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Fathers of the Church

Letter LXXVIII. to Eusebius, Bishop of Persian Armenia

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) Here, echoing the words of letter LXXVII to Bishop Eulalius, he exhorts Eulalius’s successor to show special care for those who are spiritually ill, striving to restore them to health and to their place in the Church.

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.

by Theodoret in Unknown | translated by Blomfield Jackson

Whenever anything happens to the helmsman, either the officer in command at the bows, or the seaman of highest rank, takes his place, not because he becomes a self-appointed helmsman, but because he looks out for the safety of the ship. So again in war, when the commander falls, the chief tribune assumes the command, not in the attempt to lay violent hands on the place of power, but because he cares for his men. So too the thrice blessed Timothy when sent by the divine Paul took his place. It is therefore becoming to your piety to accept the responsibilities of helmsman, of captain, of shepherd, gladly to run all risk for the sake of the sheep of Christ, and not to leave His creatures abandoned and alone. It is rather yours to bind up the broken, to raise up the fallen, to turn the wanderer from his error, and keep the whole in health, and to follow the good shepherds who stand before the folds and wage war against the wolves. Let us remember too the words of the patriarch Jacob; "In the day the drought consumed me and the frost by night and my sleep departed from my eyes. The rams of thy flock I have not eaten. That which was born of beasts I brought not unto thee. I bare the loss of it. Of my hand didst thou require it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night." These are the marks of the shepherd; these are the laws of the tending of the sheep. And if of brute cattle the illustrious patriarch had such care, and offered this defence to him who trusted them to his charge, what ought not we to do who are entrusted with the charge of reasonable sheep, and who have received this trust from the God of all, when we remember that the Lord for them gave up His life? Who does not fear and tremble when he hears the word of God spoken through Ezekiel? "I judge between shepherd and sheep because ye eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool and ye feed not the flocks." And again, "I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; when thou speakest not to warn the wicked from his wicked way, the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity but his blood shall I require at thine hand." With this agree the words spoken in parables by the Lord. "Thou wicked and slothful servant ... Thou oughtest to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received the same with usury." Up then, I beseech you, let us fight for the Lord's sheep. Their Lord is near. He will certainly appear and scatter the wolves and glorify the shepherds. "The Lord is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him." Let us not murmur at the storm that has arisen for the Lord of all knoweth what is good for us. Wherefore also when the Apostle asked for release from his trials He would not grant his supplication but said, "My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness." Let us then bravely bear the evils that befall us; it is in war that heroes are discerned; in conflicts that athletes are crowned; in the surge of the sea that the art of the helmsman is shewn; in the fire that the gold is tried. And let us not, I beseech you, heed only ourselves, let us rather have forethought for the rest, and that much more for the sick than for the whole, for it is an apostolic precept which exclaims "Comfort the feeble minded, support the weak." Let us then stretch out our hands to them that lie low, let us tend their wounds and set them at their post to fight the devil. Nothing will so vex him as to see them fighting and smiting again. Our Lord is full of loving- kindness. He receives the repentance of sinners. Let us hear His own words: "As I live saith the Lord I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live." So He prefaced His words with an oath, and He who forbids oaths to others swore Himself to convince us how He desires our repentance and salvation. Of this teaching the divine books, both the old and the new, are full, and the precepts of the holy Fathers teach the same.

But not as though you were ignorant have I written to you; rather have I reminded you of what you know, like those who standing safe upon the shore succour them that are tossed by the storm, and shew them a rock, or give warning of a hidden shallow, or catch and haul in a rope that has been thrown. "And the God of peace shall bring Satan under your feet shortly" and shall gladden our ears with news that you have passed from storm to calm, at His word to the waves "Peace be still."

And do you too offer prayers for us, for you who have undergone peril for His sake can speak with greater boldness.

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.