It took sixty years after Nicaea before its results could be said to have been accepted by a majority of Christians; even then, it took an expansion of the Creed agreed there before anything resembling a consensus was reached. In the case of Ephesus, there was a more ready consensus – but also a resistance to the doctrine. This is not the place to go into the history of the so-called ‘Nestorian’ Church, but for those interested there is a good short series on it on this blog starting with this introduction. The whole dispute had been one about the nature of Christ, and it was that subject, and especially the issue of the legitimacy of confessing two natures in Christ after the Incarnation, which occupied the next three Councils: Ephesus II in 449, Chalcedon in 451 and Constantinople II in 553.
It is worth dwelling a little more on the reconciliation with Antioch, because it is one of the few examples we have of such a major potential schism being healed.
The reconciliation with John of Antioch had been an act of great courage on Cyril’s part. Right through the year after Ephesus, most of Syria had been in the rejectionist camp; Theodosius’ instructions that they should accept what had been decided had been ignored, and the Syrians had made a rejection of Cyril’s Twelve Anathemas a condition of reconciliation. Had Cyril been the man portrayed by Gibbon he would not have acted as he did, and there would have been no reunion.
Cyril gave no ground on what he had said, but did make it plain that his condemnations had been of Nestorius, not of the whole Antiochene school. John of Antioch offered an explanation of his position which Cyril found orthodox; Cyril insisted that they accept the deposition and condemnation of Nestorius. With good will on both sides, the way to substantial reunion was found. Once orthodoxy had been established, Cyril worked hard to make the yoke easier on those whose pride had been assailed. If only some later Popes had behaved in such a manner. It is terribly unfair that Cyril has been stigmatised in the way he has been; in practice, once the central theological orthodoxy was established, he was flexible on other matters.
It was, as the Pope told Cyril, his triumph. But within his own Church, and within the Syrian one, there were those who wanted a different sort of triumph – one more akin to that won by Rome against Carthage. Nestorius never accepted his fate, and even in exile in the prison colony of the Great Oasis in Egypt, continued to protest his case; his Bazaar of Heraclides was rediscovered in the nineteenth century, and for those with a taste for such things, stands as a monument to human vanity. Theodoret of Cyrrhus continued to agitate against Cyril, and would help cause the next great crisis.
As for Cyril, his victory won, he continued to write on Christological issues. His three great Christological works: That the Christ is One; The Exposition of the Creed; The Three Books to the Monks, as well as the monumental Against Julian the Apostate all belong to this last period of his life. He died on 27 June 444, just short of his 70th birthday. He was the greatest theologian of his time; one the the greatest of all time. It was fitting that he should have been called ‘The Seal of all the Fathers’. Had his successor, Dioscorus, possessed a fraction of either his genius in theology of diplomacy, much ill might have been averted.
It remains only to comment on what Cyril achieved – from his own point of view.