Letter CCLXI. 3167
To the Sozopolitans. 3168
I have received the letter which you, right honourable brethren, have sent me concerning the circumstances in which you are placed. I thank the Lord that you have let me share in the anxiety you feel as to your attention to things needful and deserving of serious heed. But I was distressed to hear that over and above the disturbance brought on the Churches by the Arians, and the confusion caused by them in the definition of the faith, there has appeared among you yet another innovation, throwing the brotherhood into great dejection, because, as you have informed me, certain persons are uttering, in the hearing of the faithful, novel and unfamiliar doctrines which they allege to be deduced from the teaching of Scripture. You write that there are men among you who are trying to destroy the saving incarnation 3169 of our Lord Jesus Christ, and, p. 300 so far as they can, are overthrowing the grace of the great mystery unrevealed from everlasting, but manifested in His own times, when the Lord, when He had gone through 3170 all things pertaining to the cure of the human race, bestowed on all of us the boon of His own sojourn among us. For He helped His own creation, first through the patriarchs, whose lives were set forth as examples and rules to all willing to follow the footsteps of the saints, and with zeal like theirs to reach the perfection of good works. Next for succour He gave the Law, ordaining it by angels in the hand of Moses; 3171 then the prophets, foretelling the salvation to come; judges, kings, and righteous men, doing great works, with a mighty 3172 hand. After all these in the last days He was Himself manifested ill the flesh, “made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” 3173
2. If, then, the sojourn of the Lord in flesh has never taken place, the Redeemer 3174 paid not the fine to death on our behalf, nor through Himself destroyed deaths reign. For if what was reigned over by death was not that which was assumed by the Lord, death would not have ceased working his own ends, nor would the sufferings of the God-bearing flesh have been made our gain; He would not have killed sin in the flesh: we who had died in Adam should not have been made alive in Christ; the fallen to pieces would not have been framed again; the shattered would not have been set up again; that which by the serpents trick had been estranged from God would never have been made once more His own. All these boons are undone by those that assert that it was with a heavenly body that the Lord came among us. And if the God-bearing flesh was not ordained to be assumed of the lump of Adam, what need was there of the Holy Virgin? But who has the hardihood now once again to renew by the help of sophistical arguments and, of course, by scriptural evidence, that old dogma 3175 of Valentinus, now long ago silenced? For this impious doctrine of the seeming 3176 is no novelty. It was started long ago by the feeble-minded Valentinus, who, after tearing off a few of the Apostles statements, constructed for himself this impious fabrication, asserting that the Lord assumed the “form of a servant,” 3177 and not the servant himself, and that He was made in the “likeness,” but that actual manhood was not assumed by Him. Similar sentiments are expressed by these men who can only be pitied for bringing new troubles upon you. 3178
3. As to the statement that human feelings are transmitted to the actual Godhead, it is one made by men who preserve no order in their thoughts, and are ignorant that there is a distinction between the feelings of flesh, of flesh endowed with soul, and of soul using a body. 3179 It is the property of flesh to undergo division, diminution, dissolution; of flesh endowed with soul to feel weariness, pain, hunger, thirst, and to be overcome by sleep; of soul using body to feel grief, heaviness, anxiety, and such like. Of these some are natural and necessary to every living creature; others come of evil will, and are superinduced because of lifes lacking proper discipline and training for virtue. Hence it is evident that our Lord assumed the natural affections to establish His real incarnation, and not by way of semblance of incantation, and that all the affections derived from evil that besmirch the purity of our life, He rejected as unworthy of His unsullied Godhead. It is on this account that He is said to have been “made in the likeness of flesh of sin;” 3180 not, as these men hold, in likeness of flesh, but of flesh of sin. It follows that He took our flesh with its natural afflictions, but “did no sin.” 3181 Just as the death which is in the flesh, transmitted to us through Adam, was swallowed up by the Godhead, so was the sin taken away by the righteousness which is in Christ Jesus, 3182 so that in the resurrection we receive back the flesh neither liable to death nor subject to sin.
These, brethren, are the mysteries of the p. 301 Church; these are the traditions of the Fathers. Every man who fears the Lord, and is awaiting Gods judgment, I charge not to be carried away by various doctrines. If any one teaches a different doctrine, and refuses to accede to the sound words of the faith, rejecting the oracles of the Spirit, and making his own teaching of more authority than the lessons of the Gospels, of such an one beware. May the Lord grant that one day we may meet, so that all that my argument has let slip I may supply when we stand face to face! I have written little when there was much to say, for I did not like to go beyond my letters bounds. At the same time I do not doubt that to all that fear the Lord a brief reminder is enough.
This letter is placed in 377. Fessler styles it “celeberrima.” The Benedictine heading is “Cum scripsissent Basilio Sozopolitani nonnullos carnem cœlestem Christo affingere et affectus humanos in ipsam divinitatem conferre; breviter hunc errorem refellit; ac demonstrat nihil nobis prodesse passiones Christi si non eandem ac nos carnem habuit. Quod spectat ad affectus humanos, probat naturales a Christo assumptos fuisse, vitiosos vero nequaquam.”299:3168
Sozopolis, or Suzupolis, in Pisidia (cf. Evagrius, Hist. Ecc. iii. 33), has been supposed to be the ancient name of Souzon, S. of Aglasoun, where ruins still exist. On its connexion with Apollonia, cf. Hist. Geog. A.M. p. 400.299:3169
Here the Ben. Ed. call attention to the fact that S. Basil may by this word indicate the appearance of the Son to the patriarchs before the Birth from the Virgin, and compares a similar statement in his Book Cont. Eunom. II., as well as the words of Clemens Alex. in the work Quis Dives Salvandus, n. 8, in which the Son is described as ἀπὸ γενέσεως μέχρι τοῦ σημείου τὴν ἀνθρωπότητα διατρέχων.300:3171
cf. Gal. iii. 19.300:3172
κραταιᾷ with the ed. Par. seems to make better sense than κρυφαί& 139·, which has better authority.300:3173
Gal. 4:4, 5.300:3174
Λυτρωτής. cf. Acts vii. 35, where R.V. gives redeemer as marginal rendering. Λυτρωτής=payer of the λύτρον, which is the means of release (λύω). The word is used of Moses in the Acts in a looser sense than here of the Saviour.300:3175
On the use of “dogma” for heretical opinion, cf. De Sp. S. note on § 66.300:3176
Phil. ii. 7.300:3178
On the Docetism of Valentinus vide Dr. Salmon in D. C. Biog. i. 869. “According to V. (Irenæus i. 7) our Lords nature was fourfold: (1) He had a ψυχή or animal soul; (2) He had a πνεῦμα or spiritual principle derived from Achamoth; (3) He had a body, but not a material body, but a heavenly one.…(4) The pre-existent Saviour descended on Him in the form of a dove at His Baptism. When our Lord was brought before Pilate, this Saviour as being incapable of suffering withdrew His power;” (cf. the Gospel of Peter, “The Lord cried, saying, My Power, my Power, Thou hast left me.”) “and the spiritual part which was also impassible was likewise dismissed; the animal soul and the wonderfully contrived body alone remaining to suffer, and to exhibit on the cross on earth a representation of what had previously taken place on the heavenly Stauros. It thus appears that Valentinus was only partially docetic.” But cf. Iren. v. 1, 2, and iii. 22.300:3179
cf. De Sp. S. § 12. p. 7.300:3180
Rom. viii. 3, R.V. marg.300:3181
1 Pet. ii. 22.300:3182
cf. Rom. v. 12 ad fin.