top of page

St. Alexander

Patriarch of Alexandria, date of birth uncertain; died 17 April, 326. He is, apart from his own greatness, prominent by the fact that his appointment to the patriarchial see excluded the heresiarch Arius from that post. Arius had begun to teach his heresies in 300 when Peter, by whom he was excommunicated, was Patriarch. He was reinstated by Achillas, the successor of Peter and then began to scheme to be made a bishop. When Achillas died Alexander was elected, and after that Arius threw off all disguise. Alexander was particularly obnoxious to him, although so tolerant at first of the errors of Arius that the clergy nearly revolted. Finally the heresy was condemned in a council held in Alexandria, and later on, as is well known, in the general Council of Nicaea, whose Acts Alexander is credited with having drawn up. An additional merit of this great man is that during his priesthood he passed through the bloody persecutions of Galerius, Maximinus, and others. It was while his predecessor Peter was in prison, waiting for martyrdom, that he and Achillas succeeded in reaching the pontiff, and interceded for the reinstatement of Arius, which Peter absolutely refused declaring that Arius was doomed to perdition. The refusal evidently had little effect, for when Achillas succeeded Peter, Arius was made a priest; and when in turn Alexander came to the see, the heretic was still tolerated. It is worth recording that the great Athanasius succeeded Alexander, the dying pontiff compelling the future doctor of the Church to accept the post. Alexander is described as "a man held in the highest honour by the people and clergy, magnificent, liberal, eloquent, just, a lover of God and man, devoted to the poor, good and sweet to all, so mortified that he never broke his fast while the sun was in the heavens." His feast is kept on 17 April.

Epistles on Arianism and the Deposition of Arius

1. To Alexander, Bishop of the City of Constantinople

To the most reverend and like-minded brother, Alexander, Alexander sends greeting in the Lord:

1. The ambitious and avaricious will of wicked men is always wont to lay snares against those churches which seem greater, by various pretexts attacking the ecclesiastical piety of such. For incited by the devil who works in them, to the lust of that which is set before them, and throwing away all religious scruples, they trample under foot the fear of the judgment of God. Concerning which things, I who suffer, have thought it necessary to show to your piety, in order that you may be aware of such men, lest any of them presume to set foot in your dioceses, whether by themselves or by others; for these sorcerers know how to use hypocrisy to carry out their fraud; and to employ letters composed and dressed out with lies, which are able to deceive a man who is intent upon a simple and sincere faith. Arius, therefore, and Achilles, having lately entered into a conspiracy, emulating the ambition of Colluthus, have turned out far worse than he. For Colluthus, indeed, who reprehends these very men, found some pretext for his evil purpose; but these, beholding his battering of Christ, endured no longer to be subject to the Church; but building for themselves dens of thieves, they hold their assemblies in them unceasingly, night and day directing their calumnies against Christ and against us. For since they call in question all pious and apostolic doctrine, after the manner of the Jews, they have constructed a workshop for contending against Christ, denying the Godhead of our Saviour, and preaching that He is only the equal of all others. And having collected all the passages which speak of His plan of salvation and His humiliation for our sakes, they endeavour from these to collect the preaching of their impiety, ignoring altogether the passages in which His eternal Godhead and unutterable glory with the Father is set forth. Since, therefore, they back up the impious opinion concerning Christ, which is held by the Jews and Greeks, in every possible way they strive to gain their approval; busying themselves about all those things which they are wont to deride in us, and daily stirring up against us seditions and persecutions. And now, indeed, they drag us before the tribunals of the judges, by intercourse with silly and disorderly women, whom they have led into error; at another time they cast opprobrium and infamy upon the Christian religion, their young maidens disgracefully wandering about every village and street. Nay, even Christ's indivisible tunic, which His executioners were unwilling to divide, these wretches have dared to rend.

2. And we, indeed, though we discovered rather late, on account of their concealment, their manner of life, and their unholy attempts, by the common suffrage of all have cast them forth from the congregation of the Church which adores the Godhead of Christ. But they, running here and there against us, have begun to betake themselves to our colleagues who are of the same mind with us; in appearance, indeed, pretending to seek for peace and concord, but in reality seeking to draw over some of them by fair words to their own diseases, asking long wordy letters from them, in order that reading these to the men whom they have deceived, they may make them impenitent in the errors into which they have fallen, and obdurate in impiety, as if they had bishops thinking the same thing and siding with them. Moreover, the things which among us they have wrongly taught and done, and on account of which they have been expelled by us, they do not at all confess to them, but they either pass them over in silence, or throwing a veil over them, by feigned words and writings they deceive them. Concealing, therefore, their pestilent doctrine by their specious and flattering discourse, they circumvent the more simple-minded and such as are open to fraud, nor do they spare in the meanwhile to traduce our piety to all. Hence it comes to pass that some, subscribing their letters, receive them into the Church, although in my opinion the greatest guilt lies upon those ministers who venture to do this; because not only does the apostolic rule not allow of it, but the working of the devil in these men against Christ is by this means more strongly kindled. Wherefore without delay, brethren beloved, I have stirred myself up to show you the faithlessness of these men who say that there was a time when the Son of God was not; and that He who was not before, came into existence afterwards, becoming such, when at length He was made, even as every man is wont to be born. For, they say, God made all things from things which are not, comprehending even the Son of God in the creation of all things rational and irrational. To which things they add as a consequence, that He is of mutable nature, and capable both of virtue and vice.And this hypothesis being once assumed, that He is from things which are not, they overturn the sacred writings concerning His eternity, which signify the immutability and the Godhead of Wisdom and the Word, which are Christ.

3. We, therefore, say these wicked men, can also be the sons of God even as He. For it is written, I have nourished and brought up children. Isaiah 1:2 But when what follows was objected to them, and they have rebelled against me, which indeed is not applicable to the nature of the Saviour, who is of an immutable nature; they, throwing off all religious reverence, say that God, since He foreknew and had foreseen that His Son would not rebel against Him, chose Him from all. For He did not choose Him as having by nature anything specially beyond His other sons, for no one is by nature a son of God, as they say; neither as having any peculiar property of His own; but God chose Him who was of a mutable nature, on account of the carefulness of His manners and His practice, which in no way turned to that which is evil; so that, if Paul and Peter had striven for this, there would have been no difference between their sonship and His. And to confirm this insane doctrine, playing with Holy Scripture, they bring forward what is said in the Psalms respecting Christ: You love righteousness, and hate wickedness: therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness above Your fellows,

4. But that the Son of God was not made from things which are not, and that there was no time when He was not, the evangelist John sufficiently shows, when he thus writes concerning Him: The only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father. John 1:18 For since that divine teacher intended to show that the Father and the Son are two things inseparable the one from the other, he spoke of Him as being in the bosom of the Father. Now that also the Word of God is not comprehended in the number of things that were created from things which are not, the same John says, All things were made by Him. For he set forth His proper personality, saying, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made by Him; and with out Him was not anything made that was made. John 1:1-3 For if all things were made by Him, how comes it that He who gave to the things which are made their existence, at one time Himself was not. For the Word which makes is not to be defined as being of the same nature with the things which are made; since He indeed was in the beginning, and all things were made by Him, and fashioned from things which are not.Moreover, that which is seems to be contrary to and far removed from those things which are made from things which are not. For that indeed shows that there is no interval between the Father and the Son, since not even in thought can the mind imagine any distance between them.But that the world was created from things which are not, indicates a more recent and a later origin of substance, since the universe receives an essence of this sort from the Father by the Son. When, therefore, the most pious John contemplated the essence of the divine Word at a very great distance, and as placed beyond all conception of those things that are begotten, he thought it not meet to speak of His generation and creation; not daring to designate the Creator in the same terms as the things that are made. Not that the Word is unbegotten, for the Father alone is unbegotten, but because the inexplicable subsistence of the only-begotten Son transcends the acute comprehension of the evangelists, and perhaps also of angels.

5. Wherefore I do not think that he is to be reckoned among the pious who presumes to inquire into anything beyond these things, not listening to this saying: Seek not out the things that are too hard for you, neither search the things that are above your strength. For if the knowledge of many other things that are incomparably inferior to this, are hidden from human comprehension, such as in the apostle Paul, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love Him. 1 Corinthians 2:9 As also God said to Abraham, that he could not number the stars; Genesis 15:5 and that passage, Who can number the sand of the sea, and the drops of rain Sirach 1:2 How shall any one be able to investigate too curiously the subsistence of the divine Word, unless he be smitten with frenzy? Concerning which the Spirit of prophecy says, Who shall declare his generation? Isaiah 53:8 And our Saviour Himself, who blesses the pillars of all things in the world, sought to unburden them of the knowledge of these things, saying that to comprehend this was quite beyond their nature, and that to the Father alone belonged the knowledge of this most divine mystery. For no man, says He, knows the Son, but the Father: neither knows any man the Father, save the Son. Matthew 11:27 Of this thing also I think that the Father spoke, in the words, My secret is to Me and Mine.

6. Now that it is an insane thing to think that the Son was made from things which are not, and was in being in time, the expression, from things which are not, itself shows, although these stupid men understand not the insanity of their own words. For the expression, was not, ought either to be reckoned in time, or in some place of an age. But if it be true that all things were made by Him, it is established that both every age and time and all space, and that when in which the was not is found, was made by Him. And is it not absurd that He who fashioned the times and the ages and the seasons, in which that was not is mixed up, to say of Him, that He at some time was not? For it is devoid of sense, and a mark of great ignorance, to affirm that He who is the cause of everything is posterior to the origin of that thing. For according to them, the space of time in which they say that the Son had not yet been made by the Father, preceded the wisdom of God that fashioned all things, and the Scripture speaks falsely according to them, which calls Him the First-born of every creature. Conformable to which, that which the majestically-speaking Paul says of Him: Whom He has appointed heir of all things. By whom also He made the worlds. But by Him also were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by Him, and for Him; and He is before all things. Colossians 1:16-17

7. Wherefore, since it appears that this hypothesis of a creation from things which are not is most impious, it is necessary to say that the Father is always the Father. But He is the Father, since the Son is always with Him, on account of whom He is called the Father. Wherefore, since the Son is always with Him, the Father is always perfect, being destitute of nothing as regards good; who, not in time, nor after an interval, nor from things which are not, has begotten His only-begotten Son. How, then, is it not impious to say, that the wisdom of God once was not which speaks thus concerning itself: I was with Him forming all things; I was His delight; or that the power of God once did not exist; or that His Word was at any time mutilated; or that other things were ever wanting from which the Son is known and the Father expressed? For he who denies that the brightness of the glory existed, takes away also the primitive light of which it is the brightness. And if the image of God was not always, it is clear also that He was not always, of which it is the image. Moreover, in saying that the character of the subsistence of God was not, He also is done away with who is perfectly expressed by it. Hence one may see that the Sonship of our Saviour has nothing at all in common with the sonship of the rest. For just as it has been shown that His inexplicable subsistence excels by an incomparable excellence all other things to which He has given existence, so also His Sonship, which is according to the nature of the Godhead of the Father, transcends. by an ineffable excellence. the sonship of those who have been adopted by Him. For He, indeed, is of an immutable nature, every way perfect, and wanting in nothing; but these since they are either way subject to change, stand in need of help from Him. For what progress can the wisdom of God make? What increase can the truth itself and God the Word receive? In what respect can the life and the true light be made better? And if this be so, how much more unnatural is it that wisdom should ever be capable of folly; that the power of God should be con-joined with infirmity; that reason should be obscured by unreason; or that darkness should be mixed up with the true light? And the apostle says, on this place, What communion has light with darkness? And what concord has Christ with Belial? 2 Corinthians 6:14-15 And Solomon says, that it is not possible that it should come to pass that a man should comprehend with his understanding the way of a serpent upon a rock, which is Christ, according to the opinion of Paul. But men and angels, who are His creatures, have received His blessing that they might make progress, exercising themselves in virtues and in the commandments of the law, so as not to sin. Wherefore our Lord, since He is by nature the Son of the Father, is by all adored. But these, laying aside the spirit of bondage, when by brave deeds and by progress they have received the spirit of adoption, being blessed by Him who is the Son by nature, are made sons by adoption.

8. And His proper and peculiar, natural and excellent Sonship, St. Paul has declared, who thus speaks of God: Who spared not His own Son, but for us, who were not His natural sons, delivered Him up. Romans 8:32 For to distinguish Him from those who are not properly sons, He said that He was His own Son. And in the Gospel we read: This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Matthew 3:17 Moreover, in the Psalms the Saviour says: The Lord has said to Me, You are my Son. Where, showing that He is the true and genuine Son, He signifies that there are no other genuine sons besides Himself. And what, too, is the meaning of this: From the womb before the morning I begot you? Does He not plainly indicate the natural sonship of paternal bringing forth, which he obtained not by the careful framing of His manners, not by the exercise of and increase in virtue, but by property of nature? Wherefore, the only-begotten Son of the Father, indeed, possesses an indefectible Sonship; but the adoption of rational sons belongs not to them by nature, but is prepared for them by the probity of their life, and by the free gift of God. And it is mutable as the Scripture recognises: For when the sons of God saw the daughters of men, they took them wives, Genesis 6:2 etc. And in another place: I have nourished and brought up children, but they have rebelled against Me, Isaiah 1:2 as we find God speaking by the prophet Isaiah.

9. And though I could say much more, brethren beloved, I purposely omit to do so, as deeming it to be burdensome at great length to call these things to the remembrance of teachers who are of the same mind with myself. For you yourselves are taught of God, nor are you ignorant that this doctrine, which has lately raised its head against the piety of the Church, is that of Ebion and Artemas; nor is it anything else but an imitation of Paul of Samosata, bishop of Antioch, who, by the judgment and counsel of all the bishops, and in every place, was separated from the Church. To whom Lucian succeeding, remained for many years separate from the communion of three bishops. And now lately having drained the dregs of their impiety, there have arisen among us those who teach this doctrine of a creation from things which are not, their hidden sprouts, Arius and Achilles, and the gathering of those who join in their wickedness. And three bishops in Syria, having been, in some manner, consecrated on account of their agreement with them, incite them to worse things. But let the judgment concerning these be reserved for your trial. For they, retaining in their memory the words which came to be used with respect to His saving Passion, and abasement, and examination, and what they call His poverty, and in short of all those things to which the Saviour submitted for our sakes, bring them forward to refute His supreme and eternal Godhead. But of those words which signify His natural