The Council of Ephesus: Who Really is Christ?

by Mina Ghaly


The setting is fifth century AD, and the assailant is Nestorius, Archbishop of Constantinople. The true nature of Jesus Christ is under attack by heresy, and the Virgin Mary is no stranger to Nestorius’ ill-intentioned ways. Ironically enough, we would tend to believe that a bishop would shepherd his people, leading them to eternal salvation—not so with Nestorius. Nestorius had argued that Christ should be viewed as being two separate persons—human and divine—united by will.

It is probable that he took several of Christ’s experiences and words too literally, taking phrases such as, “I thirst…” (John 19:28), to signify bodily weakness, as opposed to the ultimate fulfillment of Psalm 69:21. Christ’s genuine sorrow over the death Lazarus also gave Nestorius key evidence behind this separate human nature: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).  Christ’s Divine nature is that which supposedly arose out of this human frailty, able to perform unprecedented miracles throughout all of Judea. Therefore, the divine Christ could neither suffer nor die, with only His human nature suffered and died on the cross for us.


Nestorius also believed that it was blasphemy to bestow upon the Virgin Mary the title of Theotokos, Mother of God. On the contrary, he believed that she should only be honored as the Mother of Christ, entirely against the apostolic tradition. Personally, I believe this was a testament to the true fault in his faith. Though a complete nonconformist, Nestorius was intelligent enough to use his power to influence laymen toward his ideologies. Understandably, many fell prey to his captivating sacrilege.


For Nestorius, these were quite the bold statements to make. In vehemently disagreeing with him, there came the courageous warrior the faith had been waiting for: Saint Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, Pillar of the Faith. St. Cyril was taught under his uncle, Pope Theophilus of Alexandria. At the famous Catechetical School of Alexandria, under Theophilus, Cyril had built his theological foundation early on in life, receiving the formal Christian education of the day and naturally prepared to take on those who spoke falsities. Known by his eloquence, fluency, and persuasiveness, Cyril was enthroned as Patriarch of Alexandria upon the death of his uncle. Soon after, the world had been illumined with his knowledge and special devotion towards the resistance of paganism and defense of the faith.


Upon receiving news of Nestorius’ heresy, Cyril sent him a letter of protest, but was met with haughtiness and contempt. In a second letter, again affirming his stance, Cyril I also included an explanation of the Nicene Creed—and, yet again, was greeted with stubbornness, as Nestorius insisted on his false teachings. St. Cyril’s simple concept behind the unity of Christ’s personhood. In realizing the graveness of this situation, the Council of Ephesus—a 200-person council led by none other than Cyril I himself—was convened in 431 AD to refute Nestorius.


Then came the biggest question: would Nestorius prevail? With an astounding “no”: Nestorius was promptly stripped of his ecclesiastical jurisdiction in that same year and excommunicated twenty years later. The effects of the Council of Ephesus and the Nestorian malaise still hold to this day; the essence of the Nicene Creed permeates throughout all of Christendom, affirming the Christian faith through the belief of the singular personhood of Christ. Though there exists a multitude of schisms of Christianity, the Nicene Creed is that which unifies us all.


What is there to learn from the Council of Ephesus, you may ask? As the church, the bride of Christ, we must present ourselves to Him as those who are without blemish. We, the congregation, are viewed as the functioning organs, limbs, and convoluted systems of this unified body.


Unfortunately, divisiveness and corruption run rampant in theological dissention; members of a certain sect may very well disagree with fellow brothers and sisters, despite seemingly believing in the same ideologies. Undoubtedly, it will take several years for this theoretical unification of the Churches. The Catholic Church, under Pope Francis, has made strides in recent years to unify the world under Christ; that is the exemplification of the humility and universal compassion we should all share. Nevertheless, we would only hope to have a fraction of St. Cyril’s zeal for the faith and defend our causes; in the words of St. Paul, “…I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).


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