« PreviousContinue »
THE LIFE AND WRITINGS OF THE BLESSED THEODORETUS,
I. — PARENTAGE, BIRTH, AND EDUCATION.
At Antioch at the close of the fourth century there were living a husband and wife, opulent and happy in the enjoyment of all the good things of this life, one thing only excepted. They were childless. Married at seventeen, the young bride lived for several years in the enjoyment of such pleasures as wealth and society could give. At the age of twenty-three she was attacked by a painful disease in one of her eyes, for which neither the books of older authorities nor later physiological discoveries could suggest a remedy. One of her domestic servants, compassionating her distress, informed her that the wife of Pergamius, at that time in authority in the East, had been healed of a similar ailment by Petrus, a famous Galatian solitary who was then living in the upper story of a tomb in the neighbourhood, to which access could only be obtained by climbing a ladder. The afflicted lady, says the story which her son himself repeats,' hastened to climb to the recluse's latticed cell, arrayed in all her customary elaborate costume, with earrings, necklaces, and the rest of her ornaments of gold, her silk robe blazing with embroidery, her face smeared with red and white cosmetics, and her eyebrows and eyelids artificially darkened. "Tell me," said the hermit, on beholding his brilliant visitor, "tell me, my child, if some skilful painter were to paint a portrait according to his art's strict rules and offer it for exhibition, and then up were to come some dauber dashing off his pictures on the spur of the moment, who should find fault with the artistic picture, lengthen the lines of brows and lids, make the face whiter and heighten the red of the cheeks, what would you say? Do you not think the original painter would be hurt at this insult to his art and these needless additions of an unskilled hand." These arguments, we learn, led eventually to the improvement of the young Antiochene gentlewoman both in piety and good taste and her eye is said to have been restored to health by the imposition of the sign of the cross. Not impossibly the discontinuance of the use of cosmetics may have helped, if not caused, the cure.
Six years longer the husband and wife lived together a more religious life, but still unblessed with children. Among the ascetic solitaries whom the disappointed husband begged to aid him in his prayers was one Macedonius, distinguished, from the simplicity of his diet, as "the barley eater." In answer to his prayers, it was believed, a son was at last granted to the pious pair. The condition of the boon being that the boy should be devoted to the divine service, he was appropriately named at his birth" Theodoretus," or "Given by God." 3 Of the exact date of this birth, productive of such important consequences to the history and literature of the Church, no precise knowledge is attainable. The less probable year is 386 as given by Garnerius, the more probable and now generally accepted year 393 follows the computation of Tillemont."
1 Relig. Hist. 1188 et seq.
2 Relig. Hist, 1214.
3 The Hebrew equivalents of this very general designation are Nathaniel and Matthew. Modern English custom has travelled back to the Greek for its Theodore, Theodora, but Dieudonné and Diodati are familiar in French and Italian. 4 Garnier the French Jesuit Father, was born in Paris in 1612, and died in 1681. His Auctarium Theodoreti Episcopi Cyrensis," with dissertations, was published in 1684.
According to this reckoning Theodoret would be fifty-six at the time of the letter to Leo, written 449, in which he speaks of his old age, and about thirty at his consecration as bishop in 423. W. Möller in Herzog's Encyclopedia of Prot. Theol. (Ed. 18S5. xv. 402) gives 390.
While yet in his swaddling bands the little Theodoret began to receive training appropriate to his high career,' and, as he himself tells us, with the pardonable exaggeration of enthusiasm, was no sooner weaned than he began to learn the apostolic teaching. Among his earliest impressions were the lessons and exhortations of Peter of Galatia, to whom his mother owed so much, and of Macedonius "the barley eater," who had helped to save the Antiochenes in the troubles that arose about the statues. Of the latter3 Theodoret quotes the earnest charges to a holy life, and in his modesty expresses his sorrow that he had not profited better by the solitary's solemn entreaties. If however Macedonius was indeed quite ignorant of the Scriptures, it may have been well for the boy's education to have been not wholly in his hands. It is not impossible that he may have had a childish recollection of Chrysostom, who left Antioch in 398. To Peter he used to pay a weekly visit, and records how the holy man would take him on his knees and feed him with bread and raisins. A treasure long preserved in the household of Theodoret's parents was half Peter's girdle, woven of coarse linen, which the old man had one day wound round the loins of the boy. Frequently proved an unfailing remedy in various cases of family ailment, its very reputation led to its loss, for all the neighbours used to borrow it to cure their own complaints, and at last an unkind or careless friend omitted to return it."
When a stripling Theodoret was blessed by the right hand of Aphraates the monk, of whom he relates an anecdote in his Ecclesiastical History, and when his beard was just beginning to grow was also blessed by the ascetic Zeno." At this period he was already a lector and was therefore probably past the age of eighteen. By this time his general education would be regarded as more or less complete, and to these earlier years may be traced the acquaintance which he shows with the writings of Homer, Thucydides, Plato, Euripides, and other Greek classics. Lighter literature, too, will not have been excluded from his reading, if we accept the genuineness of the famous letter on the death of Cyril,1o and may infer that the dialogues of Lucian are more likely to have amused the leisure hours of a lad at school and college than have intruded on the genuine piety and marvellous industry of the Bishop of Cyrus.
Theodoret was familiar with Greek, Syriac, and Hebrew, but is said to have been unacquainted with Latin." Such I presume to be an inference from a passage in one of his works in which he tells us "The Romans indeed had poets, orators, and historians, and we are informed by those who are skilled in both languages that their reasonings are closer than the Greeks' and their sentences more concise. In saying this I have not the least intention of disparaging the Greek language which is in a sense mine," or of making an ungrateful return to it for my education, but I speak that I may to some extent close the lips and lower the brows of those who make too big a boasting about it, and may teach them not to ridicule a language which is illuminated by the truth." But it is not clear from these words that Theodoret had no acquaintance with Latin. His admiration for orthodox Western theology as well as his natural literary and social curiosity would lead him to learn it. In the Ecclesiastical History (111. 16) there is a possible reference to Horace.
Theodoret's chief instructor in Theology was the great light of the school of Antioch, Theodorus, known from the name of the see to which he was appointed in 392, “Mopsuestia," or "the hearth of Mopsus," in Cilicia Secunda. He also refers to his obligations
1 Ep. LXXXI. 2 Ecc. Hist. v. 19. p. 146. 3 Relig. Hist. 1215. 4 cf. Ecc. Hist. p. 146.
Relig. Hist. 1188. The confidence of Theodoret in the wonder working powers of half Peter's girdle may be taken as a crucial instance of what detractors of the individual and of the age would call his foolish credulity. But an unsound process of reasoning from post hoc to propter hoc is not confined to any particular period, and it is not impossible that the scientists of the thirty-fourth century may smile benevolently at some of the cherished remedies of the nineteenth. 9 Vide n. p. 34.
7 Cf. p. 127.
Relig. Hist. 1203.
10 Vide p. 346. To what is said there may be added the following remarks from Dr. Salmon's "Infallibility of the Church," p. 303, n. "The letter from which these passages are taken was read as Theodoret's at the fifth General Council (fifth Session) and there accepted as his. But on questions of this kind Councils are not infallible; and the letter contains a note of spuriousness in purporting to be addressed to John, bishop of Antioch, who died before Cyril. I own that the suggestion that for 'John' we ought to read Domnus' does not suffice to remove suspicion from my mind. But it is solely for the reason just stated that I feel no confidence in accepting the letter as Theodoret's. Newman's opinion that it is incredible Theodoret could have written so atrocious' a letter is one which it is amazing should be held by any one familiar with the controversial amenities of the time. Our modern urbanity is willing to bury party animosities in the grave; but in the fifth century Swift's translation would be thought the only proper one of the maxim' De mortuis nil nisi bonum,' when scoundrels die let all be moan them.' Certainly the man who half a dozen years after Chrysostom's death spoke of him as Judas Iscariot had no right to expect to be politely treated after his own death by one whom he had relentlessly persecuted."
Glubokowski, whose great work on Theodoret now in progress is unfortunately a sealed volume to the majority of readers on account of its being written in the author's native Russian, is of opinion that the letter is spurious. See also Schröckh Kircheges. xviii. 370. I am myself unable to see the force of the internal evidence of spuriousness. It may have been half playful, and never meant for publication. 12 Græcarum affectionum curatio $43.
11 Cf. Can. Venables Dict. Christ. Biog, iv. 906.
13 To a Syrian it would not be literally the mother tongue, but was possibly acquired in infancy.
to Diodorus of Tarsus.' Accepting 393 as the date of his birth and 392 as that of Theodore's appointment to his see, it would seem that the younger theologian must have been rather a reader than a hearer as well of Theodore as of Diodore. But Theodore expounded Scripture in many churches of the East. The friendship of Theodoret for Nestorius may have begun when the latter was a monk in the convent of St. Euprepius at the gates of Antioch. It is recorded that on one occasion Theodore gave offence while preaching at Antioch by refusing to give to the blessed Virgin the title OcOTÓKOS. He afterwards retracted this refusal for the sake of peace. The original objection and subsequent consent have a curious significance in view of the subsequent careers of his two famous pupils. Of the school of Antioch as distinguished from that of Alexandria it may be said broadly that while the latter shewed a tendency to syntheticism and to unity of conception, the former, under the influence of the Aristotelian philosophy, favoured analytic processes. And while the general bent of the school of thinkers among whom Theodoret was brought up inclined to a recognition of a distinction between the two natures in the Person of Christ, there was much in the special teaching of its great living authority which was not unlikely to lead to such division of the Person as was afterwards attributed to Nestorius. ' Such were the influences under which Theodoret grew up.
On the death of his parents he at once distributed all the property that he inherited from them, and embraced a life of poverty, retiring, at about the age of three and twenty, to Nicerte, a village three miles from Apamea, and seventy-five from Antioch, in the monastery of which he passed seven calm and happy years, occasionally visiting neighbouring monasteries and perhaps during this period paying the visit to Jerusalem which left an indelible impression on his memory. "With my own eyes," he writes, "I have seen that desolation. The prediction rang in my ears when I saw the fulfilment before my eyes and I lauded and worshipped the truth." Of the peace of Theodoret's earlier manhood Dr. Newman says in a sentence less open to criticism than another which shall be quoted further on, "There he laid deep within him that foundation of faith and devotion, and obtained that vivid apprehension of the world unseen and future which lasted him as a secret spring of spiritual strength all through the conflict and sufferings of the years that followed."
Cyrus or Cyrrhus was a town of the district of Syria called after it Cyrestica. The capital of Cyrestica was Gindarus, which Strabo describes as being in his time a natural nest of robbers. Cyrus lies on a branch of the river ŒŒnoparas, now Aphreen, and the site is still known as Koros. A tradition has long obtained that it received the name of Cyrus from the Jews in honour of their great benefactor, but this is more than doubtful. The form Cyrus may have arisen from a confusion with a Cyrus in Susiana.10 The Cyrestica is a fertile plain lying between the spurs of the Alma Dagh and the Euphrates, irrigated by three streams and blessed with a rich soil. The diocese, which was subject to the Metropolitan of Hierapolis, contained some sixteen hundred square miles" and eight hundred distinct parishes each with its church.12 But Cyrus itself was a wretched little place 13 scantily inhabited. Before it was beautified by the munificence of Theodoret it contained no buildings of any dignity or grace. The people of the town as well as of the diocese seem to have been poor in orthodoxy as well as in pocket, and the rich soil of the district grew a plentiful crop of the tares of Arianism, Marcionism, Eunomianism and Judaism.14
Such was the diocese to which Theodoret, in spite of his honest nolo episcopari,15 was consecrated at about the age of thirty, A.D. 423. Of the circumstances of this consecration we have no evidence. Garnerius conjectures that he must have been ordained deacon by Alexander who succeeded Porphyrius at Antioch. He was probably appointed, if not consecrated, to succeed Isidorus at Cyrus, by Theodotus the successor of Alexander on the patriarchal throne of Antioch. In this diocese certainly for five and twenty years, perhaps for five and thirty, with occasional intervals he worked night and day with unflagging patience and perseverance for the good of the people committed to his care, and in the cause of his Master and of the truth. The ecclesiastic of these early
times is sometimes imagined to have been a morose and ungenial ascetic, wasting his energies in unprofitable hair-splitting, and taking little or no interest in the every day needs of his contemporaries. In marked contrast with this imaginary bishop stands out the kindly figure of the real bishop of Cyrus, as the modest statements and hints supplied by his own letters enable us to recall him.
As an administrator and man of business he was munificent and efficient. as we have already learnt, of his family property by his own act and will, he must have been dependent in his diocese on the revenues of his see. From these, which cannot have been small, he was able to spend large sums on public works. Cyrus was adorned with porticoes, with two great bridges, with baths, and with an aqueduct, all at Theodoret's expense.1 On assuming the administration of his diocese he took measures, he tells us, to secure for Cyrus "the necessary arts," and from these three words we need not hesitate to infer that architects, engineers, masons, sculptors, and carpenters, would be attracted "from all quarters" to the bishop's important works. And for this increased population it is interesting to note that Theodoret provided competent practitioners in medicine and surgery, in which it would seem he was not himself unskilled. His keen interest in the temporal needs of his people is shewn by the efforts he made to obtain relief for them from the cruel pressure of exorbitant taxation. So unendurable was the tale of imposts under which they groaned that in many cases they were deserting their farms and the country, and he earnestly appeals to the empress Pulcheria and to his friend Anatolius to help them. The tender sympathy felt by him for all those afflicted in body and estate, as well as in mind, is shewn in his letters on behalf of Celestinianus, or Čelestiacus, a gentleman of position at Carthage, who had suffered cruelly during the attack of the Vandals, and in the admirable and touching letters of consolation addressed to survivors on the deaths of relatives. That these should have been religiously preserved need excite no surprise. Of the terms on which he lived with his neighbours we can form some idea from the justifiable boast contained in his letter to Nomus. In the quarter of a century of his episcopate, he writes, he never appeared in court either as prosecutor or defendant; his clergy followed his admirable example; he never took an obol or a garment from any one; not one of his household ever received so much as a loaf or an egg; he could not bear to think that he had any property beyond his few poor clothes. Yet he was always ready to give where he would not receive, and in addition to all the diocesan and literary work which he conscientiously performed, he spent more time than he could well afford in all sorts of extra diocesan business which his position thrust in his way.
As a shepherd of souls he was unceasing in his efforts to win heathen, heretics and Jews to the true faith. His diocese, when he assumed its government, was a very hotbed of heresy." Nevertheless in the famous letter to Leo 10 he could boast that not a tare was left to spoil the crop. His fame as a preacher was great and wide, and makes us the more regret that of the discourses which in turn roused, cheered, and blamed, so little should survive. The eloquence, so to say, of his extant writings, gives indications of the force of spoken utterances not less marked by learning and literary skill. Two of his letters give vivid pictures of the enthusiasm of oriental auditories in Antioch, once so populous and so keen in theological interest, where now, amid a people numbering only about a fiftieth part of their predecessors of the fifth century, there is not a single church. We see the patriarch John in a frenzy of gladness at Theodoret's sermons, clapping his hands and springing again and again from his chair; we see the heads of the congregation receiving the bishop of Cyrus with frantic delight as he came down from the pulpit, flinging their arms round him, kissing now his head, now his breast, now his hands, now his knees, and hear them exclaiming, "This is the Voice of the Apostle!" 12 But Theodoret had to encounter sometimes the fury of opposition. Again and again in his campaign against heretics and unbelievers he was stoned, wounded, and brought nigh unto death.' "He from whom no secrets are hid knows all the bruises my body has received, aimed at me by ill-named heretics, and what fights I have fought in most of the cities of the East against Jews, heretics, and heathen." "
1 Epp. LXXIX. LXXXI.
2 Ep. CXV.
$ Epp. CXIV, CXV, and Dial. p. 217 cf. also de Prov. 518 et seqq. Epp. XLII, XLIII, XLV. 5 Epp. XLIII. and XLV. Epp. XXIX.-XXXVI. 7cf. Epp. VII. VIII. XIV. XV. XVII. XVIII. LXV. LXIX. 8 Ep. LXXXI. "In a diocese such as his, lying as it were in a corner of the world, not reached by the public posts, isolated by the great river to the east and the mountain chains to the west, peopled by half-leavened heathen, Christianity assumed many strange forms, sometimes hardly recognisable caricatures of the truth." Canon Venables. Dict. Christ. Biog, iv, 906, 10 Epp. CXIII. 12 Ep. CXLVII. 13 Epp. LXXXI and CXIII. 14 Ep. CXIII.
11 Ep. LXXXIII.