Document: Letter 42
Date: 389
Addressee: Pope Siricius
English Translation: FC 26.225-230
Summary of Contents: Council of Milan announces agreement with Sircius’ decision

In the letter of your Holiness we recognize the vigilance of the good shepherd, for you carefully keep the door which has been entrusted to you, and with holy anxiety you guard the sheepfold of Christ, worthy to have the Lord’s sheep hear and follow you. Since you know so well the sheep of Christ, you will readily catch the wolves and meet them like a wary shepherd that they may not scatter the Lord’s flock by their habitual unbelief and mournful barking.

This we praise and heartily commend, our Lord and dearly beloved Brother. We are not surprised that the Lord’s flock was frightened by the raving of wolves in whom they did not recognize the voice of Christ. For it is brutish barking to show no favor for virginity or claim for chastity, to wish to group all deeds indiscriminately, to abolish the different degrees of merit, and to intimate a certain poverty in heavenly rewards, as if Christ had but one palm to give, as if countless claims to reward did not exist in great numbers.

They pretend that they are giving honor to marriage. What praise is possible to marriage if virginity receives no distinction? We do not say that marriage was not sanctified by Christ, since the Word of God says: “The two shall become one flesh” and one spirit. But we are born before we are brought to our final goal, and the mystery of God’s operation is more excellent than the remedy for human weakness. Quite rightly is a good wife praised, but a pious virgin is more rightly preferred, for the Apostle says: “He who gives his daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her does better. The one thinks about the things of God, the other about the things of the world.” The one is bound by marriage bonds, the other is free from bonds; one is under the law, the other under grace. Marriage is good: through it the means of human continuity are found. But virginity is better: through it are attained the inheritance of a heavenly kingdom and a continuity of heavenly rewards. Through a woman distress entered the world; through a virgin salvation came upon it. Lastly, Christ chose for Himself the special privilege of virginity and set forth the benefit of chastity, manifesting in Himself what He had chosen in His mother.

How great is the madness of their mournful barking when the same persons say that Christ could not have been born of a virgin and also assert that virgins remain among womankind which has given birth to human offspring! Does Christ grant to others what they say He cannot grant to Himself? Although He took a body, although He became man to redeem man and recall him from death, still, being God, He came to earth in an unusual way so that, as He had said: “Behold I make all things new,” He might thus be born from the womb of an immaculate virgin, and be believed to be, as it is written: “God with us.” Those on the path of evil are known to say: “She conceived as a virgin but she did not bring forth as a virgin.” How could she conceive as a virgin but be unable to bring forth as a virgin? Conception always precedes; bringing forth follows.

If they do not believe the teaching of the clergy, let them believe the words of Christ. Let them believe the instruction of the angels saying: “For nothing will be impossible with God.” Let them believe the creed of the Apostles which the Church of Rome keeps and guards in its entirety. Mary heard the words of the angel, and she who had said before: “How shall this be?” not questioning faith in the generation, later replied: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” This is the virgin who conceived in the womb, the virgin who brought forth a son. Thus Scripture says: “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son,” and it declares not only that a virgin shall conceive, but also that a virgin shall bring forth.

What is that gate of the sanctuary, that outer gate facing the East and remaining closed: “And no man,” it says, “shall pass through it except the God of Israel”? Is not Mary the gate through whom the Redeemer entered this world? This is the gate of justice, as He Himself said: “Permit us to fulfill all justice.” Holy Mary is the gate of which it is written: “The Lord will pass through it, and it will be shut,” after birth, for as a virgin she conceived and gave birth.

Why is it hard to believe that Mary gave birth in a way contrary to the law of natural birth and remained a virgin, when contrary to the law of nature the sea looked at Him and fled, and the waters of the Jordan returned to their source. It is not past belief that a virgin gave birth when we read that a rock issued water, and the waves of the sea were made solid as a wall. It is not past belief that a man came from a virgin when a rock bubbled forth a flowing stream, iron floated on water, a man walked upon the waters. If the waters bore a man, could not a virgin give birth to a man? What man? Him of whom we read: “The Lord will send them a man, who will save them, and the Lord will be known in Egypt.” In the Old Testament a Hebrew virgin led an army through the sea; in the New Testament a king’s daughter was chosen to be the heavenly entrance to salvation.

What more? Let us add further praises of widowhood, since, after relating the miraculous birth from a virgin, the Gospel has the story of the widow Anna, ‘who lived with her husband seven years from her maidenhood, and by herself as a widow to eighty-four years. She never left the temple, with fasting and prayers worshiping day and night.

Quite rightly do some persons look with contempt upon widowhood, which observes fasts, while they deplore the fact that at some time or other they were mortified by fasts; they take revenge for the injury they did themselves, being anxious through constant feasts and habits of luxury to keep away the pain of abstinence. They do nothing more than condemn themselves out of their own mouth.

Such persons even fear that their former fasting will be charged to them. Let them have their choice. If they have ever fasted, let them suffer the hardship of their good deed; if never, let them admit their intemperance and wantonness. So they say that Paul was a teacher of wantonness. Pray, who will be a teacher of sobriety if he taught wantonness, for he chastised his body and brought it to subjection and by many fasts said that he had rendered the worship which is due to Christ. He did so not to praise himself and his deeds, but to teach us what example we must follow. Did he give us instruction in wantonness when he said: “Why, as if still living do you lay down the rules: ‘Do not touch; nor handle; nor taste!’ things that must all perish in their use”?And he also said that we must live “Not in indulgence of the body, not in any honor to the satisfying and love of the flesh, not in the lusts of error; but in the Spirit by whom we are renewed.”

If the Apostle said too little, let them hear the Prophet saying: “I afflicted my soul with fasting.” He who does not fast is uncovered and naked and exposed to wounds. Finally, if Adam had covered himself with fasting he would not have become naked. Nineve freed herself from death by fasting. The Lord Himself said: “But this kind of demon will be cast out only by prayer and fasting.”

Why should we say more to [you] our master and teacher, since those very persons have paid a price befitting their disloyalty, having even come here so that there might be no place where they were not condemned. And they proved that they were Manichaeans in truth by not believing that He came forth from a virgin. What madness, pray tell, is this, equal almost to that of the present-day Jews? If they do not believe that He came, neither do they believe that He took a body. Thus, He was seen only in imagination, in imagination He was crucified. But He was crucified for us in truth; in truth He is our Redeemer.

A Manichaean is one who denies the truth, who denies Christ’s Incarnation. To such there is no remission of sins. It is the impiety of the Manichaeans which the most clement emperor has abominated and all who have met them run from them as from a plague. Witnesses of this are our brethren and fellow priests, Crescens, Leopardus, and Alexander, men imbued with the Holy Spirit, men who brought upon them the condemnation of all and drove them as fugitives from the city of Milan.

Therefore, may your Holiness know that those whom you condemned Jovinian, Auxentius, Germinator, Felix, Plotinus, Genial, Martian, Januarius, and Ingeniosus have also been condemned by us in accord with your judgment.

May our almighty God keep you safe and prosperous, O Lord, dearly beloved Brother. Signed: I, Eventius, Bishop, greet your Holiness in the Lord and sign this letter. Maximus, Bishop Felix, Bishop Theodorus, Bishop Constantius, Bishop. By order of my lord Geminianus, Bishop, in his presence, I, Aper, Presbyter, sign. Eustasius, Bishop, and all the Orders sign.

Translation from FC 26.225-230, adapted by SMT

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