Fathers of the Church

Letter CLXXX. 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 contains an unqualified condemnation of Cyril’s life and character, though it also includes prayers for his soul. Its mention of a renewed attack on the truth by Cyril may refer to the contemporary agitation against Nestorius’s teacher, Theodore of Mopsuestia; in this connection, the letter concludes by asking Domnus whether the rumors that he has been summoned to Constantinople are true.

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, written to Bishop Domnus of Antioch upon the death of Cyril of Alexandria, is marked by the editors as possibly spurious.

by Theodoret in c. 444 | translated by Blomfield Jackson

Letter of Theodoretus, as some suppose, to Domnus, bishop of Antioch, written on the death of Cyril, bishop of Alexandria.

At last and with difficulty the villain has gone. The good and the gentle pass away all too soon; the bad prolong their life for years.

The Giver of all good, methinks, removes the former before their time from the troubles of humanity; He frees them like victors from their contests and transports them to the better life, that life which, free from death, sorrow and care, is the prize of them that contend for virtue. They, on the other hand, who love and practise wickedness are allowed a little longer to enjoy this present life, either that sated with evil they may afterwards learn virtue's lessons, or else even in this life may pay the penalty for the wickedness of their own ways by being tossed to and fro through many years of this life's sad and wicked waves.

This wretch, however, has not been dismissed by the ruler of our souls like other men, that he may possess for longer time the things which seem to be full of joy. Knowing that the fellow's malice has been daily growing and doing harm to the body of the Church, the Lord has lopped him off like a plague and "taken away the reproach from Israel." His survivors are indeed delighted at his departure. The dead, maybe, are sorry. There is some ground of alarm lest they should be so much annoyed at his company as to send him back to us, or that he should run away from his conductors like the tyrant of Cyniscus in Lucian.

Great care must then be taken, and it is especially your holiness's business to undertake this duty, to tell the guild of undertakers to lay a very big and heavy stone upon his grave, for fear he should come back again, and show his changeable mind once more. Let him take his new doctrines to the shades below, and preach to them all day and all night. We are not at all afraid of his dividing them by making public addresses against true religion and by investing an immortal nature with death. He will be stoned not only by ghosts learned in divine law, but also by Nimrod, Pharaoh and Sennacherib, or any other of God's enemies.

But I am wasting words. The poor fellow is silent whether he will or no, "his breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth, in that very day his thoughts perish." He is doomed too to silence of another kind. His deeds, detected, tie his tongue, gag his mouth, curb his passion, strike him dumb and make him bow down to the ground.

I really am sorry for the poor fellow. Truly the news of his death has not caused me unmixed delight, but it is tempered by sadness. On seeing the Church freed from a plague of this kind I am glad and rejoice; but I am sorry and do mourn when I think that the wretch knew no rest from his crimes, but went on attempting greater and more grievous ones till he died. His idea was, so it is said, to throw the imperial city into confusion by attacking true doctrines a second time, and to charge your holiness with supporting them. But God saw and did not overlook it. "He put his hook into his nose and his bridle into his lips," and turned him to the earth whence he was taken. Be it then granted to your holiness's prayers that he may obtain mercy and pity and that God's boundless clemency may surpass his wickedness. I beg your holiness to drive away the agitations of my soul. Many different reports are being bruited abroad to my alarm announcing general misfortunes. It is even said by some that your reverence is setting out against your will for the court, but so far I have despised these reports as untrue. But finding every one repeating one and the same story I have thought it right to try and learn the truth from your holiness that I may laugh at these tales if false, or sorrow not without reason if they are true.

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.