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E03500: Theodoret of Cyrrhus writes the Cure for Greek Maladies, which contains a defence of the cult of martyrs against its pagan critics. Written in Greek in the 420s, at the monastery of Nikerte near Apamea on the Orontes, or in Cyrrhus (both north Syria).

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posted on 2017-07-25, 00:00 authored by CSLA Admin
Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Cure for Greek Maladies (CPG 6210), 8

Lecture 8: On the Veneration of the Holy Martyrs


1-11. The source of wisdom, God, wished that all humanity regardless of background, rather than just a small group of intellectuals, partake of the knowledge of truth. He thus used fishermen, publicans, and a tanner (i.e. the Apostles) as his ministers in order to transmit divine knowledge to the people, like a host offering excellent wine in crude cups. Every person admires the Apostles and enjoys their teaching both while they are alive and now that that they are in heaven. Every person both in the Roman Empire and abroad reads their writings which are few, brief, and devoid of Hellenic elegance, but resplendent in wisdom. Only the unbelievers of paganism fail to appreciate them, because it is not only their style, but also their subject that is not lofty. They do not talk of a great earthly kingdom with power and armies, but of a baby born of a poor virgin in the stable of an unimportant village, who grew to be a poor man and suffered death on the cross. This story not only convinced all people, but also led many of them to willingly give up their lives and suffer manifold tortures for the sake of this faith. God has rendered their memory immortal. Their souls now have joined the angels, while their bodies have been shared by the cities which honour them as their guardians and protectors. Even the tiniest relic contains the full grace of the martyr ($E03501).

12-28. Even if these practices had been wrong, the Greeks are the last people who should protest against them, given the fact that they worship several human beings as semi-gods and deified heroes, like Hercules who was a common mortal, son of Alkmene and Amphitryon, as several authors assert. The whole of Greece, Europe, and Asia have dedicated altars and festivals to this man who was known for having slept with fifty maidens and for having died in a shameful way, falling victim to the magic of his wife, Deianira, on whom he had been cheating. Similar things can be said of Asklepios, Dionysos, the Dioscuri, the hero Kleomydes of Astypalaia, Antinoos, the lover of the emperor Hadrian, and other heroes.

29-34. Since they worship so many men as gods, the pagans have no right to criticise the Christians who do not worship the martyrs as gods, but honour them as true servants of God. Their criticism of the Christian honour of tombs is just a sign of ignorance, because several ancient authors attest to the fact that major pagan shrines were resting places of heroes: Kekrops was buried on the Acropolis of Athens; Kleomachos at Didyma; Lykophrone at the shrine of Artemis in Magnesia; Telmisseus under the altar of Apollo in Telmissos. Those who buried these people saw no defilement in the burial, as contemporary pagans do. Thucydides mentions the burial of the soldiers of the Peloponnesian War. Contemporary pagans know too well that the dead were honoured by libations, since they perform libations themselves at night, against the law. Theodoret quotes Homer’s description of Odysseus’ libation and invocation of the dead (Odyssey 11, 24-37), and other sources mentioning libations for the dead. The Christians do not offer sacrifices or libations for the martyrs, but simply honour them as divine and pious men.

35-52. Pindar asserts that the souls of the pious are in heaven, and Empedocles states that physicians, oracles, priests, and noble people receive divine honours from humans. Much more do the truly pious deserve such honours, because they thought it preferable to give up their own lives, lest they deviate from the ways of Christ. They are the noblest men and repel all evil caused by the demons. Heraclitus asserts that all those who have fallen in war deserve higher honours, but Theodoret suggests that only those who died for a just cause deserve to be honoured and not every person killed in war, regardless of their way of life. Theodoret cites Plato in Phaedo suggesting the existence of a better life after death for people who have lived a pure and virtuous life. Plato also suggests that the human soul can partake of a wisdom which is higher than human, if it is possessed by divine love. True philosophy is defined as a study of death. Hesiod states that those who lived a virtuous life become protective spirits and helpers of men after their death. Christians honour the pious dead as God’s friends and servants. Plato also states that a just person will suffer scorn, torture, and death, and asserts that the souls of good people intervene protectively in human affairs after death.

52-65. The Christian martyrs died out of love for God and for the sake of the faith they had dedicated their lives to, thus confirming Socrates’ statements in the Apology. Although Socrates had such a death and virtue, he never received veneration, because his piety was imperfect. The same applies to several philosophers and generals who died bravely, and to great kings. None of them has ever received honours like those of the martyrs, even though some of them were deified and temples were dedicated to them (examples of Hellenistic and Roman rulers are mentioned). After they died, their worship was abolished, and their temples were ruined. The shrines of the martyrs, however, stand resplendent and are constantly visited by people who receive healings and dedicate offerings commemorating their cure (see $E03501).

65-70. The people honoured like this are not famous men and rulers, but simple people, soldiers, slaves and servants, some married, others not. Thus the names of famous philosophers, rhetors, kings, and generals have now been forgotten, as people name their children after the martyrs, seeking their protection. The feasts of the gods have been forgotten and replaced by the festivals of the Apostles and the Martyrs (see $E03501).


Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Theological works


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Syria with Phoenicia Syria with Phoenicia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Apamea on the Orontes Nikerte

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Apamea on the Orontes Thabbora Thabbora Nikerte Thabbora Thabbora

Major author/Major anonymous work

Theodoret of Cyrrhus

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Scepticism/rejection of the cult of saints

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Healing diseases and disabilities

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Pagans

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - unspecified Division of relics

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects



Theodoret was born in Antioch in c. 393, where he received a formidable education before joining the monastery of Nikerte near Apamea in 416. In 423, he was consecrated as bishop of Kyrrhos/Cyrrhus. During the theological debates of the time, he emerged as one of the chief exponents of Antiochene Christology. The Second Council of Ephesus (449) deposed him as a supporter of Nestorius, of whom he was indeed a friend. He was restored to his bishopric by the Council of Chalcedon in 451. He is thought to have died in c. 460. Composed in the 420s, the Cure for Greek Maladies (Ἑλληνικῶν θεραπευτικὴ παθημάτων/ Curatio Affectionum Graecarum) is regarded as one of Theodoret’s earliest works, probably composed at Nikerte or in the early years of the author's episcopate. It is a defence of the Christian faith against its pagan critics, the last and most elaborate apologia of Christianity in Late Antiquity. The tract makes extensive use of ancient literature, quoting from over three hundred texts. It consists of 12 chapters (defined by Theodoret as dialexeis, ‘lectures’) discussing the following themes: 1. Defence of the Faith of the Apostles 2. The Making of the World 3. Gods, angels, and demons 4. Matter and Cosmos 5. Human Nature 6. Divine Providence 7. Sacrifices 8. The Cult of the Martyrs 9. Laws 10. Oracles 11. Last Judgement 12. Practical Virtue The text survives in fifty manuscripts, on which see:


The cult of martyrs occupies a prominent place in Theodoret’s defence of the Christian religion, since it was one of the chief causes of pagan disaffection. Theodoret’s arguments and definition of the Christian religion are in remarkable accordance with the theoretical statements we find in other patristic sources, like Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, and Theodoret’s contemporary Asterius of Amasea. Like these, Theodoret uses the spectacular success of the Christian religion as proof for its validity (Christianity succeeds, because it is backed by God). Theodoret, however, stands out by his extensive use of pagan philosophical sources rather than the Bible. The pagan thesis the author responds to can be summarised as follows: Christianity is a worship of worthless people of no nobility or wisdom; its texts have no literary value; the Christians worship human beings as gods; their religion is an abominable form of necrolatry, the worship of graves and bones (cf. the statements of Julian the Apostate E01986 and Eunapius E03503). Theodoret replies to these in the following order and manner: 1) The presumed cultural inferiority of Christianity, and the historical development leading to the Christian martyrs (§ 1-11): the Divinity reveals itself to humanity through the activity of simple and uneducated people; the message is true, although presented in a crude manner; its ultimate success is proof of its truthfulness; its followers sacrifice their lives for a story which is true, even though it lacks literary value. This point recalls Chrysostom’s arguments in his tract On Babylas (§1-22; E02671). 2) Explanation of the cult of the martyrs (§ 10-11): the saints’ souls are in heaven and intercede with God, while their bodies are honoured by the people on Earth, who have distributed their relics; the martyrs are invoked as intercessors between men and God. The well-established thesis of the saints’ intercession recalls expressions in various texts, notably Gregory of Nyssa’s Encomium on Theodore (E01748; E01749). 3) The pagan accusation of anthropolatry (§ 12-28): the pagans wrongly accuse the Christians of worshipping mortal men as gods, because the martyrs are not regarded as such; it is the pagan religion that manifestly worships human beings as deified or semi-divine heroes; the shameful stories of these figures do not justify their veneration; Theodoret focuses his criticism on healing and salvific heroes and deities like Hercules, Asclepius, Dionysus, and the Dioscuri, which were very popular in his times. In a summary form, the same argument is propounded by Asterius of Amasea (E02140). 4) The pagan accusation of necrolatry (§ 29-34): the cult of the martyrs is not worship, but a form of funerary honour; such devotions are legitimate and not least provided by the pagan tradition itself; several pagan shrines are said to have contained burials of heroes, and the practice of funerary libations and offerings is widely attested; the Christians do not even offer libations or sacrifices, but honour their martyrs as human beings. 5) Eternal life and posthumous activity of the righteous spirits (§ 35-52): philosophers (chiefly Plato) and poets agree that virtuous people enjoy a state of happiness after death and their souls become protective spirits which intervene for the benefit of humanity. Addressing as he does a pagan readership, Theodoret draws his arguments from pagan philosophy in order to explain the Christian belief concerning the posthumous life of holy figures. It is interesting to juxtapose his arguments with those of Asterius of Amasea who, addressing a rival Christian group, seeks to justify the same beliefs with references to the Old Testament (E02140). 6) Death for justice and freedom in the pagan tradition, and the nature of Christian martyrdom (§ 52-65): the author here singles out the existence of a strand in the pagan tradition, which is closely akin to the Christian understanding of martyrdom; certain cultural heroes of the ancient world, like Socrates, other philosophers, war heroes, generals and kings, were honoured, because they died on account of truth or freedom. The recognition of a similarity between pagan heroism and Christian martyrdom is also attested in the reported words of Pegasios of Ilion (see E01956). 7) Justification of the cult of the saints through miracles (§ 52-70): even if some ancient heroes resemble the martyrs in bravery, the decline of their cults is proof of their lack of a divine dimension; by contrast, the cults of the Christian martyrs flourish, because they are efficient; the miracles attested by dedications at the shrines confirm the validity of the cult. This is the classic argument of Christian apologists, justifying their religion through its spectacular success and presumed supernatural manifestations.


Text: Canivet, P. Théodoret de Cyr. Thérapeutique des maladies helléniques, 2 vols. Sources chrétiennes 57. Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1958, 2000. (with French Translation and Commentary). Raeder, H. Theodoreti Graecarum Affectionum Curatio, Bibliotheca Scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana. Lipsiae: B.G. Teubner, 1904. Translations: Halton, T. Theodoret of Cyrus: a Cure for Pagan Maladies. Ancient Christian Writers 67. New York: Newman Press, 2013. Festa, N. Teodoreto, Terapia dei morbi pagani. Firenze, 1931. Further reading: Papadogiannakis, Y. Christianity and Hellenism in the fifth-century Greek east : Theodoret's Apologetics Against the Greeks in Context. Cambridge, Mass.: Center for Hellenic Studies, 2012. Pásztori-Kupán, István. Theodoret of Cyrus. The Early Church Fathers. London / New York: Routledge, 2006. Siniossoglou, Niketas. Plato and Theodoret: The Christian Appropriation of Platonic Philosophy and the Hellenic Intellectual Resistance. Cambridge Classical Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

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