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Fathers of the Church

Letter CXXXVIII. to Anatolius the Patrician

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) In this first letter to Anatolius since Marcian has become emperor (the previous letter was CXXI), he asks him to thank the emperor and Augusta Pulcheria their efforts on behalf of orthodoxy and for repealing his own unjust sentence, and to encourage them to call a new council in order to restore peace and unity to 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. The present letter was written shortly after Theodoret received from Emperor Marcian his recall from the exile imposed by Emperor Theodosius II at the instance of the Monophysites.

by Theodoret in 450-451 | translated by Blomfield Jackson

I have cordially welcomed the rest which has fallen to my lot, and am harvesting its beneficial and pleasant results. Our Christ-loving Emperor," after reaping the empire as fruit of his true piety, has offered as first-fruits of his sovereignty to Him that bestowed it, the calm of the storm-tossed churches, the triumph of the invaded faith, the victory of the doctrines of the Gospel. To these he has added the righting of the wrong done to me. Of a wrong so great and of such a kind who ever heard? What murderer was ever doomed in his absence? What violator of wedlock was ever condemned without a hearing? What burglar, grave-breaker. wizard, church-robber, or doer of any other unlawful deed, was ever prevented, when eager to appeal to the law, and slain when far away by the sentence of his judge? In their cases nothing of the kind was ever known. For, by our law, plaintiff and defendant are bidden to stand face to face before the judge, while the judge has to wait for the production of plain truth, and then and not till then, either dismiss the accused as innocent, or punish him as being reached by the indictment. In my case the course pursued has been just the opposite. The emperor's letter forbade me to approach the far-famed synod, and the most righteous judges condemned me in my absence, not after fair trial, but after extravagant laudation of the documents which were produced to incriminate me. Neither the law of God nor shame of man staved the deed of blood. Orders were given by the president, flinging the truth to the winds, and courting the power of the hour. He was obeyed by men who think as I do, whose doctrines are my doctrines, and who had expressed admiration of me and mine. None the less did that day convict some men of treachery; some of cowardice; while to me a ground of confidence was given by my sufferings for the truth's sake. And to me our master Christ hath granted the boon "not only of believing on Him but also of suffering for His sake." For the greatest of all gifts of grace are sufferings for the Master's sake, and the divine Apostle puts them even before great marvels.

In these boons I too glory, humble and insignificant as I am, and having no other ground of boasting. And I beseech your excellency to offer on behalf of my poor self expressions of thanksgiving to the emperor, lover of Christ, and to the most pious Augusta, clear to God, instructress of the good, for that she has requited our generous Lord with such gifts, and has made her zeal for true religion the Connotation and groundwork of her sway. Besides this, beg their godly majesties to complete the work that has been so well marked out, and to summon a council, not, like the last, composed of a turbulent rabble, but—kept quite clear of all of these—of men who decide on and highly value divine things, and esteem all human affairs as of less account than the truth. If their majesties wish to bring about the ancient peace for the churches, and I am sure that they do, beg their pious graces to take part in the proceedings, that their presence may overawe those of a contrary mind and the truth may have none to gainsay her, but may herself by her own unaided powers examine into the position of affairs, and the character of the apostolic doctrines.

I make this request to your excellency, not because I long to see Cyrus again, for your lordship knows what a solitary town it is, and how I have somehow or other managed to conceal its ugliness by my great expenditure on all kinds of buildings, but to the end that what I preach may be shewn to be in agreement with apostolic doctrines while the inventions of my opponents are counterfeit and base. Once let this come to pass, by God's help be it spoken, and I shall pass the remainder of my days in cheerful contentment, wherever the Master may bid me dwell. To you who have been brought up in the true religion, and are dowered with the wealth of goodness it is becoming to make this effort, and by your urgent counsel to render yet more zealous our most pious emperor and the Christ-loving Augusta, zealous already as they are to strengthen their glorious empire by laudable and rightful energy.

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.