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Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume I: January. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

January 24

St. Macedonius, Anchoret in Syria

HE lived forty years on barley moistened in water, till finding his health impaired, he eat bread, reflecting that it was not lawful for him to shorten his life to shun labours and conflicts, as he told the mother of Theodoret; persuading her, when in a bad state of health, to use proper food, which he said was physic to her. Theodoret relates many miraculous cures of sick persons, and of his own mother among them, by water on which he had made the sign of the cross, and that his own birth was the effect of his prayers, after his mother had lived childless in marriage thirteen years. 1 The saint died, ninety years old, and is named in the Greek menologies. See Theodoret, Hist. Eccles. l. 5. c. 19. and Philotheæ, c. 13. St. Chrysost. hom. 17. ad Pop. Antioch.  1
Note 1. The great Theodoret was dedicated to God by his parents before he was born, and was educated in the study of every true branch of Syriac, Greek, and Hebrew learning. He gave a large estate to the poor, and entered a monastery near Apamea, but was taken out of it against his will, and consecrated bishop of Cyrus in 423, being very young. He converted all the Marcionites, Arians, and other heretics in his diocess, in which he reckons eight hundred churches, or parishes. (Ep. 113. p. 987.) Cyrus was a very small poor town in a desert country, eighty miles from Antioch, one hundred and twenty from Apamea, and one hundred and seventeen from Samosata. Though Theodoret lived in great poverty, he enriched the poor and the churches, and built for his city an aqueduct, two large bridges, porticos, and baths. In 430 Pope Celestin and St. Cyril of Alexandria wrote to John, patriarch of Antioch, against Nestorius, who on his side sent an orthodox letter to the same prelate: soon, after St. Cyril wrote his third letter to Nestorius, to which he subjoined twelve anathematisms against the errors of Nestorius. In this writing certain obscure phrases occur, which John of Antioch thought favourable to the heresy of Apollinaris; whereupon he engaged Theodoret to undertake a confutation of them. Theodoret carried on this contest with great warmth in several writings, and when the œcumenical council of Ephesus was assembled in 431, refused, with John of Antioch, and the rest of the forty Oriental bishops, to enter it, because Nestorius had been condemned in it on the 21st of June, before they arrived at Ephesus on the 27th. They even went so far as to pretend to excommunicate St. Cyril, and form a schism in the church. F. Garnier, the most declared enemy to Theoderet amongst the moderns, lays to his charge several things, of which Tillemont and others clear him. It is certain that he wrote with great bitterness against St. Cyril, and his anathematisms, as appears from the works which he wrote upon that occasion, especially certain letters and fragments of his Pentalogus, (or work in five books, against St. Cyril,) still extant. But St. Cyril having made a clear confession of his faith in a letter to Acacius of Berœa, Theodoret loudly declared him orthodox, and this he proved even in letters which he wrote to Nestorius himself, and to Alexander of Hierapolis, his own metropolitan, the warmest of all St. Cyril’s enemies. John of Antioch, and many others, made their peace with St, Cyril, about the month of April. In 433, Theodoret stood out some time longer, by refusing to condemn the person of Nestorius. St. Cyril and John of Antioch afterwards admitted him to their communion without requiring that condition, and Theodoret laboured to gain over Alexander of Hierapolis; but in vain, so that this prelate was banished by the emperor; Theodoret himself, though he enjoyed the communion of St. Cyril, and of John of Antioch, was often accused, because he persisted to defend the person of Nestorius. The persecution was often renewed against Theodoret, so long as he adhered to Nestorius, especially after St. Cyril, St. Proclus, and all the western prelates condemned the writings of Theodorus of Mopsuestia, as the master of the heresiarch Nestorius in his capital error. The Orientals defended Theodorus, and Theodoret endeavoured to justify him by several writings against St. Cyril, of which only fragments quoted in the fifth council are extant. St. Cyril, by his silence and moderation, calmed this dispute, and always maintained peace with the Orientals from the time it was settled between them. His death happened in June 444, and Dioscorus, the impious Eutychian, was his successor. Theodorus, bishop of Mopsuestia, in Cilicia, who died in 428, in his erroneous writings laid the foundation both of the Pelagian and Nestorian heresies. Theodoret in his writings against St. Cyril, adopts certain expressions which favoured Nestorianism, and were condemned in the fifth general council; nevertheless his sentiments were always orthodox, as is proved by Tillemont, (Art. 20. T. 15. p. 253.) Natalis Alexander, Graveson, &c. By exerting his zeal against Eutyches, and Dioscorus, he incurred the indignation of their sect, and the false council of Ephesus pronounced a pretended sentence of deposition against him. Theodosius the younger first forbade him to stir out of his diocess, and when he desired to go to Rome to justify himself, in 450, banished him to his monastery near Apamea. The Emperor Marcian put an end to the persecution raised by the Eutychians under his predecessor; yet Theodoret chose to continue in his monastery till he was called by Pope Leo to assist at the council of Chalcedon. He had received, with great applause, the excellent letter of that pope to Flavian, and St. Leo declared null all the proceedings of Dioscorus against him at Ephesus, and restored him to his see. (Conc. T. 4. p. 622.) The council of Chalcedon met in 451, and in the seventh session, held on the 26th of October, Theodoret presented his request that his writings and faith might be examined. Those who were prepossessed against him would not allow any such examination, but required that he should anathematize Nestorius, which he at length did; and the council, with high commendations, declared him orthodox, and worthy of his see. Marcian, by a law published the following year, annulled the edict of Theodosius against him and Flavian. He died at Cyrus, about the year 458. The heresy of Nestorius he had clearly condemned from the beginning, with John of Antioch, in their exhortatory letter to Nestorius. (Conc. T. 3. p. 394.) What mistakes and faults he fell into he cancelled by his edifying repentance; and the great virtues which he practised even under his disgrace, the extent of his learning, and the sublimity and acuteness of his genius, have established his reputation in all succeeding ages, and he is deservedly ranked among the most illustrious fathers of the church. His excellent writings are the most authentic monuments of his extraordinary learning and piety. He modestly compares himself (Proleg. in Osee. T. 2. p. 700.) to the Jewish poor women, who in the building of the tabernacle, having neither gold nor silver to give to God towards this work, picked and gathered together the Lair, thread, or cloths, contributed by others, or spun, or sewed something, not to be found quite empty-handed. St. Chrysostom was taken away from Antioch in 397, and Theodoret was only born about the year 393: but though he had not the happiness of hearing his divine discourses, he took him for his principal model, and especially in his comments on the scriptures usually adhered to those of that incomparable doctor. His works were printed at Paris, in 1642, in four volumes in folio, to which F. Garnier, a learned Jesuit, in 1684, added a fifth under the title of an Auctarium, containing certain letters and discourses of this father, with several prolix historical dissertations on the Nestorian heresy. The judicious F. Sirmond, far more equitable than F. Garnier, admires Theodoret’s brevity, joined with great perspicuity, especially in his commentaries, and commends the pleasing beauty and attic elegance of his style. Photius praises his fruitfulness of invention, the purity of his language, the choice of his words, and the smoothness and neatness of his style, in which he finds every where a decent and noble elevation, though he thinks his metaphors sometimes too bold. This great critic calls his method of short notes the most accomplished model for interpreting the holy scriptures, and mentions, as an instance of his sincere humility, that he never employs a single word, or produces a quotation for ostentation, never falling into digressions foreign to his purpose; we may almost say, that a superfluous word scarce ever escapes him. (Phot. Cod. 203. p. 526. Cod. 31. 46. 56.)
  His comments on St. Paul, and on most of the books of the Old Testament, are concise, literal, and solid, but contain not that inexhausted and excellent treasure of morality which we find in St. Chrysostom, whose commentaries Theodoret had always before him: this latter excels chiefly on the prophets.
  His church history, in five books, from the close of that of Eusebius in 324 to 429, is a valuable compilation. Photius justly prefers his style to that of Eusebius, Evagrius, Socrates, and Sozomen, as more historical, clear, and lofty, without any redundancy. (Cod. 31.) His religious history, or Philothea, (i.e. History of the Friends of God,) contains the lives of thirty monks and anchorets of his time. He was himself an eye-witness to several of the miracles which he relates to have been wrought by the sign of the cross, holy water, and blessed oil. Of some other miracles which he mentions, he tells us that they were so authentic and notorious that no one who believes those of Moses, Elias, and the Apostles, could deny them. The five books, Of Heretical Fables, are a history of ancient heresies which he wrote at the request of Sporacius, one of the imperial commissaries at the council of Chalcedon, who was consul in 452. In the fourth book, he inveighs most bitterly against Nestorius, whom he had for some time unworthily favoured. The letters of Theodoret which are extant, amount to the number of 146. His book against the twelve anthematisms of St. Cyril, he tacitly recalled by his condemnation of Nestorius; also his Pentalogus on the same subject, which is now lost, except some fragments preserved by Marius Mercator. His three dialogues against the Eutychians, he entitled Polymorphus, (i.e. of many shapes,) and Eranistes, that is, the Beggar, because the Eutychian error was gathered from the various heresies of Marcian, Valentine, Arius, and Apollinaris. The first dialogue he calls the Unchangeable, because in it he shows that the divine word suffered no change by becoming man. The second is entitled the Inconfused, from the subject, which is to prove that in Christ, after the Incarnation, the divine and human nature remain really distinct. The third is called, the Impassible, because in it the author demonstrates that the divinity neither did nor could suffer: the same is the purport of his demonstration by syllogisms. The dialogues were written about the year 447; for the author clearly confutes Eutyches, though he never names him; and it appears that St. Cyril was then dead, the author reckoning him in the end among the Catholic doctors, who had formerly flourished in the church, and among the stars which had enlightened the world. (Dial. 2. p. 86 and 111.)
  Theodoret’s ten sermons on Providence, are a work never yet paralleled by any other writer, ancient or modern, on that sublime subject; whether we consider the matter and the choice of thoughts, or the author’s sincere piety, or his extensive knowledge, and the depth of his philosophical inquiries, or the strength and solidity of his reasoning, or the noble sublimity of the expression, and the elegance and perspicuity of the diction. It was the love of God which engaged him to undertake, in this task, the defence of the cause of our best Father and supreme Lord, as he modestly assures us, (p. 320.) and this motive animated him with fresh life and uncommon vigour in exerting and displaying the strength and beauty of his genius on so great a subject.
  His twelve discourses on Healing the Prejudices of the Greeks, are an excellent apology for our faith against the pagans; a performance which falls little short of the former. In it we meet with many curious anecdotes relating to the heathenish theology of the ancients, and the impiety and vices with which their philosophers disgraced their profession. In the eighth of these discourses, which is entitled, On the Martyrs, he clearly demonstrates that the veneration which Christians pay to the saints in heaven, is entirely different from the worship which the heathens give to their false gods, and elegantly explains (pp. 591. 600. 606.) in what manner the souls of the martyrs now in heaven, with the choirs of angels, are our protectors and mediators with God, the physicians of our bodies, and savers of our souls: the portions of their divided relics are the guard and protection of our cities, which through their intercession with God obtain divine gifts: Christians give their names to their children to put these under their patronage: it was a custom to hang up before their shrines, gold or silver images of eyes, feet, or hands, as tokens or memorials of health, or other benefits received by their means: they keep their festivals, as those of Peter, Paul, Thomas, Sergius, Marcellus, Leontius, Panteleemon, Antoninus, Mauritius, and others, in prayer, divine canticles, and holy sermons. The same he testifies in his other works. Almost every life of holy monks which he wrote, he closes by imploring their intercession, and mentions that as far as Rome, handicraftsmen hang up in their shops the picture of St. Simeon Stylites, hoping by their devotion to share in the protection of his prayers. (Philoth. c. 26, p. 862.) We learn from him, that Christians were always accustomed to make the sign of the cross on the cup before they drank. (Hist. Eccl. l. 3. c. 13.) He often extols the virtues of that holy sign, honoured, as he says, by all Christians, whether Greeks, Romans, or Barbarians, (Serm. 6. de Prov. p. 580. T. 4.) and he relates, (Hist. Eccl. l. 3. c. 1.) that Julian the Apostate, by making it in a fright, drove away the devils which one of his enchanters was invoking. His book in praise of virginity, to which he refers us, (on 1 Cor. vii. 33.) is lost; also the book in which he confuted both Eutyches and Nestorius, which is mentioned by Gennadius (c. 89.) and Marcellinus. (ad an. 466.) His book against the Jews, and several others, have not reached us. Among those which are extant, his Octateuch, (or comments on the five books of Moses, and those of Joshua, Judges, and Ruth,) to which he added comments on the books of Kings and Paralipomenon, much commended by Photius, seems to be the last work which he wrote. See Tillem. T. 15. Ceillier. [back]