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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. III:
The Ecclesiastical History, Dialogues, and Letters of Theodoret.: Under the Ban of Theodosius and of the Latrocinium.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

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. 62 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. 63 The letters written at this crisis by the indignant pen of the maligned scholar and saint 64 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. 65 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. 66 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 67 rendered possible by the exactitude of contemporary p. 8 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. 68 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. 69 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. 70 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. 71 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. 72 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 p. 9 authority of the Bishop of Rome supreme in the West. 73 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. 74 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 75 apparently without any idea that the “Petra” means all the successors of the “Petrus.” 76 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. 77

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.



Epp. LXXIX and LXXX.








“Theodoret’s condemnation was the chief object aimed at in summoning” the Latrocinium. He was “the bugbear of the whole Eutychian party and consequently condemned in advance.” Canon Venables, Dict. Christ. Biog. iv. 913 and Martin Brigandage à Ephèse p. 192.


See specially Gibbon Chap. xlvii. Milman Hist. Lat. Christ. Book II. Chap. iv. Stanley, Christian Institutions, Chap. xvi. 4 and Canon Bright Art. Dioscorus in Dict. Christ. Biog. General Councils, it may be remarked, have been depreciated and ridiculed by historians of two kinds; the anti-Christian, such as Gibbon, who have been glad of the opportunity of bringing discredit on the Church; and the Roman, such as Cardinal Newman, who are aware that the authority of Councils is not always reconcileable with the asserted authority of the Bishop of their favourite see. (“Even those councils which were œcumenical have nothing to boast of in regard to the Fathers, taken individually, which compose them. They appear as the antagonist host in a battle, not as the shepherds of their people.” Hist. Sketches, p. 335.) And it must be conceded that so far as outward circumstances went the Latrocinium was as good a council as any other. As is pointed out by Dean Milman, “It is difficult to discover in what respect, either in the legality of its convocation or the number and dignity of the assembled prelates, consists its inferiority to more received and honoured councils. Two imperial commissioners attended to maintain order in the council and peace in the city. Dioscorus the patriarch of Alexandria by the Imperial command assumed the presidency. The Bishops who formed the Synod of Constantinople were excluded as parties in the transaction, but Flavianus took his place with the Metropolitans of Antioch and Jerusalem and no less than three hundred and sixty bishops and ecclesiastics. Three ecclesiastics, Julian a bishop, Renatus a presbyter, and Hilarius a deacon were to represent the bishop of Rome. The Abbot Barsumas (this was an innovation) took his seat in the Council as a kind of representative of the monks.” Milman, Lat. Christ. Book II. Chap. iv. The fact is that the great Councils of the Early Church are like the great men of the Early Church. Some have authority and some have not. But their authority does not depend upon formal circumstances or outward position. They have authority because the inspired common sense of the Church has seen and valued the truth and wisdom of their utterances. Athanasius, Arius, Cyril, and Nestorius, were all great churchmen. Athanasius and Cyril stand out against the background of centuries as champions of the faith. Arius and Nestorius are counted as heretics. Character does not outweigh doctrine. Nestorius is unsound in the faith though he was an amiable and virtuous man; Cyril is an authority of orthodoxy though his personal qualities were not saintly. Of all the councils that according to Ammianus Marcellinus hamstrung the postal resources of the Empire, take Nicæa, Tyre, and the two Ephesian councils of 431 and 449. Nicæa and the earlier Ephesian are accepted by the Church Catholic. Tyre and the later Ephesian, though both were summoned at the will of princes and attended by a large concourse of bishops, are rejected. Why? The earlier Ephesian in the disorder and violence of its proceedings was as disgraceful as the Tyrian and the later Ephesian. The councils of Nicæa and of Ephesus, called the first and the third œcumenical councils, are vindicated by the assent of the wisest of the Church. The dictum securus judicat orbis terrarum here holds good, and is seen to be identical with the ultimate foundation of the great Aristotelian definition “defined by reason, and as the wise man would define.” And such is also the practical outcome of the statement of Article XXI, of the Church of England.

cf. the striking passage of Augustine (Cont. Maximin. Arian. ii. 14). “Sed nunc nec ego Nicænum, nec tu debes Ariminense, tanquam prœjudicaturus, proferre consilium. Nec ego hujus auctoritate, nec tu illius detineris. Scripturarum auctoritatibus, non quorumque propriis, sed utrisque communibus testibus, res cum re, causa cum causa, ratio cum ratione concertet.” On the first four accepted œcumenical councils Dr. Salmon (Infallibility of the Church, p. 287) remarks, “Gregory the Great says that he venerates these four as the four Gospels, and describes them as the four square stones on which the structure of faith rests. Yet the hard struggle each of these councils had to make and the number of years which the struggle lasted before its decrees obtained general acceptance, show that they obtain their authority because of the truth which they declared and it was not because of their authority that the decrees were recognised as true.”


Canon Venables Dict. Christ. Biog. Actes du Brigandage, pp. 193, 195.


Evagrius i. 10.








Cf. Milman Lat. Christ. Book ii. Chap. iv; Const. Valentin. iii Aug. apud S. Leon. op. epist. xi.


Garnerius, the Jesuit, in his dissertation on the life of Theodoret writes: “When Theodoret got news of his deposition he determined to send envoys to the apostolic see, that is to the head of all the churches in the world, to plead his cause before the righteous judgment seat of St. Leo,” and in his summary of his own chapter he says “Theodoret appeals to the apostolic see.”


Matt. xvi. 18




cf. Glubokowski. pp. 237, 239. Du Pin. iv. 83. Cardinal Newman, in his very bright and sympathetic sketch of Theodoret, (Hist. Sketches ii. 308 ed. 1891) writes the following remarkable sentence. “This, at least, he has in common with St. Chrysostom that both of them were deprived of their episcopal rank by a council, both appealed to the holy see, and by the holy see both were cleared and restored to their ecclesiastical dignities.” It would be difficult in the compass of so short a sentence to combine more statements so completely misleading. To say that Chrysostom and Theodoret both appealed to the “holy see” is as much an anachronism as to say that they appealed to the Court of the Vatican or to the Dome of St. Peter’s. In their day there was no holy see, that is to say, κατ᾽ ἐξοχήν. All sees were holy sees, just as all bishops were styled your holiness. Rome, it is true, was the only apostolical see in the West, but it was not the only apostolical see, and whatever official precedence it could claim over Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria, was due to its being the see of the old imperial capital, a precedence expressly ordered at Chalcedon to be shared with the new Rome on the Bosphorus. As to the “appeal,” we have seen what it meant in the case of Theodoret. It meant the same in the case of Chrysostom. Cut to the quick at the cruel and brutal treatment of his friends after his banishment from Constantinople in the summer of 404 he pleaded his cause in letters sent as well to Venerius of Milan and Chromatius of Aquileia as to Innocent of Rome. Innocent very properly espoused his cause, declared his deposition void, and did his best to move Honorius to move Arcadius to convoke a council. The cruel story of the long martyrdom of bitter exile and the death in the lonely chapel at Comana is a terrible satire on the restoration to ecclesiastical dignities. The unwary reader of “the historical sketch” might imagine the famous John of the mouth of gold brought back in triumph to Constantinople by the authority of the pope in 404 as he had been by the enthusiasm of his flock in 403, and Arcadius and Eudoxia cowering before the power of Holy Church like Henry IV. at Canossa in 1077. The true picture of the three years of agony which preceded the old man’s passage to the better world in 407 is a painful contrast to contemplate (Pallad. Dial. 1–3. Theodoret V. 34. Sozomen viii. 26, 27, 28.) Of Theodoret’s restoration to “ecclesiastical dignity,” and Leo’s part in it, we shall see further on.

Next: Theodoret and Chalcedon.

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