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This article covers the Ecumenical council of 431. For the council of 449, see Second Council of Ephesus.
First Council of Ephesus
Date 431
Accepted by Roman Catholics, Old Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Oriental Orthodox, Lutherans
Previous council First Council of Constantinople
Next council Council of Chalcedon
Convoked by Emperor Theodosius II
Presided by Cyril of Alexandria
Attendance 200-250 (papal representatives arrived late)
Topics of discussion Nestorianism, Theotokos, Pelagianism
Documents and statements Nicene Creed confirmed, condemnations of heresies, declaration of "Theotokos"
Chronological list of Ecumenical councils

The First Council of Ephesus was held in 431 at the Church of Mary in Ephesus, Asia Minor. The council was called due to the contentious teachings of Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople. St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, appealed to Pope Celestine I, charging Nestorius with heresy. The Pope agreed and gave Cyril his authority to serve a notice to Nestorius to recant his views or else be excommunicated. Before the summons arrived, Nestorius convinced the Emperor Theodosius II to hold a General council, a platform to argue their opposing views. Approximately 250 bishops were present. The proceedings were conducted in a heated atmosphere of confrontation and recriminations. It is believed to have been the Third Ecumenical Council by the Oriental Orthodox, the Eastern Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, the Old Catholics, and a number of other Western Christian groups. On the contrary, Ephesus is rejected by the Assyrian Church of the East. It was chiefly concerned with Nestorianism.

Nestorianism emphasized the dual natures of Christ. Patriarch Nestorius tried to answer a question considered unsolved: "How can Jesus Christ, being part man, not be partially a sinner as well, since man is by definition a sinner since the Fall". To solve that he taught that Mary, the mother of Jesus gave birth to the incarnate Christ, not the divine Logos who existed before Mary and indeed before time itself. The Logos occupied the part of the human soul (the part of man that was stained by the Fall). But wouldn't the absence of a human soul make Jesus less human? No, Nestorius answered because the human soul was based on the archetype of the Logos only to become polluted by the Fall, therefore Jesus was "more" human for having the Logos and not "less". Consequently, Mary should be called Christotokos, Greek for the "birth giver of Christ" and not Theotokos, Greek for the "birth giver of God". Cyril argued that Nestorianism split Jesus in half and denied that he was both human and divine. This was essentially a Christological controversy.

Although the Nestorian bishops had not yet arrived at the council, at the urging of its president, Cyril of Alexandria, the Council denounced Nestorius' teaching as erroneous and decreed that Jesus was one person, not two separate people: complete God and complete man, with a rational soul and body. The Virgin Mary was to be called Theotokos because she bore and gave birth to God as a man.

Major christological schisms and related early councils

When John of Antioch and the other pro-Nestorius bishops finally reached Ephesus, they assembled their own Council, condemned Cyril for heresy and declared him deposed. Again, the emperor concurred but eventually changed his mind again.

The events created a major schism between the followers of the different versions of the council, which was only mended by difficult negotiations about a union between the pro-Cyril and pro-John factions. The Syrians acquiesced in the condemnation of Nestorius and, after additional clarifications, accepted the decisions of Cyril's council. However, the rift would open again during the debates leading up to the Council of Chalcedon.

Canons and Declarations

Cyril of Alexandria

Cyril's Council of Ephesus declared it "unlawful for any man to bring forward, or to write, or to compose a different (ἑτέραν) Faith as a rival to that established by the holy Fathers assembled with the Holy Ghost in Nicæa",[1] It did not specify whether it meant the Nicene Creed as adopted by the First Council of Nicaea in 325, or as added to and modified by the First Council of Constantinople in 381.

In addition, it condemned Pelagianism.[2]

Eight canons[3] were passed:

  • Canon 1-5 condemned Nestorius and Caelestius and their followers as heretics
  • Canon 6 decreed deposition from clerical office or excommunication for those who did not accept the Council's decrees
  • Canon 7 condemned any departure from the creed established by the First Council of Nicaea, in particular an exposition by the priest Charisius.
  • Canon 8 condemned interference by the Bishop in affairs of the Church in Cyprus and decreed generally, so that no bishop was to "assume control of any province which has not heretofore, from the very beginning, been under his own hand or that of his predecessors ... the Canons of the Fathers be transgressed".[4]



Bellitto, Christopher M. The General Councils: a History of the Twenty-One Church Councils From Nicaea to Vatican II. Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist P, 2002. 22-25.

External links

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