Chapter 3. The Epistle of Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria to Alexander, Bishop of Constantinople
To his most revered and likeminded brother Alexander, Alexander sends greeting in the Lord.
Impelled by avarice and ambition, evil-minded persons have ever plotted against the wellbeing of the most important dioceses. Under various pretexts, they attack the religion of the Church; and, being maddened by the devil, who works in them, they start aside from all piety according to their own pleasure, and trample under foot the fear of the judgment of God. Suffering as I do from them myself, I deem it necessary to inform your piety, that you may be on your guard against them, lest they or any of their party should presume to enter your diocese (for these cheats are skilful in deception), or should circulate false and specious letters, calculated to delude one who has devoted himself to the simple and undefiled faith.
Arius and Achillas have lately formed a conspiracy, and, emulating the ambition of Colluthus, have gone far beyond him. He indeed sought to find a pretext for his own pernicious line of action in the charges he brought against them. But they, beholding his making a trade of Christ for lucre , refused to remain any longer in subjection to the Church; but built for themselves caves, like robbers, and now constantly assemble in them, and day and night ply slanders there against Christ and against us. They revile every godly doctrine, and in Jewish fashion have organized a gang to fight against Christ, denying His divinity, and declaring Him to be on a level with other men. They pick out every passage which refers to the dispensation of salvation, and to His humiliation for our sake; they endeavour to collect from them their own impious assertion, while they evade all those which declare His eternal divinity, and the unceasing glory which He possesses with the Father. They maintain the ungodly doctrine entertained by the Greeks and the Jews concerning Jesus Christ; and thus, by every means in their power, hunt for their applause. Everything which outsiders ridicule in us they officiously practise. They daily excite persecutions and seditions against us. On the one hand they bring accusations against us before the courts, suborning as witnesses certain unprincipled women whom they have seduced into error. On the other they dishonour Christianity by permitting their young women to ramble about the streets. Nay, they have had the audacity to rend the seamless garment of Christ, which the soldiers dared not divide.
When these actions, in keeping with their course of life, and the impious enterprise which had been long concealed, became tardily known to us, we unanimously ejected them from the Church which worships the divinity of Christ. They then ran here and there to form cabals against us, even addressing themselves to our fellow-ministers who were of one mind with us, under the pretence of seeking peace and unity with them, but in truth endeavouring by means of fair words, to sweep some among them away into their own disease. They ask them to write a wordy letter, and then read the contents to those whom they have deceived, in order that they may not retract, but be confirmed in their impiety, by finding that bishops agree with and support their views. They make no acknowledgment of the evil doctrines and practices for which they have been expelled by us, but they either impart them without comment, or carry on the deception by fallacies and forgeries. Thus concealing their destructive doctrine by persuasive and meanly truckling language, they catch the unwary, and lose no opportunity of calumniating our religion. Hence it arises that several have been led to sign their letter, and to receive them into communion, a proceeding on the part of our fellow-ministers which I consider highly reprehensible; for they thus not only disobey the rule, but even help to inflame their diabolical action against Christ. It is on this account, beloved brethren, that without delay I have stirred myself up to inform you of the unbelief of certain persons who say that
There was a time when the Son of God was not ; and
He who previously had no existence subsequently came into existence; and when at some time He came into existence He became such as every other man is. God, they say, created all things out of that which was non-existent, and they include in the number of creatures, both rational and irrational, even the Son of God. Consistently with this doctrine they, as a necessary consequence, affirm that He is by nature liable to change, and capable both of virtue and of vice, and thus, by their hypothesis of his having been created out of that which was non-existent, they overthrow the testimony of the Divine Scriptures, which declare the immutability of the Word and the Divinity of the Wisdom of the Word, which Word and Wisdom is Christ. ‘We are also able,’ say these accursed wretches, ‘to become like Him, the sons of God; for it is written— I have nourished and brought up children. ‘ 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 are inconsistent with the Saviour’s nature, which 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 chosen because He had by nature any thing superior to the other sons of God; for no man, say they, is son of God by nature, nor has any peculiar relation to Him. He was chosen, they allege, because, though mutable by nature, His painstaking character suffered no deterioration. As though, forsooth, even if a Paul and a Peter made like endeavours, their sonship would in no respects differ from His.
To establish this insane doctrine they insult the Scriptures, and bring forward what is said in the Psalms of Christ, ‘ You have loved righteousness and hated iniquity, therefore your God has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows. ‘ Now that the Son of God was not created out of the non-existent , and that there never was a time in which He was not, is expressly taught by John the Evangelist, who speaks of Him as ‘ the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father. ‘ This divine teacher desired to show that the Father and the Son are inseparable; and, therefore, he said, ‘that the Son is in the bosom of the Father.’ Moreover, the same John affirms that the Word of God is not classed among things created out of the non-existent, for, he says that ‘ all things were made by Him ,’ and he also declares His individual personality 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, the creating power, can in no way be defined as of the same nature as the things created, if indeed He was in the beginning, and all things were made by Him, and were called by Him out of the non-existent into being. ‘ That which is ‘ must be of an opposite nature to, and essentially different from, things created out of the non-existent. 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; while the fact that the world was created out of the non-existent involves a later and fresh genesis of its essential nature , all things having been endowed with such an origin of existence by the Father through the Son. John, the most pious apostle, perceiving that the word ‘was’ applied to the Word of God was far beyond and above the intelligence of created beings, did not presume to speak of His generation or creation, nor yet dared to name the Maker and the creature in equivalent syllables. Not that the Son of God is unbegotten, for the Father alone is unbegotten; but that the ineffable personality of the only-begotten God is beyond the keenest conception of the evangelists and perhaps even of angels. Therefore, I do not think men ought to be considered pious who presume to investigate this subject, in disobedience to the injunction, ‘ Seek not what is too difficult for you, neither enquire into what is too high for you. ‘ For if the knowledge of many other things incomparably inferior is beyond the capacity of the human mind, and cannot therefore be attained, as has been said by Paul, ‘ Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love Him ,’ and as 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 ?’ how then can any one but a madman presume to enquire into the nature of the Word of God? It is said by the Spirit of prophecy, ‘ Who shall declare His generation ?’ And, therefore, our Saviour in His kindness to those men who were the pillars of the whole world, desiring to relieve them of the burden of striving after this knowledge, told them that it was beyond their natural comprehension, and that the Father alone could discern this most divine mystery; ‘ No man,’ said He, ‘ knows the Son but the Father, and no man knows the Father save the Son. ‘ It was, I think, concerning this same subject that the Father said, ‘My secret is for Me and for Mine. ‘
But the insane folly of imagining that the Son of God came into being out of that which had no being, and that His sending forth took place in time, is plain from the words ‘which had no being,’ although the foolish are incapable of perceiving the folly of their own utterances. For the phrase ‘He was not’ must either have reference to time, or to some interval in the ages. If then it be true that all things were made by Him, it is evident that every age, time, all intervals of time, and that ‘when’ in which ‘was not’ has its place, were made by Him. And is it not absurd to say that there was a time when He who created all time, and ages, and seasons, with which the ‘was not’ is confused, was not? For it would be the height of ignorance, and contrary indeed to all reason, to affirm that the cause of any created thing can be posterior to that caused by it. The interval 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 the Scripture which declares Him to be ‘the firstborn of every creature. ‘ In consonance with this doctrine, Paul with his usual mighty voice cries concerning Him; ‘ whom He has appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds ‘ ‘ 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 ‘ Since the hypothesis implied in the phrase ‘out of the non-existent’ is manifestly impious, it follows that the Father is always Father. And He is Father from the continual presence of the Son, on account of whom He is called Father. And the Son being ever present with Him, the Father is ever perfect, wanting in no good thing, for He did not beget His only Son in time, or in any interval of time, nor out of that which had no previous existence.
Is it not then impious to say that there was a time when the wisdom of God was not? Who says, ‘ I was by Him as one brought up with Him: I was daily His delight ?’ Or that once the power of God was not, or His Word, or anything else by which the Son is known, or the Father designated, defective? To assert that the brightness of the Father’s glory ‘once did not exist,’ destroys also the original light of which it is the brightness ; and if there ever was a time in which the image of God was not, it is plain that He Whose image He is, is not always: nay, by the non-existence of the express image of God’s Person, He also is taken away of whom this is ever the express image. Hence it may be seen, that the Sonship of our Saviour has not even anything in common with the sonship of men. For just as it has been shown that 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, naturally partaking in His paternal Divinity, is unspeakably different from the sonship of those who, by His appointment, have been adopted as sons. He is by nature immutable, perfect, and all-sufficient, whereas men are liable to change, and need His help. What further advance can be made by the wisdom of God ? What can the Very Truth, or God the Word, add to itself? How can the Life or the True Light in any way be bettered? 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 united with weakness? That reason itself can be dimmed by unreasonableness, or that darkness can be mixed with the true light? Does not the Apostle say, ‘ What communion has light with darkness? And what concord has Christ with Belial ?’ and Solomon, that ‘ the way of a serpent upon a rock ‘ was ‘ too wonderful‘ for the humanmind to comprehend, which ‘rock,’ according to St. Paul, is Christ. Men and angels, however, who are His creatures, have received His blessing, enabling them to exercise themselves in virtue and in obedience to His commands, that thus they may avoid sin. And it is on this account that our Lord being by nature the Son of the Father, is worshipped by all; and they who have put off the spirit of bondage, and by brave deeds and advance in virtue have received the spirit of adoption through the kindness of Him Who is the Son of God by nature, by adoption also become sons.
His true, peculiar, natural, and special Sonship was 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. 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 ;’ and in the Psalms the Saviour says, ‘ The Lord said unto Me, You are My Son. ‘ By proclaiming natural sonship He shows that there are no other natural sons besides Himself.
And do not these words, I begot you ‘from the womb before the morning ,’ plainly show the natural sonship of the paternal birth of One whose lot it is, not from diligence of conduct, or exercise in moral progress, but by individuality of nature? Hence it ensues that the filiation of the only-begotten Son of the Father is incapable of fall; while the adoption of reasonable beings who are not His sons by nature, but merely on account of fitness of 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. And God, speaking by Isaiah, said, ‘ I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me. ‘
I have many things to say, beloved, but because I fear that I shall cause weariness by further admonishing teachers who are of one mind with myself, I pass them by. You, having been taught of God, are not ignorant that the teaching at variance with the religion of the Church which has just arisen, is the same as that propagated by Ebion and Artemas , and rivals that of Paul of Samosata, bishop of Antioch, who was excommunicated by a council of all the bishops. Lucianus , his successor, withdrew himself from communion with these bishops during a period of many years.
And now among us there have sprung up, ‘out of the non-existent’ men who have greedily sucked down the dregs of this impiety, offsets of the same stock: I mean Arius and Achillas, and all their gang of rogues. Three bishops of Syria, appointed no one knows how, by consenting to them, fire them to more fatal heat. I refer their sentence to your decision. Retaining in their memory all that they can collect concerning the suffering, humiliation, emptying of Himself , and so-called poverty, and everything of which the Saviour for our sake accepted the acquired name, they bring forward those passages to disprove His eternal existence and divinity, while they forget all those which declare His glory and nobility and abiding with the Father; as for instance, ‘ I and My father are one. ‘ In these words the Lord does not proclaim Himself to be the Father, neither does He represent two natures as one; but that the essence of the Son of the Father preserves accurately the likeness of the Father, His nature taking off the impress of likeness to Him in all things, being the exact image of the Father and the express stamp of the prototype. When, therefore, Philip, desirous of seeing the Father, said to Him, ‘ Lord, show us the Father,’ the Lord with abundant plainness said to him, ‘ He that has seen Me has seen the Father ,’ as though the Father were beheld in the spotless and living mirror of His image. The same idea is conveyed in the Psalms, where the saints say, ‘ In Your light we shall see light. ‘ It is on this account that ‘ he who honours the Son, honours the Father. ‘ And rightly, for 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 I am about to detail, my beloved brethren, propagated by them against me, and against our most religious people. They not only set their battle in array against the divinity of Christ, but ungratefully insult us. They think it beneath them to be compared with any of those of old time, nor do they endure to be put on a par with the teachers we have been conversant with from childhood. They will not admit that any of our fellow-ministers anywhere possess even mediocrity of intelligence. They say that they themselves alone are the wise and the poor, and discoverers of doctrines, and to them alone have been revealed those truths which, say they, have never entered the mind of any other individuals under the sun. O what wicked arrogance! O what excessive folly! What false boasting, joined with madness and Satanic pride, has hardened their impious hearts! They are not ashamed to oppose the godly clearness of the ancient scriptures, nor yet does the unanimous piety of all our fellow-ministers concerning Christ blunt their audacity. Even devils will not suffer impiety like this; for even they refrain from speaking blasphemy against the Son of God.
These then are the questions I have to raise, according to the ability I possess, with those who from their rude resources throw dust on the Christ, and try to slander our reverence for Him. These inventors of silly tales assert that we, who reject their impious and unscriptural blasphemy concerning the creation of Christ from the non-existent, teach that there are two unbegotten Beings. For these ill-instructed men contend that one of these alternatives must hold; either He must be believed to have come out of the non-existent, or there are two unbegotten Beings. In their ignorance and want of practice in theology they do not realize how vast must be the distance between the Father who is uncreate, and the creatures, whether rational or irrational, which He created out of the non-existent; and that the only-begotten nature of Him Who is the Word of God, by Whom the Father created the universe out of the non-existent, standing, as it were, in the middle between the two, was begotten of the self-existent Father, as the Lord Himself testified when He said, ‘ Every one that loves the Father, loves also the Son that is begotten of Him. ‘
We believe, as is taught by the Church, in an only unbegotten Father, Who of His being has no cause, immutable and invariable, and Who subsists always in one state of being, admitting neither of progression nor of diminution; Who gave the law, and the prophets, and the gospel; of patriarchs and apostles, and of all saints, Lord: and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten not out of that which is not, but of the Father, Who is; yet not after the manner of material bodies, by severance or emanation, as Sabellius and Valentinus taught; but in an inexpressible and inexplicable manner, according to the saying which we quoted above, ‘ Who shall declare His generation ?’ since no mortal intellect can comprehend the nature of His Person, as the Father Himself cannot be comprehended, because the nature of reasonable beings is unable to grasp the manner in which He was begotten of the Father.
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 in our ears, ‘ No one knows who the Father is but the Son, and no one knows who the Son is but the Father. ‘ We have learned that the Son is immutable and unchangeable, all-sufficient and perfect, like the Father, lacking only His
unbegotten. He is the exact and precisely similar image of His Father. For it is clear that the image fully contains everything by which the greater likeness exists, as the Lord taught us when He said, ‘ My Father is greater than I. ‘ And in accordance with this we believe that the Son always existed of the Father; for he is the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His Father’s Person. But let no one be led by the word ‘ always‘ to imagine that the Son is unbegotten, as is thought by some who have their intellects blinded: for to say that He was, that He has always been, and that 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 in your orthodox view that none of these terms in any way signify the unbegotten. For all the terms appear to signify merely the extension of time, and are not adequate to express the divinity and, as it were, the primæval being of the only-begotten Son. They were used by the holy men who earnestly endeavoured to clear up the mystery, and who asked pardon from those who heard them, with a reasonable excuse for their failure, by saying ‘as far as our comprehension has reached.’ But if those who allege that what was ‘ known in part‘ has been ‘ done away ‘ for them, expect from human lips anything beyond human powers, it is plain that the terms ‘was,’ and ‘ever,’ and ‘before all ages,’ fall far short of this expectation. But whatever they may mean, it is not the same as ‘the unbegotten.’ Therefore His own individual dignity must be reserved to the Father as the Unbegotten One, no one being called the cause of His existence: to the Son likewise must be given the honour which befits Him, there being to Him a generation from the Father which has no beginning; we must render Him worship, as we have already said, only piously and religiously ascribing to Him the ‘was’ and the ‘ever,’ and the ‘before all ages;’ not however rejecting His divinity, but ascribing to Him a perfect likeness in all things to His Father, while at the same time we ascribe to the Father alone His own proper glory of ‘the unbegotten,’ even as the Saviour Himself says, ‘ My Father is greater than I. ‘
And in addition to this pious belief respecting the Father and the Son, we confess as the Sacred Scriptures teach us, one Holy Ghost, who moved the saints of the Old Testament, and the divine teachers of that which is called the New. We believe in one only Catholic Church, the , which cannot be destroyed even though all the world were to take counsel to fight against it, and which gains the victory over all the impious attacks of the heterodox; for we are emboldened by the words of its Master, ‘ Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. ‘ After this, we receive the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead, of which Jesus Christ our Lord became the first-fruits; Who bore a Body, in truth, not in semblance, derived from Mary the mother of God ; in the fullness of time sojourning among the race, for the remission of sins: who was crucified and died, yet for all this suffered no diminution of His Godhead. He rose from the dead, was taken into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
In this epistle I have only mentioned these things in part, deeming it, as I have said, wearisome to dwell minutely on each article, since they are well known to your pious diligence. These things we teach, these things we preach; these are the dogmas of the apostolic Church, for which we are ready to die, caring little for those who would force us to forswear them; for we will never relinquish our hope in them, though they should try to compel us by tortures.
Arius and Achillas, together with their fellow foes, have been expelled from the Church, because they have become aliens from our pious doctrine: according to the blessed Paul, who 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 , and ‘ 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 ,’ and so forth. Since, then, they have been condemned by the brotherhood, 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 in the name of peace, and by hypocrisy and flattery to obtain other letters in return, in order to deceive a few ‘ silly 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 held up the Christian religion to ridicule, and have eagerly sought to make a display before judicial tribunals, who have endeavoured to excite a persecution against us at a period of the most entire peace, and who have enervated 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 against them, and signed our formulary.
I have sent you these letters by my son Apion, the deacon; being those of (the ministers in) all Egypt and the Thebaid, also of those of Libya, and the Pentapolis, of Syria, Lycia, Pamphylia, Asia, Cappadocia, and in the other adjoining countries. Whose example you likewise, I trust, will follow. Many kindly attempts have been made by me to gain back those who have been led astray, but no remedy has proved more efficacious in restoring the laity who have been deceived by them and leading them to repentance, than the manifestation of the union of our fellow-ministers. Salute one another, with the brotherhood that is with you. I pray that you may be strong in the Lord, my beloved, and that I may receive the fruit of your love to Christ.
The following are the name of those who have been anathematized as heretics: among the presbyters, Arius; among the deacons, Achillas, Euzoius, Aïthales, Lucius, Sarmates, 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 Berœans, and to all those who defended the doctrines of the Apostles. But Arius could not endure to keep quiet, but wrote to all those whom he believed to agree with him in opinion. His letter to Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, is a clear proof that the divine Alexander wrote nothing that was false concerning him. I shall here insert his letter, in order that the names of those who were implicated in his impiety may become generally known.
Chapter 4. The Letter of Ariusto Eusebius, Bishop of Nicomedia
To his very dear lord, the man of God, the faithful and orthodox Eusebius, Arius, unjustly persecuted by Alexander the Pope , on account of that all-conquering truth of which you also are a champion, sends greeting in the Lord.
Ammonius, my father, being about to depart for Nicomedia, I considered myself bound to salute you by him, and withal to inform that natural affection which you bear towards the brethren for the sake of God and His Christ, that the bishop greatly wastes and persecutes us, and leaves no stone unturned against us. He has driven us out of the city as atheists, because we do not concur in what he publicly preaches, namely, God always, the Son always; as the Father so the Son; the Son co-exists unbegotten with God; He is everlasting; neither by thought nor by any interval does God precede the Son; always God, always Son; he is begotten of the unbegotten; the Son is of God Himself. Eusebius, your brother bishop of Cæsarea, Theodotus, Paulinus, Athanasius, Gregorius, Aetius, and all the bishops of the East, have been condemned because they say that God had an existence prior to that of His Son; except Philogonius, Hellanicus, and Macarius, who are unlearned men, and who have embraced heretical opinions. Some of them say that the Son is an eructation, others that He is a production, others that He is also unbegotten. These are impieties to which we cannot listen, even though the heretics threaten us with a thousand deaths. But we say and believe, and have taught, and do teach, that the Son is not unbegotten, nor in any way part of the unbegotten; and that He does not derive His subsistence from any matter; but that by His own will and counsel He has subsisted before time, and before ages, as perfect God, only begotten and unchangeable, and that before He was begotten, or created, or purposed, or established, He was not. For He was not unbegotten. We are persecuted, because we say that the Son has a beginning, but that God is without beginning. This is the cause of our persecution, and likewise, because we say that He is of the non-existent. And this we say, because He is neither part of God, nor of any essential being. For this are we persecuted; the rest you know. I bid you farewell in the Lord, remembering our afflictions, my fellow-Lucianist , and true Eusebius.
Of those whose names are mentioned in this letter, Eusebius was bishop of Cæsarea , Theodotus of Laodicea, Paulinus of Tyre, Athanasius of Anazarbus, Gregorius of Berytus, and Aetius of Lydda. Lydda is now called Diospolis. Arius prided himself on having these men of one mind with himself. He names as his adversaries, Philogonius, bishop of Antioch, Hellanicus, of Tripolis, and Macarius, of Jerusalem. He spread calumnies against them because they said that the Son is eternal, existing before all ages, of equal honour and of the same substance with the Father.