« PreviousContinue »
Most probably his conduct in rejecting the term, while he maintained the thing signified, was mainly, if not wholly, attributable to the friendship which had long subsisted between him and Nestorius, and to the personal pique which had arisen between him and St. Cyril, the principal opponent of the heresy.
In A. D. 431, the council of Ephesus was convened by the emperor Theodosius, for the purpose of allaying the dissensions which the Nestorian heresy had excited in the church. At this council Nestorius was excommunicated, and his heresy condemned. Several of his most zealous partisans, and among them Theodoret, were deposed from their ecclesiastical offices. The disputes, however, still continued with unabated acrimony ; and it was not till A. D. 435 that Theodoret was induced, by the entreaties of certain holy brethren, to become reconciled with the hostile party : he then renounced the defence of Nestorius, and was accordingly reinstated in his bishopric.
The remainder of his life was not spent in tranquillity.
He soon became involved in a fresh controversy with Dioscorus, the successor of St. Cyril in the see of Alexandria. Theodoret was accused of maligning the memory of St. Cyril. Another cause of the dispute was, that Theodoret vehemently opposed the Eutychian heresy, which Dioscorus as firmly upheld. The heresy of Eutyches was directly opposite to that of Nestorius; for while the latter denied that the Divine nature was truly united to the human nature in Christ in one person, the former denied that the two natures in Christ remained distinct. In this controversy Theodoret suffered a second defeat. Dioscorus raised up enemies against him in Constantinople, who accused him of propagating heresy in the church, and of teaching that there are two Sons. Theodosius the
younger received these calumnies without examination : he signed the deposition of Theodoret and forbad his quitting Cyrus. This mandate was pronounced about the year 447. Theodoret was then at Antioch : he quitted the city without saying farewell to any one, and, according to this sentence, retired to Cyrus, where he remained till 450, wholly occupied in literary labours, and in writing letters in self-justification. One of these letters was addressed to Dioscorus, but no regard was paid to it : on the contrary, Theodoret was publicly anathematized in Alexandria, and fresh complaints against him were laid before the emperor. Soon after, another council was held at Ephesus, at which Dioscorus presided, and here Theodoret was excommunicated. Theodoret appealed to St. Leo, the bishop of Rome, in a long letter, in which he recounted the services which he had rendered to the church, referred to his writings as containing proofs of his orthodoxy, and complained of the injustice of the council in condemning him unheard and during his absence. In 450 he obtained permission from Theodosius to quit Cyrus, and to retire to a monastery. Theodosius died the same year (450), and was succeeded by Marcian, who had married his sister Pulcheria. Marcian recalled Theodoret ; and, at the instance of St. Leo, convened the council of Chalcedon. Here the enemies of Theodoret raised loud clamours against him, recommenced their accusations, and insisted upon his pronouncing anathema against Nestorius. Theodoret desired rather to explain his own doctrines than to anathematize his friend : at length, overpowered by the numbers of his enemies, he exclaimed, “ Anathema to Nestorius, and to all who do not confess that the Virgin Mary is the mother of God." Upon this compliance with the demands of the council, he was formally reinstated in his episcopal dignity. The few remaining years of his life seem to have been passed in retirement. He is thought to have died about A. D. 458, probably in the seventieth or eightieth year of his age.
Even after his death his enemies renewed their attacks, and again called his orthodoxy into question. His works were condemned as heretical at the fifth general council: but, according to the almost unanimous decision of posterity, this sentence was unjust; for from his earliest youth he had been diligently instructed in the doctrines of the Nicene confession of faith ; and throughout his life he invariably adhered to the principles of the Homoousians, or those who maintained the consubstantiality of the three Divine Persons of the Trinity. The condemnation of the council referred to those points wherein he was blameless, while the real errors of his doctrines escaped undetected.
The most considerable of the works of Theodoret is a “Commentary on the Bible.” The first part of this commentary is arranged in the form of question and answer, and those passages only are proposed for elucidation which were con
sidered difficult of interpretation by the author. The literal and most obvious sense of Scripture is generally adhered to throughout this work ; yet some very singular opinions are
: occasionally advanced. For instance, the Spirit of God, which is stated to have moved upon the face of the waters, (Gen. i.,) is here represented as signifying only the air : and a supposition equally untenable is introduced, of there being two heavens, namely, the heavens properly so called, and the firmament, “ which,” says Theodoret, “ God made of the fluid substance of the water after he had condensed it and rendered it solid.” A most charitable construction is put on the conduct of some of the persons mentioned in Scripture. Thus our author adduces the intemperance of Noah as a proof of the previous sobriety of his life, and asserts that he was ignorant of the inebriating property of wine. He acquits Jacob of falsehood and deceit in passing himself off for his elder brother, on the ground that, having purchased the right of primogeniture, truth, the first-born son. In the same spirit, he says that Rachel was merely actuated by her anxiety to deter her father from idolatry, when she purloined his idols.
Although Theodoret has been generally accused of being too bold in his metaphors, some of his illustrations seem particularly happy. For instance, in the answer to the twelfth question on Exodus,“ What am I to understand by God's having hardened Pharaoh's heart?” Theodoret, after giving some explanation of the subject, illustrates it in the following man
“ The sun is said to melt wax and to harden mud, although it possesses only the property of giving heat ; so the patience and goodness of God produce two contrary effects in different individuals, being useful to the one and rendering the other more guilty ; hence it is said, that some are thuc converted and others hardened." Select passages in each successive book, from Genesis to the Psalms, are expounded by means of question and answer in the mode above-mentioned. We possess his commentaries on every book in the Old Testament, except that on Isaiah, of which only some fragments have been preserved. In the elucidation of the New Testament he seems to have omitted the Gospels, the Acts, the Catholic Epistles, and Revelation, confining himself solely to the Epistles of St. Paul. The whole work is valuable as affording a clear view of the mode in which Scripture was usually handled by the
theologians of the fifth century, and of the interpretation most commonly attached by them to controverted passages.
The other writings of Theodoret, in the editions of his works, are usually arranged in nearly the following order :
1. “Ecclesiastical History, in five books." It was written before the death of Theodosius the younger; for, in book V., chapter 36, Theodoret speaks of him as then reigning. Theodosius died July 29th, 450, and the history was probably completed the same year. It comprises a period of 105 years, namely, from A. D. 324, when Constantine the Great, having become master of the East, began to oppose the Arian heresy, which had then but recently arisen, to A. D. 429, or, according to some authors, A. D. 428; so that part of this history may be called the narrative of Theodoret's own times. It was intended to be supplementary to the ecclesiastical history of Socrates and Sozomen, both of which were written about the
The author also designed it as a continuation of the ecclesiastical history of Eusebius; for he takes up the chain of events from the very point at which Eusebius broke off. Many important events, which are omitted by Socrates and Sozomen, and which would not otherwise have been transmitted to posterity, are recorded by Theodoret; he has preserved many particulars relative to the life of Athanasius, and of the Eastern bishops, and particularly those concerning Melitius, Flavian, and Eusebius of Samosata ; and he thus throws light on various circumstances, which, but for him, would have created much doubt and obscurity in our knowledge of the history of this period. It is also by means of this history that we now possess some of the most important documents of the fourth century, such as synodical epistles, and the original letters of Arius, of emperors, and of other celebrated persons. The crying evil in the history of Theodoret is, the total omission of all chronology, and even of chronological order. Among the anachronisms and errors contained in it, may be specified the following:- - Theodoret makes Eusebius of Nicomedia the successor of Alexander, bishop of Constantinople, whereas Eusebius succeeded Paul (book i. chap 16). He places the election of St. Ambrose at the commencement of the reign of Valentinian, although it took place ten years after the accession of that emperor (book iv. chap. 5). He places the sedition of Antioch after the massacre of Thessalonica ; but the sedition occurred A. D. 388, and the massacre not till A. D. 390 (book iv. chap. 5). He also confounds the siege of Nisibis by the Persians in the year 350, with another siege which took place A. D. 359. These errors, however, do not affect the intrinsic value of the work. This history is, according to the learned Photius, superior to those of Socrates and Sozomen, being written in a style more consonant with the subject, and containing little that is superfluous.
2. The history entitled “Philotheus” is a record of the lives of about thirty anchorites, with some of whom Theodoret was personally acquainted. It chiefly consists in an account of the almost incredible austerities which they practised, and of the miracles which they wrought. Several cases, even of women, are adduced, who sequestered themselves from the world, and lived in a state of perpetual bodily mortification. He instances in particular an interview he had with two women who lived in the most rigid solitude within a narrow cell, but who, out of respect for his sacerdotal office, permitted him to enter : he found them loaded with chains, which the strongest men could scarcely have borne ; and one of them was literally bowed down upon the ground beneath the weight, and unable to move: their existence was passed in this state. The most remarkable memoir in this work is that of St. Simeon Stylites, originally a peasant of Cilicia, who fixed his abode on the top of a pillar upwards of thirty-six cubits in height. The life, however, which he led upon this exalted pinnacle, was by no means an idle one, for he delivered public exhortations twice a day, and, according to report, performed the most extraordinary miracles, so that those who were diseased went to him, and were healed. He adjudged differences, and performed all the functions of a judge. He had much influence in the transactions of public affairs, and frequently wrote to the emperor, and to persons in authority. It was by him also that the affairs of the church were regulated, that the future success of any enterprise was determined, and that the arguments of Pagans, Jews, and heretics were confuted. The style in which this history is written
may almost be called bombastical ; and the author, by way of giving dignity to his subject, frequently compares his heroes to the patriarchs and prophets of old. Yet this