Fathers of the Church
Personal Letter LX: to Adelphius, Bishop and Confessor: against the Arians
by Athanasius in 370-371 | translated by Payne-Smith
WE have read what your piety has written to us, and genuinely approve your piety toward Christ. And above all we glorify God, Who has given you such grace as not only to have right opinions, but also, so far as that is possible, not to be ignorant of the devices[1a] of the devil. But we marvel at the perversity of the heretics, seeing that they have fallen into such a pit of impiety that they no longer retain even their senses, but have their understanding corrupted on all sides. But this attempt is a plot of the devil, and an imitation of the disobedient Jews. For as the latter, when refuted on all sides, kept devising excuses to their own hurt, if only they could deny the Lord and bring upon themselves what was prophesied against them, in like manner these men, seeing themselves proscribed on all hands, and perceiving that their heresy has become abominable to all, prove themselves ' inventors of evil things,' in order that, not ceasing their fightings against the truth, they may remain consistent and genuine adversaries of Christ. For whence has this new mischief of theirs sprung forth? How have they even ventured to utter this new blasphemy against the Saviour? But the impious man, it seems, is a worthless object, and truly 'reprobate concerning the Faith.' For formerly, while denying the Godhead of the only-begotten Son of God, they pretended at any rate to acknowledge His coming in the Flesh. But now, gradually going from bad to worse, they have fallen from this opinion of theirs, and become Godless on all hands, so as neither to acknowledge Him as God, nor to believe that He has become man. For if they believed this they would not have uttered such things as your piety has reported against them.
2. You, however, beloved and most truly longed-for, have done what befitted the tradition of the Church and your piety toward the Lord, in refuting, admonishing, and rebuking such men. But since, instigated by their father the devil, 'they knew not nor understood,' as it is written, 'but go on still in darkness,' let them learn from your piety that this error of theirs belongs to Valentinus and Marcion, and to Manichaeus, of whom some substituted [the idea of] Appearance for Reality, while the others, dividing what is indivisible, denied the truth that 'the Word was made Flesh, and dwelt among us.' Why then, as they hold with those people, do they not also take up the heritage of their names? For it is reasonable, as they hold their error, to have their names as well. and for the future to be called Valentinians, Marcionists, and Manichaeans. Perhaps even thus, being put to shame by the ill savour of the names, they may be enabled to perceive into what a depth of impiety they have fallen. And it would be within our rights not to answer them at all, according to the apostolic advice: ' A man that is heretical, after a first and second admonition refuse, knowing that such an one is perverted, and sinneth, being self-condemned ;' the more so, in that the Prophet says about such men: ' The tool shall utter foolishness, and his heart shall imagine vain things.' But since, like their leader, they too go about like lions seeking whom among the simple they shall devour, we are compelled to write in reply to your piety, that the brethren being once again instructed by your admonition may still further reprobate the vain teaching of those men.
3. We do not worship a creature. Far be the thought. For such an error belongs to heathens and Arians. But we worship the Lord of Creation, Incarnate, the Word of God. For if the flesh also is in itself a part of the created world, yet it has become God's body. And we neither divide the body, being such, from the Word, and worship it by itself, nor when we wish to worship the Word do we set Him far apart from the Flesh, but knowing, as we said above, that ' the Word was made flesh,' we recognise Him as God also, after having come in the flesh. Who, accordingly, is so senseless as to say to the Lord: ' Leave the Body that I may worship Thee; or so impious as to join the senseless Jews in saying, on account of the Body, 'Why dost Thou, being a man, make Thyself God?' But the leper was not one of this sort, for he worshipped God in the Body, and recognised that He was God, saying, 'Lord, if Thou wilt Thou canst make me clean.' Neither by reason of the Flesh did he think the Word of God a creature: nor because the Word was the maker of all creation did he despise the Flesh which He had put on. But he worshipped the Creator of the universe as dwelling in a created temple, and was cleansed. So also the woman with an issue of blood, who believed, and only touched the hem of His garment, was healed, and the sea with its foaming waves heard the incarnate Word, and ceased its storm, while the man blind from birth was healed by the fleshly spitting of the Word. And, what is greater and more startling (for perhaps this even offended those most impious men), even when the Lord was hanging upon the actual cross (for it was His Body and the Word was in it), the sun was darkened and the earth shook, the rocks were rent, and the vail of the temple rent, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose.
4. These things then happened, and no one doubted, as the Arians now venture to doubt, whether one is to believe the incarnate Word; but even from beholding the man, they recognised that He was their maker, and when they heard a human voice, they did not, because it was human, say that the Word was a creature. On the contrary, they trembled, and recognised nothing less than that it was being uttered from a holy Temple. How then can the impious fail to fear lest 'as they refused to have God in their knowledge, they may be given up to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not fitting?' For Creation does not worship a creature. Nor again did she on account of His Flesh refuse to worship her Lord. But she beheld her maker in the Body, and 'in the Name of Jesus every knee' bowed, yea and 'shall bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and every tongue shall confess,' whether the Arians approve or no, 'that Jesus is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father.' For the Flesh did not diminish the glory of the Word; far be the thought: on the contrary, it was glorified by Him. Nor, because the Son that was in the form of God took upon Him the form of a servant was He deprived of His Godhead. On the contrary, He is thus become the Deliverer of all flesh and of all creation. And if God sent His Son brought forth from a woman, the fact causes us no shame but contrariwise glory and great grace. For He has become Man, that He might deify us in Himself, and He has been born of a woman, and begotten of a Virgin, in order to transfer to Himself our erring generation, and that we may become henceforth a holy race, and 'partakers of the Divine Nature,' as blessed Peter wrote. And 'what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.'
5. Seeing then that Flesh was taken by the Word to deliver all men, raise all from the dead, and make redemption for sins, must not they appear ungrateful, and be worthy of all hatred, who make light of the Flesh, as well as those who on account of it charge the Son of God with being a thing created or made? For they as good as cry to God and say: 'Send not Thine Only-begotten Son in the Flesh, cause Him not to take flesh of a virgin, lest He redeem us from death and sin. We do not wish Him to come in the body, lest He should undergo death on our behalf: we do not desire the Word to be made flesh, lest in it He should become our Mediator to gain access to thee, and we so inhabit the heavenly mansions. Let the gates of the heavens be shut lest Thy Word consecrate for us the road thither through the veil, namely His Flesh.' These are their utterances, vented with diabolical daring, by the error they have devised. For they who do not wish to worship the Word made flesh, are ungrateful for His becoming man. And they who divide the Word from the Flesh do not hold that one redemption from sin has taken place, or one destruction of death. But where at all will these impious men find the Flesh which the Saviour took, apart from Him, that they should even venture to say 'we do not worship the Lord with the Flesh, but we separate the Body, and worship Him alone.' Why, the blessed Stephen saw in the heavens the Lord standing on [God's] right hand, while the Angels said to the disciples, 'He shall so come in like manner as ye beheld Him going into heaven:' and the Lord Himself says, addressing the Father, 'I will that where I am, they also may be with Me.' And surely if the Flesh is inseparable from the Word, does it not follow that these men must either lay aside their error, and for the future worship the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, or, if they do not worship or serve the Word Who came in the Flesh, be cast out on all sides, and count no longer as Christians but either as heathens, or among the Jews.
6. Such then, as we have above described, is the madness and daring of those men. But our faith is right, and starts from the teaching of the Apostles and tradition of the fathers, being confirmed both by the New Testament and the Old. For the Prophets say: 'Send out Thy Word and Thy Truth,' and ' Behold the Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which is being interpreted God with us.' But what does that mean, if not that God has come in the Flesh? While the Apostolic tradition teaches in the words of blessed Peter, 'Forasmuch then as Christ suffered for us in the Flesh;' and in what Paul writes, 'Looking for the blessed hope and appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, Who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a people for His own possession, and zealous of good works.' How then has He given Himself, if He had not worn flesh? For flesh He offered, and gave Himself for us, in order that undergoing death in it, 'He might bring to nought him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.' Hence also we always give thanks in the name of Jesus Christ, and we do not set at nought the grace which came to us through Him. For the coming of the Saviour in the flesh has been the ransom and salvation of all creation. So then, beloved and most longed-for, let what I have said put in mind those who love the Lord, while as to those who have imitated the behaviour of Judas, and deserted the Lord to join Caiaphas, let them by these things be taught better, if maybe they are willing, if maybe they are ashamed. And let them know that in worshipping the Lord in the flesh we do not worship a creature, but, as we said above, the Creator Who has put on the created body.
7. But we should like your piety to ask them this. When Israel was ordered to go up to Jerusalem to worship at the temple of the Lord, where was the ark, 'and above it the Cherubim of glory overshadowing the Mercy- seat,' did they do well or the opposite? If they did ill, how came it that they who despised this law were liable to punishment? for it is written that if a man make light of it and go not up, he shall perish from among the people. But if they did well, and in this proved well-pleasing to God, are not the Arians, abominable and most shameful of any heresy, many times worthy of destruction, in that while they approve the former People for the honour paid by them to the Temple, they will not worship the Lord Who is in the flesh as in a temple? And yet the former temple was constructed of stones and gold, as a shadow. But when the reality came, the type ceased from thenceforth, and there did not remain, according to the Lord's utterance, one stone upon another that was not broken downs. And they did not, when they saw the temple of stones, suppose that the Lord who spoke in the temple was a creature; nor did they set the Temple at nought and retire far off to worship. But they came to it according to the Law, and worshipped the God who uttered His oracles from the Temple. Since then this was so, how can it be other than right to worship the Body of the Lord, all-holy and all-reverend as it is, announced as it was by the archangel Gabriel, formed by the Holy Spirit, and made the Vesture of the Word? It was at any rate a bodily hand that the Word stretched out to raise her that was sick of a fever: a human voice that He uttered to raise Lazarus from the dead; and, once again, stretching out His hands upon the Cross, He overthrew the prince of the power of the air, that now works in the sons of disobedience, and made the way clear for us into the heavens.
8. Therefore he that dishonours the Temple dishonours the Lord in the Temple; and he that separates the Word from the Body sets at nought the grace. given to us in Him. And let not the most impious Arian madmen suppose that, since the Body is created, the Word also is a creature, nor let them, because the Word is not a creature, disparage His Body. For their error is matter for wonder, in that they at once confuse and disturb everything, and devise pretexts only in order to number the Creator among the creatures.
But let them listen. If the Word were a creature, He would not assume the created body to quicken it. For what help can creatures derive from a creature that itself needs salvation? But since the Word being Creator has Himself made the creatures, therefore also at the consummation of the ages He put on the creature, that He as creator might once more consecrate it, and be able to recover it. But a creature could never be saved by a creature, any more than the creatures were created by a creature, if the Word was not creator. Accordingly let them not lie against the divine Scriptures nor give offence to simple brethren; but if they are willing let them change their mind in their turn, and no longer worship the creature instead of God, Who made all things. But if they wish to abide by their impieties, let them alone take their fill of them, and let them gnash their teeth like their father the devil, because the Faith of the Catholic Church knows that the Word of God is creator and maker of all things; and we know that while 'in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,' now that He has become also man for our salvation we worship Him, not as though He had come in the body equalising Himself with it, but as Master, assuming the form of the servant, and Maker and Creator coming in a creature in order that, in it delivering all things, He might bring the world nigh to the Father, and make all things to be at peace, things in heaven and things on the earth. For thus also we recognise His Godhead, even the Father's, and worship His Incarnate Presence, even if the Arian madmen burst themselves in sunder.
Greet all that love the Lord Jesus Christ. We pray that you may be well, and remember us to the Lord, beloved and truly most longed-for. If need be this is to be read to Hieracas the presbyter.
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/IV, Schaff and Wace). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.