Feast of St Hosea the Prophet
WE CHRISTIANS, you know, O heretics, have one worship, and one veneration—I mean, for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—because that which is venerated is one in the nature of divinity, although those which are intellectually perceived are three in their hypostatic properties, according to our normal teaching. [. . .]
“But,” the heretics say, “the Godhead does not remain uncircumscribed when Christ is circumscribed bodily. If the divinity is united to the flesh by a hypostatic union, the uncircumscribable divinity must be co-circumscribed in the circumscription of the flesh. Neither can be separated from the other, or else some abominable kind of division would be introduced” [Iconoclasts were concerned to avoid Nestorianism].
According to the word-play which you call an argument, neither could the Godhead remain incomprehensible in being comprehended—but it was wrapped in swaddling clothes! Nor could it remain invisible in being seen—but it was seen! Not could it remain intangible in being touched—but it was touched! Nor could it remain impassible in suffering—but it was crucified! Nor could it remain immortal in dying—but it was put to death! In the same way you should understand that the Godhead has also remained uncircumscribable in being circumscribed. For these are properties just as those others are; but the properties of the uncircumscribable nature are those in which Christ is recognized to be God, while the properties of the circumscribed nature are those in which He is confessed to be man. Neither one makes the other into something new, nor departs from what it was itself; nor is one changed into the other (for such a change would produce the confusion which we have refused to admit); but He is one and the same in His hypostasis, with His two natures unconfused in their proper spheres [Here Theodore adheres to the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. to avoid monophysitism]. Therefore you must either accept the “circumscribed,” or if not, then take away the “visible” and “tangible” and “graspable” and whatever adjectives are in the same category. Then it would become obvious that you utterly deny that the Word became flesh—which is the height of impiety.
According to the heretics, to call Christ a mere man is totally absurd. “Circumscription,” they say, “is characteristic of a mere man: therefore Christ is not a mere man, because He is not circumscribed.”
You seem to me to be talking complete nonsense when you keep bringing up your favorite word “uncircumscribable.” You try to evade our argument with non-argument, to refute what is undemonstrated by your demonstration and what is illogical with your logic. But come into the ring and be utterly overthrown. For Christ did not become a mere man, nor is it orthodox to say that He assumed a particular man, but rather that He assumed man in general, or the whole of human nature. It must be said, however, that this whole human nature was contemplated in an individual manner (for otherwise how could He be seen?), so that He is seen and described, touched and circumscribed, eats and drinks, matures and grows, works and rests, sleeps and wakes, hungers and thirsts, weeps and sweats, and whatever else one does or suffers who is in all respects a man. Therefore we must admit that Christ is circumscribed, although not a mere man (for he is not one of the many, but God made man); or else we may be attacked by the swift serpents of heresy whom you follow, namely those who say that He came only in appearance and fantasy [e.g. Manichaeans and Paulicians]. At the same time we must also admit that He is uncircumscribable, if indeed He is God made man, so that we may drive off the impious dog who babbles that Christ received His origin from Mary [i.e. Arius]. For this is the novel mystery of the dispensation, that the divine and human natures came together in the one hypostasis of the Word, which maintains the properties of both natures in the indivisible union. [. . .]
“Why is not the same thing written,” the heretics say, “about the icon as about the cross? For the apostle says, ‘The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God’ (1 Cor. 1.18). He also says, ‘Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of Christ!’ (Gal. 6.14). Many other words of praise occur in the Scriptures. Where, then, can you show such a passage, and from what author, concerning the icon?”
Tell me, you over-confident man, which did he praise, and in which did he glory, in the cross, or in a representation of the cross? Obviously in the former; but the copy shares the glory of its prototype, as a reflection shares the brightness of the light. For whatever is said about the cause, the same can in all respects be said about the effect. In the case of the cause, it is said properly, because it is true by nature; while in the case of the effect, it is not said properly, because it is true by identity of name. Thus also, as Christ has been proclaimed from the beginning, the proclamation about His image has followed according to its relationship with Him. You have as many testimonies concerning Christ’s image as you have concerning Christ Himself. Likewise, as much is said about the representation of the cross as about the cross itself. Nowhere does the Scripture speak about representation or image (since they have the same meaning); for it is illogical to expect such a mention, inasmuch as for us the effects share in the power of the causes. Is not every image a kind of seal and impression bearing in itself the proper appearance of that after which it is named? For we call the representation “cross” because it is also the cross, yet there are not two crosses; and we call the image of Christ “Christ” because it is also Christ, yet there are not two Christs. It is not possible to distinguish one from the other by the name, which they have in common, but by their natures. In the same way the divine Basil says that the image of the emperor is called “the emperor,” yet there are not two emperors, nor is his honor divided, nor his glory fragmented; and that the honor is given to the image rightly passes over to the prototype and vice versa (On the Holy Spirit 18.45).
—St Theodore the Studite, On the Holy Icons