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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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a denomination which arose in the fifth century, from Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople; a man of considerable learning and eloquence, and of an independent spirit. The Catholic clergy were fond of calling the Virgin Mary "Mother of God," to which Nestorius objected, as implying that she was mother of the divine nature, which he very properly denied; and this raised against him, from Cyril and others, the cry of heresy, and perhaps led him into some improper forms of expression and explication. It is generally agreed, however, by the moderns, that Nestorius showed a much better spirit in controversy than his antagonist, St. Cyril.

As to the doctrine of the trinity, it does not appear that Nestorius differed from his antagonists, admitting the coequality of the divine Persons; but he was charged with maintaining two distinct persons, as well as natures, in the mysterious character of Christ. This, however, he solemnly and constantly denied; and from this, as a foul reproach, he has been cleared by the moderns, and particularly by Martin Luther, who lays the whole blame of this controversy on the turbulent and angry Cyril. ( See HYPOSTATICAL UNION. ) The discordancy not only between the Nestorians and other Christians, but also among themselves, arose, no doubt, in a great measure, from the ambiguity of the Greek terms hypostasis and prosopon. The councils assembled at Seleucia on this occasion decreed that in Christ there were two h y postases. But this word, unhappily, was used both for person and subsistence, or existence; hence the difficulty and ambiguity: and of these hypostases it is said the one was divine, and the other human;—the divine Word, and the man Jesus. Now of these two hypostases it is added, they had only one barsopa, the original term used by Nestorius, and usually translated by the Greeks, "person;" but to avoid the appearance of an express contradiction, Dr. Mosheim translates this barbarous word "aspect," as meaning a union of will and affection, rather than of nature or of person. And thus the Nestorians are charged with rejecting the union of two natures in one person, from their peculiar manner of expressing themselves, though they absolutely denied the charge.

In the earliest ages of Nestorianism, the various branches of that numerous and powerful sect were under the spiritual jurisdiction of the Catholic patriarch of Babylon,—a vague appellation which has been successively applied to the sees of Seleucia, Ctesiphon, and Bagdad,—but who now resides at Mousul. In the sixteenth century the Nestorians were divided into two sects; for in 1551 a warm dispute arose among them about the creation of a new patriarch, Simeon Barmamas, or Barmana, being proposed by one party, and Sulaka, otherwise named Siud, earnestly desired by the other; when the latter, to support his pretensions the more effectually, repaired to Rome, and was consecrated patriarch in 1553, by Pope Julius III, whose jurisdiction he had acknowledged, and to whose commands he had promised unlimited submission and obedience. Upon this new Chaldean patriarch's return to his own country, Julius sent with him several persons skilled in the Syriac language, to assist him in establishing and extending the papal empire among the Nestorians; and from that time, that unhappy people have been divided into two factions, and have often been involved in the greatest dangers and difficulties, by the jarring sentiments and perpetual quarrels of their patriarchs. In 1555, Simeon Denha, archbishop of Gelu, adopted the party of the fugitive patriarch, who had embraced the communion of the Latin church; and, being afterward chosen patriarch himself, he fixed his residence in the city of Van, or Ormia, in the mountainous parts of Persia, where his successors still continue, and are all distinguished by the name of Simeon; but they seem of late to have withdrawn themselves from their communion with the church of Rome. The great Nestorian pontiffs who form the opposite party, and who have, since 1559, been distinguished by the general denomination of Elias, and reside constantly at Mousul, look with a hostile eye on this little patriarch; but since 1617 the bishops of Ormus have been in so low and declining a state, both in opulence and credit, that they are no longer in a condition to excite the envy of their brethren at Mousul, whose spiritual dominion is very extensive, taking in great part of Asia, and comprehending within its circuit the Arabian Nestorians, as also the Christians of St. Thomas, who dwell along the coast of Malabar.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Nestorians'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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