Fathers of the Church

Letter Cl. to Bishop John 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. (Quasten) This letter is a characteristically sharp reaction not only to a doctrine Theodoret considers at odds with Scripture and with the teaching of the Fathers, but also to the person who has dared to teach this doctrine. It does not however address the theological issues themselves, leaving this task for the accompanying Refutation.

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. The present letter represents his entry into the Nestorian controversy. It is a cover letter for his refutation of Cyril of Alexandria’s twelve anathemas against Nestorius, which have been passed on to him by the patriarch of Antioch and which he considers to deny the existence of two distinct natures in Christ, and therefore to be heretical. He retained this opinion of the twelve anathemas or “Chapters” even after his reconciliation with Cyril in 434. (For his later, more friendly relations with Cyril see letter LXXXIII, though contrast the possibly spurious CLXXX; for his continued opinion of the Chapters see letter CXII.)

by Theodoret in 431 | translated by Blomfield Jackson

Letter of Theodoretus, bishop of Cyrus, to Joannes, bishop of Antioch.

I have been much distressed at reading the anathematisms which you have sent to request me to refute in writing, and to make plain to all their heretical sense. I have been distressed at the thought that one appointed to the shepherd's office, entrusted with the charge of so great a flock and appointed to heal the sick among his sheep, is both himself unsound, and that to a terrible degree, and is endeavouring to infect his lambs with his disease and treats the sheep of his folds with greater cruelty than that of wild beasts. They, indeed, tear and rend the sheep that are dispersed and separated from the flock; but be in its very midst, and while thought to be its saviour and its guardian introduces secret error among the victims of their confidence in him. Against an open assault it is possible to take precautions, but when an attack is made in the guise of friendship, its victim is found off his guard and hurt is easily done him. Hence foes who make war from within are far more dangerous than those who attack from without.

I am yet more grieved that it should be in the name of true religion and with the dignity of a shepherd that he should give utterance to his heretical and blasphemous words, and renew that vain and impious teaching of Apollinarius which was long ago stamped out. Besides all this there is the fact that he not only supports these views but even dares to anathematize those who decline to participate in his blasphemies;—if he is really the author of these productions and they have not proceeded from some enemy of the truth who has composed them in his name and, as the old story has it, flung the apple of discord in the midst, and so fanned the flame on high.

But whether this composition comes from himself or from some other in his name, I, for my part, by the aid of the light of the Holy Ghost, in the investigation of this heretical and corrupt opinion, according to the measure of the power given me, have refuted them as best I could. I have confronted them with the teaching of evangelists and apostles. I have exposed the monstrosity of the doctrine, and proved how vast is its divergence from divine truth. This I have done by comparing it with the words of the Holy Spirit, and pointing out what strange and jarring discord there is between it and the divine.

Against the hardihood of this anathematizing, thus much I will say, that Paul, the clear-voiced herald of truth, anathematized those who had corrupted the evangelic and apostolic teaching and boldly did so against the angels, not against those who abided by the laws laid down by theologians; these he strengthened with blessings, saying, "And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them and mercy and on the Israel of God." Let then the author of these writings reap from the Apostle's curse the due rewards of his labours and the harvest of his seeds of heresy. We will abide in the teaching of the holy Fathers.

To this letter I bare appended my counter arguments, that on reading them you may judge whether I have effectively destroyed the heretical propositions. Setting down each of the anathematisms by itself, I have annexed the counter statement that readers may easily understand, and that the refutation of the dogmas may he clear.

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.