Christianity and Hellenism in the Fifth-Century Greek East: Theodoret’s Apologetics against the Greeks in Context

  Papadogiannakis, Yannis. 2013. Christianity and Hellenism in the Fifth-Century Greek East: Theodoret's Apologetics against the Greeks in Context. Hellenic Studies Series 49. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Chapter 2. God, Gods, Angels, Heroes, and Demons: Parallel Notions of the Intermediaries

In Dialexeis III, VII, and X, Theodoret sets out to contrast Christianity with Greek religious attitudes concerning the gods, angels, daemons, and the associated phenomena of divination, oracles, and sacrifices. Although these concepts are treated in separate dialexeis, each with a distinct thematic emphasis, their interrelatedness is hard to ignore. This accords well with Theodoret’s method of structuring his apology in such a way as to create an overlap of interlocking ideas.

In Dialexis III. On Angels, Gods, and Demons, Theodoret begins with a systematic analysis of the Greek conceptualization of the gods. He prefaces this analysis with a critique of those Greek philosophers who were atheists. [1] Using a Pauline argument, he attacks pagans for having confused the Creator with his creation, a misconception that is reflected not only in the multiplicity of the gods but also in their nature. Polytheists deified animals and human beings who, according to Theodoret, were not worthy of the honor.

The main pagan source for criticism here is Porphyry. Theodoret borrows a number of passages from On the Philosophy from the Oracles and the Letter to Anebo. Then he goes on to quote Porphyry’s critique of malevolent demons: [11] {54|55}

Διὰ μέντοι τῶν ἐναντίων καὶ ἡ πᾶσα χρεία ἐπιτελεῖται. Τούτοις γὰρ μάλιστα τὴν τούτων προεστῶσαν τιμῶσιν οἱ τὰ κακὰ διὰ γοητειῶν διαπραττόμενοι. Πλήρεις γὰρ πάσης φαντασίας καὶ ἀπατῆσαι ἱκανοὶ διὰ τῆς τερατουργίας καὶ διὰ τοῦ φίλτρα καὶ ἐρωτικὰ κατασκευάζειν οἱ κακοδαίμονες. Πᾶσα γὰρ καὶ πλούτων ἐλπὶς καὶ δόξης διὰ τούτων, καὶ μάλιστα ἡ ἀπάτη. Τὸ γὰρ ψεῦδος τούτοις οἰκεῖον· βούλονται γὰρ εἶναι θεοί· καὶ ἡ προεστῶσα αὐτῶν δύναμις δοκεῖ θεὸς εἶναι μέγιστος. Οὗτοι οἱ χαίροντες λοιβῇ τε κνίσῃ τε, δι’ ὧν αὐτῶν τὸ σωματικὸν καὶ πνευματικὸν πιαίνεται.

Therapeutikê 3.60–61

But it is through the opposite kind of daimones that all sorcery is accomplished, for those who try to achieve bad things through sorcery honour especially these daimones and in particular their chief.

These daimones are resourceful, full of illusory apparitions/appearances, and adept at deception through their wonder-working. Unfortunate people, with their help, prepare philtres and love-charms.

These efforts set the tone for Theodoret, leading him to make a connection with certain features of the Homeric gods and, thus, relegate them to the status of demons. [14] Consistent with his habit of directing the flow of his dialexeis by means of excerpts, he reinforces his point about the demonic nature of Greek deities with another addition from the Letter to Anebo:

Οὐ μόνον δὲ τῇδε τοιούσδε λόγους ξυνέγραψεν, ἀλλὰ κἀν τῇ Πρὸς Ἀνεβὼ τὸν Αἰγύπτιον ἐπιστολῇ τά παραπλήσια τέθεικεν. Λέγει δὲ {55|56} οὕτως περὶ τῶν θεῶν μὲν καλουμένων, πονηρῶν δὲ ὄντων δαιμόνων· «Πάνυ με θράττει, πῶς ὡς κρείττους παρακαλούμενοι ἐπιτάττονται ὡς χείρους, καὶ δίκαιον εἶναι κατηγοροῦντες τὸν θεράποντα κολάζεσθαι τὰ ἄδικα πράττοντα, αὐτοὶ κελευσθέντες ἄδικα δρᾶν ὑπομένουσι, καὶ καθαρῷ μὲν μὴ ὄντι ἐξ ἀφροδισίων καλοῦντι οὐχ ὑπακούουσιν, αὐτοὶ δὲ ἄγειν εἰς παράνομα ἀφροδίσια τοὺς τυχόντας οὐκ ὀκνοῦσι· ἀπὸ ἐμψύχων μὲν ἀποχῆς κελεύουσι δεῖν εἶναι τοὺς ὑποφήτας, ἵνα μὴ τοῖς ἀπὸ τῶν σωμάτων ἀτμοῖς χραίνωνται, αὐτοὶ δὲ ἀτμοῖς τοῖς ἀπὸ θυσιῶν μάλιστα δελεάζονται, καὶ νεκροῦ μὲν ἀθιγῆ δεῖν εἶναι τὸν ἐπόπτην, διὰ νεκρῶν δὲ ζῴων αἱ θεαγωγίαι ἐκτελοῦνται.

Therapeutikê 3.66

And that is not the only place in his works in which he has so expressed himself. In his Letter to Anebo the Egyptian, he has recorded similar sentiments. This is how he speaks of the so-called gods who in fact are really wicked demons: It is very disquieting how those who are invoked as better give orders as worse: they advocate that it is right to inflict punishment on a slave who does wrong; but they themselves when ordered to do unjust acts perform them. They do not listen to the appeal of one who is unclean because of sexual excesses, yet they themselves do not shrink from leading anyone they meet into unlawful sexual activity. They give orders that the priest interpreters must abstain from eating flesh meat lest they be defiled by the vapors of the bodies, but they themselves are especially ensnared by the vapors of sacrifices. Finally, the initiate is forbidden to touch a carcass, but it is through the corpses of living creatures that the gods are invoked in the evocations of the gods.

Theodoret’s polemic requires him to engage—in different dialexeis—two of the more crucial aspects of Greek religion where demons played an important role, namely, oracles and sacrifices. [26] Dialexis X. On True and False Oracles gives Theodoret the opportunity to return to the activity of demons. He presents them as having usurped from God the right to be honored and as deceiving people into believing that they are God:

Τὴν γὰρ δὴ τάξιν καταλιπόντες, ἣν ἔλαχον, καὶ τὴν ἡμερωτάτην τοῦ πεποιηκότος ἀποδράσαντες δεσποτείαν, ἥρπασαν μὲν τὴν τυραννίδα, τὸ δὲ θεῖον ὄνομα σεσυληκότες, θεοὺς σφᾶς αὐτοὺς προσηγόρευσαν καὶ τὸ θεῖον σέβας σφίσι προσφέρειν τῶν ἀνθρώπων τοὺς ἀνοήτους ἀνέπεισαν· εἶτα κρατῦναι τὴν δυναστείαν σπουδάζοντες, καὶ προγινώσκειν τὰ μέλλοντα καὶ προλέγειν ἐνεανιεύσαντο, ταύτῃ μάλιστα τοὺς εὐαλώτους {58|59} ἀνθρώπους παρακρουόμενοι. Διά τοι τοῦτο πανταχοῦ γῆς τὰ τῆς ἀπάτης κατεσκεύασαν ἐργαστήρια καὶ τὰς μαντικὰς ἐπενόησαν μαγγανείας …

Therapeutikê 10.2–3

In order to accomplish this, they employ their limited capacity to foresee the future. Even more perniciously, demons serve to invest deities with a wide range of immoral and criminal behavior, such that in myths they appear to provide a justification if not an incentive to similar immoral actions. Theodoret attacks them as follows:

Οὐδὲ γὰρ σωφροσύνης αὐτοὺς καὶ δικαιοσύνης ἐπιμελεῖσθαι προσέταξεν, ἀλλ’ ἀκολασταίνειν αὐτοὺς ἀδεῶς καὶ ἀσελγαίνειν καὶ πᾶσαν τολμᾶν ἀνέδην παρανομίαν ἐπέτρεψεν. Τῷ τοι καὶ μάλα ῥᾳδίως τοὺς πλείστους ἐξηνδραπόδισεν. Τό τε γὰρ ἐπίπονον τῆς ἀρετῆς ἀποφυγγάνοντες καὶ τῶν θείων νόμων τοὺς ἱδρῶτας διαδιδράσκοντες, ηὐτομόλησαν εὐπετῶς πρὸς τὸν τὰ ῥᾷστα καὶ θυμήρη νομοθετοῦντα. Τόνδε δὴ οὖν τὸν τρόπον αὐτοὺς δουλωσάμενος, πρῶτον μὲν τὰς περὶ τοῦ Θεοῦ τῶν ὅλων, ἃς ἡ φύσις αὐτοῖς ἐξ ἀρχῆς ἐνέγραψεν, ἐξήλειψε δόξας· ἔπειτα δὲ τὰ πονηρὰ τῶν ψευδωνύμων θεῶν ἐξεπαίδευσε δόγματα καὶ τὸν πολὺν τῶν οὐκ ὄντων ὅμιλον ἀντὶ τοῦ ὄντος ἐδίδαξε προσκυνεῖν, ταύτην ὑποβάθραν καὶ κρηπῖδα τῆς διεφθαρμένης προκαταβαλλόμενος βιοτῆς … τοιόνδε φάρμακον αὐτοῖς ἀναλγησίας ὁ τῆς κακίας ἐμηχανήσατο σοφιστής. Περὶ γὰρ δὴ τῶν καλουμένων θεῶν πονηρὰς αὐτοὺς ἐξεπαίδευσε δόξας· ἀκολάστους γὰρ αὐτοὺς ἀπέφηνε καὶ λαγνιστάτους καὶ παιδοπίπας καὶ γάμων ἐπιβούλους καὶ πατραλοίας καὶ μητραλοίας καὶ μητράσι καὶ ἀδελφαῖς, καὶ μέντοι καὶ θυγατράσιν ἀνέδην μιγνυμένους καὶ τὰς εὐνὰς τὰς ἀλλήλων λῃστεύοντας καὶ ἁλισκομένους, καὶ παρὰ μὲν τῶν ἠδικημένων δεσμουμένους, παρὰ δὲ τῶν ἄλλων ἀνέδην γελωμένους, {59|60} καὶ ταῦτα παρὰ μὲν τῶν οὐρανίων, ὡς αὐτοὶ λέγουσιν, ἐν οὐρανῷ τολμᾶσθαι καὶ γῇ, παρὰ δὲ τῶν ἐναλίων ἐν θαλάττῃ καὶ γῇ, παρὰ δὲ τῶν καλουμένων νυμφῶν ἐν ὄρεσι καὶ νάπαις καὶ φάραγξιν.

Therapeutikê 7.2–5

In fact, far from prescribing that they should show concern for temperance and chastity, the demon by contrast has taught them to deliver themselves unrestrainedly to license and debauchery, and every kind of immorality. That is why it has been so easy for him to reduce to slavery the greater part of the human race. In fact, people flee from attempting to live virtuously and tend to run away from the hardship of virtue and the ardors of the divine laws. Instead, they transfer without difficulty to the one who has legalized what is easiest and most pleasant. Having enslaved them in this way, the devil then proceeds to eradicate the ideas that the God of the universe has engraved on them from the beginning. Next he has taught them the perverse doctrines of the false gods and has schooled them to adore this crowd of nonbeings instead of the One who is. Such is the basis and foundation which he has prearranged for the dissolute life … But the charlatan of wickedness has invented a drug to immunize the housebreaker, the footpad, the traitor, and other malefactors. For he has taught them perverse beliefs concerning the so-called gods. He has displayed them as unbridled, extremely sexual and pederastic wreckers of marriages, parricides, ones who sleep with their mothers, sisters, even daughters. He has depicted them as plundering one another’s marriage beds, being caught in the act, and then, chained by the wrong party, being shamelessly laughed at by the other deities, and that all these things are dared by the heavenly beings in the heavens and on earth, as they themselves admit, and by marine creatures in the sea and on land, and by the so-called nymphs in mountains, valleys and ravines.

As a result of demonic agency, human beings are misled into believing that by propitiating or worshiping them they can accomplish their aims or achieve goals of dubious value. In an extension of this argument, Theodoret employs the notion of demonic agency to explain divination and its role, in which demons are heavily involved. [28] Here, Theodoret conjures ancient Greek philosophers {60|61} Oenomaus, Plutarch, Diogenianus, and Porphyry to criticize oracles. [29] He draws heavily on Plutarch’s On the Failure of Oracles as a testimony in order to effect a synchronization according to which the birth of Christ is the central event that vanquishes both demons and divination. [30] Porphyry’s views on the constraints placed on the gods by rituals that summon them only confirm Theodoret’s point:

Θεασάμενοι τοίνυν πανταχοῦ διατρέχον τῆς ἀληθείας τὸ κήρυγμα, καθάπερ στρατιῶται φυγάδες πολλὰ δεινὰ καὶ παράνομα δεδρακότες, εἶτα τῆς τοῦ βασιλέως αἰσθόμενοι παρουσίας, ἀπέδρασαν καὶ γυμνὰς τὰς ἐνέδρας κατέλιπον. Ὁ δὲ τῶν ὅλων παμβασιλεὺς τὰ τούτων κατέλυσεν ὁρμητήρια· καὶ οὔτε τῆς Κασταλίας προαγορεύει τὸ ὕδωρ, οὔτε Κολοφῶνος ἡ πηγὴ προθεσπίζει, οὐχ ὁ Θεσπρώτιος λέβης μαντεύεται, οὐχ ὁ τρίπους ὁ Κιρραῖος χρησμολογεῖ, οὐ τὸ Δωδωναῖον χαλκεῖον ἀδολεσχεῖ, οὐχ ἡ πολυθρύλητος φθέγγεται δρῦς, ἀλλὰ σιγᾷ μὲν ὁ Δωδωναῖος, σιγᾷ δὲ ὁ Κολοφώνιος καὶ Δήλιος καὶ Πύθιος καὶ Κλάριος καὶ Διδυμαῖος καὶ ἡ Λεβαδία καὶ ὁ Τροφώνιος καὶ ὁ Ἀμφίλοχος καὶ ὁ Ἀμφιάραος καὶ ὁ Ἄμμων καὶ ἡ τῶν Χαλδαίων καὶ Τυρρηνῶν νεκυία.

Therapeutikê 10.45–47

That is why, having seen the proclamation of the truth circulating everywhere, they took to flight like runaway soldiers who have committed many crimes and offenses, and then, when they saw the presence of the King, took to flight and deserted their posts. The sovereign King of the universe has destroyed their onslaughts. The water of Castalia no longer issues prophecies; the bronze of Thesprotia no longer is involved in divination; the tripod of Cirrha no longer issues oracles; the {61|62} bronze of Dodona no longer talks nonsense nor does the much-vaunted oak tree speak any longer. No, the god of Dodona is now silent, the god of Colophon is silent, so is the Pythian, the Clarian, the Didymaean, and the oracle of Lebadaia; Trophonios is silent, so is Amphilochus, Amphiaraos, Ammon, and the necromancy of the Chaldeans and of the citizens of Tyre.

Theodoret’s concern with the issue of angels and demons in the Therapeutikê becomes clearer when placed against closely parallel arguments that appear in {62|63} Quaestiones et responsiones. More specifically, questions 30, [35] 40, [36] 41, [37] and 42 [38] deal with similar problems that are raised by anonymous interlocutor(s) and are a good measure of the pervasive hold that demons, angels, and their activities had on the fifth-century thought-world. [39] In question 24 the figure of Apollonius looms large:

Εἰ θεός ἐστι δημιουργὸς καὶ δεσπότης τῆς κτίσεως, πῶς τὰ Ἀπολλωνίου τελέσματα ἐν τοῖς μέρεσι τῆς κτίσεως δύνανται; Καὶ γὰρ θαλάττης ὁρμὰς καὶ ἀνέμων φορὰς καὶ μυῶν καὶ θηρίων ἐπιδρομάς, ὡς ὁρῶμεν, κωλύουσι. Καὶ εἰ τὰ ὑπὸ τοῦ κυρίου μὲν γινόμενα θαύματα ἐν μόνῃ τῇ διηγήσει φέρεται, τὰ δὲ παρ’ ἐκείνου πλεῖστα καὶ ἐπ’ αὐτῶν τῶν πραγμάτων δεικνύμενα, πῶς οὐκ ἀπατᾷ τοὺς ὁρῶντας; Καὶ εἰ μὲν κατὰ θείαν τοῦτο συγχώρησιν γέγονε, πῶς ὁδηγὸς εἰς ἑλληνισμὸν οὐ γέγονεν ἡ τοιαύτη συγχώρησις; Εἰ δὲ μὴ τοῦτο, πῶς οὐ δυνάμει τῶν δαιμόνων ἐκεῖνα γεγένηνται; Πάλιν δὲ εἴπερ θεὸς ὡς ἀγαθῷ τῷ γινομένῳ ἡδόμενος ἐκείνῳ συνήργησε, διὰ τί μὴ διὰ προφητῶν ἢ ἀποστόλων τὰ τοιαῦτα γεγένηνται; Εἰ δὲ μὴ ἠρέσκετο ὡς φαύλῳ, τίνος ἕνεκεν τὸ φαῦλον ἢ εὐθὺς οὐκ ἐκώλυσεν ἢ μετὰ βραχὺ οὐ κατέλυσεν, ἀλλ’ ἕως αἰῶνος τῶν ἡμερῶν τῆς κτίσεως κρατεῖν συνεχώρησεν;

This, among other reasons, is why Theodoret is so keen to discredit Julian’s religiosity, which he does by presenting him in his Ecclesiastical History (a good deal of which is informed by polemics against pagans) as dabbling in occult practices. Characteristic of Julian’s portrait is Theodoret’s recounting of the following incident:

Μετὰ δὲ τὴν σφαγὴν αἱ τῆς ἐκείνου γοητείας ἐφωράθησαν μαγγανεῖαι. Κάρραι γὰρ πόλις ἐστὶν ἔτι καὶ νῦν ἔχουσα τῆς ἀσεβείας τὰ λείψανα {64|65} διὰ ταύτης ὁ μάταιος τὴν πορείαν ποιούμενος (τὴν γὰρ Ἔδεσαν ὡς εὐσεβείᾳ κοσμουμένην εὐώνυμον καταλελοίπει), εἰς τὸν παρὰ τῶν δυσσεβῶν τιμώμενον σηκὸν εἰσελθὼν καί τινα ἐν τούτω σὺν τοῖς κοινωνοῖς τοῦ μύσους ἐπιτελέσας, κλεῖθρα καὶ σήμαντρα ταῖς θύραις ἐπέθηκε καί τινας ταύταις προσεδρεύειν προσέταξε στρατιώτας, μηδένα εἴσω τῶν θυρῶν γενέσθαι μέχρι τῆς ἐπανόδου κελεύσας. Ἐπειδὴ δὲ ὁ θάνατος ἀπηγγέλθη καὶ εὐσεβὴς βασιλεία τὴν δυσσεβῆ διεδέξατο, εἴσω γενόμενοι τοῦ σηκοῦ εὗρον τὴν ἀξιάγαστον τοῦ βασιλέως ἀνδρείαν τε καὶ σοφίαν καὶ πρὸς τούτοις εὐσέβειαν. Εἶδον γὰρ γύναιον ἐκ τῶν τριχῶν ᾐωρημένον, ἐκτεταμένας ἔχον τὰς χεῖρας. ἧς ἀνακείρας ὁ ἀλιτήριος τὴν γαστέρα τὴν νίκην δήπουθεν τὴν κατὰ Περσῶν διὰ τοῦ ἥπατος ἔγνω. Τοῦτο μὲν ἐν Κάρραις ἐφωράθη τὸ μύσος.

Ecclesiastical History 3.26.1–3

Having set up the first part of his contrast between pagan gods and demons and the Christian God, Theodoret’s dialexis turns to its second part, the angels. He draws his attention to an objection and goes on to apostrophize what appears to be an anonymous pagan interlocutor:

Ἀλλὰ γὰρ οἶμαι ὑμᾶς ἐρεῖν, ὡς καὶ ὑμεῖς ἀοράτους τινὰς δυνάμεις φατέ, οὓς καὶ Ἀγγέλους καὶ Ἀρχαγγέλους ὀνομάζετε καὶ προσαγορεύετε {65|66} καὶ Ἀρχὰς καὶ Ἐξουσίας καὶ Κυριότητας καὶ Θρόνους· καὶ ἄλλας αὖ πάλιν κατὰ τὴν Ἑβραίων γλῶτταν Χερουβὶμ καὶ Σεραφὶμ ἴστε προσαγορευομένας. Ἀνθ’ ὅτου τοίνυν ἡμῖν νεμεσᾶτε, μετὰ τὸν ἀεὶ ὄντα καὶ ὡσαύτως καὶ κατὰ ταὐτὰ ἔχοντα δευτέρους τινὰς θεούς, καὶ κομιδῇ γε ἐκείνου ἀποδέοντας, νομίζουσί τε καὶ γεραίρουσιν;

Therapeutikê 3.86–87

But I know well that you are going to say to me: “You also speak of certain invisible powers whom you call angels and archangels and whom you salute with the title of Principalities and Powers, Dominations and Thrones. You know others who in the Hebrew language are called Cherubim and Seraphim. How, then, can you be angry at us if, next to Him who is eternal and absolutely identical with Himself, we admit and venerate secondary gods who are certainly inferior to Him?”

The objection of the anonymous interlocutor is indicative of the variety of ways that angels were perceived among pagans, Christians, and Jews. This is true especially in areas like northern Syria, [45] but also in such texts as the Apokritikos of Macarius Magnes (ca. 410), where the pagan interlocutor, in his objection, blurs the distinction between God and angels:

Question 158 in the Quaestiones et Responsiones ad Orthodoxos deals with a similar issue. [
47] This objection gives Theodoret occasion to provide instruction on the nature, role, and importance of angels: [48]

Ἐγὼ δὲ ὁμολογῶ μὲν τὴν θείαν ἡμᾶς διδάξαι γραφήν, εἶναι δή τινας ἀοράτους δυνάμεις, καὶ ὑμνούσας τὸν ποιητὴν καὶ ὑπουργούσας αὐτοῦ τῷ θείῳ βουλήματι· οὐ μὴν θεοὺς τούτους ὀνομάζομεν οὐδὲ θεῖον αὐτοῖς ἀπονέμομεν σέβας οὐδὲ μερίζομεν εἰς τὸν ὄντα Θεὸν καὶ τούτους τὴν θείαν προσκύνησιν, ἀλλὰ τούτους τιμιωτέρους μὲν ἀνθρώπων, ὁμοδούλους δὲ εἶναί φαμεν.

Therapeutikê 3.88–89

I know the sacred Scripture teaches us there certainly exist invisible powers who chant the praises of the creator and who are at the service of His divine will. But we assuredly do not style them “gods” anymore than we assign them divine honor; we do not divide divine honor between the true God and them. But we say, on the one hand, they are more worthy of honor than humans, and, on the other, they are also our fellow slaves.

But there is an interesting dimension adduced at the end of this exposition. Theodoret exploits the opportunity that discussing the nature of angels offers to incorporate a connection to the Syrian ascetics who imitate the angelic life. [49] {67|68} This effort reflects another of Theodoret’s apologetic concerns, the defense of Syrian ascetics from their pagan opponents:

Τὴν ἐκείνων μιμούμενοι πολιτείαν, ὅσοι τῶν ἀνθρώπων τὴν τοῦ Θεοῦ θεραπείαν ἠσπάσαντο, ἔφυγον μὲν τῶν σωμάτων καὶ τὴν ἔννομον κοινωνίαν ὡς τῶν θείων ἀφέλκουσαν, κατέλιπον δὲ καὶ πατρίδα καὶ γένος, ἵνα πᾶσαν εἰς τὰ θεῖα μεταθῶσι τὴν μέριμναν, καὶ μηδεὶς τὸν νοῦν ἐπέχῃ δεσμός, εἰς οὐρανὸν ἀναπτῆναι καὶ τὸ ἀόρατον καὶ ἄρρητον τοῦ Θεοῦ κατοπτεῦσαι γλιχόμενον κάλλος. Τούτων πλήρεις καὶ πόλεις καὶ κῶμαι καὶ τῶν ὀρῶν αἱ ἀκρωνυχίαι καὶ φάραγγες. Καὶ οἱ μὲν κατὰ ξυμμορίας οἰκοῦντες δημιουργοῦσιν ἐν ταῖς ψυχαῖς τὰ τῆς φιλοσοφίας ἀγάλματα, οἱ δέ, κατὰ δύο καὶ τρεῖς διάγοντες, οἱ δὲ καὶ μόνοι καθειργμένοι καὶ τὼ ὀφθαλμὼ τῷ κάλλει τῶν ὁρωμένων ἐπιτέρπεσθαι διακωλύοντες, σχολὴν τῷ νῷ παρέχουσιν ἐπεντρυφᾶν τῇ θεωρίᾳ τῶν νοητῶν. Εἰ δὲ οἱ σώμασι ξυνεζευγμένοι καὶ ὑπὸ πολλῶν καὶ παντοδαπῶν ἐνοχλούμενοι παθημάτων ἀσώματον καὶ ὑψηλὴν καὶ οὐρανίοις πρέπουσαν ἀσπάζονται βιοτήν, τίς ἂν ἐκφράσαι λόγος τῶν ἀσωμάτων φύσεων τὴν ἀπαθῆ πολιτείαν καὶ φροντίδων ἀπηλλαγμένην;

Therapeutikê 3.92–94

Imitating their way of life, so many humans embrace the service of God. For they flee even legitimate carnal intercourse as drawing them away from divine things; they leave fatherland and family behind, so they may devote all their cares to divine things and so no bond may restrain their spirit, eager to fly upward to the heavens to contemplate the invisible and ineffable beauty of God. They [monks] fill the towns and villages, the mountaintops and ravines. Some dwell in communities and carve on their souls the images of wisdom; others live in twos or threes, or even as complete solitaries, withholding their eyes from the enjoyment of visible things and providing leisure to their mind for the enjoyment of the contemplation of intellectual things. Now if those who are attached to a body and are troubled with a host of every kind of passions can embrace with joy a way of life that is incorporeal, elevated, and close to the life of the heavens, how could one describe the life of incorporeal natures, exempt from passions and free from all disturbance?


Theodoret’s critique of various aspects of pagan demonology runs parallel to the Neoplatonic emphasis on the elaboration of the precise nature of demons and angels and their instrumental role in divination and sacrifices. What emerges from Theodoret’s treatment of demonic agency, angelology, sacrifice, divination, and the role of oracles is the underlying issue of divine communication and the available channels to it. Christian and pagan belief in intermediaries formed a common spectrum. The fluid conception of these intermediaries and the ambiguity of their roles led to an ambivalence that permeates the texts under {69|70} discussion. Theodoret attempts to restructure this ambivalence into belief along the lines of Biblical teaching. The alternative to Greek daimons and angels that he seeks to establish are Christian angels, whose essence he outlines with catechetical zeal—probably in reaction to a widespread trend among pagans and Christians to revere angels or to confuse them with God. At the same time, the deliberate association between angels and Syrian ascetics that he effects, following a firmly established Christian tradition, implies a broader vision of the κοινωνία among angels, ascetics, and martyrs in the heavenly πολιτεία. This will be taken up in the following chapter on the cult of the martyrs. {70|}


[ back ] 1. Therapeutikê 3.4–5.

[ back ] 2. The motif was elaborated by the Stoics and had a long and complex history. It was used by several apologists to discredit the false gods of Greek polytheism. For the history of the idea, see Frohnhofen 1987. For the specific use of this argument made by the apologists, see Pohlenz 1909:128–156, esp. the appendix, “Die Affekte in der christlichen Polemik gegen die Heidengötter.”

[ back ] 3. It is worth noting in this connection that Julian was quick to attack the anthropomorphic features of God in the Bible and to refer to the emotions God experiences to suggest that His nature is passible. In contrast to the passible Biblical God, the god of Plato is impassible “οὐδαμοῦ χαλεπαίνων ὁ θεὸς φαίνεται οὐδὲ ἀγανακτῶν οὐδὲ ὀργιζόμενος οὐδὲ ὀμνύων οὐδ’ ἐπ’ ἀμφότερα ταχέως ῥέπων […], ὡς ὁ Μωυσῆς φησιν ἐπὶ τοῦ Φινεές” (Against the Galileans fr. 33, 3–5). For a detailed discussion, see Castelli 1983:85–91, Riedweg 1999:55–81, Cook 2004:291–293, and Boulnois 2008:13–25 and 2010:297–313.

[ back ] 4. Therapeutikê 3.16 [emphasis mine].

[ back ] 5. On the way God’s transcendence is debated and defended by Cyril of Alexandria against Julian’s critique, see Boulnois 2006:177–196.

[ back ] 6. Theodoret’s list of five ways the Greeks erred in their perception of the divine runs as follows: a) worship of the moon, sun, and stars as gods; b) deification of (immoral) people; c) deification of mythical figures; d) deification of the passible (or irrational part of the soul); e) deification of demons. The list is also found in Eusebius’s Preparation for the Gospel 5.3.2–7, which is most likely Theodoret’s source.

[ back ] 7. This theme foreshadows Dialexis VII. On Sacrifices.

[ back ] 8. For an overview of the role of angels, see Michl 1962:53–200.

[ back ] 9. On demons in the ancient world, see Klauser 1976:546–797, s.v. “Geister,” esp. 640–668 on daimons (“Hellenistische und kaiserzeitliche Philosophie” by C. Zintzen); Andres 1918:267–322 and Alt 2005:73–90.

[ back ] 10. For attitudes of the apologists toward demons, see Wey 1957, Monaci Castagno 1996, and Kallis 1976:700–715.

[ back ] 11. Theodoret attibutes this to Porphyry’s On the Philosophy from the Oracles when in fact it comes from On Abstinence 2.41–42, Canivet 2000–2001(I):187n2.

[ back ] 12. Trans. Clark (with adjustments).

[ back ] 13. Cremer 1969; Johnston 1989:121–126, 136; Alt 2005:73–90.

[ back ] 14. Therapeutikê 3.61.

[ back ] 15. See for example Taormina 1999.

[ back ] 16. For which, see den Boeft 1977.

[ back ] 17. See the edition by Sodano 1957:47–64, esp. the discussion in Appendix I that focuses on the relationship between divination and theurgy.

[ back ] 18. Saffrey 2008:489–511; Fowden 1999:82–106 calls it “a summa of polytheist belief”; Clarke 2001.

[ back ] 19. Theodoret makes a point of this in Therapeutikê 10.12ff. when he says: “Therefore, my friends, even if you do not believe us when we are critical of your oracles, at least believe the one who is our worst enemy and your best friend. For he is our implacable enemy, one who wages open war on (our) religion. Porphyry has affirmed that the demons who preside over the so-called oracles tell lies” [emphasis mine]. On Porphyry’s Philosophy from Oracles, see Busine 2005:233–317 and Riedweg 2005:151–201. Porphyry’s knowledge of Christianity led some Christians to believe that he was a lapsed Christian. The evidence, with a review of scholarly opinion, is collected in Kinzig 1998:320–332. Kinzig holds the view that “er [viz. Porhyrios] in seiner Jungend einen (nicht näher bestimmten) christlichen Unterricht genossen und mit dem Christentum in einer Form sympathisiert hat, die bei anderen den Anschein erweckte, als ‘gehöre er dazu’” (328). See recently Schott 2008b:258–277.

[ back ] 20. For Porphyry’s attitudes toward Greek philosophy and religion, see Zambon 2002 and Speyer 2005:65–84. Porphyry’s equivocal stance toward theurgy and the methods by which he sought to resolve the theoretical problems that arose has been analyzed by Smith 1974. The problem has been addressed in a way that does more justice to Poprhyry’s inquisitive nature by Smith 1997:29–35. For a new assessment of Pophyry’s stance on theurgy, see van Liefferinge 1999:176–211 and Tanaseanu-Döbler 2009:109–155.

[ back ] 21. For what has been called “diabolisation du paganisme,” see Lepelley 2002:81–96.

[ back ] 22. For the pagan belief in angels, see Cumont 1915:159–181. Angels played an important role in the Chaldean Oracles as well. In fact, it has been argued that they prompted Neoplatonic speculation on the role of angels. On angels in the Chaldean Oracles, see Lewy 1978:236–237 and Majercik 1989:13–14.

[ back ] 23. Neoplatonic philosophers developed different classifications of intermediaries and assigned different functions to them. For Iamblichus, see Dillon 1987:899–902. For the development of the idea of the intermediaries, see Rodríguez Moreno 1998 and Rodríguez Moreno 2000:91–100.

[ back ] 24. The idea is found in Porphyry To Marcella 21.6–9. For the personal psychological traits that are determined by the daimon/angel, see Dillon 2001:3–9. The idea of tutelary angels who protect nations and people appears also in in the chapter On Angels from Theodoret’s Compendium of Heretical Falsehoods: “Τεκμηριοῖ δὲ καὶ ταῦτα, καὶ τὰ ἐν τῷ Δανιὴλ εἰρημένα, καὶ τὰ ὑπὸ τοῦ Κυρίου λεχθέντα, τινὰς μὲν τῶν ἀγγέλων ἐθνῶν προστατεύειν, τινὰς δὲ ἑνὸς ἑκάστου τῶν ἀνθρώπων πεπιστεῦσθαι τὴν ἐπιμέλειαν, ὥστε μὴ σίνεσθαι αὐτοὺς καὶ πημαίνειν τοὺς ἀλάστορας δαίμονας” (PG 83 472 c–d). Julian Against the Galileans fr. 26, 2–6 uses the idea of ethnarch gods to account for the diversity of the ἔθνη: “Therefore, as I said, unless for every nation separately some presiding national god (and under him an angel, a demon, a hero, and a peculiar order of spirits which obey and work for the higher powers) established the differences in our laws and characters, you must demonstrate to me how these differences arose by some other agency” (143 a–b, Loeb translation). For a discussion of the passage, see Smith 1995:196 and Curta 2002:3–19.

[ back ] 25. Bouffartigue 2005:113–126 and Boulnois 2011:803–830; Monaci Castagno 2010:319–333.

[ back ] 26. For the tendency that is attested in the second- and third-century philosophers to support their philosophy with the authority of Oracles (the existence of Chaldean Oracles and their extensive use by the Neoplatonists is a case in point), see Nock 1928:280–290. For a more thorough, recent analysis of the phenomenon, see Athanassiadi 1993:115–130; Athanassiadi 1999:149–184.

[ back ] 27. There is an interesting similarity here with question 42 of the Quaestiones et Responsiones; see p63n38.

[ back ] 28. For a similar emphasis on the role of demons in divination in Iamblichus On the Mysteries, see the discussion in Clarke 2001:107–110.

[ back ] 29. Therapeutikê 10.42: “I have made mention of Oenomaos, Porphyry, Plutarch, Diogenianus, and the others because you regard them as worthy of credence in that they speak of what pertains you. As for us, the facts speak for themselves, and in one clear voice facts denounce the oracles as false.”

[ back ] 30. Therapeutikê 10.4–5: “ Ὅτι δὲ παμπονήρων ἦν δαιμόνων ταῦτα χρηστήρια τὴν θείαν προσηγορίαν σεσυληκότων, ἱκανὴ μὲν τεκμηριῶσαι καὶ ἡ νῦν αὐτοῖς ἐπικειμένη σιγή.Μετὰ γὰρ δὴ τὴν τοῦ Σωτῆρος ἡμῶν ἐπιφάνειαν ἀπέδρασαν οἱ τήνδε τὴν ἐξαπάτην τοῖς ἀνθρώποις προσφέροντες, τοῦ θείου φωτὸς οὐκ ἐνεγκόντες τὴν αἴγλην” (“Sufficient proof that these oracles have been the work of maleficent demons, usurping the name of divinity, is the silence that now engulfs them. In fact, after the appearance of our Savior, those who offered this deception to human beings ran away, for the brilliance of the divine light proved unendurable to them”). On how Theodoret’s view that Christ’s birth silenced pagan oracles compares with other contemporary Christian views on pagan oracles, see Heyden 2009:216–218. The use of Plutarch’s work by Eusebius and Theodoret has been discussed in La Matina 1998:81–110. For Plutarch’s attitude towards divination à propos the On the Failure of Oracles, see Von Arnim 1921.

[ back ] 31. This is an exception to Theodoret’s studied avoidance of references to his local environment that would perhaps threaten to overly localize his apology.

[ back ] 32. Therapeutikê 10.47–48: “Καὶ ὁ Δαφναῖος Ἀπόλλων, τὸν ἡμέτερον παρασκευάσας μετατεθῆναι νεκρόν, οὐρανόθεν ἐδέξατο τὸν σκηπτόν. Οὐ γὰρ εἴα προλέγειν αὐτὸν καὶ ξυνήθως ἀποβουκολεῖν τοὺς ἀνθρώπους τοῦ σταυρωθέντος ὁ μάρτυς, ἀλλὰ καθάπερ ὁ μέγας Παῦλος τῷ τοῦ Πύθωνος ἐπετίμησε πνεύματι, οὕτως ἡ τοῦ μάρτυρος κόνις τὸ τοῦ μάντεως ἐχαλίνωσε ψεῦδος” (“Apollo at Daphne, when he ordered us to transfer our remains [i.e. of Babylas], was struck by a thunderbolt from the heavens. For the martyr of the Crucified did not in fact allow him to make his predictions or to lead men continually astray. But just as the mighty Paul rebuked the spirit of the python, so also the remains of the martyr bridled the falsehood of the oracle”). For a discussion of the incident, see Guinot 1995:323–341 and Shepardson 2009:99–115.

[ back ] 33. The impact of this demonology can also be clearly seen in the religionsgeschichtliche exposition on sacrifice that Theodoret undertakes in Dialexis VII. On Sacrifices. There the (biblical) demon is the cause of the misdirected practice of sacrifice.

[ back ] 34. Contrary to Iamblichus, who states in On the Mysteries 1.10 (37.1–3.): “ Ἀπαθεῖς τοίνυν εἰσὶ καὶ οἱ δαίμονες καὶ πάντα τὰ συνεπόμενα αὐτοῖς τῶν κρειττόνων γενῶν” and rejects the application of the division passible/impassible to Gods and intermediaries.

[ back ] 35. “If every human being is followed by a guardian angel, as the holy Scripture says, while the number of humans at times decreases or increases just as it happened in the flood and in other misfortune on account of their deeds; the [angels] not being prone to increase or decrease, what function did they serve—God having assigned to them a function from the beginning?”

[ back ] 36. “If demons dwell constantly in those possessed, how do they incur damage to others? If they do this by departing for a short period of time from the possessed, how, when expelled by means of some invisible power, is it that they (the demons) no longer show signs of their presence?”

[ back ] 37. “If it is only God’s right to give life and strength to the human bodies, how can demons do this, namely, strengthen the bodies of the possessed so as to break their bonds and their chains? He was bound with chains and breaking his bonds he was driven by the demon to the desert.”

[ back ] 38. “If demons govern parts of creation, why, when the oracles were not heeded by the Greeks, did they [demons] bring punishments upon them, whereas when the idols were reverenced they put an end to the punishments and they [demons] provided goods instead? Whence did their power come for either act?”

[ back ] 39. For context, see MacMullen 1997, despite its tendency to overstate the case.

[ back ] 40. On Apollonius’ popularity, see Dulière 1970:1970, Dzielska 1986, Hägg 2004:379–404, Jones 2006:49–64, and the Christian polemic against it, Junod 1988:475–482.

[ back ] 41. Isidore of Peluse is faced with a similar task of explaining the maleficent role of demons when responding to an inquiry by a grammarian, Ophelius: “ἐπειδὴ θαυμάζειν ἔφης, πῶς τινες τῶν ἀλιτηρίων δαιμόνων δίκαιον ἠξίουν εἶναι τὸν θεραπευτὴν αὐτῶν, οἱ δὲ τὰ ἄδικα δρᾷν πραττόμενοι ὑπέμενον· ἡγοῦμαι, ὅτι δίκαιον μὲν ἠξίουν εἶναι τὸν θεραπεύοντα, διότι θεοὶ εἶναι ὑπεκρίνοντο. Ὑπηρέτουν δὲ τὰ ἄδικα διότι πονηροὶ γεγόνασιν ἐκ προαιρέσεως. Ἐπειδὴ γὰρ ᾔδεσαν πολλοὺς τῶν ἀνθρώπων τὴν ἀρετὴν τιμῶντας, τοὺς φιλαρέτους ἀγαπᾷν προσποιούμενοι, ἵν’ ἀγαθοὶ νομισθεῖεν εἶναι, μετ’ οὐ πολὺ ταῖς ἐναγέσι πράξεσιν ἤλεγχον ἑαυτῶν τὴν ἐπὶ τὰ κακὰ ῥέπουσαν διάνοιαν,” Ep. 105, PG 78:1172.

[ back ] 42. For the legislation against theurgy, see Clerc 1996:57–64 and Desanti 1990. Augustine’s sustained engagement with magic and theurgy also comes to mind, on which, see Graf 2002:87–103 and Sfameni Gasparro 1997:48–131.

[ back ] 43. For Julian’s theurgic piety, see Smith 1995 and Van Liefferinge 1999:213–243, both of which are devoted to Julian; Renucci 2000.

[ back ] 44. See Martin 2008:71–82. For the attitude of late antique historians to Julian, see Nesselrath 2001:15–43.

[ back ] 45. The cult of the angels was widely attested in northern Syria, as is shown by Canivet 1980:85–117; Bowersock 1990:19–20. See also Zanetti 1994:323–349. Recent archaeological discoveries at the same site have brought to light a Mithraeum with spectacular representations of demonic figures: Gawlikowski 2000:161–171. These discoveries have enhanced our picture of both the religious landscape assumed by Theodoret and the vitality of paganism. Ample context is provided also in Peers 2001:8–15, 67–68. Alongside the heavy Neoplatonic emphasis on the role of intermediary entities it is important not to exclude the possibility of an audience that was faced with challenges posed by the existence of religious groups that presupposed the existence of angels as well as good and bad spirits. [Theodoret’s silence about these in the Therapeutikê should be contrasted with his polemical engagement with Manicheans in a separate (now lost) work, in his commentaries to the epistles of Saint Paul, and in his accounts of the teachings of Mani and Marcion in the Compendium of Heretical Falsehoods.] See Hutter 2002:287–294. See also Tardieu 1997–1998:596–605.

[ back ] 46. Trans. Crafer 1919:145. The Greek text can be found in Goulet 2003(II–4):3–5.

[ back ] 47. “Εἰ ὁ ἄγγελος τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἀνώτερος καὶ θεοὺς τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ἡ γραφὴ ὀνομάζει, πῶς οὐχ ἁρμόττει καὶ τοὺς ἀγγέλους θεοὺς παρ’ ἡμῶν ὀνομάζεσθαι;” See also similar inquiries in questions 44, 45, 46, and 47 in the sixth-century question-and-answer collection of Ps.-Kaisarios in Caesarii Dialogi quatuor. Die Erotapokriseis, ed. Riedinger 1989.

[ back ] 48. A slightly different account of the angels and their nature is found in Theodoret’s anti-heretical treatise Compendium of Heretical Falsehoods. The fifth chapter of the work is a systematic exposition of fundamental Christian beliefs (Young 1983:288 calls it Theodoret’s De principiis). The interesting addition in this account is a more explicit reference to the deification of angels by Greek poets and philosophers. “Τοὺς δὲ ἀγγέλους, οὔτε κατὰ τοὺς τῶν Ἑλλήνων ποιητὰς καὶ φιλοσόφους θεοποιοῦμεν, καὶ εἰς θῆλυ καὶ ἄρρεν τὴν ἀσώματον διακρίνομεν φύσιν, καὶ μίξεις ἀκολάστους τῶν ἀοράτων κατηγοροῦμεν δυνάμεων· οὐδὲ κατὰ τοὺς τῶν αἱρετικῶν μύθους ποιητὰς τῆς κτίσεως ὁριζόμεθα, οὔτε μὴν συναϊδίους εἶναί φαμεν τῷ τῶν ὅλων Θεῷ” (Compendium of Heretical Falsehoods, PG 83:468).

[ back ] 49. The motif is firmly rooted in early Christian writers, especially in Syriac Christianity: see Frank 1964. See also Brown 1988:323–338 and Rousseau 2004:323–346.

[ back ] 50. Trans. Schibli 2002:192–193. Commentary on the Golden Verses of the Pythagoreans 3.6.3–7: “ἥρωες δὲ ὡς ἔρωές τινες ὄντες καὶ ἤρωες οἷον ἐρωτικοὶ καὶ διαλεκτικοὶ ἐρασταὶ τοῦ θεοῦ αἴροντες ἡμᾶς καὶ κουφίζοντες πρὸς τὴν θείαν πολιτείαν ἀπὸ τῆς ἐν γῇ διατριβῆς. τοὺς δὲ αὐτοὺς … καλεῖν ἔθος … ἔστι δὲ ὅτε καὶ ἀγγέλους ὡς ἐκφαίνοντας καὶ διαστέλλοντας ἡμῖν τοὺς πρὸς εὐζωΐαν κανόνας.”

[ back ] 51. Letter to Anebo 1.3a: “Δεῖ δὲ δὴ καὶ τοῦτο προσαποδειχθῆναί σοι, δαίμων ἥρωος καὶ ψυχῆς τίνι κατ’ οὐσίαν διαφέρει ἢ κατὰ δύναμιν ἢ ἐνέργειαν”; also 1.4a: “ Ἐπιζητεῖς γάρ, παρουσίας τί τὸ γνώρισμα θεοῦ ἢ ἀγγέλου ἢ ἀρχαγγέλου ἢ δαίμονος ἤ τινος ἄρχοντος ἢ ψυχῆς.”

[ back ] 52. Finamore 2002:425–433.

[ back ] 53. See the following chapter.

[ back ] 54. Therapeutikê 1.118: “Τοῖς γὰρ δὴ μετασχοῦσι τῆς ἀληθείας καὶ ταύτης ἀξίως βεβιωκόσιν οὐρανὸς εὐτρεπὴς καὶ τὰ τῶν ἀγγέλων ἐνδιαιτήματα· ὁ δὲ ταύτης ἔρημος καὶ ἀτέλεστος καὶ τῶν παναγῶν καὶ θείων ἀμύητος μυστηρίων ἔρημος μὲν τῶνδε τῶν ἀγαθῶν γενήσεται, κολαστηρίοις δὲ διηνεκέσι παραδοθήσεται.” See also in the History of the Monks of Syria 10: “Ταύτης καὶ νῦν ἀπολαύσαιμι, ζῆν αὐτὸν πιστεύων καὶ τοῖς ἀγγέλοις συγχορεύειν καὶ πλείονι ἢ πάλαι πρὸς τὸν θεὸν παρρησίᾳ κεχρῆσθαι.” History of the Monks of Syria 11: “ Ἐντεῦθεν δὲ ἐκδημήσας καὶ εἰς τὴν ἀγγελικὴν χορείαν μετατεθεὶς κατέλιπε μνήμην οὐ συνταφεῖσαν τῷ σώματι ἀλλ’ ἀνθοῦσαν καὶ τεθηλυῖαν καὶ ἄσβεστον εἰς ἀεὶ διαμένουσαν καὶ εἰς ὄνησιν τοῖς βουλομένοις ἀρκοῦσαν.”