Back to OWR Homepage Back to Christianity Flowchart

Back to
Early Christianity

The Nestorian Church

Doctrines The Nestorian Church (also known as the East Syrian or Assyrian Church) takes its name form Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople (d.c.451). Nestorius is believed to have asserted that Christ was composed of two persons, God the Son and the man Jesus and that it was only the man Jesus who was born of the Virgin Mary and who died on the cross. Accordingly, Nestorius claimed that it was wrong to describe the Virgin Mary as theotokos (mother of God); instead she should be referred to as christotokos (mother of Christ). This contradicted the orthodox understanding of Christ as one Person who embodied two natures, divine and human.

History In 430 Celestine, bishop of Rome, condemned Nestorius on account of his heretical christology, and a year later Nestorius was anathematised at the Council of Ephesus. In 436 Nestorius was deposed and then exiled to Egypt where he spent the rest of his life. Nestorian churches were established in those territories to the east of the Byzantine empire where Iraq, Iran and south-eastern Turkey are now located. These churches constituted themselves as independent, with a theological school at Edessa and a patriarch at Seleucia-Ctesiphon on the Tigris river. In 498, at the Council of Seleucia, the Nestorian Church completely severed itself from the rest of the Christian church.
This period saw the beginning of missionary expansion throughout Asia. By 635 Nestorian Christianity had reached the heart of China. Missions had reduced as a result of the Muslim conquest of Iraq in the 7th century. The church was further weakened as a result of the Mongol invasions of the 14th century and schisms in the 16th century which led many Nestorian Christians to join the Roman Catholic Church. Subject to persecution during the first world war, the remaining church was dispersed throughout the Middle East. A small community also lives in the United States.

Symbols The Nestorian church rejects the use of icons and images. Simple crosses are located at the entrance of churches. The church does, however, treasure the relics of saints.

Adherents It is estimated that there are about 550,000 Nestorians world wide Nestorian communities exist in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and the USA (Europa Publications Limited 1995 1:1569).

Main Centre
 Historically the Nestorian Church has been based in the mountains of northern Kurdistan. Persecution at the beginning of the 20th century forced many to emigrate to Syria, Lebanon and the U.S.A. The present leader of the Nestor ian church is the Catholicos Patriarch, His Holiness Mar Dinkha IV.