Trials of Theodoret

1. His Birth and Education

1.

{307} 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 even as 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 {308} 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 {309} years brought to light,—the direction and scope of his teaching.

2.

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 {310} 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 handywork, 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.

3.

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 {311} 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. {312}

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2. His Monastic Life

1.

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 {313} 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. {314} 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.

2.

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 {315} 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, or 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.

3.

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 {316} 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 {317} 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. {318}

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3. His Diocesan Labours

1.

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 his own share in promoting the material, as well {319} as spiritual, welfare of his territory and its people. It had, moreover, many monasteries in it, both of men and of 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.

2.

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 {320} 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.

3.

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, {321} 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.

4.

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 {322} 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. {323}

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4. His Extra-Diocesan Labours

1.

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 {324} 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 {325} 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 {326} 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. {327}

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5. From Cyrrhus to Antioch

1.

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 {328} 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:—

2.

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 {329} 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 {330} his own, outside of Antioch, as were repugnant at once to his sense of justice, to his national sentiments, and to his theological determinations?

3.

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 {331} 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 {332} 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.

4.

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.

Continued

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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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