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Historical Sketches: Volumes 1 To 3 -Blessed John Henry Newman

§ 1. His Birth and Education


IT was the happy lot of Chrysostom to live in the lull between those fierce doctrinal tempests, which from time to time swept over the face of early Christendom: it was the great misfortune of Theodoret to pass his life under their wildest fury. Hence it has come to pass that, while Chrysostom is a Saint all over the world, Theodoret has the responsibility of acts which have forfeited for him that ecumenical dignity. He was betrayed into great errors of judgment, as even Popes have been betrayed; but, like Popes, without thereby committing himself to any heresy. In the great controversy of his day he was carried away by private, party, national feeling; but he was a great Bishop and writer notwithstanding. Yes, a great and holy Bishop; nor is there anything in his life, as it has come down to us, to forbid our saying that he was as genuine a Saint as some of those whose names are in the calendar. Cyril, his antagonist, has not the burden of his ecclesiastical mistakes, but neither has he the merit of his recorded good works. Nor indeed is Theodoret without honorary title in the Church’s hagiology: for he has ever been known as “the Blessed Theodoret.” And this at least he had in common with St. Chrysostom, that both of them were deposed from their episcopal rank by a Council, both appealed to the Holy See, and by the Holy See both were cleared and restored to their ecclesiastical dignities.

But Theodoret had a further likeness to the great John Chrysostom. Nor only in the outlines of his history, but in its circumstances the one was parallel to the other. They were both natives of Antioch; both disciples of the Syrian exegetical school; both of one and the same ecclesiastical party. They both commented largely on Scripture, and in illustration of its literal sense: Theodoret more learned and of more versatile talents than Chrysostom; and Chrysostom more earnest than Theodoret in his tone, and more eloquent in his language. Theodoret was of the generation next after Chrysostom; he was five years old when Chrysostom left Antioch for the patriarchal throne of Constantinople, and not more than fourteen when Chrysostom died a martyr’s death at Comana.

Theodoret’s contemporaries at Antioch were John and Nestorius;—John, afterwards Bishop of that city and Patriarch of the East; and Nestorius, to his own and the Church’s heavy calamity, Patriarch of Constantinople; and he became attached at least to the former by the tie of familiar intercourse, and the sympathies of a common education. I must not forget his attachment to Theodore also,—Theodore, the great commentator, as he was called, the friend of St. Chrysostom; though Theodore has, in the event, left an evil memory of himself in the Church, as well as Nestorius. However, we must not class Theodore with Nestorius, a self-convicted heretic, for no one in Theodore’s lifetime, not himself more than others, understood and foresaw, nought but the trial of years brought to light, the direction and scope of his teaching.


Of Theodoret’s father we know enough in knowing that he was a Christian, and a pious one. So was his mother; that is, she had a strong sense of religion from the first, though for a while she lived to the world, as the bulk of Christians do at this day. After some years of married life she turned to God, under the trial of disappointment and ailments of body. She seems to have been wealthy, her mother having property in the neighbourhood of Antioch. She was married at seventeen; and, as a rich and handsome lady, she was fond of dress, and did not deny herself even the use of cosmetics. Thus passed six years, and she had no child; this was her first grief, at least on her husband’s account; and her second, at the end of that time, was a complaint in one of her eyes, for which medicine did nothing. In her distress she turned to a Higher Power, and she sought Him through the intercession of His servants.

There was at that time in Antioch a holy solitary named Peter, a Galatian by race. By the sign of the Cross he had cured the eyes of a great personage, wife of the Prefect of the East. To him accordingly went the mother of Theodoret, but without reflecting that silks and jewels and the other accessories of fashion were as unsuitable in a suppliant as the horses and chariots of Naaman. What the holy recluse first saw in her was the ailment of her soul; not the malady of her eyes, but the paint upon her cheeks, and he addressed himself at once to what was her chief misery. “God made you what you are,” he said, “and you think to improve upon His work. He has given to your countenance a natural red and white, and you proceed to daub with pigments the lineaments and tints traced and spread by a Divine Master. Do you think a human artist would be pleased if some rude sign painter took on him to restore and furbish up his masterpiece; yet you profane God’s handiwork, nay, His very image, by adding to it an adulterous beauty,—I say adulterous, for why do you paint your face, except to draw upon you the eyes of men?”—Philoth., p. 1189 (ed. Schulze).

She received the rebuke, as a religious woman was sure to do. Then he made the sign of the Cross over her, and she returned home healed in body and soul, and, either at once, or as time went on, gave herself up to an ascetic life.


One cross was removed, but the other remained;—still she had no child. Her husband beset the holy hermits, who were round about Antioch, for the benefit of their prayers with this object, but in vain; he could not obtain the desire of his heart. Another weary course of years passed by, as many as seven; then at length his wife was assured by one of these recluses, named Macedonius, that provided, like Samuel’s mother, she could make up her mind to dedicate her child to the immediate service of God, her prayer should be heard. “You must give him to the Giver,” he said; she accepted the condition, and christened him, when born, by the name “Theodoret,” the gift of God: and brought him up in the sight, and under the lessons, and with the prayers, of both her holy benefactors, Peter and Macedonius.

Once a week the boy was taken to Peter to receive his blessing. “Often,” says Theodoret, “did Peter take me on his knees, and feed me with dried grapes and bread. Philoth.,—p. 1188. “You are a child of many prayers,” said Macedonius to him; “see that your life be worthy of them. You have been set apart before your birth; such an offering is a consecration. There must be no base passions in your soul; that only must you do, say, and think, which is pleasing to the Lawgiver.” “Well do I remember his words,” continues Theodoret; “well was I taught the divine gift given to me; but little have my words corresponded to his lessons. God enable me to live the rest of my life according to them!”—Ibid. p. 1215.

§ 2. His Monastic Life


SO passed his early years; while his parents lived he lived with them, and lived as became one who had been dedicated from the first to a divine life. He was a diligent student, and availed himself to the full, as his after writings show, of the literary opportunities which Antioch afforded to him; but not in such undue measure as to interfere with his religious calling. Macedonius and Peter were not the only holy men whose example was set before him by his mother. She had herself received the blessing of the famous St. Simeon of the Pillar, and was able to tell her son many stories of his marvellous life. She gained him also the blessing of another solitary, Zeno; and of Aphraates, a Persian by birth, who found himself at Antioch before he could speak more than a few words of Greek, yet at length gathered round him men of rank and station, as well as workmen and the soldiery, learned and unlearned, rich and poor, whether to hear him or to argue with him.

Such was the life of Theodoret, till he was twenty-three, by which time both father and mother had died. Then he began his religious course, his first act being to distribute to the poor the goods which on their death he had inherited. Next, he betook himself to a monastery, one of two in a large village called Nicerte, a few miles from Apamea, and about ninety miles from Antioch. Here he remained for seven years, more or less; till, at the early age of thirty, or thereabouts, he was raised to the Episcopate. This important event took place about the year 423, three years after the death of St. Jerome, and seven years before the death of St. Augustine, St. Ambrose and St. Gregory Nazianzen having died before the end of the foregoing century, and St. Chrysostom in the first years of the new; Celestine being Pope, and Cyril having been for nine years on the episcopal throne of Alexandria, and in the full work of his busy pontificate.

For another seven years, or nearly seven, Theodoret seems to have confined his labours to his own diocese; and, though doubtless he had an anxious and difficult time of it, still he was supported in his missionary work by the influence of the many hermits scattered about the country, with whom he had intimate relations, and by his various monasteries both of men and of women. We may call these fourteen years, seven on each side of his consecration, during which he was thrown among and upon these religious communities and hermitages, the happiest period of his life. When he went to Apamea, he was in his youthful fervour, and 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 conflicts and sufferings of the years which followed. He had the companionship and example, the prayers and lessons, of great saints, who in the peace and immutability of their lives anticipated the heaven to which they were predestined. His monastery at Nicerte was one of two foundations made by one man, which together contained more than four hundred monks. From this place, before his episcopate, he seems to have paid visits to other religious houses, far and near, and he has in fact left us an account of one of these excursions. He would have a still further opportunity of becoming acquainted with these large establishments and eremitical stations when he became their Bishop; and he has in his “Religious History,” called “Philotheus,” recorded both what he saw himself, and what he heard on the first authority, of the lives of the Solitaries of Syria.


In the work I have just named he gives us various particulars of their high virtues, their strange penances, and their unequivocal miracles: all wonderful, but what is as wonderful, at first sight, as miracles, penances, and virtues, is the easy credence, or, as moderns would say, the large credulousness, which he exhibits respecting them. His credence is wonderful, as for other reasons, so especially considering the circumstances of his education. He had been taught in what has the reputation of being specially the matter-of-fact and rationalistic school of ancient Christendom; the critical and prosaic school of Eusebius and Chrysostom, Diodorus and Theodore; yet, whether we view him in his inquisitive youth, when he journeyed about Syria, or in his mature manhood, when he expressly wrote about the Solitaries, or in his Ecclesiastical History, the work of his last years, we find his belief in the miracles of these dwellers in the wilderness as firm as that of St. Athanasius in St. Antony’s, of Sulpicius in St. Martin’s, or of St. Gregory Nyssen in those of St. Gregory Thaumaturgus. How was it that his common sense took so different a line from that of the sceptical minds of this day? What made him drink in with such relish what we reject with such disgust? Was it that at least some miracles were brought home so absolutely to his sensible experience that he had no reason for doubting the others which came to him second hand? This certainly will explain what to most of us is sure to seem the stupid credulity of so well-read, so intellectual an author.

It is remarkable that he, just as Sulpicius, was quite aware that he should try the faith of his readers in the narratives he presented to them.

“I ask of those who read me,” he says, “not to discredit what I relate, if they meet with any thing which exceeds their own capacities of belief, nor to make themselves the measure of these holy men’s virtue; but to understand well that God commonly apportions his gifts to the dispositions of the devout, so as to give the greater gifts to the more perfect souls. This I say for the benefit of those who are not over-well taught in divine matters; for, as to those who are versed in the intimate mysteries of the Spirit, they know His riches, and what wonders He works through men in behalf of men, by the great operation of His miracles, attracting the incredulous to the knowledge of God.

“However, if a man will disbelieve what I shall say, it is very plain that by such a one neither the acts of Moses, nor of Josua, nor of Elias, nor of Elisseus, will be accepted as true; nay, he must account the miracles of the Apostles as a fable. If he confesses the truth of those, let him acquit of falsehood these also; for the graces that operated in those, in these have operated also. For myself, of those which I shall set down, to some I was an eye-witness; and those which I did not see, I heard told by those who did, men who were lovers of virtue, and who merited to have the sight and the instruction of these wonders.”—Philoth., p. 1106.


Here the first remark I make is this:—that the strange penances of these hermits, as St. Simeon’s continuance upon his pillar, which are quite as startling as their miracles, are protected from criticism, as Theodoret observes (Rel. Hist. 26), by various observances, divinely commanded in the Old Testament, while they are free from what may be called their Jewish, or indecorous character; such as Isaiah’s “walking naked and barefoot,” Ezekiel’s being carried in the dark on men’s shoulders through a hole broken in his house-wall, and Hosea’s marrying a public woman and giving his affections to an adulteress,—acts which, as Theodoret says, arrested attention, and were intended to teach by their very strangeness.

Next, I would observe that, if these men so tormented their bodies, as Theodoret describes, which it is difficult to doubt, and if, nevertheless, instead of killing themselves thereby, they lived to the great age which he also testifies, this fact was in itself of a miraculous character, without going on to consider those acts of theirs which more exactly deserve the name of miracles.

Further I remark, that these men come recommended to us by their lives; they were, according to their biographer, not mere wild and uncouth phantoms of men, but, to judge by the incidental traits of character which he preserves, men of solid virtue, and worthy of the Christian name; men who mortified themselves not without a definite object, the distinct purpose of thereby becoming gentle, spiritual, unostentatious, modest, meek, and lowly, and who succeeded in their object.

And then lastly, it must be borne in mind that Syria, not to say the whole territory of the Church, was at that time a missionary country. The Roman State had adopted Christianity as its religion; but the populations which the state embraced had still to be converted. Miracles, as has been commonly admitted, may be expected in any age or country as the credentials and weapons of Evangelists and Apostles among the heathen. Therefore they were granted to Gregory Thaumaturgus in Pontus: therefore to Martin in Gaul. Moreover, Providence adapts its means to the end contemplated, and to the circumstances under which that end must be reached. Nothing was more adapted to convert Orientals in that day than excesses of asceticism and anomalous displays of power—manifestations, in short, which would shock and revolt an educated European of the nineteenth century. The Solitaries were de facto missionaries. Sozomen says: “They were instrumental in converting from Paganism the whole Syrian race, and many of the Persians and Saracens.” As they were like the Baptist in their ascetic mode of living, so did they also resemble him in their office, and in their mode of fulfilling it. While they wrought miracles, which he did not, they resembled him in not going into the towns and villages, but in calling out the multitude, high and low, into the wilderness in which they dwelt. St. Simeon Stylites, who is one of Theodoret’s special saints, converted Saracens, Iberians, Armenians and Persians innumerable, to a religious and moral life, by his discourses from that strange eminence, which is the laughing-stock of unbelievers and a subject of profound astonishment, nay, perplexity, to believing minds. And he was likely to convert them in no other way.

All this is a digression; but it is not irrelevant to the history and character of Theodoret. Now let us follow him into the work and the trials of his Episcopate.

§ 3. His Diocesan Labours


THEODORET’S see was Cyrrhus. I shall best explain where Cyrrhus was by saying that it gave its name to Cyrrhestica, that circumjacent extensive plain which lies between the spurs of the Amanus and the Euphrates. It was included in the patriarchate of Antioch, and its metropolitan city was Hierapolis. It is at present within the pachalic of Aleppo; and in the tract of country through which it has been proposed to carry a railroad from the Mediterranean into the valley of the Euphrates, en route for India. It was, and is, we are told, endowed with a rich loamy soil, as fine as garden mould, in which it is difficult to find even a pebble, and is of the first fertility. To that fertility three streams contribute; and were it not oppressed by a stupid barbarian rule, and trampled under foot by the nomad Turcomans, Curds, and Arabs, it would be able, as travellers report, to grow grain enough for the whole of Syria. The country was populous from the time of the Assyrian Empire down to modern times. In the middle ages Syria itself is said to have contained as many as 60,000 villages; and this portion of it is at present strewed with the ruins of cities and hamlets, strongholds, earthworks, watercourses, and cisterns.

The diocese of Cyrrhus was forty miles long, and as many broad; it contained the astonishing number of 800 churches, as Theodoret himself shall tell us presently, as also of his own share in promoting the material, as well as spiritual, welfare of his territory and its people. It had, moreover, many monasteries in it, both of men and women; some of them with as many as 250 inmates; and many hermitages. He never had any other diocese: of this he was in charge for half his life; he was consecrated at thirty, and he died when he was about sixty.


It was not a see to be desired by a literary or an ambitious man. It was off the high roads; or at least, it was not reached by the public posts. The mountains and the great river cut off its communications with the world. It was at the distance of twenty, fifty, seventy miles from its sister sees; few towns seem to have been in its neighbourhood. I am not sure it suited Theodoret. He speaks of it as “lonely,” of its inhabitants as “few, and those poor.” On one occasion he does not scruple to say that he has no wish to get back to Cyrrhus, for “it is a small and desolate city;” “whose ugliness,” he adds, “I have done my best to hide by costly buildings.”—Ep. 138. Cyril, his antagonist, in contempt calls it a “small place, little known.” One circumstance alone gave it importance; it was the winter quarters of the tenth legion.

Theodoret indeed had been a solitary for many years, and could dispense with the company of his fellows; but, if he must give up his seclusion for company, he might naturally wish that company to be good of its kind. He could pass his days in prayer; he could engage with satisfaction in the public affairs of the Church; but Cyrrhus was neither town nor country, and he had no liking for what gave him neither great work nor tranquil retirement. There was no special attraction to his natural tastes or his educated habits in over-taxed farmers, dull peasants, rough legionaries, or wild heretics; in elementary catechizings and cross-country visitations. We find him exercising his special gift of preaching with a good will in the presence of intellectual audiences in the great Syrian cities; nor was he slow to undertake the polemical functions, whether synodical or literary, which belonged to his episcopal office; but it is significant that, towards the close of his life, when the Imperial Government would punish him, it proceeded to confine him to his diocese; and as a punishment he felt it.


However, whatever his tastes might be, he did his duty by his people, conscientiously and zealously, with all his might, both as regards their spiritual interests and their temporal:—of this there is ample proof. He introduced into Cyrrhus what in this day is called skilled labour, and men versed in the arts of life, especially in that of medicine. His engineering works involved the employment of men of scientific attainments. When the season had been unfavourable for the farmers, we find him exerting himself to obtain for them a remission of rent from the head-landlord; at another time he addressed a letter, still extant, to a very great lady, the Empress Pulcheria, to gain some abatement of the heavy imposts to which his fertile diocese was subjected.

“Concerning my own country,” he writes to her, “I will say thus much, that though the rest of the province has received some relief, this district has been an exception to the rule, in spite of its being most grievously burdened. The consequence is, that many of the farms are without hands, nay, have even been abandoned by the tenants; and then the town magistrates, being made answerable, and being unable to meet their liabilities, are begging their bread, unless indeed they have got away from the country.”—Ep. 43 (ed. Schulze).

His zeal for the spiritual welfare of his flock was still more conspicuous. He could speak Syriac, and thereby could hold intercourse with the poorest and most ignorant among them. He followed up with singular success the conversion of the heretics, who abounded in his diocese. Asia has been from the first the parent and foster-mother of creeds and worships. Superstitions from the far East, from Assyria and Chaldea, besides those which were of Greek origin, overran Syria, as well as the countries north and south of it. It was not the mere alternative of Christianity or heathenism that presented itself to a zealous Bishop, as in the Western world; but, pari passu, with the extension of the Church among the native populations was the birth and spread of a hundred heterogeneous sects, as if, so to say, her camp-followers. The teaching of the true faith was the provocative and occasion of misbelief. Theodoret found his diocese swarming with heretics; but by some years before his death he had converted them all. Marcionites, who held that the Evil Spirit was the creator of the universe and the author of the Old Testament, he brought over to the number of 10,000 and more.


He was in one way or other a man of war all through his long episcopate, and more and more so as time went on; and he had many enemies in consequence. Of these I shall speak more distinctly in a little while; I refer to them now, because it was they, as it will be then seen, who, by forcing him to self-defence, have wrung from him a mention of some of the great acts of his pastoral care, which otherwise would have been unknown to posterity. It was a day of strong measures, and when the time came that he must steadily look, not only at the prospect of deposition from his see, but, like St. Chrysostom, of banishment into some barbarous land, or rather when this prospect had been in part fulfilled, he wrote as follows:—

“My slanderers compel me to speak. Before I was conceived in the womb my parents promised to offer me to God: and from my very swaddling clothes they dedicated me, as they had promised, and brought me up accordingly. I remained in a monastery till I was made Bishop, receiving consecration against my will. And now, during the five and twenty years since, I have never been summoned into court by any one, nor have I brought a charge against another. Not one of my clergy in so many years has beset the courts. Not a cloke, not a halfpenny, have I accepted from any one; not a loaf of bread, not an egg, has any one of my household accepted ever yet. Saving the tattered clothes in which I am clad, I have allowed myself nothing.

“I have erected from my ecclesiastical revenues public porticos. I have built two bridges on the largest scale. I have provided baths for the people. I found the city without supply from the river, and I furnished an aqueduct, so that water was as abundant as it had been scarce hitherto.

“To go to other matters, I brought over to the truth eight villages of Marcionites, and others in their neighbourhood, and with their free consent. Another village, filled with Eunomians, another filled with Arians, I led into the light of divine knowledge. And by God’s grace, not even one blade of heretical cockle is left among us. Nor have I accomplished this without personal danger. Often have I shed my blood; often have I been stoned by them, nay, brought down before my time to the very gates of death. I have become a fool in boasting; but I have spoken, not of will, but of necessity.”—Ep. 81.

The Eunomians here spoken of were, like the Arians, deniers of our Lord’s divinity.

§ 4. His Extra-Diocesan Labours


WHAT I have been setting before the reader makes it quite plain that Theodoret performed the duties of his pastoral charge with no ordinary zeal, activity, perseverance, and success. His labours in Cyrrhestica are sufficient to give him an honourable name in the history of Christianity. How marvellous would the man be thought in this day who, with a shabby coat on his back, with a few rolls and eggs in his cupboard, at the cost of his blood, and at the risk of his life, without any secular weapon to aid him, wiped his diocese clean of Protestantism, Fenianism, and Freemasonry, and enriched his episcopal city with porticos, bridges, baths, and aqueducts? Should we wish for such a man to have been anywhere but where he was? Should we regret he was not Archbishop of Toledo, or a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church? And yet I have a feeling as to Theodoret, that he was not the right man in the right place; and a suspicion that he felt it also. He had talents for which Cyrrhestica gave him no exercise, and which were needed elsewhere. I am tempted to wish he had never been a bishop; he was a great preacher; and his own native place, Antioch, was the natural stage for the exercise of his gift.

There he might have been what Chrysostom was before him. Or, if he must be a bishop, it is a pity he was made a bishop so young. Had he been kept back at Antioch for half a dozen years, he might have followed Chrysostom to Constantinople, and have been placed upon its patriarchal throne, instead of the unhappy Nestorius. Then the Church would have been spared the scandal and the misery of the Nestorian heresy, controversy, and schism, of the strong acts of St. Cyril and of the Fathers of the third Ecumenical Council, and of Theodoret’s own mistakes and misfortunes. We can fancy what Theodoret would have done, had he been reserved for some great city, not only by what he actually did at Cyrrhus, but by the success of his occasional visits to Antioch, Berœa, and the cities of Phœnicia. But these things are beyond us; and there is One who has reasons for every one of all the dispositions of His Providence, whose every act is opportune, and who overcomes when He is judged.

Theodoret’s visits to Antioch and other cities on the coast, which were very frequent, were not made on his own initiative. He says to Nomus, who was consul in A.D. 445,

“Neither in the time of Bishops Theodore, John, or Domnus, did I enter Antioch at my own will; but, after solicitations addressed to me five or six times over, with difficulty did I comply.”—Ep. 81.

Again, he writes thus to Dioscorus, the heretical bishop of Alexandria, on his being accused of Nestorianism.

“I was grieved, my Lord, and pardon me if grief will speak out, grieved that your excellence did not reserve one ear for me, but believed their slander. Yet these men were only three or four, or at most fifteen; whereas, for the orthodoxy of my teaching, I have many myriads of hearers to produce. For six years I continued teaching in the time of Theodore, of blessed memory, Bishop of Antioch, a man adorned by the most exemplary life, and with great theological knowledge. Again, for thirteen other years in the time of Bishop John, who was so delighted with my preaching, that he would applaud with both hands, and often rose in his seat. Moreover, this is the seventh year of Domnus; and up to this very day in so great a course of years, no one, whether Bishop or cleric, has ever yet found fault with any word I spoke. On the other hand, with what pleasure the Christian people hear my discourses your excellence may easily learn from those who go from you to Syria, and from Syria to you.”—Ep. 83.

Again, writing to his friend, John, Bishop of Germanicia, he says that the very men, who were slandering him, had formerly, after his discourses at Antioch, “folded him in their arms, and kissed his head, breast, and hands; nay, some of them his knees, declaring that his doctrine was apostolical.”—Ep. 147.

It was much pleasanter thus to preach to sympathetic audiences than to be stoned by a mob of brutal peasants on the Euphrates. On the other hand, it must be stated in fairness, that not all his hearers in Antioch or the other great cities were Catholics or were friendly to him. He had to make converts outside his diocese as well as within it, and to suffer in the making. In his letter to St. Leo he speaks of the “many conflicts which he had had in most of the cities of the east, with Greeks, with Jews, with heretics of every kind.”—Ep. 113.

There is a compensation in all things. Not a remnant has come down to us, it is true, of the many discourses which made Theodoret famous in his day. Cyrrhus and its villages did not furnish the means of recording them, nor did his Antiochene friends preserve the chance words of a bishop not belonging to themselves. However, he could fill other parts besides that of a great preacher, and Cyrrhus gave him leisure for these. He presents himself to posterity as a man of letters, an expositor of Scripture, an historian, a theologian, and a controversialist. We have gained Theodoret by means of Cyrrhus in one way, if we have lost him in another. He is perhaps greater in this day by his want of position and power in his own. He might have been at most but a second-best Chrysostom; but now he has a place of his own in the literature of the first centuries, and a place in which he has no rival.

§ 5. From Cyrrhus to Antioch


NOW I am going to repeat my question, and insinuate a doubt about Theodoret. Is there not some contrast between his vocation and his actual history? He was a monk or a solitary even from his birth; from the age of thirty he was a Bishop for good and all. Perhaps he had better not have been a Bishop; but a Bishop he was, both a Bishop and a monk. Did not these two callings give him enough to do? What time had he over for duties not eremitical, not pastoral? Yet we find him a great preacher at Antioch, and withal one of the leaders of a large ecclesiastical party in the Councils of the Church. And the associations thence arising go a great way towards constituting his historical character. How little do we think of him as an ascetic at Nicerte, or as the diocesan of Cyrrhus! how much as the antagonist of Cyril! He is known chiefly, not in his strength, but in his weakness. How came this about? what is the explanation of it?

As to his presence in the great cities, we find that to Antioch he paid as many as twenty-six preaching visits, year after year, out of the thirty years which he numbered in his Episcopate, and, though reiterated refusals on his part were the preliminary to his preaching there at all, yet preach he did, and for twenty-six seasons, giving clear evidence thereby both that he was fitted for that work, and that he knew his fitness. It is true indeed that he was bound by his episcopal office to be present at the Councils held at Antioch once or twice a year; but this did not make his preaching in that city an annual necessity,—and he preached in other cities too. And, in fact, his enemies accused him of restlessness in his general conduct, of leaving his home and meddling in matters which did not belong to him, of indulging in what would now be called “agitation.” In consequence, they managed at length to shut him up, against his will, in those very cells and cloisters to which he had originally given himself, and for which at the bottom of his heart he so ardently longed. What are we to say for him? I should explain the matter thus:—


He was a true monk in his admiration of the monastic state, in his veneration for the Solitaries of his neighbourhood, in his bodily mortifications, in the simplicity and elevation of his character, in his distaste for wealth, station, and secular pomp. His literary talents carried off his thoughts and likings in the same direction, disposing him towards a quiet unambitious life, which was its own end and carried with it its own reward. Such a man was Theodoret, but he was another man too. Some men have two natures, with contrary tendencies, and have an inward conflict, and an external inconsistency in consequence. They are happy in retirement and happy in society; they are fit for both, and would, if they could, be both men of action and recluses at once. Thus we find Basil and Gregory drawn to each of these vocations, and attempting to combine them, though in the event Basil was forced to give up his loved retirement for public life, and Gregory fell back from his archbishopric into solitude, prayer, and literary work. So was it with Theodoret. He dearly loved the monastic state; but he had large sympathies, keen sensibilities, an indignation at the sight of tyranny, an impatience at wrong, a will of his own, a zeal for the triumph of the truth. He loved solitude, but he loved preaching, controversy, ecclesiastical politics, also; he thought he could do things which others could not do, nay, could do them well; and he would feel that, much as he might labour, and with success, in the direct duties of his episcopal charge, in his provincial town and among his rude, superstitious peasantry, still he was able to exert an influence higher and wider than Cyrrhestica gave him room for.

And this consciousness turned his eyes to Antioch, and to the quick and loving intelligence of its Christian population: and from Antioch he could look out on what was doing in the great world beyond Antioch, and on the fortunes of the Church there militant; and then he would begin to lay to heart that a Bishop had duties ecumenical as well as diocesan. If he must leave his monastic cell, he had better do so for great objects than for lesser ones. In his own city he did his best; but where in Cyrrhus were the crowded churches, the enthusiastic welcome, the eager attention, the excited feelings, the responsive voices, which he encountered in Antioch? Antioch, and nothing short of Antioch, was the compensation for the sacrifice he made in being a Bishop instead of a monk. And, since his synodal duties took him to Antioch, why should he not preach there, if he preached so well? why not in Berœa? And, if he attended the small routine synods at Antioch, why was he not bound to come forward and to exert his natural legitimate influence in the greater Councils of the Church, and in the ecclesiastical affairs of the day, to which those meetings at Antioch were ministrative? and to resist such measures on the part of prelates of higher station than his own, outside of Antioch, as were repugnant at once to his sense of justice, to his national sentiments, and to his theological determinations?


St. Gregory Nazianzen was offended with St. Basil for placing him in the see of Sasima; “give me,” he said, “peace and quiet above all things; why should I be fighting for sucklings and birds, which are not mine, as if in a matter of souls and canons?” So felt Theodoret as regards Cyrrhus; he writes to Nestorius, though with greater gravity:—

“That I have no pleasure in any town society or in secular attentions, nor have my mind set upon some high preferment, I think is known to your holiness. For if there was nothing else to teach me this philosophy, there is enough in that very city, secluded as it is, which I have been allotted to govern. For even Cyrrhus, with all its loneliness, is full of troublesome matters too, enough to make even those weary who have an extraordinary love of business.”—Ep. 172.

Moreover, little as Theodoret loved mixed society or the vanities of high station, he was of that affectionate temper which could not thrive under the absence of friends. Here was another reason why Antioch was more pleasant to him than Cyrrhus. It is conceivable that after a time his mind might be oppressed with the solitary weight of the petty conflicts and ignoble troubles of his life in his episcopal city; and then the face of a friend would be a great refreshment to him, or even a letter, nay, the news of the day. That news was news about Holy Church; and how should he know what to pray for in his inland desolateness, if he never heard that news? and how was he to hear it, except from the metropolis of Syria? Cyrrhus would be a prison rather than a seclusion, if it debarred him from knowing how the battle went on with the world, whether in favour of Catholic truth or against it. “You have had the better of me, my most religious lord,” he writes, when in trouble, to Himerius of Nicomedia,

“as in all other respects, so also in the promptness of your correspondence. For, when I was helpless and drowsy, and sick and careless of pressing matters, you have roused me by your words of greeting; and, by the truly spiritual affection which they express, have made me recollect myself. But lest you should possibly blame overmuch my backwardness in writing, supposing I gave you no explanation at all of my silence, I will say a word or two, and true ones, in my defence.

“The city where I dwell is far away from the horse-road; so that I have no chance of seeing those who come to these parts, nor do I come across those who are setting off back. Hence it is that I have not had the satisfaction of sending letters to your holiness. Besides, I was formerly in the practice of going at intervals to Antioch, and of remaining there a considerable time; and then I found it easy to send and to receive letters. But now, for a long time, I have thought it best to be at home, and to keep quiet there.

“However, you have overcome the difficulty by sending to me my most honoured Lord Strategius, whom it gave me the greatest joy to behold, as he is one who loves your holiness fervently, and is prepared to do and suffer all things for your sake, who are so brave a champion of orthodoxy. As for me, I have become useless to the Church of God. And, while all orthodox and faithful men roundabout are breathing fervent zeal and the right faith of the holy Fathers, I am but in a low place, not a high one, and am under rule instead of ruling.”—Ep. 71, apud Lup.

Again, to another friend:—

“ ‘Live a hidden life,’ said a wise man of old; and I, admiring the sentiment, have wished to carry it out.… So I am attempting to be ‘hidden;’ and I embrace quiet before anything else. I salute your reverence, using as my postman him who lately reported to me the conversation which you held with friends about me. On receiving then this letter, beloved of God, answer it. You began with your voice, I begin with my pen. I have paid speech with writing; now pay my writing with writing of your own.”—Ep. 62.


And if in his solitude he yearned for tidings of his friends at Constantinople or Nicomedia, much more would he look with special affection toward Antioch and its belongings. Antioch, it must be recollected, was his birthplace; it had been his home. There he was brought up; there first his eyes had been opened to the divine beauty of Religion, as brought before him in her saintly representatives. There was every association of his youth. He was familiar with every thoroughfare and public building, square and portico; and knew the ways and social peculiarities, the Greek and Syriac dialects, of its population. At Antioch doubtless his father and mother had found their last resting-place; he could pray over their graves, and there too he could visit the tombs, and invoke the spirits of so many generations of martyrs, whose relics invested the city with a sanctity, which his own episcopal care was only beginning by like means to provide for Cyrrhus. At Antioch he breathed freely; but at Cyrrhus his mind fell back upon itself.

Such, then, we may conceive, was the oppressiveness of overmuch solitude to him; such the relief of society; and such in consequence the oscillation of his mind from his country diocese to the great world:—and now, having considered this movement of his mind from Cyrrhus to Antioch, let us proceed next to follow its oscillation from Antioch to Cyrrhus back again.

§ 6. From Antioch to Cyrrhus


THAT place is best for us where our lot is cast by Providence. This was brought home to Theodoret, when, after the turmoil of the great cities and their synods, he felt himself constrained from very weariness to turn his face back again to dull, uninteresting Cyrrhus and its unintellectual people. How was it possible that he, dedicated to religion as he was from his birth, and nurtured in monasteries, could live long without gasping in the heat and noise and whirl of capital or council? Even in the first centuries, when persecution drove Christians to and fro, there was more of outward peace and bodily and mental repose in those large populous places for the Bishops of the Church than now, when Christianity was the religion of the Empire. Bishops now were great secular magistrates, and whether they would or no, were involved in secular occupations. In their several cities they had tribunals of their own, and had the task of deciding the quarrels of their subjects. They were attached to the Imperial Court, and were intrusted with many private matters by statesmen, leaders of armies, high officials, or great ladies. They went as ambassadors between sovereigns, and as mediators between prince and people. Such at least was their position in the highways and marts of the world; and, in an age when theological disputes were rife and the decisions in which they issued were state enactments, even the obscurest bishop was a public man, as having a seat in the great Councils in which those decisions were made. He must take his part in momentous questions, and his line in ecclesiastical politics, amid the war of anathemas, and with the risk of incurring the greatest temporal penalties.


But, apart from these extraordinary troubles, of which Theodoret had his full share, the ordinary trials, which arose out of his secular rank, were far more oppressive to him when he got into the world than his solitude at Cyrrhus. In the opening of his first work, dedicated to his friend, John, Bishop of Germanicia, he complains in remarkable language of the obstacles created by his worldly occupations to his pursuing the commentaries on Scripture, which had been demanded of him:—

“The exegesis,” he says, “of the Divine Oracles demands a soul cleansed and spotless; it demands also a keen intelligence, which can penetrate into the things of God, and venture into the shrine of the Spirit. It needs, moreover, a tongue which can subserve that intelligence, and worthily interpret what it understands. Nevertheless, since you, my dearest John, have bid me, I have dared a task beyond my powers, seeing I am implicated in innumerable occupations, of town and country, military and civil, of the Church and the State.”—In Cant. p. 2.


This was his complaint in A.D. 429, before or just upon the commencement of his ecclesiastical conflicts, two years before that Great Council of Ephesus, in which he bore so principal a part, and when his years were not more than thirty-five. What then must have been the load and the pressure of his ecumenical duties, when he was in the full swing of the Nestorian controversy! Heresy is bad at all times, but at that time, if Bishops took up the cause of heresy, they possessed in their secular greatness special opportunities of propagating it, or, if they withstood it, of violent conduct, not only towards its originators, but even towards those who were gentle towards such men. Arianism came into the Church with Constantine, and the Councils which it convoked and made its tools were a scandal to the Christian name. The Council of Nicæa, which preceded them, was by rights final on the controversy, but this Constantine’s successor, Constantius, and his court Bishops would not allow. They did their utmost to undo that which was done once for all and for ever. The Councils of the next century, even such as were orthodox, took their tone and temper from those which had gone before them, and even those which were ecumenical have nothing to boast of as regards the mass of the Fathers, taken individually, which composed them.

All through that time the Bishops of Christendom appear in history as a Mahanaim, the antagonist hosts in a battle, not as the Angels of their respective Churches, and the shepherds of their people. Their synodal functions encroach upon their diocesan; and their relation to their flocks is obscured by their position in the hierarchy. The great Fathers of that period give no countenance to what may be called its crying evil. St. Gregory Nazianzen declared he would never have any thing to do with Councils any more. St. Chrysostom had to protest against their conduct towards himself. St. Basil, despairing of them, looked towards the Pope and St. Athanasius. Athanasius himself took part in three in the course of forty years, but he fought the battle of the faith with his pen more than with his crosier. When the West in his latter days attempted a General Council, it produced nothing better than the wretched gathering at Ariminum. The passage of Ammianus, which Gibbon has made famous, speaks of “the troops of bishops, rushing to and fro in government conveyances,” and of “the public posting establishments almost breaking down under their synods.” In the next generation Cyril and Theodoret would have been happier had they kept at home and settled the points in dispute, as they began them, with theological treatises, dispensing with hostile camps, party votings, and coercive acts. Their controversies, I know, were on vital subjects, the settlement of them was essential, and in settling them the Church was infallible; but in matter of fact and after all they were carried on to their irreversible issue, by the Pope and the civil power, not by the Council to which they were submitted.


It grieves me to think that a man like Theodoret should have played a violent part in these meetings and altercations. I repeat it, I wish he had remained a priest; he would not have been a worse theologian, and he would have been a better man. He would have written more, and quarrelled less. His mind would not have been clouded by resentment, nor his name associated, unjustly associated, with heresy. He would not have called Cyril an Apollinarian, and then been surprised to find the epithet of “Nestorian” fastened on himself. He would not have been so prompt to plunge into hot water, so indignant to find that hot water scalded. He would not have had to learn that a man cannot have so much of fighting as he likes, and no more. He would have recollected that the beginning of strife is like the letting out of waters, and, if he attempted to thrust others out of the Church, they to a certainty would not be slow in turning out him.

For these acts of mistaken zeal Theodoret received a retributive chastisement from an All-loving Hand. He who had been unjust to a Saint, fell into the clutches of an heresiarch. Theodoret anathematized Cyril, and was anathematized and deposed by Dioscorus. Then he seemed to have forfeited peace for ever: for to Cyril he might have yielded, but to Dioscorus, a teacher of heresy, he could not yield religously. With a full appreciation of this difficulty, he wrote a letter to his metropolitan, Alexander of Hierapolis. He says:—

“They know not how great my love of quiet is. It is the sweetest of all this life’s delectable things. So great is my longing for it, that I should need no man’s urging to hurry after it, did I not fear the great Judge. Peace I desire, if orthodoxy goes with it; but peace I eschew, if it is unrighteous and heterodox.”

Who then should restore Theodoret to himself, to Cyrrhus and to peace? Dioscorus himself cut the knot of the dilemma for him. In high favour with the Emperor, he obtained a decree for the confinement of Theodoret, first within the walls of Cyrrhus, next to his monastery near Apamea. The civil power, thinking to punish him, rescued him from the scene of strife, to which he found himself committed. And when, shortly afterwards, St. Leo vindicated his orthodoxy at Chalcedon, nothing was wanting to his peace, as far as outward circumstances could be the guarantee of it.

§ 7. His Ecclesiastical Relations


I AM bound, before concluding, to speak more distinctly of those ecclesiastical acts of Theodoret, to which I have made such frequent allusion in the foregoing Sections, though in doing so I shall have to pass from his own history to that of the Church, in which I do not wish to get entangled. Still I cannot escape a task which is necessary for the due understanding of what I have been already saying of him. I have to tell how he made a good fight in the controversies in which he was engaged, though not always a prudent or a skilful one, how Nestorius was known to him, and he would not for a long time anathematize him, how he took up a hostile position, first wrongly, afterwards rightly, against Egypt and Alexandria, how he came into collision with the third Ecumenical Council held at Ephesus, how he discerned and discovered the nascent heresy of Eutyches, how, as I have already said, he was shut up in a monastery as a turbulent busy body, how he was deposed by the second great Ephesian Council, called in the event the “Gang of Thieves,” how he was at length vindicated by St. Leo, and taken into his confidence, thus ending his ecclesiastical career. I am tempted to believe (speaking under correction) that St. Leo, if he were alive, would not find any great fault in my view of these matters; but, in order to do justice to it, I must be allowed to go back into the history of the Antiochene and Alexandrian Churches in the foregoing centuries.


There was a remarkable contrast between the ecclesiastical organization of Syria and of Egypt. The Syrian Church contained within its territory various large cities of high pretensions, intellectual and social, and was rich in centres of thought and learning: on the other hand, when Alexandria was named, the main, if not the only ground was assigned why Egypt claimed to take a leading part in Catholic theological teaching. It followed that the Bishop of Antioch was comparatively a little man, because he had so many rivals, whereas the successor of St. Mark, St. Dionysius, and St. Athanasius, had a sovereign, because a solitary greatness. He came next in ecclesiastical precedence to the Bishop of Rome; he specially was the “Papas” or Pope of the Eastern world, and from an early date he wielded a power in his own patriarchate which, in times of external prosperity and in ordinary hands, was too great for human nature. Such times and such hands were for a long time unknown to the Alexandrian See; the heathen persecutions in Egypt had been succeeded by the Arian; and Athanasius, who was patriarch almost from the fall of heathenism to the fall of the heresy, had too much good sense and too much magnanimity, too much of supernatural sanctity, too much experience of suffering, too much gentleness and large sympathy for others, to abuse his power. But, when he was gone and persecution ceased, and his place was filled by men of coarser grain, who had the inheritance of his name without the control of his presence, and retained his alliance with the West without his tenderness towards the East, it is not wonderful that for the demoralized Churches of Syria, Asia Minor, and Thrace, in which Arianism had run riot, evil days were at hand.

No Church in the breadth of Christendom had had such glorious memories as Alexandria. Its theologians, and its alone (putting aside the occupant of the See of St. Peter), had in the Ante-Nicene times explicitly and consistently maintained our Lord’s Eternal Sonship, which Arianism formally denied. And, when Arianism broke out, it was Athanasius and the Egyptians who were “faithful found among the faithless.” Even the Infallible See had not been happy in the man who filled it. Liberius had anathematized Athanasius, on a point on which Athanasius was right and Liberius was wrong.* Liberius had got the worst of it; and his successors compensated for his great mistake by continuing in the firm friendship of Alexandria. But the time came when the Pope of the day was called on to dissolve that friendship, which zeal and sanctity had originated.


Almost from the death of Athanasius began the spiritual declension of his see and Church. He had named Peter as his successor; but Peter had died prematurely. Then came Timothy; and Timothy and his suffragans are known in history as the fierce adversaries, in the Council of Constantinople, of the peace-loving and accomplished Gregory of Nazianzus, and as co-operating with the conforming Arianizers in driving him off into Cappadocia.

The second triumph of the Egyptians was about sixteen years later, when, without the pretence of an Ecumenical Council, their unscrupulous patriarch, Theophilus, came up to Constantinople with some of his partizans, and, with Court assistance, managed to oust from his see a second Saint, St. John Chrysostom. Here they were even more successful than in their campaign against Gregory; for Chrysostom they sent off, not simply into obscurity, but to wither and die in the furthest wilds of Asia Minor.

Next came Cyril, the nephew of the Theophilus aforesaid; he had taken part with his uncle in the persecution of St. Chrysostom; and, when made Patriarch of Alexandria, he did not hesitate, in a letter still extant, to compare the great Confessor to Judas, and to affirm that the restoration of his name to the episcopal roll would be like paying honour to the traitor instead of recognizing Matthias. For twelve years did he and the Egyptians persist in this course, and that in direct opposition to the Holy See, and were in consequence for that long period separated from apostolic communion. Cyril, I know, is a Saint; but it does not follow that he was a Saint in the year 412. I am speaking historically, and among the greatest Saints are to be found those who in early life were committed to very un-saintly doings. I don’t think Cyril himself would like his historical acts to be taken as the measure of his inward sanctity; and it is not honest to distort history for the sake of some gratuitous theory. Theologically he is great; in this respect Catholics of all succeeding times have been his debtors: David was the “man after God’s own heart;” but as this high glory does not oblige us to excuse his adultery or deny his treachery to his friend, so we may hold St. Cyril to be a great servant of God without considering ourselves obliged to defend certain passages of his ecclesiastical career. It does not answer to call whity-brown, white. His conduct out of his own territory, as well as in it, is often much in keeping with the ways of the uncle who preceded him in his see, and his Archdeacon who succeeded him in it,—his Archdeacon Dioscorus, who, after his elevation showing himself to be, not only a man of violence, but an arch-heretic, brought down upon him the righteous vengeance of St. Leo.

High-handed proceedings are sure to come to grief sooner or later; “a haughty spirit goes before a fall.” So had it been with Nestorius, the foremost object of Cyril’s zeal. When raised to the see of Constantinople, he had said to the Emperor in his consecration sermon, “Help me to subdue the heretics, and I will help you to conquer the Persians.” “All that take the sword,” says the Divine Teacher, “shall perish with the sword.” The man who made this boast was himself degraded from his high estate, and equitably, for heresy, and died an exile’s miserable death in the Egyptian Oasis. Pride is not made for man; not for an individual Bishop, however great, nor for an episcopal dynasty. Sins against the law of love are punished by the loss of faith. The line of Athanasius was fierce and tyrannical, and it fell into the Monophysite heresy. There it remains to this day. A prerogative of infallibility in doctrine, which it had not, could alone have saved the see of Alexandria from the operation of this law.


If such be the judgment which we are led at the distance of fourteen centuries to pass on Alexandrian unscrupulousness, what must have been the indignation of Theodoret and his Syrian party, the loyal adherents to the high line of St. Peter, and St. Ignatius, St. Theophilus and St. Babylas, when they either witnessed themselves or heard their fathers tell of these reiterated haughty and imperious acts of a rival patriarchate? How intolerable would be a coarse Egyptian, Theophilus or Dioscorus, in bodily presence to his refined contemporaries at Antioch or Constantinople! “What right,” they would say, “had Egyptians to interfere with Syria, especially in the case of questions in which faith did not enter?” Gregory and Chrysostom were then, as now, the shining lights, the special boast, of oriental Christendom. Gregory is par excellence “the theologian;” Chrysostom is the unrivalled preacher. Inferior men, rushing from Alexandria to Constantinople, had extinguished them both. “Nestorius,” they would continue, “is distinctly and dangerously wrong; but we can deal with him ourselves, without help from Egypt. The interference of foreigners will cause a re-action into opposite errors, and kindle a fatal conflagration in Christendom. Nestorius is a proud man. Be gentle with him, and you will manage him; be violent, and you inaugurate a fatal schism. We know how to bring him round or to set him aside with the charity and with the gravity which becomes men of education and religion; but here is this Egyptian, the nephew and pupil of that Theophilus, threatening us, writing to Rome against us, and bringing the Pope down upon us. The partizans of Chrysostom, the Joannites, still exist as a sect among us; who brought this about? We owe this to the violence of Cyril and the like of him; and, if he has his way, we shall soon hear of ‘Nestorians.’ How can the Roman Pontiff at the distance of 2,000 miles be a better judge what is to be done than we on the spot. He does not understand one word of Greek; he will be dependent on Cyril’s translations; and this, when the very gist of the controversy depends on the sense to be assigned to certain Greek and Syriac terms.”

Thus Theodoret might argue; and then on the other hand he would be cast down at the thought that, though he was master of Greek, Syriac, and Hebrew, Latin he did not know; perhaps his partizans knew no more of it than he did. Rome was already committed to Cyril, and was instructed by Cyril; and neither he nor they could have fair play. Theodoret’s temper was hot, and showed itself in the language which he used of Cyril. He did not indeed call him Judas; but he called him the “Egyptian.” He did not rightly estimate the spiritual keenness and the theological power which were in the depths of Cyril’s nature. He judged of him by his acts. “Cyril was always attacking some one or other,” he would say; “Pagans, or Philosophers, or Novatians, or Jews, or Joannites. Yesterday it had been Chrysostom, to-day it was Nestorius. Nestorius was intractable certainly, but he did not really hold what was imputed to him. Those should not throw stones who lived in glass-houses. Cyril was an Apollinarian, beyond a doubt; if Nestorius was accused of ascribing to our Lord a double personality, Cyril had actually avowed and maintained that our Lord had but one nature, and tried to persuade the world that St. Athanasius had said the same. He must recant his own heresy before he fell so savagely on Nestorius.”


Thoughts such as these, as far as they were indulged in any quarter, were a great injustice to Cyril. Cyril was a clear-headed, constructive theologian. He saw what Theodoret did not see. He was not content with anathematizing Nestorius; he laid down a positive view of the Incarnation, which the Universal Church accepted and holds to this day as the very truth of Revelation. It is this insight into, and grasp of the Adorable Mystery, which constitutes his claim to take his seat among the Doctors of Holy Church. And he traced the evil, which he denounced, higher up, and beyond the person and the age of Nestorius. He fixed the blame upon Theodore of the foregoing generation, “the great commentator,” the luminary and pride of the Antiochene school, the master of Theodoret; and he was right, for the exegetical principles of that school, as developed by Theodore, became little less than a system of rationalism.

I have a further quarrel with Theodoret. I wish I could be sure that a spirit of nationalism had not more to do than I have implied above with his theological antagonism to Cyril. While he shows his national jealousy by calling him the “Egyptian,” he shows his national esprit de corps by excusing great offences, when the offender is a Syrian. At least I call the persecutors of St. Chrysostom great offenders. Such was his neighbour, Acacius of Berœa, whom he nevertheless praises as “a great prelate,” an “apostolical man,” as “great, illustrious, renowned,” and even as being “his master.” Acacius, instead of showing any signs whatever of self-reproach for his cruel opposition to the living Saint, still persecuted the Saint’s memory. He had doubtless “the venerableness of a great age;” but what is so dreadful to look upon as a hard-hearted old man? How was it that Theodoret could overlook worse things in Acacius than he denounced in Cyril?

§ 8. At Ephesus


IT was under such circumstances, and in such a frame of mind as I have described, that Theodoret, together with his Asiatic compatriots, far and near, were called upon by Cyril, under orders from the Roman See, to meet in Ecumenical Council at Ephesus, and to condemn Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, for a great heresy against the Catholic Faith. I am not going to give the history of this Council, but I shall mention some of its salient points and characteristic features, lest on the one hand I should seem to slur over the faults of Theodoret, and lest on the other I should not make clear the extenuating circumstances under which those faults were committed. What occurred indeed at Ephesus is a scandal to the humble Christian, and was as superfluous as it was blameable. The Church did not initiate the Council, nor is it at all clear that a Council was then needed. Cyril had appealed to the Pope against Nestorius; the Pope in Council had taken the side of Cyril. Then the Pope had written round to the principal Bishops of the East, and they in answer had accepted and given their adherence to the faith of Cyril. Even John, Patriarch of Antioch, the friend of Nestorius, had returned this answer to Pope Celestine. In consequence, the Pope had allowed Nestorius just ten days for his recantation, and that interval was long past. In vain had been the entreaties of his own party, urging him to submit to the judgment of the Catholic world. Inclosing letters from the Pope and Cyril, John and the Bishops who acted with him had said, “Read these over carefully; although the period of ten days is none of the longest, you may do all that is needful in one day, or in a few hours. You ought not to refuse the term, Theotocos, as if it were dangerous. If you agree in sentiment with the Fathers, why should you scruple to avow your sound and right belief? The whole Church is unsettled with the question.” Theodoret, too, who is even said to have actually composed this remonstrance, little as he liked Cyril, speaks in the same sense, in various of his writings and letters. If the votes of Christendom had been taken, there would have been some dissentients from the expedience of adopting the Theotocos as a symbol of orthodoxy; there would have been none from the doctrine which that symbol enforced. Nestorius then, being contumacious, was to be deposed: to Cyril was committed by the Pope the execution of the sentence; and there was the end of the whole matter. What was the need of a Council? and this, I conceive, was Cyril’s judgment.


But so it pleased not the high powers of the state: and it was their interference which brought about a more grievous collision of opinions and parties. It was the Emperor, distrustful of St. Cyril, who insisted on a Council. Theodosius disliked Cyril; he thought him proud and overbearing, a restless agitator and an intriguer; and he told him so in a letter which has come down to us. Next, Nestorius of course was eager for a Council; for it was his only chance of rallying a party in his defence, and of defeating the Pope and Cyril. Also, some pugnacious Catholics at Constantinople, enemies of Nestorius, wanted a Council, as if the suppression of a heresy was not any great gain, unless it was accompanied with noise and confusion, by a combat and a victory. So a Council there was to be, and to the annoyance, I suppose, and displeasure of Cyril. “What is the good of a Council,” he would say, “when the controversy is already settled without one?” in something like the frame of mind of the great Duke of Wellington years ago, when he spoke in such depreciatory terms of a “County meeting.”

If I may consider this to be St. Cyril’s feeling, it will serve to account for his subsequent conduct at Ephesus. “What could a Council do, which had not been done already? its convocation was a mere act of the civil power; it would be little better than a form. What could be stronger than a decision at Rome, followed up by the assent to it of the Catholic world? What was there for the Fathers to debate upon? they would only have to register the conclusions which had already been reached without their meeting. However, if a Council was to be, Nestorius, he might take his word for it, should not have the benefit of it. Cyril was to be president; Memnon, Bishop of Ephesus, was his fast friend; it was hard, if between them Nestorius succeeded in playing any trick.” Cyril had on his side the Pope, the monks, the faithful everywhere, Tradition, and the Truth; and he had not much tenderness for the scruples of literary men, for the rights of Councils, or for episcopal minorities.

Accordingly, when he arrived at Ephesus, he took good care that every one should understand that he considered the controversy already at an end, and sentence pronounced, and execution all that then remained to do. In a sermon, which he proceeded to deliver, he spoke of Nestorius as the enemy of the Truth and an outcast from the Church, and then he gave his authority for so speaking of him. He adduced what he called “a sure witness,” even the judgment of “the most holy Archbishop of the world,” (that is, in other words, the Ecumenical Bishop,) “the Father and Patriarch, Celestine, of Old Rome.” He came to Ephesus, not to argue, but to inflict an anathema, and to get over the necessary process with as much despatch as possible.


How the Emperor fixed the meeting of the Council for Pentecost, June 7;—how Nestorius made his appearance with the protection of a body guard and of two Imperial Counts;—how Cyril brought up his fifty Egyptian Bishops, staunch and eager, not forgetting to add to them the stout seamen of his transports;—how Memnon had a following of forty Bishops, and reinforced them with a like body of sturdy peasants from his farms;—how the assembled Fathers were scared and bewildered by these preparations for battle, and, wishing it all over, waited with great impatience a whole fortnight for the Syrian Bishops, while Cyril preached in the churches against Nestorius;—how in the course of that fortnight some of their number fell sick and died;—how the Syrians, on the other hand, were thrown out by the distance of their sees from Antioch, (their place of rendezvous,) by the length of the land journey thence to Ephesus, by the wet weather and the bad roads, by the loss of their horses, and by the fatigue of their forced marches;—how they were thought by Cyril’s party to be unpunctual on purpose, but by themselves to be most unfortunate in their tardiness, because they wished to shelter Nestorius;—how, when they were now a few days journey from Ephesus, they sent on thither an express to herald their approach, but how Cyril would not wait beyond the fortnight, though neither the Western Bishops nor even the Pope’s Legates had yet arrived;—how on June 22 he opened the Council, in spite of a protest from sixty-six out of 150 Bishops then assembled;—how within one summer’s day he cited, condemned, deposed, and degraded Nestorius, and passed his twelve Theses of doctrine called “Anathematisms,” which the Pope apparently had never seen, and which the Syrian Bishops, then on their way to Ephesus, had in the year before repudiated as Apollinarian;—how, as if reckless of this imputation, he suffered to stand among the formal testimonies, to guide the Bishops in their decision, gathered from the writings of the Fathers, and still extant, an extract from a writing of Timotheus, the Apollinarian, if not of Apollinaris himself, ascribing this heretical document to Pope Julius, the friend of Athanasius;*—how in the business of the Council he showed himself confidential with Eutyches, afterwards the author of that very Monophysite heresy, of which Apollinaris was the forerunner;—how, on the fifth day after these proceedings, the Syrian Bishops arrived, and at once, with the protection of an armed force, and without the due forms of ecclesiastical law, held a separate Council of forty-three Bishops, Theodoret being one of them, and anathematized Cyril and Memnon, and their followers;—and how the Council terminated in a disunion, which continued for nearly two years after it, till at length Cyril, John, and Theodoret, and the others on either side, made up the quarrel with mutual explanations;—all this is matter of history.

Certainly, it is all matter of ecclesiastical history; but I should not introduce it here, except for its bearing upon the personal history of Theodoret. As to the dogmatic authority of the doctrine which was defined in the Council, it is not at all affected by the scandals I have been recounting, because it is the law of Divine Providence, both in the world and in the Church, that truth is wrought out by the indirect operation of error and sin, and that the supernatural gifts of the Gospel are held in “earthen vessels,” and do not guarantee moral perfection in their possessors. So much in general:—As to the particular case, it must be observed, 1. as I have said already, that the question of doctrine was virtually decided before the Council met; 2. that the quarrel, when its Fathers met, was not about the doctrine itself, but about the Council’s proceedings and the conduct of Cyril; and 3. that the party of Bishops, who were so angry with Cyril and the Council, were reconciled to him in the event, and accepted his formula of faith, by which Nestorians were excluded from the Church.

As to Theodoret, we now see what it is that sullies his ecclesiastical reputation, his refusal to condemn Nestorius his acquaintance. We have learned, too, how far this fault bears upon his habitual saintliness. If Cyril was a Saint in spite of his violent acts and his intimacy with Eutyches, Theodoret does not forfeit his claim to be accounted such, by being hot in his resentments and obstinate in his protection of Nestorius.

§ 9. His Great Opponent


“ALL’S well that ends well.” The incipient schism, if it must be so called, began to heal as soon as it began to be. Cyril made an explanation of his belief,—which John and Theodoret accepted; John made a profession of faith, which Cyril accepted. Theodoret made peace with Cyril and Cyril with him, though Theodoret would not accept Cyril’s twelve Theses, or anathematize Nestorius. There was a greater Presence in the midst of them than John, Theodoret, or Cyril, and He carried out His Truth and His will, in spite of the rebellious natures of His chosen ones.

It may be asked, however, what are we to think about St. Cyril? It is true that Theodoret may be a Saint, if Cyril is a Saint, but is Cyril a Saint? how can he be a Saint, if what has been said above is matter of historical truth? I answer as follows:—Cyril’s faults were not inconsistent with great and heroic virtues, and these he had. He had faith, firmness, intrepidity, fortitude, endurance, perseverance; and these virtues, together with contrition for his failings, were efficacious in blotting out their guilt and remitting him from their penal consequences. If martyrs have all their sins forgiven by virtue of their martyrdom, there is nothing strange in saying that there may be other specific sacrifices or exploits of faith or charity, which, when found in combination, have an equivalent claim on the Divine Mercy. Moreover, it is natural to think that Cyril would not have been divinely ordained for so prominent an office in the establishment of dogmatic truth, unless there were in him moral endowments which the surface of history does not reveal to us. And above all, Catholics must believe that Providence would have interposed to prevent his receiving the honours of a Saint in East and West, unless he really was deserving of them.


But I will say something more. We sometimes find in the Lives of the Saints that, though they have already turned to God, and begun that course of obedience and self-sacrifice in which they persevere, nevertheless for a while, nay for a considerable time, they have many serious defects and faults, and a standard of duty which might be higher; and then again, a time comes when they are startled and frightened at themselves, and begin anew with great fervour, as if they had never been converted, and accuse themselves of great ingratitude to their Almighty Benefactor, and of long years of inconsistency on a retrospect of their past years. And this we may suppose was the case with St. Cyril.

For instance, St. Thomas of Canterbury was, even when the King’s Chancellor, as Butler tells us, “humble, modest, mortified, recollected, compassionate, charitable to the poor, and chaste;” yet we know that he was at that time a pluralist in Church preferments, Archdeacon of Canterbury, Provost of Beverley, with several pre-bendal stalls, and a good many livings.* Also, he was Warden of the Tower of London, and chatelain of Berk-hampstead. In keeping with these ample sources of income, he was sumptuous in his habits, and magnificent in his retinue, beyond the Norman nobles. Also, though in Deacon’s orders, he went to the wars, at the head of 700 knights, and returned thence at the head of 1,200. Moreover, he engaged in single combat with a knight of great distinction, attacked castles, and razed cities to the ground. Great then and many as were his virtues at that time, there was room for a thorough change of life; and such a change took place on his becoming Archbishop. Yet the Lesson in the Breviary views him, before and after this change, as one and the same faithful servant of God. “Whereas,” it says, “he had greatly distinguished himself in the Chancellorship, he displayed unconquerable fortitude in his episcopal office.” It is possible then for men to have become in the event great Saints, who, even after their conversion, in the early stages of their course, did not correspond to that standard of religious perfection which we expect to see fulfilled in those who are singled out by the Church for canonization.

St. Theresa will supply us with another instance to my purpose, though of a different sort. Butler says she was in the way of holiness from her “infancy;” at the age of seven she ran away from home to preach the Gospel and to die a martyr’s death among the Moors. At twelve she devoted herself to the Blessed Virgin. Yet, both before and after she was a professed nun, she had to struggle with a state of lukewarmness and frivolity, and that with but poor success, for a long eighteen years. “At the end of that time,” says Butler, “the Saint found a happy change in her soul.” But here again, as in the case of St. Thomas, the Breviary does not separate off her years of imperfection from her career of holy living, as it does on the contrary separate the first years of St. Augustine or St. Ignatius from their years of divine service. It recognizes the idea of a sanctity, heroic but not faultless, and enables us to discriminate between the person and certain acts of a Saint. “For eighteen years,” it says, “harassed by the most serious maladies and with various temptations, Theresa persevered in serving as a good soldier of Christian penance.” If then, Theresa’s life, looked at as a whole, is truly one of saintliness, though for many years she indulged in careless practices, what difficulty is there in considering that the latter years of Cyril’s life were far more pleasing to Divine sanctity than the earlier?


Thus it is, then, that I read his life:—he grew up among holy men, and at an early age entered upon the clerical, if not the monastic state. Then perhaps he relaxed his strictness; for to him apparently is addressed a letter of St. Isidore, reproaching him with having lost his religious fervour, and entangling himself in secular troubles. Then he went off to the Bosphorus with his uncle, an expedition which was not likely to teach him charity, or increase his merit. When he became Patriarch himself, and transferred his acrimony from Chrysostom to Nestorius, Isidore again interposed with a remonstrance, conjuring him not to make the quarrel eternal under pretext of religion. “Sympathy,” he says (such as Theodoret’s), “may not see clearly, but antipathy” (such as Cyril’s) “does not see at all.” He continues:—

“Many of those who are assembled at Ephesus accuse you of seeking to revenge a private quarrel of your own, in preference to striving sincerely to promote the interests of Jesus Christ. He is nephew, they say, to Theophilus; he desires to be thought a man of consequence like his uncle, who wreaked his fury upon the Blessed John, though, to be sure, there is a great difference between the accused parties.”—Ep. i. 310.

St. Isidore wrote another letter, with equal plainness:

“I am terrified,” he says, “by the example of Holy Writ, which constrains me to send you what I conceive to be needful admonitions. If I am your father (as indeed you yourself call me), I fear the condemnation of Eli. If I am your son (which is nearer the truth, since you represent St. Mark), I fear the punishment inflicted on Jonathan, because he did not prevent his father from inquiring of the witch. If you wish that we should both escape condemnation, put an end to the dispute, do not seek to revenge a private injury at the Church’s expense, and do not make the pretence of orthodoxy an introduction to what may be an interminable schism.”—Ep. i. 370.

Isidore prophesied too truly; the schism lasts to this day. The Arians persecuted, and they came to nought: the Nestorians were persecuted, and they expanded into a large communion, which in the middle ages reached from Syria to China; and they keep up their opposition to the Church still. Cyril’s policy of violence has not even had the recommendation of success; though St. Isidore takes a higher ground than that of expediency.


However, we must believe that Cyril cancelled at length whatever was wrong in his words or his deeds by good works in compensation; and the last thirteen years of his life give us grounds for this confidence. After the banishment of Nestorius no violent act is recorded of Cyril. He wrote much, but he used no coercion, ecclesiastical or secular. In one of his letters which has been preserved to us, we find him advising his correspondent to accept the orthodox profession of those who came to him without rousing them to opposition by inquisitorial examinations. When he found that he could not gain over the Eastern Churches to his own view of Theodore, he gave over his attacks on Theodore’s writings and memory, leaving it for time to justify forebodings, which neither by force nor by controversy he could prevail on his contemporaries to share with him. During the last six years of his life his seclusion is so complete that he, the ruling spirit of the preceding twenty, adds not a page to the history of his times. Such a silence is eloquent; and at this day we enjoy what he did well; but his faults of spirit and of conduct have perished, as in the next world, so in this.

§ 10. The Last Years of Theodoret


BUT it is of Theodoret, not of Cyril, that I am relating the history. He outlived his opponent many years: and so entirely had he made up his quarrel with him that, in his “Eranistes,” written about A.D. 447, against the then nascent Eutychianism, which he had so long been foretelling, he quotes as many as nine passages from Cyril among the testimonies to Catholic truth contained in the writings of preceding Fathers, “the great lights of the world,” as he calls them, “and noble champions of the Faith.”* And it was this persevering zeal against that form of error, which (after the Gnostics) first Apollinaris and then Eutyches taught, which brought him under the heavy hand of the heretical Dioscorus. Then followed that series of trials from the heretical party, which embittered his latter years, and to which allusion has so many times been made in the portions of his letters which I have above quoted. At length the blow fell upon him, which his orthodoxy had provoked. In that Council, held at Ephesus in the year 449, since called for its combined heresy and cruelty the “Gang of Thieves,” a Council of 150 Bishops, and professing to be Ecumenical, and containing among its members the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Jerusalem, the Exarchs of Ephesus, Cæsarea, Heraclea, and Thessalonica, besides the Bishops of other great Eastern sees, Theodoret, without being heard in his defence, and without a protesting voice even from the Bishops of Syria, was formally condemned and deposed as an heresiarch, his doctrine anathematized, the faithful warned against holding converse with him, lodging him, feeding him, or even giving him water, while the Imperial government back up this stern sentence by stripping him of the revenues of his see.


This brings us to the last act of his history; he had but one refuge; the See of St. Peter had had no part in this atrocious proceeding. To Pope Leo he then appealed, and some extracts from his letter to him will bring us close upon the end of this memoir.

He tells St. Leo that, in his long episcopate of twenty-six years,

“Neither in the time of Theodotus, Patriarch of the East, nor of those who succeeded him in the see of Antioch, have I incurred the very slightest blame. I have been allotted to rule 800 churches, and my flock has been released by me from all heretical error. The All-seeing God knows how many stones have been flung at me by unclean heretics, how many conflicts I have had in most of the cities of the East, with Greeks, with Jews, with heretics of every kind. And, after so much labouring and toil, I am condemned without a trial.”

He continues:—

“I await then the decision of your Apostolic See, and I supplicate and beseech your holiness to succour me, who invoke your righteous and just tribunal, and to order me to hasten to you, and to explain to you my teaching, which follows the steps of the Apostles. I have written books, some twenty years ago, some eighteen, others fifteen, against Arians and Eunomians, against Jews and Gentiles, against the Persian Magi; moreover, concerning the Universal Divine Providence, and other works upon the Divine Being, and about the Incarnation. And, by God’s grace, I have expounded both the Apostolical writings and the Prophets. It is easy to ascertain by means of these writings whether I have maintained strictly the rule of faith, or have swerved from it.

“I beseech you, do not scorn my application. Do not slight my grey hairs, afflicted and insulted as I am, after my many toils. Above all, I entreat you to teach me whether to put up with this unjust deposition or not. For I await your sentence. If you bid me rest in what has been determined against me, I will rest, and will trouble no man more. I will look for the righteous judgment of our God and Saviour. To me, as Almighty God is my Judge, honour and glory is no object, but only the scandal that has been caused: for many of the simpler sort, especially those whom I have rescued from diverse heresies, considering the see which has condemned me, suspect that perhaps I really am a heretic, being incapable themselves of distinguishing accuracy of doctrine.”—Ep. 113.


St. Leo acted towards Theodoret according to the claims he had upon the justice and charity of the Supreme Pontiff. He effected his reconciliation with the Egyptian and Oriental Bishops in the great Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon, held in 452; in which Dioscorus and Eutyches were deservedly cast out of the Church. Theodoret, on his part, felt he had defended Nestorius too long; twenty years had passed since he refused to anathematize him; but now, as considering him to have died in obstinate heresy, he no longer persisted in his refusal.

Pope Leo proceeded to ask his services in repressing both Nestorian and Eutychian errors in the East. A letter is extant, in which he addresses him as his fellow-labourer, and makes him, as if officially, his informant and adviser as to the course of theological thought in that part of Christendom. However, few years remained of life to Theodoret. He does not seem to have taken upon himself the duties or the distinction of the function with which Leo intrusted him. He made over the charge of his diocese to Hypatius, and retired into the monastery, in which forty years before he had prepared himself for such work as it might please Providence to put upon him. There at length he regained that peace which he had enjoyed in youth, and had ever coveted. There he passed from the peace of the Church to the peace of eternity. His death took place about A.D. 457.

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