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Fathers of the Church

Epistle CI: to Cledonius the Priest against Apollinarius


In the first half of this letter, Gregory pronounces anathemas on those who adhere to the various tenets of Apolinarianism. In the second half of the letter he refutes this heresy, which claimed that Christ had a human body and human sensitive soul, but no human rational mind.


Gregory was the first Greek author to publish a collection of his letters; he did so at the request of Nicobulus, a grandson of his sister Gorgonia. Incidentally, he also sets forth a theory of epistolography; he demands that a good letter should have four characteristics: shortness, clearness, charm and simplicity. Although he refuses to present his own epistles as models, they are carefully written, in mnay cases not without humor, and most of them are brief and pointed. (Quasten)

The following letter, along with another written to Cledonius, is famous for its theology. Both were written in order to provide material for a refutation of Apollinarianism.

by Gregory Nazianzen in 382 | translated by Charles Gordon Browne, M.A., James Edward Swallow, M.A


I desire to learn what is this fashion of innovation in things Concerning the Church, which allows anyone who likes, or the passerby,(a) as the Bible says, to tear asunder the flock that has been well led, and to plunder it by larcenous attacks, or rather by piratical and fallacious teachings. For if our present assailants had any ground for condemning us in regard of the faith, it would not have been right for them, even in that case, to have ventured on such a course without giving us notice. They ought rather to have first persuaded us, or to have been willing to be persuaded by us (if at least any account is to be taken of us as fearing God, labouring for the faith, and helping the Church), and then, if at all, to innovate; but then perhaps there would be an excuse for their outrageous conduct. But since our faith has been proclaimed, both in writing and without writing, here and in distant parts, in times of danger and of safety, how comes it that some make such attempts, and that others keep silence?

The most grievous part of it is not (though this too is shocking) that the men instil their own heresy into simpler souls by means of those who are worse; but that they also tell lies about us and say that we share their opinions and sentiments; thus baiting their hooks, and by this cloak villainously fulfilling their will, and making our simplicity, which looked upon them as brothers and not as foes, into a support of their wickedness. And not only so, but they also assert, as I am told, that they have been received by the Western Synod, by which they were formerly condemned, as is well known to everyone. If, however, those who hold the views of Apollinarius have either now or formerly been received, let them prove it and we will be content. For it is evident that they can only have been so received as assenting to the Orthodox Faith, for this were an impossibility on any other terms. And they can surely prove it, either by the minutes of the Synod, or by Letters of Communion, for this is the regular custom of Synods. But if it is mere words, and an invention of their own, devised for the sake of appearances and to give them weight with the multitude through the credit of the persons, teach them to hold their tongues, and confute them; for we believe that such a task is well suited to your manner of life and orthodoxy. Do not let the men deceive themselves and others with the assertion that the "Man of the Lord," as they call Him, Who is rather our Lord and God, is without human mind. For we do not sever the Man from the Godhead, but we lay down as a dogma the Unity and Identity of Person, Who of old was not Man but God, and the Only Son before all ages, unmingled with body or anything corporeal; but Who in these last days has assumed Manhood also for our salvation; passible in His Flesh, impassible in His Godhead; circumscript in the body, uncircumscript in the Spirit; at once earthly and heavenly, tangible and intangible, comprehensible and incomprehensible; that by One and the Same Person, Who was perfect Man and also God, the entire humanity fallen through sin might be created anew.

If anyone does not believe that Holy Mary is the Mother of God, he is severed from the Godhead. If anyone should assert that He passed through the Virgin as through a channel, and was not at once divinely and humanly formed in her (divinely, because without the intervention of a man; humanly, because in accordance with the laws of gestation), he is in like manner godless. If any assert that the Manhood was formed and afterward was clothed with the Godhead, he too is to be condemned. For this were not a Generation of God, but a shirking of generation. If any introduce the notion of Two Sons, one of God the Father, the other of the Mother, and discredits the Unity and Identity, may he lose his part in the adoption promised to those who believe aright. For God and Man are two natures, as also soul and body are; but there are not two Sons or two Gods. For neither in this life are there two manhoods; though Paul speaks in some such language of the inner and outer man. And (if I am to speak concisely) the Saviour is made of elements which are distinct from one another (for the invisible is not the same with the visible, nor the timeless with that which is subject to time), yet He is not two Persons. God forbid! For both natures are one by the combination, the Deity being made Man, and the Manhood deified or however one should express it. And I say different Elements, because it is the reverse of what is the case in the Trinity; for There we acknowledge different Persons so as not to confound the persons; but not different Elements, for the Three are One and the same in Godhead.

If any should say that it wrought in Him by grace as in a Prophet, but was not and is not united with Him in Essence—let him be empty of the Higher Energy, or rather full of the opposite. If any worship not the Crucified, let him be Anathema and be numbered among the Deicides. If any assert that He was made perfect by works, or that after His Baptism, or after His Resurrection from the dead, He was counted worthy of an adoptive Sonship, like those whom the Greeks interpolate as added to the ranks of the gods, let him be anathema. For that which has a beginning or a progress or is made perfect, is not God, although the expressions may be used of His gradual manifestation. If any assert that He has now put off His holy flesh, and that His Godhead is stripped of the body, and deny that He is now with His body and will come again with it, let him not see the glory of His Coming. For where is His body now, if not with Him Who assumed it? For it is not laid by in the sun, according to the babble of the Manichaeans, that it should be honoured by a dishonour; nor was it poured forth into the air and dissolved, us is the nature of a voice or the flow of an odour, or the course of a lightning flash that never stands. Where in that case were His being handled after the Resurrection, or His being seen hereafter by them that pierced Him, for Godhead is in its nature invisible. Nay; He will come with His body—so I have learnt—such as He was seen by His Disciples in the Mount, or as he shewed Himself for a moment, when his Godhead overpowered the carnality. And as we say this to disarm suspicion, so we write the other to correct the novel teaching. If anyone assert that His flesh came down from heaven, and is not from hence, nor of us though above us, let him be anathema. For the words, The Second Man is the Lord from Heaven;(a) and, As is the Heavenly, such are they that are Heavenly; and, No man hath ascended up into Heaven save He which came down from Heaven, even the Son of Man which is in Heaven;(b) and the like, are to be understood as said on account of the Union with the heavenly; just as that All Things were made by Christ,(g) and that Christ dwelleth in your hearts(a) is said, not of the visible nature which belongs to God, but of what is perceived by the mind, the names being mingled like the natures, and flowing into one another, according to the law of their intimate union.

If anyone has put his trust in Him as a Man without a human mind, he is really bereft of mind, and quite unworthy of salvation. For that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved. If only half Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole. Let them not, then, begrudge us our complete salvation, or clothe the Saviour only with bones and nerves and the portraiture of humanity. For if His Manhood is without soul, even the Arians admit this, that they may attribute His Passion to the Godhead, as that which gives motion to the body is also that which suffers. But if He has a soul, and yet is without a mind, how is He man, for man is not a mindless animal? And this would necessarily involve that while His form and tabernacle was human, His soul should be that of a horse or an ox, or some other of the brute creation. This, then, would be what He saves; and I have been deceived by the Truth, and led to boast of an honour which had been bestowed upon another. But if His Manhood is intellectual and nor without mind, let them cease to be thus really mindless. But, says such an one, the Godhead took the place of the human intellect. How does this touch me? For Godhead joined to flesh alone is not man, nor to soul alone, nor to both apart from intellect, which is the most essential part of man. Keep then the whole man, and mingle Godhead therewith, that you may benefit me in my completeness. But, he asserts, He could not contain Two perfect Natures. Not if you only look at Him in a bodily fashion. For a bushel measure will not hold two bushels, nor will the space of one body hold two or more bodies. But if you will look at what is mental and incorporeal, remember that I in my one personality can contain soul and reason and mind and the Holy Spirit; and before me this world, by which I mean the system of things visible and invisible, contained Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. For such is the nature of intellectual Existences, that they can mingle with one another and with bodies, incorporeally and invisibly. For many sounds are comprehended by one ear; and the eyes of many are occupied by the same visible objects, and the smell by odours; nor are the senses narrowed by each other, or crowded out, nor the objects of sense diminished by the multitude of the perceptions. But where is there mind of man or angel so perfect in comparison of the Godhead that the presence of the greater must crowd out the other? The light is nothing compared with the sun, nor a little damp compared with a river, that we must first do away with the lesser, and take the light from a house, or the moisture from the earth, to enable it to contain the greater and more perfect. For how shall one thing contain two completenesses, either the house, the sunbeam and the sun, or the earth, the moisture and the river? Here is matter for inquiry; for indeed the question is worthy of much consideration. Do they not know, then, that what is perfect by comparison with one thing may be imperfect by comparison with another, as a hill compared with a mountain, or a grain of mustard seed with a bean or any other of the larger seeds, although it may be called larger than any of the same kind? Or, if you like, an Angel compared with God, or a man with an Angel. So our mind is perfect and commanding, but only in respect of soul and body; not absolutely perfect; and a servant and a subject of God, not a sharer of His Princedom and honour. So Moses was a God to Pharaoh,(a) but a servant of God,(b) as it is written; and the stars which illumine the night are hidden by the Sun, so much that you could not even know of their existence by daylight; and a little torch brought near a great blaze is neither destroyed, nor seen, nor extinguished; but is all one blaze, the bigger one prevailing over the other.

But, it may be said, our mind is subject to condemnation. What then of our flesh? Is that not subject to condemnation? You must therefore either set aside the latter on account of sin, or admit the former on account of salvation. If He assumed the worse that He might sanctify it by His incarnation, may He not assume the better that it may be sanctified by His becoming Man? If the clay was leavened and has become a new lump, O ye wise men, shall not the Image be leavened and mingled with God, being deified by His Godhead? And I will add this also: If the mind was utterly rejected, as prone to sin and subject to damnation, and for this reason He assumed a body but left out the mind, then there is an excuse for them who sin with the mind; for the witness of God— according to you—has shewn the impossibility of healing it. Let me state the greater results. You, my good sir, dishonour my mind (you a Sarcolater, if I am an Anthropolater(a) that you may tie God down to the Flesh, since He cannot be otherwise tied; and therefore you take away the wall of partition. But what is my theory, who am but an ignorant man, and no Philosopher. Mind is mingled with mind, as nearer and more closely related, and through it with flesh, being a Mediator between God and carnality.

Further let us see what is their account of the assumption of Manhood, or the assumption of Flesh, as they call it. If it was in order that God, otherwise incomprehensible, might be comprehended, and might converse with men through His Flesh as through a veil, their mask and the drama which they represent is a pretty one, not to say that it was open to Him to converse with us in other ways, as of old, in the burning bush(b) and in the appearance of a man.(g) But if it was that He might destroy the condemnation by sanctifying like by like, then as He needed flesh for the sake of the flesh which had incurred condemnation, and soul for the sake of our soul, so, too, He needed mind for the sake of mind, which not only fell in Adam, but was the first to be affected, as the doctors say of illnesses. For that which received the command was that which failed to keep the command, and that which failed to keep it was that also which dared to transgress; and that which transgressed was that which stood most in need of salvation; and that which needed salvation was that which also He took upon Him. Therefore, Mind was taken upon Him. This has now been demonstrated, whether they like it or no, by, to use their own expression, geometrical and necessary proofs. But you are acting as if, when a man's eye had been injured and his foot had been injured in consequence, you were to attend to the foot and leave the eye uncared for; or as if, when a painter had drown something badly, you were to alter the picture, but to pass over the artist as if he had succeeded. But if they, overwhelmed by these arguments, take refuge in the proposition that it is possible for God to save man even apart from mind, why, I suppose that it would be possible for Him to do so also apart from flesh by a mere act of will, just as He works all other things, and has wrought them without body. Take away, then, the flesh as well as the mind, that your monstrous folly may be complete. But they are deceived by the latter, and, therefore, they run to the flesh, because they do not know the custom of Scripture. We will teach them this also. For what need is there even to mention to those who know it, the fact that everywhere in Scripture he is called Man, and the Son of Man?

If, however, they rely on the passage, The Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us,(a)and because of this erase the noblest part of Man (as cobblers do the thicker part of skins) that they may join together God and Flesh, it is time for them to say that God is God only of flesh, and not of souls, because it is written, "As Thou hast given Him power over all Flesh,"(b) and "Unto Thee shall all Flesh come;"(g) and "Let all Flesh bless His holy Name,"(d) meaning every Man. Or, again, they must suppose that our fathers went down into Egypt without bodies and invisible, and that only the Soul of Joseph was imprisoned by Pharaoh, because it is written, ' They went down into Egypt with threescore and fifteen Souls,"(e) and "The iron entered into his Soul,"(z) a thing which could not be bound. They who argue thus do not know that such expressions are used by Synecdoche, declaring the whole by the part, as when Scripture says that the young ravens call upon God,(h) to indicate the whole feathered race; or Pleiades, Hesperus, and Arcturus(th) are mentioned, instead of all the Stars and His Providence over them.

Moreover, in no other way was it possible for the Love of God toward us to be manifested than by making mention of our flesh, and that for our sake He descended even to our lower part. For that flesh is less precious than soul, everyone who has a spark of sense will acknowledge. And so the passage, The Word was made Flesh, seems to me to be equivalent to that in which it is said that He was made sin,(k) or a curse(l) for us; not that the Lord was transformed into either of these, how could He be? But because by taking them upon Him He took away our sins and bore our iniquities.(m) This, then, is sufficient to say at the present time for the sake of clearness and of being understood by the many. And I write it, not with any desire to compose a treatise, but only to check the progress of deceit; and if it is thought well, I will give a fuller account of these matters at greater length.

But there is a matter which is graver than these, a special point which it is necessary that I should not pass over. I would they were even cut off that trouble you,(a) and would reintroduce a second Judaism, and a second circumcision, and a second system of sacrifices. For if this be done, what hinders Christ also being born again to set them aside, and again being betrayed by Judas, and crucified and buried, and rising again, that all may be fulfilled in the same order, like the Greek system of cycles, in which the same revolutions of the stars bring round the same events? For what the method of selection is, in accordance with which some of the events are to occur and others to be omitted, let these wise men who glory in the multitude of their books shew us.

But since, puffed up by their theory of the Trinity, they falsely accuse us of being unsound in the Faith and entice the multitude, it is necessary that people should know that Apollinarius, while granting the Name of Godhead to the Holy Ghost, did not preserve the Power of the Godhead. For to make the Trinity consist of Great, Greater, and Greatest, as of Light, Ray, and Sun, the Spirit and the Son and the Father (as is clearly stated in his writings), is a ladder of Godhead not leading to Heaven, but down from Heaven. But we recognize God the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, and these not as bare titles, dividing inequalities of ranks or of power, but as there is one and the same title, so there is one nature and one substance in the Godhead.

But if anyone who thinks we have spoken rightly on this subject reproaches us with holding communion with heretics, let him prove that we are open to this charge, and we will either convince him or retire. But it is not safe to make any innovation before judgment is given, especially in a matter of such importance, and connected with so great issues. We have protested and continue to protest this before God and men. And not even now, be well assured, should we have written this, if we had not seen that the Church was being tom asunder and divided, among their other tricks, by their present synagogue of vanity.(b) But if anyone when we say and protest this, either from some advantage they will thus gain, or through fear of men, or monstrous littleness of mind, or through some neglect of pastors and governors, or through love of novelty and proneness to innovations, rejects us as unworthy of credit, and attaches himself to such men, and divides the noble body of the Church, he shall bear his judgment, whoever he may be,(a) and shall give account to God in the day of judgment.(b) But if their long books, and their new Psalters, contrary to that of David, and the grace of their metres, are taken for a third Testament, we too will compose Psalms, and will write much in metre. For we also think we have the spirit of God,(g) if indeed this is a gift of the Spirit, and not a human novelty. This I will that thou declare publicly, that we may not be held responsible, as overlooking such an evil, and as though this wicked doctrine received food and strength from our indifference.

Taken from "The Early Church Fathers and Other Works" originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. in English in Edinburgh, Scotland, beginning in 1867. (LNPF II/VII, Schaff and Wace). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.