Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Fathers of the Church

Epistle CII: against Apollinarius; the Second Letter to Cledonius


Gregory again addresses the major tenet of Apollinarianism, which claimed that Christ had a human body and a human sensitive soul, but no human rational mind, the Divine Logos taking the place of this last.


Gregory was the first Greek author to publish a collection of his letters; he did so at the request of Nicobulus, a grandson of his sister Gorgonia. Incidentally, he also sets forth a theory of epistolography; he demands that a good letter should have four characteristics: shortness, clearness, charm and simplicity. Although he refuses to present his own epistles as models, they are carefully written, in mnay cases not without humor, and most of them are brief and pointed. (Quasten)

The following letter, along with another written to Cledonius, is famous for its theology. Both were written in order to provide material for a refutation of Apollinarianism.

by Gregory Nazianzen in 382 | translated by Charles Gordon Browne, M.A., James Edward Swallow, M.A

Forasmuch as many persons have come to your Reverence seeking confirmation of their faith, and therefore you have affectionately asked me to put forth a brief definition and rifle of my opinion, I therefore write to your Reverence, what indeed you knew before, that I never have and never can honour anything above the Nicene Faith, that of the Holy Fathers who met there to destroy the Arian heresy; but am, and by God's help ever will be, of that faith; completing in detail that which was incompletely said by them concerning the Holy Ghost; for that question had not then been mooted, namely, that we are to believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are of one Godhead, thus confessing the Spirit also to be God. Receive then to communion those who think and teach thus, as I also do; but those who are otherwise minded refuse, and hold them as strangers to God and the Catholic Church. And since a question has also been mooted concerning the Divine Assumption of humanity, or Incarnation, state this also clearly to all concerning me, that I join in One the Son, who was begotten of the Father, and afterward of the Virgin Mary, and that I do not call Him two Sons, but worship Him as One and the same in undivided Godhead and honour. But if anyone does not assent to this statement, either now or hereafter, he shall give account to God at the day of judgment.

Now, what we object and oppose to their mindless opinion about His Mind is this, to put it shortly; for they are almost alone in the condition which they lay down, as it is through want of mind that they mutilate His mind. But, that they may not accuse us of having once accepted but of now repudiating the faith of their beloved Vitalius(a) which he handed in in writing at the request of the blessed Bishop Damasus of Rome, I will give a short explanation on this point also. For these men, when they are theologizing among their genuine disciples, and those who are initiated into their secrets, like the Manichaeans among those whom they call the "Elect," expose the full extent of their disease, and scarcely allow flesh at all to the Saviour. But when they are refuted and pressed with the common answers about the Incarnation which the Scripture presents, they confess indeed the orthodox words, but they do violence to the sense; for they acknowledge the Manhood to be neither without soul nor without reason nor without mind, nor imperfect, but they bring in the Godhead to supply the soul and reason and mind, as though It had mingled Itself only with His flesh, and not with the other properties belonging to us men; although His sinlessness was far above us, and was the cleansing of our passions.

Thus, then, they interpret wrongly the words, But we have the Mind of Christ,(b) and very absurdly, when they say that His Godhead is the mind of Christ, and not understanding the passage as we do, namely, that they who have purified their mind by the imitation of the mind which the Saviour took of us, and, as far as may be, have attained conformity with it, are said to have the mind of Christ; just as they might be testified to have the flesh of Christ who have trained their flesh, and in this respect have become of the same body and partakers of Christ; and so he says "As we have borne the image of the earth(g) we shall also bear the image of the heavenly." And so they declare that the Perfect Man is not He who was in all points tempted like as we are yet without sin;(a) but the mixture of God and Flesh. For what, say they, can be more perfeet than this?

They play the same trick with the word that describes the Incarnation, viz.: He was made Man, explaining it to mean, not, He was in the human nature with which He surrounded Himself, according to the Scripture, He knew what was in man;(b) but teaching that it means, He consorted and conversed with men, and taking refuge in the expression which says that He was seen on Earth and conversed with Men.(g) And what can anyone contend further? They who take away the Humanity and the Interior Image cleanse by their newly invented mask only our outside,(d) and that which is seen; so far in conflict with themselves that at one time, for the sake of the flesh, they explain all the rest in a gross and carnal manner (for it is from hence that they have derived their second Judaism and their silly thousand years delight in paradise, and almost the idea that we shall resume again the same conditions after these same thousand years); and at another time they bring in His flesh as a phantom rather than a reality, as not having been subjected to any of our experiences, not even such as are free from sin; and use for this purpose the apostolic expression, understood and spoken in a sense which is not apostolic, that our Saviour was made in the likeness of Men and found in fashion as a Man,(e) as though by these words was expressed, not the human form, but some delusive phantom and appearance.

Since then these expressions, rightly understood, make for orthodoxy, but wrongly interpreted are heretical, what is there to be surprised at if we received the words of Vitalius in the more orthodox sense; our desire that they should be so meant persuading us, though others are angry at the intention of his writings? This is, I think, the reason why Damasus himself, having been subsequently better informed, and at the same time learning that they hold by their former explanations, excommunicated them and overturned their written confession of faith with an Anathema; as well as because he was vexed at the deceit which he had suffered from them through simplicity.

Since, then, they have been openly convicted of this, let them not be angry, but let them be ashamed of themselves; and let them not slander us, but abase themselves and wipe off from their portals that great and marvellous proclamation and boast of their orthodoxy, meeting all who go in at once with the question and distinction that we must worship, not a God- bearing Man, but a flesh-bearing God. What could be more unreasonable than this, though these new heralds of truth think a great deal of the title? For though it has a certain sophistical grace through the quickness of its antithesis, and a sort of juggling quackery grateful to the uninstructed, yet it is the most absurd of absurdities and the most foolish of follies. For if one were to change the word Man or Flesh into God (the first would please us, the second them), and then were to use this wonderful antithesis, so divinely recognized, what conclusion should we arrive at? That we must worship, not a God-bearing Flesh, but a Man-bearing God. O monstrous absurdity! They proclaim to us to-day a wisdom hidden ever since the time of Christ—a thing worthy of our tears. For if the faith began thirty years ago, when nearly four hundred years had passed since Christ was manifested, vain all that time will have been our Gospel, and vain our faith; in vain will the Martyrs have borne their witness, and in vain have so many and so great Prelates presided over the people; and Grace is a matter of metres and not of the faith.

And who will not marvel at their learning, in that on their own authority they divide the things of Christ, and assign to His Manhood such sayings as He was born, He was tempted, He was hungry, He was thirsty, He was wearied, He was asleep; but reckon to His Divinity such as these: He was glorified by Angels, He overcame the Tempter, He fed the people in the wilderness, and He fed them in such a manner, and He walked upon the sea; and say on the one hand that the "Where have ye laid Lazarus?"(a) belongs to us, but the loud voice "Lazarus, Come Forth"(b) and the raising him that had been four days dead, is above our nature; and that while the "He was in an Agony, He was crucified, He was buried," belongs to the Veil, on the other hand, "He was confident, He rose again, He ascended," belong to the Inner Treasure; and then they accuse us of introducing two natures, separate or conflicting, and of dividing the supernatural and wondrous Union. They ought, either not to do that of which they accuse us, or not to accuse us of that which they do; so at least if they are resolved to be consistent and not to propound at once their own and their opponents' principles. Such is their want of reason; it conflicts both with itself and with the truth to such an extent that they are neither conscious nor ashamed of it when they fall out with themselves. Now, if anyone thinks that we write all this willingly and not upon compulsion, and that we are dissuading from unity, and not doing our utmost to promote it, let him know that he is very much mistaken, and has not made at all a good guess at our desires, for nothing is or ever has been more valuable in our eyes than peace, as the facts themselves prove; though their actions and brawlings against us altogether exclude unanimity.

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. (LNPF II/VII, Schaff and Wace). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.

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