Reference numbers Urk. 14
Doc. 17
CPG 2002
Incipit Ἡ φίλαρχος
Date 324
Ancient source Theodoret, Church History 1.4
Modern edition used L. Parmentier and F. Scheidweiler, Theodoret. Kirchengeschichte, 2nd edition, Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller 44 (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1954)
Note on recipient Regarding the location of the recipient: Constantinople did not exist yet at the time of this letter. By the time the Syriac translations were made, Byzantium had been rebuilt under its new name, Constantinople, accounting for the translation. Schwartz emended “Alexander of Constantinople” to “Alexander of Thessalonica,” (as also in Urk. 18) but we follow Theodoret, agreeing with T.D. Barnes, who has found that Alexander was indeed bishop of Byzantium (and then Constantinople) until 337 (Constantine and Eusebius, p. 376, note 151, and “Emperor and Bishops A.D. 324-344: Some Problems,” American Journal of Ancient History 3 [1978], p 66). For other supporters of “Byzantium” see Williams, p. 291, note 3; Parvis, pp. 38, 74; and Ayers, p. 43f. Hanson follows Opitz and Schwartz in assuming the text should be amended (p. 17, note 45).
Note on date,
authorship, function
For the debate on the date, authorship, and function of this letter, see the brief remarks before letter 4b (Henos sōmatos), which must be dealt with when dating this letter. Parvis assumes this should be seen as an example of a circular letter sent to many bishops rather than a strictly personal letter (pp. 74-75; see Epiphanius, Refutation of All Heresies 69.4, where Alexander is supposed to have sent 70 letters to bishops all over the empire concerning the growing controversy; also Document 15)

Alexander sends greetings in the Lord to his most honorable and likeminded brother Alexander.

(1.) Among untrustworthy men, the greedy and ambitious ones have always plotted to harm the most important dioceses. Such people attack the religion of the church because of many different excuses.  The devil works in them and stirs them up to set aside all godliness for the pleasure they fancy most and to trample on the fear of God’s judgment. (2.) I thought it was urgent to explain to your piety what I have suffered in these matters. You need to be on your guard against such people in case one of them would dare to enter your diocese too. These cheats are skilled in deception, so beware lest they use deceitfully designed letters and thus are able to snatch away people whose faith is simple-minded and pure.

(3.) Recently, Arius and Achillas have formed a conspiracy. They imitated the ambition of Colluthus, though they are much worse than he was. He brought charges against them, but at least he found a motive for his own malicious course of action. After they saw him use Christ as a business to profit himself, they refused to remain under the authority of the church. Instead, they built robbers’ dens for themselves [cf. Matt. 21:13] and now hold meetings in them constantly, where day and night they slander Christ and his church. (4.) They hate every sacred apostolic doctrine and like the Jews have organized a gang to fight against Christ. They deny the divinity of our Savior; they say that he is on the same level as everybody else. After they have picked out every passage about the plan of salvation and about how he humbled himself for our sake [cf. Phil 2:8], they use those very passages to piece together their own wicked message. At the same time they avoid the passages about his eternal divinity and the indescribable glory he shares with the Father.

(5.) They do whatever they can to maintain the ungodly doctrine about Christ believed by the Greeks and the Jews because they want their approval. They diligently do all of the things that outsiders ridicule about us while they daily incite persecutions and encourage rebellion against us. They accuse us before the courts with the testimony of immoral women whom they have deceived [cf. 1 Timothy 5:11-13] and at the same time they disgrace Christianity by allowing their own young women to wander shamefully on every street. In essence, they have had the audacity to tear apart the seamless garment of Christ, which even the soldiers did not dare to divide [cf. John 19:23-24]. (6.) Because of the way they operate, they were able to keep their ungodly attacks unnoticed for a long time. But when they finally came to our attention, we unanimously drove them out of the church that worships the divine Christ.

(7.) They ran everywhere, forming plots against us. They even addressed our fellow ministers, who believed the same things we did, under the pretense of wanting peace and unity—they were actually trying to sweep some of them into their own disease. They ask them to write a wordy letter so they can read aloud the contents to those who have already been fooled by them. This is how they avoid losing their approval and are rooted in their disrespect of God by acting as if the bishops agree and share their views. (8.) They do not even acknowledge the evil things they have done and practiced. We expelled them for those things, but they just keep passing them on in secret or trying to cover them up with lies or fake writings. (9.) Once they have covered up their destructive teaching with persuasive and down-to-earth explanations, they are able to rope in people who do not know the truth about them. At the same time they never miss an opportunity to misrepresent every single thing about our religion. Because of this, some agree with their letters and add their signature to show that the church should receive them. That our fellow pastors dare to do this is appalling to me! They not only compromise the apostolic rule but also light the fire of this devilish work against Christ under themselves.

(10.) Because of this, dear friends, I could not help myself—I had to tell you about the unbelief of such people. They say, “There was [a time] when the Son of God did not exist,” and “The one who did not exist in the beginning came into being, and when at some point that one came into being, he became like any other man.”

(11.) “For God created everything out of nothing,” they say, including the Son of God as a creation along with all the other rational and irrational creatures. Of necessity they continue by saying that his nature is changeable, able to do either good or evil. Their claim that he was created out of nothing overthrows the sacred Scriptures that say that he is eternal and that the Word is, by nature, unchangeable. The Scriptures also declare that the Wisdom of the Word, which is Christ, is divine. But these cursed lowlifes say, “We, too, are able to become just like him, sons of God.” (12.) For it is written [they say], “I have created and raised children [Isaiah 1:2 (LXX)].” So we bring up the second half of that verse, “and they have rebelled against me,” and point out that this is inconsistent with the unchangeable nature of the Savior. At this point they throw away any respectability they might have had and argue that God chose Christ above all others because he knew beforehand and foresaw that Christ would not rebel against him. (13.) They also explain that just because he was chosen does not mean that he was created better than the other sons of God (they say that no man is a son of God by nature or has a special relationship with him). Instead they claim that he was chosen because even though his nature was changeable, he was careful enough and worked hard enough to keep himself from becoming inferior. (14.) As if Paul and Peter would have been “sons” at the same level if they had worked as hard! To establish this teaching they butcher the Scriptures by quoting what is said in the Psalms about Christ, “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness, therefore your God has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your companions.” [Ps 45:7, (44:8 LXX), Heb. 1:9].

(15.) John the Evangelist specifically taught that the Son of God was not created out of nothing and that there never was a time when he did not exist. He wrote, “the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father.” This divine teacher showed that the Father and the Son cannot be separated from each other when he said, “the Son is in the bosom of the Father” [John 1:18]. (16.) The same John makes sure not to include the Word of God among the things created from nothing. He says, “all things were made through him.” He also shows that he is a unique person when he says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…All things were made by him, and not a single thing was made without him” [John 1:1-3]. (17.) If everything was made by him, how did everything come into being through him at a time when he did not exist? Could the Word, the creating power, really have the same nature as the things it created? No. He existed in the beginning, and everything was made by him, and he made everything out of nothing. (18.) The things created from nothing are nothing like “the one who is”. That section of Scripture shows that there is no separation between the Father and the Son; the thought of separation does not even cross the hearers’ mind. The fact is the world was created out of nothing.  That means that its nature has a later, fresh beginning, and the Father gave it its beginning through the Son.

(19.) The blessed John knew that created beings could not understand the “was” that describes the Word of God. So he did not try to explain the Word’s generation or creation and he resisted putting a name to the Maker and to the created things. Not that the Son of God is unbegotten—only the Father is unbegotten—it is just that the indescribable character of the only-begotten God is beyond even the brightest of the Evangelists’ understanding, maybe even the angels too!. For this reason, I maintain that the people who are trying to reason out this subject are ungodly. They go against the proverb, “Do not seek what is too difficult for you or look into things too high for you” [Sir. 3:21]. (20.) The knowledge of many other much less complicated things is still beyond the capacity of the human mind. As Paul said, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have they entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love him” [1 Cor. 2:9]. God also said to Abraham that he was not able to count the stars. Similarly it is said, “Who shall number the grains of sand by the sea-shore, or the drops of rain?” [Sir. 1:2] (21.) So then, how could anyone but a lunatic try to figure out the nature of the Word of God? The Spirit of prophecy addressed this when he said, “Who can speak of his generation?” [Isa. 53:8] And so it was out of kindness for all of those who were pillars in the world that our Savior was eager to free them from trying to grasp this knowledge. He told them that it was beyond their natural comprehension and to leave the knowledge of this divine mystery to the Father. He said, “No man knows the Son but the Father, and no man knows the Father except the Son” [Matt. 11:27]. I think the Father was talking about this when he said, “My mystery is for me” [Isa. 24:16 (a reading in some LXX mss.)].

(22.)  But the words “out of nothing” make it clear that it is insane to imagine that the Son of God came into being out of nothing and that he has a certain starting point in time. The foolish are of course unable to see the stupidity of their own sayings. Their phrase, “He was not” must either have reference to time or to some interval in eternity. (23) If it is true that everything was made by him, then every age, time, and interval of time–even that time “when he was not”—was made by him. So is it not incredible that they say that there was a time when the one who created time, ages, and seasons (and they are so confused that they include the time when he “was not” in that list) did not exist? It is not only ignorant, but it also goes against all reason, to claim that a person who creates something can come into being after the thing that he created!

(24.) They say that there is an interval of time in which the Son was not yet begotten of the Father. According to them, this interval is the time before the wisdom of God existed, by whom all things were created.  But this contradicts the passage that says he is the “firstborn over all creation” [Col. 1:15]. (25.)  Paul agrees with this with his usual loud voice by saying about him, “whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe” [Heb. 1:2], and, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things” [Col 1:16-17]. (26.) So their hypothesis that the Son was created “out of nothing” is clearly ungodly. The Father has to always be a Father. He is always the Father of a Son who is there—he is the reason that he is called Father.  The Son has to always be present with him so that the Father is always complete and not lacking anything good. That’s why he could not have begotten his only Son in time, or any interval of time, or out of nothing.(27.) Why is it unholy to say, “There was a time when the wisdom of God did not exist”? That Wisdom itself says, “I was brought up at his side: I was daily his delight [Prov. 8:30]” Would it not be unholy to say that at one time the power of God did not exist, or his Word, or anything else that describes the Son and characterizes the Father at the same time? To say that the brightness of the Father’s glory [cf. Heb 1:3] “once did not exist” destroys the original light too, because the brightness comes from it. If the image of God did not always exist, then it is clear that God, in whose image the Son is, also did not always exist. (28.) No, if the full expression of God’s character did not exist, then everything else about him [i.e., the Son] that also characterized God must not exist either. That fact shows that the sonship of our Savior has nothing in common with the sonship of anyone else. (29.) It has been shown that the nature of the Son’s existence cannot be explained by any human language. The excellence of his nature is infinitely beyond the nature of everything that he has created. In the same way his sonship, which by nature shares the Father’s divinity, is unspeakably better than the sonship of the people God has chosen to adopt as sons. He is by nature unchangeable, perfect, and does not need anything. On the other hand, humans are able to change and need help from him.

(30.) What can be added to improve the wisdom of God [1 Cor. 1:24-25]? What can Truth personified add to itself? How can God the Word, the Life and the True Light [John 1:4, 9; 14:6], possibly be improved? Is it not unnatural to think that wisdom can be prone to foolishness? That the power of God can be united with weakness? That reason can be dimmed by unreasonableness or that darkness can be mixed with the true light? Does not the apostle address this directly by saying, “What fellowship does light have with darkness? And what harmony does Christ have with Belial?” [2 Cor 6:14-15]  Does not Solomon say that “the way of a snake on a rock” [Prov. 30:19] is too wonderful for the human mind to understand—the rock here, according to St. Paul, is Christ [1 Cor. 10:4]. He gave his creations, angels and humans, the blessing to be able to keep working on being virtuous and being obedient to his commands so that they will not sin.

(31.) Because of this our Lord, who is by nature the Son of the Father, is worshiped by all. Some have put off the spirit of slavery [Phil 2:11] and have received the spirit of adoption [Rom 8:15] by bravely working and making progress in virtue. They have become sons by adoption through the kindness of the one who is the Son of God by nature. (32.)  Paul explained his true, unique, natural, and special sonship, when he said by inspiration “he did not spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us”, who are by nature not his sons [Rom 8:32]. (33.) To distinguish him from those who are not “his own”, God called him “his own son.” It is also written in the Gospel, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” [Matt. 3:17], and in the Psalms the Savior says, “The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son’” [Ps 2:7]. He points out that he is a natural son to show that there are no other natural sons except him. (34.) The words, “I begot you from the womb before dawn” [Ps. 109:3 (LXX), 110:3 English] plainly show that his natural sonship and paternal birth is his because of his unique nature. He did not receive it by being particularly diligent or working hard to progress morally. Because of this, the only-begotten Son is not able to lose his sonship. Rational people who are adopted by God are not his natural sons, but have been adopted because of their good character and by the grace of God. These types of sons can fall away. This is written in the passage, “The sons of God saw the daughters of men, and took them as wives” [Gen 6:2-3] etc…In addition, God said through Isaiah, “I have nourished and brought up children and they have rebelled against me” [Isa. 1:2].

(35.) Since I have much more to say, my friend, I will stop at this; for I do not want to wear you out by excessively teaching to likeminded brothers. You are “taught by God” [1 Thess. 4:9] and are aware that this recent teaching, which is against the religion of the church, is the same as that of Ebion and Artemas. It rivals the heresy of Paul of Samosata, bishop of Antioch, who was excommunicated by a council of all the bishops. (36.) Lucian, his successor, removed himself from fellowship with these three bishops for years. And now, out of nowhere, there are men among us who have sucked up the dregs of this ungodliness. All of them secretly come from the same root: Arius and Achillas and their gang of evildoers. (37.) Three bishops of Syria (I do not know how they got appointed) are fanning the flames by agreeing with them. I leave their judgment in your hands. They fill their heads with everything that has anything to do with Christ’s suffering, humiliation, emptying of himself, and so-called poverty [Phil. 2:7-8]. They present those passages to disprove his eternal existence and divinity and at the same time forget all those passages that prove his glory and nobility and presence with the Father, for example, “I and the Father are one” [John 10:30].

(38.) Note what the Lord says.  He does not proclaim himself to be the Father or say that the two natures are one. He states that the Son of the Father accurately presents the likeness of the Father. He says that his nature took the exact likeness of his Father in every way, and that his image is indistinguishable from the father’s; he is like an exact stamp of the original. (39.)   That is why the Lord answered so plainly when Philip asked to see the Father. Phillip said to him, “Show us the Father;” and the Lord replied, “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” [John 14:8-9] as if the Father is seen through him like through a mirror. He is a spotless and living reflection of his Father. (40.) The saints say the same thing in the Psalms, “In your light we shall see light” [Ps. 36:9]. Because of this “he who honors the Son, honors the Father” [John 5:23]. Similarly, every ungodly word that people dare to say against the Son is also spoken against the Father [John 15:23].

(41.) Friends, who could be surprised at each of the deceitful reports I’m about to list—reports against me and against our most pious people. They not only set themselves against the divinity of the Son, but they also ungratefully try to insult us. They think that it is beneath them to be compared with anyone who is older; they refuse to appear to be on the same level as teachers that we have associated with since childhood. They will not admit that any of our fellow ministers could have even a little intelligence. They say that they are the only ones who are wise and understanding and the discoverers of doctrines. They say that these truths have been revealed only to them and that these truths have never even crossed the mind of any other person under the sun.

(42.) What wicked arrogance! What immeasurable madness! Such false pride combined with satanic thoughts! These things have hardened their evil hearts. (43.)   They are not ashamed that they are ignoring the God-inspired clarity of the ancient scriptures. The united piety of each of our fellow ministers does not even make them lose their nerve. Not even a demon puts up with wickedness like this—even they keep from blaspheming against the Son of God.

(44.) So I at least have done the best that I can to ask pointed questions to those who throw uneducated mud on Christ and try to misrepresent what we teach about him. They just make up fairy tales! When we reject their evil and unscriptural blasphemy that Christ came from nothing, they say that we teach that there are two unbegotten beings. These uneducated people can only think of two options: Either you believe that he came out of nothing, or you believe that there are two unbegotten beings. They are ignorant newcomers when it comes to theology; they do not realize how big the difference is between the unbegotten Father and everything that he created out of nothing, either rational or irrational. (45.) They do not understand the only begotten nature of him who is the Word of God. The Father created the universe out of nothing through him, and the Father is the one who begets him. The Lord himself proved this when he said, “Everyone that loves the Father also loves the Son who is begotten of him” [1 John 5:1].

(46.) We believe the same thing that the apostolic church believes: There is one unbegotten Father. Nothing caused him to exist, he is unchanging and unchangeable, his being always stays just the way it is, and he does not get better or worse. He gave the Law, the Prophets, and the Gospel. He is the Lord of the patriarchs and apostles and of all the saints.

We also believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, not begotten out of nothing, but out of the Father. He is not begotten like things in the world are, like cutting a piece off something or emitting something, as Sabellius and Valentinus taught. He is begotten in an inexpressible and unexplainable way, as we quoted above, “Who can speak of his generation?” [Isa. 53:8] No human mind is able to understand the nature of his substance or the Father’s. Rational people simply do not have the ability to understand in what way he was begotten of the Father. (47.)  But people led by the Spirit of truth do not need to take these things from me. What the Savior said long ago still echoes in our ears, “No one knows who the Father is but the Son, and no one knows who the Son is but the Father” [Matt 11:27]. We have learned that the Son is unchanging and unchangeable; he lacks nothing and is complete, like the Father except that he is unbegotten. He is the exact image and sculpture of his Father. (48.) It is clear that the image is filled with everything that makes up the greater likeness, as the Lord himself taught when he said, “My Father is greater than I” [John 14:28]. In agreement with this we believe that the Son was always “of the Father”. He is the radiance of his glory and the exact stamp of the Father’s substance. But no one should take the word “always” to mean that the Son is unbegotten, as some ignorant people have been led to believe. To say “he was always…”, and “before all ages”, is not the same thing as saying he is unbegotten. (49.) As it is, human understanding could never coin a term that explains what it means to be unbegotten; none of these terms represent the unbegotten well (I think you share this opinion, and I am positive that your view is orthodox). (50.) All of these terms make it sound like a period of time. They are not able to express the full sense of the divinity and the antiquity of the only begotten Son. They were used by holy men who did what they could to make the mystery clearer. And even they asked for patience from those who listened to them by attaching a reasonable qualification: what they said was limited by their understanding.

(51.) If men expect anything better than that to come from human lips, then they must think that what is “known in part” has already been “done away with” for them [cf. 1 Cor 13:8-12]. It is clear that the “was” and “always” and “before all ages” fall short of that hope. Whatever these words mean, it is not the same as “unbegotten.” (52.) At any rate, we have to guard the Father’s unique status as the Unbegotten One because it is never said that anything caused him to exist. It is also necessary to guard the Son’s particular honor, since his generation from the Father has no starting point. We will continue worshiping him as we have been, piously and respectfully referring to him with the terms “was”, and “ever,” and “before all ages.” We do not reject his divinity but instead credit to him his perfect likeness to his Father in every way. At the same time, we credit to the Father his unique glory: that only he is “the Unbegotten One.” The Savior himself says, “My Father is greater than I am” [John 14:28]. (53.) The Sacred Scriptures teach us this pious teaching about the Father and Son. In addition, they teach us and we confess that there is one Holy Ghost who inspired the saints of the Old Testament and the holy teachers of the New Testament. We confess the one and only apostolic Catholic Church which does not decay but lasts forever. Even if the whole world went to war against it, it would still be victorious over all of the wicked attacks of the heterodox. Have courage! Our Master prepared us for this with his words, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” [John 16:33].

(54.) Besides this, we acknowledge the resurrection from the dead, of which our Lord Jesus was the first-fruits [1 Cor. 15:20]. He truly had a real body, not just the appearance of a body; he was born of Mary the mother of God; when the time had fully come he lived among humans for the forgiveness of their sins; he was crucified and buried—none of this decreased his divinity in any way; he rose from the dead, was taken up to heaven, and he sat down at the “right hand of the Majesty” [Heb. 9:26].

(55.) In this letter I have only partially mentioned these things. As I said before, it would be tiresome to talk about each point even briefly since you are pious and diligent enough that you know them. These things we teach, these things we preach. These are the doctrines of the apostolic Church—we are ready to die for them and we pay no mind to those who would force us to give them up. We will never turn away from the hope that we have in them, even if they try to force us by torture.

(56.) Both the people who oppose Arius and Achillas and also those who fight against the truth with them have been driven from the church. They have all become hostile to our godly doctrine, just like the blessed Paul said, “If anyone preaches to you a gospel contrary to what you have received, let him be cursed (anathema),” even if he pretends to be an angel from heaven [Gal 1:8-9]. (57.)  So, since they have been condemned (anathematized) by the brothers, no one should receive them or anything that they say or write. They are all lying babblers who are unable to speak the truth. (58.) They travel around to different cities, pretending to come in friendship and in the name of peace. They are running around for no other reason than to give and receive fake letters that defend and flatter them. By doing this they deceive a few “weak women who are loaded down with sins” [2 Tim. 3:6].

(59.) My beloved and likeminded brothers, reject these people! They dared to do these things against Christ, they publicly mocked Christianity, and they keep trying to give false information before the courts. During this time of peace, they have tried to stir up persecution against us. They have broken down the inexpressible mystery of how Christ is begotten. Work together and be courageous against their insanity just like our fellow ministers, who are filled with anger and wrote a letter to me against them and also signed our letter condemning them. I have sent these letters to you through my son Apion, the deacon. They have the signatures of everyone in Egypt and Thebaid, Libya, the Pentapolis, Syria, Lycia, Pamphylia, Asia, Cappadocia, and the surrounding areas. I hope you will follow their example when you receive it. (60.)  I have tried many times to win back those who have been led astray and I have found the best solution is for us to show that we fellow-ministers are united. If we do this we will quickly bring the lay people who have been deceived back to repentance. So greet each other in the brotherhood that you have. I pray that you will be strengthened in the Lord, my friends, and that I can enjoy the support of your hearts being filled with the love of Christ.

(61.) Here are the names of those who have been condemned as heretics: Among the presbyters, Arius; among the deacons, Achillas, Euzoius, Aethales, Lucius, Sarmatas, Julius, Menas, another Arius, and Helladius.

[Compare this list to the list in Urkunde 6]

Translation from NPNF2 vol. 3, p. 35-41, first adapted by AJW, revised by JAB.

The translation in Christianity in Late Antiquity, no. 21 was consulted in the initial adaptation.

Sections 9-11 are translated in Ayres, pp. 50-51.

Discussed in Hanson, p. 141-2 and New Eusebius, no. 28

Last updated 10/24/2013, JAB.

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