European Pagan Memory Day

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Theodoret (393-466) was born in Antioch and became bishop of the city of Cyrrhus, hence his name; he's also author of an Ecclesiastical History in which the destruction of Zeus' temple in Apamea by hand of bishop Marcellus is told. His work Cure of the Greek maladies, in Latin Graecarum affectionum curatio, is considered the last, in chronological order, of apologetic works, that is those writings by Christian first writers which defend Christianity by attacking more or less violently other religions, first of all what we today call paganism. It is believed to have been written around the twenties of the fifth century. We don't own another apologetic work of his, which should have been interesting for understanding the climate of intrareligious relationships at that time, his Ad quaesita magorum against the Persian Magi who, according to Theodoret, provoked persecutions against Christians.

In Cure of the Greek maladies twelve matters are developed, which were subject of a long debate between Pagans and Christians; Theodoret resolves them by using two traditional tactics the apologetic works used to employ: the use of sentences and quotes by Pagan authors in order to reaffirm Christian ideas and the attempt to demonstrate that Pagan literature isn't enough to explain these matters and therefore is worse than Christian literature. These questions, one for each book composing Theodoret's work, are:

Theodoret proceeds in a similar manner throughout the books and follows some main lines. One is the massive use of Pagan, or better Prechristian, authors' works, in two different ways: first, to reaffirm Christian opinions, stating that if something is said by a Pagan philosopher, Pagan people must agree with him; but also to deny the whole complex of Prechristian statements, by sentencing that if there are a lot of different opinion about something, none of them can be true, while the bible, which has only one opinion must therefore be 'the truth'. Theodoret never says 'christianity' but always 'truth' to mean the same thing. Probably in order to defend himself against possible charges from the Christian side of having used too much of ancient philosophers like Plato or Socrates, in the last book Theodoret says he used them just because he believes Pagan should realize they have said something true, since they are believed to be the wisest, but though they learnt from Hebrews through Egyptian tradition or understood something true, they nevertheless didn't act as they spoke and had a despicable sexual behavior. So Theodoret's work ends with the praise of extreme modesty, marriage and true love that is love toward god. Obviously the many excerpts from Prechristian philosophers and authors are often decontextualized at his convenience, e.g. when Theodoret uses Plutarch to say that oracles are made by demons, which are just lesser deities for Plutarch but evil and deceptive beings according to Theodoret.

Another point on which Theodoret focuses is the debate on the style used to spread Christian dogmas and on who's spreading them (fishermen apostles, first), insisting on pagans who canít recognize 'the truth' but let themselves be deceived by rhetoric skills and elegant style even when used to say falsity.

Other themes brought up by Theodoret are more common: many apologists used to blame pagans their immoral behavior with cruelty and improper sexual conduct, the worship of statues as if they were the gods themselves, the deification of human beings.

It won't be of particular significance or usefulness to comment each of Theodoret's ideas: beside the forced use of prechristian authors, the premises themselves of the apologistís speech are unacceptable, first because it is known that a pagan literature, meaning a theological literature, doesn't exist nor the philosophers' opinions are acceptable in this sense, and then because the question Theodoret makes are unfit for pagan literature, since they demand a Christian mentality. We canít accept also the statement that Pagans must agree with the ideas of everyone calling himself a pagan, as if they were ours.

It's worth, though, knowing the existence and the base argumentation expressed in Cure of the Greek maladies, that is not only the latest apologetic work, but for sure the most cultured and the one that opens most the use of prechristian literature at christianityís convenience. We should know this work, for many of the subjects still used against Christianity are born here and from here they entered in the Christian cultural luggage about the ancient world.

Reference work

Manuela Simeoni


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