On the Body of the Word

St. Athanasius the Great ca. 297-373

What lower region has vomited the statement that the Body born of Mary is coessential with the Godhead of the Word? Or that the Word has been changed into flesh, bones, hair, and the whole body, and altered from its own nature? Or who ever heard in a Church, or even from Christians, that the Lord wore a body putatively, not in nature; or who ever went so far in impiety as to say and hold, that this Godhead, which is coessential with the Father, was circumcised and became imperfect instead of perfect; and that what hung upon the tree was not the body, but the very creative Essence and Wisdom? Or who that hears that the Word transformed for Himself a passible body, not of Mary, but of His own Essence, could call him who said this a Christian? Or who devised this abominable impiety, for it to enter even his imagination , and for him to say that to pronounce the Lord’s Body to be of Mary is to hold a Tetrad instead of a Triad in the Godhead? Those who think thus, saying that the Body of the Saviour which He put on from Mary, is of the Essence of the Triad. Or whence again have certain vomited an impiety as great as those already mentioned; saying namely, that the body is not newer than the Godhead of the Word, but was coeternal with it always, since it was compounded of the Essence of Wisdom. Or how did men called Christians venture even to doubt whether the Lord, Who proceeded from Mary, while Son of God by Essence and Nature, is of the seed of David according to the flesh Rom. 1:3, and of the flesh of the Holy Mary? Or who have been so venturesome as to say that Christ Who suffered in the flesh and was crucified is not Lord, Saviour, God, and Son of the Father ? Or how can they wish to be called Christians who say that the Word has descended upon a holy man as upon one of the prophets, and has not Himself become man, taking the body from Mary; but that Christ is one person, while the Word of God, Who before Mary and before the ages was Son of the Father, is another? Or how can they be Christians who say that the Son is one, and the Word of God another?

But I marvel that your piety suffered it, and that you did not stop those who said such things, and propound to them the right faith, so that upon hearing it they might hold their peace, or if they opposed it might be counted as heretics. For the statements are not fit for Christians to make or to hear, on the contrary they are in every way alien from the Apostolic teaching.

Whence did it occur to you, sirs, to say that the Body is of one Essence with the Godhead of the Word? For it is well to begin at this point, in order that by showing this opinion to be unsound, all the others too may be proved to be the same. Now from the divine Scriptures we discover nothing of the kind. For they say that God came in a human body. But the fathers who also assembled at Nicæa say that, not the body, but the Son Himself is coessential with the Father, and that while He is of the Essence of the Father, the body, as they admitted according to the Scriptures, is of Mary. Either then deny the Synod of Nicæa, and as heretics bring in your doctrine from the side; or, if you wish to be children of the fathers, do not hold the contrary of what they wrote. For here again you may see how monstrous it is: If the Word is coessential with the body which is of earthly nature, while the Word is, by your own confession, coessential with the Father, it will follow that even the Father Himself is coessential with the body produced from the earth. (Letter 59, To Epicetus)

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444

The charge therefore is of equal force, whether one say that the Word of God have been turned into the nature of body or whether that the flesh again is transformed into consubstantiality with God. It is fit therefore that we keep away from both one and other, seeing that it is not without peril to chuse to think beside what one ought to think.

For come let us with acute eye of the understanding investigate the idea of the confusers. They say that His Flesh has been changed (I know not how) into consubstantiality with God the Word. Why? or what is it that brings it thereto? For of its own self it has not the impulse that would bring it thereto, and of its natural motions to admit such desires is foreign to it. It remains then to say this, that it was brought hereto by the will of God the Word. Did He then cast away the Economy which He clearly deemed worthy of all account by reason of His inherent Clemency and the Pleasure of His Father?

If He have ceased from being as we, i.e. man, together with being also above us Divinely, the foundation of our salvation has been shaken, we unawares returned (it seems) to have to be again lorded over by death and sins. For as when the nethermost foundations of house (it may be) or wall have been shaken, the superincumbent parts too will surely subside with them: thus if the Economy with flesh of the Only-Begotten be not firm, our condition surely has tottered with it and grown weak at last; and how, we will say. For if they say that the Flesh of the Word have been changed into the Nature of the Godhead, there is every need to conceive that He has otherwise departed from His will to be son of man: then how does the all-wise Paul say, For there is one God, One Mediator too of God and men, the Man Christ Jesus Who gave Himself a ransom for us? For He mediates as being the Same, God alike and Man, reconciling us to God the Father through Himself and in Him and conjoining as it were unto union things by their own nature parted unto generic difference by a boundless parting, yet in Christ did they come together unto an union without confusion and that cannot be plucked asunder: for He has been connected Divinely with the Father, and He was connected with us too humanly. Thus is the Man Christ Jesus conceived to be and is our Mediator. But if the Flesh has been really (as he says) cast away by Him, He is gone surely away from mediating between us and His own Father: how therefore do we yet approach Him? who any longer brings us or mediates? For the Divine Paul said that the Mediator is Man: we remember Christ also Himself saying, No man cometh to the Father except through Me. Idle talk therefore and words full of distraction are the inventions of the Synousiasts.

If, His Flesh changed into the Nature of the Godhead, He ceased to be Son of man too, clear would it be to every one henceforth that we too have lost the boast of sonship, as no longer having a First-born among many brethren.

But haply they will say that the Flesh did not wholly depart from being what it was, but that it was as it were immingled with God the Word unto a natural oneness. And what do we say to this? First of all, sirs, there is full much difficulty, the reasoning hereon will be weak if ye decide to retain to the Nature of the Word Its unchangeable Being and unalterable Existence (for in no wise will it change unto what it was not): either when it has suffered this It has been shaken from Its God-befitting stability and from the settledness that is inherent in it by Nature, or howsoever one calls it: but I think that it is wise that we should in no wise be able to conceive that ought of things that are could abide in the Nature of the Godhead: for this too is likewise impossible.

He has fasted, He hungered, He waxed weary from long wayfaring, yet more He was crucified and died: He conceded that He should suffer these things, not to the Nature of the Godhead (for the Divine and Supreme Nature is conceived of as beyond suffering) but rather to His own Flesh. But when He rose again having trampled on Death and trans-elemented the nature of man in Himself unto incorruption and life: He is at length seen wholly without share in fleshly infirmity. Therefore with reason does the minister of His mysteries say that no more is He known after the flesh, i. e. in fleshly weakness.

No one whatever. Let them therefore, speaking out of their own heart and not out of the mouth of the Lord, as it is written, be ashamed. For WE, whose care is orthodoxy and who makest a special aim zealously to follow the right words of the holy Fathers, not the unbridled mouth and empty-speakings void of understanding of some, will not be minded otherwise than we ought to be minded, but ever going the straight way of the truth and having our mind filled with the holy Scriptures we both say that the Flesh of our LORD was ensouled with reasonable soul and believe that it is Divine and Spotless and glorified and moreover both life-giving and sanctifying, inasmuch as it became the own Flesh of the Word out of God the Father and affirm that it is not (as some have thought fit to think) of a son other than He, nor yet that it is changed into the Nature of Godhead. (Against the Synousiasts)