Theodoret of Cyrrhus (393–466)

Bp., biblical exegete, church historian, hagiographer, and defender of Antiochene Christology against Cyril of Alexandria. He was born in Antioch to a pious mother who took him regularly to visit monks in the outskirts of Antioch, in particular Peter the Galatian. Theodoret was made bp. of Cyrrhus (60 miles northeast of Antioch in the diocese of Hierapolis/Mabbug) in 423 and participated in the Council of Ephesus (431), defending Nestorius against Cyril of Alexandria. Deposed by the Second Council at Ephesus (449), he was reinstated at Chalcedon (451).

Theodoret is the author of a number of biblical commentaries, an argument for the superiority of Christianity over paganism, a response to Eutyches against the miaphysite position, an Ecclesiastical History which continued Eusebius’s chronicle to 428, and the ‘History of the Monks of Syria’ (Historia Religiosa).

The ‘History of the Monks of Syria’ is a collection of 30 brief to medium-length lives of ascetics in the region of Antioch from the early 4th to mid-5th cent., many with whom Theodoret had personal contact and interaction. The lives follow chronologically the course of Theodoret’s life. The first 20 lives are of ascetics who were deceased by the time of Theodoret’s writing; the last ten describe ascetics who were still living when he wrote. Also, the first 13 ascetics are located in the Antioch region, where Theodoret was raised and educated, while the latter 17 center around Cyrrhus, the locus of his episcopacy.

Theodoret portrays the ascetics in similar patterns with little character development, helping to create an image of Syriac Christianity dominated by severe asceticism. Yet, Theodoret depicts himself intervening with a number of ascetics in his role as bp. to mitigate the rigor of their asceticism.

Theodoret wrote all his works in classical Greek, but was fluent in Syriac evidenced by his many conversations with contemporary ascetics. In the life of Jacob of Cyrrhestica, a demon approaches and speaks to Theodoret in Syriac (21.15).

Noteworthy lives include: Yulyana Saba (2) — subject of a long memrā attributed to Ephrem; Peter the Galatian (9) — an ascetic who healed Theodoret’s mother and converted her to a more sober lifestyle; Maron  (16)  — the namesake of the founder of the Maronite community (Yuḥanon Maron); Jacob of Cyrrhestica   (21)  — the lengthiest written life and the first ascetic still living at the time of Theodoret’s writing; Shemʿun the Stylite  (26)  — the most celebrated of Theodoret’s figures. Two chapters concerning women ascetics are included at the end of the ‘History of the Monks of Syria’: Marana and Cyra (29) and Domnina  (30).

The ‘History of the Monks of Syria’ includes a prologue and an epilogue on divine love. The lives included are: 1. Yaʿqub of Nisibis (d. 337/8); 2. Yulyana Saba (d. 367); 3. Marcianus of Chalcis (d. 380s); 4. Eusebius of Tell ʿAda (fl. 350s); 5. Publius of Euphratesia (fl. 350s); 6. Symeon the Elder of Antioch (fl. 370s); 7. Palladius of Antioch (fl. 370s); 8. Aphrahaṭ of Antioch (d. ca. 410); 9. Peter of Mt. Silpius (d. ca. 403); 10. Theodosius of Cilicia (d. ca. 405); 11. Romanos of Mt. Silpius (d. ca. 400); 12. Zeno of Mt. Silpius (d. 410s); 13. Macedonius of Mt. Silpius (d. ca. 420); 14. Maesymas of Cyrrhus (fl. late 4th cent.); 15. Acepsimas of Cyrrhus (fl. late 4th cent.); 16. Maron of Cyrrhus (d. 410s); 17. Abraham of Cyrrhus (d. 420s); 18. Eusebius of Asikha (d. 430s); 19. Salamanes by the Euphrates; 20. Maris of Cyrrhus (d. c. 430); 21. Jacob of Cyrrhestica; 22. Linneaeus of Cyrrhus; 23. John of Cyrrhus, Moses of Rama, Antonius; 24. Zebinas, Polychronius of Cyrrhus; 25. Asclepius of Cyrrhus, John of Nimouza; 26. Shemʿun the Stylite; 27. Baradatus of Antioch; 28. Thalelaeus of Gabala; 29. Marana and Cyra of Beroea; 30. Domnina of Cyrrhus.

Three chapters from his ‘History of the Monks’ survive in Syriac translation (Yaʿqub of Nisibis, Yulyana Saba, and Abraham of Ḥarran), and there are also fragments of a Syriac translation of his Ecclesiastical History (unpublished).

    Primary Sources

    • CPG 6200–6288.
    • P.  Canivet and A.  Leroy-Molinghen, Histoire des moines de Syrie (SC 234, 257; 1977–9). (Greek with FT of ‘History of the Monks of Syria’)
    • R. M.  Price, A history of the monks of Syria (1985). (ET of ‘History of the Monks of Syria’)

    Secondary Sources

    • P. Canivet, Le monachisme syrien selon Théodoret de Cyr (1977).
    • A.  de  Halleux, ‘L’Histoire Ecclésiastique de Théodoret dans les florilèges grégoriens syriaques’, in Mélanges Antoine Guillaumont (1988), 221–32.
    • F. Millar, ‘Theodoret of Cyrrhus: A Syrian in Greek Dress?’ in From Rome to Constantinople. Studies in Honour of A. Cameron, ed. H. Amirav and B. ter Haar Romeny (Late Antique History and Religion 1; 2007), 105–25.
    • B.  Outtier, ‘Notule sur les versions orientales de l’Histoire Philothée (CPG 6221)’, in ANTIΔΩΡON. Hommage à M. Geerard, I (1984), 73–80.
    • M. Parmentier, ‘A letter from Theodoret of Cyrus to the exiled Nestorius (CPG 6270) in a Syriac version’, Bijdragen 51 (1990), 234–45.
    • Ph.  Rousseau, ‘Moses, monks, and mountains in Theodoret’s Historia religiosa’, in Il monachesimo tra eredità e aperture, ed. M. Bielawski and D. Hombergen (2004), 323–46.
    • Th. Urbainczyk, Theodoret of Cyrrhus: The bishop and the holy man (2002).
    • eadem, ‘ “The devil spoke Syriac to me”: Theodoret in Syria’, in Ethnicity and culture in Late Antiquity, ed. S. Mitchell and G. Greatrex (2000), 253–65.


How to Cite This Entry

Robert A. Kitchen , “Theodoret of Cyrrhus,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay, https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Theodoret-of-Cyrrhus.

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Robert A. Kitchen , “Theodoret of Cyrrhus,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018), https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Theodoret-of-Cyrrhus.

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Kitchen, Robert A. “Theodoret of Cyrrhus.” In Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition. Edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay. Digital edition prepared by David Michelson, Ute Possekel, and Daniel L. Schwartz. Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018. https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Theodoret-of-Cyrrhus.

A TEI-XML record with complete metadata is available at https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Theodoret-of-Cyrrhus/tei.

Show more information...
URI   TEI/XML   Purchase  

Resources related to 12 other topics in this article.

See more ...
Show Other Resources