This is the last passage from the first lengthy response which St Severus sent to Julian of Halicarnassus. The main problem with Julian was that he considered only one way of speaking of the human corruption which came about after the sin of Adam. He thought that when the Fathers spoke of such corruption they were always speaking of that which was due to sin and liable to punishment. But, as St Severus shows throughout this first response, corruption also refers to the sinless consequences of mortality, such as death, hunger and thirst, tiredness and the experience of pain. The Lord Jesus assumes all of these, as our natural corruption, but without sin. It is the moral corruption of sin which takes place in the will and is worked out in our lives, which is the type of corruption which is liable to judgement. Because Julian did not make this distinction when he read the Fathers – and it is a distinction which the Fathers describe – he had to exclude our Lord Jesus Christ from all natural corruption, and so made it impossible for him to be our Saviour.
This is not the case, however, with regard to the controversial question before us, since St. Athanasius, in the remarks which, presented above, concerned the investigation of the holy flesh of the universal Creator, God and Savior, the Christ, taught us this: [Athanasius] “Then it would have been necessary to admire the Word being in a flesh so liable, and that he did not prevent those who tortured him nor took vengeance on those who had killed him, when he could, he who had prevented others from dying, and had raised those who were killed from death, but had consented to the suffering of his body. For that is also why he came, as I said, to suffer in the flesh and henceforth the flesh was made impassible and immortal.” Who in fact is deaf to the words of the Gospel to the point of not knowing clearly that Our Lord, when the time of voluntary suffering presented itself, declared that it was to suffer that he had become incarnate and made man: “What should I say? Father, save me from this hour! But that is why I came for this hour!”
If on the contrary it is because of incorruptibility consisting of impassibility and immortality that you have declared that the fringe of the mantle was incorruptible, in that it does not age or wear out and does not suffer the same accidents as our clothes, which of the evangelists or apostles wrote this? And among the eminent doctors, who taught that the clothes of our Savior were impassible and immortal? Indeed, about his seamless tunic and woven from one piece up and down, the wise John the Evangelist writes that the Romans who crucified him did not tear it apart, but drew for it by lot; as for the other garments, they shared them among themselves, while the prophecy was fulfilled as if it emanated from the person of Christ: “They divided my clothes among themselves and drew lots for my tunic.”
Now the tunic at the same time indicates allegorically the concord without division of the Church, which is the body of our Savior the Christ and, so to speak, his cloak and garment, according to which Paul said to the Ephesians: “We are the members of his body” and because each of us is said to have put on his body, a garment, according to which Job also wisely declared somewhere to the God of the Universe: “You put on my skin and flesh, you wove me with bone and nerves.” As for the impassibility and immortality of the clothes and their incorruptibility as we conceive of them, absolutely no one has ever said such nor taught it. And to the sons of Israel who had abandoned the worship of the idols of the Egyptians, who constantly wanted to return to Egypt and were complaining and recriminating, as it is written, who nurtured childish and petty thoughts and were obsessed by the thought of the Egyptian meat-pots, Christ, who had led them into the wilderness, gave them and granted them similar advantages, and he lowered himself as toward little children, saying, “Your clothes are not worn out on you and your feet have not swelled during these forty years”, and “Recognize in your heart that, as a man corrects his son, so the Lord your God has corrected you”, and again, “They are not worn out, and your shoe has not been torn from your feet”, so that, by the same clothes, their heart, which had forgotten the miracles, was in confusion. And when he was incarnated and, to the exclusion of all change and mere appearance, he became truly a man, he did not only share with us in our nature, but also in our way of life, our concerns and our ways. That is why Paul also said: “He has become like men and offers the outward appearance of a man.” And in any case, in all things, his aim was this: to take upon himself our contemptible character, since, when he was in the form of God, he humbled himself and abased himself and took the form of flesh, without wanting to astonish us either by the grandeur of the body nor by the adornment of indestructible clothes; on the contrary, he had recourse to all that suited the smallness and, by his acts, he showed that he was in all things similar to us, with the exception of sin, and that he had presented himself to us, as a rule of life and a standard of wisdom.
This is what John, the bishop of Constantinople, taught in this way in the Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians: [Chrysostom] “But he appeared as a man, not in stupefying us by exploits, but by exhorting us to humility. When, therefore, it is said about him, ‘as a man’, that is what it means, since he calls him man even more when he says: ‘There is only one God; there is also one mediator, a man, Christ Jesus’.”
And again in the Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, about the fact that our Lord sat on a donkey, he said: [Chrysostom] “For my part, it does not seem to me that this is only why he sat on a donkey, but to provide us also with a standard of wisdom. For he did not confine himself to realizing the prophecy and implanting the teachings of the truth, but he also fixes a line for our conduct, instituting everywhere through these gestures the rules of the necessary practices and giving a whole direction to our life.
That is why, when he was about to be born, he did not look for a glorious home nor a wealthy mother, but one who was poor and whose husband was a laborer, so that he was born in a cavern and he was placed in a manger; and in the choice of his disciples, he did not elect rhetors and wise men or those who were rich and were the descendants of a noble race, but the poor descendants of poor and unknown people on all sides. And when he was preparing the table, sometimes he put pieces of barley bread on it, and at times commanded the disciples to buy according to the opportunity. When he had a meal, he made do with herbs. He wore coarse clothes and not those which were different from those of the crowd.”
So, then, when the question is whether it was by impassibility and immortality that the body of our Lord, God and Savior, Christ, had been impassible even before the resurrection, how did your Holiness present, to prove it, the incorruptibility, the impassibility, and the immortality of the mantle, since no one, as we have said, has said or written that the clothes of our God and Savior, Jesus, were impassible and immortal? For if it had been so, the thing would have been pointed out by the witnesses and ministers of the Word, as they also put in writing the other things. And even those that have not been written down, that the world would not be able to contain, outweigh those written in the gospel – for this is what John the Evangelist has told us – not that we make any dangerous conjecture in the field of what is not written. From this moment on, I am afraid that those who indulge in innovations and are capable of nothing more than saying or hearing something new, considering that Christ has been treated, by that kind of profane man who robs him of his voluntary stripping, according to his divinity, they begin to declare that it must be said that his clothes also were impassible and immortal! It is therefore necessary that we spare innocent and simple souls and that we do not offer pretexts to those who wish to disturb them.
So I pray your Holiness not to imitate the disputers, but to keep the volume that you sent to me and communicate it to no one. For I have discovered yet others ideas which attack the sublime doctrines and which have similarly offended me. Moreover, as I said above, I did not want to leave anything without examining it; but as our presentation became excessive, I omitted the examination and discussion which concerned them. The vocabulary which relates to the teachings of faith abounds in many subtleties and we must fear and fear very strongly to let ourselves be easily carried away to write about these matters, unless there is a need, which we can not avoid, which forces us to do it. It is also necessary that your Piety be convinced that even what I wrote, I wrote it with sadness, considering that my silence would have fallen under the divine laws if I had not done what you have asked of me, and that without saying anything that was of me, but only presenting that which emanates from the teachers of the holy Church.
Pray, however, you who are animated by the love of God in all things, so that our weakness may resist with promptness and firmness those who persecute us because of piety, so that we may reach a happy end and find at least a modest salvation from our many sins in the terrible and fearful day of judgment.
End of the First Book