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Fathers of the Church

Letter CLXXVI. to Alexander of Hierapolis


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 short letter Theodoret expresses his distress that in the process of reunion with Alexandria, John of Antioch has agreed to condemn Nestorius. He is somewhat comforted, however, by the circumspect, apparently conditional language of the anathema.


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. This letter was written after the reconciliation of the Antiochene and Alexandrian parties in 433, two years after the Council of Ephesus. Although Theodoret was satisfied with the new doctrinal agreement with Alexandria, he refused to condemn Nestorius as a heretic and did not join the Union of 433 until a year later, when the requirement to condemn Nestorius had been lifted. (He never, or else not until much later, admitted that Nestorius actually taught the heresy associated with him. He was finally induced to condemn him at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.)

by Theodoret in 433 | translated by Blomfield Jackson

Letter to the Alexander of Hierapolis after he had learnt that John, bishop of Antioch, had anathematized the doctrine of Nestorius.

Be it known to your holiness that when read the letter addressed to the emperor I was much distressed, because I know perfectly well that the writer of the letter, being of the same opinions, has unwisely and impiously condemned one who has never held or taught anything contrary to sound doctrine. But the form of anathema, though it be more likely than his assent to the condemnation, to grieve a reader, nevertheless has given me some ground of comfort, in that it is laid down not in wide general terms, but with some qualification. For he has not said "We anathematize his doctrine" but “whatever he has either said or held other than is warranted by the doctrine of the apostles."

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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