The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Saint Nestorius

I'm reading Daniel Janosik's book John of Damascus. I'd missed out on Daniel Sahas, so I figured I'd get the most recent take on this last Catholic Church Father. Janosik starts with a discussion on what is heresy, what defines it against orthodoxy. Particularly in a Christian context.

For that, I want to digress from whether the various Islams (or Mormonism) count as heresies or as new faiths entirely. Janosik's book wasn't good on John's predecessors, arguing for or against Ephesus (431 AD) and its correction Chalcedon (451). [UPDATE 11/27: my full review.] Among those supporting Chalcedon over Ephesus was Maximus - counted as a sainted Confessor to the Catholics, an arch-heretic to the Monotheletes of the day. So I want to look into those councils, here.

The Christians didn't know the term, but all involved instinctively understood Mimetic Theory (not memetic!): one's abstract beliefs will be played out in one's actions. A theology of strict tawhid, as the Arabs put it, will conjoin faith and state. Polytheism, or at least poly-aspect-ism if that's a word, will allow independence.

The Council of Nicaea (325) had put paid to the notion that Christ was a separate creation from God; as of the Late Roman Empire and her successors, to be a Christian in good standing, one had to hail Christ as an aspect of God. But this gave rise to questions about to what degree Christ had autonomy from the Father (and from the Spirit). The components of the Triad - Trinitas in Latin - could never disagree amongst each other in heaven, of course. But maybe they could speak to different concerns here on Earth.

The common people in Egypt and Syria, being close to the land, observed Jesus as a dying-and-resurrected god, like the land by the seasonal rivers, and instinctively preferred a singular, "Monophysite" position. (I noted this in House of War.) These tended to rally around Cyril's rhetorically pious formula that Mary was the Mother of God, "theotokos"; also popular with the womenfolk. Despot emperors like Justinian I, whatever they professed in public, also appreciated a Monophysite definition: the church and the state should be as one. So, by my reading of Mimetic Theory, there were going to be provinces where the church did not agree with the Emperor, and/or served kings who were locally stronger than the Emperor's reach. The Ephesus decision went Cyril's way: the followers of Nestorius, who thought "theotokos" was one bridge too far, had to flee to Iraq, whose church was developing its own theology independent of that Empire. (The native Iraqi Christians at first resisted being called "Nestorian", because from their perspective who the hell is this guy, but have since embraced Nestorius and the "Nestorian" label.)

The Byzantine suspicion of the Chalcedon correction especially - despite the latter's wide support - led, in the 600s AD, to the inevitable formula: Monotheletism, insistence on God's indivisible Will. But para-Nestorians in the West disputed this as well: Sophronius, Pope Martin, and greatest of all Maximus. The Western position had already spawned the Synod of Toledo's filioque addition to the very Creed (Janosik, 18), that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and from the Son. In one of history's great ironies, Cyril despite his "theotokos" Monophysite posturing had approved filioque as well. (So now I get it!)

The Byzantine and Slavic post-Byzantine states, ever prone to despotism, never quite could escape Monotheletism. In the East, though, and then in the West the Church has been able to argue her independence from the princes of this world. At least until Protestantism.

It is any state's right to make up whatever origin myths it wishes, and to insist upon those myths as condition of citizenship. Likewise this is the right of any nation, including a wandering nation like the Jews. But there are some truths that transcend a state, and transcend a race; and just because a state or a nation has the right to include falsifiable lies within its myth, that doesn't mean to do so is wise. A gentile church, to maintain her integrity across borders and peoples, should likewise have the freedom to assert a statement, especially a true one, that does not depend upon a despot or a race.

This freedom of the church is impossible under monotheletism. The Council of Ephesus was an Imperial crime; the "Orthodox" communions, today, remain in error.

UPDATE 11/27: this was posted last Thanksgiving at noon, buried in a bunch of other posts. I've argued my point better today so, bumping.

posted by Zimri on 16:00 | link | 0 comments

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