Chapter 3. Greek Heroes and Christian Martyrs: In Defense of the Friends of God and Heroes of the Faith

The account that Theodoret provides concerning the practice of honoring martyrs and their relics occupies a central position in his defense of Christianity. In Dialexis VIII. On the Cult of the Martyrs, he explains the importance of martyrs by suggesting the parallel notion of heroism and the cult of heroes in Greek religion and culture. [1] A significant portion of the dialexis takes as its focus the resistance to notions of heroism. It is worth noting at the outset that pagan accusations act as the incentive for the defense of Christian martyrs. [2] That said, it is important to ask: What was Theodoret’s attitude toward Greek heroes? In what way did he present Christian martyrs? What does this tell us about his conception of martyrdom? [3]
The dialexis begins with a contrast that is set up between the enigmatic nature of Pythagorean precepts and the simplicity of the Christian message. By making effective use of this opposition, [4] which underlies the entire dialexis, Theodoret refutes the implied accusation that Christians occupy an inferior social status. Within the teachings of Christianity, unexceptional people perform exceptional deeds motivated solely by their faith in the power of God. The universal appeal of the gospels is used to further bolster the value of the Christian message. However, arguably the most eloquent and forceful proof can be found in the example of the martyrs:
Καὶ οὐχ ἁπλῶς ἔπεισεν, ἀλλὰ τοσαύτην γε πίστιν τοῖς πλείστοις ἐντέθεικεν, ὡς ἥδιστα τὸν ὑπὲρ τῶν δὲ τῶν δογμάτων καταδέξασθαι θάνατον καὶ τοῖς ἀρνηθῆναι κελεύουσιν ἥκιστα μὲν προέσθαι τὰς γλώττας, προτεῖναι δὲ τὰ νῶτα τοῖς ἐθέλουσι μαστιγοῦν καὶ λαμπάσι καὶ ὄνυξι τὰς πλευρὰς καὶ τοὺς αὐχένας ὑποθεῖναι τοῖς ξίφεσι καὶ ἀποτυμπανισθῆναι προθύμως καὶ ἀνασκινδυλευθῆναι, καὶ μέντοι καὶ ἐμπρησθῆναι καὶ θῆρας ἀγρίους ἰδεῖν θοινωμένους τὰ σώματα.
Therapeutikê 8.9
And they [the scriptures of the apostles] have not only persuaded, but have instilled such faith in most people that they have gladly accepted death on behalf of these beliefs, and to those who have ordered them to deny their faith they have not uttered a word but have bared their backs to those who wished to flog them, and submitted their limbs to burning torches and iron hooks, and their heads to the sword. They have let themselves be cudgeled to death and be put in jar and set on fire and saw their bodies be feasted on/devoured by wild animals.
Theodoret builds on a set of oppositions recalling the contradictions with which he punctuates his dialexis: divided body/undivided grace, part/whole. In what follows, flowering grace is meant to suggest, on a figurative level, the notional unity and integrity of the body, [5] which, on a literal level, has been dismembered:
Καὶ αἱ μὲν γενναῖαι τῶν νικηφόρων ψυχαὶ περιπολοῦσι τὸν οὐρανόν, τοῖς ἀσωμάτων χοροῖς ξυγχορεύουσαι· τὰ δὲ σώματα οὐχ εἷς ἑνὸς ἑκάστου κατακρύπτει τάφος, ἀλλὰ πόλεις καὶ κῶμαι ταῦτα διανειμάμεναι σωτῆρας καὶ ψυχῶν καὶ σωμάτων καὶ ἰατροὺς ὀνομάζουσι καὶ ὡς πολιούχους τιμῶσι καὶ φύλακας· καὶ χρώμενοι πρεσβευταῖς πρὸς τὸν τῶν ὅλων δεσπότην, διὰ τούτων τὰς θείας κομίζονται δωρεάς. Καὶ μερισθέντος τοῦ σώματος, ἀμέριστος ἡ χάρις μεμένηκεν, καὶ τὸ σμικρὸν ἐκεῖνο καὶ βραχύτατον λείψανον τὴν ἴσην ἔχει δύναμιν τῷ μηδαμῇ μηδαμῶς διανεμηθέντι μάρτυρι· γὰρ ἐπανθοῦσα χάρις διανέμει τὰ δῶρα, τῇ πίστει τῶν προσιόντων τὴν φιλοτιμίαν μετροῦσα.
Therapeutikê 8.10
And the souls of those valiant victors traverse the heavens and join in chorus with choruses of the immortals. Their bodies are not concealed in the grave of a single individual, but cities and towns have divided their [bodies] among themselves and hail them [the martyrs] and name them saviors and physicians of both bodies and souls, honoring them as protectors and guardians. Although the body has been severed, grace has remained undivided, and this tiny piece of a relic has a power equal to that which the martyr would have had if he had never been dismembered. For grace when it blooms extends its gifts proportionate to the faith of those who pray. [6]
The articulation of this stance provides Theodoret with the opportunity to address one of the pagan objections that inform his portrayal of the martyrs. Turning to his opponents he says: “But as for you, not even all this persuades you to sing the praises of the God of martyrs; on the contrary, you laugh and scoff at the honor accorded the martyrs by the whole world and consider it an abomination to approach their tombs” (Ὑμᾶς δὲ οὐδὲ ταῦτα πείθει τὸν τούτων ὑμνῆσαι Θεόν, ἀλλὰ γελᾶτε καὶ κωμῳδεῖτε τὸ τούτοις παρὰ πάντων προσφερόμενον γέρας καὶ μύσος ὑπολαμβάνετε τὸ πελάζειν τοῖς τάφοις, Therapeutikê 8.12).
The honor accorded to the martyrs was met with acerbic criticism by pagans. [7] For example, Eunapius, in his Lives of the Sophists, attacks both the monks and their practice of re-sacralizing pagan temples with relics:
Εἶτα ἐπεισῆγον τοῖς ἱεροῖς τόποις τοὺς καλουμένους μοναχούς, ἀνθρώπους μὲν κατὰ τὸ εἶδος, ὁ δὲ βίος αὐτοῖς συώδης, καὶ ἐς τὸ ἐμφανὲς ἔπασχόν τε καὶ ἐποίουν μυρία κακὰ καὶ ἄφραστα. ἀλλ’ ὅμως τοῦτο μὲν εὐσεβὲς ἐδόκει, τὸ καταφρονεῖν τοῦ θείου· τυραννικὴν γὰρ εἶχεν ἐξουσίαν τότε πᾶς ἄνθρωπος μέλαιναν φορῶν ἐσθῆτα, καὶ δημοσίᾳ βουλόμενος ἀσχημονεῖν· εἰς τοσόνδε ἀρετῆς ἤλασε τὸ ἀνθρώπινον. ἀλλὰ περὶ τούτων μὲν καὶ ἐν τοῖς καθολικοῖς τῆς ἱστορίας συγγράμμασιν εἴρηται. τοὺς δὲ μοναχοὺς τούτους καὶ εἰς τὸν Κάνωβον καθίδρυσαν, ἀντὶ τῶν νοητῶν θεῶν εἰς ἀνδραπόδων θεραπείας, καὶ οὐδὲ χρηστῶν, καταδήσαντες τὸ ἀνθρώπινον. ὀστέα γὰρ καὶ κεφαλὰς τῶν ἐπὶ πολλοῖς ἁμαρτήμασιν ἑαλωκότων συναλίζοντες, οὓς τὸ πολιτικὸν ἐκόλαζε δικαστήριον, θεούς τε ἀπεδείκνυσαν, καὶ προσεκαλινδοῦντο τοῖς ὀστοῖς καὶ κρείττους ὑπελάμβανον εἶναι μολυνόμενοι πρὸς τοῖς τάφοις. μάρτυρες γοῦν ἐκαλοῦντο καὶ διάκονοί τινες καὶ πρέσβεις τῶν αἰτήσεων παρὰ τῶν θεῶν, ἀνδράποδα δεδουλευκότα κακῶς, καὶ μάστιξι καταδεδαπανημένα, καὶ τὰς τῆς μοχθηρίας ὠτειλὰς ἐν τοῖς εἰδώλοις φέροντα· ἀλλ’ ὅμως ἡ γῆ φέρει τούτους τοὺς θεούς. τοῦτο γοῦν εἰς μεγάλην πρόνοιαν καὶ <εὐστοχίαν> Ἀντωνίνου συνετέλεσεν, ὅτι πρὸς ἅπαντας ἔφασκεν τὰ ἱερὰ τάφους γενήσεσθαι.
Eunapius Lives of the Sophists 6.11
Next, into the sacred places they imported monks, as they called them ... They settled these monks at Canopus also, and thus they fettered the human race to the worship of slaves, and those not even honest slaves, instead of the true gods. For they collected the bones and skulls of criminals who had been put to death for numerous crimes, men whom the law courts of the city had condemned to punishment, made them out to be gods, haunted their sepulchers, and thought that they became better by defiling themselves at the graves. “Martyrs” the dead men were called, and “ministers” of a sort, and “ambassadors” from the gods to carry men’s prayers—these slaves in vilest servitude, who had been consumed by stripes and carried on their phantom forms the scars of their villainy. However, these are the gods that earth produces.
Several features bear special mention, if only because they recur in the polemic against the martyrs. Eunapius connects honoring the relics with the Christianizing zeal of the monks, the pollution that the relics incur, [8] and the humiliating death of the martyrs—an allusion to the Roman legal procedure that was followed in their trials—and their inferior social status. [9] The latter claims make it incumbent upon Theodoret, as well as most of the Christian authors writing in defense of the martyrs and the monks, to stress the moral dignity of martyrdom, which he does by playing it off against the background of hero-cult. [10]
The pollution to which Eunapius alludes is a moralized one that exists in direct proportion to the social status of the deceased, [11] as well as to those who revere them: in this case, the monks. Purity and pollution were used in classical society to demarcate realms of human activity. [12] In the case of Eunapius, pollution is used to demarcate religions specifically. He implies that, given the inferior social class of the deceased and the humiliating manner in which they die, they are not entitled to the honors that the Christians accord them. This is of crucial importance for our efforts to understand what Theodoret is trying to accomplish.
Julian reiterates the same accusation [13] in his Against the Galileans (among other writings), [14] perceptively noting the lack of precedent for honoring the martyrs in the scriptures:
ὅσα δὲ ὑμεῖς ἑξῆς προσευρήκατε, πολλοὺς ἐπεισάγοντες τῷ πάλαι νεκρῷ τοὺς προσφάτους νεκροὺς, τίς ἂν πρὸς ἀξίαν βδελύξαιτο; πάντα ἐπληρώσατε τάφων καὶ μνημάτων, καίτοι οὐκ εἴρηται παρ’ ὑμῖν οὐδαμοῦ τοῖς τάφοις προσκαλινδεῖσθαι καὶ περιέπειν αὐτούς. εἰς τοῦτο δὲ προεληλύθατε μοχθηρίας, ὥστε οἴεσθαι δεῖν ὑπὲρ τούτου μηδὲ τῶν γε Ἰησοῦ τοῦ Ναζωραίου ῥημάτων ἀκούειν. ἀκούετε οὖν, ἅ φησιν ἐκεῖνος περὶ τῶν μνημάτων· “οὐαὶ ὑμῖν, γραμματεῖς καὶ Φαρισαῖοι ὑποκριταί, ὅτι παρομοιάζετε τάφοις κεκονιαμένοις· ἔξωθεν ὁ τάφος φαίνεται ὡραῖος, ἔσωθεν δὲ γέμει ὀστέων νεκρῶν καὶ πάσης ἀκαθαρσίας.” εἰ τοίνυν ἀκαθαρσίας Ἰησοῦς ἔφη πλήρεις εἶναι τοὺς τάφους, πῶς ὑμεῖς ἐπ’ αὐτῶν ἐπικαλεῖσθε τὸν θεόν; ... τούτων οὖν οὕτως ἐχόντων, ὑμεῖς ὑπὲρ τίνος προσκαλινδεῖσθε τοῖς μνήμασι;
Julian Against the Galileans, fr. 81 Masaracchia
... but who could detest as they deserve all those doctrines that you have invented as a sequel, while you keep adding so many corpses newly dead to the corpse of long ago? You have filled the whole world with tombs and sepulchres, and yet in your scriptures it is nowhere said that you must grovel among tombs and pay them honour. But you have gone so far in iniquity that you think you need not listen even the words of Jesus of Nazareth on this matter. Listen then to what he says about sepulchres: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like unto whited sepulchres; outward the tomb appears beautiful, but within it is full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” If, then, Jesus said that sepulchres are full of uncleanness, how can you invoke God at them? ... Therefore, since this is so, why do you grovel among tombs? [15]
The same concern about pollution from the dead is addressed in question 28 of the Quaestiones et responsiones, where, in an objection echoing Julian’s criticism, [16] the unnamed enquirer asks:
Εἰ τὴν τῶν Φαρισαίων ἐσχηματισμένην ὁ κύριος ἐλέγχων εὐλάβειαν ἔλεγεν ὅτι τάφοι κεκονιαμένοι εἰσί, πεπληρωμένοι ὀστέων νεκρῶν καὶ πάσης ἀκαθαρσίας, καὶ ἐν τῷ νόμῳ ὁ ἁπτόμενος νεκροῦ ἀκάθαρτος λέγεται, τί ἄτοπον ἐργάζονται Ἕλληνες τοὺς νεκροὺς καὶ τοὺς τούτων μυσαττόμενοι τάφους, ὑπό τε παλαιᾶς καὶ καινῆς ἀκαθάρτου τοῦ νεκροῦ καλουμένου; πῶς δὲ ἀμφοτέροις ὁ κύριος ἐναντία οὐκ ἔπραξεν, ὅτε τὸν υἱὸν τῆς χήρας ἀνιστῶν ἥψατο τῆς σοροῦ καὶ τὴν θυγατέρα τοῦ Ἰαείρου τῆς χειρὸς ἐκράτησεν; εἰ γὰρ ἀμφότεροι τελευταῖον ἀνέστησαν. ἀλλὰ τὴν ἁφὴν τὰ νεκρὰ ἐδέξαντο σώματα.
If the Lord censuring the piety of the Pharisees as feigned was calling them whitewashed graves, full of dead bones and of every impurity, and (if) according to the Law he who touches a corpse is called unclean, why is it absurd that the Greeks abhor—because of the impurity—the corpses and their graves since a corpse is called unclean by the Old and the New Testament? How did the Lord not act against both [Old and New Testament], when, upon resurrecting the son of the widow, He touched the corpse and held the hand of the daughter of Jaeirus? Even if both were, ultimately, resurrected, their dead bodies were nevertheless touched.
The question gives the anonymous author the opportunity both to discuss the issue of pollution and to rationalize the fear of corpses and their polluting effect:
Τῶν ἀνθρώπων τὰ νεκρὰ σώματα καὶ οἱ τούτων τάφοι μυσάττονται διὰ τὴν ἑπομένην αὐτοῖς βαρεῖαν δυσωδίαν, οὐχ ἁπλῶς διὰ τὴν νέκρωσιν· εἰ γὰρ ἁπλῶς διὰ τὴν νέκρωσιν ἐμυσάττοντο τῶν νεκρῶν τὰ σώματα, οὐκ ἄρα ἐχρῆν τοῖς τῶν ζῴων νεκρῶν σωμάτων μέρεσι κεχρῆσθαι πρὸς τὴν τῶν ζώντων χρείαν, ὡς τοῖς δέρμασι καὶ τοῖς κέρασι καὶ τρίχαις καὶ χολαῖς καὶ τοῖς στέασι καὶ ταῖς σαρξίν, ἅτινα οὐδεὶς λόγος δύναται ὑπεξελεῖν τῆς προσούσης αὐτοῖς νεκρώσεως. εἰ δὲ νεκρὰ μὲν καὶ ταῦτα, οὐ μυσαττόμενα δὲ διὰ τὴν ἐξ αὐτῶν χρείαν, πῶς οὐκ ἔστι τῶν ἀτοπωτάτων τὸ καθαρὰ μὲν ἡγεῖσθαι ταῦτα διὰ τὴν ἐξ αὐτῶν χρείαν, μυσάττεσθαι δὲ τῶν ἁγίων μαρτύρων τὰ σώματα καὶ τοὺς τάφους ὑπὸ Ἑλλήνων, φυλακτικὰ ὄντα ἀνθρώπων τῆς τῶν δαιμόνων ἐπιβουλῆς καὶ ἰαματικὰ νοσημάτων τῶν κατὰ τὴν τῶν ἰατρῶν τέχνην ὄντων ἀνιάτων; παρεικάζει δὲ ὁ κύριος τὴν τῶν Φαρισαίων ἐσχηματισμένην εὐλάβειαν τάφοις κεκονιαμένοις, ὅτι ὥσπερ τῇ αἰσθήσει τῶν ζώντων βδελυκτή ἐστι τῶν νεκρῶν σωμάτων ἡ δυσωδία καὶ ἡ ἀκαθαρσία, οὕτω καὶ ἡ ἐκείνων ἀνομία βδελυκτή ἐστι τῇ νοήσει τῶν εὐσεβῶν, τρόπον τινὰ οὖσα αὕτη ψυχῆς νέκρωσις καὶ δυσωδία καὶ ἀκαθαρσία. ὥσπερ γὰρ χωρισθείσης τῆς ψυχῆς τοῦ σώματος νεκρὸν τὸ σῶμα καὶ δυσῶδες καὶ ἀκάθαρτον, οὕτω χωρισθέντος τοῦ φόβου τοῦ θεοῦ τῆς ψυχῆς νεκρὰ ὑπάρχει ἡ ψυχὴ καὶ δυσώδης καὶ ἀκάθαρτος. κατ’ ἐναντίωσιν δὲ πράξας ὁ κύριος οὐδὲν οὔτε τῇ παλαιᾷ οὔτε τῇ καινῇ δείκνυται· οὐκ ἦν γὰρ ὑπὸ τὸν νόμον, ὅτε τοὺς ἐν τῇ ἐρωτήσει ἤγειρε νεκρούς· ἀπὸ γὰρ τοῦ βαπτίσματος ἤρξατο ὁ κύριος τῆς εὐαγγελικῆς πολιτείας, οὔσης ἔξωθεν τῆς τοῦ νόμου φυλακῆς. διὸ οὐκ ἐμιάνθη ἁψάμενος τοῦ νεκροῦ. κατὰ δὲ τὴν καινὴν ἐκεῖνα μόνα ἦν μιαντικὰ ἀνθρώπων, τὰ ἐκ τῆς καρδίας ἐξερχόμενα κακά. τὸ δὲ ἅπτεσθαι νεκροῦ οὐ μιαίνει τὸν ἄνθρωπον.
Quaestiones et responsiones, Q. 28
The corpses of dead people and their graves are abhorred because of the heavy stench that follows them, not just for the fact that they are dead [for their death]. For if the bodies of the dead were abhorred for their death, the body parts of dead animals should not be used for the needs of the living, as is the case with skins, horns and hair and gall-bladder and fat and flesh, by no means can one take away the state of death that inheres in them. For even though these are dead, and are not abhorred because they are needed, how is it not one of the most absurd things to regard them clean because they are needed, and for the Greeks to loath the bodies and the graves of the holy martyrs, protecting as they do from demonic attacks and healing the diseases which according to the art of the doctors are incurable. The Lord compares the feigned piety of the Pharisees to whitewashed graves because just as the stench and the uncleanness of dead bodies is abominable to the living so is their lawlessness abominable to the mind of the pious, this [lawlessness] being in some way the death of the soul and stench and uncleanness. Because, just as when the soul is separated from the body it stinks and is unclean, so the soul separated from the fear of God stinks and is unclean. The Lord did appear to act against the Old or the New Testament. Since his baptism, the Lord began a way of life according to the gospel, which is above the keeping of the Law. This is why He was not defiled by having touched the dead. According to the New Testament the only things defiling humans are the evils coming from the heart. Touching the dead does not defile humans.
This attempt to normalize the practice of honoring the martyrs prompts Theodoret to launch into a survey on notions of heroism and patterns of heroization in Greek culture. [17] Before analyzing the specific arguments that Theodoret employs, it is useful to speculate as to the background that he presumes in his encounter with Hellenic ideals of heroism. The very notion of heroization had, by his time, had a long and complex history. Hero cult was one of the oldest features of Greek culture and religion. [18] It was multifaceted and entailed a number of functions for practitioners. [19] Heroes themselves could be mythical figures—malevolent or benevolent—and they had a daimonic aspect (in the form of souls of the deceased). [20] Moving freely from the simple to the most complex, even literary, aspects of hero worship, Theodoret seems to build on an expanded notion of heroization that encompassed public figures, [21] philosophers, and poets of the past. [22]
Theodoret singles out Hercules, [23] Asclepius, and Dionysus, showing how they acquired the heroic-divine status in Greek culture, but more importantly that they were human beings unworthy of the divine status that they were accorded by the Greeks. He employs the language of disease to describe the misplaced (but very popular) cult of Hercules:
Διέβη δὲ καὶ εἰς τὴν Ἀσίαν τῆς ἐξαπάτης ἡ νόσος· καὶ γὰρ καὶ ἐν Τύρῳ καὶ ἐν ἄλλαις πόλεσι παμπόλλους καὶ μεγίστους αὐτῷ σηκοὺς ᾠκοδόμησαν. Καὶ οὐ μόνον ἐτησίους ἀπένειμαν πανηγύρεις, ἀλλὰ καὶ τετραετηρικοῖς ἀγῶσιν ἐτίμησαν, καὶ ταῦτά γε ἄνδρα εἰδότες, καὶ ἄνδρα οὐ σώφρονα οὐδὲ φιλοσοφίαν ἠγαπηκότα, ἀλλ’ ἀκολασίᾳ καὶ λαγνείᾳ ξυνεζηκότα
Therapeutikê 8.15
The disease of this error has reached even to Asia; for instance, in Tyre and in other cities they have constructed for him enormous and countless sanctuaries. [24] And not satisfied with offering annual celebrations, they have special games every four years in his honor. They are aware that he was a mere man, one who had esteemed neither temperance nor philosophy, but who had spent all his life in debauchery and dissolute conduct.
Having gone through a critique of popular Greek heroes, he turns to the pagans, asking:
Τί δήποτε τοίνυν οἱ τοσούτους νεκροὺς ὠνομακότες θεοὺς νεμεσᾶτε ἡμῖν, οὐ θεοποιοῦσιν, ἀλλὰ τιμῶσι τοὺς μάρτυρας, ὡς Θεοῦ γε μάρτυρας καὶ εὔνους θεράποντας; ἀνθ’ ὅτου δὲ μολυσμοῦ τινος μεταλαμβάνειν νομίζετε τὸν ταῖς θήκαις τῶν τεθνεώτων πελάζοντα; ἀνοίας γὰρ ταῦτα καὶ ἀμαθίας ἐσχάτης.
Therapeutikê 8.29–30
Why, then, do you who have given the name of gods to so many of the dead express such indignation at us who without deifying them honor our martyrs in that they are witnesses to God and faithful servants? And why do you think that anyone who approaches the tomb of a martyr incurs some sort of pollution/defilement? This is a sign of lack of understanding and ignorance.
This particular issue prompts Theodoret to refer to several cases of famous Greek heroes (Cecrops; Athens, Acrisius; Larissa Cleomachus; Didyma, Lycophrone; Magnesia) who were buried in temples or their sacred precincts. [25] There follows a passage from the Iliad where Achilles does not hesitate to carry the dead body of Patroclus or to take his bones from the pyre to his tent. An additional reference is made to Thucydides’ account of the burial and grave of those who fought in the battle of Marathon. [26] Theodoret explicates further:
Ἡμεῖς δέ, ὦ ἄνδρες, οὔτε θυσίας, οὔτε μὴν χοὰς τοῖς μάρτυσιν ἀπονέμομεν, ἀλλ’ ὡς θείους καὶ θεοφιλεῖς γεραίρομεν ἄνδρας. Οὕτω γὰρ τοῦ πεποιηκότος καὶ σεσωκότος ἠράσθησαν, ὡς τὴν ὑπὲρ αὐτοῦ σφαγὴν ὑπολαβεῖν ἀξιέραστον.
Therapeutikê 8.34
As for us, my friends, it is not sacrifices or libations we offer to our martyrs; [27] we honor them like men of God and friends of God, because they have loved their Creator and Savior to the point of believing nothing is so desirable as to lay down their lives for Him.
The centrality of Christ’s sacrifice is the ultimate paradigm for the self-sacrifice of the martyrs. [28] Here, Theodoret expands the notion of friendship with God so that it encompasses the martyrs. [29] He continues:
Εἰ δὲ μάντεις καὶ ἰατροὺς τοσαύτης ἔφησεν ἐκεῖνος ἀξιοῦσθαι τιμῆς, τί ἂν εἴποι τις περὶ τοσαύτην ἐπιδειξαμένων ὑπὲρ εὐσεβείας ἀνδρείαν, οἷς τοὖργον οὐ μόνον ἀνδρείαν, ἀλλὰ καὶ δικαιοσύνην καὶ σωφροσύνην καὶ σοφίαν καὶ φρόνησιν μαρτυρεῖ; τί γὰρ σωφρονέστερον τῶν οὐκ ἀνασχομένων ἐκείνων ἐκστῆναι, ἅπερ ἐξ ἀρχῆς εὖ ἔχειν ὑπέλαβον; τί δὲ δικαιότερον τῶν τὰς θείας εὐεργεσίας ἀμειψαμένων σφαγῇ καὶ τὰ σώματα ἐκδεδωκότων ὑπὲρ τοῦ τὸ σῶμα παραδεδωκότος σταυρῷ;
Therapeutikê 8.37
Now if this author [viz. Empedocles [30] ] says that seers and physicians deserve such great honor, what should be said of those who have given proof of such great fortitude in defense of their religion and whose deeds give testimony not just to their manliness but to their justice also, and to their temperance, wisdom and prudence? What is more prudent than that those people should stand up for those principles which they had maintained were correct from the start? What is more just than that those should requite the divine blessings by their own lives and should deliver up their bodies for Him who delivered his for them on the cross?
Concepts like honor (timê) that have an indisputable cultural weight are deployed to give dignity to the moral struggle of the martyrs. Furthermore, Theodoret skillfully assimilates into the portrayal of the martyrs such moral virtues as ἀνδρεία ‘manliness’, δικαιοσύνη ‘justice’, σωφροσύνη ‘temperance’, σοφία ‘wisdom’, and φρόνησις ‘prudence’, which were current in Greek philosophy from the time of Plato. [31] What to pagan eyes may have looked like a humiliating death emerges as a noble and forceful practice of precisely those virtues that brought the martyrs close to God.
In a similar vein, martyrs form part of an argument closely allied with the political and ethnographic argument that Theodoret sets forth in Dialexis IX. On the Laws. In Therapeutikê 9.30, by way of a hypothetical question, Theodoret says: “And if one supposed that it is the piety of the emperors that has confirmed the teaching of the fishermen, that only goes to show the strength of this same teaching.” The underlying criticism here is of the notion that Christianity succeeded thanks to imperial patronage and support. Martyrs are adduced as proof that, long before any imperial patronage, Christians were prepared to lay down their lives for their beliefs. Their unflinching courage is the sign of the power of the “laws of the fishermen.”
To better buttress his claim about the autonomous value of the church, which is not coextensive with the empire, [32] Theodoret introduces a historical dimension. Referring to the persecutions of the early Christians by Roman emperors, [33] he draws an analogy to the contemporary persecutions in Persia, [34] where Christianity was still making headway despite merciless persecution:
Ἵνα δὲ τοῦτο ὑμῖν ἐκδηλότερον γένηται, τὰ παρὰ Περσῶν νῦν τολμώμενα καταμάθετε. Ποῖον γάρ τοι εἶδος σφαγῆς κατὰ τῶν εὐσεβούντων οὐκ ἐπινενόηται τούτοις; οὐκ ἐκδοραί, οὐκ ἐκτομαὶ χειρῶν καὶ ποδῶν, καὶ ὤτων καὶ ῥινῶν κολοβώσεις, καὶ δεσμοὶ πρὸς ὑπερβολὴν ὀδύνης ἐξευρημένοι, καὶ ὀρύγματα κεχριμένα μὲν εἰς ἀκρίβειαν, μυῶν δὲ τῶν μεγίστων ἀνάπλεα τοὺς δεδεμένους θοιναζομένων; ἀλλ’ ὅμως τοσαύτας καὶ τούτων πολλαπλασίας κατὰ τῶν εὐσεβούντων τιμωρίας ἐξευρηκότες, αἰκίζονται μὲν καὶ κολοβοῦσι τὰ σώματα καὶ παντάπασι διαφθείρουσι, τὸν δέ γε τῆς πίστεως οὐ λῃστεύουσι θησαυρόν. Καὶ τοῖς μὲν ἄλλοις αὐτῶν νόμοις ἅπαντας ὑποκύπτειν τοὺς ὑπηκόους καταναγκάζουσι, τοὺς δὲ τῶν ἁλιέων ἐξαρνηθῆναι τοὺς πεπιστευκότας οὐ πείθουσιν.
Therapeutikê 9.32–33
To make this clearer to you, learn of the enormities attempted just now by the Persians. What extremes of slaughter have they not devised against the faithful? Have they not resorted to flaying, cutting off of hands and feet, mutilation of ears and noses? They have devised chains of most exquisite cruelty, and trenches carefully greased and filled with huge rats to feast on those who were chained. And yet, in devising such punishments and others like them against the Christians they may have mutilated and maltreated their bodies and sometimes even destroyed them totally, but they have not robbed the treasure of their faith. And while they force all of their subjects to obey their laws, they do not convince those who believe in the laws of the fishermen to reject/deny them.
In this formulation, the more the church is persecuted, the more it thrives. [35] The heroic death of Christians is a powerful statement of the value of their beliefs at a time when people expected spectacular demonstrations of faith. [36] John Chrysostom, apostrophizing a pagan fictive speaker, suggests this:
Ἀλλ’ οὐ τούτοις προσέχουσιν Ἕλληνες. Μὴ γάρ μοι, φησίν, εἴπῃς τὸν ἐκτὸς τοῦ πάθους φιλοσοφοῦντα, τοῦτο γὰρ οὐδὲν μέγα οὐδὲ θαυμαστόν, ἀλλὰ δεῖξόν μοι τὸν ἐν αὐτῷ τῷ πάθει φιλοσοφοῦντα, καὶ τότε πιστεύσω τῇ ἀναστάσει.
On the Letter to the Hebrews 4.5, PG 63:43
But to these things the pagans give no heed. For [one will say] do not tell me of him who is philosophical when out of the affliction, for this is nothing great or surprising—show me a man who in the very affliction itself is philosophical, and then I will believe the resurrection.
No less significant is the activity of the monks who are actively engaged in the Christianization of the countryside and who bear living testimony to their tenets. [37] By Theodoret’s time the notion of martyrdom had been extended to include monks as well. [38] The relics of the martyrs also led to new forms of religiosity and helped to re-sacralize the sacred loci by becoming focal points of local piety. [39]
This brings us to a different aspect of the practice of honoring the martyrs, which, a few decades earlier, John Chrysostom had made one of the focal points of his apologetics. [40] For Theodoret, the mention of Hellenic festivals celebrating heroes gives an opportunity to refer, in one passage, [41] to the festivals celebrating the honor accorded to the saints:
Τοὺς γὰρ οἰκείους νεκροὺς ὁ δεσπότης ἀντεισῆξε τοῖς ὑμετέροις θεοῖς, καὶ τοὺς μὲν φρούδους ἀπέφηνε, τούτοις δὲ τὸ ἐκείνων ἀπένειμε γέρας. Ἀντὶ γὰρ δὴ τῶν Πανδίων καὶ Διασίων καὶ Διονυσίων καὶ τῶν ἄλλων ὑμῶν ἑορτῶν Πέτρου καὶ Παύλου καὶ Θωμᾶ καὶ Σεργίου καὶ Μαρκέλλου καὶ Λεοντίου καὶ Ἀντωνίνου καὶ Μαυρικίου καὶ τῶν ἄλλων μαρτύρων ἐπιτελοῦνται δημοθοινίαι· καὶ ἀντὶ τῆς πάλαι πομπείας καὶ αἰσχρουργίας καὶ αἰσχρορημοσύνης σώφρονες ἑορτάζονται πανηγύρεις, οὐ μέθην ἔχουσαι καὶ κῶμον καὶ γέλωτα, ἀλλ’ ὕμνους θείους καὶ ἱερῶν λογίων ἀκρόασιν καὶ προσευχὴν ἀξιεπαίνοις κοσμουμένην δακρύοις.
Therapeutikê 8.69
In fact the master has replaced your gods with the remains of his martyrs, declaring your gods banished and reassigning the honor formerly given to them to the martyrs. Instead of the festivals of Pandia, Diasia, Dionysia, and all the others are the public holy-days of Peter, Antoninus, Mauricius, and the other martyrs. And instead of the pagan processions with their rites and appropriate obscenities are the chaste festivals which are not characterized by drunkenness, or revelry, or laughter, but by sacred chant, listening to sacred eloquence, a prayer adorned with laudable tears.
Theodoret sees these σώφρονες πανηγύρεις ‘festivals’ as an additional context for not only the display of piety but also for the creation of a new community based on a new relationship with the divine. It is to this spiritual communion (foreshadowed in Dialexis III. On Angels, Gods, and Demons), consisting of choruses of angels, the earthly angelic ascetics (or living martyrs), and the dead martyrs, that Theodoret’s audience is encouraged to aspire. [42] The festivals of the martyrs helped infuse time-honored patterns of religiosity with a new and fervent sacrality. [43] The formation of a close association with the martyrs, through the recounting of their passion or contact with their relics, effected expectations among the faithful: [44]
Εἰς δὲ τούτους οὐχ ἅπαξ ἢ δίς γε τοῦ ἔτους ἢ πεντάκις φοιτῶμεν, ἀλλὰ πολλάκις μὲν πανηγύρεις ἐπιτελοῦμεν, πολλάκις δὲ ἡμέρας ἑκάστης τῷ τούτων δεσπότῃ τοὺς ὕμνους προσφέρομεν. Καὶ οἱ μὲν ὑγιαίνοντες αἰτοῦσι τῆς ὑγείας τὴν φυλακήν, οἱ δέ τινι νόσῳ παλαίοντες τὴν τῶν παθημάτων ἀπαλλαγήν· αἰτοῦσι δὲ καὶ ἄγονοι παῖδας, καὶ στέριφαι παρακαλοῦσι γενέσθαι μητέρες, καὶ οἱ τῆσδε τῆς δωρεᾶς ἀπολαύσαντες ἀξιοῦσιν ἄρτια σφίσι φυλαχθῆναι τὰ δῶρα· καὶ οἱ μὲν εἴς τινα ἀποδημίαν στελλόμενοι λιπαροῦσι τούτους ξυνοδοιπόρους γενέσθαι καὶ τῆς ὁδοῦ ἡγεμόνας· οἱ δὲ τῆς ἐπανόδου τετυχηκότες τὴν τῆς χάριτος ὁμολογίαν προσφέρουσιν, οὐχ ὡς θεοῖς αὐτοῖς προσιόντες, ἀλλ᾿ ὡς θείους ἀνθρώπους ἀντιβολοῦντες καὶ γενέσθαι πρεσβευτὰς ὑπὲρ σφῶν παρακαλοῦντες.
Therapeutikê 8.63
And we make pilgrimage to them, not once or twice or five times a year, but frequently, and celebrate holy days often spending whole days in singing hymns to the lord of martyrs. And those in good health petition protection of their health, while those struggling with some ailment ask for relief from their maladies. Those who are childless pray for offspring, and the barren pray to become child-bearing, while those who already possess this gift pray for the protection of this gift. Those who are sent on a foreign trip beseech the martyrs to be their fellow travelers and guides on their journey home, and those who have a chance to return offer expressions of their gratitude. They do not approach the martyrs for help as gods but invoke them as men of God and pray to them to be divine ambassadors for them.
We have here a rare moment where several perspectives and aims overlap and intersect. There is more at work than Theodoret’s personal touch, given what he tells us about the way he was conceived: [45] he becomes the living witness of the outcome of holy men’s prayer. His very name bears constant testimony to this. [46] But it is also a moment wherein a society “fabrique les saints dont elle a besoin: (du martyr à l’anachorète, de l’évêque fondateur au roi souffrant, du missionaire au contemplatif”), [47] and, conversely, wherein “de même que la société chrétienne, ou ses élites spirituelles, produit les images de saints en qui elle reconnait son idéal, de la même façon, cet idéal rejaillit sur la société qu’il informe.” [48]
Theodoret places emphasis on the number of offerings that show the manifold workings of the power of God; they “proclaim the power of the martyrs who repose there, and this power guarantees that their God is the true God” (Therapeutikê 8.65). They are the visible proof of the invisible grace of God.
Theodoret conjures up the image of Socrates (the intellectual hero manqué [49] par excellence) to support the idea of martyrdom. [50] By means of a bold and deftly assembled collage, [51] he juxtaposes quotations from Empedocles, Heracleitus, Hesiod, and Plato in order to prove the preexistence of similar ideas in Greek culture. [52] It should be noted that the texts that Theodoret pieces together are also central to the history of Greek demonology. [53]
Anaxarchos and Zeno the Eleatic supply the stock of exempla [54] that would suggest the existence of Greek “martyrs” [55] who bear witness to their tenets by way of their actions. From those that Theodoret adduces, he concludes, “Nonetheless, not one of these has been judged worthy of the same honor as that given to the martyrs” (Therapeutikê 8.59). Famous generals (Miltiades, Kimon, Pericles, Themistocles, Aristides, Brasidas, Argesilaus, Lysander, Pelopidas, Epameinondas, Scipio the Elder, Scipio the Younger, Cato, Sulla, Marius, Caesar); kings (Cyrus, Darius, Alexander the Great); [56] and emperors (Augustus, Vespasian, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus) join the list of the heroized men [57] whose ephemeral fame does not measure up to that of the martyrs. Finally, he observes, “once dead nothing distinguished them from anybody else.” [58]
On the contrary, the martyrs stand for the inversion of this ideal of worldly fame. Theodoret provides a stark contrast when he asks, “Let us inquire, therefore, who these were who merited such a grace and where they originated. Were they well-known and illustrious, who could boast a distinguished pedigree or an ocean of wealth? Did they acquire fame because of some power and influence?” Then he returns to the elaboration of the paradox of the otherworldly status of martyrs:
Οὐδαμῶς, ὦ ἄνδρες. Τούτων γὰρ οὐδενὸς μετεσχήκασιν, ἀλλ’ ἰδιῶται ἦσαν ἢ στρατιῶται, τινὲς δε αὐτῶν καὶ οἰκέται γεγένηνται καὶ θεραπαινίδες, ἐν ἀσθενέσι δ’ ἄγαν σώμασι γενναίως ἀγωνισάμεναι· καὶ αἱ μὲν σωφρόνως ἕλκουσαι τὸν τοῦ γάμου ζυγόν, αἱ δὲ τί γάμος οὐκ ἐπιστάμεναι. Ἀκούω δὲ ἔγωγέ τινας καὶ τῇ σκηνῇ ξυντραφέντας καὶ ἐξαπίνης τοῖς ἀγωνισταῖς ξυνταχθέντας καὶ ἀξιονίκους γεγενημένους καὶ τῶν στεφάνων τετυχηκότας καὶ μετὰ τὴν ἀνάρρησιν σφόδρα δεδιττομένους τοὺς δαίμονας, οἷς ἦσαν ὑποχείριοι πάλαι· πολλοὶ δὲ καὶ ἱερεῖς καὶ νεωκόροι τὰ κατὰ τῆς ἀσεβείας ἀνέστησαν τρόποια. Ἐκ τοιούτων ἀνδρῶν καὶ γυναικῶν ξυνέστησαν οἱ τῶν μαρτύρων χοροί.
Therapeutikê 8.66–67
Not at all my friends. None of the above. They were lay people and soldiers; some of them were female domestics and servants who contended nobly with very weak constitutions. Of these some bore chastely the yoke of marriage; others were unaware of what marriage was. And I hear that some of the men who had long been in the military camp suddenly enrolled in the ranks of the combatant and, once victorious and in possession of their crowns, after their public proclamation they became an enormous menace to the very demons to whom they had previously been subject. Many priests and sacristans of temples erected trophies gained in their fight against impiety. It is from the ranks of these poor men and women that the choruses of martyrs are composed.
Theodoret emphasizes the anonymity and low social status of the martyrs in order to reinforce their otherworldliness. The significance of such a dramatic reversal in a status-conscious society is not expected to be overlooked. In this way Theodoret delineates the contrast between Greco-Roman notions of heroism and those associated with the Christian martyrs.

Conclusion

We have seen how Theodoret’s defense of honoring the martyrs is shaped partly by his response to pagan criticisms. The hero-cult, in its myriad cultural manifestations, offers the most appropriate analogue against which to situate the idea of the honor accorded to Christian martyrs. While he criticizes the elevation of mortals (who at times are full of vices) to the status of gods, he endows Christian martyrs with the right to be honored for having died an honorable death. He insists on the difference between honoring the martyrs and worshiping them, which he considers a pagan attitude. At the same time, it is crucial for Theodoret to show that the church of his day produced martyrs because he considers martyrdom the touchstone of Christianity. More importantly, in his effort to normalize the practice of honoring the martyrs, Theodoret seeks to create an intellectual, spiritual, and religious context for the practice.
To be sure, Theodoret stops short of calling the martyrs heroes. Nevertheless, he implicitly imbues them with qualities reminiscent of the Greek heroes. In fact, the culturally pervasive image of the hero is reconceptualized and employed to serve the practice of honoring them.

Footnotes

[ back ] 1. For a general discussion of the relationship between the cult of heroes and the honor of the saints, see Lucius 1908, Delehaye 1927 and 19332, Speyer 1988:861–877 and 1990:48–66, Klauser 1974:221–229, Kötting 1990:67–80, and Jones 2010:84–92. Baumeister 1988 writes: “Die Kirche hat nicht etwas Fertiges voll übernommen, sondern sie hat in einem längerem historischen Prozeß durch Steigerung des Totenkultes die vielfältigen Formen der Heiligenverehrung entwickelt, wobei sie seit dem 4. Jh. im einzelnen sehr wohl Anregungen aus dem Bereich der Heroenverehrung aufgegriffen hat. Die Gemeinsamkeiten zwischen Heroenkult u. Heiligenverehrung erklären sich zunächst daher, daß es sich in beiden Fällen um Steigerungen des Christen u. Nichtchristen gemeinsamen, allgemeinen Totenkultes handelt. Mit direkten Übernahmen einzelner Formen der Heroen- in die Heiligenverehrung ist dann seit dem 4. Jh. zu rechnen” (104, emphasis mine). On the background of these practices and beliefs, see Hartmann 2010.
[ back ] 2. In the prologue, where the main thrust of each dialexis is clearly set out, Theodoret writes: “The eighth dialexis is concerned with the accusation mounted against those glorifying the martyrs and with the counter-defense. With the assistance of the testimonies of philosophers, historians, and poets, the dialexis shows that Greeks honored the dead, not only with libations, but also with sacrifices to their so-called gods, demigods, or heroes, the majority of whom passed their lives in debauchery” (Therapeutikê, prologue 11).
[ back ] 3. Although briefly touched upon by Dihle 1998:104–108, there has been no detailed discussion of the issue. For general accounts of the idea and practice of martyrdom and their historical developments, see Droge Tabor 1992, Bowersock 1995, and Moss 2010.
[ back ] 4. Theodoret sums up the idea with his usual capacity to produce apopthegmatic statements in his Ecclesiastical History by saying: πέφυκε γὰρ τὰ παράδοξα ἕλκειν ἅπαντας ὡς ἐπίπαν πρὸς ἑαυτά (“for the extraordinary is generally sure to draw all men after it,” Ecclesiastical History 4.27.16–17). For the effective use of paradox in Christian rhetoric, see Cameron 1991:155–188.
[ back ] 5. A pervasive concern at the time, especially in connection with the resurrection; see Bynum 1995:59–114.
[ back ] 6. For the various attitudes of hagiographers towards relics and their cults, see Kaplan 1999:19–38.
[ back ] 7. For an overview, see Rinaldi 1998(I):355–364 and 1994:31–82.
[ back ] 8. For the notion of pollution and purity as well as the realms of life and activities associated with them in classical Greece, see Parker 1996. For a similar study in early Christianity, see Volp 2002.
[ back ] 9. In a similar vein one of Isidore’s correspondents, Dometius, comes to be convinced that the martyr’s death was not a defeat: “ Ἧττα ἐστιν ὦ σοφώτατε, οὐ τὸ τεθνάναι ἐν πολέμῳ, ἀλλὰ τὸ δεῖσαι τοὺς πολεμίους, καὶ ῥίψαι τὴν ἀσπίδα· ὃν δὲ ἐπέλιπε τὸ σῶμα τῆς ἀριστείας ἐπιθυμοῦντα ἐν τοῖς τροπαιούχοις ἀναγράφεσθαι, νόμος· ἐπεὶ καὶ τῶν ἀθλητῶν τοὺς ἐν αὐτῇ ἀποθανόντας πάλῃ, μᾶλλον τιμῶσιν οἱ τοὺς ἀγῶνας τούτους διαθέντες τῶν μὴ τοῦτο παθόντων. Εἰ τοίνυν ταῦθ’ οὕτως ἔχει, δι’ ἣν αἰτίαν νομίζεις τοὺς μάρτυρας τῷ τεθνάναι ἡττᾶσθαι, καὶ μὴ διὰ τοῦτο μᾶλλον ἀνακηρύττεις; Τέλος γὰρ ἐστι τῆς μάχης ταύτης οὐ τὸ σῶμα (ὃ καὶ δοκοῦν ζῇν ἐνέκρωσαν) ἀλλ’ τὸ μὴ διαφθεῖραι τὸ τῆς ἀρετῆς κλέος” (Ep. 5, PG 78:1328).
[ back ] 10. Eusebius, Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Basil, Asterius of Amaseia. For the critique of heroized men in Greek culture as a shared concern across a number of Christian authors in the fourth and fifth centuries, see Hammerstaedt 1996:76–101.
[ back ] 11. Precisely the same point is made by Libanius, for whose polemic see Rinaldi 1994:62–64.
[ back ] 12. Parker 1996:18–31 refers to this phenomenon (when discussing purification) as a science of division.
[ back ] 13. Asmus 1894:116–145 finds a number of passages that echo Julian’s polemic in Against the Galileans and makes a good case for the possibility of the Therapeutikê being a response to it. However Geffcken 1908:161–195, defending his choice not to discuss Theodoret’s Therapeutikê, writes: “Man kann von Asmus über Julian und über manches andere recht viel lernen, aber er berücksichtigt etwas zu wenig die Tradition der einzelnen Argumente und glaubt in mancher Replik alter hellenischer, auch von Julian gebrauchter Vorwürfe eine besondere Spitze gegen den Kaiser zu erkennen. Wer damals den lange toten Julian bekämpfte, nannte ihn auch. Eine gelegentliche Bekämpfung, ohne ihn direct zu nennen, ist natürlich nicht ausgeschlossen, aber der Hauptgegner ist er für Theodoret nicht” (188n2).
[ back ] 14. See Rinaldi 1994:62–64.
[ back ] 15. Trans. Wright.
[ back ] 16. Rinaldi 1989:478 argues similarly. Isidore of Peluse conjures up the strong reactions and attempts to assuage the concerns and objections of his correspondent Hierax clarissimus, who is clearly put off by and jeers at the honor paid to the martyr’s relics: “Εἰ σκανδαλίζῃ ἐπὶ τῇ κόνει τῶν μαρτυρικῶν σωμάτων παρ’ἡμῶν τιμωμένῃ διὰ τὴν περὶ τὸν Θεὸν αὐτῶν ἀγάπην καὶ ἔνστασιν, ἐρώτησον τοὺς ἐξ αὐτῶν τὰς ἰάσεις λαμβάνοντας, καὶ μάθε πόσοις πάθεσι θεραπείας χαρίζονται. Καὶ οὐ μόνον οὐ σκώψεις τὸ γινόμενον, ἀλλὰ καὶ ζηλώσεις πάντως τὸ κατορθούμενον. Εἰ δὲ αὐτὸς νεκρῶν ὀστῶν παραιτῇ θίγειν, ὡς γέγραφας, τῶν πονηρῶν ἀνθρώπων καὶ ἐπὶ κακίᾳ βοηθέντων τὰ λείψανα βδέλυξαι, οὓς ἐν τῷ ναῷ τῆς Ἐφεσίας Ἀρτέμιδος κατώρυξαν Ἕλληνες σεμνοποιοῦντες τὰ αἴσχιστα, καὶ φαύλων ἀνθρώπων τάφους καὶ κόνεις λοιμοποιοὺς ἐκθειάζοντες” (Ep. 55, PG 78:217).
[ back ] 17. This was foreshadowed in Dialexis III. On Angels, Gods, and Demons, where we find in nuce the outline of what will be more thoroughly developed in Dialexis VIII.
[ back ] 18. For a comprehensive treatment, see Farnell 1921; see also Nock 1944:141–174 and Jones 2010.
[ back ] 19. For an overview of the range of these functions, see Pirenne-Delforge and Suárez de la Torre 2000.
[ back ] 20. Soler 2006:441 notes, “A la fin du IV siècle, les textes ne font pas apparaître la célébration de ces fêtes mais Jean Chrysostome met bien l’accent sur la croyance répandue à Antioche selon laquelle les âmes des martyrs seraient des démons.”
[ back ] 21. See Farnell’s 1928 definition of the hero as: “a person whose virtue, influence or personality was so powerful in his lifetime or through the peculiar circumstances of his death that his spirit after death is regarded as a supernormal power, claiming to be reverenced and propitiated” (343).
[ back ] 22. Especially in late antiquity, poets (Homer) and philosophers (Plato predominantly) had been put on the pedestal and revered as cultural heroes. For the “cult of learning,” see Zanker 1995:267–331 and Boyancé 1937:231–297.
[ back ] 23. Malherbe 1988:559–583.
[ back ] 24. Asterius of Amasea, attacking the same gods in his Encomium on All the Martyrs homily, notes in a similar vein: “Οὐ σὺ ὁ τὸν Θηβαῖον Διόνυσον ὡς θεὸν προσκυνῶν–λέγω γὰρ τὴν πατρίδα, ἵνα γνωρίσῃς τὸν ἄνθρωπον–, ἄνδρα γεωργὸν ἀμπέλων καὶ φίλοινον, κωμαστὴν πάροινον, δῆμον ἐπισυρόμενον ἀσχημονοῦντα τῇ μέθῃ, ἐκεῖνα ποιοῦντα ἃ τοὺς ἀσώτους νέους στηλιτεύει ἀκολασταίνοντας, μεθύοντα δὲ μετὰ τοῦ γέροντος τοῦ Σιληνοῦ καὶ τοῖς φιλοσκιρτηταῖς Σατύροις συνδιαιτώμενον καὶ ἱστορίαν μέθης ὄντα τῷ βίῳ; Οὐ σὺ ὁ τῷ ἀνδρὶ Ἡρακλεῖ ὡς θεῷ τὰς θυσίας προσάγων, ἀνθρώπῳ ῥωμαλαίῳ, σῶμα λαχόντι δυνατὸν καὶ ἀνδρεῖον, καὶ σέβεις ἐκεῖνον, ἐπειδὴ ἐν πολλοῖς ἠρίστευσεν καὶ θηρίων περιεγένετο; Τί δὲ πάλιν τὸν Ἀσκληπιὸν τὸν ἐν τῷ νάρθηκι πολλὰ καὶ τῇ σιδηροθήκῃ περινοστήσαντα οὐ σέβεις καὶ τέθηπας; Καὶ οὐκ ἂν ἀρνηθείης ὡς οὐ τοῦτο ποιεῖς. Οἱ γὰρ πανταχοῦ τῆς οἰκουμένης ἀνεστῶτες ναοί, τὰ Ἀσκληπιεῖα λέγω καὶ τὰ Ἡράκλεια καὶ τὰ Διονύσια, ἔλεγχοι ἑστᾶσιν ὑψηλοὶ τῆς σῆς ματαιότητος· καὶ οὕτως ἐγὼ μὲν ἀθῷος ἀπελεύσομαι τοῦ ἐγκλήματος, οὐ γὰρ προσκύνω μάρτυρας οὐδὲ νομίζω θέους· σὺ δὲ πέφηνας ἐνεχόμενος τοῖς ἐγκλήμασιν, καὶ ταῦτα κατηγορῶν ἑτέρων, ὥσπερ οἱ διὰ κακὸν συνειδὸς προκατηγοροῦντες τῶν ἀνευθύνων. Ἀνθρώπους γὰρ ὡς θεοὺς προσκυνῶν ἐπιδέδειξαι. Ταῦτα πρὸς τὸν ἐθνικὸν ἐκ πολλῶν ὀλίγα” (10.9.11–29 ed. Datema).
[ back ] 25. This particular argument is discussed [and dismissed] by Volp 2002:253 who writes: “Die von Theodoret bemühten Mythen gehören zu den exotischen Überlieferungen paganer Volkererzählungen, die alles andere als gängige Kultpraxis widerspiegeln. Auf der Grundlage dieser Legenden läßt sich nicht auf eine laxe Handhabung der Bestattungsverbote in den Tempelbezirken historischer Zeit schliessen. Im Gegenteil, die Tatsache, dass er gezwungen ist, seine Beispiele aus der mythischen Götterwelt zu beziehen, untermauert die Historizität dieser Verbote für gewöhnliche Sterbliche. Vor allem aber zeigt dieser Passus, dass es zu Theodorets Zeit zahlreiche Christen gegeben hat, die in der Anwesenheit von Leichen in Gottesdienst-räumen eine Gefährdung der Sakramente und eine Verunreinigung der christlichen Altäre sahen.” See also Hartmann 2010:500.
[ back ] 26. On the role of relics in ancient Greek culture, see Pfister 1909–1912, Lacroix 1989:58–99, Zografou 2005:123–145, and Hartmann 2010:52–592.
[ back ] 27. For a recent study, see Ekroth 2002.
[ back ] 28. Moss 2010.
[ back ] 29. The idea of friendship with God is treated more fully in Therapeutikê 12.19–20, which is devoted to the defense of Christianity as the ultimate practical virtue. Theodoret’s use of the concept of θεοφιλία owes as much to the biblical tradition as it does to the Greek philosophical one; see Chapter Four.
[ back ] 30. For Empedocles’ views on intermediaries, see Detienne 1959:1–17.
[ back ] 31. North 1966b:165–183. For the notion of manliness (ἀνδρεία) in Greek culture, see Bartsch 1968 and, more recently, the contributions in Rosen and Sluiter 2003.
[ back ] 32. For a similar line of thought, see the reply to Q. 146 in QRO, where an inquirer asks about the numerical superiority of the pagans, heretics, and Jews taken together: “To rule earthly things in the present life in the manner of a king, is not the legacy of true Christians … He who wants to know the power of the true Christians has to look to the future condition. For the power in the present over things material is not a recompense for the faith of the Christians, but rather a [form of public] service according to God’s plan (diataxis) for the constitution of a well-ordered human polity that has been handed down to people, sometimes to Christians, sometimes to heretics, and sometimes to the Greeks. For as long as the Christians struggle for the sake of virtue and they walk on the “narrow” and “hard path” [Matthew 7:14], they are set before all [lie exposed] (prokeimenoi) as assistance to anyone who wants to press them into service they are not considered rulers.”
[ back ] 33. To this historical dimension Theodoret adds the recent persecutions by Julian, on which see Scorza Barcellona 1995:53–83. See also Penella 1993:31–43.
[ back ] 34. Dignas 2007:223–255; Van Rompay 1995:363–375; on Theodoret’s reference to these persecutions in his Ecclesiastical History, see Leppin 2009:154–158.
[ back ] 35. Reflecting on the history of the persecutions Theodoret says: “Οὐ χρὴ δὲ θαυμάζειν ὅτι τῆς ἐκείνων θηριωδίας καὶ δυσσεβείας ἀνέχεται τῶν ὅλων ὁ πρύτανις. καὶ γὰρ πρὸ τῆς Κωνσταντίνου τοῦ μεγάλου βασιλείας ὅσοι Ῥωμαίων ἐγένοντο βασιλεῖς κατὰ τῶν θιασωτῶν τῆς ἀληθείας ἐλύττησαν. Διοκλητιανὸς δὲ ἐν τῇ τοῦ σωτηρίου πάθους ἡμέρᾳ τὰς ἐν ἁπάσῃ τῇ Ῥωμαίων ἡγεμονίᾳ κατέλυσεν ἐκκλησίας· ἀλλ’ ἐννέα διεληλυθότων ἐτῶν αὐταὶ μὲν ἤνθησαν καὶ πολλαπλάσιον ἐδέξαντο μέγεθός τε καὶ κάλλος, ἐκεῖνος δὲ μετὰ τῆς δυσσεβείας ἀπέσβη. καὶ τοὺς πολέμους δὲ τούτους προείρηκεν ὁ δεσπότης καὶ τὸ τῆς ἐκκλησίας ἀήττητον. καὶ αὐτὰ δὲ ἡμᾶς διδάσκει τὰ πράγματα ὡς πλείονα ἡμῖν τῆς εἰρήνης ὁ πόλεμος πορίζει τὴν ὠφέλειαν· ἡ μὲν γὰρ ἁβροὺς ἡμᾶς καὶ ἀνειμένους καὶ δειλοὺς ἀπεργάζεται, ὁ δὲ πόλεμος τά τε φρονήματα παραθήγει καὶ τῶν παρόντων ὡς ῥεόντων παρασκευάζει καταφρονεῖν. ἀλλὰ ταῦτα μὲν καὶ ἐν ἑτέραις πραγματείαις πολλάκις εἰρήκαμεν” (Ecclesiastical History 5.39.24–26 [347, 4–17]). A similar thought appears in the answer to question 74 of the Quaestiones et responsiones: “ἀλλ’ αἱ βάσανοι αὗται, αἷς πάλαι χρησάμενος ὁ ἑλληνισμὸς καὶ προσδοκήσας ἐν αὐταῖς ἄλυτον φυλάττειν ἑαυτόν, τὸν μὲν ἑλληνισμὸν ἔλυσαν, τὸν δὲ χριστιανισμὸν ἔστησαν κατὰ κράτος.” For a collection of texts that illustrate this idea, see Pellegrino 1955–56:371–442. Trompf 2000:213–252.
[ back ] 36. Nock refers to the “theatricality” of the accounts of martyrdom as a shared feature in the Greco-Roman literature, especially the novel; see Nock 1933:197 and Potter 1993:53–88.
[ back ] 37. This is a period during which the notion of martyrdom is extended to the ascetics as well as to those who suffered persecutions by rival Christian factions and heretics.
[ back ] 38. Malone 1950; Baumeister 1988:104, 136–139.
[ back ] 39. Therapeutikê 8.69: “In fact the master has replaced your gods with the remains of his martyrs, declaring your gods banished and reassigning the honor formerly given to them to the martyrs.” For a nuanced discussion of this phenomenon, see Markus 1990:139–155. Theodoret accords the same sacralizing role to ascetics who were actively engaged in the Christianization of the countryside and whose “abodes … sanctify the mountain tops and populate deserts which had previously been uninhabited” (Therapeutikê 6.87). Further support can be gained from the Religious History, where a number of monks actually reside in the remains of pagan temples and have dramatic encounters with the demons who inhabit them. For a more developed analysis of the text, see Trombley 1993–1994(I):109–147; see also Caseau 2001:61–123. On the representation of temple destruction in contemporary historiography, see Gotter 2008:43–89; on the state of the temples in the process of the Christianization of the empire, see contributions in Lavan and Murlyan 2011.
[ back ] 40. Soler 2006:395–396 writes: “A Antioche, le culte des martyrs joue un rôle majeure dans les rivalités entre les différentes factions chrétiennes et dans la christianisation massive de la cité, à l’époque de la predication de Jean Chrysostome. C’est sur ces saints hommes et femmes, défunts, témoins du Christ et de leur foi en lui, que Jean Chrysostome s’appuie essentiellement pour conduire les chrétiens sur la voie d’un christianisme nicéen, pour consolider l’emprise du clergé mélécien qu’il représente, sur la cité et enfin, pour tenter de modifier les pratiques festives des Antiochiens.”
[ back ] 41. Theodoret mentions Greek festivals celebrating heroes in many other occasions in other dialexeis and works.
[ back ] 42. This is evident also in the practice of the depositio ad sanctos, attested in both East and West, for which see Duval 1988:73–83, esp. Syria.
[ back ] 43. See Brown 1981 and 2000c:1-24; see also Pasquato 1981:207–241, esp. 234–238.
[ back ] 44. In his Homily on the Martyrs, John Chrysostom states: “ Ἀλλὰ βούλει τρυφᾷν; παράμενε τῷ τάφῳ τοῦ μάρτυρος, ἔκχεε πηγὰς δακρύων ἐκεῖ, σύντριψον τὴν διάνοιαν, ἆρον εὐλογίαν ἀπὸ τοῦ τάφου· λαβὼν αὐτὴν συνήγορον ἐν ταῖς εὐχαῖς, ἐνδιάτριβε ἀεὶ τοῖς διηγήμασι τῶν παλαισμάτων ἐκείνου· περιπλάκηθι τὴν σορὸν, προσηλώθητι τῇ λάρνακι· οὐχὶ τὰ ὀστᾶ μόνον τῶν μαρτύρων, ἀλλὰ καὶ οἱ τάφοι αὐτῶν, καὶ αἱ λάρνακες πολλὴν βρύουσιν εὐλογίαν. Λάβε ἔλαιον ἅγιον, καὶ κατάχρισόν σου ὅλον τὸ σῶμα, τὴν γλῶτταν, τὰ χείλη, τὸν τράχηλον, τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς, καὶ οὐδέποτε ἐμπεσῇ εἰς τὸ ναυάγιον τῆς μέθης. Τὸ γὰρ ἔλαιον διὰ τῆς εὐωδίας ἀναμιμνήσκει σε τῶν ἄθλων τῶν μαρτύρων, καὶ πᾶσαν ἀκολασίαν χαλινοῖ, καὶ κατέχει ἐν πολλῇ καρτερίᾳ, καὶ περιγίνεται τῶν τῆς ψυχῆς νοσημάτων. Ἀλλὰ κήποις ἐνδιατρίψαι βούλει, καὶ λειμῶσι καὶ παραδείσοις;” (PG 50:664–665). Soler 2006:443 emphasizes this aspect thus: “L’exhortation addressée aux fidèles à se mettre sous la protection d’un saint particulier montre certainement la volonté de l’Église chrétienne de remplacer la croyance aux génies et aux divinités tutélaires de l’individu par celle aux saints martyrs intercesseurs; elle montre aussi que les chrétiens, en tout cas à Antioche, avaient un rapport privilégié à tel ou tel saint, sans que là encore, il ait été besoin que de Passions et des Miracles de saints rédigés et codifiés étaient accessibles aux chrétines qui pouvaient être édifiés par leur lecture.”
[ back ] 45. The details are to be found in Religious History 13.15–18.
[ back ] 46. The name Theodoret literally means ‘given as gift from God’.
[ back ] 47. Tilliette 1991:5. It is to Theodoret that we owe what will become the birth of a cult. In his Ecclesiastical History he sets the scene for the translatio and the προσκύνησις of Chrysostom’s remains: “At a later time the actual remains of the great doctor were conveyed to the imperial city, and once again the faithful crowd turning the sea as it were into land by their close packed boats, covered the mouth of the Bosphorus toward the Propontis with their torches. The precious possession was brought into Constantinople by the present emperor, who received the name of his grandfather and preserved his piety undefiled. After first gazing upon the bier he laid his head against it, and prayed for his parents and for pardon on them who had ignorantly sinned” (Ecclesiastical History 5.36.10–18).
[ back ] 48. Tilliette 1991:6; on the process in general, see Bozóky 2006:1–118.
[ back ] 49. Theodoret concludes his reference to Socrates thus: “… but he failed to attain the honor accorded to the martyrs. Those who were present at his discourse erected no sanctuary to him, nor did they dedicate a sacred enclosure to him, nor assign him any festival. However wise and courageous he had become, they left him unrewarded and inflicted on him an unjust death” (Therapeutikê 8.56).
[ back ] 50. Socrates provided an ideal model for the apologists. His exemplum was variously used to make a number of points. For the particularly rich use of Socrates by Christians, see Döring 1979; see also Giannantoni 1986, Droge and Tabor 1992:17–51, and Edwards 2007:127–142.
[ back ] 51. On the face of it, the use of these authors in the collage is odd. However, Theodoret is interested in the thematic appropriateness of the quotations and the logic that they evince. By invoking these parallel doxai, he wants to affect the reader’s mode of reasoning and thus create a shared inferencing. In other words, he seeks to fuse the reader’s knowledge of the logic of these texts with the new religious phenomenon associated with the cult of the martyrs. A more developed analysis will be made in Chapter Five.
[ back ] 52. See Butterweck 1995; see also van Henten and Avemarie 2002:9–41.
[ back ] 53. Kidd 1995:217–240; Algra 2011:71–96.
[ back ] 54. Known from a literature of stoic origin that emphasized the heroic resistance to tyrants, which became widespread in the early imperial period. See Ronconi 1940:3–32; Huttner 2009:295–320.
[ back ] 55. There has been a long discussion about the semantic development of the term. For a review of these discussions, see Rordorf 1986:381–403. Rordorf is too quick to dismiss the affinities with the Greek philosophical notion of the martyr. In n14 of the above article he qualifies this by stating that he does not preclude an influence from Epictetus, whose philosophy, however, “serait d’ailleurs difficile de dire par quel canal la philosophie d’Epictète aurait passé dans la tradition chrétienne.” For the reception of Epictetus by Christians, see Spanneut 1960:830–854. Rordorf ignores an important article by Delatte that suggests precisely these affinities. The idea of the martyr seems to have been circulating in Cynic philosophical circles in the first century AD. For a careful discussion of the semantic nuances of the term in Cynic philosophers and the semantic affinities between Greek philosophical use of the term and the Christian use, see Delatte 1953:166–186.
[ back ] 56. There are indications that Alexander especially enjoyed a considerable reputation in Antioch. John Chrysostom inveighs against the practice of wearing talismans with the image of Alexander thus: “Τί ἄν τις εἴποι περὶ τῶν ἐπῳδαῖς καὶ περιάπτοις κεχρημένων, καὶ νομίσματα χαλκᾶ Ἀλεξάνδρου τοῦ Μακεδόνος ταῖς κεφαλαῖς καὶ τοῖς ποσὶ περιδεσμούντων; Αὗται αἱ ἐλπίδες ἡμῶν, εἰπέ μοι,ἵνα μετὰ σταυρὸν καὶ θάνατον Δεσποτικὸν εἰς Ἕλληνος βασιλέως εἰκόνα τὰς ἐλπίδας τῆς σωτηρίας ἔχωμεν; Οὐκ οἶδας πόσα κατώρθωσεν ὁ σταυρός; τὸν θάνατον κατέλυσε, τὴν ἁμαρτίαν ἔσβεσε, τὸν ᾅδην ἄχρηστον ἐποίησε, τοῦ διαβόλου τὴν δύναμιν ἐξέλυσε, καὶ εἰς σώματος ὑγίειαν οὐκ ἔστιν ἀξιόπιστος; τὴν οἰκουμένην ἀνέστησεν ἅπασαν, καὶ σὺ αὐτῷ οὐ θαρρεῖς; καὶ τίνος ἂν ἄξιος εἴης, εἰπέ μοι; Οὐ περίαπτα δὲ μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐπῳδὰς σαυτῷ περιάγεις, γραΐδια μεθύοντα καὶ παραπαίοντα εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν σου εἰσάγων· καὶ οὐκ αἰσχύνῃ οὐδὲ ἐρυθριᾷς μετὰ τοσαύτην φιλοσοφίαν πρὸς ταῦτα ἐπτοημένος?”

(“And what is one to say about them who use charms and amulets, and encircle their heads and feet with golden coins of Alexander of Macedon. Are these our hopes, tell me, that after the cross and death of our Master, we should place our hopes of salvation on an image of a Greek king? Do you not know what great result the cross has achieved? It has abolished death, has extinguished sin, has made Hades useless, has undone the power of the devil, and is it not worth trusting for the health of the body? It has raised up the whole world, and do you not take courage in it? And what would you be worthy to suffer, tell me? Thou dost not only have amulets always with you, but incantations bringing drunken and half-witted old women into your house, and are you not ashamed, and do you not blush, after so great philosophy, to be terrified at such things?” Instructions to Catechumens, PG 49:240). On Alexander the Great’s popularity in antiquity, see Cracco Ruggini 1965:3–80. For the attitude of the church fathers toward Alexander, see Straub 1972:178–194 and Klein 1987–1988:925–989.
[ back ] 57. On the divinization of public figures, see the discussion in Rufus Fears 1988:1047–1093; Beaujeu 1973:101–136. The case of Julian was particularly interesting in the general context of the cult of the martyrs. Nock 1957(II):115–123 writes: “Julian’s admirers were familiar with Christian belief in the efficacious aid of martyrs and saints in general, and many of them would know how Constantine’s burial associated him with the homage paid to the Apostles … Was it not easy for convinced pagans to believe that no less supernatural efficacy attached to their sainted leader than was imputed to St. Babylas?” (123). See also Straub 1972:159–177. But see comments by Bowersock 1982(III):171–182, with notes at 238–241.
[ back ] 58. Therapeutikê 8.60.