Part 1: Augustine as Conduit to the Inquisition
Part 2: How Confession became a Divinely Instituted Sacrament
Part 3: The Origins of Payment for Penance
Part 4: Crusading and Other Indulgences
The councils of Nicea (325) and Constantinople (381) contended with Arianism and finalized, to a large extent, the doctrine of the Trinity. (There were other battles fought, to be sure, but at this point the doctrine of the Trinity included one God, three persons, and rejected the Arian notions that Christ was a created being and that “there was a time when he was not”.)
These councils affirmed the Scriptural teaching that Christ was the eternal Word of God, and supplied the phrase “homoousious,” “of one substance with the Father,” that is, that Christ was the eternal God made flesh. But once this was determined, there arose questions as to precisely how God and flesh related within the person of Christ. Even at the time of Constantinople, Christological ideas were being posited and rejected. For example, Constantinople also rejected the notion of Apollinarius that in Christ, “the Word of God dwelt in human flesh in lieu and place of the human rational and intellective soul.” (from here).
But other controversies developed. Here I’m following the account of Justo Gonzalez, “The Story of Christianity,” (253-4):
The next episode of the Christological controversies was precipitated by Nestorius, a representative of the Antiochene school who became patriarch of Constantinople in 428. There were always political intrigues surrounding that office, for the patriarchate of Constantinople had become a point of discord between the patriarchs of Antioch and Alexandria. The Council of Constantinople had declared that the bishop of Constantinople should have in the East a precedence similar to that which the bishop of Rome had in the West. This was a simple acknowledgement of political reality, for Constantinople had become the capital of the Eastern empire. But the bishops of the older churches in Antioch and Alexandria were not content with being relegated to a secondary position. They responded, among other things, by turning the bishopric of Constantinople into a prize to be captured for their own supporters. Since Antioch was more successful at this game than Alexandria, most of the patriarchs of Constantinople were Antiochenes, and therefore the patriarchs of Alexandria regarded them as their enemies. … For these reasons, Nestorius’ position was not secure, and the Alexandrines were looking to catch him at his first mistake.Actually, there is yet another concept wrapped up here. “Theotokos” more correctly means “God-bearer,” or as Gonzalez relates, “bearer of God.” But other theologians conflated “bearer of God” into “mother of God” (the Greek “Mater Theou”). In proposing the term “Christotokos,” Nestorius was intending to provide a caution and a mediating position against the very misunderstanding that, as we have seen, has led to all of the later emphasis on Mary throughout church history. So history has shown that Nestorius was correct with his caution.
This happened when Nestorius declared that Mary should not be called theotokos – that is, bearer of God – and suggested that she should be called Christotokos – bearer of Christ. It is difficult for Protestants to understand what was at stake here, for we have been taught to reject the notion that Mary is the “Mother of God, and at first glance, this seems to be what is at stake here. But in truth, the debate was not so much about Mary as about Jesus. The question [at this time] was not what honors were due to Mary, but how one was to speak of the birth of Jesus. When Nestorius declared that Mary was the bearer of Christ, but not of God, he was affirming that in speaking of the incarnate Lord one may and must distinguish between his humanity and his divinity, and that some of the things said of him are to be applied to the humanity, and others to the divinity. This was a typically Antiochene position, which sought to preserve the full humanity of Jesus by making a very clear distinction between [his humanity] and his divinity. Nestorius and the rest of the Antiochenes feared that if the two were too closely joined together, the divinity would overwhelm the humanity, and one would no longer be able to speak of a true man Jesus.
On the other hand, it is clear that Nestorius’s theology was not as precise and helpful as it could have been. Samuel Hugh Moffett, writing in “A History of Christianity in Asia” (176-177) notes, “As early as [the Council of Ephesus, 431 A.D., Nestorius] struggled to find a way to express the essential unity of the person of the incarnate Christ without denying the essential reality of both the humanity and deity of the Savior without surrendering the all-important truth that there is an ultimate, basic distinction between deity and humanity.” As Nestorius later wrote:
The divine Logos was not one, and another the man in whom he came to be. Rather, one was the prosopon [“person”] of both in dignity and honour, worshipped by all creation, and in no way and no time divided by otherness of purpose and will.Moffett continues, “This doctrine of the unity of the person (prosopon) of Christ in two natures may have rested on the use of a word too weak to support the theological weight it was required to bear, but it was in no sense heresy.” (177)
Nevertheless, for political reasons and other reasons, Nestorius had attracted an enemy in the “strong-minded, hot-tempered patriarch” of Alexandria, Cyril. (Moffett, 170). Cyril put his emphasis on the unity of the person of Christ. As Moffett explains, “But in order to preserve the oneness it was difficult not to weaken either his deity or his humanity, for ‘complete God’ and ‘complete man’ strongly implies duality of person. Cyril’s explanation of the two natures seemed to Antioch to weaken the humanity of Christ and to stress his deity as of higher significance. The Alexandrian school, strong on the doctrine of redemption, genuinely and naturally defended the deity in Christ’s nature, for only a divine Christ could save sinners. But in doing so, the Alexandrians ran the risk of losing some of the historic authenticity of Christ’s human nature.” (Moffett, 171)
This dispute led to the calling of another council, at Ephesus in 431 A.D.
For a variety of reasons, Cyril won the day, but only the day – not least because of his mischaracterization of Nestorius’s theology (he accused Nestorius of positing two persons in Christ), and the actions of his own bishops (50 in number, plus their entourages) who
acted as if it was a war they were conducting … [and they] went about in the city girt and armed with clubs… with yells of barbarians, snorting fiercely … raging with extravagant arrogance those whom they knew to be opposed to their doings, carrying bells about the city and lighting fires …. They blocked up the streets so that everyone was obliged to flee and hide, while they acted as masters of the situation, lying about, drunk and besotted and shouting obscenities…(Moffet, 174, citing Nestorius’s “accurate description of the proceedings.”)The decision at Ephesus was “an embarrssement and blot on the history of the church” (174); its legality was “questionable, its conduct was disgraceful. And its theological verdict, if not overturned, was at least radically amended by the Council of Chalcedon (451).” (175) It led to a massive split in the church, “irreversibly … not only east and west but also north and south, and cracked it into so many pieces that it was never the same again.” (Moffett 169)
The controversies continued: in 451, Chalcedon instead used “Theotokos” language (and failed to pick up the “Mater Theou” language), and largely incorporated Nestorius’s “one-person, two-natures” theology into the definition that is held to be orthodox today.
The followers of Cyril of Alexandria, however, rejected Chalcedon, adhering more to a “one-nature” (Monophysite) theology. Monophysites continued to reside largely in Egypt and Syria.