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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : IV.--Under the Ban of Theodosius and of the Latrocinium.

The Ecclesiastical History Of Theodoret by Theodoret

IV.--Under the Ban of Theodosius and of the Latrocinium.

Theodoret was at Antioch when Count Rufus brought him the edict. His friends would have detained him, but he hurried away. On reaching Cyrus he wrote to his friend Anatolius warmly protesting against the cruel and unjust action taken against him, and informing the patrician that Euphronius, a military officer, had travelled hard on the track of Rufus to ask for a written acknowledgment of the receipt of the edict of relegation. The letters written at this crisis by the indignant pen of the maligned scholar and saint have a peculiar value, at once biographical, literary, and theological. To Eusebius bishop of Ancyra he sends an important catalogue of his works. To Dioscorus, the chief of the cabal against him, he sends a summary of his views on the incarnation and the nature of our Lord, couched in such terms as might perhaps in earlier days have shortened his great controversy with Cyril. But the opponents of Theodoret were not in a mood to be moved by any formulation of the terms of his faith. Dioscorus received the letter with insult, and publicly joined in the shout of anathema which he permitted to be raised against his hated brother. The condemnation of Eutyches by Flavian's Constantinopolian Synod had roused the Eutychian party to leave no stone unturned to secure its reversal and crush it and all who upheld it. Of the latter Theodoret was the most prominent, the ablest and perhaps the holiest. Hence he was the natural representative and personification of the doctrines that Dioscorus sought to decry and degrade. The sixth Council of Ephesus of evil fame met in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin on August 8, 449. Eutyches was acquitted. Flavian was condemned. Ibas of Edessa, Domnus of Antioch, and Theodoret of Cyrus were deprived of their sees. The disgraceful scenes of violence which marked every stage of this shameful ecclesiastical gathering have been described again and again with the vivid detail rendered possible by the exactitude of contemporary narrative, but, inasmuch as Theodoret was condemned in his absence we are concerned here less with the manner in which his condemnation was brought about than with the steps he took to protest against and to reverse it.

To the prisoner of Cyrus courier after courier would bring intelligence of the riots and tricks of the council. At last came news of the crowning wrong. On the indictment of an Antiochene presbyter named Pelagius, Theodoret was condemned as an enemy of God, a disseminator of poison, a false teacher deserving to be burnt. In support of the accusation was quoted the careful theological statement addressed by Theodoret to the monks in the Euphratensis and the Osrhoene which appears as Letter CLI., as well as citations from his works at large. Dioscorus described the absent defendant as a blasphemous enemy of God and the Emperor whose life had been spent in damning souls. Theodoret was sentenced not merely to deposition from his see but to degradation from the priesthood and to excommunication, and his books were ordered to be burnt. So the great council ended with the deposition of Flavian of Constantinople, Eusebius of Dorylæum, Daniel of Carræ, Irenæus of Tyre, Aquilinus of Biblus, and Domnus of Antioch as well as of Theodoret. Eutyches the heretic Archimandrite was restored and the brutal Dioscorus seemed master of Christendom. One word of manly Latin had broken in on the supple suffrages of the servile orientals, the |Contradicitur| of Hilarius the representative of the Church of Rome.

To that church, and to its illustrious bishop, Theodoret naturally turned in his hour of need. He implored his friend Anatolius to get him permission to plead his own cause in person in the West, or if not to let him retire to his old home at Nicerte. The latter alternative was conceded. In this retreat he received many proofs of the affectionate regard of his friends and offers of more practical help than his modest necessities demanded. Thence products of his facile pen travelled far and wide. The whole series of letters written at this period gives touching testimony to the gentle and forgiving spirit of the sorely tried bishop. There is nothing of the bitterness and fierce anger which appear sometimes in the earlier controversy with Cyril. He is refined, not soured, by adversity, and, though he never approached nearer to canonization than the acquisition of the inferior title of Blessed, he appears in these dark days as no unworthy specimen of the suffering saint. The chief interest of these letters is in truth moral, spiritual and theological. This, however, has been obscured by the ecclesiastical interest which has been given them by the unwarranted attempt to represent Theodoret's letter to Leo as an |appeal| to the see of Rome in the later and technical sense of the word. Whether St. Hilary of Arles ever did or did not give the lie to his short life of strenuous protest against the growing aggrandizement of the see of Rome, there is no doubt that before his death at the age of 41 in 449 his suffragans had been released by Leo from allegiance to a Metropolitan disobedient to the Roman chair, and that Valentinian had issued an edict confirming Leo's claims and making the authority of the Bishop of Rome supreme in the West. It would be useful to maintainers of the Roman supremacy if they could adduce instances of any assertion or acceptance of similar authority in the East. So it has been said that Theodoret appealed to the Pope. In a sense this is of course perfectly true. Theodoret did appeal to the Pope. But the whole superstructure of papal supremacy, so far as Theodoret is concerned, is really based upon a poor paronomasia. The bishop of Cyrus |appealed| to the bishop of Rome as any bishop believing himself to lie under an unjust sentence might appeal to any other bishop, and as Theodoret did appeal to other bishops. It is quite true that the church of Rome had many claims to honour and regard, as Theodoret himself felicitously and opportunely points out, and that the present occupant of its throne was a man of unblemished orthodoxy and of commanding personal dignity. But to recognise these facts is a long way from admitting that this very dignified see had either de facto or de jure any coercive jurisdiction over the Metropolitans of Alexandria or of Hierapolis, to the latter of whom Cyrus was subordinate. Theodoret himself quotes the crucial passage in St. Matthew's gospel apparently without any idea that the |Petra| means all the successors of the |Petrus.| What Theodoret asked from Leo was not the sentence of a superior but the sympathy and support of an influential brother. What made it so peculiarly important that he should gain the ear and the approval of Leo was that Rome had been wholly unconcerned in the intrigue which condemned him. He could have had no more idea of papal authority in the later ultramontane sense than he could of the decrees of the Vatican Council. Bound as he was to do his utmost to vindicate not so much his own position and doctrinal soundness, as the truth now trampled on by the combined factions of Alexandria and the court, he naturally turned to Leo as alike the most respected and most independent bishop of his age.

Leo, however, could do little or nothing to help him. Theodosius, completely under the influence of Chrysaphius and Dioscorus, was quite satisfied as to the proper constitution and equity of the Latrocinium.

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