Fathers of the Church
Letter XVI. to Bishop Irenaeus
by Theodoret in Unknown | translated by Blomfield Jackson
There is nothing good, it seems, in prospect for us, so, far from calming down, the tempest troubling the Church seems to rise higher every day. The conveners of the Council have arrived and delivered the letters of summons to several of the Metropolitans including our own, and I have sent a copy of the letter to your Holiness to acquaint you how, as the poet has it, "Woe has been welded by woe." And we need only the Lord's goodness to stay the storm. Easy it is for Him to stay it, but we are unworthy of the calm, yet the grace of His patience is enough for us, so that haply by it we may get the better of our foes. So the divine apostle has taught us to pray "for He will with the temptation also make a way to escape that ye may be able to bear it." But I beseech your godliness to stop the mouths of the objectors and make them understand that it is not for them who stand, as the phrase goes, out of range, to scoff at men fighting in the ranks and giving and receiving blows; for what matters it what weapon the soldier uses to strike down his antagonists? Even the great David did not use a panoply when he slew the aliens' champion, and Samson slew thousands on one day with the jawbone of an ass. Nobody grumbles at the victory, nor accuses the conqueror of cowardice, because he wins it without brandishing a spear or covering himself with his shield or throwing darts or shooting arrows. The defenders of true religion must be criticized in the same way, nor must we try to find language which will stir strife, but rather arguments which plainly proclaim the truth and make those who venture to oppose it ashamed of themselves.
What does it matter whether we style the holy Virgin at the same time mother of Man and mother of God, or call her mother and servant of her offspring, with the addition that she is mother of our Lord Jesus Christ as man, but His servant as God, and so at once avoid the term which is the pretext of calumny, and express the same opinion by another phrase? And besides this it must also be borne in mind that the former of these titles is of general use, and the latter peculiar to the Virgin; and that it is about this that all the controversy has arisen, which would God had never been. The majority of the old Fathers have applied the more honourable title to the Virgin, as your Holiness yourself has done in two or three discourses; several of these, which your godliness sent to me, I have in my own possession, and in these you have not coupled the title mother of Man with mother of God but have explained its meaning by the use of other words. But since you find fault with me for having left out the holy and blessed Fathers Diodorus and Theodorus in my list of authorities, I have thought it necessary to add a few words on this point.
In the first place, my dear friend, I have omitted many others both famous and illustrious. Secondly this fact must be borne in mind, that the accused party is bound to produce unimpeachable witnesses, whose testimony even his accusers cannot impugn. But if the defendant were to call into court authorities accused by the prosecutors, even the judge himself would not consent to receive them. If I had omitted these holy men in compiling an eulogy of the Fathers, I should, I own, have been wrong, and should have proved myself ungrateful to my teachers. But if when under accusation I have brought forward a defence, and have produced unimpeachable witnesses, why do men who are unwilling to see any of these testimonies lay me under unreasonable blame? How I reverence these writers is sufficiently shewn by my own book in their behalf, in which I have refuted the indictment laid against them, without fear of the influence of their accusers or even of the secret attack made upon myself. These people who are so fond of foolish talk had better get some other excuse for their sleight of words. My object is not to make my words and deeds fit the pleasure of this man or that man, but to edify the church of God, and please her bridegroom and Lord. I call my conscience to witness that I am not acting as I do through care of material things, nor because I cling to the honour with all its cares, which I shrink from calling an unhappy one. I would long ago have withdrawn of my own accord, did I not fear the judgment of God. And now know well that I await my fate. And I think that it is drawing near, for so the plots against me indicate.
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.