Document: Letter 46
Date: c. 389
Addressee: Sabinus
English Translation: FC 26.136-143
Summary of Contents: About an Apollonian heretic

The man whom you describe as a sower of slanderous speech is of very little consequence and has already received the reward of his venomous remarks. He has been answered in public and has reaped openly what he sowed secretly. I thought him a vain and envious person before, and when his remarks reached my ears I at once stated that he had been infected with the poison of Apollinaris, who cannot tolerate the doctrine that our Lord Jesus Christ became a servant for our sake in taking a body, although the Apostle declares that He took the nature of a servant. 1 This is the bulwark, this is the hedge, of our faith. One who destroys this will himself be destroyed, as it is written: “For the serpent will gnaw him who breaks a hedge,”

At first I sent a mild dispatch to him, saying: “Why do you perform a good act with evil purpose?” For I count it a blessing if anyone reads my writings and tells me what disturbs him, first of all, because I can be deceived in what I know, and many things escape the ear, many sound different to certain individuals. It is fine, if possible, to avoid such things. Then I must not be annoyed if things are found in my writing which many consider disputable, since many questions are asked about the words of the Apostles, in the Gospels, and the words of our Lord. Persons thus indulge their own humor, especially the man who encompassed the world to find someone to censure, not to imitate.

In order to cavil at something in my writings he found plenty of room for himself, for in that passage where the Lord Jesus said: “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth.” I stated that it was intended to show that God is the Father of the Son, and the Lord of creation. [This he criticized] although in the psalm the Son very plainly calls His Father ‘Lord,’ saying: “Seeing me, they shake their head. Help me, O Lord, my God.” Speaking as a servant, He called Him Lord who He knew was His Father, being the equal of God in form, yet proclaiming Himself a slave in the substance of His flesh, for servitude belongs to the flesh, dominion to the Godhead.

With admirable wisdom you note that those things which are said in the Gospel have reference to the time of the Gospel when the Lord Jesus lived among men in human form. Now we no longer know Christ as man. He was seen and known thus to men of former times, but “now the former things have passed away, and all things are made new.” All things are from God who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, for we were dead, but one became a slave for all. What shall I say: [only] ‘a slave’? He became sin, a reproach, a curse. The Apostle said: “For our sakes he made him to be sin,” that the Lord Jesus “was become a curse.” He said that when He has subjected all things to Himself, then He, too, will be subject. Peter, also, in the Acts of the Apostles, said: “ln the name of Jesus of Nazareth arise and walk.” He also said there that “He glorified His Son Jesus,” and no one took issue with him in regard to the time. Moreover, in the Apocalypse, He is also called by John ‘the Lamb.’ And He is called in the psalm “a worm and no man.” He became all these things so that He might dull the sting of our death, that He might take away our state of slavery, that He might wipe away our curses, sins, and reproaches.

Since Scripture contains these and other divine things, and many more which you have brought up, and which you pointed out to one who made inquiry, how can anyone hesitate to say that these were piously written, since they are directed to the glory of Christ, not to His disparagement? If it was said of His gift, that is, the manna, that “he did not find less that had provided less, neither had he more that had gathered more,” could He Himself be either diminished or increased? For, what in Him was diminished when He took upon Himself our servitude, our weakness? He was humbled, indeed, by being in the form of a slave, but He remained unchanged in the glory of God the Father. He was a worm on the cross, but He forgave the sins even of His persecutors. He was a reproach but at the same time also the Majesty of the Lord, as it is written: “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed: and all flesh together shall see the salvation of God.” What had He lost if He had nothing less? He had neither comeliness nor beauty, but He had the fullness of divinity. He was considered weak, but He had not ceased to be the power of God. He appeared a man, but the divine majesty and glory of the Father shone on earth.

Very aptly, then, the Apostle repeats the same expression, saying of the Lord Jesus: “who though he was by nature God, did not think being equal to God a thing to be clung to, but emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave.” What is the meaning of by nature God except the fullness of the Godhead, the expression of His divine perfection? Although He was in the fullness of the Godhead, He emptied Himself and received the fullness of nature and human perfection. Just as He lacked nothing as God, so He did not lack anything for His completeness as man, and as a result He was perfect in each nature. Thus, David says He was “beautiful above the sons of men.”

The Apollinarist is refuted; he has nowhere to turn; he is caught in his own nets. He Himself said: He took the nature of a slave, He was not a slave. Again, I ask, what is the meaning of “by nature God”? He answers: “in the reality of God.” “There are,” says the Apostle, “those who are not gods in reality.” I ask you what is the meaning of “taking the nature of a slave’? Without doubt, it means the perfection of nature and the human condition, in order that He might be in the likeness of men. And well did he say: ‘the likeness’ not of the flesh but ‘of men,’ because He was in the same flesh. But, because He alone was without sin, whereas all men are in sin, He was seen in the appearance of man. So the Prophet says too: “He is a man and who can know it?” a man, indeed, according to the flesh; more than man according to the divine operation. When He touched a leper, He seemed a man, but more than man when He cleansed him. And when He wept for Lazarus who had died He wept as a man, but He was superior to man when He bade the dead to come forth with feet bound. He seemed a man when He hung on the cross, but more than man when He unsealed the tombs and brought the dead to life.

Let not the venom of Apollinaris flatter itself because it is written: “And in appearance he was found as a man,” for the manhood of Jesus is not thereby denied, but confirmed, since elsewhere Paul himself says of Him: “Mediator of God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus.” It is the customary manner of Scripture so to express itself as we also read in the Gospel: “And we saw his glory as of the only-begotten of the Father.” As He is there called only-begotten and it is not denied that He is the only-begotten Son of God, so He is said to be man, and the perfection of man that was in Him is not denied.

Since, therefore, He was in the likeness of a servant, He was humbled even unto death, yet He remained in the glory of God. In what way was His slavery prejudicial to Him? We read that He became a slave because we read that He was made of a virgin and created in the flesh. Now, every creature is a servant, as the Prophet says: “For all things serve you.” Therefore, God the Father also says: “I have found David, my servant: with my holy oil I have anointed him, He shall cry unto me: ‘You are my Father, the God of my salvation.’ And I will make him my firstborn.” And in another psalm: “Preserve my soul, because I am holy to you; save your servant,” and further on in the same psalm: “Give your strength to your servant, and save the son of your handmaid.” I have gathered together the words of the Father and of the Son that this man receive a reply, not from human arguments, but from the words of God.

Elsewhere, He says: “Into your hands I commend my spirit,” and “You have set my feet in a spacious place,” and “I have become a reproach for all my enemies,” and in the same psalm: “Make your face to shine upon your servant.” And through Isaiah, too, the Son of God Himself says: “From the womb of my mother the Lord has called my name. And he has made my mouth like a sharp sword. In the cover of his hand he has protected me. He has made me like a chosen arrow, and in his quiver he has covered me. And he said to me: ‘You are my servant, Israel.’” The Son of God is also called Israel, as [we read] elsewhere: “O Jacob, my servant, Israel my beloved.” He alone not only truly saw God the Father, but has also revealed Him.

And there follows: “ln you I shall be glorified. And I said: I have worked in vain, I have spent my strength without cause. Therefore my judgment is with the Lord and my sorrow before God.” And now speaks the Lord “that formed me from the womb to be his servant that I may bring back Jacob unto him [and Israel will not be gathered together].” Who but Christ has gathered together the people of God? Who has been glorified before the Lord? Who is the Power of God? To whom did the Father say: “Is it a great thing for you to be called my servant?” And to whom does He say: “Behold I have given thee to be the covenant of my generation, the light of the gentiles, and you may be my salvation even to the farthermost parts of the earth”? Of Him He speaks also through the mouth of Ezekiel, saying: “And I will set up one shepherd over them, and my servant David will rule them, and he will be their shepherd: And I the Lord will be their God: and my servant David the prince in the midst of them.” Of course, David the king was already dead, but the true David, the truly humble one, the truly meek, the true Son of God, strong of hand, is foretold by this name. He also is pointed out in the book of the Prophet Zachariah, God the Father saying: “I will bring my servant, the Orient is his name.” Although He wore sin-soiled garments, was not the Sun of Justice clothed with the splendor of His divinity?

What more can I say? Shall we consider servitude a state of greater weakness than sin or than a curse or a reproach more degraded than the infirmities which He took for our sake in order to turn them from us? He became all things so that He might annul them all. But they [our enemies] will not admit that He was made a slave, a reproach, sin, a curse, because they affirm that the Word and Flesh are of one substance, and they say: “Because He redeemed us He is called a servant, and ought to be called sin.” And they do not advert to the fact that this is the glory of Christ, that He took the state of slavery in His body, to restore liberty to us all; He bore our sins that He might take away the sins of the world.

He became a slave, sin, a curse that you might cease to be a slave of sin, and to free you from the curse of the divine judgment. He therefore took upon Him your curse, for “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a gibbet.” He became a curse on the cross so that you might be blessed in the kingdom of God. He was dishonored and disregarded and esteemed of no worth. He kept saying: “I have labored in vain.” Through Him Paul merited to say: “Not in vain have I labored,” so that he might bring to His servants the first fruits of good works and the glory of preaching the Gospel, by which all men are freed from the burden of toil.

After hearing these words, the partridge is abandoned in the midst of its days, the partridge which claimed to have hatched eggs which she did not lay, and has been overwhelmed by the voice of the Lord Jesus. At last, she is making preparation to flee.

Farewell, and love us, because we love you.

Translation from FC 26.136-143, adapted by SMT

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