The Nestorians and their Rituals/Volume 2/Chapter 25

CHAPTER XXV.

OF THE AUTHORITY OF GENERAL COUNCILS.

"General councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of princes. And when they be gathered together, (forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and Word of God,) they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture."—Article XXI.

I have not been able to find any authoritative declaration on the subject contained in the first clause of this article, but Mar Abd Yeshua speaks approvingly of the convention of the Councils of Nice and Chalcedon by the Eastern Emperors. With respect to the former he thus writes: "The œcumenical council of the 318 was convened by order of the good and Christ-loving Emperor and Saint Constantine, in the year of Alexander, 636, and by proofs adduced from the Holy Scriptures, they decreed, interpreted, enlightened, disclosed, manifested, and confirmed, the orthodox faith." And with respect to the latter he says: "Tumult and confusion went on increasing until the zealous and Christ-loving Marcion undertook to convene the great council of the 632 in the town of Chalcedon, and commanded that both parties should be examined and judged, and that whosoever should not follow the truth and faith as declared by this Council should be expelled the Church," See Appendix B, Part III., c. 4. It is to me a matter of great surprise that the Nestorian rituals contain no formal condemnation of the Council of Ephesus. The excommunication of Nestorius is frequently referred to and censured, but no mention whatever is made of the Council which expelled him from the Church.[1] The above admission, however, that the Council of Chalcedon was rightly convened; and by its constitution could justly lay claim to the title of "œcumenical," and withal their rejection of some of its decrees, is sufficient proof that the Nestorians believe that such councils "may err, and have erred, in things pertaining to God."31

The same doctrine may be inferred from the following extract: "O thou who hast been affianced to Christ, seek not after another bridegroom, for He is the true Bridegroom who has been from everlasting, and shall exist for ever. He has given thee His body to be thy food, and His truth for thy faith; exchange it not with any other, lest He become thine adversary. The jealousy of Him Who has affianced thee is great; prove thou faithful to His love lest He write thy bill of divorcement, and thou become a derision unto all those who are called to thy wedding. The wedding of a mortal bridegroom comes to an end after three days; but if thou wilt, thy wedding shall last from this time forth and for ever." From the service appointed in the Khudhra for the first Sunday of the "Sanctification of the Church."

The Nestorians, however, maintain that the Church founded by Christ can never fail from off the earth. On this subject the author of the Warda, in a poem on the Resurrection, writes: "Let the believing Church rejoice, because He Who has affianced her has truly risen, and has so raised her and her children that they cannot fall." And again: "Blessed is He who through His Name founded His Church, and promised and confirmed to Peter, that the bars of hell, which are of old, shall never prevail against her." From the service in the Khudhra for the first Sunday of the "Sanctification of the Church."

  1. The following is the fullest Nestorian account of the Council of Ephesus which I have met with. It is taken from a rare Arabic work, written in Syriac characters, entitled the Epistle of Presbyter Sleewa ibn Yohanan, of Mosul, dated a.d. 1332. It is useless to point out its numberless mistakes:—

    "How the Easterns came to be styled Nestorians.

    "… When Nestorius was raised to the patriarchate of Constantinople the Western fathers wrote to inform us of his election and orthodoxy, and how that the Holy Ghost bare witness openly to his sanctity, and they requested of us to commemorate him as we had commemorated those before him, and they also sent us by the same messenger his creed and liturgy written with his own hand. These we found to be agreeable to the truth, and therefore according to their request and testimony we confirmed to him the afore-mentioned virtues. About this time Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, drew up a creed after his own notions, which he styled the Twelve Sentences; these he sent to Nestorius for his sanction, in order that they might have free course. Nestorius, however, refused to confirm them, on the ground that their contents involved several contradictions, which made it impossible for him to receive them. This refusal greatly incensed Cyril, who from fear forbore to answer; but from this circumstance great disagreement rose between them, and Cyril became the enemy of Nestorius, being abetted in his enmity by the Empress Eudoxia, whom the Patriarch of Constantinople had expelled the Church, and had prohibited all women from associating with her. After much disputation it was decided that a council should be assembled at Ephesus, in which by common consent John, the Patriarch of Antioch, was called to preside, and a summons was accordingly sent to him to this effect. When Cyril reached Ephesus he sent to Nestorius, ordering him to appear; but Nestorius replied that it was useless for him to be present before the arrival of the president, but that he would come without fail as soon as he arrived. About this time a letter was received from John promising to attend, he having written to certain Eastern Bishops to accompany him in behalf of this matter, and as many as seventy obeyed his summons, and took their departure for Ephesus. On their arrival they found that Cyril had not waited for them, but depending upon the strength of his party, had assembled the Bishops who were with him, and before the appearance of John and his company had excommunicated Nestorius. When John and the Bishops who were with him heard what had taken place, they refused to give their assent to the decision passed, maintaining that it was not right that an adversary should be judge, and that the judgment of such was invalid; he moreover wrote to the Emperor, stating that he had inquired into all that had taken place between Nestorius and his adversary, and had found him innocent of the charges preferred against him, and that he had been greatly wronged, not being in fault. He then excommunicated Cyril and his party, and wrote an epistle to the Patriarch of the East, informing him of all that had occurred. Accordingly the Church in these parts received his sayings, which were thenceforth confessed among them; and when the Eastern Bishops returned, they also confirmed to the Patriarch all these things.

    "Some time afterwards Cyril wrote to the Fathers of the East, calling upon them to excommunicate and anathematize Nestorius; but they refused, and sent an answer to this effect: You must know that excommunication and cursing are deemed unbecoming by us, neither are they allowed in our Church, since they contradict the declaration of our Lord in His holy Gospel: ' Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them who despitefully use you, and pray for them who persecute you, that you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.' This we hold to be an irrevocable decree, which it does not become any believer to transgress or set at nought. … Hence we maintain that it is our duty to follow the example of our Lord and His Apostles rather than your sayings. As to your demanding of us to receive the Sentences which you have drawn up, be it known unto you that these must either be in accordance with the Gospel,30 or opposed thereto. If the former, we have already received, and do revere the Gospel, and need not to receive it a second time from another quarter; if the latter, it is not right that we should receive them, for what is not of the Gospel, or not conformable to the words spoken by the Apostles, ought not to be received, and we cannot receive your Sentences for the following reasons: 1. Because what you have written therein leads to monophysitism, whereas we believe in two natures [in Christ]. 2. These Sentences must be agreeable to the faith which we have already received, or contrary to it; if the former, we need them not; if the latter, they are either superfluous or defective. If superfluous, their superfluity destroys their truth; if defective, their deficiency equally corrupts it. 3. The creed which we hold is that which has been handed down to us from the holy Apostles, whose disciples we are, and we may not substitute any other for that which we have received from them, neither may we change their language; hence we cannot add aught to this Creed, since Paul the Apostle has said: 'If an angel from heaven,' &c., and this sentence he repeated twice, and it contains an awful anathema.'

    "When Cyril received this epistle he was greatly vexed, and repented of having written to them at all, and hastily declared that the reason why the Easterns were opposed to him was on account of their attachment to Nestorius. Had he judged truly he would not have come to so vain a conclusion, for Nestorius himself was not an Eastern, his language moreover was different to theirs, and betwixt him and them there was a wide sea, and every intelligent person must know that Alexandria is nearer to Baghdad than Constantinople, and that the two former places are on the same continent, and that fellowship and agreement are more likely to exist betwixt those who are near to one another than betwixt those who are at a great remove from each other.

    "The next person who affixed the epithet of 'Nestorians' upon the Easterns was Dioscorus, Cyril's nephew, who succeeded him in the patriarchate of Alexandria. Dioscorus entered into a compact with Eutyches, an abbot of Constantinople, to spread abroad the doctrine of the one nature, Eutyches having persuaded Theodosius the Younger to adopt his opinions, and to convene a council at Ephesus. At this were present Leo, Patriarch of Rome; Damianus, Patriarch of Antioch; Biblianus, Patriarch of Jerusalem; Dioscorus, Patriarch of Alexandria; and other Bishops. Through the influence of the Emperor the party of Dioscorus prevailed, for he abetted Eutyches, because Eutyches supported the views of his uncle and his own opinions, and he excommunicated all in the synod who opposed him, and took from them their dignity. Moreover, he and Eutyches wrote a decree, that if any should maintain that after the Union there was other than one Person and one Nature, he should be excommunicated, and whosoever did not receive the Twelve Sentences drawn up by Cyril, should in like manner be expelled the Church. Dioscorus wrote also on this wise to Yeshua, Patriarch of the East, and attempted to force his acceptance of the decree; but he sent him an answer which greatly incensed and effectually silenced him. And because he could not reply to what the Patriarch had written, he spread abroad the report that the Easterns were one with Nestorius, and therefore were to be called 'Nestorians.' And this name has been applied to them from that day up to the present time, and they find it difficult to cast it off, and cannot get rid of it, although they dislike it, because it takes its rise from a man who was not one of them, whom they never saw, one who was not of their language, neither their Patriarch, who was young and they old in the faith."