ, he endeavored to get rid of the difficulty, and he repeatedly says expressly: “The two natures united together make only one Person, as man and wife are only one flesh… If we consider the natures in their distinction, we should define the nature of the Logos as perfect and complete, and so also His Person, and again the nature and the person of the man as perfect and complete. If, on the other hand, we have regard to the conjoining (sunafeia/synapheia), we say it is one Person.” The very illustration of the union of man and wife shows that Theodore did not suppose a true union of the two natures in Christ, but that his notion was rather that of an external connection of the two. The expression (sunafeia) moreover, which he selected here, instead of the term (enwsiV/enosis) which he elsewhere employs, being derived from (sunaptw/synapto) [to join together], expresses only an external connection, a fixing together, and is therefore expressly rejected in later times by the doctors of the Church. And again, Theodore designates a merely external connection also in the phrase already quoted, to the effect that “The Logos dwells in the man assumed as in a temple.”
Theodore of Mopsuestia, in his time, considered himself especially bound to oppose the expression “God bearer”. He said,
“Mary, bare Jesus, not the Logos, for the Logos was and remained omnipresent, although from the beginning He dwelt in Jesus in a peculiar manner. Thus Mary is properly the Christ-bearer, not the God-bearer. Only figuratively, per anaphoram, can she be called God-bearer also, because God was in Christ in a remarkable manner. Properly she bare a man, in whom the union with the Logos was begun, but was still so little completed, that He was not yet (but only from the time of His baptism) called the Son of God”. And in another passage he remarks: “It is madness to say that God is born of the Virgin… not God, but the temple in which God dwelt, is born of Mary”.
In his message to the monks of the Monastery of Mar Bassus, Jacob of Serugh (d. 528) wrote his own experience concerning Theodore of Mopsuestia as follows:
“To the great, full of blessings, the righteous, lover of God Mar Lazarus the presbyter and archimandrite.
Jacob the deficient, your brother in Christ, Who is the light and life of everyone, the hope and perfection of everyone, peace to you.
Some chaste brothers from the monastery of your holy fatherhood approached me. They examined me saying: ‘Lord we want you to teach us by your writings if you, Lord, anathematize Diodore and Theodore. Those two men who have become the cause of doubts for the teaching of the true Faith?’
I was not sad because I know the importance of this inquiry cast upon me. I restrained my thought, lest I fear this inquiry, and fall into the trap of pride. I caused myself to humiliation through humble thoughts as I observe the meekness and humility of Christ. I do not have the right to be asked about the answer of truth, even if it is cast upon me as an examination from simple brothers who love God.
I wish to make an answer for the question of the brothers. Do not think that I create this speech, so I inform your chastity:
Forty five years ago, when I was resident in the city of Edessa for the purpose of reading the Holy Scripture, the books of the sinful Theodore were being translated from Greek into Syriac. The city had a school for the Persians* who cling to the ignorant teachings of Diodore in much love. All the East was corrupted by this school which was removed by Mar Kora of Edessa determinably after the decree of the faithful King Zeno.
I was a boy in need of study when I found one of Theodore’s books, I found it full of schismatic thoughts and of all kinds of subjects far removed from reality.
He declares in his books two Christs instead of one. Without being influenced by others, but by the grace of God which sustains the universe by his all-embracing mercy, I was alarmed at that schismatic and doubtful teaching. To me it seemed like a pit full of snakes. I immediately said, spontaneously and without being asked by anyone to do so: ‘This man, together with his teachings is excommunicated, and me too if I agreed with him.’ I adhered to this thought while the Persians who stick much to this teaching which is far from truth, were reproaching me. When after a period of time, I came across the sayings of Diodore and Theodoret again I found that both of them had drunk from that bitter poison, together with the excommunicated Nestorius, Diodore, Theodore and Theodoret the excommunicated.
As all the disciples drank one Spirit, so it is true that all the heretics drank from the poison of the first snake dividing the Only-Begotten Son of God into two.
So, I say now again, as I have said in the past, that the following are anathematized: Nestorius, Eutyches and everyone who agree with their sinful teachings: Diodore, Theodore, Theodoret, all who read their books to agree with their teachings; everyone who does not confess that God the Word, the Only-Begotten of God, entered through the ear of the Virgin and settled in her holy womb and was incarnate of the Virgin. And because of His incarnation, which was without sin, He is recognized in the Holy Scripture to be the Son of David the Son of Abraham. He is the Only-Begotten. He alone knew two births, one incorporeal birth from the Father, which has no beginning, and one carnal birth from Mary. For it is written that ‘He appeared in flesh’, ‘He’ being God, God sent His Son to the world and became human of a woman.”
Nestorius of Constantinople wrote :
“In order to make satisfaction for men, Christ assumed the person of the guilty nature (of humanity) (debentis suscepit personam naturae)… Christ is not mere man, but God and man at the same time… And this man I worship along with the Godhead as the cooperarius divinae auctoritatis, as the instrumentum of the goodness of the Lord… as the living purple garment of the king,… separo naturas, sed conjungo reverentiam. That which was formed in the womb of Mary is not God Himself… but because God dwells in Him whom He has assumed, therefore also He who is assumed is called God because of Him who assumes Him. And it is not God who has suffered… We will therefore call the Holy Virgin (qeodocoV/theodokhos), but not (qeotokoV/theotokos) for only God the Father is qeotokoV; but we will honor that nature which is the garment of God along with Him who makes use of garment, we will separate the natures and unite the honour, we will acknowledge a double person and worship it as one.”
We will now introduce three quotations from the writings of Nestorius, which recent scholars try to prove were written by him, in the so called book ‘Bazar of Heracleides’, with the aim of justifying his teaching. Nevertheless, we can see clearly that the writer of this book has maintained the teaching of two persons in Christ and of the prosopic union he claimed against the natural and hypostatic union taught by the doctors of the Church.
U “Therefore the image of God is the perfect expression of God to men. The image of God, understood in this sense, can be thought of as the divine prosopon. God dwells in Christ and perfectly reveals himself to men through him. Yet the two prosopa are really one image of God.”
U “Two are the prosopa, the prosopon of he who has clothed and the prosopon of he who is clothed.”
U “We must not forget that the two natures involve with him two distinct hypostaseis and two persons (prosopons) united together by simple loan and exchange.”
Hefele C. J., History of the Councils of the Church, reprinted from the edition of 1883, Edinburgh, AMS First Edition pub. in 1972, U.S.A. Vol. III, p. 7, quoting Dorner,L.C.S.52 and § 19 in Hardouin and Mansi, ll.cc.
 Ibid., quoting Hardouin and Mansi, ll.cc § 29, Dorner, l.c. p. 52.
 [It is used of dancers joining hand in hand].
 Ibid., p. 9, quoting Hardouin and Mansi, ll.cc. § i.; Dorner, l.c.S. 50.
* The Assyrians.
 Translated from the Arabic publication of the Letters of Saint Jacob of Serugh, Letter 14, by Father Dr. Behnam Soni, 1995 vol. 3, pp. 223-228, Pastoral Center for Research and Studies– Mar Rokoz Monastery, Dakwana – Lebanon. Published in ZDMG 30 (1876), pp. 220-226, edit. P. Martin, Manuscript British Museum Cod. dclxxii (dated A.D. 603), (Wace, H. & Piercy, W. C. (Eds.) A Dictionary of Christian Biography, Hendrickson, Massachusetts 1994, p. 551).
 Hefele C. J., p. 16, quoting Marius Mercator, l.c. pp. 789-801.
 Rowan Greer : ‘The Image of God and the Prosopic Union in Nestorius’ Bazar of Heraclides in Lux in Lumine, Essays to Honor W.Norman Pittenger, edited by R.A. Morris jr., New York 1996, p. 50; quoted by Metropolitan Aprem G. Mooken in his paper “Was Nestorius a Nestorian?” published in Pro Oriente, Syriac Dialogue, First Non-Official Consultationon Dialogue Within the Syriac Tradition, Hofburg Marschallstiege II A-1010 Vienna 1994, p. 223.
9 Bazar of Heraclides (LH 193), quoted by Bernard Dupuy, OP, ‘The Christology of Nestorius’ published in Pro Oriente, Syriac Dialogue, First Non-Official Consultation on Dialogue within the Syriac Tradition, Vienna, 1994, p. 113.
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