Thomas HALTON, Trans. Theodoret of Cyrus: A Cure for Pagan Maladies. Ancient Christian Writers series, no. 67. New York/Mahwah, NJ: The Newman Press, 2013. xv + 360 pages. $49.95 hc. ISBN 978-0-8091-0606-6. Reviewed by Robert P. RUSSO, Lourdes University, Sylvania, OH 43560
The late Thomas P. Halton served as a professor of Greek and Latin at the Catholic University of America. He had previously published volumes dedicated to the liturgical practice of the Church Fathers, St. John Chrysostom, and an earlier volume in the Ancient Christian Writers series regarding the wisdom of Theodoret of Cyrus (On Divine Providence, vol. 49). His most recent publication, also regarding Theodoret, is a fascinating translation of the fifth century Bishop of Cyrus’s Curatio, an Apology written against pagan philosophers. Halton describes the Curatio as one of the last great Christian Apologies, and he admires the work as “a well-organized, easy-to-read, and respectable treatise in the Platonic manner” (11). Halton also relates how well Theodoret understood the mindset of the philosophers of his day, in that “[t]here is a pronounced streak of voyeurism in Theodoret’s treatment of the immorality of the pagan gods and an almost adolescent, not to say pathological, preoccupation with sexual detail” (11). What emerges, however layered in anti-philosophical rhetoric, serves as a powerfully written Apology, which could be used to counteract the social and religious malaise of postmodern times.
Theodoret prescribes his cure for pagan malaise, by beginning with a brief yet stern Preface, wherein he rails against those who denounce the truth of the Gospels: “I have undertaken this labor to cure those who are ill, and to render beneficial preventive service to those who are in good health” (19). He then proffers twelve discourses, expounding upon such themes as faith, angels, false gods, and demons, matter and the cosmos, human nature, and practical virtue. The second discourse, entitled “On the First Principle,” contains truth related to the Trinity, which is both beautiful, and awe-inspiring. Here, Theodoret effectively uses passages from Genesis (he, in fact, provides five different examples from Genesis 1:26-27) as evidence of the trinitarian origins found in the Old Testament, citing “[t]he statement: Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one Lord both teaches God’s unity and hints at the Trinity, for by using the word ‘God’ once, and the word ‘Lord’ twice it has revealed the number of the Trinity. In adding ‘is one’ it brought forward a helpful teaching to the Jews and indicated the unity of the divine substance” (57-58).
In the sixth discourse, entitled “On Divine Providence,” Theodoret instructs the pagans (also refuting notions of Arianism, in the process) on the separate, but fully divine and human natures of Christ, exhorting “[t]he [hypostatic] union is, in fact, not a blending of natures, nor has it subjected to time the Maker of time, not to mention that He who was born in time was anterior to time” (156). The tenth discourse, “On True and False Oracles,” displays Theodoret’s biting wit and cynicism, in that he cautions “there is no need to blush, my friends; for it is proper to feel shame, not at the confession of sin, but at its commission” (218). Theodoret sums up his Apology with a final warning to the pagan philosophers, whom he sarcastically refers to as blind mammals: “the Light has risen and banished the lot of them like bats to darkness. It is my hope that you get a share of those rays” (268).
Enigmatically, Halton admits that much of Theodoret’s thinking came from the philosophers of his day, and perhaps this is why there are over eighty pages of footnotes with constant reference to the Stromata of Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius of Caesarea’s Praeparatio evangelica. However, the reader should note that there is very little else to complain about. This volume is extremely well-crafted, and should appeal to advanced students of Apologetics, Church History, and Philosophy, standing as an excellent representation of both Theodoret of Cyrus, and the late Thomas P. Halton.