Second Letter of Cyril to Succensus
Another memorandum written in reply to our questions by the same, to the same Succensus.
1. Truth makes herself plain to those who love her, but hides, I think, and tries to escape the notice of complicated minds, for they show that they are not worthy to look on her with radiant eyes. And those who love the blameless faith seek the Lord, as it is written, ‘in simplicity of heart’ (WS.1.1), but those who walk down twisting alleys and have a ‘crooked heart’ as it is said in the psalms (Ps. 100.4) gather for themselves complicated pretexts for their distorted thoughts in order to pervert the straight ways of the Lord and seduce the souls of the simpler folk into believing they ought to hold what is not right. I say this after having read your Holiness’ memorandum and having found in it certain unsound propositions which were advanced by those with an unaccountable love for the perversity of so-called knowledge (cf. 1 Tim.6.20). They were as follows:
2. ‘If Emmanuel was composed from two natures’, they say, ‘and after the union one conceives of only one incarnate nature of the Word, then it necessarily follows that we must admit he suffered in his own nature.’ The blessed Fathers who defined for us the venerable creed of the orthodox faith said that it was the Word of God himself, the Only begotten from God’s own essence, through whom are all things, who became incarnate and was made man. Evidently we would not say that these holy ones were unaware of the fact that the body that was united to the Word was animated by a rational soul, and so, if anyone says that the Word was made flesh he is not thereby confessing that the flesh united to him was devoid of a rational soul.
It was this, I think, (no, I’m quite sure of it) that the all-wise evangelist John meant when he said that the Word became flesh (Jn.1.14), not as if he were united to a soulless flesh, God forbid, and not as if he underwent any change or alteration, for he remained what he was, that is God by nature. He took it on himself to become man and was made like us in the flesh, from out of a woman, and yet he remained a single Son, though indeed no longer without the flesh as he was of old before the time of his incarnation, but now clothed as it were in our nature. And even though the flesh endowed with a rational soul was not consubstantial with the Word born from God the Father, with whom it was united (for we can mentally envisage the difference of natures in the things united), nonetheless we confess One Son and Christ and Lord, since the Word has become flesh. When we say ‘flesh5, therefore, we mean ‘man5. If we confess that after the union there is one enfleshed nature of the Son how does that imply by necessity that he suffered in his own nature? Certainly, if there was nothing in the system of the economy that was capable of suffering, they would have been right to conclude that since there was nothing there that was passible then the suffering must of necessity have fallen upon the nature of the Word. On the other hand, if the word ‘incarnate5 implies the whole system of the economy with flesh [for he was made flesh precisely by taking descent from Abraham and being made like his brethren in all things (Heb.2.16) and assuming the form of a slave (Phil. 2.7)] then in that case those who argue that it is an absolutely necessary implication of his assumption of flesh that he has to undergo suffering in his own nature are talking utter nonsense. It is the flesh which has to be seen as undergoing suffering while the Word remains impassible. Nonetheless we do not rule out the legitimacy of saying that he suffered, for just as the body became his very own, just so can all the characteristics of the body be attributed to him, with the sole exception of sin, in terms of the economy by which he made them his own.
3. They also said the following: ‘If there is one incarnate nature of the Word then it absolutely follows that there must have been a mixture and confusion, with the human nature in him being diminished or ‘stolen away’ as it were.5 Once again those who twist the truth are unaware that in fact there is but one incarnate nature of the Word. The Word was ineffably bom from God the Father and then came forth as man from a woman after having assumed flesh, not soulless but rationally animated flesh; and if it is the case that he is in nature and in truth one single Son, then he cannot be divided into two personas or two sons, but has remained one, though he is no longer fleshless or outside the body but now possesses his very own body in an indissoluble union. How could saying this possibly imply that there was any consequent necessity of mixture or confusion or anything else like this? For if we say that the Only Begotten Son of God, who was incarnate and became man, is One, then this does not mean as they would suppose that he has been ‘mixed’ or that the nature of the Word has been transformed into the nature of flesh, or that of the flesh into the Word’s. No, each nature is understood to remain in all its natural characteristics for the reasons we have just given, though they are ineffably and inexpressibly united, and this is how he demonstrated to us the one nature of the Son; though of course, as I have said, it is the ‘incarnate nature’ I mean. The term ‘one’ can be properly applied not just to those things which are naturally simple, but also to things which are compounded in a synthesis. Such is the case with a human being who comprises soul and body. These are quite different things and they are not consubstantial with each other, yet when they are united they constitute the single nature of man, even though the difference in nature of the things that are brought into unity is still present within the system of the composition. So, those who say that if there is one incarnate nature of God the Word, then it necessarily follows that there must have been a mixture or confusion with the human nature being diminished or ‘stolen away’, are talking rubbish. It has neither been reduced nor stolen away, as they say. To say that he is incarnate is sufficient for a perfectly clear indication of the fact that he became man. And if we had kept silent on this point there might have been some ground for their calumny, but since we add of necessity the fact that he has been incarnated then how can there be any form of ‘diminution’ or ‘stealing away’?
4. They have also said: ‘If the same one is understood to be perfect God and perfect man, and consubstantial with the Father in the deity, and consubstantial with us in the manhood, then how can there be a perfection if the nature of man no longer endures? and how can there be consubstantiality with us if our essence, that is our nature, no longer subsists?’ The explanation or response contained in the preceding section adequately answers these points. For if we had said that there was one nature of the Word and had kept silent and not added that it was ‘incarnate’, as if we were excluding the economy, they might perhaps have had a point when they pretended to ask where was the perfection in the humanity or how did our human essence endure. But since both the perfection in the humanity and the assertion of our human essence is implied by the word ‘incarnate’ then let them stop leaning on this broken staff (Is.36.6). For if anyone took away from the Son his perfect humanity he could rightly be accused of throwing the economy overboard, and of denying the incarnation. But if, as I have said, when we say that he was incarnated this is a clear and unambiguous confession of the fact that he became man, then there is nothing at all to prevent us from thinking that the same Christ, the One and Only Son, is both God and man, as perfect in humanity as he is in deity. Your Perfection expounds the rationale of the salvific Passion most correctly and very learnedly when you assert that the Only Begotten Son of God, in so far as he is understood to be, and actually is, God, did not himself suffer [bodily things] in his own nature, but suffered rather in his earthly nature.
Both points must be maintained in relation to the one true Son: that he did not suffer as God, and that he did suffer as man, since his flesh suffered. However, these people think that here we are introducing what they call ‘Theopaschitism5. They do not understand the economy and make wicked attempts to displace the sufferings to the man on his own, foolishly seeking a piety that does them harm. They try to avoid confessing that the Word of God is the Saviour who gave his own blood for us, and say instead that it was the man Jesus understood as separate and distinct who can be said to have achieved this. To think like this shakes the whole rationale of the fleshly economy, and quite clearly turns our divine mystery into a matter of man-worshipping. They do not understand that blessed Paul said that he who is of the Jews according to the flesh, that is of the line of Jesse and David, is also the Christ, the Lord of Glory (1 Cor.2.8), and is ‘God ever blessed and over all5 (Rom.9.5). In this way Paul declared that it was the very own body of the Word which was fixed to the cross, and therefore he attributed the crucifixion to him.
5. I understand that another query has been raised in regard to these matters, as follows: ‘So, anyone who says that the Lord suffered only at the level of the flesh, makes that suffering mindless and involuntary. But if anyone says that he suffered with a rational soul, so that the suffering might be voluntary, then there is nothing to prevent one from saying that he suffered in the nature of the manhood, and if this is the case then how can we deny that the two natures endured after the union? So, even if one says: ‘Christ, therefore, having suffered for us in the flesh’ (1 Pet.4.1), this is no different from saying: ‘Christ having suffered for us in our nature’.
This objection is yet another attack on those who say that there is one incarnate nature of the Son. They want to show that the idea is foolish and so they keep on arguing at every turn that two natures endured. They have forgotten, however, that it is only those things that are usually distinguished at more than a merely theoretical level which split apart from one another in differentiated separateness and radical distinction. Let us once more take the example of an ordinary man. We recognise two natures in him; for there is one nature of the soul and another of the body, but we divide them only at a theoretical level, and by subtle speculation, or rather we accept the distinction only in our mental intuitions, and we do not set the natures apart nor do we grant that they have a radical separateness, but we understand them to belong to one man. This is why the two are no longer two, but through both of them the one living creature is rendered complete. And so, even if one attributes the nature of manhood and Godhead to the Emmanuel, still the manhood has become the personal property of the Word and we understand there is One Son together with it. The God-inspired scripture tells us that he suffered in the flesh (1 Pet. 4.1) and it would be better for us to speak this way rather than [say he suffered] in the nature of the manhood, even though such a statement (unless it is said uncompromisingly by certain people) does not damage the sense of the mystery. For what else is the nature of manhood except the flesh with a rational soul? We maintain, therefore, that the Lord suffered in the flesh. And so they are simply splitting hairs when they talk about him suffering in the nature of the manhood, which serves only to separate it from the Word and set it apart on its own so that one is led to think of him as two and no longer the one Word of God the Father now incarnated and made man. To add the qualification ‘inseparably’ seems to indicate that they share the orthodox opinion along with us, but this is not how they really think, for they understand the word ‘inseparable’ in the same empty sense as Nestorius. They say that the man in whom the Word took his dwelling was inseparable from him in terms of equality of honour, identity of will, and authority, all of which means that they do not use the words straightforwardly but with a certain amount of trickery and deceit.
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) 359-363