Review of Pásztori-Kupán István: Theodoret of Cyrus. The Early Church Fathers. London: Routledge 2006

Louth Andrew: Review of Pásztori-Kupán István: Theodoret of Cyrus. The Early Church Fathers. London: Routledge 2006. In: The Heythrop Journal 49 (2008), 326-327. pp.

István Pásztori-Kupán has also chosen to introduce a multifaceted figure. For Theodoret was not only a bishop and theologian, caught up in the Christological controversies of the fifth century (indeed the only figure prominent both in the events surrounding Ephesos and in those connected with Chalcedon), he was a historian,both a church historian in the succession of Eusebius and also a historian of the ascetic movement in Syria (to which he had exceptional access as a native speaker of Syriac), in which he excels Palladius’ account of Egyptian asceticism, which may have been his model; in addition, he was one of the last apologists, a heresiologist, and a voluminous and influential exegete; there is also a significant number of letters.Pásztori-Kupán is aware of all this, and indeed tells us, but he really only presents a selection from the many-sidedness of Theodoret: there is nothing on the historian,either of the Church (which would have been difficult to select from) or of asceticism (a much easier task), nor on the exegete (which would scarcely have been a problem,as Theodoret’s preferred vehicle for exegesis was the genre of zetemata — questions or scholia). Pásztori-Kupán is scarcely to be blamed for his, given that no one else hastried to draw together the different sides of Theodoret. Apart from short extractsfrom his apology (Cure for Greek Maladies), his book on heresies (Compendium of Greek Mythification) and a letter, he concentrates on his theology. This seems to me a pity, as this is not Theodoret at his best, nor is it the Theodoret that exercised the greatest influence, but so long as patristics is taught from the perspective of theChurch Councils (as it still is, though diminishingly), it will seem his natural centre of gravity. It is on this theological Theodoret, too, that Pásztori-Kupán’s introduction focuses; after four pages on the ‘young Theodoret’, it is Nestorianism, Cyril and the way to Chalcedon. Perhaps the best thing about these pages, apart from the reliable, though not sparkling, account of the Antiochene side of the fifth-century Christological controversy, is the space he gives to the insights of Luise Abramowski, whose contribution to our knowledge of this period is not as well known in English asit should be. For Pastori-Kupain to have attempted such a work in what for him is aforeign language is humbling for those whose native language it is; the reliability ofthe translations is guaranteed by the help, duly acknowledged, of his Doktorvater, Professor David Wright. The many-sidedness of Theodoret, however, is worthpausmg over. It is astonishing. He was clearly someone who really wanted to know, whether it was the history and organization of the Church, orthodoxy and heresy, philosophical attacks on Christianity, or the amazing things that were going on inSyrian asceticism (he is one of our sources for the life of Symeon the Stylite). Oftenthis learning was borrowed: Eusebius is an important source for his philosophicallearning, though he has a remarkable knowledge of Plotinus, beyond anything he could have learned from Eusebius. It is really the same extensive learning we find inthe theologian, something Pásztori-Kupán does not really bring out clearly enough. Nevertheless, his volume on Theodoret is much the best introduction to the distinguished Antiochene available.