“Thou Who Wast Crucified for us, Have Mercy on us” The Theology of Philoxenus of Mabbug on the Trisagion


Introduction

Philoxenos of MabbugIn a dogmatic letter written to the Monks of Beth-Gaugal,1 Philoxenus of Mabbug (485 A.D. – 519 A.D)2 urged the “hearers” not to be troubled by the statement “God was crucified for us.”3 This assertion was the catalyst that incited the Trisagion controversy.4 The Trisagion, Greek for “thrice holy”, is a liturgical hymn5 that affirms the holiness of the Omnipotent Immortal God in whom Christians believe. At the crux of the controversy lies the Chalcedonian affirmation (451 A.D.) that Jesus’ weaknesses are attributed to his human nature and his supernatural deeds are assigned to his divine nature.6 Philoxenus of Mabbug was among those who rejected this “blasphemy”7 and worked tirelessly to promote the belief in the passion and death of the consubstantial Son, thus bringing to the fore8 and vigorously9 promoting the “theopaschite”10 formula of the Miaphysite Trisagion: “Thou art Holy, God; Thou art Holy, Strong One; Thou art Holy, Immortal One; (Thou) Who wast crucified for us, have mercy on us.”11

The objective of this paper is to explain the theological underpinning for Philoxenus’ Miaphysite Trisagion as elucidated in his dogmatic letter to the monks.

  1. Philoxenus of Mabbug: The Herald of Truth

Philoxenus of Mabbug wrote his dogmatic letter to the monks between 499 A.D. and 513 A.D.12 His addressees are not monks of any particular monastery but of a cluster of monasteries whom he had previously visited.13 He intends to “demonstrate in writing the truth of the faith which I have learned from the Holy Books and from the interpreters of the Church, my masters.”14 That which he is compelled to expound on is the “truth of faith” which he inherited from the Old and New Testaments, the teachings of the council of Nicaea (325 A.D.) and the teachings of famous theologians such as St. Ephrem the Syrian15 (ca. 306 A.D. – 373 A.D.).

Furthermore, Philoxenus plans to demonstrate the veracity of his theological opinion “in simple words.”16 The first reason he gives for this endeavor is “for the joy and consolation of those who love me in truth and for truth’s sake.”17 The second reason that he provides, “for the shame and confusion of heretics,”18 has a polemical and harsh tone directed toward his theological adversaries, “the disciples of the demons,” i.e., the Nestorians and Chalcedonians, the promoters of the human and divine natures of Christ. They “calumniate me and call me a deceiver, and insult in me the truth which I have learned and which I preach. For, since they call truth error, these liars give the name deceivers to the heralds of truth.”19

Philoxenus undoubtedly sees himself as the herald of truth and exhorts his addressees, “the healthy members of the body of truth of Christ God Who is over all,”20 to support his mission and follow in his footsteps, for “[i]t is good and fitting for the truth to be declared openly.”21 Their mission is to teach the truth to friends and to declare it before enemies and persecutors unto death following the exhortation of Christ “to declare the faith which He has delivered unto us.”22 Philoxenus, the “Herald of truth,” advocates the truth which he and his supporters inherited from Christ through the “Orthodox” tradition of their ancestors. Without being ashamed and embarrassed, he reminds the “servants of Christ” of Christ’s precept to declare the truth with openness. Furthermore, he urges the monks into action23 even if it meant to be disobedient to people in authority “for he who wishes to please men cannot be a servant of Christ.”24

Rebellion could be met with dreadful consequences. However, nothing shall diminish the zealotry of Philoxenus and nothing should decrease the ardency of the monks for they have “experienced the love of Christ and tasted the sweetness of the truth.”25 Philoxenus urges the monks to renounce every attachment to this world for the sake of the truth and walk in the footsteps of the Apostles and martyrs, the lovers of the truth.

“Nothing was able to diminish the ardor of their love in the pursuit of truth: Neither fire, nor beasts, nor swords, nor the combs (of executioners), nor exile from country to country, nor close confinement in dungeons, nor the insults of enemies, nor calumnies, nor injustices, nor the inconstancy of friends, nor the defection of acquaintances, nor separation from family, nor the opposition of the whole world, nor the onslaught of visible and invisible (enemies), nor anything above or below, can separate from the love of Christ those who have tasted and perceived the truth…”26

That which Philoxenus is enjoining on the monks would generate fear in the hearts of their bravest. Nevertheless, fear has no place in the heart of those who have tasted the sweetness of the truth of Christ. A fearful person is a person who is not perfect in love and whose actions lie outside the truth. But it behooves the “athletes in the spiritual warfare … to renounce whatever is outside of it [the truth], and to confess that in it [the truth] alone are our light and our joy, our wealth and our priceless treasure, and the breath of our spiritual life,”27 and to proclaim it in the open regardless of the severity of the consequences, thus becoming the heralds of the truth of Christ. The world, according to Philoxenus, is divided into two camps: “the heralds of the truth” and “the adversaries of the truth.” Philoxenus exhorts the monks to

“be open defenders and preachers of the truth. Be not afraid of man; do not desist from fighting zealously for the truth, saying: ‘We are solicitous for the quiet of our ascetic life’. Ascetic life is beautiful (indeed), and the works of justice are worthy of praise. (But) these (works) are members whose head is truth, and if the head is cut off, the members perish.”

What then is this truth for which he is exhorting the monks to defend and for which he is willing to die?28

  1. The Truth: Eternally Unchanging Trinity

At the outset of his letter, Philoxenus speaks of his addressees as “healthy members of the body of truth of Christ God Who is over all,” thus identifying Christ with God. He affirms this truth again at the beginning of his theological discourse immediately following a long exhortation directed to the monks to uphold the truth. He begins the dogmatic portion of the letter with Jesus Christ.

The truth Philoxenus preaches is Jesus Christ, the God Who is over all. He is indeed the Word of God, the second Person of the Trinity. “This Jesus, God the Word, is our truth, with His Father and with His Holy Spirit: one Trinity, one essence, one divinity, one nature from everlasting and from eternity.”29 It is worthwhile to note the identification of Jesus with the Word of God. Not that Jesus Christ is not the incarnate Word of God, but that the identification of Jesus of Nazareth with the Word of God along with Philoxenus’ emphasis on the unicity of essence, divinity, and nature of the persons of Trinity already reveal his Miaphysite belief. He strongly affirms that, in the Godhead, there is not “nature and nature, nor essence and essence, nor anything recent or old, but One in Three and Three in One; an eternal nature and eternal persons, one essence adored with its persons from everlasting and from eternity.”30 Therefore, God is eternal and everlasting and does not admit any kind of change either by nature, or by persons.

  1. Eternally One Nature

God eternally has one nature and is three persons. The one nature of God is not bound to change when by the will of His Essence, one of these persons came down from heaven and dwelt in the pure Virgin. Indeed, He became man of her without change. The One who came down from heaven is “the Mediator of our Confession, Truth from Truth, Light from Light, Living from the Living One, and Immortal from Him Who does not die.”31 Furthermore, He is “God from God, natural Son of a natural Father, the Splendor of the Father and His essential Image, God the Word Who is over all.”32 In describing who is He who came down from heaven, Philoxenus reiterates the teachings of the Council of Nicaea.

By asserting the embodiment of the Word of God in and of the Virgin, Philoxenus opposes the many heresies with which he is familiar.

“He [the Word of God] did not bring His body from heaven, as Bardesanes said; nor was He seen under a false appearance or a phantom, according to the blasphemy of Mani and Marcion; nor was (His body) made from nothing, as said Eutyches the fool; nor was His nature changed, as the wicked Arius and Eumonius imagine; nor was He, Who was embodied, without (human) intelligence, according to the blasphemous doctrine of Appolinaris; but he Who is perfect God took a body, and became perfect man of the Virgin.”33

The becoming of the Word of God man does necessitate either change, or variation, or confusion in His nature. To shore up his argument, Philoxenus cites Malachi 3:6, “I am, and I change not,” and affirms that “He [the Word of God] became man without change; He was embodied, and remained as He is, spiritual.”34 Furthermore, in his letter to Zeno, he cites John and Paul as advocates of this becoming without change. “With John I cry out that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, not by changing, God forbid! For ‘to change’ is a modification, but ‘to become’ belongs to the Economy (of the Word). For I learn from John and Paul that (the Word) has become; but that he was changed, none of those who saw and served the Word (ever) said.”35

In the same letter, Philoxenus argues that change can occur only in created things. “We do not hold that (the Word) became man with a change in His nature, because God is not capable of change, change being a modification of things created; but as he exists without having begun, so also he was not changed by becoming (man).”36 He also argues that the nature of human beings did not change when they became sons of God due to the salvation brought to fruition by the mercy of God. Similarly, the nature of the Word of God does not change when He became embodied. “The Word, therefore, became something that He was not and remained something that we were not (but became), that is, sons of God, yet remaining what we were by nature. For we became sons of God, although our nature was not changed, and He became man by His mercy, although His essence was not changed.”37

By insisting on the unicity38 of nature, before and after His becoming, Philoxenus is affirming the incarnation of the Word of God and not of another. Mary, the Mother of God, was neither a conduit nor a birth channel for the Almighty. The Ancient of Days, the Most High, God became a child in her and of her. He was embodied in her for he dwelt in her womb and of her for he became flesh of her flesh. Mary conceived the Word of God spiritually and brought Him forth corporally. “And He, Whose generation from the Father is without beginning, was brought forth with a beginning in His generation from the Virgin.”39

In his letter to emperor Zeno, Philoxenus explains what he means by Jesus having one nature. He wrote, “I confess there was a union of the natures, that is, (a union of) the divinity and the humanity, and I divide neither the natures nor the person, nor the parts of this and that, which have united in an ineffable manner.”40 What exactly does he mean by “union of the natures?” In what sense are these natures united? Philoxenus undoubtedly believes that Jesus was God and man, for he wrote, “I confess, therefore, one (only) person of the Word, and I believe that this same (person) is also man, that is, God Who became man;”41 He also confesses that He did not unite “Himself to the person of a man, but to our nature.”42

He does not explain whether the union of the natures produces a new nature or the human nature is consumed by the divine nature. However, it is obvious that his refusal to accept the two natures in Christ is a reflection of his training in Aristotelian philosophy. In his philosophical understanding, “nature” and “person” are closely associated. Therefore, two natures certainly infer two persons. What does it meant to say that the two natures in Christ bespeak the existence of two persons in Him? On this point, Philoxenus wrote,

“I do not acknowledge in the Virgin a man adhering to God, nor a person joined to another; but I see, with the eye of faith, a Spiritual Being, Who, without change, became corporal, and Mary brought forth, not a double (Son), as Nestorius said, but the Only-begotten embodied, Who is not indeed half God and half man, but wholly God because He is from the Father, and wholly man because He became (man) of the Virgin.”43

One person of the Trinity came down from heaven. That one person cannot have two natures, for that breaks the law of Aristotelian philosophy which forms the basis of the “nature/person” discussion. Later on in the letter to Zeon, Philoxenus wrote, “Of the Son, therefore, are the two generations, the one from the Father and the other from the Virgin; of the one Son, and not of two natures, otherwise He would not be one. For if we admit (in Him) nature and nature, we must necessarily admit person and person and consequently we must acknowledge two Sons and two Gods.” 44 Therefore, the breakdown in communication between those who profess two natures in Christ and Philoxenus seems to have been more philosophical rather than theological.

  1. Eternally Three Persons

Despite their differences, the Nestorians and the Chalcedonians agree that in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Incarnate Word of God, are united two natures; a human nature and a divine nature. Philoxenus adamantly rejects this teaching, for the language of the two natures in the person of Jesus, in Philoxenus’ mind, bespeaks the existence of two persons in Jesus, as stated above. Accordingly, either a man adheres to the Word of God or the Word of God dwells in another.

“Nor did He enter and dwell in another, He Who is the Only Son, but He was embodied from our nature and He is not counted two. He became man of the Virgin, and His person was not doubled; He became (man), and he was not changed, because even in His becoming His essence remained without change. For as he is in His essence, so He remained also in His becoming, that is without change.”45 

These possibilities are absolutely unacceptable, for taking them to their logical conclusions would introduce a human person into the Godhead, thus altering the Christian belief of the Trinity into a quaternity. He states, “For he who counts another man with God, introduces a quaternity in his doctrine and destroys the dogma or the Holy Trinity.”46 The same line of argument is used in his his 10th mēmrā against Ḥabib,

“He who numbers another man among God introduces a quaternity in his teaching, because the Godhead is acknowledged to be a Trinity. Moreover, if someone were to introduce another human person [into the Godhead], that one would destroy this faith…because, by his acknowledgment, he would have made a God of a man.”47 

Philoxenus also argues in his letter to emperor Zeno, “For He became man by taking a body and not by assuming a man whom He caused to adhere to His person; otherwise, we would be introducing an addition into the Trinity, and would be found to admit a son of grace, outside the Son of Nature.”48 The acceptance of two natures in Christ, according to Philoxenus, bespeaks an adoration of “a new god, a man born of a woman.”49

  1. The Truth: God Suffered and Died

By establishing the argument that “He, Who descended into her as God, the very Same came forth from her as man,”50 Philoxenus positions himself to refute the claim of those who, in his estimation, divide and count two in the only Son of God by attributing to Him after His incarnation two natures. This claim consists of attributing humiliation and weakness to the human nature and power and glory to the divine nature. Speaking in these terms leads one to conclude that one person in Jesus was born, suckled, was circumcised, grew up, ate, drank, fasted, got hungry and slept etc., and another person did not experience any of these things. Accordingly, they divided Christ so as to say that the “one suffered and the other did not; one died and the other did not; and (so these) dishonest men divide unto one and another all these words which are spoken of Christ, as if one was born truly and the other in deception, as if one suffered in fact and the other in name, and as if one died in reality and the other in fraud.”51 In contrast to this position, Philoxenus proclaims, “Being of a supernatural nature, he became man; (being) of a supernatural nature, He was born of a creature; (being) of a supernatural nature, He sucked milk; (being) of a supernatural nature, He grew in stature.”52 Rejecting the two natures of Christ, and upholding the unicity of nature in Him, Philoxenus can now assert that being of a supernatural nature, God suffered and died on the cross. Therefore, the one who descended from heaven and was embodied is the one and the same who was crucified.

When pressed to answer the question, “How can God die?”, Philoxenus ingeniously retorts with another poignant question, “How can God be born?”53 The birth and death of God are understood in the same sense. Philoxenus does not explain how the two events actually happened, but that they occurred. It was not a body distinct from God that was born and it was not a body distinct from God that was crucified. They are not two who were born of the Virgin Mary and neither were they two who died on the cross.

  1. The Truth: Who Died on the Cross?

By jealously guarding the notion of the immutability of God who became and was embodied in and of the Virgin Mary, Philoxenus openly declares the truth shouting that God died on the cross. “Thou art Holy, God; Thou art Holy, Strong One; Thou art Holy Immortal One; (Thou) Who wast crucified for us, have mercy on us.”54 It would be a grave mistake to attribute to Philoxenus the teaching of “Patripassianism,”55 for he never claimed that God the Father, or God the Holy Spirit, or the Trinity qua Trinity was born, suffered or died. But he is a “theopaschite”56 insofar as this term means only the suffering of the incarnate Logos.

Philoxenus insisted that one and only one person of the Holy Trinity came down, dwelt in the pure Virgin Mary, whom the Holy Spirit purified, and was embodied of her. The Word of God, the second person of the Trinity, became man of her without change. Since the three persons of the Trinity have one nature, the second person of the Trinity is “God from God, natural Son of a natural Father, the Splendor of the Father and His essential Image, God the Word Who is over all.”57 And for the same reason, Philoxenus can speak of the “Ancient of days became a child; the Most High became infant in the womb, and God became man in the womb.”58 God became man insofar as “God” refers only to the second person of the Trinity who became man. “And as of the Virgin, not one in another, nor one with another was born, but one God became man of her without change and the Same is one in His divinity and His humanity.”59

Similarly, God died insofar as “God” refers to the second person of the Trinity who was embodied. “Therefore, that God was born of the Virgin, the Church of God believes; (that) God was crucified for all, the truth of the Holy Books declares.”60 Jesus Christ and the Word of God are one and the same. Therefore, any actions performed by Jesus are attributed to the Word of God. These can be acts of weakness such as being born, eating, sleeping or dying, and of power such walking on water, changing water into wine, healing, bringing back the dead, or resurrecting:

“Christ is the Son, and the Son is God, and God is the Word, and the Word is consubstantial (with God). If it is written that Christ was crucified, it is God Who was crucified. Christ died and He also rose. Not one was the Christ Who died, and another the God Who did not die; not one was the Only Son Who was given for the redemption of the world, and another the Word Who was not given; not one was the Son Who suffered and died, and another Who remained without suffering.”61 

Therefore, the one who died on the Cross is Christ God Who is over all. Philoxenus elucidates this further when he wrote to Zeno,

“We confess, therefore, that the Virgin is θεοτόχος (yāldath ’alāhā), and we believe that the embodied Word, after being born of her corporally, was wrapped in swaddling clothes, sucked milk, received circumcision, was held on (His Mother’s) knees, grew in stature and was subject to His parents, all this just as He was born. He did not need to be fed Who feeds (others), since He is known (to be) God, but He became subject to all this because He was made man, although perfect and complete in His nature and in His person. It is then only in so far as He became (man) that He grew. To Him belongs greatness by His nature; and humiliation, because He emptied Himself. The things of the Father are His, because He has the same essence; and ours are His because He became like unto us. To Him honor, because He is the Lord of glory; to Him humiliation, because he revealed Himself in the flesh. His the fact that He was hungry, and His the fact that He multiplied bread. He was hungry, and (thereby) showed that He became like unto us; He fed the hungry, and (thereby) showed that the power remain to Him. For His nature was not changed when He became (man), nor was the strength of His power diminished.

He was baptized by John in the Jordan, and the Father testified that He is His beloved Son. I recognize the Trinity in the Jordan: the Father Who speaks; the Son Who is baptized; and the Holy Ghost Who shows. The Son was baptized as man, and not in appearance, because the appearance of the dove belongs to the Holy Ghost, and the appearance of the humanity belongs to the Father; but, with the Son, it is the reality of corporeity. The One Whom I have seen in baptism I have acknowledged in the womb (of the Virgin), and the One Whom I have found in the womb, I contemplate stretched on the Cross. One of the Trinity was in the womb; one of the Trinity in baptism; one of the Trinity on the Cross.”62 

The Miaphysite Trisagion drew a great uproar to the point that people were killed over it. The crux of the issue is to whom it is addressed. To some, the addressee is the Holy Trinity. In their estimation, the Miaphysite Trisagion asserts that the Holy Trinity was crucified. Obviously Philoxenus of Mabbug would reject any blasphemy that would teach that the Holy Trinity qua Trinity suffered and died, for, according to him, “whether the Holy Books say that Christ, or the Son, or the Only Begotten, or Jesus was born and died, it is God Who was born and died, and not another distinct from Him. For we do not acknowledge a Son Who is not God, nor God Who is not Christ.”63 It would be safe to conjecture that if, in the mind of Philoxenus, the Trisagion were addressed to the Holy Trinity, he would not have promoted it in its Miaphysite version. Therefore, as far as he is concerned, the Trisagion was, at least by his time and within his branch of Christianity, addressed to Christ. In declaring an anathema upon Nestorius and Eutyches, Philoxenus implicitly declares to whom the Trisagion, which he promotes, is addressed. “Anathema upon Nestorius and Eutyches, and their doctrines and their disciples; upon every one who agrees with them; upon every one who does not anathematize them with mouth and heart, and does not confess that Christ, God the Word, one of the Trinity, was crucified for us.[emphasis mine]

According to De Halleus, Philoxenus naturally perceives the Trisagion as christological. De Halleux lists among the authentic writings of Philoxenus a mēmrā on the Trisagion concerning which he says,

“Il ressort des quelques lignes conservées de ce mēmrā que Philoxène y interprétait naturellement l’addition au Trisagion comme une acclamation christologique; en effet, notre auteur explique que le terme « Immortel » s’applique au Christ en vertu de son Essence, tandis que « crucifié » le désigne en vertu de son devenir, autrement dit de sa corporalité, par laquelle il est mortel, « c’est-à-dire susceptible (ܡܩܒܠܢܐ)de mort » et de la crucifixion.”64

  1. The Truth: How Can God Die ?

In contrast to mortal people whose lives come to an end and die since each individual person possesses a human nature, God eternally lives by his divine nature. So the statement “God was crucified for us”65 is an apparent paradox that Philoxenus had to explain. Furthermore, the assertion of God’s death becomes a sticking point for Philoxenus since he refuses to acknowledge the existence of a human nature in the person of Christ.

God is undoubtedly immortal. However, “He tasted death of His own will, although He is living in His nature.”66 As it was stated above, the divine nature of God, according to Philoxenus, does not admit any change. Therefore, a nature that is eternally immortal does not become mortal due to the Incarnation. God remains unchanged at both birth and death. “And as, when He became man, He remained God as He is, without change, so also, when he tasted death for us, He did not lose the life of His nature.”67 Philoxenus argues that the assertion of God’s death is not beyond theological reach. The Fathers of the Council of Ephesus taught that Mary was the bearer of God (θεοτόχος). Consequently, her title indicates that God was born, for Mary could not have been the mother of God if God did not become incarnate. Jesus, the only begotten of the Father, had two generations. The first is eternal, for the Father is eternally Father and the Son is eternally Son. The second generation happened in time and in space when Mary bore the Son of God.

“For He was born of the Virgin corporally, and not in so far as He is God. But because he became man of the Virgin, in this he had beginning; for in so far as He is, not even from the Father has He a beginning. Because He became man, we are not ashamed to say that He had a beginning from the Virgin; for He Who, as God, is without beginning, became as man, subject to a beginning; and he Who as God, is spiritual, infinite, and with the Father, became, as man, a body, and finite in the Virgin.”68

Therefore, if it is possible to believe and profess that the One Who was already born was born, then it is also possible to believe and profess that the One Who is immortal died. Sarot states on the subject,

“It is important to recognize that the theopaschite formula is christological and not theological formula. It does not say that the God simpliceter ‘passus est’ or that the Divinity ‘passus est'; the formula is about the incarnate Second Person of the Trinity, who suffered ‘carne’ or ‘secundum carnem’. The formula allows us to say that the human nature of Jesus suffered, that the Second Person of the Trinity suffered, that the Logos incarnate suffered, but not that the divine nature of Jesus suffered. In fact the acceptance of the formula is nothing more than the logical consequence of the acceptance of the term ‘theotokos': if Mary was truly the mother of ‘Theos’, then it was ‘Theos’ who suffered.69

Philoxenus defends his position in his letter to emperor Zeno, “For if we believe that conceived as man, He is God, we must necessarily admit that, enclosed as dead in Scheol [sic], He is Life from Life, lest, because he became (man), His essence be considered as having changed, and lest we believed that by death the life of His nature was destroyed.”70

Philoxenus reconciles the paradox of the Immortal’s death by attributing Jesus’ crucifixion to his divine will, which is also eternal and unchanging. He argues, “If, being (already) born, He was born; if existing, he became (man), therefore also, being living, he died of His own will.”71 He also states, that God “tasted death of His own will, although He is living in His nature.”72 In his dogmatic letter to the monks, Philoxenus does not elaborate on what it means that God died of His own will, but he does so in his 10th mēmrā against Ḥabib.

When faced with a difficult question to answer such as “How can God die?”, Philoxenus opts to submit to faith in the will of God, since that which concerns Him, be it in His nature or outside of it, (i.e., in regard to His creatures), is absolutely beyond the knowledge of His created beings. God does that which he wills and desires and acts and continues to do so. By His will, He accomplishes everything and according to it He brings about His economy. Furthermore, God does everything by His will. Accordingly, the knowledge of all existing things rests in it.73 Therefore, there is a limit to scientific reasoning. When that limit is reached, the wise person resorts to faith.74

His becoming man is a great mystery and so is His death on the cross. By faith, consequently, Philoxenus asserts that the Word “tasted death of His own will, although He is living in His nature.”75 If He had not died according to His will, then His death would have been outside of His will. This would be absurd for by His will, He accomplishes His economy. Moreover, if His will had been accomplished by the death of another other than Himself, then the one who would have been subjected to death would have been no greater than all the other just ones.76

Scriptures attest that the “One Who is living in His nature” is the “One Who tastes death,” insofar as He became man. It must be the will of the One Who is immortal that leads Him to death. Philoxenus argues, if He were mortal by nature ever since He was begotten, He would have submitted to death naturally. Moreover, when He would have died, death would have been His by nature and not for the sake of others.77 His death had to be according to His will. Otherwise, He would have died reluctantly and that which happened to Him would have been against His will. According to Philoxenus, God’s will and nature cannot be separated. Consequently, God is immortal by His nature and mortal, insofar as He became man, by His will.78

Philoxenus attributes God’s actions either to His nature or His will. For example, God is everywhere by nature, whereas He creates and organizes all that exists by His will. Regarding the Son, God begot Him by nature. “Quant au Fils qui est (né) de lui, nous confessons également que c’est naturellement qu’il l’a engendré et, alors qu’il est appelé par nous le Fils de la nature (divine), nous ne le disons jamais « Fils de la volonté », ni qu’il a (d’abord) voulu, puis engendré.”79 If the Son were begotten by the Father’s will, there would have been a time when the Father did not beget the Son. Consequently, the Father would have created the Son like any other creature. Therefore, the Son is Son by nature. With this line of argument, Philoxenus safeguards the eternal engendering of the Begotten One. Moreover, he does not admit any separation between God’s nature and His will, even after the incarnation. It is only by human reasoning that the two are separated.80 Furthermore, he does not admit any opposition between them.81 By the same token, neither God’s nature nor His will are passible, for if they were, Philoxenus argues, necessity would have been introduced into the Godhead.82

Philoxenus attributes Jesus’s weaknesses, such as his eating and sleeping to His divine will, while those who confess two natures in Jesus attribute them to His human nature. He argues that human nature is subject to illnesses and sufferings, whereas the will of human beings desires to be beyond them. Similarly, people are hungry and thirsty by nature, while they desire to be like angels.83 Since Jesus could not have experienced them by nature similar to His creatures, for their natures are infinitely different, He must have eternally willed to be submitted to them when he became embodied.

Philoxenus attributes God’s will to the Trinity qua Trinity. The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit willed that the Word of God become incarnate for the salvation of the human race. “The person of the Son, therefore, became embodied by the will of the Father and of the Holy Ghost, and His embodiment does not exclude that He may be believed consubstantial with them, for He was begotten Son (of the Father) and He was born Son of (the Virgin).”84 Consequently, the three divine persons of the Trinity have one will.

The event of the crucifixion is unlike any other event in the history of human beings. It manifested the immortality and mortality of God. The cross, an instrument of death, became an instrument of life since the Immortal died on it and by His death, He destroyed death. Philoxenus exalts the cross saying,

“The Cross is the herald of the death and of the immortality of God; for, until then, we believed by hearing that God is immortal; but, on the Cross, experience has shown (that) both (were true), for, whilst tasting death, He remained living. Death could not attach and destroy His life; but, by His death, the power of death was destroyed, so that this death (of the Son), after His becoming (man), is a miracle. For He Who suffered death for us was not mortal as one of us, otherwise the power of death over mortals would not have been destroyed. From all men we know that what is mortal shall die; but, that the Immortal be considered as having died corporally, was something new which took place once on the Cross.”85

  1. The Truth: God Died for our Sake

The death of God was not in vain, for he willed his mortality for the salvation of human beings. Paradoxically, while human beings desire to go beyond sufferings and death, God, who so loved the world, eternally willed to be incarnate and die. Philoxenus states, “Herein then is a great mystery of profound love and ineffable salvation, that He Who is became, not that He might be, since He is, but that we, through His becoming (Incarnation), might become the sons of God.”86 That which God wills does not will it for Himself, but for His creatures, for He is perfect and not wanting, or deficient, or lacking in anything.

“Everything that He became, He became, not for Himself, but for us. For He was not a sufferer by His nature, because if He had suffered being a sufferer (by nature), He would have suffered for Himself. Nor did He become mortal in punishment for the transgression of the (original) precept, as is the case with us, but He is immortal because He is God. Nor did He become immortal by being justified by His works, as the wicked followers of Nestorianism assert; but by His nature He is immortal because He is God…”87

Consequently, human beings reap the benefit of God’s willingness to die, for He utterly destroyed death and granted eternal salvation to men whom He adopts by grace. The same idea is found in Philoxenus’ argument against Ḥabib. Here, he argues that that which is at stake is the resurrection of people,

“Mais si sa mort s’est faite pour d’autres, sa résurrection elle-même doit donc être regardée comme la preuve de la résurrection des autres, et lui-même n’avait pas besoin de ressusciter, parce qu’il n’avait pas besoin non plus de mourir. En mourant en effet, il n’a pas fait mourir la mort de sa personne, mais la mort de notre nature à nous. De même aussi la preuve de sa résurrection, elle ne se réalisa pas en lui pour qu’il ressuscite, lui qui n’est pas non plus mort pour lui, mais il est ressuscité pour que soit confirmé le témoignage de notre résurrection.88

In his letter to Emperor Zeno, Philoxenus professes that God accomplishes His economy by “emptying Himself” (Philippians 2:7) and by willing “to renew that which, created by Him, had become old.”89 Furthermore, “He [God] wished to give life to men by His abasement, His embodiment, His passion, His death, and His resurrection.”90 The Word of God had no need to become incarnate. Consequently, his embodiment is not by nature but rather by will. “He did not become (man) as he was begotten by the Father, according to the order of the (divine) nature and of the essential generation.”91 In his 10th mēmrā against Ḥabib, Philoxenus cites 2 Corinthians 8:9 besides Philippians 2:7 to speak of the abasement that God willed for Himself for the sake of human beings,92 “For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” [emphasis mine]

Soteriology, i.e., the salvation and redemption of human beings, was an important issue for Philoxenus. For human beings to be saved, God must be the one who became incarnate, suffered and died. This is what Philoxenus promoted, “For there is no other Son than the one Who is adored in the Trinity, Who accomplished the Economy for us, and was crucified between thieves.”93 Otherwise, the event of the cross would have been a vain act and sad story. “For He Who suffered death for us was not mortal as one of us, otherwise the power of death over mortals would not have been destroyed.”94 Moreover, Philoxenus states,

“Mais, parce qu’il a voulu, depuis qu’il existe, ce qui était exigé pour notre salut, à savoir que nous soyons secourus par ce dont it n’avait pas besoin, et que, par la mort qui ne brise pas la vie de sa nature, fût abolie la mort naturelle des mortels, – car c’est celui qui est immortel qui est mort, et, pour cette raison, il n’a pas aboli sa vie pas sa mort…95

What is in it for human beings? “But the Virgin brought Him forth corporally in order that, through this corporal generation, we might be worthy of the spiritual (generation).”96

Conclusion

The miaphysite Trisagion is not just a liturgical hymn, but it underlines rich theological assertions as well. The holy, all-powerful, and immortal God whom it invokes is none other than Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, who, by His will and the will of His Father and the will of the Holy Spirit, became incarnate in the Virgin Mary and of her. Jesus Christ performed acts of weakness and acts of power by His will. His most humiliating experience was the event of the cross, a great mystery which could be comprehended only by faith. Similar to his embodiment, His death on the cross was not outside of his will. He had eternally willed to save the human race.

Only the Immortal One can destroy death and make of human beings adopted children of God the Father. This is the heart of the miaphysite Trisagion and that which is at stake. By asserting God’s crucifixion, it cries out resurrection for mankind. Denying God’s death on the cross bespeaks death’s victory over human beings. However, The Immortal One destroyed death. The All powerful One brought life to man’s mortal nature. The Holy One made human beings holy and worthy of spiritual generation. Therefore, Philoxenus loudly proclaims from beyond the grave, “Thou art Holy, God; Thou art Holy, Strong One; Thou art Holy, Immortal One; (Thou) Who wast crucified for us, have mercy on us.”

Bibliography

Halleux, André de. Philoxène de Mabbog: sa Vie, ses Écrits, sa Théologie. Louvain, Belgium: Imprimerie Orientaliste, 1963.

Philoxenus of Mabbug. Dissertationes Decem De Uno e Sancta Trinitate Incorporato Et Passo: (Mēmrē Contre Ḥabib). Dissertationes 9a, 10a. Translated by Maurice Brière. Firmin-Didot, 1980. 

Van Rompay, Lucas. “Mallpânâ Dilan Suryâyâ Ephrem in the Works of Philoxenus of Mabbog Respect and Distance.” Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies [http://www.bethmardutho.org] vol. 7, no. 1 (January 2004): 83–105.

Sarot, Marcel. “Patripassianism, Theopaschitism and the Suffering of God. Some Historical and Systematic Considerations.” Religious Studies 26, no. 3 (1990): 363–375.

Tsirpanlis, Constantine N. “Some Reflections on Philoxenos’ Christology.” Greek Orthodox Theological Review 25, no. 2 (June 1, 1980): 152–162.

Vaschalde, Arthur Adolphe, trans. “The Letter of Mār Aksenāyā to Emperor Zeno on the Embodiment and Incarnation of God the Word.” In Three Letters of Philoxenus, Bishop of Mabbôgh (485-519): Being the Letter to the Monks, the First Letter to the Monks of Beth-Gaugal, and the Letter to Emperor Zeno, 118–126 (English); 163–173 (Syriac). Roma: Tipografia Della R. Accademia Dei Linchi, 1902. 

———. “The Letter of St. Mār Aksenāyā to the Pure Monks of Bēth-Gaugal.” In Three Letters of Philoxenus, Bishop of Mabbôgh (485-519): Being the Letter to the Monks, the First Letter to the Monks of Beth-Gaugal, and the Letter to Emperor Zeno, 105–118 (English); 146–162 (Syriac). Roma: Tipografia Della R. Accademia Dei Linchi, 1902.

———. “The Letter to the Monks.” In Three Letters of Philoxenus, Bishop of Mabbôgh (485-519): Being the Letter to the Monks, the First Letter to the Monks of Beth-Gaugal, and the Letter to Emperor Zeno, 93–105 (English); 127–145 (Syriac). Roma: Tipografia Della R. Accademia Dei Linchi, 1902.

Endnotes

1 See Arthur Adolphe Vaschalde, tran., “The Letter to the Monks,” in Three Letters of Philoxenus, Bishop of Mabbôgh (485-519): Being the Letter to the Monks, the First Letter to the Monks of Beth-Gaugal, and the Letter to Emperor Zeno (Roma: Tipografia Della R. Accademia Dei Linchi, 1902), 93–105 (English); 127–145 (Syriac).

2 On the Biography of Philoxenus of Mabbug in English see ibid., 1–79. http://books.google.com/books?id=MScpAAAAYAAJ; and André de Halleux, Philoxène de Mabbog: sa Vie, ses Écrits, sa Théologie (Louvain, Belgium: Imprimerie Orientaliste, 1963).

3 Vaschalde, “The Letter to the Monks,” 100 (English); 138 (Syriac).

4 See Halleux, Philoxène de Mabbog, 31–38.

5 “Il s’agit du premier Trisagion liturgique, celui de l’entrée et non celui de l’anaphore…” See footnote number 26 ibid., 34.

6 “Le centre de gravité de l’antichalcédonisme théologique à Antioche ne portait pas alors, semble-t-il, sur une critique de la formule dogmatique « des deux natures après l’union »; parmi les reproches adressés au concile de 451 dominait celui d’avoir « partagé » les miracles et les « passions » du Sauveur, en réservant les uns à Dieu et les autres à l’homme…” Ibid.

7 According to Philoxenus of Mabbug.

8 The addition of the phrase “who was crucified for us” to the Trisagion dates back, according to de Halleux, to the fourth century as a response to arianism. See footnote number 30 of Halleux, Philoxène de Mabbog, 35.

9 See his letter to Emperor Zeno in Arthur Adolphe Vaschalde, tran., “The Letter of Mār Aksenāyā to Emperor Zeno on the Embodiment and Incarnation of God the Word,” in Three Letters of Philoxenus, Bishop of Mabbôgh (485-519): Being the Letter to the Monks, the First Letter to the Monks of Beth-Gaugal, and the Letter to Emperor Zeno (Roma: Tipografia Della R. Accademia Dei Linchi, 1902), 118–126 (English); 163– 173 (Syriac).

10 See Marcel Sarot, “Patripassianism, Theopaschitism and the Suffering of God. Some Historical and Systematic Considerations,” Religious Studies 26, no. 3 (1990): 363–375.

11 Vaschalde, “The Letter to the Monks,” 101 (English); 139 (Syriac).

12 Ibid., 85.

13 Ibid., 84; Halleux, Philoxène de Mabbog, 190.

14 Vaschalde, “The Letter to the Monks,” 96 (English); 131 (Syriac).

15 On the influence of St. Ephrem on the writings of Philoxenus of Mabbug see Lucas Van Rompay, “Mallpânâ Dilan Suryâyâ Ephrem in the Works of Philoxenus of Mabbog Respect and Distance,” Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies [http://www.bethmardutho.org] vol. 7, no. 1 (January 2004): 83–105.

16 Vaschalde, “The Letter to the Monks,” 94 (English); 128 (Syriac).

17 Ibid., 96 (English); 131 (Syriac).

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid., 96 (English); 131–132 (Syriac).

20 Ibid., 93 (English); 127 (Syriac).

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid., 94 (English); 128 (Syriac).

23 “Therefore, you also, without losing the purity of your monastic life, be defenders and open preachers of the truth…” Ibid., 104 (English); 144 (Syriac).

24 Ibid., 94 (English); 129 (Syriac).

25 Ibid.

26 Ibid., 94–95 (English); 129–130 (Syriac).

27 Ibid., 95 (English); 131 (Syriac).

28 “I pray that in this (faith) I may depart from this life to its life, and that I may be offered in sacrifice for this truth which I confess.” Ibid., 104 (English); 143 (Syriac). “…and pray also for me, I beseech you all at your feet that I may be found worthy to suffer for my God as He suffered for me.” Vaschalde, “The Letter to the Monks,” 104 (English); 144 (Syriac).

29 Vaschalde, “The Letter to the Monks,” 96 (English); 132 (Syriac).

30 Ibid.

31 Ibid.

32 Ibid.

33 Ibid., 97 (English); 133–134 (Syriac).

34 Ibid., 97 (English); 133 (Syriac).

35 Vaschalde, “The Letter of Mār Aksenāyā to Emperor Zeno on the Embodiment and Incarnation of God the Word,” 121 (English); 166 (Syriac).

36 Ibid., 119 (English); 164 (Syriac).

37 Ibid.

38 Constantine N. Tsirpanlis explains that “This union or unity in thought, however, is not numerical, but oneness of divine nature and hypostasis. Before the union it is possible to speak of two natures numerically. But after the union we can do so only when we intend to distinguish the different natures as united without confusion and change. There is no ontological separation of the two natures of Christ. This unity and distinction of the two natures in Christ is viewed by Philoxenus as unity and distinction of two total and indivisible aspects of the same Being, as two principles or points of view according to which or in reference to which he exists, namely that the same Being is perfect God-Logos in respect to his divinity and nature and perfect man in respect to his incarnation and corporeal becoming.” See Constantine N. Tsirpanlis, “Some Reflections on Philoxenos’ Christology.,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review 25, no. 2 (June 1, 1980): 158.

39 Vaschalde, “The Letter to the Monks,” 98 (English); 134 (Syriac).

40 Vaschalde, “The Letter of Mār Aksenāyā to Emperor Zeno on the Embodiment and Incarnation of God the Word,” 120 (English); 165–166 (Syriac).

41 Ibid., 120 (English); 165 (Syriac).

42 Ibid.

43Ibid.

44 Ibid., 121 (English); 167 (Syriac).

45 Vaschalde, “The Letter to the Monks,” 97 (English); 133 (Syriac).

46 Ibid., 103 (English); 142 (Syriac).

47 Philoxenus of Mabbug, Dissertationes Decem De Uno e Sancta Trinitate Incorporato Et Passo: (Mēmrē Contre Ḥabib).. Dissertationes 9a, 10a, trans. Maurice Brière (Firmin-Didot, 1980), 283 (French); 282, 284 (Syriac).

48 Vaschalde, “The Letter of Mār Aksenāyā to Emperor Zeno on the Embodiment and Incarnation of God the Word,” 119 (English); 164 (Syriac).

49 Vaschalde, “The Letter to the Monks,” 103 (English); 142 (Syriac).

50 Ibid., 98 (English); 135 (Syriac).

51 Ibid., 98–99 (English) 135–136 (Syriac).

52 Ibid., 98 (English); 134–135 (Syriac).

53 Ibid., 100 (English); 138 (Syriac).

54 Ibid., 101 (English); 139 (Syriac).

55 In his conclusion, Sarot states, “’Patripassianism’ should be taken as ‘a theological position which fails to distinguish between God the Father and God the Son and therefore holds that in the suffering of Jesus God simpliciter, and not God the Son, was involved.’” Sarot, “Patripassianism, Theopaschitism and the Suffering of God. Some Historical and Systematic Considerations,” 375.

56 Ibid., 372–375.

57 Vaschalde, “The Letter to the Monks,” 96 (English); 132 (Syriac).

58 Ibid., 97 (English); 133 (Syriac).

59 Ibid., 99 (English); 136 (Syriac).

60 Ibid.

61 Ibid., 99 (English); 137 (Syriac).

62 Vaschalde, “The Letter of Mār Aksenāyā to Emperor Zeno on the Embodiment and Incarnation of God the Word,” 122–123 (English); 168–169 (Syriac).

63 Vaschalde, “The Letter to the Monks,” 100 (English); 137–138 (Syriac).

64 Halleux, Philoxène de Mabbog, 239.

65 Vaschalde, “The Letter to the Monks,” 100 (English); 138 (Syriac).

66 Ibid.

67 Ibid.

68 Arthur Adolphe Vaschalde, tran., “The Letter of St. Mār Aksenāyā to the Pure Monks of Bēth-Gaugal,” in Three Letters of Philoxenus, Bishop of Mabbôgh (485-519): Being the Letter to the Monks, the First Letter to the Monks of Beth-Gaugal, and the Letter to Emperor Zeno (Roma: Tipografia Della R. Accademia Dei Linchi, 1902), 108 (English); 149–150 (Syriac).

69 Sarot, “Patripassianism, Theopaschitism and the Suffering of God. Some Historical and Systematic Considerations,” 373.

70 Vaschalde, “The Letter of Mār Aksenāyā to Emperor Zeno on the Embodiment and Incarnation of God the Word,” 123 (English); 169 (Syriac).

71 Vaschalde, “The Letter to the Monks,” 100–101 (English); 138 (Syriac).

72 Ibid., 100 (English); 138 (Syriac).

73 Philoxenus of Mabbug, Dissertationes Decem De Uno e Sancta Trinitate Incorporato Et Passo: (Mēmrē Contre Ḥabib).. Dissertationes 9a, 10a, 267 (French), 266 (Syriac).

74 “Le raisonnement est donc identique dans son énoncé, mais il y a des cas où il est exprimé par la foi, et il y en a d’autres où il l’est par la science.” Ibid., 269 (French); 268 (Syriac).

75 Vaschalde, “The Letter to the Monks,” 100 (English); 138 (Syriac).

76 Philoxenus of Mabbug, Dissertationes Decem De Uno e Sancta Trinitate Incorporato Et Passo: (Mēmrē Contre Ḥabib).. Dissertationes 9a, 10a, 269 (French); 268 (Syriac).

77 Ibid.

78 Ibid.

79 Ibid., 269 (French), 268 (Syriac).

80 “Et tandis que par notre raisonnement nous distinguons entre ce qui concerne sa nature et sa volonté, jamais nous ne supposons sa volonté opposée à sa nature.” Ibid., 271 (French); 270 (Syriac).

81 Ibid.

82 Ibid., 273 (French); 272 (Syriac).

83 Ibid.

84 Vaschalde, “The Letter of Mār Aksenāyā to Emperor Zeno on the Embodiment and Incarnation of God the Word,” 121 (English); 167 (Syriac).

85 Ibid., 123 (English); 170 (Syriac).

86 Vaschalde, “The Letter to the Monks,” 101 (English); 139 (Syriac).

87 Ibid.

88 Philoxenus of Mabbug, Dissertationes Decem De Uno e Sancta Trinitate Incorporato Et Passo: (Mēmrē Contre Ḥabib).. Dissertationes 9a, 10a, 279 (French); 278 (Syriac).

89 Vaschalde, “The Letter of Mār Aksenāyā to Emperor Zeno on the Embodiment and Incarnation of God the Word,” 119 (English); 164 (Syriac).

90 Ibid., 119 (English); 163 (Syriac).

91 Ibid., 199 (English); 164 (Syriac).

92 Philoxenus of Mabbug, Dissertationes Decem De Uno e Sancta Trinitate Incorporato Et Passo: (Mēmrē Contre Ḥabib).. Dissertationes 9a, 10a, 277 (French); 276 (Syriac).

93 Vaschalde, “The Letter of Mār Aksenāyā to Emperor Zeno on the Embodiment and Incarnation of God the Word,” 123 (English); 129 (Syriac).

94 Ibid., 124 (English); 170 (Syriac).

95 Philoxenus of Mabbug, Dissertationes Decem De Uno e Sancta Trinitate Incorporato Et Passo: (Mēmrē Contre Ḥabib).. Dissertationes 9a, 10a, 273 (French); 272 (Syriac).

96 Vaschalde, “The Letter of Mār Aksenāyā to Emperor Zeno on the Embodiment and Incarnation of God the Word,” 119 (English); 164 (Syriac).

One thought on ““Thou Who Wast Crucified for us, Have Mercy on us” The Theology of Philoxenus of Mabbug on the Trisagion

  1. P C Chacko says:

    Jesus came to earth to redeem the people from sin. He established a church on the rock (saint Peter) and promised that the gates of hell will not destroy it. However it is unfortunate that Christians are divided in to many churches such as Catholic, Orthodox churches, the protestants, the Pentecostal, seventh day Adventists , Baptists, Methodist Lutheran etc. If all concerned think serious and desire so honestly Churches can get united.
    Let us pray and hope that one day all Christians will come together to worship God

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