1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Theodoret

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THEODORET, bishop of Cyrrhus, an important writer in the domains of exegesis, dogmatic theology, church history and ascetic theology, was born in Antioch, Syria, about 386. At an early age he entered the cloister; and in 423 he became bishop of Cyrrhus, a small city in a wild district between Antioch and the Euphrates, where, except for a short period of exile, he spent the remainder of his life. The date of his death is uncertain, but it must have been at least six or seven years later than the council of Chalcedon (451). Although thoroughly devoted to the ideals of monasticism, he discharged his episcopal duties with remarkable zeal and fidelity. He was diligent in the cure of souls, labouring hard and successfully for the conversion of the numerous Gnostic communities and other heretical sects which still maintained a footing within the diocese. He himself claims to have brought more than a thousand Marcionites within the pale of the church, and to have destroyed many copies of the Diatessaron of Tatian, which were still in ecclesiastical use; and he also exerted himself to improve the diocese, which was at once large and poor, by building bridges and aqueducts, beautifying the town, and by similar works.

As an exegete Theodoret belongs to the Antiochene school, of which Diodorus of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia were the heads. He was not actually the personal disciple of either, but he adopted their methods, though without the consistency and boldness of the first-named. His extant commentaries (those on Canticles, on the Prophets, on the book of Psalms and on the Pauline epistles — the last the most valuable) are among the best performances of the fathers of the church. They are brief, yet not wanting in that element of practical edification on which Chrysostom lays special weight as characteristic of the Antiochenes. In addition to these complete commentaries, we have fragments of some others (of that on Isaiah, for example), principally met with in catenae. There are also special elucidations of some difficult Scripture texts.

Theodoret's chief importance is as a dogmatic theologian, it having fallen to his lot to take part in the Nestorian controversy and to be the most considerable opponent of the views of Cyril and Dioscurus of Alexandria. For more than twenty years he maintained the struggle against the Alexandrian dogmatic and its formulae (Θεοτόκος, ένωσις καθ' ὑπόστασιν, μια ὑπόστασις, ένωσις φυσική, and the like), and taught that in the person of Christ we must strictly distinguish two natures (hypostases), which are united indeed in one person (prosopon), but are not amalgamated in essence. For these years his history coincides with that of the Eastern Church from 430 to 451, and for this very reason it is impossible to sketch it even briefly here (see Hefele, Conc.-gesch., vol. ii.). The issue was not unfavourable to Theodoret's cause, but melancholy enough for Theodoret himself: the council of Chalcedon condemned monophysitism, but he unhappily yielded to pressure so far as also to take part in pronouncing "anathema upon Nestorius, and upon all who call not the Holy Virgin Mother of God, and who divide the one Son into two." As Theodoret had previously been a constant defender of Nestorius it was impossible for him to concur in this sentence upon his unfortunate friend with a clear conscience, and in point of fact he did not change his own dogmatic position. It is painful, therefore, to find him in his subsequent Epitome classing Nestorius as a heretic, and speaking of him with the utmost hostility. Some of Theodoret's dogmatic works are no longer extant: of his five books Περὶ ἐνανθρωπήσεως, for example, directed against Cyril after the council of Ephesus, we now possess fragments merely. A good deal of what passes under his name has been wrongly attributed to him. Certainly genuine are the refutation (Ἀνατροπή) of Cyril’s twelve 'ava0euatiouoi of Nestorius, and the 'Epavittης, or Πoλuuopfos, (written about 446), consisting of three dialogues, entitled respectively 'Atpeπtos, 'Aouyxutos, and 'Aπa0gs, in which the monophysitism of Cyril is opposed, and its Apollinarian character insisted on. Among the apologetico-dogmatic works of Theodoret must be reckoned his ten discourses Πepi πpovoias.

Theodoret gives a valuable exposition of his own dogmatic in the fifth book of his Airetxgs kaxouv0iag eπitog, already referred to.[1] This, the latest of his works in the domain of church history (it was written after 451), is a source of great though not of primary importance for the history of the old heresies. In spite of the investigations of Volkmar and Hilgenfeld, we are still somewhat in the dark as to the authorities he used. The chief uncertainty is as to whether he knew Justin’s Syntagma, and also as to whether he had access to the Philosophumena of Hippolytus in their complete form. Besides this work Theodoret has also left us a church history in five books, from 324 to 429, which was published shortly before the council of Chalcedon. The style is better than that of Socrates and Sozomen, as Photius has remarked, but as a contribution to history the work is inferior in importance. Its author made use of Eusebius’s Life of Constantine and of the histories of Rufinus, Socrates and Sozomen, and probably of Philostorgius as well. He also used other sources, and made a thorough study of the writings of Athanasius, but apart from some documents he has preserved, relating to the Arian controversy, he does not contribute much that is not to be met with in Socrates. As regards chronology he is not very trustworthy; on the other hand, his moderation towards opponents, not excepting Cyril, deserves recognition. The 'Ellguikwv 0epapiutucg pa0guatwv (De Curandis Graecorum Affectionibus)—written before 438—is of an historical and apologetic character, very largely indebted to Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius; it aims at showing the advantages of Christianity as compared with “the moribund but still militant” Hellenism of the day, and deals with the assaults of pagan adversaries. The superiority of the Christian faith both philosophically and ethically is set forth, the chief stress being laid on monachism, with which heathen philosophy has nothing to compare. Much prominence is also given to the cult of saints and martyrs.

On this side of his character, however, Theodoret can best be studied in the thirty ascetic biographies of his Φιλόθεος ἱστορία. This collection, which has been widely read, is a pendant to the Historia Lausiaca of Palladius and the monkish tales of Sozomen. For the East it has had the same importance as the similar writings of Jerome, Sulpicius Severus and Cassian for the West. It shows that the “sobriety” of the Antiochene scholars can be predicated only of their exegesis; their style of piety was as exaggerated in its devotion to the ideals of monasticism as was that of their monophysite opponents. Indeed, one of the oldest leaders of the school, Diodorus of Tarsus, was himself among the strictest ascetics.

181 letters of Theodoret have come down to us, partly in a separate collection, partly in the Acta of the councils, and partly in the Latin of Manus Mercator; they are of great value not only for the biography of the writer, but also for the history of his diocese and of the church in general.

The edition of Sirmond (Paris, 1642) was afterwards completed by Gamier (1684), who has also written dissertations on the author’s works. Schulze and Nosselt published a new edition (6 vols., Halle, 1769–74) based on that of their predecessors; a glossary was afterwards added by Bauer. The reprint will be found in vols, lxxx.–lxxxiv. of Migne, and considerable portions occur in Mansi. The church history has been published frequently in connexion with the histories of Socrates, Sozomen and others, e.g. by Valesius (1693) and Reading (1720). There is an English translation of the history by Bloomfield Jackson in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, series ii., vol. iii.; the translation including also the dialogues and letters.

Besides the earlier labours of Tillemont, Ceillier, Oudin, Du Pin and Fabricius and Harless, see Schröckh, Kirchengesch., vol. xviii.; Hefele, Conc.-gesch., vol. ii.; Richter, De Theodoreto Epp. Paul. Interprete (Leipzig, 1822); Binder, Etudes sur Thiodoret (Geneva, 1844); Staudlin, Gesch. u. Lit. der Kirchengesch. (Hanover, 1827); Kihn, Die Bedeutung der antioch. Schule (1866); Diestel, Das A. T. in der christl. Kirche (Jena, 1869); Specht, Theodor v. Mopsvestia u. Theodoret v. Cyrus (Munich, 1871); Roos, De Theodoreto Clementis et Eusebii Compilatore (Halle, 1883); Nolte in the Tubing. Quartalschr. (1859), p. 302 seq.; Moller, art. “Theodoret,” in Herzog-Hauck’s Realencykl.; Venables’s article in Smith and Wace's Dict. of Christian Biography; also Bardenhewer's Patrologie, p. 345 ff. On the sources of Theodoret’s church history see Jeep, Quellenuntersuchungen z. d. Griech. Kirchenhistorikern (Leipzig, 1884); and especially Güldenpenning, Die Kirchengesch. des Theodoret von Kyrrhos (Halle, 1889). (A. Ha.; A. C. McG.) 

  1. Roman Catholic writers vary greatly in their estimate of Theodoret’s christology and of his general orthodoxy. On Bertram’s essay on this subject (Theodoreti, Espicopy Cyrensis, Doctrina Christologica, Hildesheim, 1883), see Theol. Lit.-Ztung. (1883), 563 seq.