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Fathers of the Church

Letter LXXXIII. of Theodoretus, Bishop of Cyrus, to Dioscorus, Archbishop of Alexandria


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. Most important are those letters that, like the present, take part in the theological controversies of the time, and so are valuable sources for the history of the Eastern Church. (Quasten) In this letter he gently reproaches Diosc?rus—who would be the driving force at the “Robber-Council”—for believing the charge of Theodoret’s enemies that he divides the one Christ into “two sons,” human and divine. In his defense he cites the patronage of the present and two previous bishops of Antioch; mentions his commitment to the teaching of Nicaea and his approval of the title “Theotokos” for Our Ladyland mentions a brief, friendly correspondence with Cyril of Alexandria, Diosc?rus’s predecessor, following the reconciliation between Antioch and Alexandria (sometime between 434 and 441).


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. Letters LXXIX-CXI date from 448 and 449, and chronicle the growing agitation in the Eastern Church during the Monophysite crisis, including the slanders that led to Theodoret’s illegitimate deposition at the “Robber-Council” of Ephesus in 449.

by Theodoret in c. 448 | translated by Blomfield Jackson

To them that suffer under false accusation the greatest comfort is given by the words of Scripture. When such a sufferer is wounded by the lying words of an unbridled tongue, and feels the sharp stings of distress, he remembers the story of the admirable Joseph, and as he beholds that model of chastity, an exemplar of every kind of virtue, suffering, trotter a calumnious charge, imprisoned and lettered for invading another man's bed, and spending a long time in a dungeon, his pain is lightened by the remedy that the story furnishes. So again when he finds the gentle David, hunted as a tyrant by Saul, and then catching his enemy and letting him go unharmed, an anodyne is given him in his distress. But when he sees the Lord Christ Himself, Maker of the ages, Creator of all things, very God, and Son of the very God, called a gluttonous man and a wine bibber by the wicked Jews, it is not only consolation but rather great joy that is given him in that he is deemed worthy of sharing the sufferings of the Lord.

Thus I was compelled to write when I read the letters of your holiness to the most pious and sacred archbishop Domnus, for there was contained in them the statement that certain men have come to the illustrious city administered by your holiness, and have accused me of dividing the one Lord Jesus Christ into two sons, and this when preaching at Antioch, where innumerable hearers swell the congregation. I wept for the men who had the hardihood to contrive the vain calumny against me. But I grieved, and, my Lord, forgive me, forced as I am by pain to speak, that your pious excellency did not reserve one ear unbiassed for me instead of believing the lies of my accusers. Yet they were but three or four or about a dozen while I have countless hearers to testify to the orthodoxy of my teaching. Six years I continued teaching in the tithe of Theodotus bishop of Antioch, of blessed and sacred memory, who was famous alike for his distinguished career and for his knowledge of the divine doctrines. Thirteen years I taught in the time of bishop John of sacred and blessed memory, who was so delighted at my discourses as to raise both his hands and again and again to start up: your holiness in your own letters has borne witness how, brought up as he was from boyhood with the divine oracles, the knowledge which he had of the divine doctrines was most exact. Besides these this is the seventh year of the most pious lord archbishop Domnus. Up to this present day, after the lapse of so long a time, not one of the pious bishops, not one of the devout clergy has ever at any time found any fault with my utterances. And with how much gratification Christian people hear our discourses your godly excellency can easily learn, alike from those who have travelled thence hither, and from those who reached your city from us.

All this I say not for the sake of boasting, but because I am forced to defend myself. It is not the fame of my sermons to which I am calling attention; it is their orthodoxy alone. Even the great teacher of the world who is wont to style himself last of saints and first of sinners, that he might stop the mouths of liars was compelled to set forth a list of his own labours; and in shewing that this account of his sufferings was of necessity, not of free will, he added "I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me." I own myself wretched—aye thrice wretched. I am guilty of many errors. Through faith alone I look for finding some mercy in the day of the Lord's appearing. I wish and I pray that I may follow the footprints of the holy Fathers, and I earnestly desire to keep undefiled the evangelic teaching which was in sum delivered to us by the holy Fathers assembled in council at the Bithynian Nicaea. I believe that there is one God the Father and one Holy Ghost proceeding from the Father: so also that there is one Lord Jesus Christ, only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages, brightness of His glory and express image of the Father's person, on account of man's salvation, incarnate and made man and born of Mary the Virgin in the flesh. For so are we taught by the wise Paul "Whose are the Fathers and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen," and again "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 power according to the spirit of holiness." On this account we also call the holy Virgin "Theotokos," and deem those who object to this appellation to be alienated from true religion.

In the same manner we call those men corrupt arid exclude them from the assembly of the Christians, who divide our one Lord Jesus Christ into two persons or two sons or two Lords, for we have heard the very divine Paul saying "One Lord, one faith, one baptism" and again "One Lord Jesus Christ by Whom are all things" and again "Jesus Christ the same yesterday and to-day and for ever" and in another place—"He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens." And countless other passages of this kind may be found in the Apostle's writings, proclaiming the one Lord.

So too the divine Evangelist exclaims, "And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."

And his namesake exclaimed, "After me cometh one who is preferred before me for He was before me." And when he had shewn one person, he expressed both the divine and the human. for the words "man" and "comes" are human, but the phrase "He was before me" expresses the divine. But nevertheless he did not recognise a distinction between Him who came after and Him who was before, but owned the same being to be eternal as God, but born man, after himself, of the Virgin.

Thus too, the thrice blessed Thomas, when he had put his hand on the flesh of the Lord, called Him Lord and God, saying "My Lord and my God." For through the visible nature he discerned the invisible.

So do we know no difference between the same flesh and the Godhead but we own God the Word made man to be one Son.

These lessons we have learnt alike from the holy Scripture and from the holy Fathers who have expounded it, Alexander and Athanasius, loud voiced heralds of the truth, who have been ornaments of your apostolic see; from Basil and from Gregory and the rest of the lights of the world; and that, in our endeavour to shut the mouths of them that dare to oppose the blessed Theophilus and Cyril, we use their works, our own writings testify. For we are most anxious by the medicines supplied by very holy men to heal them that deny the distinction between the Lord's flesh and the Godhead, and who maintain at one moment that the divine nature was changed into flesh, and at another that the flesh was transmitted into nature of Godhead.

For they clearly instruct us in the distinction between the two natures, and proclaim the immutability of the divine nature, calling the flesh of the Lord divine as being made flesh of God the Word; but the doctrine that it was transmuted into nature of Godhead they repudiate as impious.

I think that your excellency is well aware that Cyril of blessed memory often wrote to me, and when he sent his books against Julian to Antioch, and in like manner his book on the scapegoat, he asked the blessed John, bishop of Antioch, to shew them to the great teachers of the East; and in compliance with this request the blessed John sent us the books. I read them with admiration, and I wrote to Cyril of blessed memory; and he wrote back to me praising my exactitude and kindness. This letter I have preserved.

That I twice subscribed the writings of John of blessed memory concerning Nestorius my own hand bears witness, but this is the kind of thing whispered about me by men who try to conceal their own unsoundness by calumniating me.

Therefore I implore your holiness to turn your back on the liars; to give heed to the Church's quiet and either to heal by salutary medicines them that are trying to destroy the doctrines of the truth, or, if they refuse to accept your treatment, to expel them from the fold, to the end that the sheep may be spared from contagion. I beg you to give me your customary salutation. That I have written you my true sentiments is proved by my works on the holy Scriptures and against the Arians and Eunomians.

I will in addition write yet a brief word. If any one refuses to confess the holy Virgin to be "Theotokos," or calls our Lord Jesus Christ bare man, or divides into two sons Him who is one only begotten and first born of every creature, I pray that he may fall from hope in Christ, and let all the people say amen, amen.

Now that I have thus spoken, deign, my lord, to give me your sacred prayers, and to cheer me by a letter in reply telling me that your holiness has turned your back on my accusers.

I and my household salute all thy brotherhood in piety in Christ.

LXXXIV. To the bishops of Cilicia.

Your piety has heard of the calumnies directed against me. The opponents of the truth allege that I divide our one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, into two sons, and it is said by some that a ground for their calumny is derived from a handful of men among you who hold these opinions, and who divide God the Word made man into two sons. They ought to listen to those words of the Apostle which openly declare "out Lord Jesus Christ by whom are all things," and again "one Lord, one faith, one baptism." They ought to have followed the Master's teaching, for the Lord Himself says "And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in Heaven." And again "If ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before." And the tradition of holy baptism teaches us that there is one Son, just as there is one Father and one Holy Ghost. I hope then that your piety will deign, if there really are any, though I cannot believe it, who disobey the apostolic doctrines to close their mouths, to rebuke them as the laws of the Church require, and teach them to follow the footsteps of the holy Fathers and preserve undefiled the faith laid down at Nicaea in Bithynia by the holy and blessed Fathers, as summing up the teaching of Evangelists and Apostles. For it becomes you who love God to give heed both to God's glory and our common credit, and not to overlook the attacks which are made upon us all through the ignorance or contentiousness of these few l men—if they really are guilty, and if they are not, like ourselves, suffering from the whetted tongues of false accusers.

Deign to remember us in your prayers to God, for so the law of love ordains.

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.

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