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Fathers of the Church

Letter CLXVII

Description

In this second petition the eastern delegation remind Theodosius that Cyril and his party had disregarded the emperor’s directions concerning the council in Ephesus, and that they have continuously refused to discuss the real theological issues that are dividing the Church. They complain that Cyril’s party has been treated as in good standing with the Church, whereas they themselves have confined to Chalcedon, unable either to defend the faith in Constantinople or to return home. The emperor should not, they conclude, underestimate the gravity of the current schism, or the consequences if it is not dealt with promptly.

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 are a number of letters pertaining to the acts of the Council of Ephesus, including the present. When Emperor Theodosius II heard of the events in Ephesus (see letters CLII-CLXII), he declared by Nestorius and Cyril of Alexandria deposed and had them imprisoned pending further hearings. These took place in Chalcedon before the emperor himself; the results are contained in letter CLXV. Letters CLXVI-CLXVIII are petitions afterward sent to the emperor by the delegation representing John of Antioch and the other eastern bishops in Chalcedon.

by Theodoret in 431 | translated by Blomfield Jackson

Second petition of the eastern commisioners, sent from Chalcedon to Theodosius Augustus.

Your piety has been informed on several occasions, both by ourselves in person and by our emissaries, that the doctrine of the true faith seems to stand in danger of being corrupted, and that the body of the Church is apparently being rent asunder by men who are turning everything upside down, trampling upon all church order, and all imperial law, and throwing everything into confusion that they may confirm the heresy propounded by Cyril of Alexandria. For when we were first summoned by your piety to Ephesus, to enquire into the question which had arisen and to confirm the evangelic and apostolic faith laid down by the holy Fathers, before the arrival of all the bishops who had been convened, the holders of their own private Council confirmed in writing the heretical Chapters, which are at one with the impiety of Arius, Eunomius and Apollinarius. Some they deceived; some they terrified; others already charged with heresy, they received into communion; and others who had not communicated with them were bribed into so doing; others again were fired with the hope of dignities for which they were unfit; so these men gathered round them a great crowd of adherents, as though they had no idea that true religion is shewn not by numbers, but by truth.

The dispatch of your piety was read a second time by the most honourable Count Candidianus, ordering that the questions recently raised be examined in a quiet and brotherly manner. When however all the pious bishops were assembling, the reading had no effect.

Then came the noble Palladius Magistrianus, bringing another dispatch froth your majesty, to the effect that all enactments passed privately and apart must be rescinded that the Council must be assembled afresh and the true doctrine ratified; but, as usual this your pious mandate was treated with contempt by these unscrupulous persons.

Then again arrived the right honourable Master John, at that time "Comes Largitionum," bringing another pious letter to the effect that the depositions of the three had been decreed, that the offences which had sprung up were to be removed, and the faith laid down at Nicaea by the holy and blessed Fathers was to be ratified by all. As usual these universal mockers transgressed this law too.

For after hearing the letter they did not change their mode of action; they held communion with the deposed; spoke of them as bishops, and refused to allow the Chapters, which had been propounded to the loss and corruption of the pious faith to be rejected; notwithstanding their having been frequently summoned by us to discussion. For we had ready to hand a plain refutation of the heretical Chapters.

In evidence of these statements we have the right honourable Master, who when both sides had been summoned a third and a fourth time, not venturing to make this conduct an excuse on account of their disobedience, thought it worth while to summon us hither.

We came at once; on our arrival we allowed ourselves no rest making our petition, both before your piety and before the illustrious assembly, that they would take up the quarrel for the Chapters and enter into discussion concerning them, or on the other hand reject them as contrary to the right faith, abiding by the faith as laid clown by the blessed fathers in council at Nicaea.

They refused to do anything of the kind; they persisted in their heretical procedure; yet they were allowed to attend the churches, and to perform their priestly functions. We, however, alike at Ephesus and here, have been for a long time deprived of communion; alike there and here we have undergone innumerable perils; and while we were being stoned and all but slain by slaves dressed up as monks, we took it all for the best, as willingly enduring such treatment in the cause of the truth.

Afterwards it seemed good to your majesty that we and the opposite party should assemble once again, that the recalcitrant might be compelled to examine the doctrines. While we were waiting for this to come to pass your piety set out for the city, and ordered the very men who were being accused of heresy and had been therefore some of them deposed by us, and others excommunicated and thereafter to be subjected to the discipline of the Church, to come to the city and perform priestly functions, and ordain. We however who in the cause of true religion have undertaken a struggle so tremendous; we who have shrunk from no peril in our battle for right doctrine, have neither been bidden to enter the city to serve the cause of the imperilled Faith and strive for orthodoxy; nor have we been permitted to return home; but here we are in Chalcedon distressed and groaning for the Church oppressed by schism.

Wherefore since we are in receipt of no reply we have thought it necessary to inform your piety by this present letter, before God and Christ and the Holy Ghost, that if any one shall have been ordained (before the settlement of right doctrines) by these men of heretical opinions, he must necessarily be cut off from the whole church, as well from the clergy as the dissentient laity. For none of the pious will endure that communion be granted to heretics, and their own salvation be nullified.

And when this shall have come to pass, then your piety shall be compelled to act against your will. For the schism will grow beyond all expectation, and thereby the champions of true religion will be saddened, unable to endure the loss of their own souls, and the establishment of those impious doctrines of Cyril which the contentious are desirous of defending.

Many indeed of the supporters of true religion will never allow the acceptance of Cyril's doctrines; we shall never allow it, who all are of the diocese of the East of your province, of the diocese of Pontus, of Asia, of Thrace, of Illyricum and of the Italies, and who also sent to your piety the treatise of the most blessed Ambrose, written against this nascent superstition.

To avoid all this, and the further troubling of your piety, we beg, beseech, and implore you to issue an edict that no ordination take place before the settlement of the orthodox faith, on account of which we have been convened by your Christ-loving highness.

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.