Fathers of the Church

Letter CLXIX

Description

Theodoret begins by reporting the failure of the eastern delegation to Chalcedon to make any progress against what they saw as the heresy supported by Cyril and his party. The cause of Nestorius himself, he continues, is completely lost; his name cannot even be raised. (At least until the Council of Chalcedon in 451 and perhaps beyond, Theodoret remained skeptical that Nestorius or anyone else really believed there were two persons in Christ.) The people of Constantinople, he reports, are favorable to the Antiochene party, whereas the clergy and monks are set against them. Theodoeret himself believes that nothing further can be achieved there.

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. After the disorder at Ephesus, Emperor Theodosius II tried to resolve the schism between Alexandria and Antioch through some additional hearings at Chalcedon (near Constantinople), the result of which was the vindication of Cyril of Alexandria and his party (see letters CLII-CLXVIII). The present letter to a fellow bishop contains Theodoret’s own assessment of these events.

by Theodoret in 431 | translated by Blomfield Jackson

Letter written by Theodoretus, bishop of Cyrus, from Chalcedon to Alexander of Hierapolis.

We have left no means untried, of courtesy, of sternness, of entreaty, of eloquence before the most pious emperor, and the illustrious assembly, testifying before God who sees all things and our Lord Jesus Christ who shall judge the world in justice, and the Holy Spirit and his elect angels, lest the Faith be despised which is now being corrupted by the maintainers and bold subscribers of heretical doctrines: and that charge be given for it to be laid down in the same terms as at Nicaea and for the rejection of the heresy introduced to the loss and ruin of true religion. Up to this time however we have produced not the slightest effect, our hearers being carried now in one direction and now in another.

Nevertheless all these difficulties have not been able to deter me from urging my point, but by God's grace I have pressed on. I have even stated to our pious emperor with an oath that it is perfectly impossible for Cyril and Memnon to be reconciled with me, and that we can never communicate with any one who has not previously repudiated the heretical Chapters. This then is our mind. The object of men who "seek their own not the things which are Jesus Christ's" is to be reconciled with them against our will. But this is no business of mine, for God weighs our motives and tries our character, nor does He inflict chastisement for what is done against our will. Be it known to your holiness that if ever I said a word about our friend either before the very pious emperor or the illustrious assembly, I was at once branded as a rebel. So intensely is he hated by the court party. This is most annoying. The most pious emperor, especially, cannot bear to hear his name mentioned and says publicly "Let no one speak to me of this man." On one occasion he gave an instance of this to me. Nevertheless as long as I am here I shall not cease to serve the interests of this our father, knowing that the impious have done him wrong.

My desire is that both your piety and I myself get quit of this. No good is to be hoped from it, in as much as all the judges trust in gold, and contend that the nature of the Godhead and manhood is one.

All the people however by God's grace are in good case, and constantly come out to us. I have begun to discourse to them and have celebrated very large communions.

On the fourth occasion I spoke at length about the faith and they listened with such delight that they did not go away till the seventh hour but held out even till the midday heat. An enormous crowd was gathered in a great court, with four verandahs, and I preached from above from a platform near the roof.

All the clergy with the excellent monks are on the contrary utterly opposed to me, so that when we came back from the Rufinianum, after the visit of the very pious emperor, stone throwing began and many of my companions were wounded, by the people and false monks.

The very pious emperor knew that the mob was gathered against me and coming up to me alone he said, "I know that you are assembling improperly." Then, said I, "As you have allowed me to speak hear me with favour. Is it fair for excommunicated heretics to be doing duty in churches, while I, who am fighting for the Faith and am therefore excluded by others from communion, am not allowed to enter a church?" He replied "What am I to do?" I said, "What your comes largitionum did at Ephesus. When he found that some were assembling, but that we were not assembling, he stopped them saying, 'If you are not peaceful I will allow neither party to assemble.' It would have become your piety also to have given directions to the bishop here to forbid both the opposite party and ourselves to assemble before our meeting together to make known your righteous sentence to all." To this he replied "It is not for me to order the bishop;" and I answered "Neither shall you command us, and we will take a church, and assemble. Your piety will find that there are many more on our side than on theirs." In addition to this I pointed out that we had neither reading of the holy Scripture, nor oblation; but only "prayer for the Faith and for your majesty, and pious conversation." So he approved, and made no further prohibition. The result is that increased crowds flock to us, and gladly listen to our teaching. I therefore beg your piety to pray that our case may have an issue pleasing to God. I am in daily danger, suspecting the wiles of both monks and clergy, as I witness alike their influence and their negligence.

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.