Nestorianism is the belief that Christ consisted of two separate persons, one human and one divine. Its name comes from its leading proponent, Nestorius, who was Patriarch of Constantinople. Nestorianism was rejected as heretical by the Council of Ephesus in 431, which held that Christ consisted of only one person with two natures, one human and one divine.
This belief survived after the banishment of Nestorius, and despite determined efforts by Cyril of Alexandria to remove his supporters and followers from power. Ibas, bishop of Edessa (435 - 457), although he repeatedly anathematized Nestorius, indirectly promoted Nestorian Christianity by founding a school in Edessa where the works of Theodore of Mopsuestia, Diodorus of Tarsus, Theodoret, and Nestorius were read and taught. Even before the destruction of this school in 489, its students spread through neighboring Persia. The Christian communities in that country had renounced all subjection to Antioch and the "Western" bishops at the Council of Seleucia in 410. The ecclesiastical superior of the whole was the Bishop of Ctesiphon, who had assumed the rank of Catholicos. At the time of the arrival of the Nestorian professors from Edessa, the prelate was Babaeus or Babowai (457 - 484), who appears to have received them with open arms. But Barsauma, having become Bishop of Nisibis, the nearest important city to Edessa, broke with the weak Catholicos, whom he had deposed at a synod in April, 484. In the same year Babowai was accused before the king of conspiring with Constantinople and cruelly put to death. The Bishop of Nisibis was at all events in high favor with King Peroz, whom Barsauma persuaded that it would be a good thing for the Persian kingdom if the Christians in it were all of a different belief from those of the Empire.
Peroz died soon after having murdered Babowai, and the energetic Bishop of Nisibis had evidently less to hope from his successor, Balash. Though Barsauma at first opposed the new Catholicos, Acacius, in August, 485, he had an interview with him, and made his submission, acknowledging the necessity for subjection to Ctesiphon. Barsauma opened a school at Nisibis, which became more famous than its parent at Edessa. The rector was Narses the Leprous, a most prolific writer, but of whose work little has survived. Its rules are still preserved, and at one time the school attracted 800 students. The fame of this theological seminary was so great that Pope Agapetus I and Cassiodorus wished to found one in Italy of a similar kind. The troubled times prevented their wishes from being realized, but Cassiodorus's monastery at Vivarium was inspired by the example of Nisibis.
Barsauma died between 492 and 495, Acacius in 496 or 497. Narses seems to have lived longer. The missions of their students extended deeper into Asia. Nestorianism was the first Christian tradition to reach China (in 635), and about the same time into Mongolia, and its relics can still be seen in Chinese cities such as Xi'an. An inscribed stone, set up in February, 781 at Chou-Chih, fifty miles south-west of Sai-an Fu, at the time the capital of China, describes the introduction of Christianity into China from Persia in the reign of Tang Taizong. However when Tang Wu Zong decided to suppress Buddhism, Nestorianism which appeared as a distant Buddhist branch, ceased to exist in China.
The Assyrian Church of the East is Nestorian. English speakers in the West typically classify Nestorian churches as belonging to the Oriental Orthodoxy, though this is unhelpful as most of the Oriental Orthodox Churches tend to have a monophysite Christology based on one nature - in part as a reaction against Nestorianism.
See also: Christology
This article incorporates text from the Catholic Encyclopedia, copyright 1911. Please update as needed.