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The Nestorian Reaction


Opposition to Apollinarianism gave rise to the Nestorian heresy. The
original ebionitism had died away, but its spirit and central doctrine
reappeared in Nestorianism. Nestorianism might be described as
ebionitism conforming to the creeds of Nicaea and Constantinople. The
leaders of the opposition to the Apollinarists of the fifth century
were their own Syrian countrymen whose headquarters was at Antioch.
The Antiochians differed from the Apollinarians in the starting-point
of their Christology and in the controlling motive of their thought.
While Apollinaris had constructed his Christology on the basis of the
doctrine of the Trinity, the Antiochians started from the formula
"perfect alike in deity and humanity." The reasonings of Apollinaris
were governed by the thought of redemption. The fundamental question
of religion for him was, "How can the closest union between divine and
human be secured?" The tendency of the Antiochians, on the other hand,
was to neglect the interests of Soteriology and to emphasize the
ethical aspect of Christ's life and teaching. They put in the
background the idea of the all-creating, all-sustaining Logos, who took
man's nature upon Him and in His person deified humanity. Their
thought centred on the historic Christ, the Christ of the evangelists.
They did not revert to crude ebionitism, but they explained the Nicene
creed from an ebionitic stand-point. They maintained as against the
Apollinarians the completeness of Christ's human nature; with equal
vigour they maintained the essential deity of the Logos. The "poverty"
(ebionitism) of their doctrines consisted in their paltry view of the
hypostatic union. The union, according to the Nestorians, was
subsequent to the conception of Jesus. It was not a personal, but a
moral union. It was a conjunction of two co-ordinate entities. They
taught that the more the man Jesus acted in accordance with the divine
promptings, the closer became his union with the Logos. That is to
say, the union was relative not absolute. Thus the union between
divine and human in Christ differed only in degree from the union of
the same elements in any good man. The unity of the Son of God and the
Son of Mary consisted solely in the identity of name, honour and

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