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Fathers of the Church

Letter CXLVI. to John the Oeconomus

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 letter, one of his longest, Theodoret refutes the view that divine worship should give given only to the “only begotten Son” and not to “Christ.” This view, he explains, is incompatible with the correct doctrine of the Incarnation, with the practice and teaching of Scripture, and with that of the Fathers.

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 appears to have been written from his monastery after his retirement from the see of Cyrus around 458. The city with which he is concerned, then, would probably be Cyrus itself.

by Theodoret in Between 458 and 466 | translated by Blomfield Jackson

Rest and a life free from care are very grateful to me. I have therefore blocked the door of the monastery, and decline intercourse with my friends.

But I have received information that fresh attacks are being made against the Faith of the Gospels, and therefore conclude that there may be danger in my silence. When wrong has been done some mortal prince, not only the guilty authors of the outrage but they also who have been standing by and made no effort to drive off the assailants, are in peril of punishment: What penalty then ought not to be undergone by men who can venture to look lightly on the utterance of blasphemy against our God and Saviour? This is the fear which has impelled me now to write and expose the innovations of which I have been informed.

It is said that a common report in the city represents that after certain presbyters had offered prayer, and concluded it in the wonted manner, while some said "For to Thee belongs glory and to thy Christ and to the Holy Ghost;" and others "Through grace and loving kindness of thy Christ, with whom belongs glory to Thee with thy holy Spirit," the very wise archdeacon prohibited the use of the expression, "the Christ" and said that the "only begotten" ought to be glorified. If this is true it were impossible to exceed the impiety. For he either divides the one Lord Jesus Christ into two sons and regards the only begotten Son as lawful and natural, but the Christ as adopted and spurious, and consequently unmeet for being honoured in doxology; or else he is endeavouring to support the heresy which has now burst in on us with the riot of wild revelry. Had a grievous tempest been now oppressing us, any one might have supposed that the blasphemer suited his blasphemy to the necessity of the moment. through fear of the power of the originators of the heresy. But now that He who is blasphemed has rebuked the winds and the sea, and blessed the storm-tossed churches with a calm, while everywhere by land and sea the proclamation of the apostles is preached, what room is there for the blasphemy? While not even they who have lately basely inserted among the doctrines of the Church that flesh and godhead are of one and the same nature have ever forbidden the offering of praise to the Lord Christ. This fact may be easily ascertained from those who have returned thence. A man holding the foremost place in the ecclesiastical rank ought to have known the divine Scripture, and to have learnt from it that just as the heralds of the truth rank the only begotten Son with the Father, so accordingly using the title of "the Christ" instead of that of "Son" they number Him sometimes with the Father and sometimes with the Holy Ghost; for the Christ is none other than the only begotten Son of God. So we may quote the divine Paul writing to the Corinthians, but teaching the world, that "There is one God the Father of whom are all things and one Lord Jesus Christ by whom are all things." Thus he calls the same person, Christ, Jesus, Lord, and Creator of all things. And writing to the Thessalonians he says "Now God Himself and our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ direct our way unto you." And in his second epistle to the same he puts the Christ before the Father, not to invert the order, but to teach that the order of the names does not indicate a distinction of dignity and nature. His words are "Now our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work." And at the end of his Epistle to the Romans after certain exhortations he adds "I beseech you brethren for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake and for the love of the spirit." Now if he had known the Christ as being any other than the Son he would not have put Him before the Holy Ghost. Writing to the Corinthians, at the very beginning of his letter, he mentions the name of Christ as alone sufficient to influence the faithful. "Now I beseech you brethren by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that ye all speak the same thing" and when writing to them a second time he thus concludes "The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with you all." Here he puts the name of Christ not only before the Spirit, but also before the Father and this in all the churches is the beginning of the Liturgy of the Mystery.

According, then, to this extraordinary regulation the august name of our God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, ought to be omitted from the mystic writings. But it is unnecessary to say more on this point. The opening of every one of his letters is distinguished by the divine Apostle with this address. At one time it is "Paul a servant of Jesus Christ called to be an apostle."' At another "Paul called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ." At another "Paul a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ." And suiting his benediction to his exordium he deduces it from the same source and links the title of the Son with God the Father, saying "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." And he graces the conclusion of his letters with the blessing "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all, amen."

Copious additional evidence may be found whereby it may be learnt without difficulty that our Lord Jesus Christ is no other person than the Son which completes the Trinity. For the same before the ages was only begotten Son and God the Word, and after the resurrection He was called Jesus and Christ. receiving the names from the facts. Jesus means Saviour; "Thou shall call His name Jesus for He shall save His people from their sins."

He is named Christ from being as man anointed with the Holy Ghost, and called our High Priest, Apostle, Prophet and King. Long ago the divine Moses exclaimed "The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet, from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me." And the divine David cries "The Lord hath sworn and will not repent, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchisedek." This prophecy is confirmed by the divine Apostle. And again "seeing then that we have a great High Priest that has passed into the heavens. Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession."

That as God, He is king before the ages that prophetic minstrelsy teaches us in the words "Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; the sceptre of Thy kingdom is a right sceptre."

His majesty as man is also shown us. For having the sovereignty of all things as God and Creator, He assumes this majesty as man, wherefore it is added "Thou lovest righteousness and hatest wickedness, therefore God thy God hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows." And in the second psalm the anointed one himself says "Yet was I set as king by Him upon the holy hill of Sion, I will declare the decree of the Lord. The Lord hath said unto me 'Thou art my Son this day have I begotten Thee; ask of me and I shall give Thee the heathen for thine inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.'" This He said as man, for as man He receives what as God He possesses. And at the very beginning of the psalm the gift of prophecy ranks Him with God the Father in the words "Why do the heathen rage and the people imagine a vain thing. The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed."

Let no one then foolishly suppose that the Christ is any other than the only begotten Son. Let us not imagine ourselves wiser than the gift of the Spirit. Let us hear the words of the great Peter, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Let us hear the Lord Christ confirming this confession, for "On this rock," He says, "I will build my church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it." Wherefore too the wise Paul, most excellent master builder of the churches, fixed no other foundation than this. "I," he says, "as a wise master builder have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." How then can they think of any other foundation, when they are bidden not to fix a foundation, but to build on that which is laid? The divine writer recognises Christ as the foundation, and glories in this title, as when he says, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I but Christ liveth in me." And again "To me to live is Christ and to die is gain," and again "For I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified." And a little before he says, "But we preach Christ crucified to the Jews a stumbling- block and to the Greeks foolishness, but unto them which are called both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." And in his Epistle to the Galatians be writes, "But when it pleased God who separated me from my mother's womb and called me by His grace to reveal His Son in me that I might preach Him among the heathen." But when writing to the Corinthians he does not say we preach "the Son" but "Christ crucified," herein doing no violence to his commission, but recognising the same to be Jesus, Christ, Lord, only begotten, and God the Word. For the same reason too at the beginning of his letter to the Romans he calls himself "servant of Jesus Christ" and describes himself as "separated unto the gospel of God, which He had promised afore by His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with powers" and so on. He calls the same both Jesus Christ, and Son of David, and Son of God, as God and Lord of all, and yet in the middle of his epistle, after making mention of the Jews, he adds, "whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all God blessed for ever, amen." Here he says that He who according to the flesh derived His descent froth the Jews is eternal God and is praised by the right minded as Lord of all created things. The same teaching is given us in the Apostle's words to the excellent Titus "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." Here he calls the same both Saviour, and great God, and Jesus Christ. And in another place he writes, "In the kingdom of Christ and of God." Moreover the chorus of the angels announced to the shepherds " Unto you is born this day in the city of David ... Christ the Lord."

But to men who meditate on God's law day and night, it is indeed needless to write all the proofs of this kind; the above are sufficient to persuade even the most obstinate opponents not to divide the divine titles. One point, however, I cannot endure to omit. He is alleged to have said that there are many Christs but one Son. Into this error I suppose he fell through ignorance. For if he had read the divine Scripture, he would have known that the title of the Son has also been bestowed by our bountiful Lord on many. The lawgiver Moses, the writer of the ancient history, says "And the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair and they took them wives of them," and the God of all Himself said to this Prophet "Thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Israel is my son even my first- born." In the great song he says "Rejoice O ye nations with His people and let all the sons of God be strong in Him;" and by the mouth of the prophet Isaiah He says "I have nourished and brought up sons (children) and they have rebelled against me;" and through the thrice blessed David "I have said ye are gods and all of you are children of the Most High," and to the Romans the wise Paul wrote in this manner, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the I spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. For the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God. And if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ: if so be that we suffer with Him that we may be also glorified together;" and to the Galatians he writes "And because ye are sons God hath sent forth the spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant but a son; and if a son then an heir of God through Jesus Christ." The lesson he gives to the Ephesians is "in love having predestinated us into the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself."

If then, because the name of the Christ is common, we ought not to glorify the Christ as God, we shall equally shrink from worshipping Him as Son, since this also is a name which has been bestowed upon many. And why do I say the Son? The very name of God itself has been given by God to many. "The Lord the God of gods hath spoken and called the earth." And "I have said Ye are gods," and "Thou shalt not revile the gods." Many too have appropriated this name to themselves. The daemons who have deceived mankind have given this title to idols; whence Jeremiah exclaims, "The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth even they shall perish from the earth and from under these heavens;" and again "They made to themselves gods of silver and gods of gold;" and the prophet Isaiah when he had mocked the making of the idols, and said "He burneth part thereof in the fire with part thereof he eateth flesh he warmeth himself and saith Aha I am warm I have seen the fire," went on "and the residue thereof he maketh a god and falleth down unto it and saith 'Deliver me for thou art my god'" and so the prophet laments over them and says "Know that their heart is ashes." And the Psalmist David has taught us to sing "For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens."

But this common use of titles gives no offence to men who are instructed in true religion. We are aware that the daemons have falsely bestowed upon themselves and on idols the divine name, while the saints have received this honour of free grace.

In reality and by nature it is the God of all, and His only-begotten Son and the Holy Spirit which are God. This is distinctly taught us by the admirable Paul in the words "For though there be that are called gods whether in heaven or in earth, as there are gods many and lords many, but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in Him; and one Lord by whom are all things and we by Him." And the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of God and so also is the soul of man, for, it is written, "His breath goeth forth," and "O ye spirits and souls of the righteous bless ye the Lord," and the Psalmist David called the angels spirits. "Who maketh His angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire." Why indeed do I mention the angels and the souls of men? Even the daemons are so called by the Lord "He shall take unto him seven other spirits more wicked than himself and they shall enter in, and the last state of that man shall be worse than the first." But even this application of the name does not offend the pious reader, for the Father and His only begotten Son and His Holy Spirit are one God by nature; and the divine Word made man, our Lord Jesus Christ, is by nature one Son, only begotten of the Father; and the Comforter who completes the number of the Trinity is one Holy Ghost. Thus though many are named fathers, we worship one Father, the Father before the ages, who Himself gave this title to men, as the Apostle says, "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom every fatherhood in heaven and earth is named." Let us not then, because others are called christs, rob ourselves of the worship of our Lord Jesus Christ. For just as though many are called gods and fathers, there is one God and Father over all and before the ages; and though many are called sons, there is one real and natural Son; and though many are styled spirits there is one Holy Ghost; just so though many are called christs there is one Lord Jesus Christ by Whom are all things. And very properly does the Church cling to this name; for she has heard Paul, escorter of the Bride, exclaiming "I have espoused you to one husband that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ," and again "Husbands love your wives as Christ also loved the Church," and again "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and the Church." Listen to him as he says "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us," and elsewhere "Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized unto Jesus Christ were baptized into His death," and in another place, "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ," and again "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lust thereof."

They who are blessed by the boons of God and have learnt to know these passages and others like them, kindled with warm love for their bountiful Master, constantly carry on their lips this His dearest name and cry in the words of the Song of Songs "My beloved is mine and I am his;" "I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste." And besides all this that name of ours which we love so well we have derived from the name of Christ. We are called Christians.

Of this name the Lord of all says, "The Lord God shall call His servants by another name which shall be blessed on the earth" and the following is the reason why the Church specially clings to this name. When the only-begotten Son of God was made man, then He was named Christ, then human nature received the beams of intellectual light; then the heralds of the truth shed their beams upon the world. Teachers of the Church, however, constantly used the names of the only begotten without distinction; at one time they glorify the Father the Son and the Holy Ghost; at another the Father with Christ and the Holy Ghost; yet as far as the sense is concerned there is here no difference. Wherefore after the Lord had commanded to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost the blessed Peter said to them who received his preaching and asked what they must do, "Believe and be baptized every one of you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ," as though this name contained in itself all the potency of the divine command. The same teaching is clearly given us by the great Basil, luminary of the Cappadocians, or rather of the world. His words are "the name of Christ is the confession of the whole." It indicates at once the Father, who anointed, the Son, who was anointed, and the Holy Ghost whereby He was anointed. Furthermore the thrice blessed Fathers assembled in council at Nicaea, after saying that we must believe in one God, the Father, added "and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God." Thereby they teach that the Lord Jesus Christ is Himself the only begotten Son of God.

To what has been said it must also be added that we must not affirm that after the ascension the Lord Christ is not Christ but only begotten Son. The divine Gospels and the history of the Acts and the Epistles of the Apostle himself were, as we know, written after the ascension. It is after the ascension that the divine Paul exclaims "Seeing then that we have a great High Priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession." And again, "For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into Heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us." And again after speaking of our hope in God he adds" which hope we have as an anchor both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus made an High Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec." And when, writing to the blessed Titus about the second advent he says," Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." And to the Thessalonians he wrote in similar terms "For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how we turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come." And again "And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: to the end he may stablish your hearts unblamable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints." And again when writing to the same a second time he says, "Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him." And a little further on when predicting the destruction of antichrist he adds, "Whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming." And when exhorting the Romans to concord he says, "But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at naught thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, as I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God." And the Lord Himself when announcing His second advent besides other things says too this "Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be."

And after the immortality and incorruptibility of His body He called Himself Son of Man, naming Himself from the nature which was seen, inasmuch as the divine nature is indeed invisible to angels, as the Lord Himself had said "No one hath seen God at any time." And to the great Moses He said "There shall no man see me and live."

The words "Henceforth know we no man after the flesh; yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh; yet now henceforth know we Him no more," were not written by the divine Apostle in order to annul the assumed nature, but for the confirmation of our own future incorruption, immortality, and spiritual life.

The Apostle therefore continues "Therefore if any man be in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold all things are become new." He speaks of what is to be in the future as though it had already come to pass. We have not yet been gifted with immortality, but we shall be; and when so gifted we shall not become bodiless, but we shall put on immortality. "For" says the divine Apostle, "we would not be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life." And again "For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality." Thus he did not speak of the Lord as bodiless, but taught us to believe that even the visible nature is incorruptible, and glorified with the divine glory. This instruction he has given us yet more clearly in the Epistle to the Philippians; "For our conversation" he writes "is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body." By these words he teaches us distinctly that the body of the Lord is a body, but a divine body, and glorified with the divine glory.

Let us, then, not shun the name whereby we enjoy salvation, and whereby all things are made new, as says our teacher himself in his Epistle to the Ephesians,—"According to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself; that in the dispensation of the fulness of time He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in Him." Let us rather learn from this blessed language how we are bound to glorify our benefactor, by connecting the name of Christ with our God and Father. In his Epistle to the Romans the Apostle says "my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith; to God only will be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen." Writing to the Ephesians he thus gives praise—"Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto Him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. And a little before he says, "For this cause I bow my knee unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named." And considerably farther on he says "Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." And when he requites with benediction the liberality of the Philippians he says "But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches m glory by Christ Jesus." And for the Hebrews he prayed, "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work, to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." And not only when glorifying, but also when exhorting and protesting, the Apostle conjoins the Christ with God the Father. To the blessed Timothy he exclaims "I charge thee therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ." And again "I give thee charge in the sight of God who quickeneth all things, and before Jesus Christ, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession; that thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; which in His times He shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords; who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see; to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen."

These are the lessons we have learnt from the divine Apostles; this is the teaching given us by John and Matthew, those mighty rivers of the gospel message. The latter says "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham;" and the former when he shewed the things which were before the ages wrote, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him."

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.