{215}

VII.
An Epistle
of our
Holy Father Athanasius,
Archbishop of Alexandria,
to the Monks

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[The beautiful and striking Letter which follows 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, which form his greatest work; but this opinion can hardly be maintained, though the discussion of it does not belong to this place. The Epistle to the Monks was written in 358, or later, but before the foregoing Epistle to Serapion.]

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. 1.

1. To those in every place 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 I followed Thee [Mat. xix. 27.], brethren dearly beloved and longed for, a full 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 [Note 1] heresy of the Arian fanatics, and proving how entirely it is alien from the Truth. And I thought it needful to represent to your Piety what pains [Note 2] the writing of theses things has cost me, in order that you may understand thereby how truly the blessed Apostle has said, O the depth of the {216} riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God [Rom xi. 33.]; 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 conceptions.

. 2.

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? [Eccles. vii. 23, 24.] and what is said in the Psalms, The knowledge of Thee is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it [Ps. cxxxix. 6.]; and that Solomon says, It is the glory of God to conceal a thing [Prov. xxv. 2.]; I frequently designed to stop and to cease writing; believe me [Note 3], 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 [Note 4], what I have now sent 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 [Eccles. vii. 26.]. 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 [Note A]. And we know that He is {217} not as man; and that it is not lawful to conceive of any created [Note 5] nature as existing in Him. So also respecting the Son of God, although we are by nature very far from being able to apprehend Him; yet it is 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 divinity; much less to utter them with the lips.

. 3.

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 doctrine of the divinity 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 [Note 6] for arriving at a pious and sound [Note 7] faith in Christ. And if in any thing they are defective, (and I think they are defective in all respects,) pardon it with a pure conscience, and only receive favourably the boldness [Note 8] 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 which has been given by the Lord in the death of Arius, of which you have already been informed by others. For the Lord of Hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? [Is. xiv. 27.] and whom the Lord hath condemned who shall justify [Note 9]? After such a sign [Note 10] has been given, who does not now acknowledge, that the heresy is hated of God [Note 11], however it may have men for its patrons?

4. 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 [Note 12]. But like good money-changers [Note B] be satisfied with the reading; but read it repeatedly if you desire to do so. For it is not safe that the {218} writings of us babblers and private persons [Note 13] 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. Amen [1 Cor. xvi. 22.].

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Notes

A. This negative character of our knowledge, whether of the Father or of the Son, is insisted on by other writers. “When we speak of the substance of any being, we have to say what it is, not what it is not; however, as relates to God, it is impossible to say what He is as to His substance. 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 ad Eunom. i. 10 speaks similarly of the negative attributes, (so to speak,) of the Divine Nature, adding, however, the positive. And St. Austin says, “Totum ab animo rejicite; quidquid occurrerit, negate ... dicite non est illud.” August. Enarrat. 2. in Psalm xxvi. 8. “How,” says St. Cyril, “the Father begat the Son, we profess not to tell; only we insist upon its not being in this manner or that.” Catech. xi. 11. “Patrem non esse Filium, sed habere Filium qui Pater non sit; Filium non esse Patrem, sed Filium Dei esse natum; sanctum quoque Paracletum esse, qui nec Pater sit ipse, nec Filius, sed a Patre Filioque procedat. Anonym. in Append. Aug. Oper. t. 5. p. 383.
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B. 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. vid. also S. Cyril, Catech. tr. p. 78, note o.
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Margin Notes

1. [musaran].
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2. p. 213, r. 4.
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3. pp. 240, 158.
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4. p. 213, r. 2.
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5. [ton genneton], vol. 8. p. 261, note e.
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6. [aphormen].
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7. p. 214, r. 1.
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8. [to tolmeron].
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9. so quoted p. 148.
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10. [semeion], vid. p. 211, r. 1.
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11. [theomisetos], vid. p. 211, r. 2.
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12. p. 213, r. 3.
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13. [idioton], p. 213, r. 5. Apol. contr. Ar. . 9. supr. p. 27. . 12. p. 30.
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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