Translation – Third Letter of St Severus to Julian of Halicarnassus


I will translate the whole of the Third Letter of St Severus to Julian of Halicarnassus. This first section shows us that Julian was complaining that St Severus had criticised his Tome, but St Severus explains that this was what Julian had asked him to do, and he determined to do the job properly.



I received a letter that is supposed to have been sent to me by you. Indeed, I will not say recklessly that it comes from you: it was indeed foreign to your prudence, since it revealed that the sender was carried away and angry and, to the extent that one can express himself adequately in writing, that anger made him aggressive, since he went so far as to insult me ​​and raise against me the staff of opprobrium! What must be done? I turn to you as a counselor! Is it for this reason that I, too, will speak against these insults of things of a comparable malice, and will I be the cause of the name of God being blasphemed among the nations, when we shall see priests, like market traders and bread-traders, ridicule themselves, wishing to win and outdo each other by excessive insults? What, tell me? Is it then for one act of insult and one provocation that I will lose all charity and make a considerable affair of this matter because of a negligible resentment?

And will I not rather turn to the divine laws which, by innumerable warnings, warn us and turn us away from bad words. Sometimes they say, “The wholesome tongue is a tree of life, and he who has kept it will be filled with the Spirit,” and again: “He who keeps his mouth and his tongue, preserves his soul from tribulation.”And again: “The man who is carried away provokes the dispute, but the one who is patient soothes it before it arises.” I omit, indeed, to say that if I injure similarly, and if I do not restrain my tongue, I would light on my head a flame which does not go out, and I would exclude myself from the kingdom of heaven, which is the only authentic hope of Christians, if we are to believe Paul who said, “Those who resort to insult will not inherit the kingdom of God.” How, indeed, will I be able to bear the formidable face of the just Judge, by the abundance of whose mercy I have been ranked among the bishops; I must be gentle to everyone and admonish the contestants in humility. Could I not have been able to endure, patiently, with a serene soul, the offense coming from a brother, an elder, a priest? I will therefore turn to what is suitable for Christians and I will reduce to nothing the accusations concerning which you have launched such insults against me … if you are the editor of this letter and if it is not someone else (who made it) as coming from your person.

So you said at first that it was supremely displeasing to me not to have been honored properly in the letters that your Holiness had previously addressed to me, so that our presentation had therefore seemed to aim at a vain glory and not truth and faith! Which is stupid and apart from all good sense! Demonstrating, indeed, that, afflicted by this, I paid you in return for words similar to yours, and that it was for having been the victim of some childishness that I deprived you of honorary titles, especially of Piety, Holiness and Reverence, which many are fond of. But you can not say this! It was in fact with the same marks of honor, which did not change anything, that I sent you the letters of reply, and I never deceived myself so as to lower myself to inconsiderate words; but I considered only the object itself and that which concerns us, and I had no leisure to occupy and agitate myself for such causes as the Pharisees about whom our Lord says in the Gospel: “They love the first couches in feasts and the first seats in the synagogues, to be saluted in the squares and to be called Rabbi by the people.” Now, know it, I am confused in writing these things and I did not think of fixing such speech in writings but, in order not to appear to be lending my criticism to silence, I was forced to do so, to know the truth briefly!

Then you said, in the second place, that you had sent the volume which you had composed while waiting, as you said, that I had made myself the defender and the corrector of what you wrote. I have to resort to your words, which I have been asked to examine, and not give praise without criticism. So again it is time to consider your words and to make it clear that it was an exploration of what you wrote which you asked of me, and that this is not a simple question requiring only a short answer that you sent me. Now this is what you wrote: “So that we can judge exactly what the object in dispute is, I have also sent you what I have written in the form of a statement; so then examine and see what best accords with the inspired writing, for I know it in truth, it is that which the holy Fathers also followed; and write me an answer so that I know what opinion to hold”. Whoever, on hearing this, will say, if he honors the truth, that it is not only a mere exploration, but also a precise judgment that you asked me about your writings which were the object of discussion ? You have indeed declared – since we must frequently repeat the same words -: “In order that we may judge exactly what the object in dispute is, I sent you what I wrote.” And you added that it was necessary to judge your words and compare them with the inspired writings and teachings of the Holy Fathers. How, then, was it possible that he who was solicited to do so should not carefully scrutinize everything according to his power, judge him, and confront him with the words of the holy Scriptures and with the mystical traditions of the ecclesiastical doctors, and inform you concerning everything? And it is not only to examine and judge that you have encouraged me, but also to write you an answer, so that you know what opinion it was appropriate for you to hold yourself on this question. Even more, while I was silent and quiet, you harassed Thomas, the eminent priest, with vehemence, saying to him: “How can he not return a word of answer, that one?” And he told me what you said and he did not let me keep silence. Then, obedient to the divine commandment which says: “Give to whom asks of you”, painfully, but all the same, I started to write: what had written your Piety, I confronted it, according to my limits, with the words of Scripture and the works of the Fathers, and so I have written to you, with the usual marks of honor. I also added: “So, since on this point or the other of what you have written I am of a contrary opinion, and I note that those who were successively the doctors of the Holy Church teach us mystically in another way, I delayed, very opportunely, to send to your Holiness the texts of the comments on these subjects, lest it befall those who stand outside the meaning of the dialectic of the exchanged words to think and to say that our research concern is only an attack engineered by us against your statements; because a simple exchange of views, you know it too, even if it takes place in charity, does not seem to avoid the appearance of a quarrel. Send me your opinion without delay, because, for my part, I am disposed to do what can appease your Holiness, because the word of the Apostle, wisely, exhorts us and haunts our ears. says, ‘All that you do, be done in charity’.”

Is it then that the one who wrote this, transgressed, as you said, the law of the gospel that commands: “If your brother sin, go, take him between you and him alone” and is it lacking in something that conforms to the humility and moderation required? Because the fact of having said that “on one or the other point which you have written I am of a contrary opinion”, does not constitute a reproach! As for the genuine comments, in accordance with the fraternal spirit of what I believe, that I have made, and that I have made you master to decide that they be sent to you or not, it is the mark of a sincere and true charity that does not seek its interest but that of the neighbor, as it is written. But that is why you blamed me! You have also written that I would have been the cause of great anxiety and anxiety, because I did not send you a brief answer on the points in dispute; it would not have happened to you if you had considered that the writing was the work of a brother and not of any enemy! For it is even, on the contrary, thanksgiving that you should render that seeing I had been obliged to perform with all due care what you had ordered. Or would you not be taught from the threatening prophetic word and say, “Cursed is anyone who does the work of the Lord with negligence.” What then? If you were the king of any city, if the enemies were besieging you and storming the city, and if you had called for rescue from another king from a neighboring city, let him, after having equipped his army, be hasty to your help and, bypassing the whole city, drive the enemies from each of the gates of the ramparts, will you reproach him for not having limited the support of his helping arm to a single gate, but for having carried himself superfluously to the other gates, and, when you should have given thanks to him, would you have made vehement reproaches by declaring to him: “It is as if you had tried to reprimand and expose my helplessness and exalt your own glory, when you enveloped me with such a considerable force, when only a small one was needed! And why have not you praised me for having sufficed for my own help and for having felt no need for your help?” But he might have said, and rightly so: “While I was staying in my palace, you appealed to me and you exhorted me to take on such a huge task!” Well! It is just like me, after having been called to help, – and this consisted in examining, not praising, your statements! – I have made clear by words of comment the totality of the assault, directed against them, that you will have to face from those who will read them, so that, according to the normative word of the Apostle, “you examine everything and retain what is good.” And when I had brought this to a successful end, I wrote to your Piety, without having even let five months pass, because first, as I said before, I wanted to keep silence and not hear any word about it. And after having received my writings, you did not reproach me for being late, but you only said that you were upset because of my excessive diligence: why did not I raise in brief terms, in the form of summary, similar comments? You should have waited and realized if I had made a superfluous or necessary comment, and not, on the one hand, write abundantly and demand, on the other hand, that by way of an answer you should write summarily. Because it did not belong to you, when you did not know what were the comments, and their quality, to set the limits!

I do not know how you can say now that I was as though dead for a whole year, and only then I attacked in my comments! However, even if it had been so, you should, for the sake of certainty, write once or twice to say: “I am in a hurry; I will publish the Tome, if I do not receive a speedy answer about it”, since you had thought it proper to communicate to me and to reveal to me your problems, when there was no need for you to do so. Who, in fact, had forced your Holiness to write to a man far from you in distance and withdrawn into the shadows? And after you have resolved to do something worthy of praise, even to incite me to an examination which I would send to you, even if a considerable time had passed, you should not despise my insignificance, because of your own security and without regard for me, nor edit the Tome, even if it had happened that you had been pressed by many! Because the slowness in such matters is worthy of praise, since, even if it had been so, even if I had delayed and even if I had appeared slow, as you said, I would have braided, according to the Divine Scriptures, a great crown and abundant praise. One of the holy disciples of our Savior said: “Let everyone be quick to listen and slow to speak” and again: “We all fall often; he who does not go astray in speech, this one is a perfect man.” And another commits the faithful to pray for him so that he may be given the words, in writing: “In order to open my mouth, speech is given to me.”

Why, then, in a matter so arduous and demanding of great precision, do you reproach me by saying that I have striven to a superfluous examination and that I have judged your words down to every letter? Whereas you should have praised me for that very reason, and not reproached me or solicited superfluous research and an enquiry filled with envy. In fact, that in the exposition of doctrine, and especially of the faith, to investigate and search for the letters to be worthy of praise and to neglect even a small element presents a danger, the blessed Basil, who is great among all, teaches this clearly, quoting to us from the holy Scriptures the law which prescribes it to us. He writes in the Letter to Amphilochus the following: [Basil] “Because one does not carelessly hear theological expressions, but one scrutinizes and applies oneself to reach the meaning hidden in each of the words and each of the letters, and is not idle for the sake of piety “And further still: [Basil]” And if things are so, what is there among the theological terms, which is an insignificant point, whether his expression is happy or not, which does not weigh a great deal in one way or the other? If in fact neither an iota nor a line of the law will pass, how is it prudent for us to let even a very insignificant element pass?” And if that is so, I will not appear to have delayed for the considerable time you have mentioned, staying most often in desert places and passing from one place to another, without having at my disposal either a scribe or any another person, but writing with my own hand and sending out the writings I had copied again. So whoever is struggling in these conditions and who is already affected by bodily infirmity and old age, will you not grant a longer time, but you demand of him who is restrained by such impediments that he hastens! Who will say that this is right and proper, that it does not go against the sympathy felt by a brother for his brother? It was you who forced me, beyond my strength, to accomplish what was of a nature to appease your piety and to write down all that my intelligence could grasp.

But here is what you need to know! When you sent me the Tome and later asked me to write you an answer, I myself was in a hurry to compose the text of the comments, – in the meantime five months had passed, as I said, –  letters reached me, sent from Cilicia. They had passed through many places, and even in the place called “The Cells”, where strict asceticism is given to those who, in Christ, give themselves up to the rigors of monastic life. Ignorance of the place of my residence, and being unable to discover me, it had been necessary to hand them over to others who might hand them over to me. Now their text clearly revealed that the Tome of your paternity of which I spoke above was also sent there, giving rise to objections and questions which are also mentioned in letters. As for me, according to what the Psalm says, I made myself like the deaf man who does not hear and, like the dumb man, I did not open my mouth. And if it had not been that I had already sent to Alexandria, the great and fervent city of Christ, the comments that I have named several times, so that they could be copied into an authentic manuscript, I would would have faithfully remained at home.

However, – that’s what I left! – I myself, following the expression, embarked for a second voyage and I wrote to Thomas, the chaste priest, to inquire minutely if you had really edited the Tome of your Piety and, if he found that it was so, keeping at home my writings which he had copied. And he let me know that the Tome had been published a long time, that many had read and even copied it. And it was then that I, too, wrote to your Piety that, since your work had been published, it did not seem to me happy or useful to communicate to anyone what I had written. to avoid appearing to utter quarreling words against each other.

Indeed, before you published yours, there was room for what I wrote as a comment; but after the publication of your work, although frequently my assertions seem to me correct, they would have been considered as hard and opposed to yours. What is useful in a timely manner seems useless when it is published outside of its time. It is for this reason also that a wise man has declared that there is an inappropriate reprimand. And Ecclesiastes teaches us the same thing when he assigns time for everything. How do you declare that I have disclosed the criticism of your work and that my writings are exposed to the eyes of all? And this, according to what I have learned, after you received news on this point, confirmed by testimonies taken under oaths, to the point that your Paternity was made the host and the companion of the one who had been informed! And after that, we can not believe what is confirmed by testimony is an injustice! While I am being shown that, at least up to the present moment, it is we who have communicated what you have attributed the publication to us, and we will be responsible for all those who need it. If, on the other hand, it is while the scribes were copying it that it has been seen, it does not, in my opinion, bring any blame against us! It was not possible for us to ascend in the air or to rise like the eagle, according to the word of the prophet, so that such ineffable things would be written, as you say!

If on the other hand it happened sometimes, which is customary, that someone has defrauded us by secretly making a copy, even if we concede that it was so, should it provoke in your Piety an outburst such as it brings you to outrage against us, who are far away by distance, and to make remarks which are quite foreign to your old age, which even place upon you the suspicion of hiding from the criticism made to amend? For whoever insults and is irritated does not flee from the feet of the body, but presents the signs of a soul that is devoid of the  truth. Whoever will consent to converse with someone who spreads outrage, gets carried away and gets irritated, contrary to the exhortation of the word expressed in Proverbs: “Do not be the friend of man who gets carried away and do not linger with an angry friend!”

So I do not believe, as I said before, that these words are daughters of your mind, because they revealed that the attitude of their sender had been unequal: sometimes he called himself an old man who said He was worthy of being pitied, and now very close to death; now, on the other hand, he was inflamed with violent anger, as if he were now, by his age, in the greenness of youth, and sometimes he He gave himself the name of a disciple, sometimes he rose, censuring, above the doctors, uttering stupid outrages and shooting arrows from his bow! Let us, however, examine in order what is defective in the accusations made against us, which are contained in the writings supposedly written by your Holiness, and in particular: Wanting, out of envy, to be the only wise one, you henceforth came to words of criticism; and it is for this reason also that this phrase, which is in use in the world, but of which I can not say whether it is propagated among women, presented itself in your letter, and which speaks of a single Gaius in Rome!

And I was very astonished that your Piety was so reduced to the poverty of beggars, without having found any literary expression for this use, and that you had sunk into a ridiculous and solemn language, and that you had, besides, added to the letter a peroration of the highest ridiculousness! Indeed, after calling me a slave of envy and vanity and vain glory, you added these words: “This was written, not to discharge a debt by rendering blow for a blow.” And what is harder than these blows? For envy, boasting, and vain glory are, among all the dominant passions of the devil, those in which he himself falls first. And you acted this way in the manner of the one who tears out the eyes of his brother, and who has the impudence to say that he kisses them! On the other hand I do not pretend to be considered as the only Gaius, but I think, and rightly so, as it is written, that it is the great number of sages who brings about the salvation of the world, the letters, full of praise and marks of Honor, which I have frequently sent to you, attest it also. And it is not because I had a different opinion on some of the topics you dealt with in the Tome that you sent me, that you now have to lose all the previous memories of charity, to offend, to dwell on it, to be annoyed by this single evocation, and to turn yourself further towards those seditious ones, who declare having read and even copied my writings where, as they say, your ideas are refuted! On the contrary, it was better to look for what is true, and not what is contrary to it, and then let yourself be carried away to insults and annoyance. Let them show that, at least now, something similar, emanating from us, has been either written or published!

So I repeated this, part by part, to establish the truth and show at the same time that the one who engineered this letter, or who falsified it by additions and slipped in some insults, rather caused damage to your Piety, and not to me. It is because the events unfolded in this way that I recognize the grace of our God and Savior Christ, who directs my weakness towards what must be accomplished at all times, He who brought me from the beginning, to challenge me and not to send my comments, but to question you at first, and to learn what opinion you had made, and then to bring to completion what seemed good to me. And so, it is by considering this that I have prevented the work from being published, and I have not cut off anything which contributes to the harmony of the members, who examines everywhere with care the rectitude of the form and applies to the benefit of the whole body. In fact, when the circumstances demanded that I speak and it was necessary to comment, I took all my care to speak; but when the opportunity for comment was reduced by the fact that your writings had been divulged everywhere, I thought it best to keep my mouth shut and not to seek my interest, if such an attitude seemed to me harmless when it was a question of faith in God.

And now you have written that you have found an apology in my writings and you call me vain, because I would be in contradiction with myself! What? Did you know about the writings that I have just addressed to you? If you had known about it, – you said in effect that they were clearly known to you – why do you demand from me the work that contains them? But if you did not know it, where does it come from when you say that I’m in conflict with myself? Because their refutation is made from them and by them, as long as they do not agree with each other, and they do not bring an adequate grievance against us! However, if you wish it, let us take a look now at what you said.

You said in fact that in my book Philalethes, which is translated as: the friend of truth, and in another work or another letter, you found an apology for the incorruptibility of the body of our God and Savior of Christ. And I am amazed that, while I am still alive and breathing this air, you quote my writings incompletely! For I, too, am a defender of the incorruptibility of the body of Christ, but rightly so and not without discrimination or just in any way! (p173)

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