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Home > Fathers of the Church > Letters (Theodoret) > Letter 145

Letter 145

To the Monks of Constantinople.

There is nothing new or surprising in the fact that the men who have made their tongues weapons against our God and Saviour should also aim their shafts of falsehood against His right minded servants. It must needs be that the servants who grieve sorely at the outrage inflicted on their Master should share it. That so it should be they have been forwarned by their Lord Himself, Who consoles His holy disciples with the words If they have persecuted me they will also persecute you. If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of His household. Then He cheered them by pointing out that calumny is easily detected, for He went on There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed and hid that shall not be known. I have often seen the truth of the divine prediction, but I see it with special clearness now. The authors of the calumny against me, who have bought my destruction for large sums of money, have been distinctly seen to be involved in the unsoundness of Valentinus and Bardesanes. They had hoped to cloke their own iniquity if only they could whet their tongues on the hone of falsehood in order to wound me. For ever since I saw that the heresy long ago extinguished had been renewed by these men I never ceased to cry aloud, bearing my testimony in private and in public, as well in social gatherings as in the temples of God, and strive to confute their conspiracy against the faith. They have consequently poured out their insults on my head, and allege that I preach two sons. But they ought to have convicted me to my face, not slandered me behind my back. They have done just the contrary. They tied me hand and foot at Cyrus by the imperial decree; they compelled the very righteous judges to condemn me without a trial, and delivered their most equitable sentence against a man who was five and thirty stages away. Such treatment was never suffered by any criminal charged with witchcraft or robbery of the dead, by murderer or by adulterer. But for the present I will leave the judges alone, for the Lord is at hand Who judges the world with righteousness and the people with his truth; Who exacts an account not only of words and deeds, but even of evil thoughts. But think it right to refute the false charge which has been made. What proof have they of my asserting two sons? Had I been one of the silent kind there might have been some ground for the suspicion, but my task has been to contend on behalf of the apostolic decrees, to bring the pasture of instruction to the Lord's flocks, and to this end I have written five and thirty books interpreting the divine Scripture, and proving the falsehood of the heresies. The falsehoods these men have concocted are therefore easy of refutation. Tens on tens of thousands of hearers testify that I have taught the truth of the doctrines of the Gospel, and for any one who likes to bring them to the test my writings lie before the world. Not on behalf of a duality of sons, but of the only begotten Son of God, against the heathen, against Jews, against the recipients of the plague of Arius and Eunomius, against the supporters of the madness of Apollinarius, against the victims of the corruption of Marcion, I have never ceased to struggle; trying to convince the heathen that the Eternal Son of the ever living God is Himself Creator of the Universe; the Jews that about Him the prophets uttered their predictions, the Arians and Eunomians that He is of one substance, of one dignity and of equal power with the Father; Marcion's mad adherents that He is not only good but just; and Saviour not, as they fable, of another's works, but of His own. Once for all, fighting against each heresy, I charge men to fall down and worship the one Son.

And what need is there of many words, when it is possible to refute falsehood in few? We provide that those who year by year come up for holy baptism should carefully learn the faith set forth at Nicæa by the holy and blessed Fathers; and initiating them as we have been bidden, we baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, pronouncing each name singly. Furthermore when performing divine service in the churches, both at the beginning and the decline of day and when dividing the day itself into three parts, we glorify the Father the Son and the Holy Ghost. If, as our slanderers allege, we preach two sons, which do we glorify and which do we leave unworshipped? It were the wildest folly to believe that there are two sons, and to give the doxology to one alone. And who is so distraught as, while hearing the words of the divine Paul one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and again there is one Lord Jesus Christ by Whom are all things, to lay down the law at variance with the teaching of the Spirit, and cut the one in two. But I am prating unnecessarily, for these men, nurtured in falsehood as they are, do not even dare to assert that they have ever heard me say anything of the kind; but they affirm that I preach two sons because I confess the two natures of our Master Christ. And they refuse to perceive that every human being has both an immortal soul and a mortal body; yet no one has hitherto been found to call Paul two Pauls because he has both soul and body, any more than Peter two Peters or Abraham or Adam. Everyone recognises the distinction of the natures, and does not call one man two Pauls. Precisely in the same way, when styling our Lord Jesus Christ the only begotten Son of God, God the Word incarnate, both Son of God and Son of Man, as we have been taught by the divine Scripture, we do not assert two sons, but we do confess the peculiar properties of the Godhead and of the manhood. The party however who deny the nature assumed of us men cannot hear these arguments without irritation.

It is only right that I should point out from what sources they have derived this impiety. Simon, Menander, Cerdo, and Marcion absolutely deny the incarnation, and call the birth from a Virgin fable. Valentinus, however, Basilides, Bardesanes, and Harmonius and their following, accept the conception of the Virgin and the birth; but they deny that God the Word took anything from the Virgin, but made as it were a transit through her as through a conduit, and appeared to mankind in semblance only, and seeming to be a man, in like manner as He was seen by Abraham and certain others of the ancients. Arius and Eunomius on the contrary held that He assumed a body, but that the Godhead played the part of the soul, in order that they may attribute to it what was lowly in His words and deeds. Apollinarius did indeed assert that He assumed a soul with the body, not the reasonable soul, but the soul which is called animal or phytic. Their contention is that the Godhead took the part of the mind. He had learned the distinction of soul and of mind from the philosophers that are without while divine Scripture says that man consists of soul and body. For we read And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul. And the Lord in the sacred Gospels said to His apostles Fear not them which kill the body but are not able to kill the soul.

So great is the divergence between the doctrines. These men have now done their best to outdo Apollinarius, Arius and Eunomius, in their impiety and have now endeavoured to plant anew the heresy sown of old by Valentinus and Bardesanes, and afterwards uprooted by most excellent husbandmen. Like Valentinus and Bardesanes they have denied that the body of our Lord was assumed of our nature. But the Church, following the footprints of the Apostles, contemplates in the Lord Christ both perfect Godhead and perfect manhood. For just as He took a body, not that He needed a body, but by its means to give immortality to all bodies; so too He took a soul, the guide of the body, that every soul by its means might share His immutability. For even if souls are immortal, they are not however immutable; for they undergo many and frequent changes, as they experience pleasure, now from one object, and now from another. Whence it comes about that we err when we are changed and are inclined to what is worse. But after the resurrection our bodies enjoy immortality and incorruptibility, and our souls impassibility and immutability. For this reason the only begotten Son of God took both a body and a soul, preserved them free from all blame, and offered the sacrifice for the race. And this is why He is called our high priest; and He is named high priest not as God but as man. He makes the offering as man, and accepts the sacrifice with the Father and the Holy Spirit as God. If only Adam's body had sinned, it alone should have benefited by the cure. But since the soul not only shared in the sin but was first in the sin, for first the thought forms an image of the sin and then carries it out by means of the body, it was just, I ween, that the soul too should be healed. But it is perhaps superfluous to demonstrate these points by reasoning, when the divine Scripture clearly proclaims them. This doctrine is distinctly taught by the holy David and the very divine Peter, the one foretelling from distant ages, and the other interpreting his prediction. The words of the first of the apostles are David therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, He would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; he seeing this before spoke of the resurrection of Christ that His soul was not left in hell neither His flesh did see corruption.

Now he has given us much instruction on the same point in these few words. First he states that the assumed nature derives its descent from the loins of David; secondly that He took not a body only, but also an immortal soul, and thirdly that He delivered body and soul to death, and, after taking them again, raised them as He would. His own words are Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up. But we have learned that the divine nature is immortal. What suffered was the passible, and the impassible remained impassible. For God the Word was made man not to render the impassible nature passible, but on the passible nature, by means of the Passion, to bestow the boon of impassibility. And the Lord Himself in the holy Gospels at one time says I have power to lay down my life and I have power to take it again, no man takes it from me but I lay it down of myself; That I may take it again. And again Therefore does my Father love me because I lay down my life for the sheep, and again Now is my soul troubled my soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death and of His body He says The bread that I will give is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world, and when He delivered the divine mysteries and broke the symbol and distributed it, He added This is my body which is being broken for you for the remission of sins, and again This is my blood which is shed for many for the remission of sins, and again Except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you have no life in you and Whosoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life in himself he adds. Innumerable passages of the same character may be quoted, both in the old Testament and the new, pointing out the assumption both of the body and of the soul, and that they are descended from Abraham and David. Joseph of Arimathea when he came to Pilate begged the body of Jesus, and the fourfold authority of the holy Gospels tells us how he received the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and committed it to the tomb. I do, indeed, sorrow and lament that I am compelled by the attacks of error to adduce against men supposed to be of one and the same faith with myself the arguments which I have already urged against the victims of the plague of Marcion—of whom, by God's grace, I have converted more than ten thousand, and brought them to Holy Baptism. What child of the church ever had any doubts on these points? Who has not cited this teaching of the holy Fathers? The works of the great Basil are full of it; as well, as those of his fellow soldiers Gregory and Amphilochius, and of those who in the West have been illustrious teachers of grace, Damasus, bishop of great Rome, and Ambrose of Milan; and Cyprian of Carthage who for the sake of these doctrines won the martyr's crown. Five times was the famous Athanasius driven from his flock and compelled to dwell in exile; and in the cause of these doctrines strove too his master Alexander. Eustathius, Meletius, and Flavianus, luminaries of the East, and Ephraim, harp of the Spirit, who daily waters the people of Syria with the streams of grace; John and Atticus, loud heralds of the truth; and men of an earlier age than they, Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenæus, Justin, and Hippolytus, of whom the more part not only shine at the head of the company of bishops, but also adorn the martyr's band.

He, too, who now rules great Rome and diffuses in all directions from the West the rays of right teaching, the most holy Leo, has expressed to me this distinctive mark of the faith in his own letters. All these have clearly taught that the only begotten Son of God and everlasting God, ineffably begotten of the Father, is one Son; and that after the incarnation He was called both Son of man and man, not because He was changed into manhood, for His nature is immutable, but because He took what was ours. They teach too that He was both impassible and immortal as God, and mortal and passible as man; but after the resurrection even in relation to His humanity He received impassibility and immortality, for, though the body remained a body, still it is impassible and immortal, verily a divine body and glorified with divine glory. This is distinctly told us by the blessed Paul in the words For our conversation is in heaven from whence also we look for the Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like the body of His glory. He does not say to His glory but to the body of His glory, and the Lord Himself, when He had said to His apostles There be some standing here which shall not taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in His Father's glory, took them after six days into an exceeding high mountain, and was transfigured before them, and His face became as the sun, and His raiment was bright like the light. By these means He showed the manner of the second advent. He taught that the assumed nature is not uncircumscribed (for this is characteristic of the Godhead alone) but that it shall send forth flashes of the divine glory, and emit rays of light transcending the powers of the sense of sight. With this glory He was taken up; with this the angels said that He should come; for their words were He who was taken from you into heaven shall so come in like manner as you have seen him go into heaven. When moreover He was seen by the divine apostles after the resurrection, He showed them both hands and feet; and to Thomas He showed also His side and the wounds of the nails and of the spear. For on account of those men who positively deny the assumption of the flesh, and further of those others who assert that after the resurrection the nature of the body was changed into the nature of Godhead, He preserved unaltered the prints of the nails and of the spear. And while raising all other bodies free from every disfigurement, in His own body He left the marks of His sufferings, to the end that deniers of the assumption of the body may be convicted of their error by means of His sufferings; and holders of the notion that His body was changed into another nature may be taught by the print of the nails that it abides in its own proper qualities. Suppose any one to imagine that he has a proof that the body of the Lord did not remain a body after the resurrection in the fact that He came in to the disciples when the doors were shut, let such an one remember how He walked upon the sea while His body was still mortal, how He was born after keeping the seals of virginity intact, and how again when encircled by them that were plotting against Him He frequently escaped from their hands. But why need I mention the Lord, who was not only man, but God before the ages, and to whom it was easy to do whatsoever He would? Let them tell how Habakkuk was translated from Judæa into Babylon in a moment of time and passed through the covering of the den, and brought the food to Daniel, and returned again. without destroying the seals of the den. It is sheer foolishness to enquire into the manner of the miracles of the Lord, but in addition to what has been said it ought also to be known that after the resurrection our bodies also will be incorruptible and immortal, and being released from what is earthly will become light and æthereal. This moreover is distinctly taught us by the divine Paul in the words It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption, it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown in dishonour it is raised in glory; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body and in another place We shall be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. If then the bodies of the saints become light and æthereal and easily travel through the air, we cannot wonder that the Lord's body united to the Godhead of the only begotten, when, after the resurrection, it had become immortal, entered in when the doors were shut.

Countless other proofs might be quoted without difficulty from apostles and prophets. But what has been already said is enough to show the drift of my teaching. I believe in one Father, one Son and one Holy Ghost; and I confess one Godhead, one Lordship, one substance and three hypostases. For the incarnation of the only begotten did not add to the number of the Trinity, and make the Trinity a quaternity, but, even after the incarnation the Trinity was still a Trinity. And while confessing that the only begotten Son of God was made man I do not deny the nature which He took, but confess, as I have said, both the nature which took and the nature which was taken. The union did not confound the properties of the natures. For if the air by receiving the light through all its parts does not cease to be air, nor yet at the same time destroy the nature of the light, for with our eyes we behold the light and by our feeling we recognise the air, as it meets us cold or hot, or moist or dry, so it were sheer folly to call the union of the Godhead and the manhood confusion. If created natures which share at once subordinate and temporal existence, when united and in some sense mingled, yet remain unimpaired, and, when the light withdraws, the nature of the air is left alone, much more proper is it, I apprehend, for the nature which fashioned all things, when conjoined with and united to the nature which it assumed from us, to be acknowledged to continue itself in its purity, and in like manner to preserve unimpaired that which it had assumed. Gold, too, when brought in contact with the fire, participates both in the colour and power of fire, but it does not lose its own nature, but at the same time remains gold and has the active qualities of fire. In this manner also the Lord's body is a body, but impassible, incorruptible, immortal, of the Lord, divine and glorified with the divine glory. It is not separated from the Godhead, nor yet is of any one else, save of the only begotten Son of God Himself. For it does not show to us another person, but the only-begotten Himself clad in our nature.

This is the doctrine which I am continually preaching. They on the other hand who deny the incarnation wrought on our behalf have called me a heretic, adopting a course something like that of unchaste females, who, while they sell their own charms, assail honest women with the insults of their profession, and apply language proper to their own wantonness to women who hold such wantonness in abhorrence. This is how Egypt has acted. She has herself fallen willingly into the thraldom of base desire. She has lavished her servile adulation on a man of chaste character. Then, failing to entice him by her wiles, or to trap him in the snares of her voluptuous passion, she describes one who is faithful to purity as an adulterer.

But these men will be called to account by God, as well for their devices against the faith as for the snares they have laid against me. I only charge those who have been influenced by the false accusations uttered against me to keep one ear for the accused, and not to give both to the accusers. In this manner they will fulfil the divine law which lays down You shall not raise a false report, and Judge righteously between every man and his brother. In these words the divine law charges us not to believe the calumnies uttered against the absent but to judge the accused face to face.

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Source. Translated by Blomfield Jackson. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 3. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1892.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2707145.htm>.

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