Fathers of the Church

Letter CLXX

Description

In this letter the eastern delegation report to Bishop Rufus the apparent success of Cyril and his allies, whom they again condemn for heresy and for contravening various points of Church law; and they exhort Rufus to fight vigorously against the new heresy. They refer to a letter by Cyril explaining his position, which they regard as orthodox in expression; however, because it comes from the author of the twelve chapters against Nestorius, they insist that the letter must be a deceitful veneer of orthodoxy.

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). Letter CLXX is from the eastern delegation to Chalcedon to a fellow bishop.

by Theodoret in 431 | translated by Blomfield Jackson

Letter of certain Easterns, who had been sent to Constantinople, to Bishop Rufus.

To our most godly and holy fellow-minister Rufus, Joannes, Himerius, Theodoretus, and the rest, send greeting in the Lord.

True religion and the peace of the Church suffer, we think, in no small degree, from the absence of your holiness. Had you been on the spot you might have put a stop to the disturbances which have arisen, and the violence that has been ventured on, and might have fought on our side for the subjection of the heresies introduced into the orthodox Faith, and that doctrine of apostles and evangelists which, handed down from time to time from father to son, has at length been transmitted to ourselves.

And we do not assert this without ground, for we have learnt the mind of your holiness from the letter written to the very godly and holy Julianus, bishop of Sardica, for that letter as is right charged the above named very godly bishop to fight for the Faith laid down by the blessed fathers assembled in council at Nicaea, and not to allow any corruption to be introduced into those invincible definitions which are sufficient at once to exhibit the truth and to refute falsehood. So your holiness rightly, justly, and piously advised, and the recipient of the letter followed your counsel. But many of the members of the council, to use the word of the prophet, "have gone aside," and have "altogether become filthy," for they have abandoned the Faith which they received from the holy Fathers, and have subscribed the twelve Chapters of Cyril of Alexandria, which teem with Apollinarian error, are in agreement with the impiety of Arius and Eunomius, and anathematize all who do not accept their unconcealed unorthodoxy. To this plague smiting the Church vigorous resistance has been offered by us who have assembled from the East, and others from different dioceses, with the object of securing the ratification of the Faith delivered by the blessed Fathers at Nicaea. For in it, as your holiness knows, there is nothing lacking whether for the teaching of evangelic doctrines, or for the refutation of every heresy.

For the sake of this Faith we continue to struggle, despising alike all the joys and sorrows of mortal life, if only we may preserve untouched this heritage of our fathers. For this reason we have deposed Cyril and Memnon; the former as prime mover in the heresy, and the latter as his aider and abettor in all that has been done to ratify and uphold the Chapters published to the destruction of the Church. We have also excommunicated all that have dared to subscribe and support these impious doctrines till they shall have anathematized them, and returned to the Faith of the Fathers at Nicaea.

But our long-suffering has done them no good. To this day they continue to do battle for those pernicious doctrines and have impaled themselves on the law of the canon which distinctly enacts "If any bishop deposed by a synod, or presbyter or deacon deposed by his own bishop, shall perform his sacred office, without waiting for the judgment of a synod, he is to have no opportunity for defending himself, not even in another synod: but also all who communicate with him are to be expelled from the church." Now this law has been broken both by the deposed and the excommunicate. For immediately after the deposition and the excommunication becoming known to them, they performed sacred functions, and they continue to do so, in plain disbelief of Him who said" Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven."

With this we have thought well to acquaint your holiness at once, but in expectation of some favourable change, we have waited up to the present time. But we have been disappointed. They have continued to fight for this impious heresy, and pay no attention to the counsels of the very pious emperor. On five separate occasions he has met us, and ordered them either to reject the Chapters of Cyril as contrary to the Faith, or to be willing to do battle in their behalf, and to shew in what way they are in agreement with the confession of the Fathers. We have our proofs at hand, whereby we should have shewn that they are totally opposed to the teaching of orthodoxy, and for the most part in agreement with heresy.

For in these very Chapters the author of the noxious productions teaches that the Godhead of the only begotten Son suffered, instead of the manhood which He assumed for the sake of our salvation, the indwelling Godhead manifestly appropriating the sufferings as of Its own body, though suffering nothing in Its own nature; and further that there is made one nature of both Godhead and manhood,—for so he explains "The Word was made flesh," as though the Godhead had undergone some change, and been turned into flesh.

And, further, he anathematizes those who make a distinction between the terms used by apostles and evangelists about the Lord Christ, referring those of humiliation to the manhood, and those of divine glory to the Godhead, of the Lord Christ. It is with these views that Arians and Eunomians, attributing the terms of humiliation to the Godhead, have not shrunk from declaring God the Word to be made and created, of another substance, and unlike the Father.

What blasphemy follows on these statements it is not difficult to perceive. There is introduced a confusion of the natures, and to God the Word are applied the words "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me;" and "Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me," the hunger, the thirst, and the strengthening by an angel; His saying "Now is my soul troubled," and "my soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death," and all similar passages belonging to the manhood of the Christ. Any one may perceive how these statements correspond with the impiety of Arius and Eunomius; for they, finding themselves unable to establish the difference of substance, connect, as has been said, the sufferings, and the terms of humiliation, with the Godhead of the Christ.

And be your reverence well assured that now in their churches the Arian teachers preach no other doctrine than that the supporters of the "homousion" at present hold the same views as Arius, and that, after long time, the truth has now at last been brought to light.

We on the contrary abide in the teaching, and follow in the pious footprints, of the blessed Fathers assembled at Nicaea, and of their illustrious successors, Eustathius of Antioch, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory, John, Athanasius, Theophilus, Damasus of Rome, and Ambrose of Milan. For all these, following the words of the apostles, have left us an exact rule of orthodoxy, which all we of the East earnestly desire to preserve unmoved. The same is the wish of the Bithynians, the Paphlagonians, of Cappadocia Secunda, Pisidia, Mysia, Thessaly, and Rhodope, and very many more of the different provinces. The Italians too, it is evident, will not endure this new-fangled doctrine; for the very godly and holy Martinus, bishop of Milan, has written a letter to us, and has sent to the very pious emperor a work by the blessed Ambrose on the incarnation of the Lord, of which the teaching is opposed to these heretical Chapters.

And be it known to your holiness that Cyril and Memnon have not been satisfied with corrupting the orthodox Faith, but have trampled all the canons underfoot. For they have received into communion men excommunicated in various provinces and dioceses. Others lying under charges of heresy, and of the same mind as Celestius and Pelagius, (for they are Euchitae, or Enthusiasts) and therefore excommunicated by their diocesans and metropolitans, they have, in defiance of all ecclesiastical discipline received into communion, so swelling their following from all possible quarters, and shewing their eagerness to enforce their teaching less by piety than by violence. For when they had been stripped bare of piety they devised, in their extremity, another sort of force,—walls of flesh, with the idea that by their showers of bribery they might vanquish the faith of the Fathers. But so long as your holiness puts forth your strength, and you continue to fight, as you are wont, in defence of true religion, none of these devices will be of the least avail. We exhort you therefore, most holy sir, to beware of the communion of the unscrupulous introducers of this heresy; and to make known to all, both far and near, that these are the points for which the thrice blessed Damasus deposed the heretics Apol- linarius, Vitalius, and Timotheus; and that the Epistle in which the writer has concealed his heresy and coloured it with a coating of truth, must not in simplicity be received. For in the Chapters he has boldly laid bare his impiety, and dared to anathematize all who disagree with him, while in the letter he has vilely endeavoured to harm the simpler readers.

Your holiness must therefore beware of neglecting this matter, lest when, too late, you see this heresy confirmed, you grieve in vain, and suffer affliction at being no longer able to defend the cause of truth.

We have also sent you a copy of the memorial which we have given to the most pious and Christ-loving emperor, containing the faith of the holy Fathers at Nicaea, wherein we have rejected the newly-invented heresies of Cyril, and adjudged them to be opposed to the orthodox faith.

Since in accordance with the orders of the very pious emperor only eight of us travelled to Constantinople, we have subjoined the copy of the order given us by the holy synod, that you may be acquainted with the provinces contained in it. Your holiness will learn them from the signatures of the metropolitans. We salute the brotherhood which is with you.

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.