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A.A.Vaschalde, Three Letters of Philoxenus (1902). pp. 105-118. First Letter to the Monks of Beth-Gaugal.


||146| The Letter of St. Mar Aksenaya, to the pure Monks of Beth-Gaugal.

Christ has, in these days, manifested the light of Redemption to the faithful people. Behold, joyful news and good tidings are proclaimed to-day in the midst of the churches, because error has been deserted by all its votaries, and truth has been exalted by all its heralds. This news, which is full of joy, together with the reports and tidings of life, I too wish to confirm and make known to Your Holinesses through this humble letter of mine. Though of little worth in itself, the joyful news it contains will render it dear in your eyes. Owing to my ignorance, I cannot speak anything worthy to be uttered in your assemblies; therefore, I shall lean my discourse |106 upon other helps, that it may find outside of itself the dignity which it has not by nature. For when an humble man speaks before princes, their great kindness will manifest itself in his regard.

Well you, Fathers, you are princes, and this title you have earned it justly by your works; for, where are not your labors spoken of? Where has not ||147| the fame of your holy monastery spread? Who has not admired, who has not wondered at the cruel persecutions (which) you (have suffered)? The (very) mention of your rule causes the lax to fear, for the weak are wont to be afraid when they hear of your courageous works. But as these tremble at the mention of your fervor, so also the strong take heart, and try to imitate the zeal (which you display in) your works. Your conduct is to the indifferent what salt is to food, a condiment. And as light dispels darkness, so also the fame of your fervor drives away all weakness. It is not vain glory which upholds your labors, but the love of God; and therefore you do not practise virtue in appearance, but in the truth of a pure understanding, It is not indeed only the figure of justice which you have put on, but the truth of justice is fixed in your thoughts. To-day, you form an illustrious remnant among all the disciples, and you have preserved, so to speak, your rule of life without change; for laxity, which in every way has injured many, has not inserted its teeth into the sound body of your works; and dejection of mind, which is wont to spoil the labor of others, has not prevailed against your treasures. Neither the fear of men nor the flattery of the great has ruled over you. You have not bartered the truth for earthly presents, and you have not ceased ||148| from your zeal for the faith for the sake of temporal gifts, and your monastery is not addicted to begging like those which subsist in that way. You have not sold Christ for sheaves of barley and loaves of bread like those who sell Him for such prices.

It is written that Judas sold Him for thirty (pieces) of silver; but those disciples in name (only) sell Him every day |107 for things more contemptible and abominable than that. Those who act thus serve their belly and not God; in them is fulfilled that which was written by Paul (1), «Their god is their belly, and their glory their shame». And again he says, «Their mind is wholly upon the earth»; because they were born for the earth and not for heaven, their eyes are fixed altogether on the things of the earth.

Now the disciple who knows Christ and delights in Him cannot fail to experience sorrow when he hears a blasphemy against Him. For as our body naturally suffers when a wound is inflicted upon it by iron, or a stone, or anything else, so also does the soul of the true disciple suffer when witnessing a blow and an insult against Christ. Is there a greater insult ||149| than that which the new Jews (2) of our day utter, blaspheming Christ face to face, subtracting from the honor (due to) Him, reviling His glory, and saying to Him, «Thou art a man, and Thou makest Thyself God?» (3). They try to show that His glory is not His own; that He received everything from the favor of another; that He is not God by His own nature, but was made God recently. For these devils (the heretics), without being ashamed, speak of Christ as one speaks of idols, because they are idols who are turned into gods when they are not such. It is not so, however, with Christ, O godless man, but by nature He is God. If then He became what He was not, as it is written of Him, it is not that from man He became God, but from God He became man and remained as He is, God.

A body did not take Him, but He took (a body). For He did not receive any glory from the body that He took, but by His embodiment He gave glory to our miserable nature. He did not come to a creature to be made God, but to be known |108 as God. His appearance amongst us was not from nothing into something, but it shows truly that He is something which does not change. For He was born of the Virgin corporally, and not in so far as He is God. But because He became man of the Virgin, in this He had a beginning; for in so far as He is, ||150| not even from the Father has He a beginning. Because He became man, we are not ashamed to say that He had a beginning from the Virgin; for He Who, as God, is without beginning, became, as man, subject to a beginning; and He Who, as God, is spiritual, infinite, and with the Father, became, as man, a, body, and finite in the Virgin. He Who, as God, designs, fashions, shapes, joins, and creates the fetus in the womb, the Same, as man, was formed and shaped, and became a child in person. He Who, as God, nourishes every thing, waters it, and gives it the increase, Who supports, holds, and preserves all things, the Same, as man, was carried and grew, was held in arms, sucked milk, and received increase in His person. He Who as God experiences neither hunger, nor fatigue, nor sleep, nor ignorance, the Same as man was hungry and thirsty, ate and drank, was sleepy and slept, and asked questions to learn. He Who, as God, is above suffering and insult, Whose nature is not subject to death, the Same, as man, suffered, was insulted, slapped in the face, scourged, and really tried by death; and He Who is always one without change because He is God, rose from the grave on the third day because He became man. When He lay and reclined dead in School, He was preparing the resurrection for all, ||151| was ruling the hosts of heaven and all creatures by His nod, creating bodies and putting the limbs together and breathing in the souls, and governing the worlds and all creatures, as God Who is everywhere.

It is a mystery we propound here, and we are not writing about things mine or thine. For Christ is believed to be God and man, not in the sense that we believe that He Who took a body is one, and the body that He took another |109 but in order to signify by the word «God» that He was begotten by the Father, and by the word u man» that He was embodied of the Virgin. For we do not despise His humanity, and we do not deny His divinity, and we do not divide Him into two. Who is one even after He was embodied. For upon the throne, He is God and near God, and in the womb, man and with men. In the Father He is living like the Father, Son and Substance; with the dead, He was dead like them and man like them. The Spiritual One did not die in so far as He is Spiritual, and God did not suffer in so far as He is God. He has no beginning, to the extent that He is without a beginning in His generation from the Father (?). He suffered, therefore, because He took a body, and He died because He became a brother of mortals. He had a beginning in the womb, because He was born like ourselves. We confess without blushing that God became man, that the Impassible One became subject to suffering, and the Living One tasted death. The Living One then tasted death in order ||152| to vivify (our) mortal nature. God became man, that men might become the sons of God. For I do not deny that He vivified me, and I do not attribute to another the redemption which He wrought for me. If the death and the suffering were of another, the redemption and life which were merited for me would be of man, not of God. It is not another, therefore, who vivified me by one who died, but the very One Who died, vivified me by His own death. And if it is written «God was reconciled by Christ with the world» (4), it is not that God the Word (was reconciled) by a man, as the wicked (heretics) interpret, but that God the Father (was reconciled) by His Beloved Son, as this Apostle again said, «God was reconciled with us by the death of His Son» (5). He also said: «He (God) did not spare His |110 Son, but delivered Him up for us all» (6). Therefore, he who doss not confess that God died, does not believe that the Son of God died, but opposes the teaching of Paul. For, when the Holy Books say that the Son, or Christ, or the Only Begotten died, it means that God died; and the words, «In the beginning was the Word» (7), are known to refer to the Son of God, for the Son is not different from the Word.

Of this very Son the Apostle said, «God was reconciled by His death». Therefore he who is scandalized at the mention of death, does not believe that the Son of God is God.

He who distinguishes Christ into two, does not worship the Trinity.

||153| He who says that Christ is a man, is a partner of the heathens and the Jews.

He who attributes glory to the one and humiliation to another, openly confesses two sons and makes void the redemption which came to our nature.

He who says that the person of a man who was not God was made God, sets up an idol, forms an image, and makes a new god.

He who does not confess that God emptied Himself, and took the likeness of a servant, as Paul teaches (8), does not know that Christ is the equal of God (9).

He who does not believe that the Only Son of God was given for the redemption of the world in the love of the Father, does not understand the love of God for the world.

He who does not hold for certain that He Who was crucified was one of the Trinity, has not received the freedom and joy of baptism, and has not as yet been redeemed from the sentence of death and from the original curse. |111 

Whosoever is ashamed to declare that Christ is God, him shall Christ put also to shame before God and before His holy angels.

The disciple who does not confess that the Impassible One suffered, and the Immortal One died for us, is a heathen, not a disciple.

He who does not confess that Jesus is Lord from eternity, has not the odor of Christ.

||154| He who says that Jesus was made Lord and Christ by another, as if He was not so (by nature), but became so recently, brings God into contempt.

He who attributes number (10) to the one Christ, and counts in Him two persons or distinguishes two sons, such a one is not a member of Christ, and has not been numbered among the host of the chosen ones of God.

He who does not confess that He, Whom John called «the Word», is the very Same of Whom Matthew wrote, «Son of David and Son of Abraham» (11), such a one has not been written in (the book) of the adoption of the Heavenly Father.

He who says that He of Whom it is written, «He was in the beginning, and He was with God, and He was God» (12), is not the Power of the Most High, (the Power of Whom) the Angel said to the Virgin, «Thou shalt conceive in the womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call His name Jesus» (13), such a one is anathematized by the word of Jesus.

He who says that John wrote of one, and Matthew, Mark, and Luke, of another, such a one is a stranger to the Gospel of the Apostles and to the preaching of the Prophets.

He who says that the name of Christ signifies two natures distinct and separate the one from the other, and not one nature |112 (keyänä), and one prosopon (parsopä), and one person (qenoma), who was embodied and became man of the Virgin, such a one denies the faith and is worse than those who do not believe.

He who says that there are in Christ one and another, God Creator and a man created as one of us, and does not confess ||155| that the Same One is the likeness of God as Creator, and the likeness of a servant as being in the body, such a one is as yet a servant of sin, and has not received the freedom of Christ.

He who says that, in the one person of Christ, there are the Giver and the Deceiver, one giving mercy and the other receiving mercy, and does not confess that He is altogether the Giver and the Distributor of good things to others, is filled with the malice of the devil.

He who says that the half of Christ is the Redeemer, and the other half is redeemed, and does not confess that He is wholly Redeemer, on account of which He was called Jesus, which is interpreted Saviour (14), this one is cut off from the redemption which Christ wrought by His Cross.

He who does not confess that He, Who is perfect God and the consubstantial Son of the Father, is also perfect man from the human nature, shall not be counted among men (for whom He became man).

He who imagines that there was only a mere adhesion (of a body) to the person of Christ, and not a real embodiment in the acknowledgment of one person, such a one has no relationship with Christ.

He who says that the infinite God dwelt in a finite man as He dwelt in the Prophets and in the just, and does not confess that He Who, as God, is infinite, is the Same Who became finite by becoming man, (such a one) has not as yet passed from a corrupt error into the fold of the knowledge of Christ. |113 

He who does not confess that the Athlete, who fought for our nature ||156| in the desert against the Adversary, is the natural Son of the Father Who, in so far as He became man, waged war against the Adversary, but thinks that God raised up another Athlete from our nature to triumph for Himself and for us, such a one is a stranger to the victory of Christ.

He who says that Christ was justified by His works, and became the equal of the Most High by the practice of His virtues, and that He is not exalted and is not God by His nature, such a one is without any virtue and is filled with the malice of the devil.

He who says that He Who raised the dead is one, and He Who was tried by death, another, the death of such (a man) has not yet ceased.

He who does not believe that He Who, as man, was apprehended by the Jews and led to the death of the Cross, is the Same Who, as God, in the power of His divinity caused creatures to tremble, shall experience the wandering of Cain all the days of his life.

He who says that He Who cast out Legion (15) from the man (in the Gospel) is one, and He Who was comforted by the Angel at the time of His passion (16), another, in such a one dwells Legion whom Jesus drove out.

He who does not confess that glory and humiliation are of one Son, Who is one person and one nature who was embodied, such a one is an embodied devil.

He who says that there are this and that (person or nature) in the one Christ, has not as yet put off the «old man».

He who does not confess that He Who said, «My Father worketh until now, and ||157| I work» (17), is the Same of Whom Peter |114 wrote, «He hath been exalted by the right hand of God and hath received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost» (1), in such a one the evil spirit dwells.

He who says that the body of our Lord came down from heaven, has not been redeemed with the sons of men.

He who says that the aspect of Christ was a false appearance, and not a real embodiment from the nature of the Virgin, is a disciple of Mani and Marcion.

He who says that God refused to take a body of our nature as being defiled, and confesses that a body was formed for Him from another place, shall be cut off from the life which the corporeity of God has prepared for us.

He who does not confess that the Word became the seed of David and Abraham in the flesh, and took a body really and without change from the Virgin who brought Him forth, has not as yet changed from the old error.

He who does not anathematize Nestorius with his whole soul and Eutyches with his whole mind, and their abominable doctrines which are dangerous to men, is anathematized in his soul and in his body.

Against all these doctrines, therefore, we have stood and still stand with our whole soul, that the true faith, which was delivered by Christ to His Church, may remain without change. We wage this war with gallant courage, and in the struggle which is for Christ, we stand unmoved by the gifts and honors of the wicked. ||158| Nor do we fear their threats, for Our Justifier is near; and in Him we have placed our confidence, for we have been believing for a long time that He will do what He has promised. And although many without the faith would take away our hope, in His true hope we are strengthened all the more. As in the war waged against Christ, we have arisen and have desired your own cooperation, we have written to you that you |115 may be persuaded that we do not wish to triumph without you. You have done well to join in my conflict on behalt of truth, because we are in the truth and the (dogma of the) Trinity is held in the same sense by you and by us. You have agreed in your letters, and, by the signing of your names, you have confirmed, not anything new, but the very truth which you possess (18). For it is fitting that what we hold in the mind and confess with the tongue, we should also commit to writing, without fear and without trembling. For you are with God, and also with my humble person, and with all the cenobites of Syria, your brethren. Moreover, the faithful and just Emperor Zeno (19) and the archbishop (20) of the capital return you thanks for the anaphoras (21) which you have sent. And the same Christ-loving (Emperor) has openly declared that he gained the victory over his enemies (22) with (the help of) your prayers, and he is ready to give us ample reward ||159| for the work which we have undertaken for the peace of the churches, and to drive away from them the enemies of the Cross. May those who were accusing us be put to shame and confusion, even with the heretics, ----those liars! They are abhorrent to us even more than the heretics, those men who, corrupted by their passions, have become workmen in the building of the devil, and are considered disciples on account of their garb (only).

Where are, O false disciple, (the words), «I am under obligation to fight for the truth until death»? Where is the promise of thy profession? Where are the vows thou madest to God? |116 Thou hast destroyed the seal and hast profaned the sign put upon thee. Hearest thou not Christ saying: «Whosoever shall confess Me, I will also confess him, and whosoever shall deny Me, I will also deny him» (23); and again, «Whosoever shall seek to save his life, shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life, shall preserve it» (24); and this again, «Whosoever wisheth to be My disciple, let him renounce himself, take up his cross, and follow Me» (25); and Paul who says, «Confess with thy mouth Our Lord Jesus Christ and believe with thy heart?» (26) Remember also, besides these holy words, the teaching of the Prophets, and the preaching of the Apostles, and the zeal of all the Doctors on behalf of the true faith, and, what is more glorious and a much greater wonder than all this, the Cross ||160| and the humiliation of the Living God Who, for the establishing of faith and the redemption of men, bore and suffered all the things that had been written of Him. And all the heralds of the word of God, if thou noticest well, were always persecuted because they followed in the same way as their Lord.

Was there ever a teacher of divine science who did not seal his faith in the midst of afflictions, persecutions, contempt, insults, calumnies, injustices, cruel sufferings and bitter torments, and who did not by his patience put to shame those who persecuted him? But I, who announce the truth in the midst of sufferings like these, testify that the truth is with this man. Knowest thou not these things, O disciple in name (only)? If not, thou shouldst know them, and shouldst not find fault with those who fight for God against godless doctrines. Come to the help of the Lord, although He has no need of thee, and do not stay the hand of the others who give their lives in fighting for |117 the Lord. Hear the sentence pronounced by God against him who causes his brother to stumble, and tremble. I contend for thy inheritance (27), and thou contendest with me. I pronounce judgment against thy enemy for thy possessions which have been dilapidated, and thou becomest an adversary to me. I fight for the common faith, and thou settest thyself against me with the heretics. I toil and work ||161| day and night that the truth which was delivered to the Church may not be changed, and I direct the weapons of argument against those who deny the Cross, and thou upbraidest me (saying), «Hold thy tongue, let them do what they wish». They want me to be silent lest I should expose their doctrines, and thou, with them, wantest me to remain silent. I hasten to root out division and to end the schism which they have caused in the faith, and thou declarest publicly that I am the cause of the division. They began a tumult, introduced a novelty (28), and disturbed the peace of all the churches, and thou considerest me as the author of the disturbance. I am zealous that the doctrine of the Trinity may remain as it is, without receiving any addition (29), without being increased by another (person), and thou accusest me falsely of preaching something new. Thou art looked upon as a disciple, but thou art an adversary. Thou puttest on the appearance of truth, but thou art entirely on the side of false men. Since thou lovest to be with them and blasphemest like them, thou wilt soon be put to shame like them. Behold they are overthrown and they hide away, and they have no protector. The sword of justice is drawn against them and they cannot escape it. This I say to the disciples in name |118 only, because, when they are confounded, the glory ||162| of your fortitude will be all the more manifest.

All the holy (brethren) who are here salute you. I also adjure you before God, the Lord of all, to remember me in (your) prayers at the time of your services, for I believe that by your prayers I have been preserved until now. Farewell in Our Lord Jesus Christ Who crowns your labors.

[Footnotes have been renumbered and placed at the end]

1.  (1) PHILIPPIANS, iii, 19.

2.  (2) The Nestorians and the adherents of the Council of Chalcedon were called «Jews» by the Monophysites.

3.  (3) St. John, x. 33.

4.  (1) 2 Corinthians, v, 10. 

5.  (2) Romans, v, 10.

6.  (1) Romans, viii, 32.

7.  (2) St. JOHN, i, 1.

8.  (3) Philippians, ii, 7.

9.  (4) Philippians, ii, 6.

10.  (1) i. e. two persons or two natures.

11.  (2) St. MATTHEW, i, 1.

12.  (3) St. JOHN, i, 1.

13.  (4) St. LUKE, i, 35, 31.

14.  (1) St. MATTHEW, i, 21.

15.  (1) Cf. St. LUKE, viii, 30, and St. MARK, v, 9. 

16.  (2) St. LUKE, xxii, 43.

17.  (3) St. John, v. 17.

18.  (1) It is probable that Philoxenus refers here to the Henoticon of Zeno, which was promulgated in 482. Cf. B. O., II, p. 36.

19.  (2) Zeno (474-491).

20.  (3) Acacius, archbishop of Constantinople, (471-489).

21.  (4) [Syriac]. The meaning of this word here seems uncertain, Cf. PAYNE-SMITH, Thesaurus Syriacus, sub voce, p. 274. Assemani (B. O., II, 37) translates it by «Oblationes». It may have been an address or letter sent by the Monks of Beth-Gaugal to Zeno to congratulate him over his victory.

22.  (5) Basiliscus, Leontius, Illus.

23.  (1) St. MATTHEW, x, 32-33.

24.  (2) St. LUKE, xvii, 33.

25.  (3) St. MAKK, viii, 34. 

26.  (4) Romans, x, 9.

27.  (1) The inheritance of faith.

28.  (2) Probably the definition of the Council of Chalcedon regarding the two natures in Christ.

29.  (3) Because the Nestorians admitted two persons in Christ, Philoxenus accused them of adding a fourth person to the Trinity. He made the same accusation against Catholics for admitting two natures in Christ after the union.

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