Sketching the Invisible : Patterns of Church and City in Theodoret of Cyrrhus' Philotheos Historia

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


The fundamental question in this work concerns the ideal relation between asceticism and society in a 5th c. writing (C.E.), the Philotheos Historia (PH), written in elaborate Greek by the learned bishop of Cyrrhus, Theodoret. This collection of saints’ stories tells about the lives of a number of ascetics who lived in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire, many of them close to Antioch. As these narratives are analysed in this study, the story about the individual saint evokes philosophical and theological ideas and ideals of community. Generally, these stories are taken to represent both Hellenic and Christian points of view in a way that would make particular sense to a civic, educated audience. The depiction of the ascetic as a philosopher plays a crucial role in this interpretation.

After an introductory survey of recent research on the PH and statements of purpose (Pt. 1), the relation between ascetic and society is approached from two angles: from the characters in Theodoret’s biographies (Pt. 2), and from the spatial environments depicted in the same narratives (Pt. 3). The starting point for all these chapters is a narrative analysis of a single life-story in the PH, which is then followed by a larger discussion on topics that are raised in the preceding analysis and that are related to the purpose. The characters that are studied first (ch. 2.2–2.5) include an eremite (James of Nisibis), an abbot (Eusebius of Teleda), an ideal believer with ascetic pretensions (Theodoret’s own mother), and a monk-bishop (Abraham of Carrhae). In each of these chapters a discourse that would make sense in a Late Antique setting is identified. A first discourse is called “sacralization”, designating a way of situating a character in a specific, sacred tradition, which in this case is the ecclesia ab Abel. Then is examined how the ascetic, and the Syrian monasteries, are situated in a discourse of “civilization”. Thirdly, a discourse of “christianization” is traced, in which an individual member of the elite is displayed in a privileged Christian setting. Finally, the way the church, led by the bishop, brings forth the secret of the saints for the benefit of society is termed a discourse of “ecclesiastization”. These discourses, and the mediating role of the church, are topics also in the following chapters (3.2–3.4), in which the presentation of different environments is examined, the cells of the ascetics, the city, and the space in-between. Here is displayed how these spaces are deeply interrelated, and how they were part of a contemporary debate about the sanctity of space.

In the Conclusion (Pt. 4), a narrative analysis of the most well-known saint of the PH, Symeon the Stylite is pursued, and related to the previous discussions and discourses. A final word is said about how the ascetic, in the narrative framework of the PH, often resembles a passive object, like a relic or a holy image, and becomes a powerful symbol both of the church and of the city.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Philosophy, Ethics and Religion


  • Late Antiquity, biography, hagiography, panegyric, asceticism, monasticism, Syria, Antioch, Symeon the Stylite, pilgrimage, relics, cult of the saints, civic ideals, invention of tradition, the role of the bishop, ecclesiology, sacralization, christianization, philosophy, Neoplatonism, Libanius, Dionysius Areopagita
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
Award date2012 Oct 12
  • Lunds universitet
Print ISBNs978-91-7473-382-2
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Defence details Date: 2012-10-12 Time: 13:15 Place: Sal 118, Centrum för teologi och religionsvetenskap, Allhelgona kyrkogata 8, Lund External reviewer(s) Name: Rapp, Claudia Title: Professor Affiliation: Institut für Byzantinistik und Neogräzistik, Universität Wien --- The information about affiliations in this record was updated in December 2015. The record was previously connected to the following departments: Centre for Theology and Religious Studies (015017000)