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The Third Ecumenical Council - Ephesus 431 AD corrected

The Third Ecumenical Council - Ephesus 431 AD
by Timothy Kenney, PhD

This Council of the Church was held in Ephesus, Asia Minor. It is also known as the Council of Ephesus. It opened on June 7, 431, and continued until August 31st of the same year under Emperor Theodosius II (grandson of Theodosius the Great) at the request of Nestorius, whose teachings had been condemned by Celestine, Patriarch of Rome. Two hundred bishops were present. Cyril of Alexandria, was the presiding bishop.

The Council was convened to investigate the false teachings of Patriarch Nestorius of Constantinople (428-431). Contrary to the dogmas of the Ecumenical Church, Nestorius dared to assert that the Son of God Jesus Christ is not one Person (Hypostasis), as the Holy Church teaches, but is rather two distinct persons, one Divine, and the other human. According to the false teaching of Nestorius, Jesus Christ was born as an ordinary man, and afterwards because of His sanctity of life did Jesus achieve divinity. Regarding the Most Holy
Theotokos, he impiously asserted that She should not be called the Mother of God, but rather only the mother of the man Christ. The heresy of Nestorius is opposed to one of the basic dogmas of the Christian Faith: our Lord Jesus Christ's divine and human natures.

When the first session was held, many Bishops, especially those who were affiliated with Nestorius, from the West, had not yet arrived. This allowed St. Cyril and the council time to condemn Nestorius for blasphemy before his supporters could defend him. Once the representatives of Nestorius arrived, they refused to join the Council, and in turn, formed their own council that condemned and excommunicated Cyril and Memnon, the bishop of Ephesus. Shortly thereafter, representatives from Rome, the first see of the Church arrived. They sided with St. Cyril of Alexandria and condemned Nestorius.

This council, full of controversy and condemnation, affirmed that:

  • Jesus Christ was one person, not two separate "people": fully God and fully man, with a rational soul and body.
  • The Virgin Mary is Theotokos because she gave birth not to a mere man but to God as a man. The union of the two natures of Christ took place in such a fashion that one did not disturb the other.
  • The Council also declared the text of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed to be complete and forbade any additional change to it.
  • In addition, it condemned Pelagianism.
  • The autocephaly of the Church of Cyprus was established, overriding claims by the Patriarch of Antioch.

The Holy Fathers of the Third Ecumenical Council are commemorated on September 9th and also on the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, the Sunday of the Fathers of the First Six Councils.

We now turn to the Fourth Ecumenical Council, held at Chalcedon during the year 451, in our next article.

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