Both Nestorius and Pelagius believed in a composite subject Christology that the person of Christ is a divine-humane person, the Logos and His tabernacle. Their Christology were condemned at Ephesus (431) and later repeated at Constantinople (553) where both Ss. Cyril of Alexandria and Augustine of Hippo are declared as the Doctor of the Church. Nestorius teaches that the Logos is united with a perfect man. While Pelagius teaches that the perfect humanity of Christ is united to the Logos. So that both teach the Logos unites Himself with a perfect tabernacle as a composite subject.

St. John Cassian under a request by Pope St. Leo the Great which at that time was an archdeacon wrote seven volume treatises to combat Nestorianism by connecting it with Pelagianism.

[T]he error of Pelagius ... that in saying that Jesus Christ lived as a mere man without any stain of sin, they actually went so far as to declare that men could also be without sin if they [chose].

John Cassian, On the Incarnation against Nestorius, 1:3, in The Works of John Cassian, trans. with preface Edgar C. S. Gibson, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd ser., vol. 11, ed. Philip Schaff.

In similar fashion from a different perspective Marius Mercator accuses Theodore of Mopsuestia of being the father of the Pelagian heresy for teaching,

[T]hat the progenitors of the human race, Adam and Eve, having been created mortal by God, did not wound any of their descendants when they strayed by their transgression, but harmed only themselves; that they made themselves guilty of the command before God, but absolutely no one else.

Marius Mercator, Commonitorium, Patrologia Latina, vol. 48, 110D-111A.

Both John Cassian and Marius Mercator linked Nestorianism with Pelagianism. Richard Norris in his study Manhood and Christ observed that Antiochene Christology is aptly enough expressed in the dictum that, “The Nestorian Christ is a fit Savior for the Pelagian man.”1

So how are their Christologies differentiated from one another?

1 Richard Norris, Manhood and Christ, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963, p. 246.

2 Answers 2


Pelagianism isn't a Christology, and "the perfect humanity of Christ is united to the Logos" isn't a Nestorian position as stated. The argument linking the two was that Nestorianism is the Christology that naturally fits with Pelagian Anthropology and Soteriology. That's not something that any of the major Pelagians or Nestorian thinkers said, though; that was a link made by their enemies.

It wasn't Nestorian thinkers specifically, but the East generally that attracted the exiled Pelagians. The Synod of Diospolis, which exonerated Pelagius, wasn't a Nestorian synod. And though Julian of Aeclanum was an admirer of Theodore of Mopsuestia and settled in his bishopric and translated some of his stuff into Latin, Theodore plainly denied that it was possible to live a perfect life with only the goods of nature. The Assumed Man could do it only because the Word was so closely and permanently united to him. And Julian quoted many Eastern authorities against Augustine, most of whom had no Nestorian connection.

A distinctively Pelagian Christology would not only have to teach two persons in Christ, but would also have to be Adoptionist in order to give Jesus a chance to live perfectly on his own before the Word indwelt him; and as far as I know, neither Pelagius nor Caelestius nor Julian ever suggested such a thing. Nor did Theodore, nor Nestorius. You have to go back to Paul of Samosata (who was universally condemned well before the 5th century) to try to pin that one on Antioch.

  • Any comment on Dominic Keech, The Anti-Pelagian Christology of Augustine of Hippo, Oxford 2012? Nestorius was accused by St. John Cassian for being Pelagian that the humanity which the Logos assumed at conception lived a perfect life. No one not Nestorius or Pelagius teach Samosatan Christology because the assumption of the Tabernacle took place at conception. Marius Mercator accused Pelagius for being Nestorian especially because both Theodore and Nestorius offer safe haven for him. I'd be grateful if you could address with more detail. I do believe both are tightly related Christologically. Commented Mar 9, 2015 at 16:45
  • It was Julian (not Pelagius) who stayed for a time in Theodore's see and then in Constantinople when Nestorius was bishop there. Cassian's accusation doesn't hold water, because the Pelagian error is that men can be sinless with the grace of nature. To say that a man who would have been relatively righteous on his own was able to attain absolute righteousness thanks to a prosopic union with the Word, would not be Pelagian, or even semi-Pelagian by the technical definition that distinguishes between divine and human initiation. Indwelling at conception is definitely prevenient. Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 21:09
  • St. John Cassian's and Marius Mercator's arguments were approved at Ephesus. I think we might differed on what constitute Pelagianism. Your explanation of a man who persevered in the Law and attained righteousness via prosoponic union with the Logos in their judgement is Pelagianism. Ss. Augustine and Cyril agree. I think Pelagius never hold Pelagianism as allegedly accused later. His followers might but not Pelagius himself. Pelagius never opposed grace his concern is whether or not sin a natural or a personal property. Theodore agreed with Pelagius that sin is an action not a natural defect. Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 23:12
  • Pelagius was trapped in a situation when theological terminologies were being developed and still unclear. His distinction between personal and natural properties were not defined properly not until St. Maximos the Confessor. This is why Eastern Orthodox accused St. Augustine for Manichaeism and Roman Catholic accused St. John Cassian for semi-Pelagianism. No wonder Nestorius wrote in his book that Chalcedon vindicated him and that St. Leo's Tome was accused for Nestorianism. They were trapped in terminological debates. We took theological clarity for granted, they don't have that luxury. Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 23:20
  • No, that's not Pelagianism. If Ephesus defined it as such (do you have a citation to prove that?), then you need to remember that Ephesus's business was with Nestorius, not Pelagius, and they might have condemned a version of "Pelagianism" that was invented especially to be an adjunct of Nestorianism. That is what Marius Mercator was selling. Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 8:12

It might be Pelagius recognized that his teaching on salvation is at least in part of matter of human achievement and not all of grace alone is compatible with Antionchene Christology at that time. He did sought refuge with them. And the Antionchene Christians sympathized with him.

This is due to, in various forms, the Antiochene theologians overemphasize the two natures of Christ in a way that make his humanity a distinct individuality against his divine nature. In its extreme form, it hails back to Nestorian christology.

  • The idea of synergism can't be labelled Pelagian or semi-Pelagian because Ss. Augustine and Maximos the Confessor teach that also. Our good works is the inner working of God's work and therefore meritorious and gracious because God is crowning His own gifts. Pelagius was condemned because he rejected that grace of God can be infused. You might want to read my comment about Nestorius and the alleged accusation of dual subjects Christology. Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 15:56
  • I don't think synergism could be labelled as side-by-side with Pelagian either at least in my understanding of synergism. :D He believed that human nature is still capable of good even after the fall and admitted that grace is only an adjuvant role. That doesn't sound like synergism. Regarding synergism, my view is that we are too much being bound by "theological labelling" and that both monergism and synergism are just two sides of the truth ... but I digress.
    – pehkay
    Commented Feb 14, 2015 at 4:56
  • Yes, Pelagius was not a synergist that is correct. That's why I said synergism can't be labelled as Pelagianism. Pelagius was an anthropocentric monergist. I agree that monergism and synergism are two sides of the same coin. As an Eastern rite Catholic I draw benefits from Ss. Augustine's and Aquinas' monergism while at the same time from Ss. Maximos and Palamas on synergism. That's why St. Cyril was reconciled with John of Antioch. Both miaphysite and diaphysite are two sides of the same truth. Commented Feb 15, 2015 at 0:40

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