Fathers of the Church
Epistle XXXIX: to Eulogius, Patriarch of Alexandria
by Gregory the Great in 590-604 | translated by James Barmby, D.d
Gregory to Eulogius, &c.
As cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country (Prov. xxv. 25). But what can be good news to me, so far as concerns the behoof of holy Church, but to hear of the health and safety of your to me most sweet Holiness, who, from your perception of the light of truth, both illuminate the same Church with the word of preaching, and mould it to a better way by the example of your manners? As often, too, as I recall in my heart your oneness of mind with me, and feel that I remain fixed in your heart, I give thanks to Almighty God that charity cannot be divided by distance of place. For, though in body we are far disjoined, yet in soul we are indivisible.
Our common son Anatolius the deacon has notified to me in his letters that in the royal city nothing ecclesiastical has at any time been disturbed from earthly causes. But I believe that he had before announced to me how your Blessedness had spoken in the cause of the Church And I rejoice to think that, I where you chanced to be present, I do not consider that there was any want of me. For I know that you, as a minister of the truth, a follower of Peter, and a preacher of Holy Church, would speak what ought to have been heard through the mouth of a teacher from the Apostle Peter's See.
Moreover, before these days, when Abramius of Alexandria came to me. I had written in reply to your Holiness both what I thought of your writings which you issued against the Agnoite heretics, and why I had been so late in replying. But the said Abramius, compelled by difficulties of navigation, is reported to have delayed long in the city of Naples; and so I write again in the same sense in which I had formerly written, since in your teaching against the heretics that are called Agnoitae there was much for us to admire; but to displease us there was nothing. And in the same sense I had already written at length to our son Anatolius the deacon. Moreover, your doctrine so agreed in all respects with the Latin Fathers that I find, not to my surprise, that in diverse languages the Spirit has not been diverse.
For, as to what you have said about the fig-tree, Augustine speaks aptly in the same sense; for, when the evangelist subjoined, For the time of figs was not yet (Mark xi. 13), it is plainly shown that the figs which the Lord had sough: were fruit in the synagogue, which had the leaves of the Law, but not the fruit of works. For the Creator of all things could not be ignorant that the fig-tree had no fruit; which was a thing that all might know, since it was not the time of figs. But concerning what is written, That the day and hour neither the Son nor the angels know (Mark xiii. 32), your Holiness has quite tightly perceived that this is most certainly to be referred, not to the said Son with respect to His being the Head, but with respect to His body, which we are With regard to which matter, the same blessed Augustine in many places adopts this sense (Quaest. lib. lxxxiii. q. 6o; lib. de Trinit., c. 12; in psalm vi., init.; in ps. xxxiv. serm.). He mentions also another thing that may be understood of the same Son, namely that Almighty God sometimes speaks in a human manner, even as He says to Abraham, Now I know that thou fearest God (Genes. xxii. 12) It was not that God then came to know that He was feared, but that He then made Abraham know that he feared God. For, as we speak of a glad day, not meaning that the day itself is glad, but that it makes us glad, so also the Almighty Son says that He does not know the day which He causes not to be known; not that He Himself does not know it, but that He does not allow it to be known. Whence also the Father alone is said to know it, because the Son Who is consubstantial with Him has His knowledge of what the angels are ignorant of from His divine nature, whereby He is above the angels. Whence also it may be more nicely understood thus; that the Only-begotten, being incarnate and made for us a perfect man, knew indeed in the nature of His humanity the day and hour of the judgment, but still it was not from the nature of His humanity that He knew it. What then He knew in it He knew not from it, because God, made man, knew the day and hour of the judgment through the power of His Deity: as also at the marriage, when the Virgin Mother said that wine was wanting, He replied, Woman, what have to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come (Joh. ii. 4). For it was not that the Lord of the angels was subject to the hour, having, among all things which He had created, made hours and times; but, because the Virgin Mother, when wine was wanting, wished a miracle to be done by Him, it was at once answered her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? As if to say plainly, That I can do a miracle comes to me of my Father, not of my Mother. For He who of the nature of His Father did miracles had it of His mother that He could die. Whence also, when He was on the cross, in dying He acknowledged His mother, whom He commended to the disciple, saying, Behold thy mother (Joh. xix. 27). He says, then, l, Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet came.—That is, "In the miracle, which I have not of thy nature, I do not acknowledge thee. When the hour of death shall come, I shall acknowledge thee as my mother, since I have it of thee that I can die." And thus the knowledge, which He had not of the nature of humanity whereby He was with the angels a creature, this He denied that He had with the angels, who are creatures. The day, then, and the hour of the judgment He knows as God and man, but for this reason, that God is man. It is moreover a thing quite manifest, that whoso is not a Nestorian cannot in any wise be an Agnoite. For with what meaning can one that confesses that the very Wisdom of God was incarnate say that there is anything that the Wisdom of God is ignorant of? It is written, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made by him (Joh. i. 1). If all things, then without doubt the day and hour of the judgment. Who then can be so senseless as to presume to say that the Word of the Father made what He is ignorant of? It is written also, Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands (Job xxii. 3). If all things, certainly both the day and the hour of the judgment. Who, then, is so foolish as to say that the Son received into His hands what He knows not?
But, with respect to the passage in which He says to the women about Lazarus, Where have ye laid him (Job. xi. 34), I felt exactly as you felt. that, if they say that the Lord did not know where Lazarus had been buried, and for that reason enquired, they will undoubtedly be compelled to acknowledge that the Lord did not know in what places Adam and Eve had hidden themselves after their sin, when He said in Paradise, Adam, where art thou (Gen. iii. 9)? or when lie chides Cain saying, Where is Abel thy brother (Gen. iv. 9)? But, if He did not know, why did lie forthwith add, Thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground? However, on this passage Severianus Gabalensis speaks differently, saying that the Lord spoke thus to the women as it were in the way of rebuke, in that He enquired where they had laid the dead Lazarus; as if with plain reference to the sin of Eve He had said, I placed the man in Paradise, whom you have placed in the sepulchre.
But to these things our said common son Anatolius the deacon has replied by putting another question:—What if it should be objected to me that, even as He who is immortal vouchsafed to die that He might deliver us from death, and He who is eternal before all time willed to become subject to time, so the Wisdom of God vouchsafed to take upon Himself our ignorance that He might deliver us from ignorance? But I have not yet given him any reply to this, having been confined until now by grievous sickness. Now, however, through your players I have already begun to recover; and, if I should so recover as to be able to dictate, with the help of the Lord I will reply to him. To you it is not for me to say anything on this subject, lest I should seem to teach you what you know, seeing that even medicines lose their power of healing, if applied to sound and strong members.
Furthermore, we apprize you that in this place we suffer from serious difficulty for want of good interpreters. For there are none who can express the sense, while all ever try to translate the words exactly: and so they confuse the whole sense of what has been said. Whence it comes to pass that we are by no means able without severe labour to understand what has been translated.
I have received the blessing of Saint Mark the Evangelist and of your Blessedness. And I have been desirous of sending you some timber; but the ship which came was too small to carry it. And yet even that which the Alexandrians saw when they came is of small size. For I had prepared some that is much larger for you, which has not yet been conveyed to the Roman city: for I waited for it to be conveyed when the Alexandrian ship should arrive; and it has remained in the place where it was felled.
May Almighty God long guard your life for the edification of Holy Church, and inspire you to pray earnestly for me; that, being pressed down by my own sins, I may be lifted up before Almighty God by your prayers.
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/XIII, Schaff and Wace). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.