Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. IV:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Letters of Athanasius with Two Ancient Chronicles of His Life.: First Letter to Monks. (Written 358-360).
p. 563 Letter LII.—First Letter to Monks 4641 . (Written 358–360).
1. To those in every place 4642 who are living a monastic life, who are established in the faith of God, and sanctified in Christ, and who say, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed Thee 4643 , brethren dearly beloved and longed for, heartiest greeting in the Lord.
1. In compliance with your affectionate request, which you have frequently urged upon me, I have written a short account of the sufferings which ourselves and the Church have undergone, refuting, according to my ability, the accursed heresy of the Arian madmen, and proving how entirely it is alien from the Truth. And I thought it needful to represent to your Piety what pains the writing of these things has cost me, in order that you may understand thereby how truly the blessed Apostle has said, O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God 4644 ; and may kindly bear with a weak man such as I am by nature. For the more I desired to write, and endeavoured to force myself to understand the Divinity of the Word, so much the more did the knowledge thereof withdraw itself from me; and in proportion as I thought that I apprehended it, in so much I perceived myself to fail of doing so. Moreover also I was unable to express in writing even what I seemed to myself to understand; and that which I wrote was unequal to the imperfect shadow of the truth which existed in my conception.
2. Considering therefore how it is written in the Book of Ecclesiastes, I said, I will be wise, but it was far from me; That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who shall find it out 4645 ? and what is said in the Psalms, The knowledge of Thee is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it 4646 ; and that Solomon says, It is the glory of God to conceal a thing 4647 ; I frequently designed to stop and to cease writing; believe me, I did. But lest I should be found to disappoint you, or by my silence to lead into impiety those who have made enquiry of you, and are given to disputation, I constrained myself to write briefly, what I have now sent 4648 to your piety. For although a perfect apprehension of the truth is at present far removed from us by reason of the infirmity of the flesh, yet it is possible, as the Preacher himself has said, to perceive the madness of the impious, and having found it, to say that it is more bitter than death 4649 . Wherefore for this reason, as perceiving this and able to find it out, I have written, knowing that to the faithful the detection of impiety is a sufficient information wherein piety consists. For although it be impossible to comprehend what God is, yet it is possible to say what He is not 4650 . And we know that He is not as man; and that it is not lawful to conceive of any originated nature as existing in Him. So also respecting the Son of God, although we are by nature very far from being able to comprehend Him; yet is it possible and easy to condemn the assertions of the heretics concerning Him, and to say, that the Son of God is not such; nor is it lawful even to conceive in our minds such things as they speak, concerning His Godhead; much less to utter them with the lips.
3. Accordingly I have written as well as I was able; and you, dearly beloved, receive these communications not as containing a perfect exposition of the Godhead of the Word, but as being merely a refutation of the impiety of the enemies of Christ, and as containing and affording to those who desire it, suggestions for arriving at a pious and sound faith in Christ. And if in anything they are defective (and I think they are defective in all respects), pardon it with a pure conscience, and only receive favourably the boldness of my good intentions in support of godliness. For an utter condemnation of the heresy of the Arians, it is sufficient for you to know the judgment given by the Lord in the death of Arius, of which you have already been informed by others. For what the Holy God hath purposed, who shall scatter 4651 ? and whom the Lord condemned who shall justify 4652 ? After such a sign given, who do not now acknowledge, that the heresy is hated of God, however it may have men for its patrons? Now when you have read this account, pray for me, and exhort one another so to do. And immediately send it back to me, and suffer no one whatever to take a copy of it, nor transcribe it for yourselves 4653 . But like p. 564 good money-changers 4654 be satisfied with the reading; but read it repeatedly if you desire to do so. For it is not safe that the writings of us babblers and private persons should fall into the hands of them that shall come after. Salute one another in love, and also all that come unto you in piety and faith. For if any man as the Apostle has said, love not the Lord, let him be anathema. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you 4655 . Amen.
This beautiful and striking Letter (Migne xxv. 691) formed the introduction to a work, which the Author, as he says in the course of it, thought unworthy of being preserved for posterity. Some critics have supposed it to be the Orations against the Arians; but this opinion can hardly be maintained (supr. p. 267). The Epistle was written in 358, or later, before the Epistle to Serapion. On its relation to the Arian History, see above, pp. 267, 268.563:4642
This appears inconsistent with the directions below, §3 (note 3). The heading is, therefore, of doubtful genuineness.563:4643
Matt. xix. 27.563:4644
Rom. xi. 33.563:4645
Eccl. 7:23, 24.563:4646
Ps. cxxxix. 6.563:4647
Prov. xxv. 2.563:4648
Probably a lost writing.563:4649
Eccles. vii. 26.563:4650
Newman observes in loc. “This negative character of our knowledge, whether of the Father or of the Son, is insisted on by other writers..…All we can know about the Divine Nature is, that it is not to be known; and whatever positive statements we make concerning God, relate not to His Nature, but to the accompaniments of His Nature. Damasc. F.O. i. 4; S. Basil c. Eunom. i. 10, Totum ab animo rejicite; quidquid occurrerit, negate.…dicite non est illud. August. Enarrat. 2. in Psalm xxvi. 8. Cyril, Catech. xi. 11. Anonym. in Append. Aug. Oper. t. 5. p. 383.” [Patr. Lat. xxxix. 2175.]563:4651
Is. xiv. 27.563:4652
Rom. 8:33, 34, so quoted Ep. Æg. 19.563:4653
Letter 54, fin.564:4654
“On this celebrated text, as it may be called, which is cited so frequently by the Fathers, vid. Coteler. in Const. Apol. ii. 36. in Clement Hom. ii. 51. Potter in Clem. Strom. i. p. 425. Vales. in Euseb. Hist. vii. 7.” [Westcott, Introd. to Study of Gospels, Appendix C.]564:4655
1 Cor. 16:22, 23.
Next: Second Letter to Monks.
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