Pope Celestine's Letter to Nestorius, Read at the Third Ecumenical Council

See also: Pope Celestine's Letter to the Third Ecumenical Council (see Session II)

Celestine to the beloved brother Nestorius:

[1.] The Universal Faith had peace for some days of our lifetime, after the unholy and often condemned doctrine of Pelagius and Celestius, for both the East and the West, had smitten them with the followers of their opinions with the dart of a unanimous sentence. Straightway Atticus of holy memory, the teacher of the Universal Faith, and verily successor of the Blessed John, in that same course of thinking and acting also, so pursued them on behalf of the Common King, that no permission was granted them to stay there. After his departure we were held in suspense by a no ordinary anxiety as we waited to see whether he who succeeded him would succeed him also in the faith; for it is difficult to make good things continue, for oftentimes opposites succeed each other alternately. But after him we had another who was quickly to leave us behind; that is, the holy Sisinnius, a colleague of good repute for his simplicity and sincerity and holiness, who preached the very faith which he had found. Surely that simple piety and pious simplicity had read that it behooves us to fear rather than to have recourse to the depth of our own understanding; and, elsewhere, that we ought not to search into the deeper things; and again. If any one preach and enact any law contrary to what we have preached, let him be anathema. And, furthermore, when he departed out of the world, inasmuch as our care extended itself to as great an extent as the Lord permitted, the narration of the messengers who came [to us] gladdened our soul; which the report of our colleagues, who were present at thy ordination straightaway confirmed. For they gave such good testimony to thee as was necessary in the case of one who had been chosen from another place. For thou hadst lived before in such good repute that a city not thine own envied thee to thine own [fellow citizens]. But now thou livest and conductest thyself in such a very strange and unsuitable way that thou hast made thyself to be shunned, so that thine own [original fellow-citizens] can see in the inhabitants of another city how they have been delivered.

[2.] We received thy letters a little time ago, but could not reply to them in a brief time, for their contents needed to be translated into Latin. And as we were doing it slowly, because of necessity, we received a letter regarding thee, from my holy brother, and fellow-Bishop Cyril, the most approved Priest, by my son, Posidonius the deacon, a letter of such a character, that we were very much grieved to learn from it that the testimony which the messengers had borne in regard to thee was rendered of no worth. For, as we see, an evil outcome has succeeded thy fine beginnings; fine beginnings I repeat, which were so celebrated among us that in our answer to the Report of the brethren we showed how [thoroughly] we were partakers of the joy. But now in considering the complaint of the aforesaid brother concerning thee, and thy translated Epistles which contain plain blasphemies, we see that we ought to utter the apostolic saying which here follows: I was wishing to change my voice because I am ashamed for you. Indeed I have changed it, unless the impious preacher recalls himself from the precipice. For it is a necessity for us to remove from ourselves the evil, as we are commanded. We have read therefore the text of thy Epistles and have received the books, which were delivered by the most magnificent, man, our Son, Antiochus. In them, when thou art tracked out, found, and held fast, thou hast wriggled out [of the difficulty] by a sort of verbosity, by hiding things true in things which are dark, and again thou confoundest both sorts, by confessing, on the one hand, things which are denied, and on the other by attempting to deny the things which are confessed. But in these thy Epistles thou hast not so much produced a plain sentence regarding our faith, as regarding thyself, because thou wishest to preach concerning God the Word otherwise than the faith of all holds.

[3.] Behold, therefore what sort of a sentence we are called on to pronounce concerning thee! Behold what are the rewards of thy innovations! When thou wast unknown thou wast elected. But when thou hadst become known thou wast accused. Therefore with the Teacher of the Gentiles we must say. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought. Do not those words befit that Church which despised tried men in it, to follow thy fame, not thy knowledge ? The expectation of those who believed well of thee was deceived. For who would suppose that a ravenous wolf was hidden inside a sheep's wool? It is the voice of the same apostle which says, There must be heresies also that those who have been approved may be made manifest. Open thine ears and hear the words of that apostle to Timothy and Titus. What does he command but that they should avoid the profane innovations of expressions? For those innovations result in impiety, and they always produce thorns and burrs. And he says that he himself had exhorted Timothy to remain at Ephesus and to charge certain persons that no one should preach any other doctrine. The words of Jeremiah the prophet are before my eyes, where he says, Fearful things are done on the earth; the prophets prophecy unrighteousness. Tell me, did those passages escape thee because they were not known by thee, or didst thou know them, and yet despise them? If indeed they escaped thee because thou didst not know them, do not be ashamed to learn what is correct, as thou didst not fear to teach that which is wrong. But if thou knowest them and then despisest them, remember that thou wilt be without excuse, when He asks from thee for an account of the talent entrusted to thee, Who always expects for Himself gain by us from that holy loan. See what sort of punishment remains for that man who has hidden what he has received, and who, moreover, has not [even] returned entire what he has received. Wherefore plainly understand how great a danger and what sort of a danger it is not to give back what thou hast received. Wilt thou say to our Master, I have kept those whom thou hast given me, when we hear that His Church has been so [slaughtered and] split into parts [by thee as it is]? With what sort of a conscience dost thou live when thou art abandoned by nearly all in that city? I would that they were more safe and unshaken than they are now, when they seek aid for themselves. Whence came it to thee to form discourses on those questions which it is a blasphemous thing even to have in mind? Whence came it to a Bishop to preach to the people those things by which respect for the Virgin's bringing forth is wounded? There ought not to be blasphemous discourses against God to thoroughly disturb the purity of the ancient faith.

[4.] Who that has, as yet, taken away anything from the faith or has added any thing to it, has not been judged worthy of being anathematized? For the things which have been fully and plainly handed down to us from the Apostles admit neither addition nor diminution We have read in our books that we must neither add to nor take away. For the greatest vengeance and punishment bind both him who adds to and him who takes away. Wherefore we have prepared a cauterizing iron and a knife, because wounds which deserve to be excised are no longer to be treated with fomentations. For we know that the greatest defects are always cured with the greater pain and labor. Moreover, among many things, which, preached impiously by thee, the Church in its entirety rejects, we weep especially over the fact that those words which promise to us the hope of all life and all salvation have been removed from the Symbol by thee. Thy Epistles tell the very reason why that was done. Regarding those Epistles there is no doubt, for thou thyself didst send them. We have wished that they had not come to our hands, for if they had not, we should not have been compelled to judge regarding the form of so great and so abominable a crime. A short account of them has closed the ways of all thy arguings; thou hast extended thyself very widely; and hast turned and twisted with many turns; but, nevertheless, at last, thou hast reached, by different roads, thy impious aim. We know what he has ordained who has commanded to flee strifes and fightings concerning the Law; for they are, says he, unprofitable and vain. What therefore is adjudged unprofitable and vain, no one doubts to be far from being an advantage. 

[5.] Therefore, since also brother Cyril says that thou hast been warned according to the usual method by two Epistles, in which he wishes thee to do that, know thou that after his first Epistle and his second Epistle and after this our censure, which is therefore plainly the third warning, that thou art wholly shut out from the assembly of our Co-sitters [as Bishops], and from the assembly of the Christians, unless thou straightway correct what thou hast wickedly said, unless thou return to that Way which Christ testifies that He Himself is. Thou hast wickedly and hopelessly wielded arms against Him, though He formerly permitted thee as a faithful and prudent servant to be over those of his household. Thou hast lost the blessedness promised for such service. For not only dost thou not give food in due season, but thou even killest by poison those whom He purchased and gained by His own blood and by His own death. For poison is under thy lips, those lips which we see full of cursing and bitterness, when thou attemptest to dispute against Him who is sweet and kind. Where is thy diligence as a shepherd ? The good Shepherd layeth down his life for his own sheep, and he is but a hireling who forsakes them and gives them over to the wolves. And what wilt thou do therefore O Shepherd, for thou thyself, like a wolf, dost rend the Lord's flock in pieces? Moreover, in what sort of enclosures can the Lord's flock take refuge, since it is wounded within the enclosures of the Church? Or under what sort of guard will it be safe, when it suffers by thee, a ravener instead of a protector? And other sheep I have, says the Lord, which are not of this sheepfold; them also I must bring back. He promises to bring other sheep; but thou hast lost the sheep whom thou hadst. Though it is clear in regard to such matters especially, as often as they happen, that the sheep are not lost for the shepherds, but rather the shepherds for the sheep. And they shall hear, He says, my voice. Why? That there may be one flock. At His voice the flock becomes one; but at thine it is injured and is scattered in flight like fugitives. 

[6.] It is a hard thing that the words of the blessed Paul, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, may be fitly used regarding thee: I know, saith he, that after my departure grievous wolves shall come in against you, not sparing the flock. From you shall arise men speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after them. We would that those words were said by thee in regard to others, rather than that they were applied by others to thee. For these very things which we say should have been taught by thee, not learned by thee. For who endures the thought that a Bishop is to be taught how he ought to be a Christian? Diligently consider to what sort of a heresy thou hast been called. Thou art reproved, thou art accused, thou art brought to trial. Which of these things befits a Priest? It is a hard answer, if it be indeed any defence, that thou vindicatest and avengest thy blasphemies with hard words. Dost thou suppose that we will spare thee when thou thyself dost not spare thine own soul, for thou wishest to take away the benefit of salvation from all those before us, from all those now existing and from all those who will be. It is plain that I am following up as a faithful servant, the enemies of my good Lord; for the prophet says that he hates them with a perfect hatred. I remember, moreover, that another says that I may not spare. To whom shall I have respect, or whose honor shall I guard, when I see thee doing what thou canst to take away from me the basis of all my hope? There are words of the Lord Himself in the Gospel, in which he says, that neither father, nor mother, nor children, nor any kindred ought be preferred to Him. For there is often such piety as produces impiety when the fleshly relationship prevails, and bodily love is deemed preferable to that Love who is God, for the sake of which bodily love we often honor certain persons. But when that bodily love is against Him who is Love itself, then there is a necessity that we should cast out those considerations also, for the Author of all such relationships of kindred is called into the case. 

[7.] Awake out of sleep at last. For those vigils which thou devotest not to guarding but to ravening are not to be called vigils. We would that thou hadst been asleep in regard to that which thou preachest, and hadst been [really] awake [and intelligent] in regard to what thou warnest against. But what shall I say? It would have been more endurable to us, if thou hadst been asleep in regard to both. [In that case] thou wouldst have destroyed no one; thou wouldst have gained no one. The Church would not have been saddened by any loss of souls; she would not have rejoiced at any gain. It would have sufficed her if thou hadst given her back to her own Bridegroom as thou hadst received her. But why do I dwell on these matters at length, when the master-builder Paul says that I seek in vain anything built up by thee on the foundation, when I see not the foundation in thee. I hear that the clerics, who hold the universal faith, with whom we are in communion, endure the greatest violence, so that it is said that they have even been shut out from the city. We rejoice because they have gained the prize which belongs to those who have made the good confession; but we grieve because their persecutor is a Bishop. The blessed Apostle Paul was changed from being a persecutor into being a preacher; but now, O greatest impiety! to have been changed from being a preacher into being a persecutor! Number up the former heretics who brought such questions into the Church. Who [of them] at any time as yet has returned victorious from such a strife? Thou hast an example in the case of thine own city. Paul of Samosata got possession of the Church of the Antiochians and was over it, but when he was preaching certain errors, he gathered the harvest of his own sowings. The same firm sentence always overthrew the rest of the inventors of evil things who had possession of the Churches. 

[8.] And furthermore, in relation to those heretics, regarding whom thou, as not knowing [thyself] the matters concerning them, hast wished to ask us, [we would say that] a righteous condemnation and decision has thrust them out from their own thrones, on the ground of their having spoken unrighteous things, but we do not wonder that they have found rest there; for they found impious preaching, in comparison with which they deemed themselves innocent. At this point, inasmuch as the proper time to speak has demanded it, we can not be silent in regard to that at which we are amazed. We have read how thou believest well in regard to original sin, and how thou showest that our nature itself is whelmed in debt, and that thou rightly imputest that debt to him who is descended from the race of the debtor. What are those who have been condemned for denying those truths doing with thee? Things which contradict each other are never in agreement with each other without suspicion being excited. Moreover, they would have been expelled if they had been similarly displeasing to thee also. Furthermore, why do ye now search for the Actions against them, when it is clear that the Minutes [of those Actions] were sent thence to us by the then Bishop, the Catholic Atticus. Why did not Sisinnius of holy memory have to seek for them? Undoubtedly because he approved of the righteous condemnation of those [heretics] by his predecessor. Let those wretched men weep that they have failed of their hope in men, for they can be aided towards communion only, by changing their minds. Lo! thou hast begun to learn in regard to them, if thou wast ignorant in any respect before. 

[9.] But heal by a Catholic and rapid reflection, thy own wound rather than that of others, for we say to thee appositely. Physician heal thyself, thou who aimest to help others. The character of thy disease neither admits nor permits the granting of delay. We have held and do hold the tried and approved faith of the Priest of the Church of the Alexandrians. And do thou who hast been admonished by him, again hold the same opinions as we do, if indeed, O brother, thou wishest to be among us. If therefore understanding has been given thee, condemn all the errors which up to the present time thou hast held, and straightaway preach, as we wish, those truths which thou seest him preaching. For we endure beyond what is fitting that even the Priests should be allowed to correct themselves; but as we show care for them, by warning them at first after the Church's method, so if they abuse that sound admonition, it will be a necessity for us to confirm the sentence of condemnation against them. But that [correction of a Priest by himself] will take place, when thou shalt have condemned thy base doctrine, when thou shalt have given a testimony full of correction [of thy errors], and if all those shall have been recalled to the Church, who, it is clear, have been excluded from it on account of the Anointed One, who is its Head. Let them all be recalled. If what we say is not done in regard to them, he must be cast out who has cast out, especially because those against whom such a man as thou hast appearedst, are certainly in our communion. 

[10.] And, as the necessity has demanded, we have sent letters to the clergy of the Church which is at Constantinople and to all who are marked with the name of the Anointed One, in order that if thou continue in the obstinacy of thy perverted arguing and dost not preach those very things which brother Cyril preacheth with us, they may learn that thou hast been separated from our college [of bishops], with whom thou canst have no communion, and that when they learn that, they may thereafter be unshaken by thy [evil] example, and may know how they ought to provide for their own souls by a well matured and well digested judgment. 

[11.] Know therefore, clearly, that our sentence is this, namely, that unless thou preach those very doctrines concerning our God Anointed, which both the Church of the Romans, and the Church of the Alexandrians, and all the Universal Church holds fast, and as the holy Church in the great city of Constantine very well held fast until thee, and unless within the tenth day reckoned from the time that this admonition comes to thy knowledge, thou put away by a clear and written confession that unbelieving novelty and innovation of thine which attempts to separate the very things which the Holy Scripture joins together, thou art cast out from [all] the communion of the Universal Church. We have sent this very decision of our judgment on thee by our son aforesaid, Posidonius the deacon, with all the papers, to the holy man our Fellow-Bishop, the Priest of the aforesaid Alexandria, who has given us a very complete account regarding this very matter, in order that he may hold our place and attend to this thing, that so what has been decided by us may be made known both to thee and to all the brethren; because all ought to know what is done, as often as the investigation is on a matter of interest in common.

[[Given in Rome on August 11, 430 A.D.]]

Source: https://archive.org/stream/authoritativechri01chry#page/179/mode/1up

See also: Pope Celestine's Letter to the Third Ecumenical Council (see Session II)