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.: Letter to Maximus. (Written about 371 A.D.)
Letter LXI.—Letter to Maximus. (Written about 371 a.d.)
To our beloved and most truly longed-for son, Maximus 4776 , philosopher, Athanasius greeting in the Lord.
Having read the letter now come from you, I approve your piety: but, marvelling at the rashness of those who understand neither what they say nor whereof they confidently affirm 4777 , I had really decided to say nothing. For to reply upon matters which are so plain and which are clearer than light, is simply to give an excuse for shamelessness to such lawless men. And this we have learned from the Saviour. For when Pilate had washed his hands, and acquiesced in the false accusation of the Jews of that day, the Lord answered him no more, but rather warned his wife in a dream, so that He that was being judged might be believed to be God not in word, but in power. While after vouchsafing Caiaphas no reply to his folly, He Himself by his promise 4778 brought all over to knowledge. Accordingly for some time I delayed, and have reluctantly yielded to your zeal for the truth, in view of the argumentativeness of men without shame. And I have dictated nothing beyond what your letter contains, in order that the adversary may from henceforth be convinced on the points to which he has objected, and may keep his tongue from evil and his lips that they speak no guile 4779 . And would that they would no longer join the Jews who passed by of old in reproaching Him that hung upon the Tree: If thou be the Son of God save Thyself 4780 . But if even after this they will not give in, yet do you remember the apostolic injunction, and a man that is heretical after a first and second admonition refuse, knowing that such an one is perverted and sinneth being self-condemned 4781 . For if they are Gentiles, or of the Judaisers, who are thus daring, let them, as Jews, think the Cross of Christ a stumbling-block, or as Gentiles, foolishness 4782 . But if they pretend to be Christians let them learn that the crucified Christ is at once Lord of Glory, and the Power of God and Wisdom of God 4783 .
2. But if they are in doubt whether He is God at all, let them reverence Thomas, who handled the Crucified and pronounced Him Lord and God 4784 . Or let them fear the Lord Himself, who said, after washing the feet of the disciples: Ye call Me Lord and Master 4785 , and ye say well, for so I am. But in the same body in which He was when he washed their feet, He also carried up our sins to the Tree 4786 . And He was witnessed to as Master of Creation, in that the Sun withdrew his beams and the earth trembled and the rocks were rent, and the executioners recognised that the Crucified was truly Son of God. For the Body they beheld was not that of some man, but of God, being in which, even when being crucified, He raised the dead. Accordingly it is no good venture of theirs to say that the Word of God came into a certain holy man; for this was true of each of the prophets and of the other saints, and on that assumption He would clearly be born and die in the case of each one of them. But this is not so, far be the thought. But once for all at the consummation of the ages 4787 , to put away sin the Word was made flesh 4788 and proceeded forth from Mary the Virgin, Man after our likeness, as also He said to the Jews, Wherefore seek ye to kill Me, a man that hath told you the truth 4789 ? And we are deified not by partaking of the body of some p. 579 man, but by receiving the Body of the Word Himself.
3. And at this also I am much surprised, how they have ventured to entertain such an idea as that the Word became man in consequence of His Nature. For if this were so, the commemoration of Mary would be superfluous. 4790 For neither does Nature know of a Virgin bearing apart from a man. Whence by the good pleasure of the Father, being true God, and Word and Wisdom of the Father by nature, He became man in the body for our salvation, in order that having somewhat to offer 4791 for us He might save us all, as many as through fear of death were all their life-time subject to bondage. 4792 For it was not some man that gave Himself up for us; since every man is under sentence of death, according to what was said to all in Adam, earth thou art and unto earth thou shalt return. 4793 Nor yet was it any other of the creatures, since every creature is liable to change. But the Word Himself offered His own Body on our behalf that our faith and hope might not be in man, but that we might have our faith in God the Word Himself. Why, even now that He is become man we behold His Glory, glory as of one only-begotten of His Father—full of grace and truth. 4794 For what He endured by means of the Body, He magnified as God. And while He hungered in the flesh, as God He fed the hungry. And if anyone is offended by reason of the bodily conditions, let him believe by reason of what God works. For humanly He enquires where Lazarus is laid, but raises him up divinely. Let none then laugh, calling Him a child, and citing His age, His growth, His eating, drinking and suffering, lest while denying what is proper for the body, he deny utterly also His sojourn among us. And just as He has not become Man in consequence of His nature, in like manner it was consistent that when He had taken a body He should exhibit what was proper to it, lest the imaginary theory of Manichæus should prevail. Again it was consistent that when He went about in the body, He should not hide what belonged to the Godhead, lest he of Samosata should find an excuse to call Him man, as distinct in person from God the Word.
4. Let then the unbelievers perceive this, and learn that while as a Babe He lay in a manger, He subjected the Magi and was worshipped by them; and while as a Child He came down to Egypt, He brought to nought the hand-made objects of its idolatry 4795 : and crucified in the flesh, He raised the dead long since turned to corruption. And it has been made plain to all that not for His own sake but for ours He underwent all things, that we by His sufferings might put on freedom from suffering and incorruption 4796 , and abide unto life eternal.
5. This then I have concisely dictated, following, as I said above, the lines of your own letter, without working out any point any further but only mentioning what relates to the Holy Cross, in order that the despisers may be taught better upon the points where they were offended, and may worship the Crucified. But do you thoroughly persuade the unbelievers; perhaps somehow they may come from ignorance to knowledge, and believe aright. And even though what your own letter contains is sufficient, yet it is as well to have added what I have for the sake of reminder in view of contentious persons; not so much in order that being refuted in their venturesome statements they may be put to shame, as that being reminded they may not forget the truth. For let what was confessed by the Fathers at Nicæa prevail. For it is correct, and enough to overthrow every heresy however impious, and especially that of the Arians which speaks against the Word of God, and as a logical consequence profanes His Holy Spirit. Greet all who hold aright. All that are with us greet you.
Maximus, probably the Cynic philosopher who plays so strange and grotesque a part in the history of S. Gregory Nazianzens tenure of the see of Constantinople (the identification is questioned by Bright, p. 72, but without very cogent reasons), was the son of Alexandrian parents, persons of high social standing, who had suffered much for the Faith. He himself was an ardent opponent of Arianism and heathenism, and was banished under Valens (further particulars in Dict. Gr. and Rom. Biogr. s.v. Maximus Alexandrinus). The present letter compliments him on his success in refuting heretics, some of whom advocated the Arian Christology; others the doctrine of Paul of Samosata and Photinus. The Epistle has much in common with those to Epictetus and Adelphius; Montfaucons date for it is adopted. (See Migne xxvi. 1085; Bright, Lat. Tr., p. 72.)578:4777
1 Tim. i. 7.578:4778
Mark xv. 5; Matt. xxvi. 64; xxvii. 19578:4779
Ps. xxxiv. 13.578:4780
Matt. xxvii. 40; Luke xxviii. 37.578:4781
Titus 3:10, 11.578:4782
1 Cor. i. 23.578:4783
Cf. 1 Cor. 1:24, 1 Cor. 2:81 Cor. i. 24, and ii. 8.578:4784
John xx. 28.578:4785
Ath. quotes John xiii. 13 in this, the order of several mss. and later fathers, both here and elsewhere.578:4786
1 Pet. ii. 24.578:4787
Heb. ix. 26.578:4788
John i. 14.578:4789
Cf. Ad Epict. 5 (supr. p. 572.)579:4791
Cf. Heb. viii. 3579:4792
Gen. iii. 19, LXX.579:4794
John i. 14 b.579:4795
Cf. de Incarn. 36. 4.579:4796
Cf. 1 Cor. xv. 53.
Next: To John and Antiochus.
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