The Assyrian Church of the East, also known as the Nestorian Church, is a Christian denomination with a rich history that traces its roots back to the early days of Christianity. It originated in the region of Mesopotamia, which is modern-day Iraq and Syria. The church has its own distinct theology and traditions, which set it apart from other Christian denominations.
History and Schism
The Assyrian Church of the East was founded in the 1st century AD by apostles Thomas and Thaddeus. It was originally part of the wider Christian community but gradually developed its unique theological perspectives. The church’s teachings were influenced by Nestorius, a theologian and patriarch of Constantinople in the 5th century.
Nestorius emphasized the distinction between the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ. This led to a theological dispute with Cyril of Alexandria, who advocated for a more unified understanding of Christ’s nature. The Council of Ephesus in 431 marked a significant turning point as it condemned Nestorius’ teachings as heretical.
Following this council, those who supported Nestorius’ views were labeled as “Nestorians.” They were subsequently excommunicated from mainstream Christianity, leading to a schism between the Eastern Orthodox Church and what would later become known as the Assyrian Church of the East.
Relations with Rome
Due to historical circumstances and geographical location, there have been limited interactions between the Assyrian Church of the East and the Roman Catholic Church throughout history. However, in recent years there have been efforts towards achieving greater unity between these two ancient Christian traditions.
In 1994, Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV signed a common Christological declaration aimed at bridging theological differences between the Roman Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East. This declaration affirmed that both churches share a common understanding of Christ’s nature as fully divine and fully human.
While this declaration was a significant step towards reconciliation, full communion between the Assyrian Church of the East and Rome has not yet been achieved. There are still some theological, liturgical, and jurisdictional differences that need to be worked through before complete unity can be realized.
Despite not being in full communion with Rome, the Assyrian Church of the East maintains ecumenical relations with various Christian denominations. It is a member of organizations such as the World Council of Churches and participates in interfaith dialogue with other Christian traditions.
The church has also made efforts to establish closer ties with other Eastern Christian churches, particularly those within the Oriental Orthodox family. In 2001, an official joint statement was issued by the Assyrian Church of the East and the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate affirming their shared faith and calling for continued dialogue.
In conclusion, while there have been significant strides towards healing historical divisions between the Assyrian Church of the East and Rome, full communion has not yet been achieved. The common Christological declaration signed in 1994 was an important milestone in fostering mutual understanding but further discussions are needed to address remaining theological differences. Nevertheless, both churches continue to engage in ecumenical efforts and dialogue with a goal of promoting unity among Christians worldwide.