Paideia and Cult: Christian Initiation in Theodore of Mopsuestia

  Schwartz, Daniel L. 2013. Paideia and Cult: Christian Initiation in Theodore of Mopsuestia. Hellenic Studies Series 57. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Introduction. Catechesis, Christianization, and Conversion

They spend the Saturday night of Holy Week in the church, keeping vigil in prayer and song. They have gathered with the clergy and their baptismal sponsors in order to be initiated as Christians. Very early on Easter Sunday morning, long before the sun comes up, the rites begin. Before they can be baptized, they must declare their fidelity to Christ and their rejection of demonic influences. They fall to their knees as supplicants, renouncing Satan and claiming the power of Christ to protect them from the devil. A recitation of the creed summarizing Christian teaching and the prayer Jesus taught the disciples follows. Then the priest signs them on the forehead in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, a mark designed to single them out as belonging to Christ and to warn Satan who might still try to attack them. The sponsors help the catechumens to their feet and prepare them for baptism. They enter the baptismal font naked where the priest immerses them three times, again in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They exit the font as new creations, born again through this ritual of baptism. A second signing on the forehead with chrism finalizes and confirms the ritual of initiation. They immediately receive brilliant white linen garments as a symbol of their new birth and purified state. As they leave the baptistery, they do so as fully initiated Christians. Soon they will partake of the ritual meal of the church, the bread and wine of the eucharistic service.

Such initiation rites took place within numerous Christian communities throughout the Mediterranean world during the fourth and fifth centuries. They generally took place at Easter to symbolize the connection between the cleansing rebirth of baptism and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. These rites were strategically crafted ritual moments designed to make a significant impact. They took place early in the morning after a long night of prayer. They entailed a confrontation with Satan and a claim of affiliation with Christ. The rites engaged the whole body through kneeling and immersion in water. The sources that discuss these rites often emphasize these dramatic elements and highlight a belief in their immediate efficacy. The language of awe and fear pervades discussion of these rites, with priests using their sermons on these topics to make the hair of their audiences literally stand on end. [1]

Despite the emphasis on the dramatic moment, the rites of Christian initiation required more than a single incident of spiritual battle, ritual cleansing, and formal affiliation with a new religion. These rites assume a significant background, with considerable interaction between the various participants. A range of Christian clergy took part in these rituals. A presbyter could perform the rites, but those being baptized expected their bishop would perform the ceremony. Priests and deacons assisted while exorcists facilitated the renunciation of Satan. The assistants involved extended beyond the hierarchical ranks of the clergy to include lay members of the congregation as well. Each person being baptized needed a sponsor who knew their life and character. The sponsor gave assurances to the bishop of the person’s sincerity and pursuit of Christian morality. The ability to provide a credible report on such matters required considerable familiarity and assumed substantial interaction between these individuals. All of this interaction took place before a formal procedure, usually at the beginning of Lent, during which the church took down the names of those intending to receive baptism at Easter. Whatever history the sponsor and the person seeking baptism shared, their relationship would soon intensify. Both were expected to attend church several times a week during Lent. Together they would hear the preaching of the bishop who taught them the doctrine of the church and prepared them for the baptismal rites. As we have seen, these rites included the recitation of the creed and the Lord’s Prayer. The creed, along with the substance of the baptismal and eucharistic rites, was meant to remain secret from all the uninitiated. In order to maintain this secrecy, the creed had to be committed to memory rather than written down. Baptismal sponsors assisted in this task of memorizing the creed and supplemented the preacher’s technical theological teaching.

This process by which late antique people could move from having some interest in Christianity to undergoing full initiation into the church is generally known as catechesis. This term, derived from a Greek word meaning “hearing,” places an emphasis on the fact that candidates for baptism were expected to listen to the sermons preached by the clergy. As they did so, they encountered carefully constructed introductions to the basic theology and practice of the church. However, catechesis was not simply a cognitive activity and the process accomplished far more than merely conveying information. Catechesis took place within the context of the church with its internal power structures of religious authority and access to God. Throughout the fourth century, however, political power in the Roman Empire became increasingly entwined with the church, making it a tremendously important institution on the imperial stage. This situation formed an important component of what it meant to associate oneself with the church as a fully initiated Christian. Though the bishop played an important role in connecting his congregation to the highest levels of power, the institutional and political appeal of conversion to Christianity did not develop in a vacuum. Interaction with the church entailed social integration. A person desiring baptism needed a baptismal sponsor who would stand before the bishop as an advocate for him or her. This baptized lay-person invested a considerable amount of time in the one seeking baptism and facilitated social integration into the community, as well as an understanding of the norms of belief and practice within the church. And finally, this complex process of initiation culminated in ritual acts aimed at sacralizing a person’s decision to become a part of a Christian community.

This book contends that the complex process of catechesis outlined above was essential to the production of Christians. Late antique preachers certainly thought of initiation rites and the educational activities that preceded them as efficacious and transformative. The dramatic events and language surrounding the initiation rites that sought to ensure the efficacy of catechesis also urge this interpretation. A central interpretative difficulty arises, however, when one gives due weight to the fact that the preachers do not offer objective descriptions of personal perceptions and internal dispositions. Preachers offer hortatory addresses that seek to urge particular behavior, attitudes, and beliefs rather than disinterested descriptions of what happened as people sought initiation. This evident gap between preacher and audience forces the consideration of conversion, what it meant and to whom. Subsequent discussion will explore the difficulties in speaking about conversion in the context of the ancient world. Suffice it to say at the moment that a properly analytical definition of conversion is difficult to obtain, insofar as the term suggests something radical, transformative, and usually instantaneous. This is precisely what late antique preachers would have us believe Christian initiation was all about. On the contrary, however, careful analysis of catechetical preaching shows catechesis to entail a lengthy process with multiple facets. However transformative catechesis may or may not have been in various cases, the process was a long and slow one. While catechetical sermons took many forms and suggest numerous different emphases, three particularly significant means of producing Christians emerge in these sources. Catechesis entailed immersion into a social context that included lay Christians, baptismal sponsors, and clergy, including the bishop. It also offered opportunities for education, which engaged people cognitively through memorization and training in Christian theology and practice. Finally, catechesis culminated in ritual activity through which people became initiated into a worshipping community.

This book uses catechetical sermons to analyze these social, intellectual, and ritual components of catechesis in order to unpack their individual features and combined impact on converts to Christianity as they pursued initiation into the community, creed, and cult of the church. While many sources discuss these three components of catechesis—social integration, intellectual engagement, and ritual participation—the catechetical curriculum of Theodore of Mopsuestia resides at the center of this study. The sixteen sermons of Theodore’s catechesis, delivered while he was a priest in the city of Antioch between 383 and 392, clearly demonstrate the important roles played by community, creed, and cult in the process of Christian initiation. [3] While the emphasis on community remains implicit in Theodore’s preaching, his emphasis on belief and ritual engagement emerge clearly from the structure of his catechetical curriculum. Theodore used the first ten sermons of this series to preach on the creed that his students would need to recite before baptism. He went into considerable detail regarding the fine points of Trinitarian theology, but ultimately placed the strongest emphasis on how Christians should think about theology within the context of the confessing community. Intellectual rigor and sophisticated argumentation did not necessarily constitute the aim of theological inquiry. His eleventh sermon focuses on the Lord’s Prayer that the catechumens would need to recite at baptism but that also formed a staple of regular Christian worship following initiation. Sermons twelve to fourteen explain the components of the baptismal liturgy, as well as its spiritual interpretation. Sermons fifteen and sixteen do the same for the eucharistic liturgy. While the first ten sermons focus on cognitive understanding of theology and sermons eleven through sixteen focus more on ritual, we will see that these sermons employ a pedagogy that consistently integrates these components while also maintaining a focus on community formation and the integration of converts into that community.

The structure, themes, and preservation of Theodore’s sermons thus offer compelling reason to give them a place of prominence in the study of catechesis. Relevant comparative material from a range of catechetical sources will appear alongside the analysis of Theodore’s Catechetical Homilies, but we will focus on these sermons as a coherent catechetical curriculum designed to produce the kinds of initiated Christians Theodore, and many late antique clergy, desired. The rhetorical strategies that will emerge offer a critical approach to understanding the attempts of the Christian church to multiply its membership and to position itself in a rapidly changing religious and political landscape as it sought to effect what is often called the Christianization of the Roman Empire.

The Problem of Christianization

The transformation of Rome from an empire thoroughly at ease with its traditional religious worship to a self-identified Christian state has interested observers since the time the process began. Whether seen as abrupt, decisive, and miraculous or slow, halting, and incomplete, observers have consistently considered the religious, political, and even economic changes occasioning the transformation to be problems requiring explanation. The problem of the Christianization of the Roman Empire can be summarized in short: how did a cultural system as vibrant as ancient Rome’s make the transition from simply assuming the validity of its widespread pagan worldview to emphatically asserting its affinity with Christianity, which began its existence as a small provincial sect of a monotheistic religion? This question would be an interesting one even if its effects were short-lived. However, the impact of this transformation has had a tremendously long history. The Byzantine Empire’s distinctive Orthodox Christian identity would, in part, define it until its final collapse in 1453, over a millennium after the process of Christianization began in earnest. Furthermore, this Christian identity would prove significant for the formation of Eastern European cultures to the present day. The Roman imperial presence in the western Mediterranean would not enjoy a similar length of tenure, but the prominence that Christianity gained in the late Roman west served to cement its place in western European culture well into the modern period. The Middle East also included vibrant Christian populations that flourished throughout the Medieval period and continue to the present. Indeed, we continue to live today with many of the consequences of these events, and thus the persistent interest in the processes that brought them about should come as no surprise.

The profound changes that occasioned the religious transformation of the Roman Empire have inspired many interpretations, a thorough discussion of which would require a volume of its own. Positions on the Christianization of the empire came early and very often from partisan quarters. Contemporaries of the first Christian emperor, Constantine, already took bold imaginative positions on Christianization. Eusebius of Caesarea concluded his ecclesiastical history (begun under pagan emperors as a story of imperial persecution and righteous Christian recalcitrance) with the conversion of Constantine and a discussion of his support for the church. [8] Eusebius sometimes leaves the impression that he would not know what we mean by the phrase, “the problem of Christianization.” With the utmost confidence in Christian supremacy, Eusebius presented the Christianization of the Roman Empire as a fait accompli. However, Eusebius’ presentation of Constantine offered an idealized view of a Christian Roman state that would not be realized for generations, if it were ever fully realized at all. Of course, Eusebius’ historical writings ought to be read more as means of achieving Christianization rather than as a proper description of the process. One clear example of this can be seen in Eusebius’ discussion of Constantine’s sons in the Life of Constantine. [9] We must remember that they were present in the audience as Eusebius discussed them. With this in mind, the treatise in praise of Constantine’s life reads more like an exhortation to the future emperors to live up to the ideal image of Christian imperial rule put forward by Eusebius. [10] Thus we can see even in Eusebius an implicit acknowledgement of the problem addressed here.

Christianization and Conversion

Arthur Darby Nock brought to the discussion of Christianization a study of religious conversion in antiquity that gave a privileged position to conversion to Christianity. [27] His work was based on the application of psychological theory to ancient conversion undertaken by William James in 1902. [28] James used the conversion of Paul, as recounted in the canonical Acts of the Apostles, to argue for a radical psychological transformation at work in the process of conversion. He defines conversion as “the process, gradual or sudden, by which a self hitherto divided, and consciously wrong inferior and unhappy becomes united and consciously right superior and happy, in consequence of its firmer hold upon religious realities.” [29] Nock’s dependence on James emerges clearly in the way that he defined conversion: “By conversion we mean the reorientation of the soul of an individual, his deliberate turning from indifference or from an earlier form of piety to another, a turning which implies a consciousness that a great change is involved, that the old was wrong and the new is right.” [30] The inward and transformative approach taken by Nock betrays his psychological orientation toward conversion and Christianization. But for Nock, this transformation was also highly cognitive, entailing “the adhesion of the will to a new theology, in a word faith …” [31] This places Christianity, along with Judaism, into a category distinct from traditional Greco-Roman religion with its emphasis on performing cult rather than on theological ideas. The only comparable comparison Nock found outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition is in ancient philosophical circles. [32]

All of these studies propose different avenues of approach to the complex process of Christianization. Many of the studies undertaken since Nock wrote on conversion have looked at Christianization without addressing questions related to the conversion of individuals. Some studies that have included a discussion of conversion are at their weakest precisely on this point. Ramsey MacMullen’s Christianizing the Roman Empire (A.D. 100–400) begins with a strong critique of Nock. [46] MacMullen demonstrates that many of the conversions that appear in the sources do not look at all as Nock suggests they should. His introduction suggests a new paradigm for understanding late antique conversion. He draws attention to the Bedouin discussed by Theodoret in his Historia religiosa:

Impressed by the charismatic power of Symeon atop his pillar, the Bedouin flock to him. MacMullen, following Theodoret, emphasizes that central to their conversion is the rejection of their pagan idols, which they break to pieces at the foot of Symeon’s column. However difficult it may have been for these Bedouin to make such a transformation in their religious thinking and behavior, the conversion described by Theodoret does not immediately call to mind Nock’s reasoned and heartfelt reorientation of a life away from one religious system and towards another.

In this way, MacMullen has drawn our attention to an important point: individual conversions can look very different from one another. What one might consider a conversion, another might view as superficial or even a conscious act of duplicity. Clearly what Theodoret praised as the true conversion of thousands of Bedouin, MacMullen dismisses as merely ephemeral. Nock was not entirely wrong in his thinking about conversion. Some conversions, indeed even some of the most well-attested from antiquity, appear just as Nock described them. Others, and Theodoret’s account of the Bedouin is just one, simply do not.

Though such an approach has its merits and any study of late antique religion that failed to take Frankfurter’s concerns seriously would be poorer for it, the rejection of conversion as an analytic category seems unwarranted. Religious experiences gain significance as people ascribe it to them. [52] For many in Late Antiquity this likely had little to do with scriptural texts or authoritative statements from bishops or church councils, and any account of late antique religious life must be capable of capturing these realities. Nevertheless, the fact that Frankfurter must be so careful to redefine the straightforward meaning of syncretism as a combination of two or more things suggests that the term cannot be more than marginally helpful in overcoming the difficulties involved in discussing religious conversion. It seems preferable to maintain the term conversion, while understanding it in a way that can deal with the blurry categories and the variety of ideas and practices that emerge in the sources. The communal context of Christian practice helps make this point. No community has clear and impenetrable boundaries. Nevertheless, communities establish formal and informal mechanisms of recognizing insiders and outsiders, policing their boundaries, and initiating new stakeholders. In the study that follows, the term “conversion” will be used in the analysis of these complex processes. So long as it is not taken to indicate the reified categories Frankfurter rightly critiques, it offers the best hope of accommodating the variety of late antique Christian practice, while also considering the decision of converts to ascribe religious significance to the church and to join themselves to this particular religious community.

Given these difficulties, it is with good reason that many studies of Christian­ization have moved away from addressing conversion and its causes. But however well founded these concerns may be, shifting too heavily toward social institutions runs the risk of eclipsing the human agency involved in the process. The institutional, material, and literary evidence necessitates that individuals, families, and communities adopted and came to identify themselves with Christianity. Furthermore, the fact that later Roman and Byzantine culture came to identify so strongly with Christianity also demands explanation. While an overly teleological approach to this identification would be problematic, the process had to begin somewhere. One significant setting in which it took place early on was the catechetical classroom, in which considerable attention was given to cultivating Christianity. Even though this does not take us nearly as far as we would like toward hearing the voice of the ever-elusive representative sampling of Christian converts in Late Antiquity, it at least has the benefit of redirecting our attention toward the people who were the objects of Christianization. Seth Schwartz nicely articulates a similar perspective in his contribution to a recent collection of essays on the spread of Christianity. After surveying the diversity of Christian expression in Late Antiquity and the variety of explanations advanced to explain the phenomenon, he states, “In sum, it may be better to imagine that even the mass of Christian converts was, if not as sophisticated as Augustine, more active and conscious than the reaction to Nock has supposed. Notwithstanding the paucity of evidence, speculation about the subjectivity of non-elite early Christians may be due for a revival.” [53]

Though such a revival surely is in order, it would likely err significantly if it took the approach of returning to the old discussion of individual motivation for conversion, not to mention stressing intellectual or psychological transformation. Besides the problem of sources, one of the main reasons for the difficulty of talking about conversion is the terminology surrounding it. The term “conversion” suggests a binary system in which the labels “converted” and “unconverted” apply to every individual. The most flexibility allowed by these terms is a certain amount of qualification applied to each. Thus one can speak about the Arab nomads before the stylite as “barely” converted because they had undergone certain rites and made certain superficial changes to their behavior or, alternately, as somehow interested in Christianity but remaining unconverted because of a lack of sufficient mental or moral transformation. Which of these two descriptions rightly applies, even in their qualified state, is almost impossible to determine in the vast majority of cases. As a result, when such dichotomous language is forced, it tends to reflect the particular pre-conceived notions of the scholar and it certainly flattens what in reality was a more fluid set of conceptual frameworks operative during the period. This complexity demands that we pause for a moment to consider some of the relevant categories and terminology applied to this situation in Late Antiquity before we return to some of the theoretical concerns associated with catechesis.

Late Antique Catechesis

Late antique Christianity had a host of descriptive categories for people who were a part of it in one way or another. Chapter two will discuss in greater detail a number of the roles for fully initiated Christians. In the present context, however, it is most important to focus attention on those who had not yet received baptism but were nevertheless associated with the church. The broadest category for such persons is catechumen (Gk. katēchoumenos, Lat. auditor). The most basic meaning for the verb katēcheō is “to echo.” The more common meaning deriving from this, however, is “to teach or instruct.” [54] Thus the catechumens were those instructed or taught by the church. They attended public portions of the Christian service where they could hear regular preaching on Christian scripture or on the lives of saints and martyrs. Many of the people who made up this group would even meet Nock’s definition of a convert. The clearest example of this comes from martyrologies. Take the famous account of the martyr Perpetua. She was an unbaptized catechumen but considered herself a Christian who could not recant her commitment in order to avoid martyrdom. [55] It was commonly held that catechumens who chose to accept martyrdom instead of renouncing Christianity were actually baptized in their own blood. [56] Thus initiated, they could expect the full eternal reward of any baptized Christian. We can see here that many catechumens had come to appropriate some version of the Christian message and were even willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of that belief.

Other catechumens, however, had a very different relationship to Christianity. Let us look briefly at another famous example. Augustine tells us of his conversion in dramatic terms in Book nine of his Confessions. The story is well known and need not be recounted here in detail except to emphasize what preceded this account. Augustine speaks at length of the delight he took in his sin and rebellion, his stealing of pears purely for the pleasure of it reflecting the state of his heart with respect to God’s law. [57] A more mature Augustine spent time as a Manichaean “hearer,” a position within that community that was roughly parallel to the catechumenate of the church. However, throughout all of his early years, Augustine was a catechumen of the church; his mother Monica had seen to that. [58] “Even as a boy,” Augustine professes, “I had heard of eternal life promised to us through the humility of the Lord our God, who came down to visit us in our pride, and I was signed with the sign of his cross, and was seasoned with his salt even from the womb of my mother, who greatly trusted in thee.” [59] The rites of signing and salt described here (along with the laying on of hands and exorcism) were signs of entrance to the catechumenate, which developed some time in the course of the fourth century as people increasingly sought a way to associate themselves with the church while putting off baptism for fear of committing sin after the cleansing rite of baptism. [60] That Monica had these rites performed while Augustine was an infant is likely somewhat out of the ordinary. Nevertheless, this account, taken together with the testimony of Perpetua, gives us a clear indication of the tremendously broad range of commitment to Christianity among the catechumens. Some we may want to consider converts already, others we almost certainly should not. Nevertheless, all were hearers of the church’s teaching. For that matter, even complete unbelievers apparently attended Christian services, although they did not enter the ranks of the catechumens. [61]

How long a person remained in the state of being a catechumen was a highly individual matter. Many postponed things as long as they could, only accepting baptism toward the very end of life. Others sought baptism earnestly. What one would consider a normal length of time is rather difficult to determine. [62] The early-third-century Apostolic Tradition stipulates a three year catechumenate but there is little indication that this was practiced anywhere outside of Rome, the place of this text’s origin. [63] The Council of Elvira (ca. AD 305) stipulates two years for catechetical instruction under normal circumstances. [64] Part of the reason for having a waiting period before baptism was to observe the individual’s progress in conforming to Christian morality. Committing certain sins could postpone one’s baptism for three or even five years and, in the case of particularly grievous sin, one might not be allowed to receive baptism until the very end of one’s life. [65] Alternatively, other sources suggest a much shorter period of time, mandating instead a period of forty days, usually during Lent, during which a catechumen received pre-baptismal instruction. [66] In such cases, the baptismal sponsors who assisted during the catechetical process were expected to give assurance of the moral state of the catechumens. [67] Such mandates only required a minimal amount of time for instruction and have little bearing on the length of time a catechumen would spend in an associated, but not fully initiated, position within the church.

The aim here is not to respond to MacMullen’s minimalism with a maximalist interpretation. It would be a mistake to suggest that these Bedouin returned to the desert having mastered the precepts of Christian ethics, vast portions of scripture, the theological treatises current among the elites of Mediterranean cities, or even all the doctrines contained in the relatively basic creeds. However, suggesting that questionable assumptions about the abilities of Bedouin should be seen as paradigmatic of Christian conversion is equally problematic. Most important in the context of the present study is to note that even under such difficult circumstances, in which Christian authorities were attempting to Christianize a non-sedentary population on the fringes of the empire, the church could still make considerable efforts to educate and initiate converts. It would be a mistake to ignore the commitment to such an endeavor and also to ignore the possibility that it might have been a priority for the church because it actually had an impact on the people who chose to join the audience of those hearing the instruction.

Catechesis therefore forms the basis of the present study. It joins the study of institutions, architecture, legislation, and other topics as one very important aspect of the process of Christianization. It is not offered here as the solution to the problem of Christianization, nor is it necessarily intended to supersede other approaches. Nevertheless, catechesis has much to offer in this context, even though surprisingly little has been written on it from this perspective. [76] Many clergy and initiated Christians clearly ascribed considerable religious significance to the process. Even those who studiously avoided catechesis and baptism seem to have done so precisely because they believed it would alter their lives in a way that gave them pause. Furthermore the clergy designed the process of catechesis to do just that, to alter the lives of converts. Catechesis offered far more to the converts than a set of theology lessons. Rather it initiated catechumens into the community of baptized adherents to the Christian church. The process fostered social and spiritual ties between the convert and the church. It ritually enacted the rejection of demonic influence and bound the catechumen to Christ through baptism. Throughout these experiences, the priests also taught the converts about the basic points of Christian doctrine and morality. The process was designed to have an impact, and catechesis gave careful attention to reaching the converts socially, physically, and intellectually. As such, this study addresses each of these catechetical themes.

The efforts of Theodore of Mopsuestia to engage baptismal candidates during this period of initiation into the church form the basis for this study. The curriculum he offered was far more than an abstracted or theoretical classroom experience. Rather, it fostered community ties for the purpose of forming the catechumens morally and intellectually. This communal focus extended even to the teaching of the creed. In the sermons that exegete the creed, Theodore taught its theological content line by line, while baptismal sponsors worked with the catechumens to help them memorize it. Furthermore, catechesis drew converts into a highly ritualized set of engagements. Precisely how the catechumens perceived their ritual actions is difficult to determine. Theodore certainly gave considerable attention to defining them, but it would be unreasonable to assume that everyone who heard him followed his instruction to the letter. Nevertheless, Theodore’s sermons demonstrate his concern for pedagogy and the comprehension of his students. The analysis of these sermons will argue that catechesis presented a potentially profound pedagogical experience, especially through the confluence of social and ritual components. Even though the reception of these sermons and the rituals they describe could not have been uniformly effective or even perceived entirely as Theodore would have intended, the contention here is that they ought to be taken seriously as pedagogical moments designed to cultivate a habitus.

Several scholars have made rather pregnant suggestions about another important aspect in the process of Christianization that we have not yet discussed—that is, the creation of a Christian imagination. [87] Many late Roman people came to imagine their world as a Christian one. Christian angels and demons replaced the ancient daimones that inhabited the lower levels of the heavens. Christian holy men and women as well as relics of saints and martyrs became tangible proof that divine power was at work upon the earth. People drew near to God in the liturgy and saw a representative of God in the person of the bishop who administered it. All of this required a shift in the way people imagined their world. It is important, however, that when we speak of this development of a new way of imagining, we avoid overly intellectualized notions of what this means. [88] The formation of a Christian imagination did not necessarily have to engage a convert on an intellectual level, and we should not necessarily have theology in mind here. In fact, we will see very clearly that Theodore orchestrated Christian initiation and the catechetical process to address a broad audience in a host of different ways. Catechesis was a complex process that initiated baptismal candidates into the mysteries of the church. Chapter one discusses the relevant context of Antioch and the intellectual milieu in which Theodore worked as a preacher of catechetical sermons. Chapter two addresses the maintenance of Christian secrecy and the rhetorical effect to which the practice of maintaining it was put. Chapter three places catechesis into the social context in which it was carried out. It addresses the nature of the community visible from outside the church and how the church used the process of initiation to incorporate catechumens. Chapter four addresses Theodore’s teaching on the creed with a particular emphasis on his pedagogical approach. Theodore’s careful attempts to teach the candidates about the liturgy they were about to experience and about how use the moment of initiation to form a new habitus is the subject of chapter five.


[ back ] 1. Yarnold 1994:60.

[ back ] 2. Cameron 1991:7–8.

[ back ] 3. See chapter one on the date of Theodore’s catechetical preaching.

[ back ] 4. This should not be taken to suggest that other catechetical material is unimportant or somehow faulty for not presenting a single series of sermons. Indeed we learn much from these catechetical sources. However, a single curriculum delivered in one Lenten season offers a valuable contribution to the study of catechesis. For discussions of additional catechetical sources, see Harmless 1995; Sandwell 2007; Yarnold 2000:22–56; and Satterlee 2000.

[ back ] 5. On the authorship of the so-called Mystogogic Catecheses, see Doval 2001.

[ back ] 6. Harkins 1963:8–19.

[ back ] 7. Bruns (1995, esp. 15–19) takes the approach of looking at these sermons in their entirety, as opposed to mining them for individual theological statements made by Theodore. However, his concern remains primarily theological, rather than the pedagogical concerns that occupy us here.

[ back ] 8. Barnes 1981:128–129.

[ back ] 9. Life of Constantine 4.40.

[ back ] 10. Barnes 1981:267.

[ back ] 11. Barnes (1995:135–147) insists on a very high estimate for the number of Christians promoted to elevated posts within the imperial administrations of the fourth century. Even if he is right, however, the number of pagans in high government posts under Christian emperors remained between 25 and 50 percent, a considerable percentage.

[ back ] 12. For two discussions of the sort of balancing act required by these realities, see Sandwell 2007 and Van Dam 2002.

[ back ] 13. Daly 1971:65–79. On Libanius’ political career and literary production, see Heather and Moncur 2001.

[ back ] 14. See Cribiore 2007.

[ back ] 15. See Sandwell 2007.

[ back ] 16. City of God 1.

[ back ] 17. See Hahn 2004 and Gaddis 2005.

[ back ] 18. Gaddis 2005; Becker and Reed 2003; Wilken 1983.

[ back ] 19. Drake 2000:219–221.

[ back ] 20. A. H. M. Jones 1959:280–297.

[ back ] 21. For an excellent study of imperial policy in the development of the non-Chalcedonian church, see Menze 2008.

[ back ] 22. Harris (2005) expresses a similar sentiment in the introduction to the collection of essays he edited; see also the similar caveat of Brown 1995:x.

[ back ] 23. S. Schwartz 2005:145–160.

[ back ] 24. While certainly not alone in this endeavor, most of the work of Peter Brown has, in one way or another, critiqued this model. See Cameron 2002:165–191.

[ back ] 25. However, it must be noted that some recent scholarship has shown an increasing interest in returning to the model of decline, even if not to a full-blown acceptance of Gibbon’s approach. Among a growing number of recent studies, see Liebeschuetz 2001; Ward-Perkins 2005; Wickham 2005; Ando 2008:31–60; and Marcone 2008:4–19.

[ back ] 26. For this observation and several points that immediately follow, see Drake 2005:1–14.

[ back ] 27. Nock 1933.

[ back ] 28. James 1902. For a discussion of James and his influence on Nock, see Crook 2004:23–26 and Taves 2009:4–5.

[ back ] 29. James 1902:189.

[ back ] 30. Nock 1933:9.

[ back ] 31. Nock 1933:14.

[ back ] 32. Nock 1933, chap. 11.

[ back ] 33. Among the many critiques, see Lane Fox 1987; Markus 1990; and Crook 2004.

[ back ] 34. Brown 2000:156–157.

[ back ] 35. Stark 1996:19.

[ back ] 36. It is rightly held that literacy rates in the ancient world were very low by modern standards. The most frequently cited work on literacy is still Harris 1989. His estimate of literacy rates is very pessimistic and, in my opinion, does not take seriously enough the wide range of functional literacy that remained below that of the highly educated. As a supplement to Harris, see Cribiore 1996.

[ back ] 37. See the essays in Mills and Grafton 2003. Also, Neil McLynn and Arietta Papaconstantinou convened a Mellon-Sawyer Seminar at the University of Oxford in 2009–2010 called “Conversion in Late Antiquity: Christianity, Islam, and Beyond.” The papers from this series of colloquia are scheduled for publication by Ashgate in 2013.

[ back ] 38. Drake 2005:1–14.

[ back ] 39. Drake 2005:2.

[ back ] 40. Stark 1996; see also Hopkins 1998:185–226.

[ back ] 41. Among the many institutional studies of this sort, see Brown 1995:1–26; and Salzman 2002.

[ back ] 42. Markus 1990.

[ back ] 43. Trombley 1994, 1:1–97; Hunt 1993; Joannou 1972; and Sandwell 2005.

[ back ] 44. Nicholson 2009:45–84; Harl 2001: 301–322; Kidner 2001:349–379; Trombley 1994, 1:98–146.

[ back ] 45. Brown 2003:30. See also, Trout 1996:175–186.

[ back ] 46. MacMullen 1984:4–5.

[ back ] 47. Theodoret Religious History 26.13–14, quoted in MacMullen 1984:2.

[ back ] 48. MacMullen 1984:2–3.

[ back ] 49. This problem also confronts the contemporary sociologist or anthropologist who wants to study conversion.

[ back ] 50. Frankfurter 2003:39–85.

[ back ] 51. Frankfurter 2003. On syncretism and the history of its fall from and return to theoretical discussions of theory in the study of religion, see Stewart and Shaw 1994:1–26.

[ back ] 52. Taves 2009:17–20.

[ back ] 53. S. Schwartz 2005 (emphasis his).

[ back ] 54. Lampe 1961:732.

[ back ] 55. The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitatis 3.

[ back ] 56. Cyprian On the Glory of Martyrdom 7; Cyril of Jerusalem Catechesis 3.10.

[ back ] 57. Confessions 2.4.9.

[ back ] 58. Yarnold 1994:3.

[ back ] 59. Confessions 1.11.17. See also Augustine’s On the Catechizing of the Uninstructed 27.50.

[ back ] 60. Yarnold 1992:131.

[ back ] 61. Apostolic Constitutions 8.6.2 required that none of the unbelievers (μήτις τῶν ἀπίστων) be permitted to remain in the church during the eucharistic liturgy. How common it would have been for people without any belief to attend a Christian service is very difficult to determine.

[ back ] 62. Johnson 1990:90.

[ back ] 63. Apostolic Tradition 17.

[ back ] 64. Canon 42.

[ back ] 65. Canons 4 and 73.

[ back ] 66. This is the requirement of the Canons of Hippolytus 12. Furthermore, the catechetical sermons of Cyril of Jerusalem, John Chrysostom, and Theodore of Mopsuestia all appear structured for delivery within this framework.

[ back ] 67. WS 5.25.

[ back ] 68. This term appears throughout Cyril of Jerusalem’s catechetical homilies. See also Apostolic Constitutions 8.8.2, 8.8.6, 8.35.2; as well as John Chrysostom Homilies on the Epistle to the Romans 2 and Homilies on Hebrews 13. The Latin sources also use the term competentes, “the competent ones.” This name stresses the fact that the catechumens had to be found worthy of baptism before they could be admitted to the group of those about to receive baptism.

[ back ] 69. Yarnold 1992:133.

[ back ] 70. Cyril of Jerusalem Procatechesis 13.

[ back ] 71. MacMullen 1984:3: “But what started this discussion was my wish to understand how the empire was converted; and in a conventional sense (the sense to be found in all the ordinary history books), populations exactly like the Bedouins in the degree of their spiritual change are certainly counted as converts—are and were counted.”

[ back ] 72. Riley 1974:212–213. I do not doubt that postponement of baptism was common; it is important to see a certain hyperbole in the constant pleading of preachers who claim that no one pursues baptism.

[ back ] 73. Maxwell 2006:120.

[ back ] 74. Sandwell 2007.

[ back ] 75. Sandwell (2007:195–212) recognizes the potential of catechesis to have an impact on catechumens.

[ back ] 76. See Trombley 1994. On the face of it, Trombley makes a case for the importance of catechesis. He makes repeated reference throughout his study to what “catechism” and “the catechist” accomplished. However, his bibliography contains no references to catechetical homilies, the best sources available for what catechists actually did.

[ back ] 77. Sandwell 2007:12–13.

[ back ] 78. Sandwell 2007:9.

[ back ] 79. Maxwell 2006.

[ back ] 80. For a prominent example of this argument, see MacMullen 1989:503–511.

[ back ] 81. Maxwell 2006:67. Furthermore, just because we have a large corpus of sermons from John Chrysostom does not mean that his sermons were representative of late antique preaching. In fact, their preservation in such large numbers suggests exactly the opposite. For a study on a much more representative set of sermons, see Bailey 2010.

[ back ] 82. Maxwell 2006:172.

[ back ] 83. See also Rousseau 1998:391–400.

[ back ] 84. Take, for example, the difference between Chrysostom and his congregation regarding Christian involvement in Jewish practices he considered unacceptable; see Wilken 1983; also Sandwell 2010.

[ back ] 85. See, especially, Bourdieu 1977:78–83 and 1990:66–79, for these aspects of his thought. While Bourdieu noted the difficulty of changing one’s habitus, he did not leave out the possibility of this happening and, not coincidently, described it as a second birth in 1990:68.

[ back ] 86. This notion of paideia differs from what Becker (2006:112–125) has written about in the context of Theodore’s influence on the notion of “divine paideia” in the school of Nisibis. Becker deals with Theodore’s theological idea that God works through human history to teach humans in historically situated ways. While this understanding of divine paideia offers valuable insight into Theodore and his influence in the East Syriac tradition, it is less relevant to what we mean here by paideia as a cultural system into which people must be educated through catechesis. See also, Wallace-Hadrill 1982:63; and Reinink 1995:84–85.

[ back ] 87. Markus 1990:15–16; and Cameron 1991.

[ back ] 88. Critiques of an overly intellectual focus in the study of Christianization abound. This is the basis of MacMullen’s critique of Nock discussed earlier. See also, Sandwell 2007:14–15; and Kile 2005:220–221.

[ back ] 89. WS 5.24–26.