Theodoret's People: Social Networks and Religious Conflict in Late Roman Syria

Theodoret's People: Social Networks and Religious Conflict in Late Roman Syria

Theodoret's People: Social Networks and Religious Conflict in Late Roman Syria

Theodoret's People: Social Networks and Religious Conflict in Late Roman Syria

Synopsis

Theodoret's People sheds new light on religious clashes of the mid-fifth century regarding the nature (or natures) of Christ. Adam M. Schor focuses on Theodoret, bishop of Cyrrhus, his Syrian allies, and his opponents, led by Alexandrian bishops Cyril and Dioscorus. Although both sets of clerics adhered to the Nicene creed, their contrasting theological statements led to hostilities, violence, and the permanent fracturing of the Christian community. Schor closely examines council transcripts, correspondence, and other records of communication. Using social network theory, he argues that Theodoret's doctrinal coalition was actually a meaningful community, bound by symbolic words and traditions, riven with internal rivalries, and embedded in a wider world of elite friendship and patronage.

Excerpt

In the fall of 451, more than 350 bishops gathered in Chalcedon, across the water from the Roman imperial palace, for a tense council. in theory these clerics led a single Christian church. Each week they preached a basic common message of brotherhood, love and faith. But most bishops were used to local authority. a gathering of so many chiefs strained the performance of Christian social ideals. On October eighth, the bishops entered the Church of St. Euphemia before a panel of imperial officials. Immediately they divided into two camps, one led by “Easterners” and the other by “Egyptians.” the first activity, the reading of past minutes, sparked shouting matches that threatened to derail the meeting. One focus of hostility was Dioscorus, the bishop of Alexandria in Egypt. When he stood to speak he faced hissing from the opposing camp. All he could do to calm this reaction was to swear fidelity to Cyril, his more popular predecessor. An even sharper acrimony greeted Dioscoruss rival, Theodoret of Cyrrhus in Syria. All he had to do to cause offense was to enter the room:

After the most pious bishop Theodoret was seated in their midst, the most pious
Eastern bishops and those [allied] with them cried out: “He is worthy!”

The most pious Egyptian bishops and those [allied] with them, shouted: “Do not
call him a bishop! He is not a bishop! He is not a bishop! Cast out the attacker of
God! Cast out the Jew! … Cast out the one who insulted Christ! … He anathema
tized Cyril!”

The most pious Eastern bishops… clamored: “Cast out the murderer, Disocorus!”

The most pious Egyptian bishops … shouted: “[Theodoret] has no right to speak!
He was deposed by the whole synod!”

Basil, the most pious bishop of Traianopolis, said: “Even we deposed Theodoret.”

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