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Statement of the Orthodox Church of Antioch on the Relations between the Eastern and Syrian Orthodox Churches
Statement of the Orthodox Church of Antioch on the Relations between the Eastern and Syrian Orthodox Churches
November 12, 1991
“When I had given much thought and pondered on the matter, I became convinced that these quarrels among the different Christian Churches are not a matter of factual substance, but of words and terminology; for they all confess Christ our Lord to be perfect God and perfect human, without any commingling, mixing, or confusion of the natures… Thus I saw all the Christian communities, with their different christological positions, as possessing a single common ground that is without any difference between them.”
Maphryono (Catholicos) Mor Gregorius Bar ‘Ebroyo (Book of the Dove, Chapter IV) (1226 – 1286)
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
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
I am fully aware, having been educated in the Faith, respecting Him (Christ) that He was born of the Father, as God, and that the Same was born of Mary, as Man. Men saw Him as Man walking on the Earth and they saw Him, the Creator of the Heavenly Hosts, as God. They saw Him sleeping in the ship, as Man, and they saw Him walking upon the waters, as God. They saw Him hungry, as Man, and they saw Him feeding (others), as God. They saw Him thirsty, as Man, and they saw Him giving drink, as God. They saw Him stoned by the Jews, as Man, and they saw Him worshipped by the Angels, as God. They saw Him tempted, as Man, and they saw Him drive away the Devils, as God. And similarly of many (other) things. But in order not to make much din (trouble) in writing, I will leave the matter for the purpose of collecting testimonies of everyone of the heads together; and I mean to collect them, by the help of God, when a convenient opportunity bids me to it.
But we leave the absurdity of those who hold opposite notions, and we confess One and the Same to be the Redeemer the Lord and God, although we see Him to have become by Economy Man. Hold to the Confession, therefore, of the fathers and do not listen to the soul destroying words of Heretics, nor hold intercourse with those who divide into Two Him Who is One; for, One is our Redeemer, as I said, although out of compassion for us He became Man.
Sufficiently indeed, as I consider, to the great confusion of Heretics, the Teachings of Holy Bishops and Orthodox Archbishops have proved the fatuity of the Affirmations of Heretics and shewn at the same time that it is an Impiety to speak of Two Natures in God The Word Incarnate; for, they have excommunicated those who hold this Doctrine, and they have banished from The Hope of Christians those who do not confess God The Word to be Consubstantial with the Father, because He became Consubstantial with Man, taking Flesh, although He remained unchangeably what He was before; as they had done (excommunicated and banished) with the rest of the Heretics.
But to persuade more and more those who build their foundation upon the Immoveable Rock of the Orthodox Faith and to confute more and more the Heresies mentioned above, I adduce testimonies from the Divine New Testament written under the Spirit, along with the Expositions of the Holy Fathers, by whose aid it is possible manifestly to condemn the Heresies alluded to above and to hold to the Immoveable and Blessings bringing Orthodox Faith Which was transmitted by the Holy Apostles and by our Blessed and Learned Father. Perhaps, they who have fallen from and denied the Lord will hear and will repent, as said the Prophet, and turn to the Lord with confession and abound in tears of Repentance, in order that they may be healed ; for, God does continually take care of, and gives His hand to, those driven from him far off, calling them to Him.
And after testimonies from the Scriptures. These things, then, refer to those who will not repent and turn to The Lord, whom The Lord Jesus Christ bought with His Own blood. For, He is Very God and the Eternal Life of the World, as says John; for, One is The Lord Jesus Christ, for ever and ever. Amen.
Perry, S. G. F.. The second synod of Ephesus, together with certain extracts relating to it, from Syriac mss. preserved in the British museum, and now first ed. by S.G.F. Perry; English version.. Dartford, Kent: Printed at the Orient Press, 1881. Print.