Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 38

At the end of June 431 CE, John of Antioch and the Syrian delegates arrived late for the Council of Ephesus. Cyril of Alexandria had started the council, and trial of John’s friend Nestorius, five days before he arrived. The council ruled the proper name for Mary was Theotokos, birth-giver of God, and declared Nestorius a heretic who tried to split Christ’s divine and human natures. Nestorius, wisely or petulantly, refused to appear when summoned by the council, and was tried and sentenced while hiding in his quarters. 

John and Nestorius held their own mini council then and there. They had the head of the palace guard preside and asked papal legates to rule. John accused Cyril of Arianism and other established heresies, and he charged Memnon, Bishop of Ephesus with denying Nestorius access to churches for worship and with enciting violence from the people of Ephesus against Nestorius. The bishops assembled at this council despised Cyril and Memnon, and voted to condemn them both.

When word of all this reached the devout Roman Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II, he made the rather extraordinary decision to ratify the deposition rulings of both councils. Cyril, Memnon, and John all were deposed from their church ranks. He was eventually persuaded to accept Cyril’s as the true council in all other respects – accepting that council’s condemnation of Nestorianism and Pelagianism as heresies against the Catholic faith. Nestorius asked permission to retire at his former monastery and was granted it, a kind fate possibly enabled by his prior friendship with Theodosius. 

The Persian church had declared itself separate from the Byzantine and all other churches in 424 CE. This was to avoid charges of international collusion from their own government, which was at frequent war with the Byzantines and primarily followed the Zoroastrian faith. Persian Christians adopted Nestorian teachings. In 489 Byzantine Emperor Zeno closed the School of Edessa for Nestorian teaching; it relocated to Persia becoming the School of Nisbis, leading to further Nestorian migration into Persia. 

Further reading 

McGuckin, John Anthony (2004). Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy. St. Vladimir Seminary Press. 

Catholic Encyclopedia – Council of Ephesus 

Kelly, Joseph (2009). The ecumenical councils of the Catholic Church: a history. Liturgical Press. 

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