Fathers of the Church

Letter CXII. to Domnus, Bishop of Antioch

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. Most important are those letters that, like the present, take part in the theological controversies of the time, and so are valuable sources for the history of the Eastern Church. (Quasten) This letter expresses Theodoret’s apprehension about the council that has been called, presumably that which turned out to be the “Robber-Council.” He reiterates his contention that Cyril of Alexandria’s “Twelve Chapters” against Nestorius, despite the respect due their author, are Apollinarian in doctrine, and insists that Dioscorus’s attempts to impose them as doctrine must be resisted. (Unfortunately, Domnus proved incapable of standing up to Dioscorus.)

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 449 | translated by Blomfield Jackson

When news was brought to me that the pettiness of the victorious emperor had been put an end to, a reconciliation effected between him and the very godly bishop, the summons to the council cancelled, and the peace of the churches restored, I hoped that our troubles were a thing of the past. But I am deeply distressed at what I hear from your holiness. It is impossible to hope for any good from this notorious council, unless the merciful Master with His wonted providence shall undo the riotous demons' devices. Even in the great synod, I mean that of Nicaea, the Arian party voted with the orthodox and set their hands to the apostolic exposition. But they did not cease to war against the truth till they had torn asunder the body of the Church. For thirty years the supporters of the apostolic doctrines and they who were infected with the Arian blasphemy continued in communion with one another. But at Antioch, when the latest council was finished, when they had seated the man of God, the great Meletius, on the apostolic throne, and then after a few days ejected him by the imperial authority, Euzoius who was affected with the undoubted plague of Arius was put forward, and straightway the champions of apostolic doctrines seceded and thereafter the division continued.

As I look back on what happened then, and look forward to similar events in the future, my wretched spirit sighs and wails, for I see no prospect of good. The men of the other dioceses do not know the poison which lies in the Twelve Chapters; having regard to the celebrity of the writer of them, they suspect no mischief, and his successor in the see is I think adopting every means to confirm them in a second synod. For supposing he who lately wrote them at command, and anathematized all who did not wish to abide by them, were presiding over an oecumenical council, what could he not effect? And be well assured, my lord, that no one who knows the heresy they contain will brook to accept them, though twice as many men of this sort decree them. Before now, though a larger number have rashly confirmed them, I resisted at Ephesus, and refused to communicate with the writer of them till he had agreed to the points laid down by me, and had harmonized his teaching with them, without making any mention of the Chapters. This your holiness can ascertain without any difficulty if you order the acts of the synod to be investigated; for they are preserved as is customary with the synodical signatures, and there are extant more than fifty synodic acts shewing the accusation of the Twelve Chapters. For before the journey to Ephesus the blessed John had written to the very godly bishops Eutherius of Tyana, Firmus of Caesarea, and Theodotus of Ancyra, denouncing these Chapters as Apollinarian, And at Ephesus the exposition and confirmation of these Chapters was the cause of our deposition of the Alexandrian and of the Ephesian. Moreover at Ephesus many synodic letters were written both to the victorious emperor, and to the great officers, about these Chapters; and in like manner to the laity at Constantinople and to the reverend clergy. Moreover when we were summoned to Constantinople we bad five discussions in the imperial presence, and afterwards sent the emperor three protestations. And to the very godly bishops of the West, of Milan I mean, of Aquileia, and of Ravenna, we wrote on the same subject, protesting that the Chapters were full of the Apollinarian novelty. Furthermore their writer received a letter from the blessed John by the hands of the blessed Paul, openly blaming them; and in like manner from Acacius of blessed memory. And to give your holiness concise information on the subject I have sent you both the letter of the blessed Acacius, as well as that of the blessed John to the blessed Cyril, in order that you may perceive that though they were writing to him on the subject of agreement they blamed these Chapters. And the blessed Cyril himself, in his letter to the blessed Acacius plainly indicated the drift of these Chapters in the words "I have written this against his innovations and when peace is made they will be made manifest." The very defence proves the accusation. I have sent you the copy of what he wrote at the tithe of the agreement, that you may see, my lord, that he made no mention of them, and that those who attend the Council are under an obligation to bring forward what was written at the time of the agreement, and to state plainly what had caused the difference and on what terms the sundered parts were atoned. For they who are summoned to fight for the truth must flinch from no toil, and must invoke the divine aid, that we may preserve unimpaired the heritage bequeathed us by our forefathers.

Your holiness must look out for men of like mind among the godly bishops and make them companions of your journey; and likewise of the reverend clergy those who are zealous for the truth, lest betrayed even by them of our own side we are either driven to do something displeasing to the God of all, or, in our abandonment, fall an easy prey to our foes.

It is faith in which we have our hopes of salvation, and we must leave no means untried to prevent aught spurious being brought into it, and the apostolic teaching from being corrupted.

I write you these words from far away, with sighs and with groans, and I beseech our common Master to scatter this dark cloud and bestow on us once more the boon of the bright sunshine.

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.