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Updated: Mar 3

February 11, 2024

This week we move on in our journey through the heresies. We will be looking at a particularly interesting situation – the rise of a heresy and then the rise of a heresy to combat heresy. A textbook example of how uncontrolled or unmitigated zeal can lead one astray. To start, we are going to look at the heresy of Nestorianism. This heresy rises in the 5th century, in the wake of the Arian heresy ( which stated that Christ was created, not eternal and divine). This heresy plagues the Eastern part of the Church in particular and is named after a priest and monk, Nestorius who started the heresy after he was appointed patriarch of Constantinople.

On Christmas day in year 428, he preached from the pulpit of the cathedral the first sermon supporting the heresy. Nestorius objected to the belief that Mary is the “Theotokos” the “God-bearer”. The Church has always taught and believed, from the words of the Archangel Gabriel during the Annunciation, that Mary would give birth to the Son of God, so she is in fullness, the Mother of God, the Theotokos. Basically, Nestorius taught a radical form of dyophysitism which in its essence is the Christological position that two natures, divine and human, co-exist in the unique person of Jesus Christ God. However it differed from orthodox dyophysitism on several points, mainly by opposition to the concept of hypostatic union. While this might not seem like much at first glance, it is of extreme importance in understanding who Jesus Christ is. The Church has always believed that the human and Divine natures if Christ were joined together in the Incarnation and has termed that union as the “hypostatic union”. This is, in the most basic terms, is the belief that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man. He is simultaneously perfectly divine and perfectly human, having two complete and distinct natures at once. These natures are joined, without one completely overpowering or destroying the other, due to the simple fact of the power of God.

Nestorius would not accept this union, instead supporting the idea that the natures are loosely united, meaning that Mary was only the mother of Christ’s human nature and that the divine nature just kind of took up residence in or assumed the human nature and therefore only Christ’s human nature was on the cross fully as well.

He made the mistake of thinking that if we call Mary the Mother of God, then we are implying that the divine nature took its beginning form Mary and therefore she is some sort of goddess. This was a grave misunderstanding, as the fact is that Christ is the Son of God who was born of the Virgin Mary. His two natures were united at the moment of conception and therefore, when Mary gave birth, she was literally giving birth to the Son of God incarnate. Note that she was not the source of the Divine nature though. The Church stated in 431 at the Council of Ephesus and formally defined that - Mary can be properly referred to as the Mother of God (Theotokos), not in the sense that she is older than God or the source of God, but in the sense that the person she carried in her womb was, in fact, God incarnate (“in the flesh”).The heresy of Nestorianism ended up giving rise to another heresy – Monophysitism – which we shall look at later.

God love you,

Fr. Anthony

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