On “Theology Thursday,” we feature short excerpts on various areas of systematic theology, from a wide variety of colorful (and drab) characters and institutions. We hope these short readings are a stimulus for personal reflection, a challenge to theological complacency, and an impetus for apologetic zeal “to encourage you to contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3).
Bishop Alexander Warns the Flock
(From the Epistle of Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, c. A.D. 318)
Many heresies have arisen before these, which exceeding all bounds in daring, have lapsed into complete infatuation: but these persons, by attempting in all their discourses to subvert the Divinity of THE WORD, as having made a nearer approach to Antichrist, have comparatively lessened the odium of former ones. Wherefore they have been publicly repudiated by the Church, and anathematized. We are indeed grieved on account of the perdition of these persons, and especially so because, after having been previously instructed in the doctrines of the Church, they have now apostatized from them.
Nevertheless we are not greatly surprised at this, for Hymenæus and Philetus fell in like manner; and before them Judas, who had been a follower of the Saviour, but afterwards deserted him and became his betrayer. Nor were we without forewarning respecting these very persons: for the Lord himself said: ‘Take heed that no man deceive you: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ: and shall any deceive many’; and ‘the time is at hand; Go ye not therefore after them.’ And Paul, having learned these things from the Saviour, wrote, ‘That in the latter times some should apostatize from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits, and doctrines of devils,’ who pervert the truth.
Seeing then that our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ has himself enjoined this, and has also by the apostle given us intimation respecting such men, we having ourselves heard their impiety, have in consequence anathematized them, as we before said, and declared them to be alienated from the Catholic Church and faith.
Moreover we have intimated this to your piety, beloved and most honored fellow-ministers, in order that ye might neither receive any of them, if they should presume to come to you, nor be induced to put confidence in Eusebius, or any other who may write to you about them. For it is incumbent on us who are Christians, to turn away from all those who speak or entertain a thought against Christ, as from those who are resisting God, and are destroyers of the souls of men: neither does it become us even ‘to salute such men,’ as the blessed John has prohibited, ‘lest we should at any time be made partakers of their sins.’ Greet the brethren which are with you; those who are with me salute you. 1
To Our Blessed Pope and Bishop, Alexander, the Presbyters and Deacons send health in the Lord.
Our faith from our forefathers, which also we have learned from thee, Blessed Pope, is this:
- We acknowledge One God, alone Ingenerate, alone Everlasting, alone Unbegun, alone True, alone having Immortality, alone Wise, alone Good, alone Sovereign; Judge, Governor, and Providence of all, unalterable and unchangeable, just and good, God of Law and Prophets and New Testament;
- who begat an Only-begotten Son before eternal times, through whom He has made both the ages and the universe;
- and begat Him, not in semblance, but in truth;
- and that He made Him subsist at His own will, unalterable and unchangeable; perfect creature of God, but not as one of the creatures;
- offspring, but not as one of things begotten; nor as Valentinus pronounced that the offspring of the Father was an issue; nor as Manichæus taught that the offspring was a portion of the Father, one in essence; or as Sabellius, dividing the Monad, speaks of a Son-and-Father; nor as Hieracas, of one torch from another, or as a lamp divided into two; nor that He who was before, was afterwards generated or new-created into a Son, as thou too thyself, Blessed Pope, in the midst of the Church and in session hast often condemned;
- but, as we say, at the will of God, created before times and before ages, and gaining life and being from the Father, who gave subsistence to His glories together with Him. For the Father did not, in giving to Him the inheritance of all things, deprive Himself of what He has ingenerately in Himself; for He is the Fountain of all things.
- Thus there are Three Subsistences. And God, being the cause of all things, is Unbegun and altogether Sole, but the Son being begotten apart from time by the Father, and being created and founded before ages, was not before His generation, but being begotten apart from time before all things, alone was made to subsist by the Father.
- For He is not eternal or co-eternal or co-unoriginate with the Father, nor has He His being together with the Father, as some speak of relations, introducing two ingenerate beginnings, but God is before all things as being Monad and Beginning of all. Wherefore also He is before the Son; as we have learned also from thy preaching in the midst of the Church.
- So far then as from God He has being, and glories, and life, and all things are delivered unto Him, in such sense is God His origin. For He is above Him, as being His God and before Him.
- But if the terms ‘from Him,’ and ‘from the womb,’ and ‘I came forth from the Father, and I am come’ (Rom. 11:36; Ps. 110:3; John 16:28), be understood by some to mean as if a part of Him, one in essence or as an issue, then the Father is according to them compounded and divisible and alterable and material, and, as far as their belief goes, has the circumstances of a body, Who is the Incorporeal God.
This is a part of what Arius and his fellows vomited from their heretical hearts.2
1 Socrates Scholasticus, “Ecclesiastical History,” Book 1, Chapter 6, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, 14 vols., ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. A. C. Zenos (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890), 2:5.
2 Athanasius of Alexandria, “Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia,” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, 14 vols. ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. John Henry Newman and Archibald T. Robertson (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1892), 4:458.