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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary


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The followers of Nestorius, the bishop of Constantinople, who lived in the fifth century. They believed that in Christ there were not only two natures, but two persons; of which the one was divine, even the eternal word; and the other, which was human, was the man Jesus: that these two persons had only one aspect: that the union between the Son of God and the son of man was formed in the moment of the virgin's conception, and was never to be dissolved: that it was not, however, an union of nature or of person, but only of will and affection. (Nestorius, however, it is said, denied the last position:) that Christ was therefore to be carefully distinguished from God, who dwelt in him as in his temple; and that Mary was to be called the mother of Christ, and not the mother of God. One of the chief promoters of the Nestorian cause was Barsumas, created bishop of Nisibis, A. D. 435. Such was his zeal and success, that the Nestorians who still remain in Chaldea, Persia, Assyria, and the adjacent countries, consider him alone as their parent and founder. By him Pherozes, the Persian monarch, was persuaded to expel those Christians who adopted the opinions of the Greeks, and to admit the Nestorians in their place, putting them in possession of the principal seat of ecclesiastical authority in Persia, the see of Selucia, which the patriarch of the Nestorians had always filled even down to our time. Barsumas also erected a school at Nisibis, from which proceeded those Nestorian doctors who in the fifth and sixth centuries spread abroad their tenets through Egypt, Syria, Arabia, India, Tartary, and China. In the tenth century, the Nestorians in Chaldea, whence they are sometimes called Chaldeans, extended their spiritual conquests beyond Mount Imaus, and introduced the Christian religion into Tartary properly so called, and especially into that country called Karit, bordering on the northern part of China.

The prince of that country, whom the Nestorians converted to the Christian faith, assumed, according to the vulgar tradition, the name of John after his baptism, to which he added the surname of Presbyter, from a principle of modesty; whence, it is said, his successors were each of them called Prester John until the time of Gengis Khan. But Mosheim observes, that the famous Prester John did not begin to reign in that part of Asia before the conclusion of the eleventh century. The Nestorians formed so considerable a body of Christians, that the missionaries of Rome were industrious in their endeavours to reduce them under the papal yoke. Innocent IV. in 1246, and Nicholas IV. in 1278, used their utmost efforts for this purpose, but without success. Till the time of pope Julius III. the Nestorians acknowledged but one patriarch, who resided first at Bagdad, and afterwards at Mousul; but a division arising among them, in 1551 the patriarchate became divided, at least for a time, and a new patriarch was consecrated by that pope, whose successors fixed their residence in the city of Ormus, in the mountainous parts of Persia, where they still continue, distinguished by the name of Simeon; and so far down as the seventeenth century, these patriarchs persevered in their communion with the church of Rome, but seem at present to have withdrawn themselves from it.

The great Nestorian pontiffs, who form the opposite party, and look with a hostile eye on this little patriarch, have, since the year 1559, been distinguished by the general denomination of Elias, and reside constantly in the city of Mousul. Their spiritual dominion is very extensive, takes in a great part of Asia, and comprehends also within its circuit the Arabian Nestorians, and also the Christians of St. Thomas, who dwell along the coast of Malabar. It is observed, to the lasting honour of the Nestorians, that of all the Christian societies established in the East, they have been the most careful and successful in avoiding a multitude of superstitious opinions and practices that have infected the Greek and Latin churches. About the middle of the seventeenth century, the Romish missionaries gained over to their communion a small number of Nestorians, whom they formed into a congregation or church; the patriarchs or bishops of which reside in the city of Amida, or Diarbeker, and all assume the denomination of Joseph. Nevertheless, the Nestorians in general persevere to our own times in their refusal to enter into the communion of the Romish church, notwithstanding the earnest entreaties and alluring offers that have been made by the pope's legate to conquer their inflexible constancy.

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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Nestorians'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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