Another theologian who offered a way to understand the person of Christ was Nestorius. Nestorius was from the Antiochene school and he found himself at the center of a controversy when he declared that it was improper to refer to Mary as the theotokos, the "bearer of God." Instead, she should be called the christotokos, "the bearer of Christ." Protestants usually reject the notion of Mary as theotokos because of lack of understanding at what is at stake in the debate. Protestants have been taught to reject that Mary was the bearer of God because of what is assumed in reference to what it says about Mary-- it seems to elevate her to divine status. In fact, the issue was never about Mary. It was about Christ.
When Nestorius said that we should not talk of Mary as the bearer of God, he was asserting that a distinction needs to be made between Christ's divinity and his humanity. There are some things we can say about his humanity that we cannot say about his divinity, and vice-versa. Nestorius was trying to maintain an unqualified belief in the humanity of Jesus and maintain the integrity of his divinity as well. Calling Mary the bearer of God was like saying, so Nestorius thought, that God was two years old after Mary gave birth to Jesus.
Like Theodore, as with the others from the Antiochene school, Nestorius offered a solution that made clear distinctions between Christ's divinity and humanity. They were afraid that if such distinctions were not highlighted, then Christ's divinity would overwhelm his humanity and it would be impossible to speak of a Savior who was truly human.
Unlike Theodore, Nestorius said that, not only were their two natures in Christ, but two persons as well-- one divine and one human. The human nature and person were born to Mary, the divine was not. Nestorius also claimed that only the human person suffered on the cross. His opponents understood that this implied that humanity owed its salvation to a human being, not to God. They immediately saw the danger in dividing the Savior into two persons.
Chief among the adversaries of Nestorius was Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria. Cyril's position was that Christ had two natures in one person. His position sounds like much like Theodore, however, it was different in one crucial aspect: Cyril claimed that Christ's natures were united in one person. Thus, predicates belonging to one nature could be applied to the other. The technical term for this in Latin is communicatio idiomatum. Cyril believed that if the one person of Christ was strongly maintained, the two natures could be affirmed without creating a Jesus with two personalities.
The matter was officially brought to an end at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. It drafted, not a creed, but a definition of faith. The formulation does not seek to define the union between the two nature; it seeks to set limits, beyond which one falls into error. In other words, the Council put constraints of language on how one may speak of Christ's one person and two natures.
Previous Posts in the Series:
The Question of Christ in the Earliest Centuries #1
The Question of Christ in the Earliest Centuries #2
The Question of Christ in the Earliest Centuries #3
The Question of Christ in the Earliest Centuries #4
The Question of Christ in the Earliest Centuries #5