From what I gather, Nestorius rejected Mary as the Theotokos (which means "God-bearer") and proposed instead that she merely be called, the Christotokos; or rather, "Christ-bearer" because since Mary was a human being---God could never be born of a creature. Hence, (with some details omitted) this would necessarily imply that there were two distinct persons in the Incarnate Christ---one human and one divine accidentally united in one body (in violation of the dogma of homoousios defined at the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325 that God the Father and God the Son are of the same substance).

It is not clear whether or not Nestorius explicitly taught that there exists two natures in Christ, but his doctrine necessarily leads to that conclusion.

Hence, with this heresy, it could neither be said that God was born, nor that He was crucified, nor that He died---and therefore, neither that He rose from the dead. And so, as the Holy Spirit tells us in 1 Cor. 15:17: if Christ be not risen again, your faith is vain, for you are yet in your sins.

The First Council of Ephesus in 431 condemned Nestorius' teachings as heretical and deposed him from his See (Nestorius was the patriarch of Constantinople at the time.)

Was Nestorius ever formally excommunicated by the Catholic Church?

I have now noticed that this question seems to be somewhat connected with the one posed here: Proof that Cyril of Alexandria is a Saint in the Roman Catholic Church?, for Catholic Encyclopedia in the entry for Pope St. Celestine I says (regarding St. Cyril of Alexandria):

Cyril having found Nestorius openly professing his heresy sent a full account to Celestine, who in a Roman synod (430), having solemnly condemned the errors of Nestorius, now ordered Cyril in his name to proceed against Nestorius, who was to be excommunicated and deposed unless within ten days he should have made in writing a solemn retractation of his errors. In letters written the same day to Nestorius, to the clergy and people of Constantinople, and to John of Antioch, Juvenal of Jerusalem, Rufus of Thessalonica, and Flavian of Philippi, Celestine announces the sentence passed upon Nestorius and the commission given to Cyril to execute it. At the same time he restored all who had been excommunicated or deprived by Nestorius. Cyril forwarded the papal sentence and his own anathema to Nestorius.

Nevertheless, it is not clear to me whether or not Nestorius had been officially excommunicated.

  • Nestorius actually didn't believe that there were two distinct persons in Christ. He clarified this later in life, but the damage had already been done to his reputation. He did, wrongly, claim that Mary was not the Theotokos, however, and did truly insist on the title Christotokos.
    – jaredad7
    Aug 9, 2023 at 17:02
  • 1
    You might find en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… of interest. There does not seem to have been a lifting of individual excommunications, which might suggest that there was nothing to lift, unlike the Catholic-Orthodox declaration of 1965 which did precisely that
    – Henry
    Aug 9, 2023 at 22:04
  • @jaredad7 I have made an edit to the question to reflect your first concern, which, as far as I can tell, some uncertainty prevails as two what exactly Nestorius explicitly taught regarding "dual nature". As for your conclusion that "he clarified this later in life," I would greatly appreciate it if you would provide me with the actual source which says this so that I may read it. Thank you.
    – DDS
    Aug 10, 2023 at 16:11
  • Yeah, my source is JND Kelly's Early Christian Doctrines, Chapter XII under the heading Nestorianism "the traditional picture of Nestorianism as the heresy which split the God-man into two distinct Persons rapidly formed itself. Nestorius himself indignantly repudiated this account of his teaching" Kelly footnotes a reference to a sermon in F. Loofs' Christologie.
    – jaredad7
    Aug 10, 2023 at 18:17
  • On the same page in Kelly's book "The discovery of early this century of the Book of Heracleides... which he wrote some twenty years after the main controversy and in which he avowed him satisfied with the Christology of Leo... has seemed to make a reassessment [of the claim that his view split the God-man into two distinct persons] necessary."
    – jaredad7
    Aug 10, 2023 at 18:20

2 Answers 2


Evidently, in 431, Pope Celestine excommunicated Nestorius at the 2nd council of Ephesus.

So, a pope did excommunicate Nestorius. And it was ratified in an official synod. Those two details would make me conclude that the excommunication had staying power later on. However, to my knowledge, later popes have not made a condemnation of Nestorius ex cathedra. So this excommunication is subject to change.

  • Pope Celestine had died on July 26 and the Council of Ephesus ended on July 31 and thus he could not have confirmed the decisions of the council. Perhaps another Pope confirmed this?
    – Ken Graham
    Aug 11, 2023 at 12:24
  • +1 Thank you for posting this. It is more than I had to go on before. However, the sentence containing the "excommunication" is confusing to me when I read it; in particular, and ratified his deposition as bishop of Constantinople---does this imply that the Pope the (arch)bishop of Constantinople immediately after Nestorius was deposed? I think the person who wrote the article was careless. But, it presents some light on the question. Thank you.
    – DDS
    Aug 11, 2023 at 13:24
  • Also, I think once a person is excommunicated by a bishop, or in this case, a pope---the excommunication stands unless lifted or the person truly repents of his actions at death. An Ex Cathedra definition I am quite sure, would ever apply here. Popes rarely invoke their extraordinary magisterium and to the best of my knowledge, have never done so for matters like this. Thanks again.
    – DDS
    Aug 11, 2023 at 13:28
  • @KenGraham Ha! You'd think that the Britannica could be trusted. Thanks for the clarification.
    – user24895
    Aug 11, 2023 at 13:57
  • @KenGraham Perhaps you might like to know that according to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Celestine_I Pope Celestine died on August 1. (But it is Wikipedia---should not necessarily be relied upon.)
    – DDS
    Aug 11, 2023 at 15:36

Was Nestorius Ever Excommunicated by the Catholic Church?

It would seem that Nestorius, despite many anathematizes, was never officially excommunicated by the Church. Numerous bishops pronounced such against him. The pope even condemned his doctrines, but never officially excommunicated (anathema) him.

Cyril had to explain that he was not summarizing or defining the faith about the Incarnation, but simply putting together the principal errors of Nestorius in the heretic's own words. In his books against Nestorius he had occasionally misrepresented him, but in the twelve anathematisms he gave a perfectly faithful picture of Nestorius's view, for in fact Nestorius did not disown the propositions, nor did Andrew of Samosata or Theodoret refuse to patronize any of them. The anathematisms were certainly in a general way approved by the Council of Ephesus, but they have never been formally adopted by the Church. - Nestorius and Nestorianism

The Council of Ephesus was a council of bishops convened in Ephesus in AD 431 by the Emperor Theodosius II. This third ecumenical council, an effort to attain consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom, confirmed the original Nicene Creed, and condemned the teachings of Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, who held that the Virgin Mary may be called the Christotokos, "Christ-bearer" but not the Theotokos, "God-bearer". It met in June and July 431 at the Church of Mary in Ephesus in Anatolia.

Pope Celestine had died on July 26 and the Council of Ephesus ended on July 31 and thus he could not have confirmed the decisions of the council.

Nowadays only the Pope can excommunicate a bishop outside automatic excommunications as stated in Canon Law. Back then I guess the rules were not so clear.

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