The “Formula of Reunion”
After the First Council at Ephesus that condemned both John of Antioch and Nestorian’s view as heresy in 431 A.D., Cyril of Alexandria approached John to work out in their theological differences and reconcile with each other by compromising on certain doctrinal differences. This reconciliation is known as the “Formula of Reunion” that took place in 433 A.D.
In this formula, Antiochenes acknowledged Cyril’s view of referring the Virgin Mary as the theotokos or “Mother of God” was appropriate. Same way, Cyril also acknowledged the Antiochenian understanding of Chris’s bearing “two natures” – human nature that is distinguishable from his divine nature – that Jesus is “Logos made flesh (John 1:1, 14).”
The ultimate solution of the “Formula of Reunion” is: Jesus Christ as one person but two distinctive nature – human and divine.
John of Antioch was the Patriarch of Antioch. He led a group of moderate Eastern bishops during the Nestorian Controversy. He gave active support to his friend Nestorius in the latter’s dispute with Cyril of Alexandria. In the opening meeting of Council of Ephesus, John arrived late in the Council. Cyril started the meeting without John, and he and Nestorius were condemned in his absence. However, they were reconciled with Cyril based on the Formula of Reunion. This moves Cyril closer to the ultimate solution on the work and person of Jesus Christ as One person, two nature.
The First Council at Ephesus in 431 A.D. formally condemned Nestorius‘ view as heresy. Cyril of Alexandria was very concerned for the questioned raised by Nestorius and accused Nestorius publicly in the council. Cyril appealed to Celestine of Rome, Church Father who held papal authority from 422 to 432 to excommunicate Nestorius for his lowly view of Christ’s divine and human nature. The Emperor Theodosius II (401–450) called for the Third Ecumenical Council to decide on veneration of Virgin Mary who was titled as the “Mother of God“. Delegates from the Eastern and Western churches came to the council. For some reason, delegates from the East were late to arrive in the council. So, Cyril conducted the council in the absence of Nestorius and condemned him and his teaching in his absence.
John I of Antioch learned upon his arrival to the council that Nestorius had been already condemned. Now, Nestorius in support of John I of Antioch held their own synod that condemned and deposed Cyril and the previous council in Ephesus. Later, both sides were deposed and exiled by the emperor. Afterwards, West came along and condemned Nestorius the heretic.
Nestorius was an archbishop of Constantinople from 10th April 428 to 22nd June 431 A.D. It is not certain if Nestorius himself was a Nestorian; however, his name has been associated with this view. He got into trouble when he rejected the title, Theotokos – the idea that Virgin Mary should be called the “Mother of God”.
Regarding person and nature of Christ, Nestorius proposed two natures and two persons view. He believed that the unity of Christ’s human and divine natures is just like a man and his wife living under one roof. He believed that human and divine are impossible to unite with each other. If such union had occurred, then Christ could neither truly have been equal to God or consubstantial with God nor consubstantial with man, since God cannot be borne as a human, grow in to maturity, suffer, and die. However, there is a problem in this view. It makes difficult for Jesus to be both God and human at the same time. It diminishes the person and nature of Christ, thereby rejecting the true Logos Incarnation (In the beginning… [John 1:1,14]) in Nestorianism. Thus, Nestorius was condemned heretic by Cyril of Alexandria at the First Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D.
* Consubstantial (homoousios) : regarded as the same in substance or essence. This term homoousios stirred the Christendom which eventually led to Christological Controversy.