Letter of Alexander of Alexandria Sent to Melitius and All Bishops

As the debate intensified across the Empire, Alexander began to appeal to more for help in stemming the tide of Arianism.

(1.) To my master and fellow-minister who is of the same mind, Melitius, and to the other bishops of the catholic church. Alexander greets you in God’s name.

(2.) With respect to the orthodox teaching on the Father and the Son: Just as the writings teach us, we confess one Holy Spirit and one Catholic Church and the resurrection of the dead, of which our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has become the first-fruits. He was clothed in a body from Mary the Mother of God in order to dwell among the human race, he died, he rose from the dead, and was taken up into the heavens, where he is sitting at the right hand of the Majesty.

Theotokos, as a title, began to be used by by a previous Bishop of the city in the middle of the 3rd century, but it finally came to prominence in the 4th century with Alexander’s usage. One can easily see the political value of such a term when defining the Godhood of Christ against the subordinated creature of the Arians. The word is formed combining two Greek words Θεός (God) and τόκος (childbirth). The literal translation is God-bearer or the one who gives birth to God. It should not be thought that Mary is the the Mother of God in the eternal sense, but that she bore the Incarnation, God become Man.

Politically speaking, it is an important word in pushing the agenda of Alexandria – that indeed, Christ is the Eternal God and not a creature of Creation.

(3.) I have described these only partially in this letter, deciding not to carefully write out each point, because your godly zeal is well aware of these things. This we teach, this we preach; these are the doctrines of the apostolic church. Both Arius and Achillas and those with them have become hostile to these teachings and have been driven out of the church for teaching things which are foreign to the orthodox teaching. As the blessed Paul says, “If anyone preaches a gospel besides the one you received, let him be accursed (ἀνάθεμα ἔστω)”.

(4.) In fact, according to this saying they must deny both “in the beginning was the Word” and “Christ is the Power of God and the Wisdom of God,” or they must teach that he is not the Word and Wisdom of the Father, or they must believe that God has never begotten Wisdom or Word. Understand that these ideas could only come from an unbelieving soul; they are completely foreign to a disciple of Christ.


Translation by AJW

Discussed in Hanson, p. 136 and 148

Ancient sourceCodex Brit. Mus. Add. 12,156
Modern Syriac editionJ.B. Pitra, ed., Analecta Sacra vol. 4 (Paris: A. Roger and F. Chernoviz, Bibliopolis, 1883) pp. 196-97
Modern reconstruction of the Greek textE. Schwartz, “Zur Geschichte des Athanasius.” Nachrichten von der Königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, Philologisch-Historische Klasse (Gottingen: Luder Horstmann, 1905) pp. 265-67

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11 Replies to “Letter of Alexander of Alexandria Sent to Melitius and All Bishops”

  1. Joel,
    I would accept and use the title and theology of Theotokos (God Bearer) for Mary, etc. Did you know it was made part of Christology at the Council of Ephesus?
    Fr. R.

  2. I did. I was studying the use of it, as it developed, and it seemed to have make traction during the Arian debates to emphasize that Mary bore God in the womb – not necessarily as a Mother as we would think. I could be wrong, however.

  3. Joel,
    No you would be correct, but it is theologically orthodox, and as to sound Christology also. Mary the Mother of our Lord is certainly within the mystery of the Incarnation!  But always a creature. Can you see her as the Mother of the Church?  In the sense of incarnation?  Some early Fathers called her the New Eve also.
    Fr. R.

  4. Joel,
    Yes Mary is simply awesome in her history…her obedience and faith!  “And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me., and holy is his name.” (Lk. 1:46-49)
    WOW!!!  The Mother of the Incarnation!  The great model for all men, women & mothers!
    Fr. R.

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