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Refutation of the Heresy of Nestorius, Who Taught That In Christ There Are Two Persons

1. Nestorius is not charged with any errors regarding the mystery of the Trinity. Among the other heresies which he combated in his Sermons, and to punish which he implored the Emperor Theodosius, was that of the Arians, who denied that the Word was consubstantial to the Father. We, therefore, have no reason to doubt that he acknowledged the Divinity of the Word, and his consubstantiality with the Father. His heresy particularly attacked the mystery of the Incarnation of the Divine Word, for he denied the hypostatic or Personal Union of the Word with the humanity. He maintained that the Word was only united with the humanity of Jesus Christ, just in the same way as with the Saints, only in a more perfect manner, and from the first moment of his conception. In his writings he explains this point over and over in different ways, but always only as a simple moral and accidental union between the Person of the Word and the humanity of Jesus Christ, but he never admits a hypostatic or personal union. At one time he said it was an union of habitation, that is, that the Word inhabited the humanity of Christ, as his temple; next it was, he said, an union of affection, such as exists between two friends. He then said it was an union of operation, inasmuch as the Word availed himself of the humanity of Christ as an instrument to work miracles, and other supernatural operations. Then that it was an union of Grace, because the Word, by means of sanctifying Grace and other Divine gifts, is united with Christ. Finally, he teaches that this union consists in a moral communication, by which the Word communicates his dignity and excellence to the humanity, and on this account the humanity of Christ should, he said, be adored and honoured, as we honour the purple of the Sovereign, or the throne on which he sits. He always denied with the most determined obstinacy, that the Son of God was made man, was born, suffered, or died for the redemption of man. Finally, he denied the communication of the Idioms, which follows from the Incarnation of the Word, and, consequently, he denied that the Blessed Virgin was truly and properly the Mother of God, blasphemously teaching that she only conceived and brought forth a mere man.  

2. This heresy saps the very foundation of the Christian Religion, by denying the mystery of the Incarnation, and we will attack it on its two principal points, the first of which consists in denying the hypostatic union, that is, the union of the Person of the Word with human nature, and, consequently, admits that there are two Persons in Christ the Person of the Word, which dwells in the humanity as in a temple, and the person of man, purely human, and which does not ascend to a higher degree than mere humanity. The second point consists in denying that the Blessed Virgin is truly and properly the Mother of God. These two points we will refute in the two following paragraphs.  


  3. Our first proof is taken from all those passages in the Scripture, in which it is said that God was made flesh, that God was born of a Virgin, that God emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, that God has redeemed us with his blood, that God died for us on the Cross. Every one knows that God could not be conceived, nor born, nor suffer, nor die. in his Divine Nature, which is eternal, impassible, and immortal; therefore, if the Scripture teaches us that God was born, and suffered, and died, we should understand it according to his human nature, which had a beginning, and was passible and mortal. And, therefore, if the Person in which the human nature subsists was not the Divine Word, St. Matthew would state what is false when he says that God was conceived and born of a Virgin: " Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the Prophet, saying: Behold a Virgin shall be with child and bring forth a Son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted, is God with us" (Matt, i, 22, 23). St. John expressly says the same thing: " The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John, i, 14.) The Apostle also would have stated a falsehood in saying that God humbled himself, taking the form of a servant: " For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men and in habit found as a man" (Phil, ii, 5 7.) St. John would also state what is not the fact, when he says that God died for us: "In this we have known the charity of God, because he hath laid down his life for us" (I. John, iii, 6); and St. Paul says: " The Holy Ghost placed you Bishops to rule the Church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood" (Acts, xx, 18); and speaking of the death of our Redeemer, he says: " For if they had known it, they never would have crucified the Lord of glory" (I Cor. ii, 8.)  

4. Now it would be false to speak of God in that manner, if God only inhabited the humanity of Jesus Christ accidentally, as a temple, or morally, through affection, or was not united hypostatically or personally, just as it would be false to say that God was born of St. Elizabeth, when she brought forth the Baptist, in whom God inhabited before his birth, by sanctifying grace, and it would be false to say that God died stoned when St. Stephen was stoned to death, or that he died beheaded when St. Paul was beheaded, because he was united to these Saints through the medium of love, and of the many heavenly gifts he bestowed on them, so that between them and God there existed a true moral union. When, therefore, it is said that God was born and died, the reason is because the Person sustaining and terminating the assumed humanity is truly God, that is the eternal Word. There is, therefore, in Christ but one Person, in which two Natures subsist, and in the unity of the Person of the Word, which terminates the two natures, consists the hypostatic union.  

5. This truth is also proved, secondly, from those passages of the Scriptures in which Christ-Man is called God, the Son of God, the only begotten Son, the proper Son of God, for a man cannot be called God or Son of God, unless the person who terminates the human nature is truly God. Now Christ-Man is called the supreme God by St. Paul: " And of whom is Christ according to the flesh, who is over all things God blessed for ever" (Rom. xix, 5). We read in St. Matthew that Christ himself, after calling himself the Son of Man asked his disciples whom do they believe him to be, and St. Peter answers that he is the Son of the living God: " Jesus saith to them, but whom do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven" (Matt, xvi, 1517). Then Jesus himself, at the very time that he calls himself man, approves of Peter’s answer, who calls him the Son of God, and says that this answer was revealed to him by his eternal Father. Besides, we read in St. Matthew (iii, 17), St. Luke (ix, 13), and St. Mark (i, 11), that Christ, while he was actually receiving Baptism as man from St. John, was called by God his beloved Son: " This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." St. Peter tells us that in Mount Thabor the Eternal Father spoke the same words: " For, he received from God the Father, honour and glory; this voice coming down to him from the excellent glory: This is my beloved Son, in whom I have pleased myself, hear ye him" (II. Pet. i, 17). Christ, as man, is called the only begotten Son of the Eternal Father, by St. John: " The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him" (John, i, 18). As man alone, he is called God’s own Son: " He spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all" (Rom. viii, 32). After so many proofs from the Holy Scriptures, who will be rash enough to deny that the man Christ is truly God? 

6. The Divinity of Jesus Christ is proved from all these passages of the Scriptures, in which that which can only be attributed to God is attributed to the Person of Christ-Man, and from thence we conclude that this Person, in which the two Natures subsist, is true God. Jesus, speaking of himself, says: " I and the Father are one" (John, x, 30); and in the same place he says:  " The Father is in me, and I in the Father" (ver. 38). In another passage we read that St. Philip, one day speaking with Jesus Christ, said: " Lord, show us the Father," and our Lord answered: * So long a time have I been with thee, and have you not known me? Philip, he that seeth me seeth the Father also. Believe you not that I am in the Father and the Father in me?" (John, xiv, 8 11). By these words Christ showed he was the same God as the Father. Christ himself said to the Jews that he was eternal: " Amen, amen, I say unto you, before Abraham was I am" (John, vii, 58); and he says, also, that he works the same as the Father:  "My Father worketh until now, and I work for what things soever he doth, these the Son also doth in like manner" (John, v, 17). He also says: " All things whatsoever the Father hath are mine" (John, xvi, 15). Now, if Christ was not true God all these sayings would be blasphemous, attributing to himself what belongs to God alone.  

7. The Divinity of Christ-Man is proved from those other passages of the Scriptures, in which it is said that the Word, or the Son of God, became incarnate: " The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us" (John, i, 14); "For God so loved the world as to give his only begotten Son" (John, iii, 16); " He spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for all of us" (Rom. viii, 32). Now, if the Person of the Word was not hypostatically united that is, in one Person with the humanity of Christ it could not be said that the Word was incarnate, and was sent by the Father to redeem the world, because if this personal union did not exist between the Word and the humanity of Christ, there would be only a moral union of habitation, or affection, or Grace, or gifts, or operation, and in this sense we might say that the Father and the Holy Ghost became incarnate also, for all these sorts of unions are not peculiar to the Person of the Word alone, but to the Father and the Holy Ghost, likewise, for God is united in this manner with the Angels and Saints. God has frequently sent Angels as his ambassadors; but, as St. Paul says, our Lord has never taken the nature of angels: " For no where doth he take hold of the angels, but of the seed of Abraham he taketh hold" (Heb. ii, 16). 

Thus, if Nestorius means to assert that unions of this sort are sufficient to enable us to say that the Word was incarnate, we should also say that the Father was incarnate, for the Father, by his Graces and his heavenly gifts, was united with, and morally dwelt in, Jesus Christ, according to what our Lord himself says: " The Father is in me the Father remaining in me" (John, xiv, 10). We should also admit that the Holy Ghost became incarnate, for Isaias, speaking of the Messiah, says: " The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding" (Isaias, xi, 2). And in St. Luke it is said, that " Jesus was full of the Holy Ghost" (Luke, iv, 1). In fine, according to this explanation, every Saint or holy person who loves God could be called the Incarnate Word, for our Saviour says: " If any one love me my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and will make our abode with him" (John, xiv, 23). Thus Nestorius should admit, either that the Word is not incarnate, or that the Father and the Holy Ghost are incarnate. This was the unanswerable argument of St. Cyril (1): " Quod unus sit Christus, ejusmodi in habitatione Verbum non fieret caro, sed potius hominis incola; et conveniens fuerit ilium non hominem, sed humanum vocare, quemadmodum et qui Nazareth inhabitavit, Nazarenus dictus est, non Nazareth. Quinimo nihil prorsus obstiterit hominem vocari una cum Filio etiam Patrem, et Spiritum Sanctum, habitavit enim in nobis." (I) St. Cyril, Dial. 9.  

8. I might here add all those texts of Scripture in which Christ is spoken of as only one Person subsisting in two Natures, as in St. Paul: " One Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things," &c. (I. Cor. viii, 6), and several other texts of like import. If Nestorius insisted that there were two Persons in Christ, he makes out not one, but two Lords one, the Person of the Word which dwells in Christ, and the other the human Person. I will not detain the reader, however, by quoting more Scriptural authorities, for every proof of the Incarnation upsets the whole structure of Nestorianism.  

9. We now come to Tradition, which has always taught the Faith of the unity of the Person of Jesus Christ in the Incarnation of the Word. In the Apostles Creed, taught by the Apostles themselves, we say, we believe " in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived of the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary." Now, the same Jesus Christ who was conceived, born, and died, is the only Son of God, our Lord; but that would not be the case, if in Christ, as Nestorius taught, there was not only a Divine, but a human Person, because he who was born and died would not have been the only Son of God, but a mere man.  

10. This profession of Faith is laid down more amply in the Nicene Creed, in which the Fathers defined the Divinity of Jesus Christ, and his consubstantiality with the Father, and thus condemned the heresy of Nestorius, even before it sprung up: " We believe," say the Fathers, " in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only begotten Son of the Father, that is, of the substance of the Father, God of God, light of light, true God of true God, born, not made, consubstantial to the Father, by whom all things were made, both those in heaven and those on the earth, who for us men, and for our salvation, descended and was incarnate, and was made man; he suffered and arose the third day," &c. Behold, therefore, how Jesus Christ alone, who is called God, the only begotten of the Father, and consubstantial to the Father, is called man, who was born, died, and rose again. This same Symbol was approved of by the Second General Council, that is, the first of Constantinople, which was also held before Nestorius promulgated his blasphemies; and according to the same Symbol of Nice, he was condemned in the Third General Council, that of Ephesus, which was held against his errors. In the Symbol attributed to St. Athanasius, the dogma is thus established in opposition to Nestorianism: " Our Lord Jesus Christ is God and man equal to the Father, according to his Divinity; less than the Father, according to his humanity; who, although he is God and man, these are not two, but one Christ one altogether not by the confusion of substance, but by Unity of the Person.  

11. Besides those Symbols, we have the authority of the Holy Fathers who wrote before the rise of this heresy. St. Ignatius the Martyr (2) says: " Singuli communiter omnes ex gratia nominatim convenientes in una Fide, et uno Jesu Christo, secundum camera ex genere Davidis, Filio hominis, et Filio Dei." See here how he mentions one Jesus Christ, the Son of man and the Son of God. St. Iræneus says (3): " Unum et eundem esse Verbum Dei, et hunc esse unigenitum, et hunc incarnatum pro salute nostra Jesum Christum." St. Dionisius of Alexandria, in a Synodical Epistle, refutes Paul of Samosata, who said that in Christ there were two Persons and two Sons; the one the Son of God, born before all ages; the other the Son of David, called Christ. St. Athanasius (4) says:  " Homo una Persona, et unum animal est ex spiritu et carne compositum, ad cujus similitudinem intelligendum est, Christum unam esse Personam, et non duas" that, as soul and body make but one person in man, so the Divine and human nature constitute but one Person in Christ. St. Gregory of Nazianzen (5) says: " Id quod non erat assumpsit, non quo factus, sed unum ex duobus fieri substinens; Deus enim ambo sunt id quod assumpsit, et quod est assumtum, naturæ duæ in unum concurrentes, non duo Filii." St. John Chrysostom (6) thus writes: " Etsi enim (in Christo) duplex natura; verumta men indivisibilis unio in una filiationis Persona, et substantial. (2) St. Ignat. Epis. ad Eph. n. 20. (3) St. Iren. l. 3, c. 26, al. 18, n. 2. (4) St. Athan l. de Inc Verb. n. 2. (5) St. Greg. Naz. Orat. 31.(6) St. Joan. Chry. Ep. ad Cæsar.  St. Ambrose (7) tersely explains: " Non alter ex Patre, alter ex Virgine, sed item aliter ex Patre, aliter ex Virgine." St. Jerome, opposing Elvidius, says, that " we believe that God was born of a virgin;" and in another place he says (8): " Anima et caro Christo cum Verbo Dei una Persona est, unus Christus."  

12. It would extend the work too much to quote more from the Holy Fathers, so I will pass on to the Decrees of Councils. The Council of Ephesus (9), after a mature examination of the Catholic dogma, by Scripture and Tradition, condemned Nestorius, and deposed him from the See of Constantinople. Here are the words of the Decree: " Dominus noster Jesu Christus quem suis ille blasphemis vocibus impetivit per Ss. hunc Synodum eundem Nestorium Episcopali dignitate privatum, et ab universo Sacerdotum consortio, et cœtu alienum esse definit." The Fourth General Council, that of Chalcedon, defined the same thing (Act. 5): "Sequentes igitur Ss. Patres, unum, eum demque confiteri Filium, et Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum consonanter omnes docemus, eundem perfectum in Deitate, et eundem perfectum in humanitate, Deum verum, et hominem verum non in duas personas partitum, aut divisum, sed unum eundemque Filium, et unigenitum Deum Verbum, Dominum Jesum Christum." The Third Council of Constantinople that is, the Sixth General Council defined the same doctrine in the last Action; and the Seventh General Council, that is, the Second of Nice, did the same in the Seventh Action.  


13. They object, first, certain passages of the Scripture, in which the humanity of Christ is called the temple and habitation of God: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up But he spoke of the temple of his body" (John, ii, 19 21). In another place it is said: " For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead corporeally" (Col. ii, 9). We answer, that in these texts the personal union of the Word with the human nature is not denied, but is even more strongly confirmed. Why should we be surprised that the body of Christ, hypostatically united with his soul to the Divine Word, should be called a temple? Why, even our body united to the soul is called a house and tabernacle: " For we know if our earthly house of this habitation be dissolved" (II. Cor. v, 1). And again (ver. 4): " For we also who are in this tabernacle do groan, being burthened." As, therefore, it is no argument against the personal union of the body and soul, to call the body a house and tabernacle, so calling the body of Christ a temple does not prove anything against the hypostatic union of the Word with the humanity of Christ; on the contrary, our Saviour even expresses this union himself in the words which follow: " In three days I will raise it up;" for by that he shows that he was not only man, but God. (7) St. Amb. De Incar. c. 5. (8) St. Hieron. trac. 49, in Joan. & seq. (9) Concil. Ephes. t. 3; Con. p. 115,  The Divinity of Christ is also clearly proved by the other text, in which St. Paul says that the followers of the Divinity dwelt bodily in him, thus declaring him to be at the same time true God and true man, according to the words of St. John: " The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us."  

14. They object, secondly, that text of the Epistle:  " Being made in the likeness of man, and in habit formed as a man" (Phil, ii, 7). According to that, they say that Christ was a man like unto all other men. We answer that in the previous part of the text the Apostle already answers this, for he shows that Christ was God and equal to God: " Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God." Therefore the words quoted only prove that the Divine Word being God was made man like unto other men, but that he was not a mere man like all other men.  

15. They object, thirdly, that every thing in nature ought to have its own peculiar subsistentia, but the subsistentia of human nature is a human person, therefore if in Christ there was not a human person he was not true man. We reply that this is not necessary, if there be a higher or more noble subsistentia, as was the case in Christ, where the Word sustained both Natures, and, therefore, though in Christ there was only the Divine Person of the Word, still he was true man, because the human nature subsisted in the Word itself.  

16. They object, fourthly, if the humanity of Christ consisted of both soul and body, it was complete and perfect; there was, therefore, in him a human person, besides the Divine Person. We answer, that the humanity of Christ was complete by reason of nature, for it wanted nothing, but not by reason of the Person, because the Person in which the Nature subsisted and was comprised was not a human but a Divine Person, and, therefore, we cannot say that there were two Persons in Christ, for one Person alone, that of the Word, sustains and comprises both the Divine and human Nature.  

17. They object, fifthly, that St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Athanasius have sometimes called the humanity of Christ the house, the domicile, and the temple of God the Word. Besides that, St. Athanasius, Eusebius of Ceserea, and St. Cyril himself, have spoken of it as the instrument of the Divinity. St. Basil calls Christ " Deiferous," the bearer of God. St. Epiphanius and St. Augustine, " Hominem Dominicum," and St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, in the " Te Deum," say that the Word assumed man. We answer, that the Fathers, as we have already seen, have clearly expressed that Christ is true God and true man, so that if there be any obscure passage in these words it is easily cleared up by many others. St. Basil calls Christ the God-bearing man, not because he admits a human person in Christ, but to quash the error of Apollinares, who denied that Christ had a rational soul, and the Holy Father only intended, therefore, to show by this expression that the Word assumed both a body and soul; when St. Ambrose and St. Augustine say that the Word assumed man, " assumpsit hominem," they only use the word " hominem" for human nature.  

18. We may as well also here refute the errors of the Bishops Felix and Elipandus, who taught (ch. v, n. 39), that Jesus Christ as man was not the natural, but only the adopted Son of God. This opinion was condemned by several Councils, and also by the Popes Adrian and Leo X. The learned Petavius (1) says that it is not actually heretical, but at all events it is rash, and approaching to error, for it is more or less opposed to the unity of the Person of Christ, who, even as man, should be called the natural, and not the adopted Son of God, lest we might be drawn in to admit that in Christ there were two Sons, one natural, and the other adopted. (1) Petav. l. 7, c. 4, n. 11, et c. 5, n. 8.  

There are, however, two reasons to prove that Christ as man should be called the natural Son of God; the more simple one is found in that passage of the Scriptures, in which the Father speaks of the eternal and continual generation of the Son: " Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee" (Psalms, ii, 7). Hence, as the Divine Son was generated previous to his Incarnation, without being personally united to human nature by the flesh, so when he took flesh he was generated, and is always generated, with human nature, hypostatically united to the Divine Person; and hence the Apostle, speaking of Christ as man, applies to him the text of David now quoted: " So Christ also did not glorify himself, that he might be made a high priest, but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee" (Heb. v, 5). Jesus Christ, therefore, even according to his humanity, is the true Natural Son of God (2). 

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