The Sacrament of the holy leaven In Assyrian Church of the East – Fr. George Toma

The Sacramental Theology – Rev. Archdeacon Dr. William Toma

Typology of Mary in the Writings of East Syriac Fathers – Rev. Archdeacon Dr. William Toma



Basic Features of the Liturgy with Especial Reference to the East Syrian Eucharistic Liturgy -Rev. Archdeacon William Toma

East Syrian Liturgy as an Expression of Christology – With Special Attention to the use of the “Exchange of Predicates”

The Late Chorbishop M. J. Birnie


The question addressed in this paper is whether the Christology reflected in the liturgical prayers and anthems of the Church of the East expresses and nurtures a faith in the unitary person of the incarnate Logos, the Son of God. With attention to the axiom set forth by Celestine I, “The rule of prayer determines the rule of faith,” it will be demonstrated, through extracts from the various offices of the church as contained in the Order of the Hallowing of the Apostles and the Cycle of Offices and Propers, that the official prayers and anthems, when they deal with Christological themes, are directed to, or speak of, a single subject in the person of Christ, and nourish a faith in the undivided incarnate Word.

Since the initial “cause of scandal” which led to the first Council of Ephesus concerned the propriety of the use of the “exchange of predicates” between the divine and human natures of the person of Christ, it will be demonstrated through the above named sources that the exchange of predicates has a distinct place in the worship life of the faithful community of the Church of the East, notwithstanding the suspicion its use has occasioned in the church and among its theologians. The appearance of the “exchange” in these texts, and their long history without revision, testify to its acceptance by generations of worshippers in the church. And with Celestine’s axiom in mind, consideration will be given to the practical consequences this may have for the conceptualisation of the worshipper as he visualises the object of his worship.


The Exchange of Predicates

It is typical in liturgies of the Church of the East for prayers and anthems

to be addressed to God or to the Lord God, including those that are addressed to Christ and contain Christological descriptive matter. The divine Logos, the Son of God (though not conceived apart from His humanity), is intended as the one to whom those prayers and anthems are addressed. And though the exchange of predicates is seldom employed directly to express the unitary person of Christ, its use has acquired a qualified synodical approval, that is, it may be employed occasionally “and by way of the economy”1. This official qualified acceptance of the propriety and practical use of the exchange is evidence that the Church of the East finds it useful as a legitimate, if sometimes controversial, means of addressing and confessing the unitary person of Christ, and its use in liturgical settings, though limited, is nonetheless significant.

When we look for a striking and obvious use of the exchange of predicates in prayers of the Church of the East, we must confess that it is rare. But it does occur, and its occurrence is sometimes startling. One may consider this example from the Evening Office for Wednesday, which the rubrics emphasise must be said every Wednesday of the year:

Equip us, O our Lord and our God, with mighty and invincible armour, by the prayers of Your blessed Mother, and give us  portion and fellowship with her in Your heavenly bride-chamber. . .2

Because the Nestorian controversy emerged in the first instance over the propriety of the term Theotokos, and because the Church of the East eventually aligned itself with those who questioned its use and its implications for Christology, when this anthem is singled out it usually provokes scepticism and a scurrying for verification. In fact, though, the veneration given the holy Virgin among members of the Church of the East is intense and proportionally similar to that given her among other Christians and Christian bodies, and the historical survival of a prayer such as this should not be surprising to those familiar with the piety of the Assyrians. The unique place of the mother of Christ in salvation history, and her singular relationship to her Son, the “Son of the Most High”, are the subject matter of much hymnody in the Church. The placement and emphasis given to this prayer make it to stand out all the more.

Furthermore, as a frequently overlooked but useful example of the use of the exchange of predicates one may note the Litany of the Eucharist. A series of

petitions begins with the address, “O merciful God who in mercies governs all, we beseech you.”3 The following petitions, all beginning with the relative pronoun “who” or “to whom”, requiring an antecedent referent and contemplating no change of subject, without distinction speak of divine and human attributes or experiences:

Who is rich in His mercies and overflowing in His compassion, we beseech you . . . Who in His nature is good and the Giver of all good things . . . Who is glorified in heaven and worshipped on earth . . . Who by His birth (or epiphany, etc.) gladdened the earth and cheered the heavens . . . To whom immortality belongs naturally, and who dwells in gladsome light . . .

The sequential petitions which begin, “who by His birth, etc.” and “to whom immortality belongs naturally”, address their antecedent, “merciful God”, as the subject appropriate to both descriptions, and generations of worshippers in the Church of the East have comfortably and piously joined their voices and sentiments to them without compunction. An intellectual distinction of the divine and human natures of the “merciful God” to whom they make petition is possible, of course, as it is in any use of the exchange of predicates, but this is not, I believe, very likely to happen in the course of common prayer.

But it is not only in Marian references or in the above-named deacon’s litany that the Church of the East makes use of the exchange of predicates, but also in other Sacramental contexts. In the Anthem of the Bema4 for Epiphany we find this example:

Through water and the Spirit we have been sanctified; by Your body and blood we have gained life. O Good One who fashioned us from dust, You renewed our image through water and the Spirit; through water and the Spirit You fashioned us anew. Glorious is Your renewal, and lovely is Your coming.5

The words “Your body and blood” can have no other referent than the “Good One who fashioned us from the dust.” And here, as above, the subject of address is the second person of the Holy Trinity, incarnate in the manhood He took from us. The adoration is of the Word made flesh who gave us His own sanctifying body and blood, not another’s.

The evocative power of the singing of the Anthem of the Bema is significant in its formative influence on the worshippers’ faith and conceptualisation. The familiar tunes and rhythms of these relatively short and easily remembered hymns aid in fixing them in the memory of the worshipper, who is apt to sing them at home and at work as well as in church and, in times past, to understand and assimilate their message as well6. On the memorial of St. Stephen the Protomartyr the worshipper intones: “Let us sing glory and receive the body of the Son of God and His living blood.”7 On the memorial of the Syrian Doctors: “Come, let us take delight in the glorious Mysteries of the body and blood of the Son of God.”8 On the second Sunday in Lent: “Come, let us receive the body and blood of the First-born9 of the Godhead. . . . Come, let us receive the body of the Son who was sent from above.”10 And decisively, from the Anthem of the Bema for Thursday after Easter:

The eternal and everlasting Son, begotten of God and coessential with him, who gave His own body, which wicked men sacrificed upon Golgotha, that He might give life to all, died as He willed, revived as He sought, and gave His body and blood to His church. Hallelujah!11

In the latter anthem the subject, the Son, begotten of the Father and of the same essence, is described as not only willing death and resurrection for His own body, but dying and rising in the same.

These examples all refer what is characteristic of the human nature of Christ to his divinity, but in some cases of prayer the name of the addressee to whom the exchange of predicates refers appears reversed. In the first of a series of “sealing” prayers at the conclusion of the evening office for ordinary days, the opening sentence reads as follows:

Glory to you, Jesus, our victorious King, the Effulgence of the eternal Father, begotten without beginning beyond times and origins, for we have no hope and expectation except for You, the Creator.12

The significance of this prayer to our discussion is the typical way that names are viewed and commonly used in the Church of the East. In his Book on the Union Babai the Great has this to say concerning the name Jesus:

The Son of God is called “Christ”, both according to the series of [divine] names which we previously set down above . . . and according to the name which Gabriel ordained beforehand for Him, that is, “Jesus,” which indicates the special title of His human qnoma in the Union, which was taken from the nature of the blessed [and] holy Virgin, Mary. . . . Although this name Jesus, “Saviour,” makes known what He is going to become, yet it is the name of the qnoma of His manhood.13

This standard explanation, applying the name “Jesus” to the human nature of Christ, makes it all the more noteworthy that the address to Jesus should describe Him as the Effulgence of the eternal Father, begotten without beginning beyond times and origins, and the Creator. Thus, while the previous examples I have given ascribe human attributes to the Godhead in the economy, here the reverse takes place, as the properties of the divine Word are referred to the “human” name, Jesus. A unitary subject is contemplated, here under the name of His manhood. Both the human nature and the name which it bears belong to the subject of the Incarnation, the divine Word, the “Effulgence of the eternal Father”.


The Language of Prayer and Praise, and the Faith It Expresses or Evokes

The language of prayer and praise is formative in the worshipper, both through the images and sentiments it evokes, and through the faith it builds upon and reinforces by its repeated expression. In the liturgies of the Church of the East, in prayers specifically addressed to God or the Lord God, where Christ is meant, the language employed to describe His human experiences directs the worshipper’s mind to the Deity as antecedent. The subject of those experiences is conceptualised as one and not as one and another. Whatever “duality” may emerge in the course of polemic discussion or theoretical contemplation disappears in hymnic wonder and prayerful certitude in the Assyrian Christian as he, in his ordinary worship, addresses his Lord and God, the Word become flesh. The relationship thus conceived and acknowledged between worshipper and Worshipped is one to one. The suggestion of an internal, independent relationship of the divine nature to the human in the united Christ is absent from the worshipper’s adoration, who acknowledges only the ontic unity which the Incarnate One is perceived to be in His person and in His relationship to His people.

To approach the divine Son of God through the veil of his flesh; to honour His mother because of the relationship of His flesh to hers, and therefore His own relationship to her; to adore Him and receive Him intimately through the mediating elements of the sacraments—His own body and blood—these acts of devotion, through cumulative effect on the worshipper, leave not the slightest room for separation to be contemplated, either by implication or through inference, in the unique and absolute union of humanity and divinity in the person of Christ. The language of worship and adoration in the liturgies of the Church of the East does not lead the worshipper to conceptualise a human person existing by Himself in relationship with the Logos. The personal identity of the complete and undiminished manhood taken by the Logos is that of the eternal Son of God, “begotten without beginning beyond times and origins”, who is the sole object of petition and praise. Like the worship of his Christian brothers and sisters who have been taught to confess the union in philosophical terms foreign or suspicious to him (or to his ancestors), his own worship is of the one Son of God incarnate, both Suffering Servant and King of Glory.




1 Synodicon Orientale, ed. J. B. Chabot, (Syr. text) p. 136.

2 Khudra, p. 22.

ܙܲܝܸܢ ܠܲܢ ܡܵܪܲܢ ܘܐܲܠܵܗܲܢ ܒܙܲܝܢܵܐ ܚܲܣܝܼܢܵܐ ܘܠܵ‍ܐ ܡܸܙܕܲܟ̣ܝܵܢܵܐ: ܒܲܨܠܵܘܵܬ̣̈ܵܗ̇ ܕܐܸܡܵܟ̣ ܡܒܲܪܲܟ̣ܬܵܐ: ܘܲܥܒܸܕ ܠܲܢ ܥܲܡܵܗ̇ ܡܢܵܬ̣ܵܐ ܘܫܵܘܬܵܦܘܼܬ̣ܵܐ ܒܲܓ̣ܢܘܿܢܵܟ̣ ܫܡܲܝܵܢܵܐ: ܡܵܪܵܐ ܕܟ̣ܠ.

3 Ktaba dTurgame, pp. 84-85.

4 An anthem sung at the time of the reception of the Sacrament during the Eucharist.

5 Khudra, p. 424.

6 The modern Assyrians’ lack of understanding of the classical Syriac language is a barrier to understanding and a problem yet to be addressed.

7 Khudra, Vol. 1, p. 740.

8 Khudra, Vol. 1, p. 778.

9 ܒܘܼܟ̣ܪܵܐ ܕܐܲܠܵܗܵܐ

10 Khudra, Vol. 2, p. 194.

11 Khudra, Vol. 2, p. 570.

12 Khudra, p.13.

13 CSCO, “Book on the Union,” Paris, 1915, ed. A. Vaschalde, pp. 208, lines 25- 26,28-31; 209, lines 11-13.

Is the Theology of the Assyrian Church Nestorian?

His Beatitude Dr Mar Aprem Mooken

This paper was originally given at the First Non-Official Consultation on Dialogue within the Syriac Tradition, held in Vienna between June 24th – 29th 1994 under the auspices of the Pro Oriente Foundation. It was later published in the record of proceedings of the Consultation and edited on behalf of the Pro Oriente Foundation by Alfred Stirnemann and Gerhard Wilflinger.

His Beatitude Mar Aprem is the Metropolitan of Malabar and India. The Metropolitan holds a Master of Theology from the United Theological College (Serampore, 1966) and a Master of Sacred Theology from Union Theological Seminary (New York, 1967). He later undertook postgraduate theological studies graduating with a Doctorate of Theology from Serampore University (1976). He completed and was admitted to the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Syriac by Mahatma Gandhi University in 2002. His Beatitude has also been a student at St Boniface College (Warminster, England), St Augustine’s College (Canterbury, England) and at the Ecumenical Institute (Bossey, Switzerland). His Beatitude has published almost 70 books and numerous monographs largely focused on church history, theology, biographies and travelogues in both English and Malayalam. Since his consecration as Metropolitan in Baghdad in 1968 His Beatitude has been intimately active in the ecumenical movement both in India and abroad. This has included ecumenical dialogues via the Pro Oriente Foundation (Vienna, Austria) and other bi-lateral theological consultations. He was previously co-chairman of the Joint Committee for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East. Most recently, a second edition of His Beatitude’s PhD dissertation entitled The Assyrian Church of the East in the Twentieth Century (Kottayam: SEERI, 2003) has been published.



The question whether the Theology of the Church of the East (known as the Assyrian Church, East Syrian Church or the Nestorian Church) is Nestorian has been debated in the present century by some individual scholars. One problem in finding a suitable answer to this question is the difference in understanding the word Nestorian.

The Churches who accept the council of Ephesus of 431AD presided over by Cyril of Alexandria consider Nestorianism as a heresy because they thought that Nestorius taught two personalities in Jesus Christ and Jesus was born as a human being to Whom divinity was joined later at the time of baptism or so. But the truth is that Nestorius did not teach any such heresy. He believed like all bishops in his time that Christ was God and Man.

How exactly was this union of two nature, divinity and humanity in Christ, united in one person in Christ, this was the burden of the council of Chalcedon twenty years after the council of Ephesus of 431AD.

The Church of the East does not recognise the council of Ephesus presided over by Cyril of Alexandria. The history of the two rival councils held at Ephesus in June 431AD is ery complicated and unfortunate.

The anathematisms and counter-anathematisms have been discussed by the present writer in his M.Th. Thesis submitted to the Senate of Serampore in 1966 (Published by Mar Narsai press, Trichur, Kerala, India in 1978).

A short evaluation of the Council of Ephesus of 431AD would bring us to the conclusion that the Council of Ephesus of 431AD was guided also by the personal enmity of Cyril against Nestorius, rather than the Christological issue which was evidently the cause according to the “official version.” Moreover, the help of the Pope of Rome given to Cyril resulted in the ultimate victory.

It appears that unless and until one is able to produce the documents redeeming

1) the lack of authority in Cyril of Alexandria to convene the Council in spite of the protests of the Imperial Commissioner,

2) the absence of right intention in Cyril of Alexandria who presided over it,

3) the irregularity of the procedure of the Council when the accuser himself was the judge,

4) the absence of the patriarchs or authorised representatives of Constantinople and Antioch,

5) the incompleteness of the Council as the anticipated joint session of the Council could not take place even after the union of 433AD,

6) the lack of form in the manner of conducting it and,

7) the lack of integrity of the sayings of Nestorius cited,

the validity of the Synod of Ephesus of 431AD as an ecumenical Council of the universal church and its subsequent acceptance by the Church of the East remains doubtful.

The reasons for the refusal of recognition to this Council by the Church of the East are many. The Church of the East was neither invited nor present in this Council. The Council of Cyril was declared null and void, as per the oder of the Imperial Commissioner in June 431AD and the repeated orders of the Emperor till the “political” settlement, and such a settlement did not affect the Persian Church as it was beyond the jurisdiction of Theodosius II. Moreover, the Council of Cyril did not settle any issue, but, on the contrary, created more problems as seen the Eutychian heresy which was a development of the mia physis thought of Cyril of Alexandria. Aoart from the dangerous use of the ambiguous title Theotokos, the Christology of the Church of the East was much similar to that of the Council of Chalcedon, two decades later.

These factors demand a change of outlook by the other churches in regard to the recognition of the council of Ephesus of 431. Individuals have come out with statements in sympathy with, and in favour of, the stand of the Church of the East. Adolf Harnack and many others challenged the propriety of calling the Council of Ephesus the ecumenical council[1].

The French Roman Catholic theologian, Pére J. Mahe, who made a fresh examination of the writings of Theodoret, was led to the conclusion that the two Christologies of Antioch and Alexandria, in spite of notable differences, were alike perfectly orthodox[2]. If Theodoret, who wrote against the twelve anathematisms of Cyril against Nestorius, was considered orthodox in the Council of Chalcedon, Nestorius also would have been considered orthodox if he had been present. What is required is not individual opinions, but official statements by the Churches.


The Necessity for a “Nestorian Christology” Today

The relevance of Nestorianism for today is the appreciation of the humanity of our Lord. Such an emphasis was necessary at the time of Nestorius became of the influence of the Appollinarians. It is just as relevant today. G.L. Prestige says:

           “Redemption requires a human response and human appreciation, God Himself supplied a perfect human agent to lead the response and a perfect human instrument to convey the means of appropriation[3].”

Donald Baille argues that if the human nature of Jesus Christ lacks a human person (a human centre, subject and principal of identity) it is incomplete[4]. Cyril C. Richardson in his article “A Preface to Christology,” states that only Nestorians can answer the question “Wherein lies the reality of Jesus’ temptation? Wherein is His human freedom?[5]” The Christology of the Church of the East is relevant to modern times because of its teaching of perfect human nature. The Nestorian Christ is one who was subject to the conditions of life of the first century, tempted, triumphant and obedient and thereby being a perfect example to mankind of every nation for all times.

The necessity for a “Nestorian” Christology becomes inevitable when we think of the greatest position ascribed to Virgin Mary in the Roman Catholic Church. The fear expressed by Nestorius against the use of Theotokos should not be ignored. It is one of the positive contributions of Nestorius to have exposed the ptoential danger of this title.

As far back as our records of history go there was nobody to speak against this title before 428AD though it was used by certain individuals. Perhaps it would have become the standard expression of all Christians if Nestorius did not wage such a crusade against this title. Till the Reformation in the 16th century, the Church of the East was the only Church which shared the concern of Nestorius against the use of Theotokos. Since the Reformation, however, many churches share this attitude and thus the position taken by the Church of the East singularly, down through the centuries, is vindicated.

In these days, when the announcement such as the “Immaculate Conception of Mary,” Assumption of Mary to Heaven, Proclaiming Mary as the Queen of Heaven, are made, the Christians have begun to open their eyes to the dangers of the over-emphasis of the imprtance of Mary. The opposition to excessive Mariology demonstrated at the Vatican II and the opposition to a seperate Schema on Mary from many bishops at the Council show that even in the Roman church some at least are beginning to see the dangers of the title of Theotokos. Therefore, the position explained by Nestorius and consistently maintained by the Church of the East, deserves the appreciation of Christians.

Now many protestants have reocognised that the fears expressed by Nestorius against the use of the title Theotokos were genuine. This justifies the stand that the “Nestorian” Christology is relevant for today. The “Image of Nestorius” has changed considerably in the recent years. Bethune Baker proved that Nestorius was not a Nestorian![6] Wigram could see the Christological formula of the Church of the East as free from any charges of heresy[7].

F. Loofs, who did not give much importance to the “transactions of Ephesus” of 431, showed considerable sympathy to Nestorius and his Christology. Against the charge of dualism in Nestorianism, he argued that Nestorius emphasised the unity of the Person of Christ[8].

A.R. Vine, who felt it impossible to comprehend the meaning of the Christology of Bazaar of Heracleides, without a “metaphysical and Christological system” endeavoured to formulate a system by “working backwards and forwards,” and claimed to have succeeded in the “evolution of a self consistent metaphysics and Christology[9].” He reached the conclusion: “There are elements in the thought of Nestorius which provide a helpful mode of approarch to the Christological problem[10].” At present many take a position, which was long ago taken by Mosheim even before the “discovery” of the Bazaar, that “Nestorianism” is an error in words rather than in thought[11].

The present writer has gone a step furhter. The Christology of the Church of the East, as well as that of Nestorius himself, is not far from the Chalcedonian formula. Though the words are different the teaching is very much the same. The Christology of Chalcedon is Antiochene in emphasis. In other words, the Chalcedonian formula was the triumph of Nestorian Christology.

In 1907, William Edward Collins, Bishop of Gibraltar, made the first Angilcan episcopal visit to the Assyrian Church to meet the Patriarch Mar Benyamin Shimun with a view to discuss the terms of inter-communion, During the interesting interview Bishop Collins explained the Anglican position in regard to the doctrinal requirements if such an inter-communion was to be made possible and frequent. Regarding Assyrians living in an area where there was no church of their denomination there ought to be no difficulty. Bishop Collins writes:

          “Not that we should ask them to disavow their fathers, not that we should ask them to revise their doctrinal books or to make a new creed, for but simply that we should say, ‘This is the faith as we hold it. Is this what you believe?[12]’


Three years later the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Davidson, following a resolution by the Lambeth Conference of 1908, wrote to the Patriarch of the Church of the East to clarify the doubts regarding the Christology of the Church of the East. After consultation with his bishops, the Patriarch replied on June 13, 1911, accepting the statement of faith propounded to him (the Quicunque vult) as expressing the belief of the Church of the East. The statement was sent by W.A. Wigram, head of the Archbishop’s Assyrian Mission, who in a covering note to the Archbishop remarked:

          “I venture to hope also that the letter of Mar Shimun to your Grace will suffice to clear this church from the charge of heresy, that has been levelled against it for so long.[13]”

His wish was fulfilled, for the Commission set up by the Lambeth Conference was completely satisfied by the explanation given to the use of the term Christokos. Due to the outbreak of war in 1914 the attempt for inter-communion could not immediately bear fruit, but the following Lambeth Conference[14], received the report from the Committee. The report reads:

          “… The watchword Theotokos is absent from their service books, and in one place is repudiated; on the other hand, its equivalent in other words is several times found, and strong instances of the language known as communicatio idiomatum occur.[15]”

Even the problem of two Qnome did not seem to be an obstacle to this Committee. The report states:

          One phrase which has caused some perplexity, that which asserts that there are in Christ one parsopa (prosopon), two qnome, and two natures. The word qnoma is equivalent of “Hypostasis” and if used in the later sense of that word, i.e. as meaning “person,” it would imply real Nestorianism; but research had made it plain that it is used in the earlier sense of “hypostasis,” namely, “substance,” and this makes the phrase, if redundant, at least perfectly, orthodox[16].

This report strongly recommended that if the “present” authorities of the Church of the East adhered to their statement of June 13, 1911, occasional inter-communion should be established. It is a matter of regret to read in the report of the following Lambeth Conference, a decade later, that “it has not been possible, owing to political and other conditions, to obtain the authoritative statement recommeded in 1920[17]”

While the Lambeth Conference Report of 1948 expressed the hope that the relations between these two churches may be strengthened[18], the report of 1958 mentioned only the political and material aspets of the Assyrian Church[19]. It does not mean that the Assyrian Church is in disagreement with the doctrinal position explained in 1911 statement. Neither does it mean that the Anglican church had “Second thought.” The council of Foreign Relations of the Church of England at Lambeth agrees with this view[20].

A word is necessary on the position of the Council of Chalcedon in the Church of the East. Monseigneur Chabot deserves the credit for the information that Synodicon Orientale included the Council of Chalcedon and “Tome of Leo” as officially accepted by the Church of the East. Though he did not print the texts of these documents in the edition, his announcement that these documents were approved documents of the Church of the East took the scholary world by surprise[21]. Wigram who took pains to investigate this question, was able to find the manuscript of Synodicon Orientale in Mosul and happened to see the formula of Chalcedon in it[22]. The Church which recognises the formula of Chalcedon deserves the recognition of the western Churches. The Church of England took a right step in proper direction.


The Prospects of these Aims

“If the broken unity of the Church Catholic is ever to be knit up once more,” Wigram wrote, “it must be by full recognition of these national differences which are national heritages which are so treasued by the nations who hold them that they went into separation rather than surrender them[23].”

As far as the Assyrian Church of the East is concerned, it will never forsake their hero. The Protestant Church, which do not accept the title “Theotokos” though used in the Council of Ephesus of 431 ought therefore to say officially whether they regard the approval of the condemnation of Nestorius by Cyril and his followers as a necessary test of orthodoxy.

The Anglican scholars expressed their willingness to accord official recognition to the Church of the East without insisting u[on the condemnation of the three Greek doctors, provided they cease to repeat the anathema on Cyril of Alexandria.

It is extremely unlikely that the Church of the East will cease to mention the names of the three Greek doctors in their Litany. Wigram suggested to use an alternate bidding found in the litany to avoid the names of the Greek doctors[24] with the hope that “the change would not be felt, as the people are all the while occupied in singing an anthem[25].” Whether the change will be felt or not, the Church of the East will never agree to any “change” in this matter. A change of attitude of other churches in regard to their recognition of the Council of 431AD will pave the way for the reunion of this once far-reaching Church which is the first major schism of the Christendom.

The prospects of a “Nestorian” Christology are much brighter today than ever before. The Protestant theologians who have begun to emphasise the reality of the suffering of Christ, as an example of his perfect humanity, can play a part in it. The present writer has gone further than the previous students of Nestorianism in suggesting without hesitation that Bazaar of Heracledies answers most of the charges levelled against Nestorius.

Sympathy towards Nestorius is being shown even in orthodox circles. M.V. Anastos, a Greek orthodox theologian, has shown that the Christology of Nestorius was not very different from that of Cyril. He argues:

          “… The Christology of Nestorius, if orthodox, should be reconcilable, not withstanding angry denials on both sides, with Cyril’s. In truth, it must be admitted, the line which separates them on this, as on all other issues, is either very thin or nonexistent[26].”

The results of the Arrhus consultation of August 1964, in a way, are discouraging, if a unilateral declaration of a Christological compromise is made from the East, they may have to go its own way and the “Church of the East” may find more affinity with the West than the East from the christological point of view. If the “eastern ecumenism” is based on Cyril of Alexandria and the Council of Ephesus “western ecumenism” will be based on the Tome of Leo and the Council of Chalcedon.

As the non-Chalcedonian Churches insist on the reunion with the orthodox Churches without recognising the Council of Chalcedon of 451AD, the Church of the East has a legitimate claim to insist on the reunion without recognising the Council of Ephesus of 431AD, presided over by Cyril.

Even Cyril treated the decision of the Council of 431 with such a scant respect that within two years he swept that decision absolutely on one side, and made, on his own authority, a compromise with his rivals. It is possible for the churches to follow the example of Cyril and to rethink the importance they have attached to this as the third ecumenical council – an idea, which perhaps did not occur ever to Cyril[27].


A Final Word

The present writer had claimed his M.Th. Thesis to be an impartial study of the Council of Ephesus. Impartiality, however, does not consist in refusing to form any opinion or in a futile concealment of the dangers of the thought of the man concerned, but in treating them scientifically and sincerely and attempting to discover objectively the thought in the historical background in which it was developed.


This, then, the present writer hopes to achieve in this consultation. Men have thought about all the conceivable forms of the conception of the union of the divine and human natures of Christ. How exactly has this union taken place? It is open to conjectures. To a certain extent, it is beyond human speculation.

There was a period when these terms were only “in the making.” Such a beginning, though unfortunate, was necessary for an adequate understanding “Nestorianism” was necessary to prevent any notion of deification of human nature as an entity, thereby losing sight of the historical Christ. As Bethune Baker warns us the teachings against which Nestorius protested “would have made of the Saviour of men a person not really human, and Redemption a magical, instantaneous, rather than ethical, gradual, process[28].”

The “re-discovery” of the Bazaar was a “dispensation of God, in an age in which the doctrine of the Incarnation is exposed to dangers from opponents and defenders alike which are at least as dissolvent as those against which he cried unheard[29].” Modern thought can best profit from this controversy by attempting a synthesis of the apparently opposed but really complementary views.

The christology of the Church of the East, i.e. one person, two qnome and two kyane, when it is translated as one person, two concrete natures and two abstract natures, is perfectly orthodox. As A.R. Vine has pleaded we should give Nestorius the benefit of doubt with regard to the technical terms. If we attempt to understand exactly how Godhead and manhood are united in the one person Jesus Christ, we reach the inevitable conclusion that the problem of Christology is insoluble.



The Syriac manuscripts and printed books found in this Church teaching the Christology of one person, two qnome and two natures. Having examined this Christological formula this thesis upholds the theory put forward earlier by Professor J.F. Bethune Baker that Nestorius was not a “Nestorian.”

In understanding the qnoma, this writer rejects the translation given by some scholars as person and puts forward an alternative view that it should be understood as “the individuated nature” or concrete nature, if the word kyana (nature) is understood as “abstract nature.” Qnoma is also translated in this thesis as hypostasis. This is done so because several other writers have done likewise; for instance, in their useful work “A Nestorian Collection of Christological Texts,” Luise Abramowski and Alan Goodman translate the word as hypostasis. But hypostasis does not convey the true meaning of qnoma as used by Nestorian Fathers. The present writer is of the opinion that some better word could be coined in order to convey the true meaning which the members of this Church attributed to this controversial, but crucial, term qnoma.

This writer does not argue that this Christology, even if it is understood properly, agrees completely with the Christological formula of the Council of Chalcedon AD 451 though the Nestorian Christology has several points of agreement with Tome of Leo, as Nestorius himself has claimed, over against his opponent Cyril of Alexandria, the observations made by V.C. Samuel, quoted in the present writer’s D.Th. dissertation, give us a new direction to explore further the points of agreement between Cyril’s Christology and the Christology of Nestorius.

Though this Church considers Nestorius as a saint, this is not a Church founded by Nestorius. Nestorius did not know Syriac and the East Syrian Church of the Persian empire know no Greek. There was no contact between the East Syrian Churches of Persia and the “heretic” and his supporters in AD 431. Only after the death of Nestorius, when the East Syrian Church had not part in the Christological battles between Nestorius and Cyril, nor had any knowledge of this unhappy controversy during the life time of the champions, has been unjustly described as the Church founded by Nestorius.

The separation of the East Syrian Church from the rest of the Christendom and particularly from the jurisdiction of Antioch had taken place before the Christological controversy had sprung up in AD 428. A canon of the Synod of Dadisho’ in AD 424 forbade the bishops of this Church to have any ecclesiastical jurisdictional contact with the West. This fact itself leads us to the conclusion that the separation of the East Syrian Church was motivated by political, cultural, linguistic or personal considerations rather than any theological reason for there was none such existent in AD 424.

The important Pauline ideas of self-emptying, image of God, form of servant, historical Jesus etc., have been founded in Nestorius too. It was from his biblical foundation Nestorius formulated his theory of prosopic union.

The Christological formula of this Church is that of the prosopic union rejecting the formula of hypostatic union accepted by both Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox Churches (Greek, Russian etc.). This prosopic union is a three tier Christology where the union is not at the first level of natures, nor at the second level of the hypostases but at the third level of the prosopon. To the members of this Church, the idea of perfect God and man is understood only if Christ has both natures and qnome of both God and man and the union has taken place only at the level of prosopon.

As for the Mariology, it refuses to call Mary “Theotokos” unlike the Orthodox Church. However, this writer believes that despite the refusal to use the title Theotokos to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the “Nestorian” Churches throughout the world, is in general agreement with the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox (non-Chalcedonian) Churches in giving respect and veneration to the Blessed Virgin Mary. A Nestorian is an orthodox without theotokos.

This Church does not overdo the respect due to Mary as the Roman Catholics seem to do, nor does it underestimate the honour due to the Blessed Virgin Mary as some of the Protestant Churches have admittedly done. The prayers of this Church about Virgin Mary would lead to the inevitable conclusion that this Church tries to give a proper place to the Blessed Virgin Mary avoiding the excesses and at the same time trying to save the Church from the danger of ignoring the Mother of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. In this context, it must be stated further that nobody in this Church as never questioned the Virgin Birth, as some modern theologians in various Churches do today. She is ever virgin before, in and after the birth of Jesus Christ.

The special emphasis of the Nestorian Christology on the humanity of our Lord is the statement that in jesus Christ there are two distinct qnome, divine and human. This emphasis on the humanity of the Saviour of the mankind saved the Church in the fifth century from the heresy of the followers of Apollinarius who were still in the capital city of Constantinople where Nestorius worked as the head of the Church during the period AD 428-31. This emphasis on humanity is generally recognised today in the contemporary theological debate throughout the world. The East Syrian Church therefore, the present writer hopes, will have a definite contribution to make in the development of a Christian theology utilising the initiatives provided by some emerging dynamics in the religious and cultural context in the world today.

By the denial of the title Imme d’Alaha (Mother of God) the Assyrian Church never denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. They believed like all fathers of the Council of Nicea 325AD and the Council of Constantinople 381AD that the expressions used in those Councils and the Nicene creed are good enough to guarantee the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Imme D’Msheha (Mother of Messiah) is proper expression as all Christians believe that Messiah is perfect God and perfect man. Is the theology of the Assyrian Church Nestorian? The answer is both Yes and No. If Nestorius himself was never a Nestorian, why should anybody bother whether the reply is Yes or No? It is “Nestorian” to the extent that the Assyrian Church considers him a Saint and Greek doctor (Malpana Yawnaya) of the Church. The answer is “No” if the questioner thought that Nestorianism is the denial of the divinity or the total separation o the divine and human natures in Christ.



[1]                 Adolf Harnack calls Cyril’s Council “this petty assembly” in contrast to what he calls the “legal council under the presidency of the Imperial Commissioner.” (Harnack op. cit; p.187)
[2]                 Pére J. Mahe in the Revue d’histoire ecclésiastique vol. VII, No. 3, July 1906, quoted from Bethune Baker, op. cit; p. 198
[3]                 G.L. Prestige; Fathers and heretics, London, S.P.C.K., 1948
[4]                 Donald Baille; God was in Christ, New York: Charles Scribners’ Sons, 1948
[5]                 Cyril C. Richardson; “A Preface to Christology,” Religion in Life, Vol. XXVII No.                                      4. p. 508
[6]                 Bethune Baker, Nestorius and His Teachings, Cambridge, University Press, 1908
[7]                 W.A. Wigram, The Doctrinal Position of the Assyrian or East Syrian Church,                                             London, S.O.C.K. 1908, p. 289
[8]                 F. Loofs, Nestorius and His Place in the History of Christian Doctrine, Cam                                                 bridge 1914 p. 126
[9]                 A.R. Vine, The Nestorian Churches, London, The Independent Press, 1937, p. 53
[10]               Ibid; p. 54
[11]               J.L. Mosheim; An Ecclesiastical History, Ancient and Modern, (ed) Murdock                                                James; London; William Tegg & Co., 1876, p. 633
[12]               A.J. Mason; Life of William Edward Collins, Bishop of Gibraltar, London: 1912,                                         p. 125
[13]               W.A. Wigram, Letter addressed to Dr. Davidson, Archbishop of Canterbury,                                                dated August, 1911. (From the Archives of Lambeth Palace Library, London)
[14]               Lambeth Conference of 1920
[15]               Lambeth Conferences (1867, 1930); London: S.P.C.K., 1948, p. 132
[16]               Ibid.
[17]               Lambeth Conference, 1930, London: S.P.C.K., n.d. p. 146
[18]               Lambeth Conference, 1948, London: S.P.C.K., 1948, Part II, p. 71
[19]          Lambeth Conference, 1958, London: S.P.C.K., 1958, p. 251
[20]               Letter to the present writer, dated 3rd November 1965
[21]               The Church of the East officially has not made any statement about this announcement
[22]               Wigram informs us that the word “Theotokos” is translated as “Mother of Christ” who is both God and man; and one Qnoma is altered as two Qnome. The “blessed Cyril” is changed to “accursed Cyril” and the phrase “to rebuke the folly of Nestorius” is omitted! (cf., Wigram, op. cit; p. 296)
[23]               W.A. Wigram; Doctrinal Position of the Assyrian Church, London: S.P.C.K., 1908, pp. 63-4
[24]               The bidding is not an alternate one in the litany as Wigram states.
[25]               W.A. Wigram; Doctrinal Position of the Assyrian Church, op. cit; pp. 25-26
[26]               M.V. Anatos; “Nestorius was Orthodox.” Dumbarton Oaks Paper XIV, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1962, p. 139. He concludes that Nestorius was the “dyophysite par excellence” (Ibid. p. 140)
[27]               W.A. Wigram; Doctrinal Position of the Assyrian Church; op. cit; p. 35
[28]               F.J. Bethune Baker; op. cit; p. 207
[29]               Ibid; p. 196


A Survey of the Christology of the Assyrian Church of the East as Expressed in the Khudra

Mar Awa Royel, Bishop

His Grace Mar Awa Royel is the Bishop of California, Secretary of the Holy Synod and President of the Commission on Inter-Church Relations and Education Development (CIRED). He Grace was consecrated to the episcopacy at Mar Zaia Cathedral, Modesto, California in November 2008. A native Chicagoan, His Grace graduated with a Bachelor of Sacred Theology from the University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, Illinois in 1999. He later undertook postgraduate theological studies in Rome graduating with a Licentiate of Sacred Theology (2001) and a Doctorate of Sacred Theology (2007) from the Pontifical Oriental Institute, specialising in Eastern Liturgy. He also represents the Assyrian Church of the East as a member of the Forum Syriacum (Pro Oriente Foundation, Vienna) and has been active in a wide variety of international symposia and ecumenical consultations to date. His Grace’s latest publication is Mysteries of the Kingdom: The Sacraments of the Assyrian Church of the East (California: CIRED, 2012).


The question of the Church’s Christological expression finds its roots in the question of the Lord Jesus posed to his Disciples in Caesarea of Philippi: “Who do you say that I am,” Matthew 16:15. That is really at the foundation of every, and any, discussion concerning how the Church confesses the one Son, Jesus Christ. The response of Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” constructs a framework for later Christological expressions of the Church. Later, one of the Lord’s Post-Resurrection appearances, the apostle Thomas equally gives a highly Christological expression to the Risen Lord whom he experienced and truly handled after the resurrection—“My Lord and my God,” John 20:28.  In the Synoptic Gospels, the blessed Evangelists speak of Jesus ‘Son of God,’ ‘Christ’ and ‘Lord’ ( ܡܪܝܐ Marya in Aramaic, or Kyrios in Greek), while the Johannine tradition is more emphatic in its expression of the Eternal Son as ‘Word’ (or ܡܠܬܐ  Meltha)—Logos—the very Mind and Wisdom of God.[1] Theologians will speak of a ‘Christology from Below’ (identifying the Synoptic Gospels tradition) or a ‘Christology from Above’ (in reference to the tradition of St. John, the Beloved Disciple).

Although the Gospels express a christological faith that is complete and sufficient in its own right, the emergence in the early centuries of the Church of various heresies which denied either the complete humanity of Christ (such as Docetism[2] of the late third century and Apollinarianism[3] of the early fourth century) or the Lord’s complete and true divinity (such as Arianism[4] of the early fourth century) necessitated an expounding of the pure and simple Christological expressions of the New Testament. The influence of Hellenistic culture and the use of philosophy by the early Fathers of the Church also contributed to the development and growth of a Christological parlance and expressions that were much more complex than the Christology expressed in the New Testament texts.

The apostolic kerygma, therefore, is foundational for dogma—the Church’s official expressions and formulas of faith; without the apostles, there can be no apostolic faith, nor can there be an Apostolic Tradition, as such. Without the living Tradition of the apostles, there can be no valid apostolic expression. This living Tradition of the apostles, in turn, is outwardly expressed and experienced by the faithful in the Church’s life of worship and prayer—her Liturgy. For the Assyrian Church of the East, the main liturgical formulary is the Khudra, or ‘Cycle,’ which contains the offices and prayers for all Sundays of the liturgical year and the Feasts of our Lord and commemorations that are observed on Sundays.[5]

A very important and continuously viable principle expressive of the importance of the Church’s liturgical nature, and indeed the very content of the liturgy, is the famous axiom “the law of prayer establishes the law of belief.”[6]


The Formation of the Khudra

The major formularies with regard to the liturgical prayer are the Khudra, Gazza and the Kashkol; these have been formulated and organized at the Upper Monastery at Mosul.[7]   The Khudra, an Syriac term meaning ‘cycle’, is the principal liturgical formulary of the Church of the East.  It has already been effectively studied by Anton Baumstark and William Macomber.[8]  The oldest extant copy of the Khudra (10th-11th century),[9] which has come to be known as the ‘Mar Eša‘ya Khudra’ (belonging to the parish at Mosul under this name), was effectively discovered by W. Macomber, who writes concerning the Khudra:

[the Khudra] contains the variable chants of the choir for the divine office and the Mass for the entire cycle of the liturgical year.  The compilation of the Khudra is traditionally attributed to the Catholicos Patriarch Išo‘yahb III of Adiabene (648/9-648/9) and his collaborator, the monk ‘Enanišo‘, and there is no compelling reason for doubting he attribution.[10]

We have already discussed the redaction of the Khudra initiated by Išo‘yahb III, whose liturgical reforms actually began while he was yet metropolitan of Adiabene.[11] The fact that the recension of the Khudra standardized by Išo‘yahb while he was already patriarch, residing at the Upper Monastery, has gained for the name of this formulary, “according to the order of the Upper Monastery of Mar Abraham and Mar Gabriel at Mosul.”[12] The manuscript tradition almost always refers to this work as the “Khudra dam-dabranootha,” i.e., the Khudra ‘of the dispensation.’[13]  This refers to the whole liturgical year, with its different seasons and feasts in between, as celebrating the divine economy or mdabraootha—the economy of salvation authored by God the Father and realized in his Son, Jesus Christ.

The early history of this most-important formulary is not known.  Whether some sort of ‘primitive’ recension of the book prior to the seventh century reforms ever existed cannot be known.  The earliest witnesses to the Khudra outside the book itself are the Liber Superiorum (Book of Governors)[14]  of Thomas of Marga and the Expositio Officiorum of Pseudo-George of Arbel (ܢܘܗܪܐ ܕܬܫܡ̱ܫܬܼ̈ܐ ܥܕܬܢܝܬܼ̈ܐ).[15] The author refers to the penqīthā made by Išo‘yahb a number of times. At first glance, the title penqīthā, no doubt coming from the Greek πινακιδίον seems to refer to a lost work of Išo‘yahb which describes the various reforms he effected and an explanation of the rubrics he had stipulated.[16] According to Baby Varghese the penqīthā:

…was a commentary on the ceremonies of the eucharist, daily office and other liturgical rites.  This work seems to have given a theological rational for the liturgical actions.  The theological explanation given to the liturgical actions by an influential patriarch invested them with ‘a sacrosanct quality to change.’  This liturgical commentary, now lost, is used in an anonymous commentary on the anaphora and other liturgical ceremonies probably written in the ninth century.[17]

However, according to Pseudo-George of Arbel, the penqīthā in question seems to be none other than the Khudra:

Why is it that since the beginning of the year is Tishrin II, and that there is no feast from Tishrin to Kanon I, the blessed Išo‘yahb kept the Annunciation and the beginning of the penqīthā until Kanon, and did not make its beginning [to be] from Kanon?  The Church celebrates four beginnings in counting the year, and every one of them has a day and month, I mean the beginning of the year and the beginning of the penqīthā, and the beginning of the books and the beginning of the governors.  The beginning of the year is Tishrin I; the beginning of the penqīthā is Kanon I; the beginning of the books is the beginning of the season of the Fast of the Passion; and the beginning of the governors is the beginning of the season of Resurrection…and the second [of the beginnings] is that of the dispensation, i.e. the penqīthā…[18]

Thus, according to the usage of penqīthā in the Expositio, it could refer to none other than the Khudra itself.   Again, the author of the Expositio writes:  “Why is it that since the [period of] Consecration of the Church is before all of the liturgies, including Baptism [Epiphany], the blessed Išo‘yahb ordered the beginning of the penqīthā [to be] the Annunciation, and placed the baptism at Resurrection, and after all of the Khudra, ordered the Consecration of the Church…”[19]

The so-called penqīthā of Išo‘yahb is also mentioned by ‘Abdišo‘ of Nisibs in his Catalogus Auctorum. Concerning the writings of Išo‘yahb he mentions that he ordered the penqīthā d- Khudra, or the ‘volume of the Khudra.’[20] Here the understanding in clear—the penqīthā and the Khudra are one and the same volume.

It seems that in the period lasting from the christological controversies to the reforms of Išo‘yahb III, the East Syrians used to refer to the Khudra as the Penqīthā, in agreement with the West Syrian usage which is in sway to this very day. A Khudra manuscript of 1607/08, Cambridge Add. 1981, has this interesting rubric for the commemoration of ‘One Person’ (celebrated on the second Friday preceding the beginning of Lent): “The Commemoration of ‘One Person,’ and it is also known as that of Mar Aba the Catholicos.  And know, O sir reader, that in the ancient penqyāthā [pl.] it is assigned [the commemoration] of Mar Bar Sawma of Nisibis.  However, the Catholicos Ezekiel assigned it to the honor of ‘One Person,’ that is of Mar Aba the Catholicos his master.”[21]

It is highly likely that even after the period of Ezekiel’s pontificate (570-581), the Khudra was in fact referred to as the Penqīthā, and that its name was changed most probably by Išo‘yahb III once elected patriarchate, the reason being the aversion of the Church of the East to a name which the West Syrian ‘adversaries’ were utilizing for their main prayer book as well and a need to distinguish themselves from the ‘heretics.’ In conclusion, upon noting that the West Syrian equivalent to the Khudra is in fact a huge volume referred to as the Fenqīthō, and that there are many rubrics contained in the Khudra itself, one is led to believe that in fact, the penqīthā of Išo‘yahb and the Khudra are one and the same.

The final formative period of the Khudra comes with the redaction of the Catholicos-Patriarch Mar Elia I (1028-1049).[22] The Khudra underwent a revision sometime around 1250 AD.[23] According to Adolf Rücker, the last of the most famous master of the Upper Monastery to be mentioned by name was  Mar Yahb’Alaha II (1190-1222); it is most likely that this reform of ‘around 1250’ mentioned by George Percy Badger is in reference to this patriarch.[24]


A Precursory View of the Christology of the Khudra

The Christology of the Khudra is expressed, obviously, in the ecclesiastical compositions of this liturgical formulary. The very opening of the Khudra, which begins with the four Sundays of the Annunciation (Subara), in the first ‘Antiphon of the Basilike’ (ܥܘܢܝܬܼܐ ܕܒܼܣܠܝܩ̈ܐ), which is the main vesperal antiphon for Sundays, Feast Days and Commemorations, begins on a very high note, christologically speaking. The ecclesiastical compositions for the opening of the liturgical year recall the dispensation of God which was begun in Abraham, with whom the promises concerning the Christ began: “God the Word [who is] from the Father, did not take the form of the servant from angels but from the seed of Abraham. And He came [by means of] or humanity in His goodness, that He might save our race from error.”[25] The first of the Old Testament readings is, in fact, very much tied to this antiphon, for all of Genesis 17 is to be read. It recalls the election of Abraham and the giving of the Covenant and its sign (between God and Abraham) to his and his children after him.

Similarly, for the Second Sunday of Annunciation, the same antiphon proclaims: “The great mystery which was hidden from centuries and generations, was revealed to us at the end of times: for, the Only Begotten who is in the bosom of his Father came and was clothed with the form of the servant in his goodness. He has recounted and revealed to us concerning the fullness of the faith of the Trinity.”[26] This second antiphon is based on Ephesians 3:9, where St. Paul speaks of the revelation of the hidden mystery of Christ among the nations: “…and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ…”

The ‘Antiphon of the Basilike’ for the Third Sunday of Annunciation is equally Christological and incarnational in nature. The antiphon proclaims: “He who is incomprehensible and not confined by creatures fulfilled his economy by our humanity. For, the divine nature was joined to the human nature which was assumed, while not undergoing change. The Virgin gave birth in a holy manner to Christ—the Power and Wisdom of God. This [same] One we worship while we all proclaim one Son—he who is the Savior of the world.”[27] This antiphon recalls the words of St. Paul in I Corinthians 1:24, “…but to those who are called, both Jews and Arameans, Christ the Power of God and the Wisdom of God.”

Finally, the season of Annunciation closes with the Fourth Sunday, which the major verspertine antiphon again recalls the message of the annunciation of the eternal Son in his humanity: “The Radiance from the Father who was revealed in our humanity was seen from the house of David, and he reigns over the house of Jacob and there is no limit to his dominion. The angel announced to Mary and gave greetings full of mercy to the Virgin, and the hope which is full of good things he announced to the Holy One: ‘Peace be to you, O Blessed among women, full of hope; peace be to you and blessed are you, O who gives birth without intercourse. For, from you shall shine the Master of the height and the depth and that is in them—glory be to him from every mouth. Glorious, O my Lord, is the day of your Annunciation.”[28]

For the Sunday after the Feast of the Ascension, the ‘Antiphon of the Basilike’ is even more expressive of the Church of the East’s understanding of ‘christology from above.’ This antiphon is based on Philippians 2:7, Romans 5:18 and ending with Galatians 1:8-9: “He who in his essence is God the Word, increased his compassion towards our crippled state and put on our image that it might be a dwelling for his Godhead. And he took it [= our image] and affixed it to the Cross and gave it up to death that by it he might give us life. And he made it to ascend and seated it in the heavens, above the principalities and powers. That in the manner of the First Adam we were made guilty, through the Second Adam we were justified—who can recount his marvelous generation! In this manner do we glorify and we believe with knowledge and give thanks in wonder, even as we have learned in truth. For, neither an angel from heaven if he were to come and persuade us and change us by his [own] Gospel, outside of that which we were evangelized—we shall not reject his humanity nor shall we ascribe passion to his Godhead.”[29]

The christological expressions of the Khudra are for the most part simple, yet theologically rich. The main focus is the duality of the natures, in keeping with the strict diaphysite christological creed of the Church of the East, and the unity of the natures of the Godhead and humanity in the one person of Sonship. The classic hymn ‘Blessed is the Compassionate One’ (ܒܪܝܟܼ ܚܢܢܐ) by Mar Babai the Great (ca. 551-628) is really the only ecclesiastical composition in the Khudra which expresses in a liturgical manner the Church of the East’s position concerning the duality of Qnoma in Christ.


A Brief Note on the Meaning of Qnoma

The ecclesiastical compositions of the Khudra very rarely make use of the term Qnoma in the antiphons. The duality of natures in our Lord Jesus Christ, yet stressing the unity of the natures in the one Son of God is of essential importance. ‘Qnoma’ is defined as “individual nature” or “unique nature.” In his synodical letter which deals with Christology, Patriarch Mar Isho’yahb II of Gdhala (628-646) speaks about the meaning of Qnoma in the Christological position of the Church of the East. He became patriarch in the very year that Mar Babai the Great died (i.e. 628); he is the well-known author of the Book of Union (ܡܐܡܪ̈ܐ ܕܡܪܝ ܒܒܼܝ ܥܠ ܐܠܗܘܬܼܐ ܘܥܠ ܐَܢܫܘܬܼܐ ܘܥܠ ܦܪܨܘܦܐ ܕܚܕܝܘܬܼܐ).[30] Babai the Great is the first to formally express the Church of the East’s Christological formula of two natures (ousia), two qnoma and one person of Sonship.

Isho’yahb II presented the orthodox faith contained in his Letter to Rabban Abraham d’Beth Madaye,[31] concerning how one ought to confess the only person of Christ, and which in the ancient codices was contained in the ‘Eastern Synods’ or Synodicon Orientale.[32] Concerning the definition of Qnoma, Mar Isho’yahb II writes: “And how would it be possible for the nature of the Father to be seen in his Son, if ‘qnoma’ were not in every place the definition of [a] nature and its demonstrator. On account of this, it was also fittingly named ‘individual nature’ (ousia), that is, a singular nature…”[33] Mar Isho’yahb further states that qnoma is the “genuine nature” which as the individuated nature is ‘self-subsistent.’ He concludes when speaking about the duality of natures in Christ: “…they do not constitute two Gods nor two Sons, but rather one is Christ in all things pertaining to him—one Son, one Only Begotten, one Firstborn, one Lord, one High Priest, one God—one in his being numbered with his Father, and one in his being numbered with us. This is what the union has accomplished, this is the unsearchable mystery of the economy of our Savior…”[34]



At the heart of the Church’s christological expression is the mystery of the Incarnation—that the Son of God became Man for our salvation. The Assyrian Church of the East ardently holds to the duality of natures in Christ—the divinity and the humanity—yet clearly expresses the unity of the natures in the singularity of the person of Christ the Son. The communication idiomatum is found not in the Qnoma but in the one person of the Son of God incarnate. The main liturgical formulary of the Church of the East, the Khudra, is replete with christological expressions that demonstrate the orthodoxy of her faith. I conclude with yet another antiphon, found in the night office (lelya) for the Fourth Saturday of the Resurrection: “We have gained great pride without limit over death by the Cross of Christ. By his resurrection from among the dead, he wiped out the judgment of death which entered upon us through his Passion. With great praise that is limitless we all cry out and say: ‘O Only Begotten, God the Word, he who wore our mortal body, have pity upon your servants who have confessed in your Cross.’”[35]




[1]           See John 1:1; I John 1:1.
[2]           ‘Docetism,’ from the Greek dokein (meaning, ‘to appear/seam’) was the heresy that arose first in the letter of Serapion of Antioch (bishop 197-203), who held that Jesus only ‘seemed’ to be human and that his physical body was only a phantasm.
[3]           Apollinaris of Laodicea (died 390) held that Christ did not have a human mind, but a human lower soul and a divine mind. Along with Eutychianism, Apollinarism is the extreme form of monophysitism.
[4]           ‘Arianism’ was the heresy espoused by Arius, a presbyter of Alexandria (ca. 250-336). He held and taught that Christ as the Son of God did not always exist (eternally) with the Father, but was created, and as such distinct from the nature of the Father. Thus, for Arius the Father was greater than the Son (an idea based on John 14:28). Arius’ teaching was condemned as heretical at the first ecumenical council of Nicea (325), and the condemnation was reiterated at the second ecumenical council of Constantinople I (381).
[5]           The Khudra was printed between the years 1960-62 in Thrissur, Kerala, South India by the Mar Narsai Press and with the express permission of the late His Holiness Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII (1908-1975), Catholicos-Patriarch. This being the first Assyrian edition of this liturgical formulary, the other two liturgical books—the Gazza (containing the offices for feasts of our Lord and commemorations of the saints which are not based on the Sunday-cycle) and the Kashkul (containing the propers for the night, morning and evening offices for the ferial days, excluding all Sundays, feasts and commemorations)—were combined into one volume, and are now collectively referred to as the Khudra. Hereafter abbreviated as Khudra.
[6]           Stated by Prosper of Aquitaine (ca. 390-455), in the eighth book of his concerning the grace of God and free will: “Let us consider the sacraments of priestly prayers, which having been handed down by the apostles are celebrated uniformly throughout the whole world and in every catholic Church so that the law of praying might establish the law of believing.” See Patrologia Latina 51:209-210.
[7]           Cf. W. C. Van Unnik, Nestorian Questions on the Administration of the Eucharist by Isho’yahb IV (Haarlem 1937; reprinted Amsterdam 1970) 148.
[8]           See: A. Baumstark, Geschichte der syrischen Literatur mit Ausschluss der christlich-palästinensischen Texte (Bonn 1922) 198. W. F. Macomber, “A List of the Known Manuscripts of the Chaldean Hudra” Orientalia Christiana Periodica 39 (1973) 275-306; Idem., “The Oldest Known Text of the Anaphora of the Apostles Addai and Mari” Orientalia Christiana Periodica 32 (1966) 335-371; cf. Idem., “A History of the Chaldean Mass,” Worship 51 (1977) 112.   Cf. B. Varghese, “East Syrian Liturgy During the Sassanid Period,” Harp 15 (2002) 216.
[9]           It seems that an even older extant Khudra exists in the collection of the Syriac and Soghdian Christian manuscripts found at Turfan. For my discussion this Khudra fragment, possibly older than the Mar Esha’ya manuscript by one century, see my forthcoming article: “From Mosul to Turfan: The Hūdrā in the Liturgy of the Assyrian Church of the East. A Survey of its Historical Development and its Liturgical Anomalies at Turfan.” Lecture delivered at the VIII Christianity in Iraq Seminar Day, May 2011, at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. My thanks to Dr. Erica Hunter for her invitation and for providing me with digital copies of the Turfan fragments.
[10]          W.F. Macomber, “Manuscripts of the Hudra,” 120-121.  For a description of the contents of the Mar Eša‘ya Khudra see: P. Yousif, Appunti sulla preghiera liturgica del rito caldeo (commune) [= Notes on the Common Liturgical Prayer of the Chaldean Rite], (unpublished class notes at the Pontifical Oriental Institute, Rome 1982-1983) 3.
[11]          Cf. E. Tisserant, “(L’Église) nestorienne,” Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, vol. 11.1 (Paris 1931) column 319.
[12]          Cf. A. Baumstark, Geschichte, 198.
[13]          See for example manuscript Borgia Syriac 150 (fol. 1r) and Borgia Syriac 85 (fol. 1r).
[14]          See Earnest A. W. Budge, The Book of Governors: The Historia Monastica of Thomas, Bishop of Margâ A.D. 840, volumes I-II, London 1893.
[15]          R. H. Connolly (editor & Latin translation), Anonymi Auctoris Expositio Officiorum Ecclesiae Georgio Arbelensi vulgo adscripta. Accedit Abrahae Bar Lipheh Interpretatio Officiorum, vols. I-II. Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium 64, 72 – 71, 76 = Scriptores Syri 25, 29 – 28, 32, Paris-Rome 1913, 1915; reprinted Louvain 1960-1961. Hereafter abbreviated as EOE I/II.
[16]          See J.-M. Fiey, “Išo‘yaw le Grand. Vie du catholicos nestorien Išo‘yaw III d’Adiabène (580-659), Orientalia Christiana Periodica 35-36 (1969-1970) 11; P. Yousif, Appunti sulla Messa caldea [= Notes on the Chaldean Mass], (unpublished class notes at the Pontifical Oriental Institute, Rome 1982-1983) 15. Cf. BAUMSTARK, Geschichte, 198.
[17]          VARGHESE, “East Syrian Liturgy,” 217-218.
[18]          See EOE I, 25-26.
[19]          EOE II, 116-117.
[20]          J.S. Assemani (editor & Latin translation), Bibliotheca Orientalis Clementino-Vaticana de Scriptores Syri, vols I-III/1-2 (Rome 1719-1728; reprinted Hildersheim/New York 1975; Piscataway, NJ 2002) vol. III/1, 139.
[21]          f. 94r:                         ܘܕܥ ܐܘ ܡܪܝ ܩܪܘܝܐ. ܕܘܟܼܪܢܐ ܕܚܕ ܦܪܨܘܦܐ ܘܡܬ݂ܝܕܥ ܕܡܪܝ ܐܒ̣ܐ ܩܬܼܘܠܝܩܐ؛ ܕܒ̣ܦܢܩܝܬ̈ܐ ܥܬܝܩܬ̈ܐ ܕܡܪܝ ܒܪܨܘܡܐ ܕܨܘܒ̣ܐ ܪܫܝܡ. ܒܪܡ ܚܙܩܝܐܝܠ ܩܬܘܠܝܩܐ ܣܡܗ ܠܐܝܩܪܐ ܕܚܕ ܦܪܨܘܦܐ. ܘܐܝܬ̣ܘܗܝ ܕܡܪܝ ܐܒ̣ܐ ܩܬܘܠܝܩܐ ܪܒܗ.
[22]          W.F. Macomber, “Manuscripts of the Hudra,” 122-123; Idem., “Oldest Known Text,” 342.  Cf. A. Baumstark, Geschichte, 198.  The Syriac text of all of these rites may be found in J.E.Y. KELAITA (editor), The Liturgy of the Church of the East, Mosul 1928.
[23]          Based on information “according to the historical notices found in the prefaces to this [Khudra] ritual…made in the Deir Alleita…;” see G.P. Badger, The Nestorians and Their Rituals. With Narration of a Mission to Mesopotamia and Coordistan in 1842-1844, vols. I-II (London 1852; reprinted London 1987) vol. II, 22.  Badger does not cite the alleged manuscripts from which he has extracted this historical note.  Cf. D.G. Bickel, Conceptus rei Syrorum literariae (Munich 1871) 88; J. Moolan, “The History and Structure of the Syro-Malabar Liturgical Seasons,” Christian Orient 25 (2004) 89.
[24]            A. Rücker, “Das ‘Obere Kloster’ bei Mossul and seine Bedeutung für die Geschichte der Ostsyrischen Liturgie” Oriens Christianus, third series, 7 (1932) 181 note 2; cf. C. Van Unnik, Nestorian Questions, 149.
[25]             Khudra, vol. I, 114.
[26]             Khudra, vol. I, 127.
[27]              Khudra, vol. I, 138.
[28]              Khudra, vol. I, 148-149.
[29]               Khudra, vol. II, 681.
[30]               See the Syriac text in: A. Vaschalde (editor), Babai Magni: Liber De Unione, Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium 79 = Scriptores Syri 34, Louvain 1915. The English translation of this text, made by the late Cor-bishop Michael J. Birnie (†2013) with an introduction by S.P. Brock, is in preparation by the Assyrian Church’s Commission on Inter-Church Relations and Educational Development (CIRED), and is due to be published late 2013/early 2014.
[31]               Founder of a monastery in the village of Ba Mada, near Mosul, who lived during the patriarchate of Mar Isho’yahb I of Arzon (582-595).
[32]              The Syriac Synodicon was edited with a French translation by J.B. Chabot in 1902. However, this letter of Mar Isho’yahb II is omitted in Chabot’s edition. For the Syriac text and French translation see: L. R. M. Sako (editor & French translation), Lettre christologique du patriarche Syro-Oriental Īšō’yahb II de Gdālā (628-646). Étude, traduction et edition critique, published doctoral dissertation, Rome 1983.
[33]              Sako, Lettre christologique, 172.
[34]               Sako, Lettre christologique, 187.
[35]               Khudra, vol. II, 634.

The Christology of the Church of the East

Dr Sebastian Brock
Traditions and Heritage of the Christian East, ed. D. Afinogenov and
A. Muraviev. Moscow: Izdatelstvo “Indrik”, 1996.


Introduction. The classic formulations of the Christology of the Church of the East are primarily to be found in the medieval compendia such as the Pearl (Marganita), by Abdisho of Nisibis (†1318), where he sets out in formulaic fashion the conflicting definitions of the three ecclesiastical communities of the Near East, the Syrian Orthodox; (Jacobites), for whom there was one kyana (ܟܝܢܐ nature) and one qnoma (ܩܢܘܡܐ hypostasis) in the incarnate Christ; the Chalcedonians (Melkites) for whom there were two kyane and one qnoma; and the Church of the East (Nestorians), who taught that there were two kyane and two qnome1 (all were agreed in one proposon). Since the origins of this formulation go back to the fifth and seventh centuries, the present paper will be confined to that formative period. Here our most important source is the collection of synods of the Church of the East, put together c.800, and generally known today as the Synodicon Orientale2. In the course of these synodical documents we have a considerable number of credal statements3; of these, the first one relevant to our purpose belongs to the year 486. In view of the paucity of other sources for the second half of the fifth century, the writings (in the form of verse homilies) of Narsai are of particular importance; several of his homilies are polemical in character and so contain many passages of christological interest4. Probably sometime after the peace with Persia near the end of Justinian`s reign, there were official discussions in Constantinople between the Greek and Persian Churches, for which a record has been preserved in a Syriac manuscript of monothelete provenance5. By far the most detailed exposition on the christology of the Church of the East from this period is the Liber de Unione by Babai the Great. (†628)6 and it was his position (advocating two qnome in the incarnate Christ) that eventually became the official teaching of the Church of the East. A number of other seventh-century Syriac writers are of relevance, notably the catholicoi Isho’yabh II7, Isho’yabh III8, and George9. Finally, mention should be made here of the florilegium of christological texts of somewhat later date, edited and translated by Abramowski and Goodman10.

Historical setting. Syriac-speaking Christianity took root outside, and to the east of, the Roman Empire from an early date, although it is only from the fourth century onwards that we begin to have reasonably good sources for the history of the Church as it developed in the Sasanian Empire11. The very fact that the Church of the East belongs geographically outside the Roman Empire had a consequence of utmost importance: since the great church councils of the Roman Empire were officially convened by the emperor, these gatherings were confined to bishops from within the Roman Empire, and so the term ecumenical in this context needs to be  understood in the sense of belonging to the Roman oikoumene. Consequently these councils were of no direct or immediate concern to the Church in Persia, that is, the Church of the East. In the course of time, however, it is not surprising that the Church of the East should have expressed an opinion on the main councils that had emerged as landmarks in the history of the Church within the Roman Empire. Thus the Council of Nicaea was officially accepted by the Church of the East at a synod held in Seleucia-Ctesiphon in 410 – a full eighty-five years after the Council had taken place.

At another synod held in 420 approval was given to the canons of a whole series of western councils, namely, Nicaea (for the second time!), Ancyra, Neocaesarea, Gangra, Antioch and Laodicea. The disorderly conduct of the Council of Ephesus, and the shabby treatment accorded to John of Antioch and his followers, naturally ensured that this Council was never received by the Church of the East12. The Council of Chalcedon was a different matter, since it was seen at least as a move in the right direction, though its doctrinal definition of faith was seen as both inadequate and illogical. The comment of the Catholicos Isho’yabh II (628-46) is typical13:

“Although those who gathered at the Synod of Chalcedon were clothed with the intention of restoring the faith, yet they too slid away from the true faith; owing to their feeble phraseology they provided a stumbling block for many. Although, in accordance with the opinion of their own minds, they preserved the true faith with the confession of the two natures, yet by their formula of one qnoma (hypostasis), it seems, they tempted weak minds. As an outcome of the affair a contradiction occurred, for with the formula of one qnoma (hypostasis) they corrupted the confession of two natures, while with the two natures they rebuked and refuted the one qnoma. Thus they found themselves standing at a crossroads, and they wavered and turned aside from the blessed ranks of the orthodox, yet they did not join the assemblies of the heretics; they both pulled down and built up, while lacking a sure foundation for their feet. On what side we should number them I do not know, for their terminology cannot stand up, as Nature and Scripture testify: for in them many qnome can be found in a single nature but it has never been the case, and it has never been heard of, that there should be various natures in a single qnoma.”

We shall be returning later to Isho’yabh’s complaint about the illogical use of the term qnoma in the Chalcedonies Definition. In the decades prior to the Council of Chalcedon, knowledge of fourth-century western synods had been brought to the synods of 410 and 420 by bishops from the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire who were also serving as imperial envoys to the Sasanian court14. At the synod of 424, however, we encounter a ban imposed on appeals to western bishops, evidently since some bishops had been appealing to them as a means of undermining the authority of the bishop of Seleucia—Ctesiphon. This left the Persian School at Edessa, so named from the many students from the Persian Empire who studied there, to become the main channel through which the Church of the East became aware of theological developments in the Roman Empire. Since the School favoured a strict dyophysite position on christology, it is not surprising that from early on in the christological disputes the Church in Persia tended to see the issues at stake from an Antiochene perspective, and to have little sympathy for the Alexandrine tradition of christology.

Furthermore, it was at the Persian School of Edessa that several works of Theodore of Mopsuestia were translated into Syriac already in the 430s. Thanks to these translations, Theodore was to become, for the Church of the East, the most influential of all the Greek Fathers in matters of theology and exegesis. Babai the Great went so far as to call him the perfect disciple of the apostles and the shrine of the Holy Spirit15. After the closure of the School of the Persians by the emperor Zeno in 489, the school was effectively transferred across the border to Nisibis. Thus, during the course of the sixth and early seventh century, when the School of Nisibis16 was at its apogee, a strict form of Antiochene christology came to be widely propagated within the Susanna Empire.

The place of the Church of the East within the theological Spectrum. All too often in the past the history of doctrine has been presented by means of a threefold model, where orthodox Chalcedon is seen as flanked on one side by heretical Monophysites and on the other by heretical Nestorians. Both modern scholarship and ecumenical dialogue have shown how perverse and misleading such a simplistic model is. It is thus of urgent importance that an alternative model, more sensitive to the gradations between the Antiochene and Alexandrine poles of the christological spectrum be adopted. For our present purposes I would propose a sevenfold model (see the accompanying table). Starting at the Alexandrine end of the spectrum the first position would be that of Eutyches, who supposedly held that Christ was consubstantial only with the Father. For this clearly heretical position one could keep the term monophysite. Very sharply to be distinguished from Eutychian position is that of Severus of Antioch and others17; this second position is of course that of the Oriental Orthodox Churches today, and this makes it all the more important avoid using, with reference to this position, the ambiguous, and hence misleading, term monophysite; I would suggest instead the term miaphysite18. The third position, as we move across the spectrum, would be that of the Neo-Chalcedonians, with their acceptance of both the Chalcedonian in two natures and the Cyrilline one incarnate nature of God the Word.

Next we have the position of silence concerning Chalcedon, represented by Zeno’s Henoticon and the Corpus of writings attributed to Dionysius the Areopagite. Moving over from the Alexandrine to the Antiochene christoligical tradition we have two positions which are clearly very close, firstly the strict dyophysites within the Roman Empire, represented by such people as Theodoret, the Akoimetai monks and the Roman Church, and secondly the dyophysites outside the Roman Empire – in other words, the position of the Church of the East. Then finally, we have the extreme Antiochene position, teaching two prosopa, which may or may not have been held by Nestorius.

With such a model it can readily be seen that different theological criteria will lead to different groupings. If the Council of Chalcedon’s definition of faith is taken as the yardstick of orthodoxy, then only the middle three positions are acceptable; if, however, one were to adjudicate on the basis of the combination of two other criteria of orthodoxy, namely a single subject in Christ, and Christ as consubstantial both with the Father and with humanity, then one would have much more comprehensive picture, for this would allow the inclusion of both the Oriental Orthodox and the Church of the East.

Seen against this broader spectrum, then, it should begin to be clear that it is hardly satisfactory to pronounce judgment on the christological teaching of either the Church of the East or that of the Oriental Orthodox Churches solely by using the Chalcedonian Definition as the yardstick of orthodoxy. In this connection two further important points need to be remembered: first, the mode of theological discourse used at the Council of Chalcedon is by no means the only one appropriate for expressing the mystery of the Incarnation, and, secondly, the terms nature and hypostasis were open to several different understandings, and this problem of ambiguity only became more pronounced when they were translated into Syriac. It is to these problems of terminology that we should now turn.

Technical terms. In the fourth century two very different modes of theological discourse existed side by side: one, characteristic of the Greek-speaking world, was analytic in character, and during the course of the Arian controversy and its aftermath, this had adopted some of the tools of Greek philosophy; the other, more characteristic of the Syriac-speaking world, was suspicious of definitions of faith, in that these were seen as setting boundaries (fines) to, and thus attempting to contain, the Uncontainable second approach, of which Ephrem is the most prominent proponent, preferred instead to use the language of poetry, paradox and metaphor. Although in the course of the fifth century it was the Greek theological agenda and mode of discourse that dominated the scene in both languages, the other approach by no means disappeared (it survived above all in the context of liturgical poetry). As far as the Church of the East is concerned, the preservation of phraseology characteristic of this earlier Syriac tradition accounts for some of the distinctive features of its christological discourse: these features are in fact archaic survivals which had been dropped elsewhere in the Christian world, but, owing to its isolation, have been preserved in the writers of the Church in Persia. A single example will help to illustrate this.

The earliest surviving Syiac writers regularly, use as a metaphor for the incarnation, the phrase He put on the body(ܠܒܫ ܦܓܪܐ)19 and it was only natural that this phrase should have been the one chosen to render ὲσαρκώθη in the earliest Syriac translation of the Nicene Creed20. The metaphor is of course by no means confined to Syriac writers, for it can also be found in many early Greek and Latin Christian writers. In the course of the fifth century, however, this and related phraseology came to be dropped, above all by writers in the Alexandrine christological tradition, since it was considered to be open to misunderstanding; thus Philoxenos of Mabbug complained that its use in certain places in the Peshitta translation of the New Testament inclined to the position of Nestorius who cast the body on to the Word as one does a garment on to an ordinary body, or as purple is put on an emperor21 (it was because of misleading renderings such as these that Philoxenos sponsored the revision of the Syriac New Testament known by his name). Already at the Second Council of Ephesus in 449 Ibas had come under attack from his enemies for using the imagery of purple in connection with the incarnation22, yet only a few decades earlier it had been perfectly acceptable in the Doctrina Addai, Edessa’s famous foundation legend23; and before that, such language had freely been used by authoritative writers like Ephrem24. The ancient Syriac metaphor of clothing in connection with the incarnation thus only continued in widespread use in the Church of the East, and throughout the sixth and seventh centuries we find numerous reflections of it, such as the garment of humanity in Mar Aba’s Letter of 54425, or the robe of His humanity in the Synod of 57626.

The christological language of the Church of the East had an archaic flavor in another respect, as well. Over the course of the fifth to the seventh century an enormous amount of Greek patristic literature was translated into Syriac; needless to say, most of this took place in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, rather than in the Persian Empire, and so the Church of the East became aware of this material at first in chiefly through its main point of contact with the Church in the Roman Empire, namely, the Persian School in Edessa, which (as we have already seen) had already provided Syriac translations of many of Theodore of Mopsuestia’s works in the 430s. Owing to the ever-increasing influence and prestige of Greek in the Syriac-speaking Church27, translators from Greek into Syriac moved, over the course of two and a half centuries, from a rather free and paraphrastic form of translation to a more and more literal style which, by the beginning of the seventh century, aimed to reflect as many details as possible of the Greek original. This shift in translation practice can readily be observed in both biblical and patristic translations made during this period, and over the course of time the various translators developed more and more sophisticated techniques of literal translation28. Thus, in the case of Greek texts where we have two Syriac translations, the later one if often a revision of the earlier, and time and time again one can observe the reviser replacing dynamic renderings of his predecessor by formal equivalents. This process can above all be seen in the treatment of terms for the incarnation. Whereas early translators had translated ὲσαρκώθη by the standard Syriac phrase of the incarnation ܠܒܫ ܦܓܪܐ,  He put on the body, in the course of the fifth century this was replaced by ܐܬܓܫܡ He was embodied, and finally by ܐܬܒܣܪ He was enfleshed, a direct calque on the Greek verb. A particularly significant innovation was the introduction of the neologism, ܐܬܒܪܢܫ He was inhominated, to render ένανθρωπέω; this seems to be associated with Philoxenos’ concern for accurate Christological terminology in Syriac, and its introduction probably belogs to c.50029. These new terms in due course became familiar to writers of the Church of the East, and are all found in Babai’s Liber de Unione; however, it is significant that, while the synod of Isho’yabh I (585) uses the terms ܐܬܓܫܢ and ܡܬܓܫܡܢܘܬܐ, Mar Aba (544) still uses the native Syriac terminology, ܐ݉ܢܫܘܬܐ ܕܠܒܫ the humanity which He put on30; the verb ܐܬܒܪܢܫ, and the noun ܡܬܒܪܢܫܢܘܬܐ inhomination, never feature the credal statements of the sixth-century synods (ܐܬܒܪܢܫ does, however, occur in the secondary East Syrian revision of the translation of the Nicene Creed).

The Greek terms physis and hypostasis, so central to the christological debates of the fifth and sixth centuries, posed their own problems, both in Greek and in Syriac. We have already seen the Catholicos Isho’yabh II complaining about the illogicality of the Chalcedonian Definition, speaking of two natures and one hypostasis31. Exactly the same complaint was made from the other end of the theological spectrum by no less a theologian than Severus of Antioch, who wrote32:

“It is obvious to all who have just a modicum of training in the teachings of true religion that it is contradictory to speak of two natures with reference to one Christ, he being on hypostasis. For whenever one speaks of one hypostasis one must necessarily also speak of one nature.”

Severus and Isho’yahb of course have two different starting points, the former with his emphasis on the oneness of the incarnate Christ, the latter with his concern for the full reality of the two natures, divinity and humanity, in the same incarnate Christ. But besides having different starting points, the two men have different understandings of what the two technical terms imply, and here the ambiguity is to be found in both Greek and in Syriac, though the latter there is a further problem, due to the say that, for Severus, physis is virtually synonymous with hypostasis, and with this understanding of the term, the dyophysite formula of Chalcedon is manifestly unsatisfactory. For Isho’yahb, however, kyana/ϕύσιϚ is far closer in sense to ousia than it is to hypostasis, and accordingly, a strict dyophysite position is essential if Christ is to be consubstantial with both the Father and with humanity. This understanding of kyana in the Church of the East was in fact bolstered by the earliest Syriac equivalent for homoousios by bar kyana, son of, i. e. belonging to, the same nature. The term ܒܪ ܟܝܢܐ remained in currency in the Church of the East long after it had generally been superseded in the us of the Syriac-speaking churches of the Roman Empire, where more literal renderings, such as ܒܪ ܐܝܬܘܬܐ of the same being, ,ܫܘܐ ܒܐܝܬܘܬܐ equal in being, ܫܘܐ ܒܘܣܝܼܐ equal in ousia had taken over33.

Although hypostasis was always rendered into Syriac as qnoma, the term qnoma has much a wider range of sense than does hypostasis, and in any discussion of the christology of the Church of the East, it would seem advisable to retain the Syriac term qnoma, rather than retrovert it as hypostasis. This is especially important when dealing with the distinctive teaching of the Church of the East which emerged in the course of the sixth century concerning the two qnome. (We shal return to this development in due course). In early Syriac qnoma simply means self, and can sometimes be translated person, as in the phrase, ܒܲܩܢܘܿܡܹܗ in his own person. It never, however, renders πρὀσωπου, and in a christological context it should never be translated person, though a number of scholars have, at least in the past, most misleadingly done so. For most writers of the Church of the East in the sixth century qnoma represents the individual example, or manifestation, of a kyana, or nature – a term which, as we have seen, they understood as having a generic or abstract sense.

Development in the texts of the fifth to seventh centuries.
Thanks to the witness of Narsai, the Synodicon Orientale and Babai, to name only the most important sources, it is possible to trace in outline the development of the christological teaching of the Church of the East in this formative period.

Narsai has a number of verse homilies which touch on christology. It is clear that these were written in the context of polemic against those who failed to keep the distinction between the divinity and humanity in the incarnate Christ. Narsai himself points out that, because of this polemical context34,

the zeal of foolish men
… has compelled me to distinguish the natures:
although I have distinguished the natures,
the glorious things from the lowly,
yet in my confession I have not made any split,
for it is in the one Son that I confess;
a single Lordship do I believe,
a single authority do I recognise,
as I worship equally
the Word and the habitation which He chose;
I acknowledge the King Who put on
the purple of the body of Adam;
I worship the Lord Who made great
our nature, together with His greatness.
(If) I have distinguished the one from the other,
this was not through division of mind,
but so that the accursed may not consider
that the Son is created, as they have imagined.

In this short passage it is easy to pick up echoes of the language of Theodore, notably in the metaphor of indwelling35. Significant, too, is the reappearance of two archaic features, the term body of Adam to describe Christs human nature, and the imagery of a king putting on a purple robe to portray the process of the incarnation.

Later on in the same homily Narsai specifically rejects any idea that there are two prosopa in the incarnate Christ36:

Let not the hearer suppose
by the fact that I have distinguished the natures
that I am speaking of two prosopa
which are distant from one another.
I am talking of one prosopon,
of the Word and the temple he chose (cf. John 2:21),
and I confess one Son,
but I preach in two natures:
the venerated and glorious nature of the Word,
the Being (ܐܝܼܬܝܐ) from His Father,
and our nature which He took
in accordance with the promises He made.
Perfect in His divinity,
for He is equal with His Begetter,
and complete in His humanity,
with soul and body of mortal beings.
Two that became, in the union,
a single love and a single will…

A point of contention between the Antiochene and Alexandrine christological positions lay in the interpretation of John 1:14, the Word became flesh and tabernacle in us. To theologians in the Antiochene tradition, any idea that the Word became, i.e. changed into, flesh, was anathema; instead, Narsai paraphrases the beginning of the verse as there came into being flesh, and He (the Word) dwelt (ܥܡܪ) in us; he then comments, it was not that (the Word) was lowered to a state of coming into being (ܠܘ ܠܗܘܝܐ ܐܬܗܬܝ),… but that He fashioned (lit. composed) for Himself flesh, and dwelt (ܥܡܪ) in His good will37. It is interesting to note that a centur or so later babai reiterates this interpretation in his Liber de Unione38.

There were two main reasons for Narsai’s rejection of the Alexandrine interpretation of John 1:14; in the first place, by imputing change to the Word it failed to preserve the utter transcendence of the divinity (that is why, at the end of the first passage quoted, Narsai accuses his opponents of holding that the Son is created). But perhaps even more important is Narsai’s soteriological concern, which comes out in another homily39:

If the Word became flesh,
let us enquire whose flesh it was:
did He bring it down with Him from the height,
or is it the flesh of a human being?
If He Himself (ܒܲܩܢܘܿܡܹܗ) became flesh,
and He did not take flesh from Mary,
what did His becoming flesh in what belonged to Him (ܒܕܝܼܠܹܗ)
help our (human) nature?
…how were mortals benefitted
by the Word Who became flesh,
Seeing that He came flesh in His own nature (ܒܲܟܝܵܢܹܗ),
while our nature remained in its low estate.

For Narsai (and the tradition of the Church of the East in general) salvation is effected through the assumed human nature of the incarnate Christ, and so it is essential to keep this nature distinct from the divinity if salvation is going to be effective for humanity. As we shall see, the Alexandrine christological tradition has a different conception of how salvation is effected in Christ.

It is not possible to give any precise dating to Narsai’s homilies, but presumably they will belong to the last decades of the fifth century. The first synod of the Church of the East subsequent to the Council of Chalcedon whose doctrinal statement survives is that of 48640. The language is strictly dyophysite, confessing the two natures, of the divinity and of the humanity, while none of us shall dare to introduce mixture, mingling of confusion into the differences of these two natures, though there is a single Lordship and a single (object of) worship. The union of the two natures is described as a nqiputa (corresponding to Greek synapheia). Anathema is pronounced on all who teach that suffering and change apply to (lit. attach to) the divinity of our Lord, and on all who fail to preserve, with respect to the unione of the prosopon of our Saviour, a confession of perfect God and perfect Man. As in Narsai, so here we can observe the unmistakable influence of Theodore of Mopsuestia, and the same concern to maintain the separate identity of the humanity and the divinity. I have quoted from the credal statement of this synod of 486 in some detail, since in most western textbooks the unwary student is told that it was at this synod that the Church of the East adopted Nestorianism41. Such an interpretation of the synod’s statement of faith can only be described as perverse and utterly misleading.

The short statement of the synod of 55442 reaffirms that we preserve the characteristics (ܕܝܠܝܬܐ, corresponding to ἰδιότητεϚ) of the natures, thereby getting rid of confusion, disturbance, alteration and change. At the same time, anyone who speaks of two Christs or two Sons, is anathematized. In subsequent credal statements we find such phrases as single union of the divinity and the humanity of Christ, Jesus Christ in the unification of His natures (Synod of 585)43, in an indivisible union, prosopic union (confession of faith by Isho’yahb I)44, (the divinity and the humanity are united in a true union of the one person (πρὀσωπου) of the Son, Christ (Synod of 605)45, the wonderful conjunction (ܢܩܦܐ) and inseparable union that took place from the very beginning of the fashioning (Assembly of bishops in 612)46. Significantly, the term qnoma in these credal statements of the sixth century is confined to a Trinitarian context (thus in the Letter of Mar Aba (544), the synods of 576, 585, 596, 605), and it is only in the document produced by the assembly of bishops that we first find the term qnoma used in a christological context, in the phrase the qnoma of His humanity47 – to be joined, in a related document, by its counterpart qnoma of the divinity48. This second document (which constitutes a reply to the theological opponents) also contains the phrase Christ is two natures and two qnome. It is to this development that I now turn.

The teaching of two qnome is primarily associated with the theologian Babai the Great49, and it was probably under his influence that we find this phraseology in the document of 612. For Babai, qnoma certainly does not have the sense of self-existent hypostasis. It is significant that the phrase he most frequently used is the two natures and their qnome. For him kyana, nature is the abstract, i.e. divinity, humanity, while qnoma is the individual instance of a particular kyana, an individuated nature. Such a qnoma does not necessarily have to exist independently, and in the case of Christ this is definitely not the case: here the qnoma of the divinity is Christ’s divinity, and the qnoma of the humanity is Christ’s humanity. Babai emphasizes on a number of occasions that these two qnome have been united since the very moment of conception of the one Son50.

It is unclear how this teaching concerning the two qnome emerged as the official doctrine of the Church of the East: it certainly did not originate with Babai (who improbably claimed it went back to Theodore of Mopsuestia). In any case qnome already feature in the report of the theological discussions with the Chalcedonians in Constantinople, arranged by Justinian (probably soon after 561)51, and a possible earlier witness is to be found in Homily 17, attributed to Narsai52. Though the attribution to Narsai cannot stand53, it is very possible that the homily belongs to the sixth century. In Babai’s own time there were certainly opposition to the formula of two qnome, as we know from the controversies surrounding Hnana, head of the School of Nisibis, and Sahdona, bishop of Mahoza d-Arewan (in Beth Garmai)54, furthermore, Babai recognized that many former Fathers had used qnoma in the sense of parsopa, and that this was still the case, so they say, in Byzantine territory; this, however, he goes on, should be avoided, in order to counter theopaschite teaching55.

Soteriology. Two main concerns can be identified as underlying the Church of the East’s insistence on duality in Christ, and its firm distinction between the two natures. First is the concern to maintain the utter transcendence of the divinity, and the abhorrence of the idea that suffering could touch the divinity (here it should be noted that suffering, hasha/πάθοϚ, evidently had overtones of fallen human nature for them). More important from our present point of view, is the second concern, which is a soteriological one. This concern has already come to our notice in the third of the passages quoted from Narsai. Exactly the same concern emerges clearly from a Letter on christology written c.68O by the Catholicos George56

“If Christ had not been truly human and accepted death in His humanity for our sake, – being innocent of sin – and had not God Who is in Him raised Him up, it would not have been possible for us sinners, condemned to death, to acquire hope of resurrection from the dead; for if it had been God who died and rose – in accordance with the wicked utterance of the blasphemers – then it would only be God, and those who are innocent, like Him, who would be held worthy of the resurrection, and He would have provided assurance of resurrection only to those who were consubstantial with Him (ܒܢܝ ܟܝܢܗ), and not to our guilty mortal nature.”

From these, and other passages, it is clear that, for the theologians of the Church of the East, salvation was effected for humanity through the human nature of Christ (expressed sometimes as ܒܪܢܫܐ the Man, rather than ܐ݉ܢܫܘܬܐ humanity): this was raised up in glory (Babai indeed Says, divinized)57 at the resurrection. Given this model, it is obvious that it is essential to lay the emphasis on the duality of the natures in Christ; at the same time, it becomes readily understandable why the Church of the East had such a horror of the Cyrilline teaching of the one incarnate nature of God the Word, seeing that this would wreck the hope of salvation for humanity. The Alexandrine conception of how salvation for humanity is effected was, of course, quite different: for them, what was essential was to express the full reality of the incarnation of God the Word, for what is not assumed is not saved. As a consequence of this understanding of salvation it was necessary to emphasize the aspect of oneness in Christ, since duality implied that God the Word had not become fully Man. For both poles of the christological spectrum Christ was completely God and completely Human, and consubstantial both with the Father and with humanity, but because they had two quite different conceptual models of how salvation for humanity was effected by Christ, they necessarily adopted two different christological formulations that on the surface are mutually contradictory, but which, at a much deeper level, were both trying to express, from different standpoints, the same ineffable mystery. If one keeps in mind the Church of the East’s view of how salvation is effected, it furthermore becomes obvious why the term θεοτοκοϚ/ܝܠܕܬ ܐܠܗܐ never came to be adopted in this Church: since salvation comes through the humanity, taken by God the Word from the Virgin, it is hardly appropriate to speak of her giving birth to God, since this would at best obscure, at worst imply the denial of, the reality of human salvation. With the Alexandrine understanding of salvation, on the other hand, the title simply emphasizes the full reality of the incarnation of God the Word, and so is entirely fitting.

Nestorius? I have deliberately left the question of Nestorius to the end of my paper. Already in the Middle Ages Abdisho complains about the injustice of the designation of the Orientals as Nestorians, pointing out that Nestorius was not their patriarch, and they did not know his language58. A very similar point was made by the present Catholicos, Mar Dinkha, at his consecration (in London) in1976: Nestorius was a Greek, and has nothing directly to do with the Church of the East.

In the theological polemic of the fifth and sixth centuries the term Nestorian was used as a way of denigrating one’s opponent, and to the miaphysites all dyophysites tended to be seen as Nestorians, or at best, crypto-Nestorians. It was a means of condemning by association, and accordingly the term in texts of that period meant little more than dyophysite, or at most, strict dyophysite. The question of Nestorius’ own teaching, of such great interest to modern scholars59, is actually of very little relevance to the Church of the East, for whom Nestorius is primarily a symbolic figure of someone who was a martyr to the Antiochene christlogical cause. This can be clearly seen from the earliest document from the Church of the East to refer to him, the verse homily on the Three Doctors by Narsai60. The three doctors in question are Diodore, Theodore and Nestorius. Narsai clearly knows something about Diodore, quite a lot about Theodore (whom he had clearly read in Syriac translation), but extremely little about. Nestorius. The only work of Nestorius to get into Syriac was his second apology, the Liber Heracleidis61, and this was only translated c.540 and had little influence on any Syriac writer apart from Babai. Nestorius does not receive a single mention in any of the fifth and sixth-century synods of the Church of the East, and the Anaphora under his name certainly does not belong to him.

Thus there exist two conflicting conceptions of Nestorius and Nestorianism: on the one hand, for both the Chalcedonian Churches and the Oriental Orthodox Churches Nestorius has traditionally been seen as an arch-heretic who preached two prosopa in Christ, while for the Church of the East he was little more than a name to be honoured on the grounds that he had suffered at Cyril`s hand for the cause of the Antiochene dyophysite christological tradition. Whatever may be the truth about the nature of Nestorius’ teaching, it is clear that the term Nestorian, like the term Monophysite, is open to two very different understandings, and so serves as an open invitation to misunderstanding. Accordingly it would seem imperative to drop both terms in connection with the non-Chalcedonian Churches to which they traditionally, and opprobriously, been applied by the Churches in the Chalcedonian tradition.

In modern times ecumenical dialogue between the Chalcedonies and non-Chalcedonian Churches has primarily been concentrated on discussions with the Oriental Orthodox Churches, that is, those belonging to the Alexandrine end of the christological spectrum. In this area notable advances in removing past misunderstandings on each side over the other’s christological teaching. The Church of the East, representing the opposite end of the spectrum, has, by contrast, been rather left out of consideration62. In very recent years, however, some attention has been paid to this matter in the Middle East Council of Churches (of which the Church of the East has not yet been accepted as a member), and the Pro Oriente Stiftung in Vienna has now initiated informal consultations on the christology of the Church of the East, at which representatives of all the Churches of Syriac liturgical tradition are present. A number of significant papers were presented at Pro Oriente’s consultation held in Vienna last June, and it is to be hoped that future meetings will continue to remove misunderstandings in due course produced concrete results.



1 `Abdisho`. Marganita III.4; the text is given in Assemani J. S. Bibliotheca Orientals, III.1, Rome, 1725. p. 354-355. In both Assemani`s Latin and in the English translation by Badger G.P. The Nestorians and their Rituals. Vol. II, L., 1852, p. 399-400, qnoma is most misleadingly translated as person. Regrettably this perverse rendering has also been adapted by certain more recent western scholars as well.

2 Edited with French translation by Chabot J. B. Synodicon Orientale. P., 1902. There is also a German translation by Brown O. Das Buch der Synhados oder Synodicon Orientale. Stuttgart-Wien. 1900 (reprinted Amsterdam, 1975). An English translation by M.J. Birnie is in preparation.

3 An English translation of these is provided in my: The Christology of the Church of the East in the Synods of the fifth to early seventh centuries // G. Dragas (ed.), Aksum-Thyateira; a Festschrift for Archbishop Methodios. L., 1985, p. 125-142, reprinted in my: Studies in Syriac Christianity. L., 1992, ch. XII.

4 Particularly relevant here are the Homilies on the Nativity, Epiphany, Passion, Resurrection and Ascension, edited with an English translation by F.G. McLeod in Patrologia Orientalis 40.1 (1979). Two other important homilies, no. 56 on the Dedication of the Church, and no. 81 on John 1:14, are available only in the rare photographic edition published by the Patriarchal Press (San Francisco, 1970), I, p. 581-95, and II, p. 206-18; an analysis of the homily on John 1:14, by J. Frishman, is shortly to be published in The Harp (Kottayam).

5 Edited with French translation by Guillaumont A. Justinien et l`Eglise de Perse // Dumbarton on Oaks Papers 23/24. 1969/70, p. 39-66.

6 Edited with Latin translation by A.Vaschalde, CSCO 79-80 = Scriptores Syri 34- 35 (1915). There is a very helpful general presentation of Babai’s christology by a Syro-Malankara scholar: Chediath G. The Christology of Mar Babai the Great, Kottayam, 1982; and important discussions by L. Abramowski in her; Die Christologie Babais des Grossen // [I] Symposium Syriacum (Orientalia Christiana Analecta 197), 1974, p. 219-245; and Babai der Grosse; christologische Probleme und ihre Losungen // Orientalia Christiana Periodica 41, 1975, p. 290-343. Unfortunately there are no reliable extant sources for the christological teaching of Babai`s theological opponent, Hnana.

7 Edited with French translation by Sako L. Lettre christologique du Patriarche syro-oriental Isho’yahb II de Gdala. Rome, 1983. Also of interest is the case of Maryrius, or Sahdona, who was deposed from his see as a result of his Christological teaching: see de Halleux A. La christologie de Martyrios/Sahdona dans l’evolution du nestorianisme // Orientalia Christiana Periodica 23, 1957.  p. 5-32.

8 Edited with Latin translation by R. Duval. Isho’yahb Patriarch. Liber Epistularum, CSCO 11-12 = Scriptores Syri 11-12 (1905). Isho’yahb III follows Babai in his Christology.

9 Letter to Mina, edited with Latin translation by J.B. Chabot, Synodicon Orientale (Paris, 1902),

p. 227-244 (tr. 490-514).

10 Edited with English translation by Abramowski L. and Goodman A. A Nestorian collection of Christological Texts, I-II Cambridge, 1972.

11 The standard work on the early history of the Church of the East remains Labourt J. Le christianisme dans l`empire perse sous la dynastie sassanide. P., 1904; supplemented by: Fiey J.-M. Jalons pour une histoire de l`église en Iraq // CSCO 310 (1970). A helpful general survey can he found in: Young W. G. Patriarch Shah, and Caliph. Rawalpindi, 1974. There is also a brief overview in my; Christians in Sasanian Empire: a case of divided loyalties// Studies in Church History 18, 1982, p. 1-19; reprinted in: Syriac Perspectives on Late Antiquity. L., 1984, ch. VI

12 There is an interesting study of this Council by a metropolitan of the Church of the

East, Mar Aprem, The Council of Ephesus (Trichur, 1978). For an important study by A. de Halleux on the first session of the Council, see his: La premiere session du Concile d’Ephese (22 juin 431) // Ephemerides THeologicae Lovanienses 59, 1993, p. 48-87.

13 Ed. Sako [n. 7], sections 42—49.

14 For this role of bishops, see Garsoian N. Le role de l’hierarchie chrétienne dans les rapports diplomatiques entre Byzance et les Sassanides // Revue des Etudes Armeniennes, NS 10, 1973, p. 119-38, reprinted in her: Armenia Between Byzantium and the Sassanians. L., 1985, ch. VIII; and Sako L. Le role de la hierarchie syriaque orientale dans les rapports diplomatiques entre le Perse et Byzance aux Ve-VIIe siècles. P., 1986).

15 Liber De Unione, p. 246.

16 On the School of Nisibis, see especially: Voobus A. The School of Nisibis // CSCO, Subsidia 26, 1965; also Wolska W. La topographie chretienne de Cosmas Indicopleustes. Theologie et science au. Vle siècle. P., 1962, ch. II Cosmas et l’ecole de Nisibe

17 These from the beginning have regularly condemned Eutyches’ position.

18 Or the more anglicized form henophysite (by analogy with henotheist), which I have used in: The Christology of the Church of the East…[n. 3].

19 See my: Clothing metaphors as a means of theological expression in Syriac tradition // M. Schmidt (ed.). Typus, Symbol, Allegorie bei den ostlichen Vatern und ihren Parallelen im Mittelalter. Regensburg, 1982, p. 11-38, reprinted in my Studies in Syriac Christinaity. L., 1992, ch. XI.

20 See Gribomont J. Le symbole de foi de Seleucie-Ctesiphon (410) // R.H. Fischer (ed.)., A Tribute to Arthur Voobus. Chicago, 1977, p. 283-294; and de Halleux A. Le symbole des eveques perses au synode de Seleucie-Ctesiphon (410) // G. Wiessner (ed.)., Erkenntnisse und Meinungen II (Gottinger Orientforschungen, Reihe Syriaca, 17), 1978, p. 161-190.

21 Philoxene de Mabbog. Commentaire du prologue johannique / ed. A. de Halleux; CSCO 380, Scriptores Syri 165, 1977, p. 53. For the background, see my: The resolution of the Philoxenian/Harklean problem // New Testament Textual Criticism: Essays in Honour of B.M. Metzger. Oxford, 1981, p. 325-343.

22 Flemming J. Akten der Ephesinischen Synode vom Jahre 449 Syrisch (Abhandlungen der Akademie der Wissnschaften in Gottingen, phil.-hist. KI., NF 15,1, Berlin, 1917, repr. Gottingen, 1970, S. 46.

23 Phillips G. the Doctrine of Addai. L., 1876, p. 19/20* (the English translation misleadingly renders argwana as vestment, rather than purple). On the Edessene milieu to which the Doctrine of Addai belongs, see my: Historical fiction in the fifth-century Edessa. The Teaching of Addai and some related texts // forthcoming in the proceedings of the Syriac Symposium held at Brown University in 1991.

24 E.g. Hymns on the Nativity 21:5, Hymns on Faith 91:2.

25 Synodicon Orientale, ed. Chabot [n. 2], p. 542; English translation [n. 3], p. 135.

26 Synodicon Orneitale, p. 113; English translation, p. 136. In his Liber de Unione [n. 6] Babai points out that the image of a garment and its wearer was intended to illustrate the voluntary character of the conjunction of the two natures, (p. 233), and to point to the existence of two kyane (p. 241).

27 I have tried to sketch out this development in my: From antagonism to assimilation: Syriac attitudes to Greek learning // N. Garsoian, T. Matthews and R. Thomson (eds.)., East of Byzantium: Syriac and Armenia in the Formative Period. Washington DC, 1982, p. 17-34, reprinted in my: Syriac Perspectives on Late Antiquity, ch. V.

28 See for further details my: Towards a history of Syriac translation // III Symposium Syriacum (Orientalia Christiana Analecta 221), 1983, p. 1-14, reprinted in my: Studies in Syriac Christianity, ch. X.

29 See de Halleux A. La philoxenienne du symbole // II Symposium Syriacum (Orientalia Christiana Analecta 205), 1978, p. 295-415; also Gribomont J. La catechese de Severe d’Antioche et le Credo // Parole de l’Orient 6/7, 1975/6, p. 125-158.

30 Babai uses the rlated phrase lbesh ‘nashutan, He put on our humanity (Liber de Unione, p. 48), though elsewhere he normally uses terminology of Greek origin.

31 See note 13.

32 Severi Antiocheni orations ad Nephalium / ed. J. Lebon, CSCO 119, Scriptores Syri 64, 1949, p. 16.

33 Thus Babai normally uses bar kyana (Liber de Unione, p. 202, 207, 264, etc.); bar kyaneh, alongside bar ituteh, features in the Synod of 585.

34 Narsai, Homily 56 (ed. Patriarchal Press), I, p. 594.

35 E.g. in his Commentary on John / ed. J.B. Chabot, CSCO 115 Scriptores Syri 62, 1940, p. 33. The phraseology also occurs in the Letter of Ibas, a document accepted at the Council of Chalcedon.

36 Narsai, Homily 56 (ed. Patriarchal Press), I, p. 588-589.

37 Narsai, Homily 81 (ed. Patriarchal Press), II, p. 209.

38 Babai, Liber de Unione, p. 126. Philoxenos polemicizes against this exegesis on a number of occasions; see further my: From Annunciation to Pentacost: the travels of a technical term // Eulogema: Studies in Honor of Robert Taft SJ (Studia Anselmiana 110), 1993, p. 71-91, esp. p. 75-76.

39 Narsai, Homily 81 (ed. Patriarchal Press), II, p. 212

40 Synodicon Orientale [n. 2], p. 54-55; English translation [n. 3], p. 133-134. W. Macomber, in his: The christology of the Synod of Seleucia-Ctesiphon AD 486 // Orientalia Christiana Periodica 24, 1958, p. 142-154, tends to interpret the phraseology inmalam partem, though he has to concede that it is also true that the words used can be taken as materially orthodox.

41 Thus even so great a scholar as W. de Vries, in his: Die syrisch-nestorianische Haltung zu Chalkedon // Das Konzil von Chalkedon, I, Wurzburg, 1951, S. 603, wrote Das offizielle Annahme des Nestorianismus durch die persische Kirche geschah auf der Synode von Seleukia des Jahres 486.

42 Synodicon Orientale, p. 97; English translation, p. 135.

43 Synodicon Orientale, p. 134; English translation, p. 136.

44 Synodicon Orientale, p. 195; English translation, p. 138-139.

45 Synodicon Orientale, p. 201; English translation, p. 140.

46 Synodicon Orientale, p. 565; English translation, p. 141.

47 Synodicon Orientale, p. 567; English translation, p. 141.

48 Synodicon Orientale, p. 575; English translation, p. 142.

49 See the literature cited in n. 6.

50 Thus Liber de Unione, p. 59f., 88f.

51 See n. 5; for a discussion of the date, see Lee A. D. Evagrius, Paul of Nisibis and the problem of loyalties in the mid-sixth century // Journal of Ecclesastical History 44, 1993, p. 569-585, esp. p. 576-577.

52 A. Mingana omits the passage in his edition (I, p. 282), but mentions it in his introduction, p. 10 n. 2: Two natures, it is said, and two qonme is our Lord, in one prosopon of the divinity and the humanity. Cp also the English translation by R. H. Connolly, The Liturgical Homilies of Narsai. Cambridge, 1909, p. 14.

53 See my: Diachronic aspects of Syriac word formation: an aid for dating anonymous texts // V Symposium Syriacum (Orientalia Christiana Analecta 236), 1990, p. 321-330, esp. p. 327-328. It is in fact possible to see from a passage of genuine Narsai how the two qnome teaching could have arisen in Syriac writers: in the Homily on the Nativity (ed. McLeod), lines 413-144, Narsai writes, with reference to John 1:14, It is possible for one to tabernacle in another in perfect love, but how is it possible for one to tabernacle in himself/in his/qnoma?.

54 For Sahdona, see the reference in note 7. The general context of the development of the two qnome teaching is well brought out by Reinink G. Tradition and the formation of the “Nestorian” identity in 6th-7th century Iraq // forthcoming in the proceedings of the Fourth Workshop (London, 1994) on Late Antiquity and Early Islam. At an unknown date the text of the Chalcedonian Definition of faith was tacitly altered so that it incorporated the Church of the East’s two qnome doctrine: see de Halleux A. // La falsification du symbole de Chalcadoine dans le Synodicon nestorien // Melanges offerts e J. Dauvillier. Toulouse, 1979, p. 375-384.

55 Babai, Liber de Unione, p. 305-306.

56 Synodicon Orientale, p. 237. The curious imagery of Christ’s body as a hostage which can be traced back to Aphrahat and Ephrem, likewise points to the central importance of Christ’s human nature in the Church of the East’s conception of salvation; for detals, see my: Christ “the Hostage”: a theme in the East Syriac liturgical tradition and its origin // H. C. Brennecke, E. L. Grasmuck and C. Markschies (eds.), Logos: Frestschrift fur Luise Abramowski (Beihefte zur ZNW 67), 1993, p. 472-485.

57 Babai. Liber de Unione…, p. 299.

58 See reference in n. 1.

59 An important recent study is given by de Halleux A. Nestorius. Histoire et doctrine // Irenikon 56, 1993, p. 38-51, 163-77.

60 Edited with French translation by F. Martin in Journal Asiatique IX.4 (1899), p. 446-492, and IX.15 (1900), p. 469-525.

61 On the various documents, not all by Nestorius, in the Liber Heracleidis, see Abramowski L. Untersuchungen zum Liber Heraclidis des Nestorius // CSCO, Subsidia 22, 1963.

62 An excellent and perceptive study of the christology of the Church of the East from an Orthodox point of view is given by D. Miller, in the Epilogue to The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian, translated by the Holy Transfiguration Monastery. Boston, 1984, p. 481-541.

The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity: Historical Development

By H.B. Mar Meelis Zaia, A.M.
Metropolitan of the Assyrian Church of the East
Archdiocese of Australia and New Zealand

In the Old Testament

Throughout the ages the Christian Church has always believed in God as three in ONE, and this belief is based on the Bible. Although the main evidence  for  the  doctrine  of  the  trinity  is  to  be  found  in  the  New Testament,  we  need  to  start  with  the  Old  Testament.  We must  never forget  that  the  New Testament  is  based  on  the  Old.    No  statement  of  belief  is complete,  unless  it  is  seen  within  the  context  of  the  whole  Bible, including the Old Testament.

When we study the Old Testament, one thing immediately stands out: the main emphasis is on the unity of God. As far as His Godhead is concerned He is alone, unique.   The oneness of God is the central confession of all Christians, as we recite  in the Nicene Creed of 325 AD,”We believe in One God”.

Careful  reading of the Old Testament shows  no indication  of the trinity itself. Yet there are several  remarkable aspects,  which definitely have to be taken into account, if we want to see the full picture of the Old Testament understanding of God.

As  we said  before, in the  Old  Testament,  the first  imperative  was to declare the existence of the ONE living and true God. And to this task the Old Testament is principally dedicated. And this principal is the fundamental faith of the Christian religion.

Hear, O! Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! (Deuteronomy:6:4)


Have we not  all  one  father?  Has not one  God  created  us? (Malachi 2:10)

But there are also passages where God speaks  of himself  in the Plural, especially  in the opening  pages of the Old Testament. Based on this, Christians  are taught to attribute the existence and persistence of all things to a threefold source. For example, there are passages where the Lord God, his Word and  his Spirit  are  brought  together  as in  the  narrative  of  the creation where God is seen to create by means of his Word and Spirit:

And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, “ Let there be light“; and there was light.  (Genesis 1:2-3)

Also, the next passages points in the same direction:

Then  God  said,  “ Let  us  make  man  in  our  image  according  to  Our likeness”  (Genesis I :26).

Then the Lord God said, “ Behold, the man has become one of Us”  (Genesis 3:22)

Other  references  to  the same  is Genesis 2:7

“Come,  let Us go down,  and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one

another‘s speech.


Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? (Isaiah 6:8)

The   above   references   are   a   striking   case   of   plural   and   singular interchanged,  suggesting plurality  in unity. In Genesis 18:1-17 we read “And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when

he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground… “

The above incident is a striking one and the language is too, that God should manifest himself in the form of three.

There are many other passages where God and his Word and the Spirit are brought together as co-causes of effects.  In Isaiah 63:8-10 we read, “For  He said, “Surely  they are My people, children who will not lie. “So He became their Saviour.  In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel  of  His  presence  saved  them:  in  His  love  and  in  His  pity  He redeemed them; and He bore them, and carried them all the days of old. But they  rebelled,  and grieved  His  Holy Spirit:  so  He turned  Himself against them as an enemy, and He fought against them”.

Here we have the three speakers, the covenant God of Israel (v.8), the angel of the presence (v.9) and the Spirit ‘grieved’  by their rebellion (v.10). both the creative activity of God and his government are, at a later stage, associated with the Word personified as “Wisdom” where St. Paul said in his first epistle to the Corinthians

“Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:24). As this verse of St Paul is derived from these verses in Proverb:

The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting,  from the beginning,  or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains  abounding   with  water.  Before  the  mountains  were  settled, before the hills was I brought  forth: While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world. When he prepared  the heavens,  I was there: when he set a compass  upon the face  of  the  depth:   When  he  established  the  clouds  above:  when  he strengthened  the fountains  of  the  deep:  When  he gave  to  the  sea  his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed  the  foundations  of  the  earth:  Then  I  was  by  him,  as  one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him;

As well as with the Spirit as the Dispenser of all blessings and the source of physical strength, courage, culture and government, as we learn from Exodus:

And  I  have  filled  him  with  the  spirit  of  God,   in  wisdom,  and  in understanding,  and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship.

And in Numbers  he added:  And the LORD came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon

them, they prophesied, and did not cease.

Also, in Judges he said “And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he judged Israel, and went out to war: and the LORD delivered Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand; and his hand prevailed against Chushanrishathaim.” (Judges 3:10)

The threefold  source revealed  in creation  becomes still more evident  in the unfolding of redemption. At an early stage there are the remarkable phenomena  connected  with  the  angel  of  the  Lord  who  receives  and accepts divine honour (Genesis 16:2-13) as in the story of Hagar and Ishmael. And also, in (Genesis 22:11-16) the story of Abraham’s  sacrifice on the mountaintop in the land of Moriah.

In other passages the angel of the Lord not only bears the divine  name, but also has divine dignity and power, dispenses divine deliverance, and accepts  homage  and  adoration  proper  only  to GOD.  The Messiah  has deity ascribed to him, even when he is regarded as a person distinct from God “Therefore  the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive,  and bear a son,  and shall call his name  Immanuel.”

(Isaiah 7:14)

And also in (Isaiah 9:6) “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government  shall be upon his shoulder:  and his name shall be called  Wonderful,  Counsellor,  The mighty God, The everlasting  Father, The Prince of Peace. “

And of the Son we hear King David in his Psalms “The LORD said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool. (Psalm 110:1)

The Spirit of God is also given prominence in connection with revelation and  redemption,  and  is  assigned  his  office  in  the  equipment  of  the Messiah  for his work (Isaiah 11 :2) “And  the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,  the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD;

And in (Isaiah 42: I) Behold!  My Servant,  whom I uphold; My Elect, One in whom My soul delights!  I have put My Spirit upon Him: He bring forth justice to the Gentiles.

And in (Isaiah 61:1) “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me; because the LORD has anointed  Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,  to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;”

Thus the God who revealed himself objectively through the Angel­ Messenger  revealed himself subjectively  in and through the Spirit, the Dispenser of all blessings and gifts within the sphere of redemption. The threefold Aaronic blessing in (Numbers 6:24) must also be noted as the prototype of the New Testament apostolic  blessing.

“The LORD bless you, and keep you: The LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you: The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”

In the New Testament:

Every Old Testament incident yields some New Testament truth.

By way of contrast it must be remembered that the Old Testament was written  before  the revelation  of  the doctrine  of the Trinity was  clearly given, and the New Testament after it.  In the New Testament it was given particularly in the incarnation  of God the Son, and the outpouring  of the Holy Spirit.   But however dim the light in old dispensation; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit of the New Testament are the same as in the Old Testament.

Before the advent of Christ, the Holy Spirit came into the consciousness of God-fearing  men in a degree that was not known since the close of Malachi ‘s prophetic ministry, more especially John the Baptist.  He called for repentance toward God, faith in the coming Messiah, and spoke of baptism of the Holy Spirit, of which his baptism with water was a symbol (Matthew  3:11).

“ I indeed baptise you with water unto repentance,  but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals  I am not worthy  to carry,  He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

So where do we find the epochs of Trinitarian revelation  in the New Testament?

1: The Annunciation: The agency of the Trinity in the incarnation was disclosed  to Mary in the angelic annunciation that the Holy Spirit  would come upon her, the power of the Most High would overshadow  her and the child born of her would be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35). Thus the Father and the Spirit were disclosed as operating in the incarnation of the Son.

And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow  you; therefore,  also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.”

2: In the baptism of Christ: Trinity can be clearly distinguished, the Son is  being  baptised,  the  Father  speaking   from  heaven,  and  the  Spirit descending  in the objective  symbol of a dove. “And Jesus, when he was baptised, went up straightway  out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened  unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending  like a dove, and lighting  upon him: And lo a voice from heaven,  saying,  This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3: 16-17)

3: The teaching of Jesus: the teaching of Jesus Christ is Trinitarian throughout.  He spoke of the Father who sent him. Of himself as the One who reveals  the Father,  and the Spirit  as the One by whom He and the Father work. We find many references  to the latter in (John 14:7-9). In this indicates  Christ  deity,  his  pre-existence   and  the  unity  of  the  three underlying characteristic  of the divine in one nature of God Almighty.

If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also: and from now on you have known Him, and have seen Him. Philip said to him, Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficient for us. Jesus said to him, Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father, so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father? “ Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works.  Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves”

And of the Holy Spirit He said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that may abide with you forever.” (John 14:15-16)

The Helper here indicates to the Holy Spirit which was poured  upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost:  “Now  when the Day of Pentecost had fully  come, they  were  all  with one accord  in one  place,  And suddenly there  came a sound  from  heaven,  as of a rushing  mighty  wind,  and it filled the whole house where  they were sitting.    Then there appeared  to them divided tongues,  as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4)

4: The commission of the Risen Lord . Christ instructs his disciples to go into the whole world with his message and baptize them in the name of the  Father  and of the Son  and  of the Holy Spirit. It is significant the name “Baptism” is one  but within  the bounds  of the one name  there is three distinct persons.

The  Christian  Church  is founded  on  the  doctrine  of  the  Trinity.  This evident,  as said before, in the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost.  This outpouring  brought the personality of the Spirit into a greater prominence and at the same time shed light anew from the Spirit upon the Son,

Therefore, in the universal Church we find the apostolic benediction interpreting  the deeper  meaning  of  the  Trinity  in Christian  experience “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the fellowship  of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14)

The doctrine  of Trinity  in the Christian  Church  is understood  to refer to God to be ONE God in his essential  being, but that in his being there are three  Persons,  yet so  as  not  to form  separate  and  distinct  individuals. They  are  three  modes  or  forms  in  which  the  divine essence  exists.

‘Person’ is, however, an imperfect expression of the truth inasmuch as the term denotes  to us a separate  rational and  moral  individual.  But  in the being of God there are not three individuals, but three personal self­ distinctions  within  the ONE  divine  essence. Then  again, personality  in man   implies   independence  of  will,  actions   and   feelings   leading   to behaviour peculiar to the person.   This cannot be thought  of in connection with the Trinity. In the Trinity, each person is self-conscious and self­ directing, yet never acting independently or in opposition.

When we say that God is a Unity we mean that, though God is in himself a threefold  centre of  life,  his life is not split  into three. He is ONE  in essence, in personality  and in will. When we say that God is a Trinity in Unity, we mean that there is a unity in diversity,  and that the diversity manifests itself in persons, in characteristics  and in operations. In them there is perfect equality in nature, honour and dignity.

Fatherhood  belongs to the very essence of the first Person and it was so from all eternity.  It is personal property of God ‘from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named (Ephesians 3:15)

The Son is called the ‘only begotten’ to suggest uniqueness. Christ always claimed for himself a unique relationship  to God as Father. (John 5:19)

“For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in himself’’

As in Genesis 18:2-17,  the story suggests the Trinity of the Godhead. Here we learn that the whole Trinity is interested and exercised in seeking to bless and save man.  “And  he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground…”

The Father loved, and sent His Son; the Son loved, and gave Himself up to the death to redeem; the Spirit loved, and came to make His abode in the believing   hearts. This threefold salvation is summed up in the benediction. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father  and the fellowship  of the  Holy Spirit  be with  you all”  (2 Corinthians 13:14)

The Spirit  is revealed as the One who alone knows the depths of God’s nature: For the Spirit searches everything,  even the depths  of God … no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God

(1 Corinthians 2:10).

This is saying that the Spirit is just God himself in the innermost essence of His being.

The  doctrine  of  Trinity  arose  as  the  spontaneous  expression   of  the Christian experience.   The early Christians, knew themselves to be reconciled  to  God  the  father,  and  that  the  reconciliation  was  and  is secured for them by atoning work of the Son, and that it was mediated to them as an experience  by the Holy Spirit.  Thus the Trinity was and still is a fact before it was a doctrine, but in order to preserve it in the creedal faith of the Church the doctrine had to be formulated.

It is true that Christianity speaks of the Father as the First Person, and of the Son as the Second Person, and of the Holy Spirit as the Third Person; but “first,” “second,” “third” here do not represent a time order-rather the order of necessary relationship.

From the above we learnt that God is Wise and Living.   Now, he who is wise  discerns  because  of  his  wisdom;  and  he who  is living  is  living because he has life.  This is the mystery of the Trinity, which Christians confess of that Adorable Nature, Mind, Wisdom and Life.   Three co­-essential properties in One, and One who is glorified in three properties. The Mind has called Father and Begetter, because He is the Cause of all, and  First.    The Son  has  called  Wisdom  and  Begotten, because  He is begotten of the Mind, and by Him everything was made and created.  The Life has called, the Holy Spirit and Proceeding, because there is no other Holy Spirit but He.  He who is Holy is unchangeable.   Thus, these three properties are consubstantial.

Therefore, the implications of the doctrine of Trinity are vitally important not only for Christian theology, but for Christian experience and life.