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He says himself that his birth was an answer to the prayers of the monk Macedonius ("Hist. rel.", IX; Epist. lxxi). On account of a vow made by his mother he was dedicated from birth to the service of God and was brought up and educated by the monks Macedonius and Peter. At a very early age he was ordained lector. In theology he studied chiefly the writings of Diodorus of Tarsus, St. John Chrysostom, and Theodore of Mopsuestia. Theodoret was also well trained in philosophy and literature. He understood Syriac as well as Greek, but was not acquainted with either Hebrew or Latin. When he was twenty-three years old and both parents were dead, he divided his fortune among the poor (Epist. cxiii; P. G., LXXXIII, 1316) and became a monk in the monastery of Nicerte not far from Apamea, when he lived for seven years, devoting himself to prayer and study.
Much against his will about 423 he was made Bishop of Cyrus. His diocese included nearly 800 parishes and was suffragan of Hierapolis. A large number of monasteries and hermitages also belonged to it, yet, notwithstanding all this, there were many heathen and heretics within its borders. Theodoret brought many of these into the Church, among others more than a thousand Marcionites. He also destroyed not less than two hundred copies of the "Diatessaron" of Tatian, which were in use in that district ("Hæret. fab.", I, xix; P. G., LXXXIII, 372). He often ran great risks in his apostolic journeys and labours; more than once he suffered ill-usage from the heathen and was even in danger of losing his life. His fame as a preacher was widespread and his services as a speaker were much sought for outside of his diocese ; he went to Antioch twenty-six times. Theodoret also exerted himself for the material welfare of the inhabitants of his diocese. Without accepting donations (Epist. lxxxi) he was able to build many churches, bridges, porticos, aqueducts, etc. (Epist. lxxxi, lxxviii, cxxxviii).
Towards the end of 430 Theodoret became involved in the Nestorian controversy. In conjunction with John of Antioch he begged Nestorius not to reject the expression Theotókos as heretical ( Mansi, IV, 1067). Yet he held firmly with the other Antiochenes to Nestorius and to the last refused to recognize that Nestorius taught the doctrine of two persons in Christ. Until the Council of Chalcedon in 451 he was the literary champion of the Antiochene party. In 436 he published his ’Anatropé (Confutation) of the Anathemas of Cyril to which the latter replied with an Apology (P. G., LXXVI, 392 sqq.). At the Council of Ephesus (431) Theodoret sided with John of Antioch and Nestorius, and pronounced with them the deposition of Cyril and the anathema against him. He was also a member of the delegation of "Orientals", which was to lay the cause of Nestorius before the emperor but was not admitted to the imperial presence a second time (Hefele-Leclerq, "Hist. des Conc.", II, i, 362 sqq.). The same year he attended the synods of Tarsus and Antioch, at both of which Cyril was again deposed and anathematized. Theodoret after his return to Cyrus continued to oppose Cyril by speech and writing. The symbol (Creed) that formed the basis of the reconciliation (c. 433) of John of Antioch and others with Cyril was apparently drawn up by Theodoret (P. G., LXXXIV, 209 sqq.), who, however, did not enter into the agreement himself because he was not willing to condemn Nestorius as Cyril demanded. It was not until about 435 that Theodoret seems to have become reconciled with John of Antioch, without, however, being obliged to agree to the condemnation of Nestorius (Synod. cxlvii and cli; Epist. clxxvi). The dispute with Cyril broke out again when in 437 the latter called Diodorus of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia the real originators of the Nestorian heresy. Theodore entered the lists in their defence. The bitterness with which these polemics were carried on is shown both by the letter and the speech of Theodoret when he learned of the death in 444 of the Patriarch of Alexandria (Epist. clxxx).
The episcopate of Dioscurus, the successor of Cyril, was a period of much trouble for Theodoret. Dioscurus, by the mediation of Eutyches and the influential Chrysaphius, obtained an imperial edict which forbade Theodoret to leave his diocese (Epist. lxxix-lxxxii). In addition Theodoret was accused of Nestorianism (Epist. lxxxiii-lxxxvi); in answer to this attack he wrote his most important polemical work, called "Eranistes". Theodoret was also considered the prime mover of the condemnation of Eutyches by the Patriarch Flavian. In return Dioscurus obtained an imperial decree in 449 whereby Theodoret was forbidden to take any part in the synod of Ephesus ( Robber Council of Ephesus ). At the third session of this synod Theodoret was deposed by the efforts of Dioscurus and ordered by the emperor to re-enter his former monastery near Apamea. Better times, however, came before long. Theodoret appealed to Pope Leo who declared his deposition invalid, and, as the Emperor Theodosius II died the following year (450), he was allowed to re-enter his diocese. In the next year, notwithstanding the violent opposition of the Alexandrine party, Theodoret was admitted as a regular member to the sessions of the Council of Chalcedon , but refrained from voting. At the eighth session (26 Oct., 451), he was admitted to full membership after he had agreed to the anathema against Nestorius ; probably he meant this agreement only in the sense: in case Nestorius had really taught the heresy imputed to him ( Mansi, VII, 190). It is not certain whether Theodoret spent the last years of his life in the city of Cyrus, or in the monastery where he had formerly lived. There still exists a letter written by Pope Leo in the period after the Council of Chalcedon in which he encourages Theodoret to co- operate without wavering in the victory of Chalcedon (P. G., LXXXIII, 1319 sqq.). The writings of Theodoret against Cyril of Alexandria were anathematized during the troubles that arose in connexion with the war of the Three Chapters.
WRITINGS A. Exegetical
Theodoret wrote brief treatises in the form of questions and answers on special passages of the Octateuch, four Books of Kings, and two Books of Paralipomenon (P. G., LXXX, 75-858). He wrote commentaries covering the whole books on: The Psalms (P. G., LXXX, 857-1998, and LXXXIV, 19-32), written before 436 (Epist. lxxxi); Canticles (P. G., LXXXI, 27-214); the Greater Prophets, Daniel and Ezechiel before 436, Isaias and Jeremias before 448, of which the commentary on Isaias has been lost, excepting some fragments preserved in the "Catenæ" ; the Minor Prophets before 436 (P. G., LXXXI, 495-1988); and the Epistles of St. Paul, written before 448 (P. G., LXXXII, 35-878).B. Apologetic
"Græcarum affectionum curatio" (Remedy for the diseases of the Greeks), twelve books, written before 437, "the last and probably also the most complete of the numerous apologies which Greek antiquity has produced" (Bardenhewer, "Patrologie", 3rd ed., 1910, p. 327). "De divina Providentia", ten sermons, probably his best work, in which he proves the administration of Divine Providence from the physical, moral, and social systems of the world.C. Dogmatico-Polemical
"Refutatio duodecim Anathematum", against St. Cyril; it has been preserved in Cyril's answer (P. G., LXXVI, 392 sqq.; Latin by Marius Mercator, P. L., XLVIII, 972 sqq.). "De Sancta et vivifica Trinitate" (P. G., LXXV, 1147-90), and "De Incarnatione Domini" (ib., 1419-78); these two last mentioned treatises have been proved by A. Ehrhard to have been written by Theodoret (see bibliography). "Eranistes seu Plymorphos" (P. G., LXXXIII, 27-l336), written in 448 in the form of three dialogues between an Orthodox (Theodoret) and a beggar (Eutyches); these dialogues sought to prove that the Divinity of Christ is (a) unchangeable, (b) unmixed with humanity, (c) incapable of suffering. In the fourth book the first three are briefly summed up in syllogisms. "Hæreticarum fabularum compendium" in five books (ib., 336-556); the first four contain a brief summary of heresies up to the time of Theodoret, and the last book contrasts them with Catholic faith and morals.D. Historical
"Historia Ecclesiastica" (P. G., LXXXII, 881-1280) treats in five books the period from Arius up to 429. In this work Theodoret used Eusebius, Rufinus, Socrates, Sozomenus, Philostorgius, as well as documents long since lost. As an ecclesiastical historian, however, he is inferior to his predecessors. "Historia religiosa" (ib., 1283-1522) contains the biographies of thirty celebrated ascetics or hermits ; the treatise "De divina charitate" forms the close of the work.E. Letters
Theodoret's lettters are of much value, both for his personal history and for that of his era. Cf. P. G., LXXXIII, 1173-1494, and Sakkelion, "Forty-eight Letters of Theodoret of Cyrus" (Athens, 1885).
"Opus mysticum", in twelve books; "Responsiones ad quæstiones magorum persarum" (Epist. lxxxii and cxiii), five "Sermones in laudem S. Johannis Chrysostomi", of which the fragments are to be found in Photius, "Bibl.", 273; and other "Sermones". Von Harnack ("Texte und Untersuchungen", N. F. 6, IV, 1901) assigned the "Responsiones ad quæstiones" to Diodorus of Tarsus, but a manuscript of the tenth century, edited by Papadopulos Kerameus (St. Petersburg, 1895), ascribes the work to Theodoret (see A. Erhard in "Byzantinische Zeitschrift", VII, 1898, 609 sqq.).
In hermeneutics Theodoret followed the principles of the Antiochene school, but avoided the bias of Theodore of Mopsuestia. In his Christology also he followed the terminology of Diodorus and Theodore, and saw in the teaching of Cyril a revival of Apollinarianism. He would never acknowledge that the teaching of Nestorius presupposed the acceptance of two persons in Christ or, as Cyril believed, necessarily led to it.
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