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First Letter of Cyril to Succensus

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First Letter of Cyril to Succensus

Memorandum of the most holy and God-beloved archbishop Cyril to the most blessed Succensus bishop of Diocaesarea in the Eparchy of Isauria.

1. I read the memorandum sent by your Holiness and was most delighted that even though you are quite capable of bringing advantage both to us and to others from your own considerable learning, you saw fit to ask us to set down in writing what is in our mind, what we stand by. Well, we think the same things about the economy of our Saviour as the holy Fathers did before us. We regulate our own minds by reading their works so as to follow in their footsteps and introduce nothing that is new into the orthodox teachings.

2. Since your Perfection enquires whether or not one ought to admit that there are two natures in Christ I thought it necessary to address this point. A certain Diodore, who had previously been a Pneumatomachian, so they say, came into communion with the orthodox church. Having shook off, as he supposed, the contagion of Macedonianism, he went down straight away with another sickness. He thought and wrote that he who was born of the line of David from the holy virgin was one distinct son, and the Word of God the Father was again another and quite distinct son. Disguising the wolf in sheep’s clothing (Mt.7.15) he pretended to say that Christ was one but he referred the tide only to the Word and Only Begotten Son born of God the Father. Even then he attributed the tide also to the one who was of the line of David, although, on his own admission, this attribution was only ‘in the order of a grace’. Diodore called him a son on these terms, that is in so far as he is united to the True Son. But here he is united not in the way that we think of it, but only in terms of dignity and authority and equality of honour.

3. Nestorius became this man’s pupil and being rendered dim by his books he also pretends to confess one Christ and Son and Lord, though he too has divided the One and Indivisible into two. He says that a man has been conjoined to God the Word by a shared name, by equality of honour, and by dignity. He even makes distinctions in the sayings in the evangelic and apostolic preachings which refer to Christ, and he says that some must be referred to the man (evidently the human ones) while others are only applicable to God the Word (clearly the divine ones). He makes a multitude of distinctions and sets on one side, quite separately, a man born from the holy virgin, and likewise sets apart on the other side the Son of God the Father, the Word, and for this reason he concludes that the holy virgin is not the Mother of God, merely the mother of the man.

4. We maintain, however, that this cannot be the case. We have learned from the divine scriptures and the holy Fathers to confess One Son, and Christ, and Lord. This is the Word of God the Father born from him in an ineffable and divine manner before the ages, and the same one is born from the holy virgin according to the flesh, for our sake, in the last times of this age. Since she gave birth to God made flesh and made man, for this reason we also call her the Mother of God. There is, therefore, One Son, One Lord Jesus Christ, both before the incarnation and after the incarnation. The Word of God the Father is not one distinct son, with the one born of the holy virgin being another and different son. No, it is our faith that the very one who was before the ages is the one who was born from a woman according to the flesh; not as if his Godhead took the beginnings of its existence or was called into being for the first time through the holy virgin, but rather, as I have said, that the eternal Word is said to have been born from her according to the flesh. For his flesh was his very own in just the same way as each one of us has his own body.

5. But since certain people are trying to implicate us with the opinions of Apollinaris, saying: ‘If you maintain that the Word of God the Father incarnated and made man is One Son in a strict and compact union, perhaps you imagine or have come to think that some mixture or blending or confusion occurred between the Word and the body, even a transformation of the body into the nature of Godhead? We are fully aware of such implications and we refute such a slander when we say that the Word of God, in an incomprehensible manner, beyond description, united to himself a body animated with a rational soul, and came forth as man from a woman, not becoming what we are by any transformation of nature but rather by a gracious economy. For he wished to become man without casting off his natural being as God, and even when he descended into our limitations, and put on the form of the slave, even so he remained in the transcendent condition of the Godhead and in his natural state as Lord.

6. And so, we unite the Word of God the Father to the holy flesh endowed with a rational soul, in an ineffable way that transcends understanding, without confusion, without change, and without alteration, and we thereby confess One Son, and Christ, and Lord; the same one God and man, not someone alongside someone different, but one and the same who is and is known to be both things. For this reason he sometimes speaks economically as man, in human fashion; and at other times, as God, he makes statements with divine authority. It is our contention that if we carefully examine the manner of the economy in the flesh and attentively investigate the mystery, we shall see that the Word of God the Father was made man and made flesh but did not fashion that sacred body from his own divine nature, but rather took it from the virgin. How else could he become man except by putting on the human body? As I have said, if we understand the manner of the incarnation we shall see that two natures come together with one another, without confusion or change, in an indivisible union. The flesh is flesh and not Godhead, even though it became the flesh of God; and similarly the Word is God and not flesh even if he made the flesh his very own in the economy. Given that we understand this, we do no harm to that concurrence into union when we say that it took place out of6 two natures. After the union has occurred, however, we do not divide the natures from one another, nor do we sever the one and indivisible into two sons, but we say that there is One Son, and as the holy Fathers have stated: One Incarnate Nature of The Word.

7. As to the manner of the incarnation of the Only Begotten, then theoretically speaking (but only in so far as it appears to the eyes of the soul) we would admit that there are two united natures but only One Christ and Son and Lord, the Word of God made man and made flesh. If you like we can take as our example that very composition which makes us men. For we are composed of body and soul and we perceive two natures; there is one nature of the body, and a different nature of the soul, and yet one man from both of them in terms of the union. This composition from two natures does not turn the one man into two, but as I have said there is one man by the composition of body and soul. If we deny that there is one single Christ from two different natures, being indivisible after the union, then the enemies of orthodoxy will ask: ‘If the entirety amounts to one nature then how was he incarnated or what kind of flesh did he make his own?’

8. But I found in your memorandum a certain suggestion of the idea that after the resurrection the holy body of Christ the Saviour of us all was changed into the nature of Godhead so that the whole is henceforth only Godhead, and so I thought it necessary to address this point as well. The blessed Paul explains for us the reasons of the incarnation of the Only Begotten Son of God when he writes: ‘In so far as the law was powerless, since it was weakened by the flesh, God sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin. He condemned sin in the flesh in order that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who no longer walk according to the flesh, but according to the spirit’ (.Rom.8.3-4). And again: ‘Since the children have a fellowship of flesh and blood, he too shared in flesh and blood so that by death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and might liberate all those who throughout their lives were held in bondage by the fear of death. He did not take to himself descent from angels but from the line of Abraham, which is why it was necessary for him to be made likehis brethren in all things’ (Heb.2.14-17).

9. We maintain, therefore, that since human nature was suffering corruption because of Adam5s transgression, and since our intellect was being tyrannised by the pleasures or rather the innate impulses of the flesh, then it was necessary that the Word of God should be incarnated for the salvation of us who are on this earth. This was so he could make his own that human flesh which was subject to corruption and sick with its desires, and destroy corruption within it since he is Life and Life-giver, bringing its innate sensual impulses to order. This was how the sin that lay within it was to be put to death, for we remember how the blessed Paul called our innate impulses the law of sin (Rom.7.23). From the time that human flesh became the personal flesh of the Word it has ceased to be subject to corruption, and since he who dwelt within it, and revealed it as his very own, knew no sin being God, as I have already said, it has also ceased to be sick with its desires. The Only Begotten Word of God did not bring this about for his own benefit, for he is ever what he is, but evidently he did it for ours. And if we were subject to the evils following from Adam’s transgression then Christ’s benefit also must come to us, that is incorruption and the putting to death of sin. This is why he became man. He did not assume a man as Nestorius thinks. The scripture says that he was wearied from the journey, experienced sleepiness, anxiety, pain, and all the blameless human passions (cf. Jn.4.6; M l8.24; Mt.26.38 et passim) for this very reason that we might believe that he did become man, even though he remained what he was, that is God by nature. On the other hand, to assure those who saw him that he was truly God as well as being man, he worked divine signs, rebuking the sea (Mt.8.26), raising the dead (Jn. 11.43), and performing other wonderful works. He even endured the cross so that by suffering death in the flesh (though not in the nature of the Godhead) he might become the first-born from the dead (Col.1.18). He opened up the way for human nature to incorruption and despoiled Hell, taking pity on the souls who were imprisoned there.

10. Even after the resurrection the same body which had suffered continued to exist, although it no longer contained any human weakness. We maintain that it was no longer susceptible to hunger or weariness or anything like this, but was thereafter incorruptible, and not only that but life-giving as well since it is the body of Life, that is the body of the Only Begotten. Now it is radiant with divine glory and is seen to be the body of God. So, even if someone should call it ‘divine’ just as one might call a man’s body ‘human’, such a fitting thought would not be mistaken. In my opinion this is what the most-wise Paul said: ‘Even if we have known Christ according to the flesh, nonetheless we know him so no longer’ (2 Cor.5.16). As I have said, because it was God’s own body it transcended all human things, yet the earthly body itself did not undergo a transformation into the nature of Godhead, for this is impossible, otherwise we would be accusing the Godhead of being created and of receiving into itself something which was not part of its own nature. It would be just as foolish an idea to talk of the body being transformed into the nature of Godhead as it would to say the Word was transformed into the nature of flesh. For just as the latter is impossible (for he is unchangeable and unalterable) so too is the former. It is not possible that any creature could be converted into the essence or nature of Godhead, and the flesh is a created thing. We maintain, therefore, that Christ’s body is divine in so far as it is the body of God, adorned with unspeakable glory, incorruptible, holy, and life-giving; but none of the holy Fathers has ever thought or said that it was transformed into the nature of Godhead, and we have no intention of doing so either.

11. Your Holiness ought to be aware of this fact too, that our father Athanasius of blessed memory, formerly the bishop of Alexandria, wrote a letter to Epictetus the bishop of Corinth when certain people raised these issues in his time, and this is full of all orthodoxy. But because Nestorius was refuted by it, and because the defenders of the orthodox faith read it, and were able to discredit those who wanted to share Nestorius’ opinions, then his party could not endure its charges against them and so they did an evil deed, something worthy of their profane heresy, they corrupted the letter and published it with omissions and interpolations to make it seem that the famous man shared the opinions of Nestorius and his party. This was why it was necessary to take a transcript from the copies we have here, and send it on to your Reverence in case certain people there show you a corrupted version. The most holy and reverend bishop Paul of Emesa raised this matter when he came to Alexandria, and we found that his copy of the letter had been corrupted and falsified by the heretics, and so he asked for a transcript from copies we have here to be sent off to the Antiochenes. And indeed we did send one.

12. In complete accord with the orthodox doctrine of the holy Fathers we have composed a book against the teachings of Nestorius and another against certain people who have criticised the meaning of the Chapters. I have also sent on these texts to your Reverence so that if there are any other of our brethren who share our faith and are of the same mind as us but are carried away by the vain babblings of certain people, and begin to think that we have changed our mind on what we have said against Nestorius, they can be proven wrong by reading them, and can learn that we brought him to order quite rightly and properly as one who was in error. They can see that even now we are just as actively engaged in fighting his blasphemies on every side. Your Holiness, whose mental powers are even greater, will be able to help us by writing and by prayer.
From Fr John A. McGuckin’s “St. Cyril of Alexandria. The Christological Controversy: Its History, Theology, and Texts” (New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press: 2004) 352-358

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