Author Topic: Did Classical Nestorianism Actually Exist?  (Read 396 times)

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Offline xOrthodox4Christx

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Did Classical Nestorianism Actually Exist?
« on: March 11, 2017, 03:37:32 AM »
Recently, I've come to question that the Assyrian Church and those that held to what we call "Nestorian" Christology really believed what was claimed of them. In effect, what was claimed is that they denied the incarnation by dividing Christ into two natures (or hypostases depending on what terminology you prefer,) and rejecting that he was born of the Mother of God, and that he didn't suffer and die as the God-man but merely as a man.

Is there any indication that this isn't the case? How do we quantify and deconstruct what is defined as Nestorian, and thus heretical, and what is defined as Orthodox? In a sense, I guess I'm asking the following question: was classical Nestorianism, not explicitly heretical, but only made out to be heretical merely because the terminology and explanations they used were suspect and/or construed in ways which were obviously heretical?

I don't see the problem of saying one, two etc. natures, hypostases as long as the understanding is shared. Where or when was it precisely or adequately understood that Nestorius etc. was teaching heresy as such, and not merely illustrating a common theological opinion in a unconventional way? Is it merely because he anathematized those who used Theotokos?
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Online Vanhyo

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Re: Did Classical Nestorianism Actually Exist?
« Reply #1 on: March 16, 2017, 03:23:35 PM »
Classical nestorianism is:

Denying the title of Theotokos to the Mother of God and calling her only Christotokos. From this point on, the next philosophy was developed, that she gave birth only to Christ the human messiah, who is somehow connected to the word of God but is another hypostasis.
« Last Edit: March 16, 2017, 03:27:16 PM by Vanhyo »

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Re: Did Classical Nestorianism Actually Exist?
« Reply #2 on: March 16, 2017, 05:11:44 PM »
I think you are raising a good question in the OP. Currently, many EOs are reevaluating their relationship to the OOs, with many saying that there is just an issue about the meaning of concepts of natures. Maybe one day something similar will happen with Nestorians, where EOs will increasingly question the issue, involving meanings of words like hypostasis.

In the Bible, hypostasis means substance. Hypo-Sub, Stasis=Standing. Anastasis, resurrection, means literally "standing again".
Heb 11:1: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
In Latin and English, we say that Christ is "consubstantial" both with the father (see eg. Nicene Creed) and with humanity. "Substance" here is used interchangeably with "essence". In the EO theology, Christ has two "essences" and "substances".

This issue opens up the possibility for an interesting line of reasoning. Just as some OOs go into the explanation that by "nature" they mean "hypostasis", Nestorians might go into an explanation that by "hypostasis" they mean substance. The EO polemic about Nestorians has been that by teaching two "hypostases", they teach in effect two persons. However, for their part, they have claimed that they do not teach two separated persons.

So I think that move reevaluation of this may happen, with an openness to look at these kinds of questions in different ways. For example, if one says that Jesus is God's Word and Man, it does not mean that he is two separated persons, even though the Logos is a person and a Man is a person. To make the underlined statement is not necessarily to imply that they are two separated persons, but maybe someone reading that statement could make that mistaken conclusion.

I think that in order for you to approach this problem, you would want to review different Nestorian writings and also talk with members of the ACOE about how they understand those writings. I don't have a definitive answer to give you, however I think it's important to approach the problem in an open way. I do think that since some EO writings like Leo's Tome have been mistakenly considered by its opponents to be dividing Christ, that it raises the possibility in my mind that mistakes might have been made in assessments of Nestorians.

The other issue is that I can easily imagine that Nestorians did make some mistaken statements, but for whatever reason they did not actually believe the full implications of their mistaken claims. One reason I can imagine this is that theology and Christology was still developing its expressions in the 5th c. It had only been about a century and a half since Rome legalized Christianity. I sense that the meaning of the term "hypostasis" may have been much more flexible than it was after Chalcedon when "one hypostasis" was enshrined and associated closely with the concept of Person. Another reason I imagine this is that I have read statements by theologians where I think the statement is mistaken but that nonetheless the theologian in question does not actually believe the full implications of the mistake.

As for the issue of the name "Theotokos", Blessed Theodoret who was accused of being Nestorian would say that Mary gave birth to Jesus who was the same person as God, but he didn't want to accept this term because he didn't want to have a mistaken Theopaschitism, confusing the role of a human mother with that of a goddess mother. That is, he wanted to retain the distinction of the humanity and divinity and their respective experiences, although he was ultimately able to find Theotokos acceptable. Perhaps Nestorians would have a similar explanation. So the issue in a spirit analogous to what some have had in EO-OO reconciliation, would be whether this is only a "terminological" difference, or did they actually think that the person who was Christ the Logos was not born of the person who was Mary. It seems more likely to me that the issue would be more likely classed as terminological.

In The Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, John Anthony McGuckin writes:
Quote
Nestorius himself, arguably, did not actually teach a two separate person Christology as much as he was “heard” to teach one by the Alexandrian theologians. He himself was under the impression that he was representing the traditional Christology of Syria as exemplified in Diodore's and Theodore's Christologies, which stressed the need to preserve the distinct integrity of the two natures (divine and human) in Christ.

One of the nicer things to me about the Assyrian church, although not its theology, is that AFAIK they did not persecute the Orthodox, unlike, say, the Easter Catholics and Crusaders with regard to the Orthodox under their rule.

The Roman Catholic church has reconciliation statements with the Nestorians:
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Because it formally adopted "Nestorian" Christology in the fifth century, the Assyrian Church of the East is not in full communion with any other church. Its relationship with the Oriental Orthodox churches is tense due to differences between them in the area of Christology. The Christology of the Assyrian Church of the East emphasizes the distinctiveness of Christ's humanity and divinity. The Christology of the Oriental Orthodox emphasizes the unity of those same elements. ... In 1994, Pope John Paul II and Church of the East Catholicos-Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV signed a Common Declaration, declaring that their Christological differences were not church-dividing, and that the distinctive traditions of each church are legitimate.
https://www.apostolicpilgrimage.org/-/what-divides-us

The declaration states:
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we confess one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten of the Father from all eternity who, in the fullness of time, came down from heaven and became man for our salvation. The Word of God, second Person of the Holy Trinity, became incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit in assuming from the holy Virgin Mary a body animated by a rational soul, with which he was indissolubly united from the moment of his conception.

Therefore our Lord Jesus Christ is true God and true man, perfect in his divinity and perfect in his humanity, consubstantial with the Father and consubstantial with us in all things but sin. His divinity and his humanity are united in one person, without confusion or change, without division or separation. Christ therefore is not an " ordinary man" whom God adopted in order to reside in him and inspire him, as in the righteous ones and the prophets. But the same God the Word, begotten of his Father before all worlds without beginning according to his divinity, was born of a mother without a father in the last times according to his humanity. The humanity to which the Blessed Virgin Mary gave birth always was that of the Son of God himself. That is the reason why the Assyrian Church of the East is praying the Virgin Mary as "the Mother of Christ our God and Saviour".
http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/documents/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_11111994_assyrian-church_en.html
The declaration goes on at length in this vein and it looks hard to ascribe to it the view that Christ and the Logos are two separated persons.

A post regarding the OO Church's relations with the Assyrian Church is here:
http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,71108.new.html#new
« Last Edit: March 16, 2017, 05:20:31 PM by rakovsky »
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Offline RaphaCam

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Re: Did Classical Nestorianism Actually Exist?
« Reply #3 on: March 16, 2017, 05:15:56 PM »
I've been wondering if Nestorianism (and crypto-Nestorianism) doesn't go all down to denying that Christ's flesh is God, that is, that Christ's human nature was completely deified.
« Last Edit: March 16, 2017, 05:18:02 PM by RaphaCam »
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Re: Did Classical Nestorianism Actually Exist?
« Reply #4 on: March 16, 2017, 05:31:04 PM »
I've been wondering if Nestorianism (and crypto-Nestorianism) doesn't go all down to denying that Christ's flesh is God, that is, that Christ's human nature was completely deified.
Well, humans have only a human nature and substance, yet humans can undergo theosis, so I don't know why having two hypostases in the sense of natures and substances would mean that someone like Christ would not undergo theosis.
On one hand, Christians argue that (A) Christ is God, God is in three persons, but we, our own persons, are not God Himself.

Meanwhile, Christians also recognize (B) the Bible's statement "I will make you gods". The EO teaching of deification matches this statement, and as it's in the Bible (actually both OT and NT), then even Nestorians must accept it.

If Nestorians chose to argue against the terminology of deification, and if we are open to the claim that differences even over important terms (two natures, two essences, etc.) can be just terminological, then it also opens the possibility that they are making a terminological argument whereas in substance they accept the Christian concepts of both A and B above.
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Re: Did Classical Nestorianism Actually Exist?
« Reply #5 on: March 16, 2017, 05:56:50 PM »
The Russian Church has dialogue with the Assyrian Church:
http://news.assyrianchurch.org/first-session-of-the-commission-for-bilateral-dialogue-between-the-russian-orthodox-church-and-the-assyrian-church-of-the-east/

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the Russian Orthodox Church has special historical and ecclesiastical reasons and grounds to promote the success of the dialogue with the Oriental Orthodox Churches. Our Church throughout her history has protected and defended the Orthodox East. An obvious example are the activities of the Imperial Palestine Society and of the Russian Orthodox Mission in Jerusalem, the works of Bishop Kyrill Naumov and Archimandrite Antonin Kapustin, the activities of Bishop Porfiry Uspensky in the cause of the reunion with the Coptic Church, of Prof. V. Bolotov of reunion with the Urmi Assyrian Nestorians, and of Prof. B. Turaev on the rapprochment with the Ethiopian Church.
https://orthodoxjointcommission.wordpress.com/category/official-statements/

There was also a case where a large Assyrian community was brought into ROCOR and it persists in Georgia: http://www.rocorstudies.org/2015/05/17/abun-mar-elia-abraham-1858-1928-of-supurgansk-and-urmia-2/

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