Fathers of the Church

Letter CLIII

Description

John of Antioch and his supporters begin by complaining of the high-handed behavior of Cyril of Alexandria and Memnon of Ephesus, who despite their own assurances and the emperor’s orders had convened the Council before the eastern bishops had arrived. For this reason, they continue, they have declared these two bishops deposed, and have excommunicated—pending a real council—all those who subscribe to Cyril’s twelve anathemas or Chapters against Nestorius. (Note: Because Cyril had been delegated by Pope Celestine and because other papal legates confirmed the proceedings afterwards, the meeting condemned in this letter was a genuine ecumenical council of 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. Published and numbered among these, however, are a number of letters pertaining to the acts of the Council of Ephesus, only some of which are by Theodoret. The present letter is from the Antiochene bishops at Ephesus in 431 (including Theodoret), to Empresses Pulcheria and Eudoxia in Constantinople. It is a complement to the previous letter, to Emperor Theodosius II.

by Theodoret in 431 | translated by Blomfield Jackson

Report of the (bishops) of the East to the empresses Pulcheria and Eudoxia.

We had expected to be able to report to your pious majesties in different terms, but we are now compelled to make known to you the following facts, forced as we are by the irregular exercise of despotic power by Cyril of Alexandria and Memnon of Ephesus. The proper course to have been pursued, in accordance with the laws of the Church, and the command of your pious majesties, would have been to wait for the arrival of the godly bishops on the road, and in common with them to examine into the questions at issue concerning the true faith, and investigate the point offered for discussion, and, after exact enquiry, to confirm the doctrines of the apostles. They had written to me that they would wait for our arrival. They heard that we were only three stages off. Then they assembled an unconstitutional council by themselves, and have ventured on proceedings iniquitous, irregular, and bristling with absurdities. And this they have done though the most honourable count Candidianus, sent by your pious and Christian majesties for good order's sake, expressly charged them, alike in writing and by word of mouth, to wait for the arrival of the godly bishops who had been convened, and to attempt no innovation on the true faith, but to take their stand on the directions of our godly-minded sovereigns. Now in spite of their having heard the imperial letter and the advice of the most honourable count Candidianus, they have nevertheless made naught of due order. As the prophet says "They hatch cockatrice' eggs, and weave the spider's web; and he that would eat of their eggs when he breaks them findeth rottenness, and therein is a viper," Wherefore we confidently cry "Their webs shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works. "

They have shut the churches and the martyrs' shrines; they have forbidden the celebration of the holy feast of Pentecost; besides this they have sent the minions of their disorderly despotism into bishops' private houses, uttering shocking threats, and forcing them to affix their signatures to illegal acts. We therefore considering all their preposterous conduct, have deposed the aforenamed Cyril and Memnon, and deprived them of their episcopate. Their associates in irregularity, whether influenced by sycophancy or by fear, we have excommunicated, until, coming to a knowledge of their own wounds, they shall heartily repent, shall anathematize the heretical Chapters of Cyril, which are tainted with the heresy of Apollinarius, Arius, and Eunomius, shall recover the faith of the Fathers in Council at Nicaea, and, in obedience to the pious commands of our Christian sovereigns, shall, peacefully and without any tumult, assemble in synod, be willing to examine with care the questions submitted to them, and honestly protect the purity of the faith of the Gospel.

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.