Translation. By Alphonse Mingana
By the power of our Lord Jesus Christ we begin to write the exposition of the faith of the three hundred and eighteen (Fathers) composed by Mar Theodore the interpreter.
What discourse is worthy of, and what mind is equal to, the greatness of the subjects placed before us? Or which is the tongue that is able to teach these mysteries? It is indeed difficult for our tongues to speak with accuracy even of the created natures, because they also are created with great wisdom by the Maker. As for those which are higher than our natureóbecause such are those of which we intend to speakóhow much are they not higher than all the minds of men? They truly transcend our words! The blessed Paul bears witness concerning them in saying: “Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.”
It is with these wonderful things that our discourse wishes to deal, and it is to the delight of these mysteries that we have been invited, because the time of the great festival of the holy Passover leads us to teach them. If God had wished those heavenly gifts not to be known to us, it is evident that we should not have been able to discourse on them, because how could a man have spoken of unknown things? Since, however, He wished from the first and before the foundations of the world to make manifest the wisdom that was in Him through the Economy of our Lord Jesus Christ, He revealed to us these hidden mysteries and the greatness of these gifts, and He granted their knowledge to men through the Holy Spirit. It is indeed written that God revealed to us by His Spirit and showed us the sublime and ineffable mysteries which are performed by the power of the Holy Spirit so that through them we might proceed in a congruous way, by degrees and by faith, to these future gifts. This is the reason why we desired to discourse with confidence, according to the grace of God vouchsafed to us, on these unspeakable things which are higher than ourselves. It is this time of this festival that has led us to speak with those who wish [to participate in] these awe-inspiring mysteries.
Now is the time for me to say: “Sing unto the Lord a new song for He has done marvellous things.” Indeed a new song is required for new things, as we are dealing with the New Testament which God established for the human race through the Economy of our Lord Jesus Christ, when He abolished all old things and showed new things in their place. Every man who is in Christ is a new creature; old things are passed away and all things are become new. Death and corruption have ceased, passions and mutability have passed away, and the life of the new creature has been made manifest, a life which we hope to reach after our resurrection from the dead. At the resurrection from the dead He will make us new instead of old, and incorruptible and immortal instead of corruptible and mortal.
He gave us this new covenant which is fit for those who are renewed; and because of this covenant we receive the knowledge of these mysteries so that we should put off the old man and put on the new man who is renewed after the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, but Christ is all and in all. This will take place in reality in the next world when we shall have become immortal and incorruptible, when we shall only contemplate Christ of whose Kingdom we shall partake, when the incident of being Jew or Greek, bond or free, shall be taken from us, and when all the ways of the image of this world shall have completely disappeared. Indeed what incidence of being Jew or Greek, bond or free, can remain with those who are in an immortal and incorruptible nature after the image of Christ, according to the testimony of the blessed Paul?
Because it was necessary that the faith in the truth of the future gifts should remain in us so that we should not throw doubts on them on account of their greatnessósince we see them very much alien to our nature and above itóthese awe-inspiring mysteries were confided to us in order that through them as through symbols we might gradually approach our future hope, and in order to obtain a faith without doubts in these gifts, while cultivating a conduct that is in harmony with the new world and arranging our work in this world as much as possible in conformity with the following sentences: “Our conversation is in heaven,” and: “our building is of God,” and “we have a house in heaven not made with hands.”
While still on the earth we have been inscribed in that awe-inspiring glory of the future world through these mysteries, but we (ought to) live as much as possible a heavenly life in spurning visible things and aspiring after future things. Those who are about to partake now of these awe-inspiring mysteries are inspired to do so by the grace of God. They do not do this in order to partake of small and ordinary gifts, but to be transformed completely into new men and to possess different virtues which they will receive by the gift of the grace of God: being mortal they will become immortal, being corruptible they will become incorruptible, being passable they will become impassable, being changeable they will become unchangeable, being bond they will become free, being enemies they will become friends, being strangers they will become sons. They will no more be considered a part of Adam but of Christ; they will call as their head not Adam but Christ, who has renewed them; they will not cultivate a ground that will bring forth thorns and thistles to them, but they will dwell in a heaven which is remote and immune from all sorrow and sighing; nor will death rule over them but they will become themselves rulers in a new life where they will be not slaves of sin but warriors of righteousness, not servants of Satan but intimate friends of Christ for all time.
Adam, the father of mankind, received the abode of Paradise from which he was driven out through his disobedience and sin, and we, who became the heirs of his nature and his punishment, ascend to heaven by faith in Christ through our participation in these mysteries, as He said: “Except a man he born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” The man, however, who receives this spiritual birth is immediately inscribed in heaven and becomes the heir and partaker of those future gifts, as the blessed Paul said, because those who believed in Christ are in expectation of making their abode in heaven after the resurrection from the dead. Indeed we hope to go to heaven where the first man, Christ, went on our behalf. Through these mysteries we are truly inscribed in that abode.
We are in need of great care and immense diligence in order not to fall away from this great promise and suffer the fate of Adam who was driven out of Paradise. This is the reason why we partake in a wonderful way of these awe-inspiring mysteries with a true faith which has no doubt, and we ought not to forget this faith but to keep what we have received with great care. When we have received these heavenly gifts in a perfect manner so that we may delight in them, and when we have become their heirs in our actions, it is impossible that we should fall away from them. As long as we are on the earth, however, because we only receive them by hope through our participation in these mysteries, it is possible to fall away from them, as we have a changeable nature. We ought, therefore, to have great care and anxiety concerning them and to endeavour truly to possess the hope of the future in our souls.
Now which is the faith and which are the promises through which we have our part in mysteries in the hope of these heavenly gifts in which we will delight? These are found in the profession of faith which we make before Christ our Lord at the time of our baptism. If it were possible to comprehend their power by hearing only, our words would have been useless, because their mere recitation would have made them understood by those who heard them. Since, however, there is much power hidden in themóas our holy Fathers confided to us from the gift of God an ineffable treasure condensed in words which are easy to learn and to rememberóit is necessary to teach those who are about to receive these mysteries and to show them the sense and the meaning that are hidden in them. When they have learnt the greatness of the gift to which they wish to make their approach, and have understood the meaning of their religion and their promises for the sake of which they receive such a great gift, they will keep with diligence in their souls the faith which has been handed down to them.
The principle of your faith and promise which is to be carefully kept in these mysteries is: I believe in one God, Father Almighty, Creator of all things visible and invisible. By the grace of our Lord we will explain these words one after another, because it is good that you should know the power of all of them. Let us, therefore, rightly begin from where you also began in your profession of faith:
I believe in one God, Father Almighty. This is the foundation of the religion of the fear of God, “for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” This is the truth of the true teaching of the faith. Because the question of religion lies in the belief in things that are invisible and indescribable, it is in need of faith, which causes mind to see a thing that is invisible. The things that are visible we see them with our eyes, while the things that are invisible are only seen by faith, as “faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.”
This faith brings in substance to the mind the things that are not yet existent in reality. We accept by faith as true the resurrection from the dead to heaven and all the future existence, which is not yet in existence. Faith causes the soul to see and understand the things that are invisible and indescribable. We are enabled by faith to be worthy of seeing the nature of God “who is the sole invisible and incorruptible, who dwelleth in the bright light which has no equal, and whom no man hath seen nor can see.”
We are able to see the visible thing with material eyes, if these are sound and able to see, and if there is nothing to hinder them from seeing properly; but if they are affected by injury, all things that were visible become invisible, although in reality visible. In this same way we all see with accuracy the invisible and the indescribable things, which the question of religion has taught us, if our faith is sound, but they are not seen by those whose faith is not sound. The question of religion consists in two things: confession concerning God and concerning all the various and numerous things that were and will be made by Him, and both of these are in need of faith as is shown by the blessed Paul: “He that cometh to the religion of God must believe that He is” and that the “worlds were framed by His Word so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.”
In these he shows first that even confession concerning God cannot consist in anything but the thought of religion through faith alone; secondly, that we are unable to understand and confess the things that were made by Him if we do not receive their knowledge by faith. Faith perfects those who accept it thoroughly in the truth of religion while those who become remote from it sink in error completely.
Paul called the Church of God “the pillar and ground of the truth,” because it is sound in faith and well established in the teaching of religion. As to those who are outside the faith: pagans, Jews, and heretics, because they are devoid of faith, they greatly stray from the truth. Indeed because the pagans had no faith they were unable to understand how God was able to create and to make everything from nothing and establish it in substance, and in their error they gave fancifully to God a consort to whom He had given a seat with Him from eternity; and they strayed from the truth into various other insipid stories. As to Jews they recoiled from the name of a son, and because of their lack of faith they did not understand the one who is a true Son.
In this way all the heretics who are outside the Church and who have ascribed the name of Christ with untruth to themselves, because they have no faith, have erred and strayed from the truth. In order not to mention to your hearing all the heresies, it will be sufficient to refer to Arius and Eunomius and all those who subscribe to their opinion, and note how they were affected with the disease of the Jews; and because of their lack of faith they did not understand nor did they accept that the Son is of Divine nature, and that everything that is said of the nature of the Father is said also of that of the Son, while the nature of the Father in no way suffers from the fact that it has a true Son who in His nature is a true mirror of itself.
These few things have been said out of many in order to rebuke those who have strayed from the truth, and to show that they have strayed because of their lack of faith. Indeed, the error of men who have gone astray because of their lack of faith is great and possesses many ramifications, and as error increases in proportion to its remoteness from faith, so also knowledge increases in proportion to its nearness to faith. It is by faith that we know that God is, that He is the creator of everything and that He created everything from nothing. It is by it that we understand that those who have passed away and perished will come back again to life and existence, when the Creator wishes. It is by faith that we have known that the Father has a Son born of His nature and God like Himself. It is by faith that we have accepted that the Holy Spirit is of the same nature as God the Father and that He is always with the Father and the Son. It is by faith that we have no doubt nor suspicion concerning the preaching of the Economy of Christ which took place in the world.
It is, therefore, with justice that our blessed Fathers placed faith like a foundation in the forefront of our teaching and of the mystery of our covenant, and it is with right that they intimated to us to begin from there and say: I believe in one God, Father Almighty. We must not be astonished that our blessed Fathers included and handed down to us all the teaching of religion in a few words. They thought that a long discourse would better fit other times and other persons. As to you who for a long time have been weaned from the world, and have come nigh unto religion with a good will, and have made yourselves ready to receive the Divine mysteries with a clean conscience at a time full of fear, condensed words are more useful, as their fewness renders them more easy to keep in your memory when you wish to remember the faith which you professed and the promises which you made on account of these mysteries It is right, however, that a detailed teaching of them should be added to you so that you should understand them more accurately, and beware in your souls of all the words of the enemies of religion when you stand fast by this Divine teaching which is confided to you. I believe in one God, Father Almighty. See how our blessed Fathers, with the first word of the true profession of faith in one God the Father, removed us with care from the error of polytheism and from the fallacy of Judaism which puts in practice to-day all the teaching of the Old Testament in its entirety.
The words of the New Testament concerning Christ were found in the prophets of the Old Testament; they were indeed found in the prophets as a symbol and a sign whereby the Jews expected Christ to appear to them as a man, but none of them was aware of the divinity of the Only Begotten Sonóthe Word-God. (Our blessed Fathers) gave us a perfect doctrine which separates from paganism those who become initiated to religion, and which removes completely from the error of polytheism those who obey its commandments, while teaching that the natures of the Godhead are not many and separate, but that God is in one, single and eternal nature which is the cause of everything; that such a one is God, and outside Him there is no other God; that God is a being who is eternal and the cause of everything; that a being who is not like this is not God by nature; that a being who is eternal is the cause of everything; that a being who is not eternal and the cause of everything, is not God but the work of God, who alone is capable of creating everything from nothing.
He said: “The Lord Thy God is one Lord” in order that we might learn that there is one nature in the Godhead to which is due the name of Lord and God. He also said: “the gods that have not made the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under the heavens” in order that we might understand that he who is not the cause of everything is not God. The one who is the cause of everything is God alone. He said to Moses, “I am the cause of everything,” in order that we might learn that He is truly the one who was from eternity and is always, and that He is God. He who does not possess this attribute and is not eternal, is not truly existent by Himself, but is made and has actually been made when he was not existent, at the time at which the one who is from eternity, that is to say God, wished to make him.
He also said: “I am the first and the last God and there was no other god before me and there shall be no other god after me,” in order that we might understand that He is the God who was first and from eternity and that it is impossible that another God that is created should exist. Divine nature cannot indeed fall within the notion of creation.
All these words teach us the doctrine of religion and expel the error of paganism. Among pagans gods are many and of different kinds: some of them are young, and some others old; some of them can do this, and some others that; some of them perish, and some others will continue their existence; and they are of different natures. That we ought to reject all these the Old Testament taught us in the prophets, who spoke through the Holy Spirit to the effect that all the gods of the Gentiles are false and are not gods because God is one, who is from eternity and is the cause of everything, as He said: “There shall be no strange god in thee,” that is to say a new god, and, “neither shalt thou worship a strange god” because everything that is new is not God, and “they are new gods that came newly up.”
Divine nature is one and eternal. It was in no need to be made by another, because it is the cause of everything. This is the reason why He is God alone, and anything that is made cannot by nature be God, as it is made by another. All the created things rightly attribute their existence to their Creator who is God, to whom they owe their being, and for this they are under an obligation of gratitude to Him who by His own good will and power vouchsafed to them to be what they are.
Our blessed Fathers succinctly included all this great teaching in the sentence: I believe in one God. Let us, therefore, accept the belief in one God according to the preaching of the prophets and the teaching of our Fathers. Divine nature is truly one, and it exists from eternity and is the cause of everything; this is not as the pagans erroneously state that there are many gods of different kinds.
It is necessary that we should offer you an oral teaching about everything, little by little, in order that you may be able to remember the things that are spoken to you, as these are indispensable to those who adhere to what has preceded. By the help of the grace of God we will keep our promise to you in other days, and now let the words that have been spoken suffice, and let us glorify the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, now, always and for ever and ever.