Theodoret of Cyrrhus Biography


(Historic Lives: The Ancient World, Prehistory-476)

Article abstract: Greek theologian{$I[g]Asia Minor;Theodoret of Cyrrhus}{$I[g]Roman Empire;Theodoret of Cyrrhus} Theodoret served as the bishop of Cyrrhus for forty-one years. Aside from carrying out an effective and sensitive bishopric, he authored works on practically every aspect of Christian thought and practice. He is perhaps best remembered for his contribution to the Christological debates that led to the Council of Chalcedon.

Early Life

Theodoret (thee-AHD-uh-ruht) was born in Antioch in the Roman province of northern Syria c. 393 c.e. to moderately wealthy Christian parents. He spent the first twenty-three years of his life in the city of Antioch, leaving in 416-417 for the monastery at Nicerte. While Theodoret wrote sparingly of these formative years in Antioch, his remarks as well as what can be deduced from his later writings reveal that he drew deeply from both the rich Greco-Roman culture of the city and the monks who lived on the fringes of Antioch. His writings reflect the education typical of the privileged population of large Greco-Roman cities in late antiquity. Such an education would have entailed training in Greek grammar, speech, and the classics of Greek literature and philosophy from Homer to Demosthenes.

From his parents, Theodoret inherited a fondness for the monks who lived in the caves and wilderness surrounding Antioch. Theodoret’s mother had sought out these monks to cure an eye ailment, and his father had sought help when after thirteen years of marriage no child had been conceived. In both cases, the monks were given credit for solving the problem; from childhood, Theodoret was taken on weekly visits to them. Theodoret fondly recalled his visits to the monks Peter of Galatia and Macedonius and noted that Peter had given him a piece of linen girdle that was treasured by the family when it proved a remedy for a variety of physical afflictions.

On the death of his parents, Theodoret left Antioch to become a monk himself. He joined the monastic community at Nicerte near Apamea and there enjoyed some seven years of quiet seclusion. It was during his tenure at Nicerte that Theodoret composed his celebrated apology for the Christian religion, Therapeutica (c. 424; A Treatise of Laws, 1776). This apology displays the breadth of his knowledge of Greek philosophy and religion as he juxtaposes the claims of Christianity to those associated with a host of Greek philosophical schools and religious cults.

Life’s Work

After seven years in the monastery at Nicerte, Theodoret was called to assume the duties of bishop of the diocese of Cyrrhus. Theodoret says he “unwillingly assumed” the office, as it meant leaving behind the beloved tranquillity of the monastery and taking on the demands of an exceptionally large and unruly diocese on the eastern edges of the Roman Empire. Theodoret’s reluctance did not prevent him from fulfilling his appointed task: He served as bishop there from the year 424 until his death in 458.

The boundaries of the diocese were the same as those of Cyrrhestica, a territory of the province of Euphatensis in eastern Syria. The diocese was subject to the Metropolitan at Hierapolis and covered 1,600 square miles (2,580 square kilometers). Theodoret described the diocese as mountainous and bare. This bleak landscape had not, however, discouraged the establishment and spread of Christianity; Theodoret also refers to the existence of eight hundred parishes, each with its own church. The area also contained a significant population of monks, with whom Theodoret maintained a cordial relationship.

The town of Cyrrhus, where Theodoret was to reside, was located approximately sixty-five kilometers northeast of Antioch at the confluence of the Aphreen and Saboun Souyou rivers. Cyrrhus had been an important Roman military outpost, but, like many other Roman frontier towns, it was in a state of decline by the fifth century. Theodoret called it “a solitary and ugly village.” During his residence, he spent much time and energy in rebuilding and improving Cyrrhus. Using funds collected from the diocese, he constructed two bridges and public galleries, rebuilt a major aqueduct, and improved the public baths. The bishop also paid to have skilled physicians move to the town and secured the service of educators and engineers.

Theodoret’s responsibilities were numerous. He describes such...

(The entire section is 1828 words.)