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(c. 365 - 435)

A letter came from Theophilus the Bishop, in he wrote of the foolish heresy of the Anthropomorphites at great length, and abundantly refuted it.  And this was received by almost all the body of monks residing in the whole province of Egypt with such bitterness owing to their simplicity and misunderstanding, that most of the Elders said that the Bishop ought to be abhorred by all the brethren as tainted with the worst kind of heresy, because he seemed to impugn the teaching of holy Scripture by denying that Almighty God was of human form, even though Scripture teaches with perfect clarity that Adam was created in his image.  This letter was rejected also by those who were living in the desert of Scete and who excelled all in the monasteries of Egypt, in perfection and in knowledge, so that except Abbot Paphnutius the presbyter of our congregation, not one of the other presbyters, who presided over the other three churches in the same desert, would allow it to be even read or repeated at all in their meetings.  

Among those then who were caught by this mistaken notion was one named Sarapion, a man of long-standing asceticism and great perfection of discipline, but ignorant of […] true doctrine…. He could not be brought back to the right belief by Paphnutius, because it seemed to him a novelty, and one that was not known or handed down by his predecessors.  It happened that a certain learned deacon named Photinus arrived from Cappadocia to visit the brethren…. Paphnutius welcomed him warmly… and asked him before all the brethren how the Catholic Churches throughout the East interpreted the passage in Genesis where it says "Let us make man after our image and likeness."  And when he explained that the image and likeness of God was taken by all the leaders of the churches not literally, but spiritually, and supported this very fully and by many passages of Scripture…. Paphnutius and all of us were filled with great delight that Sarapion, a man of such age and virtue, who erred only from ignorance and rustic simplicity, [returned] to the path of true faith.  When we arose to give thanks, all together offering up prayers to the Lord, the old man became bewildered because he felt that the human image of God which he used to set before himself in prayer, was now gone from his heart.   Suddenly he burst into bitter tears and continual sobs, threw himself on the ground, and cried out in a great howl: "Ah the misfortune!  They have taken away my God from me, and I have no one to hold on to, and I don’t know whom to adore or to address."  We were all deeply moved by this…. 

We went to Abbot Isaac… who said:  We need not be surprised that a really simple man who had never received any instruction on the substance and nature of the Godhead could still be entangled and deceived….  He had simply remained stuck in old errors.   The ancient pagan world gave human shape to the powers it worshipped.  And the view still persists that the incomprehensible and unspeakable majesty of God can be adored amid the limitations of some image or other.  People believe they are holding on to nothing at all if they do not have some image in front of them, an image to be prayed to, an image to be carried around in the mind, an image which is always there to be looked at….                       (Conference 10)  

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In their many different idioms the classical spiritual writers have attempted to throw light on the eternal question of union with God. 
Every month we give you a brief passage from a spiritual classic.