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Fathers of the Church

Letter LXXXI. to the Consul Nomus

Description

Theodoret’s letters are a mine of information for the history of the fifth century, of the author’s life and of the history of dogma in general. This large correspondence is distinguished for its unpretentious learning, felicitous diction and perfect grace of style. (Quasten) In the present letter, addressed to the consul Nomus (the recipient of Theodoret’s friendly greetings in letter LVIII), he complains that through the imperial edict confining him to Cyrus (see also letters LXXIX and LXXX) he has been condemned without a trial, and defends his conduct during his twenty-five years as bishop. In letters LXXXII-LXXXIII he addresses the theological charges against him.

Provenance

Theodoret of Cyrus (c. 393-466), the wise and zealous bishop of Cyrus, a small town near Antioch, was the last great theologian of the school of Antioch. Although he first considered Alexandrian Christology dangerous, and refused to condemn Nestorius until the Council of Chalcedon, his commitment to the correct doctrine of the Incarnation should not be questioned. As late as the 14th century more than 500 of his letters were extant, of which we still have 232. Letters LXXIX-CXI date from 448 and 449, and chronicle the growing agitation in the Eastern Church during the Monophysite crisis, including the slanders that led to Theodoret’s illegitimate deposition at the “Robber-Council” of Ephesus in 449.

by Theodoret in c. 448 | translated by Blomfield Jackson

For but a brief portion of a day I enjoyed the society of your lordship, for I was deprived by unavoidable circumstances of what I so earnestly desired. I had hoped that our short interview would have kindled good will and friendly intercourse, but I was disappointed. I have now written you two letters, without receiving any reply; and by the imperial decree I am forbidden to travel beyond the boundaries of Cyrus. For this apparent punishment cause there is none, except the fact of my convening an episcopal synod. No indictment was published; no prosecutor appeared; the defendant was not convicted; but the sentence was given. We submit, for we know the reward of the wronged. I am aware however that Festus the Procurator who was entrusted with the government of the Jews when they demanded the death of the divine Paul, publicly replied, "It is not lawful to us Romans to deliver any man before that he which is accused have the accusers face to face, and have license to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him." Now these words were spoken by one who was no believer in our Master, Christ, but was a slave to the errors of polytheism. I was never asked whether I was assembling synods or not, or for what reason I was assembling them, or what umbrage this could give, either to the Church or to the government; yet just as though I had been a very guilty criminal I am prohibited from visiting other cities; while to every one else every city lies open, and that not only to Arians and Eunomians, but to Manichees and Marcionists, to them that are sick with the unsoundness of Valentinus and Montanus, aye to pagans and Jews, while I, a foremost champion of the teaching of the Gospels, am from every city excluded. Some however maintain that I do not adhere to it. Then let there be a council: let there be assembled there the godly bishops who are capable of judging: then let there be assembled those in office and in rank who have been instructed in divine lore. Let me state what I hold, and let the judges declare what opinion is agreeable to the teaching of the Apostles. I have not thus written from any desire to see the great city, nor from trying to travel to any other. In fact I rather love the quiet of them whose wish is to administer the churches in a monastic state. I should like your excellency to know that neither in the time of the blessed and sainted Theodotus, nor in that of John of blessed memory, nor in that of the very holy lord bishop Domnus, did I of my own accord enter Antioch; five or six times I was invited but I with difficulty assented, and when I did assent it was in obedience to the canon of the Church which orders him who is summoned to a synod and refuses to be present to be held guilty. And when I appeared, what thing unpleasing to God did I do? Was it that I removed from the sacred lists the names of such and such a man guilty of unspeakable wickedness? Was it that I ordained to the priesthood men of character and of honourable life? Was it that I preached the gospel to the people? If these things are worthy of indictment and punishment, I gladly welcome yet severer punishments for their sake. My accusers compel me to speak. Even before my conception my parents promised to devote me to God; from my swaddling-band, they devoted me according to their promise and educated me accordingly; the time before my episcopate I spent in a monastery and then was unwillingly consecrated bishop. Five and twenty years I so lived that I was never summoned to trial by any one nor ever brought accusation against any. Not one of the pious clergy who were under me ever frequented a court. In so many years I never took an obol nor a garment from any one. Not one of my domestics ever received a loaf or an egg. I could not endure the thought of possessing anything save the rags I wore. From the revenues of my see I erected public porticoes; I built two large bridges; I looked after the public baths. On finding that the city was not watered by the river running by it, I built the conduit, and supplied the dry town with water. But not to mention these matters I led eight villages of Marcionists with their neighbourhood into the way of truth; another full of Eunomians and another of Arians I brought to the light of divine knowledge, and, by God's grace, not a tare of heresy was left among us. All this I did not effect with impunity; many a time I shed my blood; many a time was I stoned by them and brought to the very gates of death. But I am a fool in my boasting, yet my words are spoken of necessity, not of consent. Once the thrice blessed Paul was compelled to act in the same way to stop the mouths of his accusers. Yet I put up with seeming ignominy and count it high honour, for I hear the voice of the Apostle crying, "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." But I beseech your excellency to give heed to the affairs of the Church, and calm the storm that has arisen, for in fact not even at the beginning of the dispute was the Church beset by such confusion. No one informs you of the greatness of the peril, of the lamentations of the Christians in Phoenicia and of the wails of our holiest monks. Wherefore I have written to you at some length, that on learning the agitation of the Church your excellency might stay it, and reap. the fruits of the benefit which such action will produce.

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. (NPNF II/III, Schaff and Wace). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.