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.

Preface: An Introduction to Theodoret’s Life and Writings

[In this on-line version, the page-numbers of the printed version are indicated within braces (“{” and “}”). For example, “{69|70}” indicates where p. 69 of the printed version ends and p. 70 begins. These indications will be useful to readers who need to look up references made elsewhere to the printed version of this book.]

Εἰς τοὺς ἁγίους πατέρας ἱστορημένους,
ἐν οἷς ἦν καὶ ὁ Θεοδώρητος.

Ἀνιστορήσας τοὺς σοφοὺς διδασκάλους
καὶ τὸν Θεοδώρητον αὐτοῖς συγγράφω
ὡς ἄνδρα θεῖον, ὡς διδάσκαλον μέγαν,
ὡς ἀκράδαντον ὀρθοδοξίας στύλον.
εἰ δ’ ἐκλονήθη μικρὸν ἐκ τινὸς τύχης,
ἄνθρωπος ἦν. ἄνθρωπε, μὴ κατακρίνης·
οὐ γὰρ τοσοῦτον δυσσεβὴς ἦν ὁ κλόνος,
ὅσον μετεῖχε τῆς ἐριστικῆς βίας.
τί γὰρ Κύριλλον πανταχοῦ νικᾶν ἔδει,
καὶ δογματιστὴν ὄντα καὶ λογογράφον;
ὅμως δὲ τοῦτο καὶ διώρθωται πάλιν.
τὰ δ’ ἄλλα πάντα τῶν μεγίστων ποιμένων
βλέπων τὸν ἄνδρα μηδενὸς λελειμμένον
ἐνταῦθα τούτοις εἰκότως συνεγγράφω. [1]



Theodoret was an exceedingly prolific author and a consummate stylist. Marked by the challenge to develop a more solid Christian literature by building upon and adapting preexisting Greek literary culture, his wide range of writings is matched only by the breadth of his vision. A large part of these writings, from apologetic works against paganism to Biblical commentaries and Christological treatises, are his response to the debates and controversies outlined above.

The text and content of the Therapeutikê

Composed in the 420s, the Therapeutikê is considered one of Theodoret’s earliest literary works. Most likely, it was written in the monastery of Nicerte, southeast of Antioch, which, tellingly, was two to three miles from Apameia, birthplace of the Neoplatonic philosopher Iamblichus and well-known center of Neoplatonic philosophy. Epitomizing as it does Theodoret’s apologetic program, the Therapeutikê forms the core of the book that follows. It comprises 12 lectures {5|6} (dialexeis). A list of the titles will give an idea of the overall plan and the subject matter of the work:

Dialexis I. On Faith

Dialexis II. On the First Principle

Dialexis III. On Angels, Gods, and Demons

Dialexis IV. On Matter and Cosmos

Dialexis V. On Human Nature

Dialexis VI. On Providence

Dialexis VII. On Sacrifices

Dialexis VIII. On the Cult of the Martyrs

Dialexis IX. On Laws

Dialexis X. On True and False Oracles

Dialexis XI. On the End and (Final) Judgment

Dialexis XII. On Practical Virtue

Theodoret appears to be sensitive to the limitations of his chosen format, as well as to the way that it affects the presentation of his thought. He prefaces the set of lectures with an introduction that lays out the structure of the work and expounds the rationale behind it. The Therapeutikê is arranged in such a way as to enable contemporary readers to explore progressively a number of important issues that were resonating throughout the empire. As will be shown in Chapter Five of this book, by adopting the flexible and versatile dialexis, and by adapting it to suit his needs, Theodoret is able not only to address and refute pagan criticisms, but also to instruct through a careful selection of philosophical set-pieces.

As will become clear, while Theodoret is selectively responding to Julian’s critique in the Therapeutikê, he refrains from doing so on a point-by-point basis. Instead, he is equally concerned with untangling several knotty and contested issues in the order and with the priority that he, and not Julian, deems important for clarifying, simplifying, and reducing a mass of material into well-articulated positions. More importantly, in each dialexis Theodoret makes sure to give a careful presentation of central beliefs, and he accounts for those beliefs with ample proofs from the Bible.

Previous scholarship onTheodoret’s apologetics

The first two-volume monograph on Theodoret, by Nikolai Glubokovskii, is Blazhennîi Feodorit episkop Kirrskii (Moscow, 1890), which includes a discussion of Theodoret’s apologetic writings and more specifically the Therapeutikê. Karl Joseph Schulte’s monograph Theodoret von Cyrus als Apologet. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Apologetik (Vienna, 1904) represents the first serious and more widely available attempt to ascertain and quantify Theodoret’s sources, to examine the origin of the criticisms that Theodoret seeks to refute, and to assess the value of the apology.

The first critical edition of the Therapeutikê, by Raeder, follows Schulte in 1908, and a French edition with translation—the only one in any modern European language—is not published until the middle of the twentieth century, in 1958. An English translation is still missing. Pierre Canivet’s Histoire d’une entreprise apologétique au Ve siècle (Paris, 1957) goes a long way toward providing a historical, literary, and archaeological context for the Therapeutikê.

Schulte’s and Canivet’s works are of great industry and lasting value. However, many of the points made in them are due for revision in light of advances that have been made in recent scholarship. The narrowly defined analysis as to whether or not Theodoret knew firsthand the authors he cites (an important issue in itself) overlooks other aspects of his apologetics that are just as interesting. Furthermore, their approach leaves a series of important issues unaddressed. It does not sufficiently account for the use of medical and philosophical lore, which on closer investigation, as I will argue, can yield important results that will ultimately lead to a new and better understanding of both Theodoret’s methods and his achievement.

Since the publication of the studies mentioned above, thinking about Theodoret entirely or almost entirely in terms of the attributes he shares with his predecessors and contemporaries has been characteristic of a large part of twentieth-century (and especially English-speaking) scholarship on Theodoret’s apologetics. A more detailed analysis has been long overdue.

The dissertation upon which the current monograph is based, Christian Therapeia and Politeia: The Apologetics of Theodoret of Cyrrhus against the Greeks (Princeton University, 2004), picks up where these studies leave off and seeks {8|9} to fill in the gaps that remain. Another recent study of Theodoret’s apologetics, Siniossoglou’s Plato And Theodoret: The Christian Appropriation of Platonic Philosophy and The Hellenic Intellectual Resistance (Cambridge, 2008), focuses on Theodoret’s interpretation and use of Plato. Siniossoglou’s narrow focus often overlaps with the work of Eduard des Places, who analyzes Theodoret’s quotations of Plato in detail. His study certainly does not represent the full range of Theodoret’s concerns, nor does it encapsulate the extent of his thinking on the relationship between Hellenism and Christianity, for there are important aspects of his apologetics left unaddressed.

This book, then, is the first study in English of the Therapeutikê for Hellenic Maladies (hereafter Therapeutikê) in its religious, literary, and cultural contexts, including original translations of some of the most important passages. Combining close textual readings with larger theological, historical, and cultural issues, the book analyzes in detail Theodoret’s argumentation against Greek religion, philosophy, and culture. While the focus is on the Therapeutikê, the study draws on the other works of Theodoret, as well as on a wide range of late antique Greek literature, in order to give a sense of the wider religious and intellectual context that gave weight to many of the themes with which Theodoret grappled.

Theodoret’s reception

Not long after its composition, the Therapeutikê became a resource, not only for Christian authors engaged in debate with pagans, but also—in the long run—for Byzantine intellectuals for whom Theodoret became a highly respected authority. Citations and active use of the Therapeutikê continued into the Byzantine period, past the fifteenth century, and beyond.


[ back ] 1. Ioannes Mauropous, Metropolite of Euchaita, Epigram 49, from de Lagarde 1979:27. On Theodoret’s reception in Byzantium, see below, p. 9.

[ back ] 2. See Bardy 1946:299–325; Guinot 2001:250–254. For the most recent treatment, see Pásztori-Kupán 2006.

[ back ] 3. Religious History 13.18, trans. Price 1985:106. See also Horn 2007:439–462.

[ back ] 4. Religious History 13.16, trans. Price 1985:106.

[ back ] 5. Religious History 13.17, trans. Price 1985:106.

[ back ] 6. Religious History 13.17, trans. Price 1985:106.

[ back ] 7. Religious History 13.18, trans. Price 1985:107.

[ back ] 8. Religious History 9.4, trans. Price 1985:83.

[ back ] 9. Cribiore 2007.

[ back ] 10. Allen 2006:3–21.

[ back ] 11. Tompkins 1993; Bellini 1977:227–236; Di Paola 2006:155–176.

[ back ] 12. Theodoret’s epistolary and patronage network is fully analyzed by Schor 2011:133–179.

[ back ] 13. For a recent but not unproblematic assessment of his Christology, see Clayton 2007. Fairbairn 2007:100–133.

[ back ] 14. So Honigmann 1953:174–184. Azéma 1984:137–155 argues for the earlier date of 460.

[ back ] 15. Allen and Hayward 2004:17.

[ back ] 16. Pásztori-Kupán 2006:27.

[ back ] 17. For a recently discovered fragment of this work, see Guinot 2007:117–129.

[ back ] 18. For further details, see Price 2007:17–37.

[ back ] 19. For the reception of Theodoret in Byzantium and beyond, see below, p. 9.

[ back ] 20. Richard 1935:83–106.

[ back ] 21. Canivet 1977-1979; Canivet 1977; Urbainczyk 2002.

[ back ] 22. Theodoret, Kirchengeschichte, ed. Parmentier 1998. See also Histoire ecclésiastique / Théodoret de Cyr, ed. Parmentier and Hansen 2006(I).

[ back ] 23. Van Nuffelen 2004.

[ back ] 24. See Chapter Five.

[ back ] 25. Leppin 1996a.

[ back ] 26. See more recently Martin 2005:135–147.

[ back ] 27. On the literary merits of Theodoret and his approach to writing, see Krueger 1997:393–419 and 707–719. Both are included in Krueger 2004.

[ back ] 28. See Cope 1990 and Sillett 2000:261–273.

[ back ] 29. Young 1983:288.

[ back ] 30. Eranistês, ed. Ettlinger 1975.

[ back ] 31. Commentary on the Letters of St. Paul, Hill 2001.

[ back ] 32. Theodoret of Cyrus: Commentary on Daniel, Hill 2006.

[ back ] 33. The Questions on the Octateuch, ed. Petruccione 2007. Guinot (forthcoming); Petruccione (forthcoming).

[ back ] 34. In comparison with the Against Julian, begun by Theodoret’s contemporary Cyril of Alexandria perhaps in 420s but completed around 439–441, Theodoret’s Therapeutikê is more wide-ranging in its scope. When he wrote the Therapeutikê, he was aware of Cyril’s Against Julian, as shown by his letter 83, in which he congratulates Cyril on his achievement.

[ back ] 35. Therapeutikê, prologue 3: “τὸν ἀνειμένον δὲ χαρακτῆρα τοῖς λόγοις ἐντέθεικα· τῇ διδασκαλίᾳ γὰρ εἶναι τοῦτον ὑπείληφα πρόσφορον.”

[ back ] 36. See Chapter Five.

[ back ] 37. Halton 1988:3.

[ back ] 38. For Cyril’s literary ambitions and his efforts to have his works circulate across the empire, see Russell 2000:222n151.

[ back ] 39. Runia 1997:106; Kaldellis 2008:138; Kahlos 2007. Schott 2008:170 speaks of the ossification of apologetics in the case of Theodoret, Cyril, and Augustine.

[ back ] 40. Especially the first four books of the Therapeutikê and perhaps the Ten Discourses on the Divine Providence. See Zacharias of Mytilênê Ammonius, ed. Minniti Colonna 1973:45, 47, 51.

[ back ] 41. PG 89:397–400 (Q. 8), 481–484 (Q. 16), 691 (Q. 46), 624 (Q. 57); Canivet 2000–2001(II):467. These questions, however, do not belong to the original collection as edited by Richard and Munitiz 2006.

[ back ] 42. Mercati 1901:207–226, esp. 218; Canivet 2000-2001(II):468.

[ back ] 43. Thomson (forthcoming).

[ back ] 44. Therapeutikê 9.11–13.

[ back ] 45. Kyriakopoulos 1976: “Πέτρου Ἄργους, ‘Εἰς τὸν Ἀθανάσιον ἐπίσκοπον Μεθώνης’” (54); see Kyriakopoulos 1976:37–67; 214–223; 275–316.

[ back ] 46. Schamp 2004:537, esp. n5. Also Westerink 1990:105–123.

[ back ] 47. Karpozêlos 1997–2002(II):243–249; Canivet 2000–2001(II):467–468.

[ back ] 48. Cavallo 2007:155–165.

[ back ] 49. Gazê 2004:140–141.

[ back ] 50. Epigram 49, ed. de Lagarde 1979:27.

[ back ] 51. Karpozêlos 1982:104.

[ back ] 52. Eis tas aporias tes Theias Graphes Kephalaia, ed. Eustratiades 1906(I):241 (Q. 20); idem, Annales, ed. Bekker 1836:151, 201. See also Papadogiannakis 2009:130–142, at 134.

[ back ] 53. Ioannis Tzetzae Book of Histories 9.861–863, ed. Leone 1968:379–380.

[ back ] 54. Nyström 2009:68, 97, 134, 152–155, 162, 212–213.

[ back ] 55. Crego 1996:19–37.

[ back ] 56. Troianos 1999:179–184.

[ back ] 57. Petitmengin 2002:3–31.

[ back ] 58. For further details, see Bossina 2006:231–291, esp. 257.

[ back ] 59. Zanobi Acciaiuoli (1461–1519) and Friedrich Sylburg (1536–1596), Theodorētou episkopou Kyrou Hellēnikōn pathēmatōn therapeutikē (Heidelberg: Ex typographeio H. Commelini, 1592). On Acciaiuoli’s use of Theodoret, see Nardi 1991:9–63. Guerra Morisi 1991:89–108. See Vicario 2000:119–158.

[ back ] 60. Stoupakês 2000:273, 309, 466, 472, 518.

[ back ] 61. Jacques Sirmond (1559–1651) and Johann Ludwig Schulze (1734–1799), Tou Makariou Theodoretou Episkopou Kyrou Hapanta = B. Theodoreti Episcopi Cyri, opera omnia (Halae: Typis et Impensis Bibliopolii Orphanotrophii, 1769–1774).