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A History Of The Church In Five Books by Theodoret

“ALEXANDER sendeth greeting in the Lord to Alexander, the honoured and beloved brother.

“Impelled by avarice and ambition, some evil-minded individuals have formed designs to obtain the highest ecclesiastical preferments. Under various pretexts, they trample upon the religion of the church; and, being instigated by Satanic agency, they abandon all circumspection, and throw off the fear of God’s judgments. Having been made to suffer by them in my own diocese, I write to arouse your caution, that you may be on your guard against them, lest they or any of their party should presume to enter your diocese. They are skilful in deception, and circulate false and specious letters, calculated to delude the simple and unwary.

“Arius and Achillas have lately formed a conspiracy, and have acted even more culpably than Colluthus, whom they rivalled in ambition. He reprehended their conduct; for he certainly had some pretext to plead in extenuation of his own guilt. When they perceived the gain resulting from the sale of ordinances, they felt unable to remain in subjection to the church; they accordingly constructed caverns, like those of robbers, in which they constantly assemble, and day and night they there invent calumnies against the Saviour, and against us. They revile the religious doctrines of the apostles, and having, like the Jews, conspired against Christ, they deny his divinity, and declare him to be on a level with other men. They collect all those passages which allude to the incarnation of our Saviour, and to his having humbled himself for our salvation; and bring them forward as corroborative of their own impious assertion, while they evade all those which declare his divinity, and the glory which he possesses with the Father. They maintain the ungodly hypothesis entertained by the Greeks and the Jews concerning Jesus Christ; and, at the same time, endeavour by every art to ingratiate themselves with those people.

“All those suppositions connected with our religion which have been advanced to excite derision, they represent as true. They daily excite persecutions and seditions against us. They bring accusations against us before judicial tribunals, suborning as witnesses certain unprincipled women whom they have seduced into error. They dishonour Christianity by permitting young women to ramble about the streets. They have had the audacity to rend the seamless garment of Christ, which the people dared not divide. When their wicked course of life, which had been carefully concealed, became gradually known to us, we unanimously ejected them from the church which recognises the divinity of Christ. They then ran hither and thither to form cabals against us; they even repaired to our fellow-ministers who were of one mind with us, and under the pretence of seeking peace and communion with them, they endeavoured, by means of fair words, to delude some among them into their own error. They ask them to write long verbose letters, and then make known the contents to those whom they have deceived, in order that they may not retract, but be confirmed in error by finding that bishops concur in their sentiments. They are careful not to admit before them, that they teach unholy doctrines, and perpetrate infamous actions amongst us, and that they are for this cause excluded from communion with us. These facts they either pass over in silence, or else disguise by false assertions and deceptive arguments.

“They conceal their pernicious doctrines by means of their plausible and persuasive mode of conversation; they thus deceive the unwary, while they never omit calumniating our religion on all occasions. Hence it arises that several have been led to sign their letters, and to receive them into communion. I consider that the conduct of our fellow-ministers, in acting so rashly, is highly reprehensible; for they thus disobey the apostolical canons, and co-operate in the work of the devil against Christ. It is on this account that I make you acquainted without delay, beloved brethren, with the unbelief of certain persons who say, that there was a time when the Son of God had no existence; and that, not having existed from eternity, he must have had a beginning; and that when he was created, he was made like all other men that have ever been born. God, they say, created all things, and they include the Son of God in the number of creatures, both rational and irrational. To argue consistently, they, as a necessary consequence, affirm, that he is by nature liable to change, and capable both of virtue and of vice. Their hypothesis, of his having been created, contradicts the testimony of the divine scriptures, which declare the immutability, the divinity, and the wisdom of the Word, which Word is Christ. ‘We are also able,’ say these evil-minded individuals, ‘to become like him, the sons of God; for it is written,—I have nourished and brought up children’ (Isai. 1:2). When the continuation of this text is brought before them, which is, ‘and they have rebelled against me,’ and it is objected that these words cannot refer to Christ, whose nature is immutable, they throw aside all reverence, and affirm that God foreknew and foresaw that his Son would not rebel against him, and that he therefore chose him in preference to all others. They likewise assert that he was not elected because he had by nature any qualifications superior to those of the other sons of God; for God, say they, has not any son by nature, nor, indeed, had he any connexion whatever with him; they consider that he was elected because, though mutable by nature, he was vigilant and zealous in avoiding evil. They add that if Paul and Peter had made similar efforts, their filiation would in no respects have differed from his.

“To establish this absurd doctrine they pervert the Scriptures, and bring forward that expression in the Psalms, wherein it is said of Christ, ‘Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity, therefore thy God hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows’ (Ps. 45:7). That the Son of God was not created, and that there never was a time in which he did not exist, is expressly taught by John the Evangelist, who spoke of him as ‘the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father’ (John 1:18). This divine teacher desired to show that the Father and the Son are inseparable; and, therefore, he said, ‘that the Son was in the bosom of the Father.’ But he elsewhere affirms, that the Word of God is not to be classed among created beings; for, he says, that ‘all things were made by him,’ and he also declares his individual existence in the following words: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.… All things were made by him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.’ If, then, all things were made by him, how is it that He who thus bestowed existence on all, could at any period have had no existence himself? The Word who created cannot be of the same nature as the things created. For He was in the beginning, and all things were made by him, and were called by him out of nothing into being: he who is said to have existed before all things, must differ entirely from those things which were called out of nothing into being. This shows, likewise, that there is no separation between the Father and the Son, and that the idea of separation cannot even be conceived by the mind. The fact that the world was created out of nothing, shows that its creation is comparatively recent; for by the Father through the Son did all things which it contains receive their being. John, the pious apostle, perceiving the greatness of the Word of God above all created beings, could find no terms adequate to convey this truth, neither did he presume to apply the same epithet to the Maker as to the creature. The Son of God is not unbegotten, for the Father alone is unbegotten; but the manner in which the Son was begotten of God is inexplicable, and beyond the comprehension of the evangelist, and perhaps of angels. Therefore, I think that those should not be considered pious who presume to investigate this subject in disobedience to the injunction, ‘Seek not what is too difficult for thee, neither enquire into what is too high for thee’ (Ecclus. 3:21). The knowledge of many other things incomparably inferior is beyond the capacity of the human mind, and cannot therefore be attained. It has been said by Paul, ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him’ (1 Cor. 2:9). God also said to Abraham, that ‘the stars could not be numbered by him;’ and it is likewise said, ‘Who shall number the grains of sand by the sea-shore, or the drops of rain?’ (Ecclus. 1:2.) How then can any one, unless indeed his intellect be deranged, presume to enquire into the nature of the Word of God? It is said by the Spirit of prophecy, ‘Who shall declare his generation?’ (Isai. 53:8.) And, therefore, our Saviour in order to benefit those who were as the columns of all the churches established in the world, delivered them from the trouble of striving after this knowledge, by telling them that it was beyond their comprehension, and that the Father alone could discern the divine mystery; ‘No man,’ said he, ‘knoweth the Son but the Father, and no man knoweth the Father save the Son’ (Matt. 11:27).

“It was, I think, concerning this same subject that the Father said, ‘My secret is for me and for mine.’ It is evidently folly to imagine that the Son of God was created, and that he has only a temporary existence, although the senseless multitude who admit this hypothesis are incapable of perceiving its absurdity. For their assertion that he did not exist, must have reference to some determinate point of time, or to some particular period within the lapse of ages. If then it be true that all things were made by him, it is evident that all ages, time, all intervals of time, and all other periods comprehended within these terms, in which he is said not to have existed, were made by him. And is it not absurd to say that He did not at one period exist, who created all time, and ages, and seasons, within which the period in which he did not exist must necessarily be included? For it would be the height of ignorance, and contrary indeed to all reason, to affirm that any created thing whatever can be antecedent to its cause. The space of time during which they say the Son was still unbegotten of the Father was, according to their opinion, prior to the wisdom of God, by whom all things were created. They thus contradict those Scriptures which declare him to be the firstborn of every creature. Conformable to this doctrine is the language of Paul, who has thus written concerning him; ‘whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds’ (Heb. 1:2). ‘For by him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers, all things were created by him and for him, and he is before all things’ (Col. 1:16, 17). Since the hypothesis we have just examined is manifestly impious, it follows, as a necessary consequence, that the Father is always the Father. The Father is the Father because he has a Son; hence it is that he is called a Father. Having a Son, he is perfectly a Father, nothing being wanted to complete the relation. He did not beget his only Son in time, or in any period of time, nor in any thing that had previous existence.

“Is it not impiety to say that the wisdom of God was at one period not in existence? for it is written, ‘I was with Him being joined to Him, I was his delight.’ Has not the power of God always subsisted? Was the Word of God ever separated from God? or, can any thing else be advanced by which the Son can be known, or the Father designated? If the reflection of the light should disappear, it is evident that its disappearance can only arise from the light itself being extinguished; so if there ever was a time in which the image of God did not exist, then God himself could not have existed. The supposition that the likeness of God does not exist, implies that God himself has no existence, for the likeness is the exact reflection of himself. Hence it may be seen, that the Sonship of our Saviour has nothing in common with the sonship of men. For if, as it has been shown, the nature of his existence cannot be expressed by language, and infinitely surpasses in excellence all things to which he has given being, so, his Sonship, being divine, is unspeakably different from the sonship of those whom it has been His will to adopt as children. He is by nature immutable, perfect, and all-sufficient, whereas men are liable to change, and need His help. What further progression can be made by the wisdom of God? What can be added to his truth, or to his word? What augmentation of power can be given to life itself, or to the true light? And is it not still more contrary to nature to suppose that wisdom can be susceptible of folly? that the power of God can be converted into weakness? that reason itself can be rendered void by folly, or that darkness can be mixed with the true light? Does not the Apostle remark on this subject, ‘What communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial?’ (2 Cor. 6:14, 15); and Solomon said, that he could not comprehend ‘the way of a serpent upon a rock’ (Prov. 30:19), which, according to St. Paul, is Christ. Men and angels, who are his creatures, have received his blessing, enabling them to grow in virtue, in obedience to his commands, and in the power of avoiding sin. And it is on this account that our Lord, being by nature the Son of the Father, is worshipped by all. They having been delivered from the spirit of bondage, receive the spirit of adoption by means of progressing in virtue; and, according to the will of Him who is the Son of God by nature, they also become sons. His true and divine sonship is expressly declared by Paul, who, speaking of God, says, that ‘he spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us, who are not by nature his sons’ (Rom. 8:32). It was to distinguish him from those who are not his own, that he called him his own son. It is also written in the Gospel, ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased’ (Matt. 3:17); and in the Psalms it is written that the Saviour said, ‘The Lord said unto me, Thou art my Son’ (Ps. 2:7).

“By showing that He is the true and legitimate Son, it follows that there can be no other such sons besides himself. But what can these words signify, ‘I conceived thee in my bosom before the star of morn,’ unless they are meant to show that he was born according to the course of nature of the Father, not on account of superior natural endowments, or of acquired excellence, but simply according to the operations of nature? Hence it ensues that the filiation of the only begotten Son is immutable; while those who are not his children by nature, but who stand in that relation merely on account of their fitness as to character, and by the bounty of God, may fall away, as it is written in the word, ‘The sons of God saw the daughters of men, and took them as wives,’ and so forth (Gen. 6:2). And God, speaking by Isaiah, said, ‘I have begotten and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me’ (Isa. 1:2). I might add many other things, dear brethren, but I fear that I shall cause weariness by admonishing those who are already well instructed, and who are of one mind with myself. You, having been taught of God, cannot be ignorant that the heresy against the religion of the Church which has just arisen, is the same as that propagated by Ebion and Artemas, and that it resembles that of Paul of Samosata, bishop of Antioch, who was excommunicated by a council of all the bishops [A.D. 265]. Lucius, his successor, remained during three years out of communion with three bishops.

“Those amongst us who have imbibed their impious principles, and who now affirm that the Son did not at one period exist, may be regarded as scions of the same stock: I allude to Arius and Achillas, and to those who follow them. Three bishops in Syria, ordained no one knows how, side with them, and excite them to plunge deeper and deeper into iniquity. I refer their sentence to your decision. They commit to memory all that they can collect concerning the suffering, humiliation, debasement, and sorrows of our Saviour, which he underwent for our salvation: they pervert those passages to disprove his eternal existence and divinity, while they reject all those which declare his glory and union with the Father; as for instance, the following words, ‘My Father and I are one’ (John 10:30). The Lord did not proclaim himself to be the Father, neither did he represent two persons as one; but he intended to show that the Son exactly resembles his Father, and is his true and perfect likeness. When, therefore, Philip, desirous of seeing the Father, said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father,’ he said to him, ‘He that hath seen me hath seen the Father,’ that is to say, hath seen the divine image reflected, as in a pure and living mirror of the divine nature; because, he has seen the Father reflected in the Son. The same idea is conveyed in the Psalms, where the saints exclaim, ‘In thy light we shall see light’ (Ps. 35). It is on this account that he who honoureth the Son, honoureth the Father. Every impious word which men dare to utter against the Son, is spoken also against the Father.

“After this no one can wonder at the false calumnies which, my beloved brethren, they propagate against me, and against our religious people. They not only deny the divinity of Christ, but bring injurious charges against us. They cannot endure to be compared with the ancients, nor with the doctors who instructed us in our youth. They will not admit that any of our fellow-ministers possess even mediocrity of intelligence. They say that they themselves alone are wise and destitute of property; and that they alone are in possession of the true doctrines, which, say they, have never entered the mind of any other individuals under heaven. O what wicked arrogance! O what excessive folly! What false boasting, and melancholy delusion, joined to Satanic pride, retain dominion over their evil minds! They are not ashamed to oppose the perspicuous declaration of ancient and godly books, nor the unanimous decision of all our fellow ministers concerning the worship of Christ, which they have the audacity to oppose. Even devils are not guilty of impiety like this; for even they refrain from speaking blasphemy against the Son of God. These then were the subjects I had to argue, according to the ability I possess, with those uninstructed and ignorant individuals who dishonour Christ, and bring forward calumnies against our religion. These foolish people pretend that we who have rejected their impious and unscriptural blasphemy concerning the creation of Christ, have done so with the design of teaching that there are two unbegotten beings. For these ignorant persons contend that one of these two things must necessarily be true: either that Christ was created, or that there are two unbegotten beings. They are unable to comprehend that there is a vast distance between the Father who is uncreate, and the creatures, whether rational or irrational, which he created; and that the only begotten nature of him who is the Word of God stands, as it were, in the middle between the two, God having by him formed the creatures. The Father begat him; and it was of this that Christ testified when he said, ‘Every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him’ (1 John 5:1).

“We believe, as is taught by the apostolical church, in the only unbegotten Father, who is the Author of his own existence, who is immutable and invariable, and who subsists always in one state of being, which admits neither of progression nor of diminution; who gave the law, and the prophecies, and the gospel; who is the Lord of patriarchs and apostles, and of all saints: and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten, not out of what had no previous existence, but begotten of his Father, yet not after the manner of material bodies, by cutting, dividing, or wrenching, as Sabellius and Valentinus taught. He was begotten in an inexpressible and inexplicable manner, according to the saying which we quoted above, ‘Who shall declare his generation?’ No mortal intellect can comprehend the nature of his existence; just as the Father cannot be known; neither can the manner in which he was begotten of the Father be understood by any one. But those who are led by the Spirit of truth have no need to learn these things of me, for the words long since spoken by the Saviour yet sound upon our ears, ‘No one knoweth the Father but the Son, and no one knoweth the Son but the Father.’ We have learnt that the Son is immutable and unchangeable, all-sufficient and perfect, like the Father, differing only in this one respect, that the Father is unbegotten. He is the exact image of his Father. Every thing is found in the image which exists in its archetype; and it was this that our Lord taught when he said, ‘My Father is greater than I.’ And accordingly we believe that the Son proceeded from the Father; for he is the reflection of the glory of the Father, and the figure of his substance. But let no one be led from this to the supposition that the Son is unbegotten, as is believed by some who are deficient in intellectual power: for to say that he was, that he has always been, and that he existed before all ages, is not to say that he is unbegotten.

“The mind of man could not possibly invent a term expressive of what is meant by being unbegotten. I believe that you are of this opinion; and, indeed, I feel confident that you all take an orthodox view of this subject. For all the terms that have been devised appear to signify merely the production of time, but they are not adequate to express the divinity and, as it were, the priority of the only begotten Son. They were used by the holy men who vainly endeavoured to clear up the mystery, and who pleaded a very reasonable apology for their failure, by informing their audiences that the subject was beyond their powers. If any one should say that knowledge in part is abolished, and that words beyond the comprehension of man can be pronounced by human lips, it might clearly be proved that this expectation is far from being borne out by the following expressions, ‘He who was, and who is, and who was before all ages.’ And this has not the same signification as unbegotten. Therefore is honour due to the Father, as being the Author of his own existence: to the Son likewise must be given the glory which is due to him, he having been begotten of the Father from the beginning; therefore he must be worshipped. In speaking of him it must only be said that he was, and that he is, and that he has been from all ages. Let us not deny his divinity, but ascribe to him a perfect and unerring resemblance to his Father. Let us testify that the Father alone is unbegotten, inasmuch as the Saviour says, ‘My Father is greater than I.’

“Besides entertaining this pious opinion respecting the Father and the Son, we confess, according to the testimony of the Sacred Scriptures, the existence of the Holy Ghost, which truth has been upheld by the saints of the Old Testament, and by the learned divines of the New. We believe in one catholic and apostolical church, which cannot be destroyed even though all the world were to fight against it, and which never fails to defeat all the impious designs of heretics; for it is emboldened by the words of the Spouse, who said, ‘Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33). Besides this, we receive the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead, of which Jesus Christ our Lord became the first-fruits. He possessed a true not a supposititious body, he derived it from Mary the mother of God; for in the fulness of time he assumed the nature of man, for the remission of sins: he was crucified and died, yet his Godhead suffered no diminution. He rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. In this epistle, I have only mentioned these things in a cursory manner. It would, I fear, be wearisome to you who are already so well instructed, if I were to dwell more fully on each topic. These things we teach, these things we preach; they constitute the doctrine of the apostolic church, for which we are ready to die: and little can be effected by those who would compel us by force to renounce them; for we will never relinquish our hope, even though we should be made to suffer tortures. Arius and Achillas, and also all those who join them in opposing the truth, have been expelled from the church, because they reject our pious doctrines: for the blessed Paul said, ‘If any of you preach any other gospel than that which you have received, let him be accursed, even though he should pretend to be an angel from heaven’ (Gal. 1). ‘But if any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing’ (1 Tim. 6:3, 4), and so forth. Since, then, they have been condemned by the brethren, let none of you receive them, nor attend to what they say or write. They are deceivers, and propagate lies, and they never adhere to the truth. They go about to different cities with no other intent than to deliver letters under the pretext of friendship and the name of peace, and by hypocrisy and flattery to obtain other letters in return, in order to deceive a few foolish women, who are laden with sins. I beseech you, beloved brethren, to avoid those who have thus dared to act against Christ, who have publicly vilified the Christian religion, who have brought its professors before judicial tribunals, who have endeavoured to excite a persecution against us at a period of the most entire peace, and who have cast contempt on the unspeakable mystery of the generation of Christ. Unite unanimously in opposition to them, as some of our fellow-ministers have already done, who, being filled with indignation, wrote to me about them, and signed the formulary.

“I have sent you these signatures by my son Apion, the deacon; they are the signatures of the ministers in all Egypt and in Thebes, also of those in Lybia, Pentapolis, Syria, Lycia, Pamphylia, Asia, Cappadocia, and in the other adjoining countries. You likewise must follow this example. Many attempts have been made by me to gain back those who have been led astray, and to discover the means of restoring the people who have been deceived by them; and I have found none more persuasive in leading them to repentance, than the manifestation of the union of our fellow-ministers. Salute one another, my brethren. I pray that you may be blessed by the Lord, my beloved, and that I may receive the fruit of your prayers, and of your love to Christ.

“The following are the names of those who have been excommunicated: among the presbyters, Arius; among the deacons, Achillas, Euzoius, Aithalis, Lucius, Sarmatis, Julius, Menas, another Arius, and Helladius.”

Alexander wrote in the same strain to Philogonius, bishop of Antioch, to Eustathius, who then ruled the church of the Bereans, and to all those who defended the doctrines of the Apostles. But Arius could not quietly acquiesce in this: he therefore wrote to all those whom he thought were of his sentiments. In his letter to Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, Arius confesses that the holy Alexander wrote nothing that was false. I shall here insert his letter, in order that the names of those who were implicated in his impiety may become generally known.

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