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Gravitas in the Desert:

An Analysis of Selected Letters of Isidore of Pelusium and his Influence on the Secular and
Ecclesiastical Affairs of the Fifth Century CE.

Major Paper
By: Laurent Boivin
Supervisor: George A. Bevan
September 13, 2014

Queens University
Table of Contents

ABBREVIATIONS

ABSTRACT 3
I. INTRODUCTION 3
1.1 Context and Overview 3
1.2 Aim and Methodology 5

II. BIOGRAPHY

2.1 Early Years 6


2.2 Education
7
2.3 Pelusium and Retreat into the Desert

III. MANUSCRIPT TRADITION

15

16

3.1 Reasons for Preservation


16
3.2 First Uses of Isidore and Historical Testimonies17
3.3 Manuscript Tradition 22

IV. SECULAR CONNECTIONS

24

4.1 The Usefulness of a Network 24


4.2 Constantinople27
4.3 Alexandria
30
4.4 The Influence of Isidore at Court
33
4.5 Cyrenius and Gigantius
36
4.6 Appeals to Praetorian Prefects of the East

V. ECCLESIASTICAL CONNECTIONS

38

44

5.1 Social Role of Clerics 44


5.2 Cyril of Alexandria
46
5.3 John Chrysostom
50
5.4 The First Council of Ephesus 57
5.5 Isidores Theological Stance 59

VI. CONCLUSION

63

BIBLIOGRAPHY

65

Abbreviations
1

ACO

Acta Conciliorum Oecumenicorum, ed. E. Schwarz.

CLRE

Consuls of the Later Roman Empire

CSCO

Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium

FC

Fathers of the Church

NPNF

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church

PG

Patrologiae Graeca, ed. J.-P. Migne.

PLRE 2

Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire II, ed. J. R. Martindale

SC

Sources chrtiennes

TTH

Translated Texts for Historians

Abstract:

With the 2,000 letters that have come down to us under his name, Isidore of Pelusium has long
been considered an important Church father not only for the quality of his doctrinal exegesis,
but also for the meticulous craftsmanship of his writing. Isidore is also known for the myriad
of subjects on which he could write, including teaching, rhetoric, philosophy, and even science.
However, one aspect of Isidores output that needs further study is his correspondence with
powerful secular and ecclesiastical officials of the first half of the fifth century CE. This paper
begins with an examination of Isidores upbringing and education and a review of the
manuscript tradition of his letters. An analysis of selections of his correspondence with crucial
officials of the empire then follows, as well references to John Chrysostom in relation to Cyril
of Alexandria and aspects of Isidores theological thinking. The paper will conclude with the
suggestion that, besides being a Church father of note, Isidore was also a very well-connected
holy man during the time of the First Council of Ephesus of 431 CE.

I. Introduction:
1.1 Context and Overview:
One of the most prolific surviving writers of the fifth century CE was the Egyptian monk
Isidore of Pelusium,1 whose output of some two thousand letters has come down to us in the
form of short extracts. The fact that so many letters are associated with this one monk is not
surprising in and of itself, given that letter-writing at the time was considered the best way of
guaranteeing ones standing in the community and constituted the most important vehicle of
influence at a distance.2 For example, the collected correspondences of two major fifth
century figures, Synesius of Cyrene and Theodoret of Cyrrhus, have revealed crucial facets of
the daily life of a bishop and the far-reaching nature of their personal contacts. Although
Isidores letters have been preserved largely due to the quality of his style and the depth of his
knowledge of Scripture, they also reveal much about his relationship to officials in
Constantinople and to the patriarch Cyril in Alexandria during the tumultuous period of the First
Council of Ephesus. Yet this fact has gone largely unnoticed by modern historians studying the
1 Isidores letters are referred to in in this essay in accordance with Pierre vieuxs more recent numbering system,
which he uses both in his monograph Isidore de Pluse (Paris: Beauchesne, 1995) and in Isidore de Pluse: Lettres
I/II (Paris: Les ditions du Cerf, 1997), his two-volume edition of some of the letters. For the sake of consistency, I
have also included in parenthesis the original numbering used by J. P. Migne in vol. 78 of the Patrologiae cursus
completus, series Graeca (Paris: Imprimerie catholique, 1857-1862) with the corresponding column numbering of
the Greek text.
2 Fergus Millar, A Greek Roman Empire: Power and Belief under Theodosius II (408-450) (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 2006), 33 and 43.

fifth century CE, with most studies focussing instead on his knowledge of Christian and Hellenic
learning.3 Thus, judging from the contents of Isidore's letters to local secular and religious
officials, as well as letters to influential individuals at court in Constantinople and to Cyril during
and after the Council of Ephesus of 431 CE, all the evidence points to the fact that Isidore was a
very well-connected holy man and that his letters allow us to paint a portrait of some important
officials in both the local and the wider conflicts around the years 431-433 CE.
But what was the nature of this conflict that framed Isidores epistolary output? In the
summer of 431 CE, bishops of different parts of the Eastern empire assembled at Ephesus to
begin deliberating the fate of Nestorius, the contentious bishop of Constantinople. 4 Over the
short span of his episcopate (428-431 CE), Nestorius incurred the antipathy of a number of
bishops from Egypt for preaching that Mary could not be considered theotokos, or Mother of
God, since it was impossible, in his view, that a human being could give birth to the divine Son
of God.5

Cyril, bishop of Alexandria (412-444 CE), himself leading a campaign against

Nestorius and his allies,6 held the counter view that in Christ the Divine Word voluntarily
debased Himself and made human flesh His Own so that He could suffer and overcome death,
3 Pierre vieux, Isidore de Pluse: tat des recherches, Recherches de Science Religieuses 64 (1976), 321; as yet,
the only extensive modern study of Isidore is vieux, Isidore de Pluse (1995). vieux has also translated in 1997 a
limited selection of the letters in a two volume collection published in the collection Sources chrtiennes as volumes
422 and 454 respectively.
4 For a published edition of proceedings of the councils sessions, see Acta Conciliorum Oecumenicorum, ed. by E.
Schwartz (Berlin and Leipzig: Walter De Gruyter, 1914-1922) and A. J. Festugire phse et Chalcdoine: actes de
conciles (Paris: Beauchesne, 1982).
5 J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (London, Adam and Charles Black, 1958), 311. Kenneth Holum,
Theodosian Empresses: Women and Imperial Dominion in Late Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press,
1982), 154-155.
6 Donald Fairbairn has recently proposed that the classic view of Nestorius and John of Antioch being close allies
against Cyril must be revised. See Donald Fairbairn, Allies or Merely Friends? John of Antioch and Nestorius in
the Christological Controversy, Journal of Ecclesiastical History 58:3 (2007), 383-399. Based on a letter from
John to Nestorius dating to 430 CE, in which John asks Nestorius to carefully consider the propositions of Cyril and
Pope Celistine, Fairbairn believes that John and Cyril were not enemies, but rather theological allies. This would
thus rule out the idea that either Cyril of John backed down in order to accept the Formula of Reunion in 433 CE.
Rather, John and Cyril stood together in insisting on the birth of God and the Logos from Mary, and as they
recognised this fundamental agreement between themselves, they were able to be reconciled in 433. Fairbairn,
John of Antioch, 397.

which precluded any suggestion that Christ had two distinct divine and human natures, as some
in Constantinople seemed to believe.7 The debate raged on until partisans of the two sides met
and confronted each other at Ephesus in 431 CE, where Cyril was able to arrange by
underhanded means the quick condemnation and deposition of Nestorius in the latters absence.

1.2 Aim and Methodology:


This essay proposes to examine a selection of important letters of Isidore of Pelusium that
relate to secular and ecclesiastical matters in the thirty years before and up to the time of the First
Council of Ephesus (i.e. from 400 CE to 431 CE). Attention will be paid to Isidores relationship
to important players both in the Church and in the imperial administration, with particular
attention paid to three geographical locations: Alexandria, the seat of the patriarch Cyril; the
imperial court in Constantinople; and Isidores local community of Pelusium. A presentation of
Isidores early career will begin this survey, showing the possible route Isidore followed in
gaining his experience and in establishing some of his early acquaintances. Another section will
provide a short examination of the manuscript tradition of the Isidores letters. The bulk of the
essay will then be devoted to analyzing a handful of the most important letters and to
establishing connections between Isidore and different secular and ecclesiastical officials; 8
Isidores opinion of John Chrysostom in relation to Cyril of Alexandria and his uncle Theophilus
will also be examined and a presentation provided of Isidores theological thought.

7 Holum, Theodosian Empresses, 161.


8 The letters in question are Epp. 310, 323, 324, 370 to Cyril, bishop of Alexandria; Ep. 419 to Hermogenes, bishop
of Rhinocorura; Epp. 35 and 311 to Emperor Theodosius II; Ep. 486 to Florentius, Praetorian Prefect of the East
(428-429 CE); Epp. 178 and 489 to Rufinus, Praetorian Prefect of the East (432-433 CE).

II. Biography:
2.1 Early Years:
It is impossible to pinpoint with any certainty when or where Isidore was born. 9 In one
letter, Isidore states that he rejoices in the fact that he was born after John Chrysostom, 10 while in
another11 he describes in detail the events that led to Johns deposition in 403 CE at the hands of
Theophilus, the then bishop of Alexandria. This latter information might mean Isidore was
mature enough to know of these events when John was rehabilitated and Cyril of Alexandria
consented in 418 CE to inscribing Johns name on the diptychs, the official list of individuals
commemorated in the liturgy.12 Since John Chrysostoms birth is said to have occurred roughly
between the years 349/350 CE,13 one can posit that Isidore was born around the middle of the
fourth century, let us say 360 CE at the earliest. As we will see, there is also a possibility that
Isidore had corresponded with Synesius of Cyrene, who was bishop of Pentapolis from 411 to
413 CE. Likewise, since Isidore does not mention the death of Cyril in 444 CE in any of his
extant letters, it can be supposed that he must have died sometime before 444 CE. Given the
nature of their relationship in regards to the highly charged events around the first council of
Ephesus, it would have been remarkable had Isidore not mentioned Cyrils death were he to have
outlived the bishop. If one assumes then that Isidore was a direct contemporary of Synesius, and
that he was born some time after John Chrysostom, one is left to conclude that Isidore lived to
quite an advanced age, possibly into his 70s.

9 Pierre vieux, Isidore de Pluse, 308.


10 Ep. 1777 (= 4.224, PG 78, 1317 C).
11 Ep. 152 (= 1.152, PG 78, 284 D-285 A).
12 vieux, Isidore de Pluse, 204; J.N.D. Kelly, Golden Mouth: The Story of John Chrysostom Ascetic,
Preacher, Bishop (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 286-288.
13 Kelly, Golden Mouth, 4.

2.2 Education:
However central religious training was for the education of an ecclesiastic or a secular
official in the fifth century, a good understanding of the classics and their linguistic style
remained valuable skills.

In a society where the smallest word could spark empire-wide

theological controversy, the ability to defend oneself with knowledgeable arguments delivered in
an erudite manner was an asset. Theodoret of Cyrrhus wrote a lot on the usefulness of Classical
Greek in formulating arguments.14

It has also been shown in recent studies that good

communication skills in either Greek or Latin was crucial for distant communication with
officials and for establishing vast social networks.15 Ones level of Greek could also either be a
liability to ones reputation among colleagues or serve as a sort of defence by confusing enemies.
It therefore comes as no surprise that, to get ahead in the fifth century CE, education and
culture remained just as valuable an asset as in the early empire. Learning and culture were for
example important personal pursuits of Theodosius II,16 while the empress Eudocia, the daughter
of a Sophist, was an enthusiastic poet and influenced the emperors interest in scholarship and
writing.17 In 425 CE Theodosius also established, in a special section of the capital, professorial
chairs of grammatici, orators of Latin, sophists of Greek, and professors of Law and

14 Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Cure for Hellenic Maladies 5.71 (SC 57.1, trans. Pierre Canivet). See also Theresa
Urbainszyk, Theodoret of Cyrrhus: The Bishop and the Holy Man (Anne Arbor: The University of Michigan Press,
2002), 16
15 Millar, Greek Roman Empire, 20-38; Adam Schor, Theodorets People, Social Networks and Religious Conflict
in Late Roman Syria (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 116-117.
16 He rendered his palace little different from a monastery: for he, together with his sisters, rose early in the
morning, and recited responsive hymns in praise of the Deity. By this training he learnt the holy Scriptures by heart;
and he would often discourse with the bishops on scriptural subjects, as if he had been ordained a priest of long
standing. He was a more indefatigable collector of the sacred books and of the expositions which had been written
on them, than even Ptolemy Philadelphus had formerly been. Socrates, HE 7.22 (164, NPNF, trans. A.C. Zenos).
Thus, at the emperors court piety, culture and scholarship were all encouraged, piety was linked with victory and
both were associated with law. Jill Harries, Pius Princeps: Theodosius II and Fifth-Century Constantinople, in
New Constantines: the Rhythm of Imperial Renewal in Byzantium, 4th-13th centuries, ed. Paul Magadalino
(Aldershot: Ashgate, 1994), 43.
17 Harries, Pius Princeps, 37.

philosophy.18 With all this in mind, it was important that the Church of this period should foster
this type of education in order to fill the bishoprics with men who could adequately compete with
representatives of the imperial administration who were highly educated. 19 Similarly, as the
upper classes of the empire turned Christian over the course of the fourth century, they resisted
attempts to completely do away with their shared Classical inheritance.20 As Alan Cameron
states, the traditional [pagan educational] system had the irreplaceable practical advantage of
having established standards that were accepted in every corner of the Roman world. What we
misleadingly call pagan culture fulfilled an overwhelmingly social function.21 Thus, although
Theodorets Therapeutic of Hellenic Maladies is critical of aspects of the Classics, it nonetheless
shows the wide range of Hellenic knowledge that its author had acquired, such as for example,
familiarity with the writings of Homer, Plato, Herodotus, Euripides, Menander, Demosthenes,
Pythagoras, Parmenides, and Empedocles.22

Indeed, some authors of influence, such as

Themistius and Synesius, preferred to see words like pagan and Christian in a cultural, rather
than religious, sense, and thereby considered that both words were not mutually exclusive. 23 The
historian Socrates addresses the question of Christian education in his Ecclesiastical History as
intrinsically linked to pagan learning.24
18 Alan Cameron, The Empress and the Poet: Paganism and Politics at the Court of Theodosius II, in Later
Greek Literature, ed. J. Winkler and G. Williams, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 285.
19 Cameron, The Empress and the Poet, 287. Prelates and bishops thus also became especially adept in the
fourth century CE at explaining and spreading the meaning of the Scriptures, since as former rhetors and men of
law, many of [them] were able to find the language to foster spirituality and to encourage values thanks to the higher
education they had received in their youth. Charles Kannengiesser, Handbook of Patristic Exegesis, vol. 2 of The
Bible in Ancient Christianity (Leiden: Brill, 2004), 673.
20 Roger S. Bagnall, Egypt in Late Antiquity (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993), 104.
21 Alan Cameron, The Last Pagans of Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 357.
22 Millar, Greek Roman Empire, 26. For various citations by Theodoret of Classical authors, see Theodoret of
Cyrrhus, Cure for Hellenic Maladies 1.21, 1.72-75, 2.4-6, 5.10-13, 6.16-18 (ed. and Fr. trans, Pierre Canivet, SC
57.1).
23 Alan Cameron and Jacqueline Long, Barbarians and Politics at the Court of Arcadius (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1993), 67-69.
24 Christian nobles would study the classics with a view to improve themselves in eloquence and to strengthen
and polish their mindto enable them to refute the errors of the heathen. Socrates, HE 3.16 (Eng. trans. Zenos,
NPNF, p. 88). In other words, fusion of the two could only but help improve ones competitive edge over

Did Isidores education follow the same path as that of those in the elite? An examination
of the correspondence of Isidore reveals in fact that the monk did indeed possess a good
understanding of classical greats, such as Homer, Demosthenes, Isocrates, Plato, Aristotle, and
even Xenophon.25 In Ep. 881, Isidore calls Demosthenes the chief head of Greek rhetors, and
later on in the same letter quotes Josephus.26 As Leo Bayer has shown, Isidore also regularly
quotes from specific Platonic Dialogues, such as Phaedo (Epp. 703, 779), Timaeus (Epp. 1311,
1580), Gorgias (Ep. 757), Apology (Ep. 1592), and Phaedrus (Epp. 648, 1275).27 In one letter to
the bishop Alphius (Ep. 1486), 28 Isidore remarks that present-day speeches of religious officials
tend to copy the rhetorical style of Sophists in order solely to captivate their audience. It is better
to follow the style of Demosthenes and not be heard, thinks Isidore, than not to speak at all and
be blamed for it. To the lector Timothy (Ep. 503),29 Isidore recommends that he read the best
pagan works available, while to the monk Primus (Ep. 1601),30 he speaks of the importance of
good communication style: the best Christian ought to combine the philosophy of Christ with the
expression of pagan wisdom, since elegance of language of the latter can also help the faithful in
their quest for supernatural wisdom. Thus, the best style is that which uses Attic clarity and
simplicity to explain difficult Christian principles. 31 Isidore also does not shy away from lauding

adversaries.
25 Bayer, Isidors von Pelusium, 97-100. See also for individual examples of Demosthenes Epp. 1618 (= 4.85, PG
78, 1145 C), 1697 (= 4.91, PG 78, 1152 A-D), 1233 (= 5.17, PG 78, 1336 A); Isocrates Epp. 628 (= 2.128, PG 78,
573 A), 646 (= 2.146, PG 78, 592 B), 1275 (= 4.162, PG 78, 1248 C); Plato Epp. 1697 (= 4.91, PG 78, 1153 A),
1322 (= 5.73, PG 78, 1369 B), 1422 (= 5.149, PG 78, ),1832 (= 5.477, PG 78, 1603 C); Xenophon, Epp. 866 (=
3.66, PG 78, 775 C), 1362 (= 5.98, PG 78, 1381 D), 1487 (= 5.202, PG 78, 1453 C).
26 Ep. 881 (= 3.81, PG 78, 788 B-789 D).
27 Bayer, Isidors von Pelusium, 49-61. For individual letters referenced, see Epp. 703 (= 2.203, PG 78, 645 D),
779 (= 2.279, PG 78, 709 D), 1311 (= 5.64, PG 78, 1364 C), 1580 (= 5.266, PG 78, 1492 B), 757 (= 2.257, PG 78,
692 B), 1592 (= 4.30, PG 78, 1031 C), 648 (=2.148, PG 78, 604 A), 1275 (= 4.162, PG 78, 1248 B).
28 Ep. 1486 (= 5.201, PG 78, 1453 A)
29 Ep. 503 (= 2.3, PG 78, 457 B-460 A)
30 Ep. 1601 (= 5.281, PG 78, 1500 D-1501 A).
31 G.J.M. Bartelink, Observation stylistiques et linguistiques chez Isidore de Pluse, Vigiliae Christianae 18:3
(1964), 166.

the style and Atticisms of a previous master like John Chrysostom, even to the point of quoting a
letter of Libanius praising Chrysostoms style.32 In Ep. 1255, Isidore states that he is in such awe
at the splendour of the Attic Greek found in Chrysostoms Homilies on Romans that if only St.
Paul had written like Chrysostom, there would have been no need for a Homily.33
A good classical education also provided the Christian elite with a better understanding of
the Scriptures.34 For example, in Ep. 831, Isidore gives a long explanation to the grammaticus
Ophelius of the change in meaning of the words and as they appear
both in the Scriptures and in Homer.35 Isidore contends that those knowledgeable in Homer will
know that the meaning of the word changes entirely depending on the accented syllable. In
another letter,36 Isidore again uses Homer in response to the comes Domitius, who in a previous
letter had stated that the concept of the Kerygma, which is the proclamation of the Divine
message through a human intermediary, is not possible. To refute this claim, Isidore cites
Odyssey 22, 347, in which the poet Phemius grasps the knees of Odysseus and proclaims that the
god inspired him to sing to humans. So, Isidore argues, if even Homer, who happens to be
Domitius favourite poet, believed this was possible, so must Domitius himself.
One should also note that many individuals who rose to prominence in the administration
of the empire were well versed in both Christian doctrine and Hellenic culture. A good example
of the importance of a grounded Christian/Hellenic training is provided by Isidores
contemporary Fl. Taurus Cyrus, who pursued a glorious career in the imperial administration,
becoming City Prefect of Constantinople in 426 CE, Pretorian Prefect of the East in 439 CE and
32 Ep. 542 (= 2.42, PG 78, 484 C-485 C).
33 Ep. 1255 (= 5.32, PG 78, 1348 A): , ,

, ,
; Kelly, Golden Mouth, 90 n. 68.
34 Bayer, Isidors von Pelusium, 6.
35 Ep. 831(= 3.31, PG 78, 749 D-753 A).
36 Ep. 1592 (= 4.30, PG 78, 1031 C).

10

consul in 441 CE.37 Born in Panopolis, in the Thebaid region of Egypt, Cyrus was immersed in
the Classics and Christian doctrine, since his hometown was a local centre of both Hellenic
culture and Christian monasticism.38 Cyrus popular measures include introducing street-lighting
in the capital and the carrying out of various building programs. 39 As an admirer of Cyrus
poetry, Eudocia made sure that he held the position of Prefect of the East for almost four years. 40
In 441 CE the emperor expressed his displeasure with Cyrus and after accusing him of Paganism
forced him to become bishop of Cotyaeum in Phrygia, where he continued his benevolent
ministrations and wrote hagiographies to while away the time, and where his Christian training
would have been indispensable.

41

It should also be added that the reason for the emperors

displeasure in him was not because Cyrus had expressed pagan leanings in a Christian court, but
rather because of Theodosius jealousy of him.42
The reality was therefore that monks, priests, and even bishops, did not all come from
religious backgrounds or from poor milieus with no better option to offer them, but often arose
from the cultured social elite.43 Perhaps, as was suggested above, Isidore received this training in
Alexandria itself,44 although it is impossible to know for sure. Many of Isidores letters do
37 PLRE 2, 336-339: Fl. Taurus Seleucus Cyrus 7.
38 Maria Dzielska, Hypatia of Alexandria, Trans. by F. Lyra (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996),
31.

39

, . ,

. John Malalas, Chronographia, 14.16, eds. H.G. Beck, A. Kambylis, and R. Keydell (Berlin: Walter
De Gruyter, 2000), p. 281. See also PLRE 2, 338.
40 Holum, Theodosian Empresses, 190.
41 , ,
, .
, , .
John Malalas, Chron. 14.16 (eds. Beck, Kambylis, and Keydell, p. 282).
42 Cameron, The Empress and the Poet, 269. As Malalas makes clear in the above citation, the accusation of
Paganism was used as a scapegoat in order to condemn Cyrus.
43 Sabine R. Huebner, Currencies of Power: the Venality of Offices in the Later Roman Empire, in The Power of
Religion in Late Antiquity, ed. by Andrew Cain and Noel Lenski (Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2009): 173.
44 Teachers of the likes of Hypatia in Alexandria and Libanius in Antioch in the fourth century CE, of course, were
fortunate to find themselves a stable clientele in large centres. On this subject, see Paul Petit, Les tudiants de

11

testify to his being acquainted with grammaticoi and sophists, and of possessing knowledge of
medicine and physics, all elements one can associate with Alexandria and its celebrated
schools.45 The grammaticii Hermeias, Nilus, Agathodaemon, and Ophelius receive thirty-two
letters altogether,46 and the sophists Asclepius and Harpocras thirty-eight.47 Ophelius asks Isidore
about different subjects, including philosophy (Ep. 1979), correct epistolary style (Ep. 1401),
grammar (Ep. 1543), biology (Ep. 619), and even cosmology (Ep. 773).48 In one letter to the
doctor Dorotheus (Ep. 1475),49 Isidore delves into notions that echo early Greek science. The
Sophist Harpocras himself receives a total of twenty-eight letters, which suggests a close affinity
between the two men. Indeed, in one letter Isidore comments on the fact that Harpocras uses
Homer in defense of divination. According to Isidore, this subject had already been treated in a
previous work of his entitled Against Pagans (now lost), which shows that Isidore could very
well argue against pagan criticisms of Christian doctrine using educated argumentation. 50 In Epp.
1469 and 1652, Isidore describes to Harpocras and Ophelius respectively the correct way of
educating young budding rhetors.51 One is tempted to speculate, therefore, that if these learned
individuals were not once schoolmates of Isidores, then at the very least they were close
associates that respected and valued his education.

Libanius (Paris: Nouvelles ditions latines, 1957), 96-98. Libanius himself was forced to spend the years from 340
to 353 CE teaching abroad in Nicaea, Nicomedia, and Constantinople before returning to the city of his birth in 354
CE, where he cemented his reputation as a sophist and rhetor and where remained for the rest of his life. Scott
Bradbury, introduction to Selected Letters of Libanius: from the Age of Constantius and Julian (Liverpool: Liverpool
University Press, 2004), 6-8.
45 vieux, Lettres I, 65.
46 For a list of the individual letters to gramaticii, see the following entries: PLRE 2, 547: Hermeias 2; PLRE 2,
784: Nilus 1; PLRE 2, 33: Agathodaemon; PLRE 2, 806: Ophelius 1.
47 For a list of the individual letters to sophists, see the following entries: PLRE 2, 163: Asclepius 4; PLRE 2, 528:
Harpocras 2.
48 Epp. 1979 (= 5.558, 1637 A), 1401 (= 5.133, 1404 B), 1543 (= 5.245, 1480 C-D), 619 (= 2.119, 560 B-C), 773
(= 2.273, 704 A-B) respectively.
49 Ep. 1475 (= 5.191, 1445 C-1448 A).
50 Ep. 728 (= 2.228, PG 78, 664 D-665 A); Millar, A Greek Roman Empire, 119.
51 Ep. 1469 (= 5.185, PG 78, 1436 A-1437 B); Ep. 1652 (= 5.317, PG 78, 1529 C-D)

12

There is perhaps a further possibility, given the nature and extent of Isidores early
education: if he did spend some time in Alexandria, it is conceivable that he may have studied
with Hypatia, the celebrated scientist and teacher. In fact, Isidores style has been favourably
compared to that of Synesius, whose classical training is well-attested and who spent time
studying with Hypatia.52 In Ep. 232, Isidore writes to a certain bishop Synesius, stating that
service to God helps one counter enemy phalanxes, even when one is surrounded by those very
enemies.53

It would be tempting to imagine this Synesius as being the Synesius already

mentioned, who as bishop organized the defence of Pentapolis against nomadic tribes. 54
Although Synesius never actually mentions Isidore in his letters, the subject of Isidores letter
and the fact that the only known bishop by the name of Synesius that existed during Isidores
lifetime is the bishop of Ptolemas, suggests that perhaps the two did know each other and that
the Pelusian was aware of the problems his colleague was facing in his city. 55 Another possible
hint of this link is in Synesius letter to Herculian (Ep. 144), in which the bishop asks him to
salute their mutual companion the deacon.56 Since Synesius spent the years 392-393 CE in
Alexandria under the tutelage of Hypatia, and admits to being one of her hetairoi in his letters,
one might be tempted again to see Isidore in this deacon.57

Perhaps Isidore, who was a

contemporary of Synesius, was once a member of Hypatias entourage and became a priest at
some point while in Alexandria. To be sure, Hypatia did not seem to discriminate between
pagans and Christians in her associations, and it is thus entirely possible that the deacon Isidore
52 W. S. Crawford, Synesius the Hellene (London: Rivingtons, 1901), 185; Jay Bregman, Synesius of Cyrene
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), 19; Cameron and Long, Barbarians, 14.
53 Ep. 232 (= 1.232, PG 78, 325 C-D).
54 Brown, Power and Persuasion: Towards a Christian Empire (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press,
1992), 138-139.
55 vieux, Isidore de Pluse, 78.
56 .... Synesius of Cyrene, Ep. 144 in Synsios de Cyrne:
Correspondance, tome 3, ed. and trans. by Denis Roques (Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 2000), 288; See also Christian
Lacombrade, Synsios de Cyrne, hellne et chrtien, (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1951), 54.
57 Dzielska, Hypatia of Alexandria, 42 ; Lacombrade, Synsios de Cyrne, 55 n. 54

13

spent some time at her side, despite being an outspoken Christian. 58 Indeed, lay Christians did
not have access to a Christian education that was separate from the pagan school system, since,
as already stated above, members of the Christian elite thought a good grounding in Classical
culture was a professional asset.59
Other particulars allow for even more speculation on this front. There is the possibility
that Isidore also knew Evoptius, the brother of Synesius and also bishop of Ptolemas after the
latters death around 413. Although Ep. 715 is addressed to a bishop Evoptius, the content of the
letter, which concerns violence against women and the evils of bodily harm, indicate that it could
have been addressed to any such Evoptius. 60 We know, however, that Evoptius of Ptolemas was
present at Ephesus in 431, listed as number 110 at the meeting of 22 June. 61 It is thus possible
that Isidore did know the Evoptius who was present at Ephesus, since (as we will see) he tells
Cyril of Alexandria in Ep. 310 that he is aware of the private talk going on behind Cyrils back at
the Council.62 If Isidore did indeed spend some time in his youth studying the Classics at
Alexandria, he may have gone to see some of his old classmates before or after the council in
431 CE in order to sound out Cyrils allies. Indeed, Hypatias circle of acquaintances did in fact
include Evoptius, since his brother Synesius mentions their relationship with her in a letter.63
Isidore therefore is possibly writing to the same Evoptius who replaced Synesius as bishop of
58 Bregman, Synesius of Cyrene, 24. Socrates reports that Hypatia had frequent meetings with Orestes, who was
himself a Christian. See Socrates, HE 7.14-15 (Eng. trans. Zenos, NPNF, p. 160). As Dzielska notes, the dearth of
ancient sources makes it impossible to identify all Hypatias students, determine their number or the duration of their
studies with her, or assert with certainty the spiritual values and relations that bound them. Dzielska, Hypatia of
Alexandria, 27-28.
59 Cameron, Last of the Pagans, 7.
60 Ep. 715 (= 2.215, PG 78, 656 D-657 C).
61 Festugire, phse et Chalcdoine, 194
62 Ep. 310 (= 1.310, PG 78, 361 C): ,
, . , , ,
.
63 ,
.... Synesius of Cyrene to Evoptius, Ep. 5 in Synsios de Cyrne: Correspondance, tome 2 (Paris,
Les Belles Lettres, 2000), 18. See also Dzielska, Hypatia of Alexandria, 36-39.

14

Ptolemas and who was present at the Council of Ephesus of 431 CE. Although, without further
firm evidence, this must remain at the level of speculation, it can be plausibly suggested that, if
Isidore did indeed study in Alexandria in his early days, he may well have known both Synesius
and his brother as a member of Hypatias circle. Furthermore, if one assumes that Isidore was
around twenty years old at the time, this would narrow down our date for his birth to around 370
CE.

2.3 Pelusium and Retreat into the Desert:


There is very little in terms of information available to us that concerns Isidores early
life before he possibly arrived in Pelusium (assuming, of course, that he was not born there). We
do, however, possess facts about the city that became associated with Isidores name and its early
role in the empire. Like many regional centres of its time, Pelusium was a relatively small city
that served as capital of Augustamnica I, located in the area around the eastern edge of the Nile
Delta.64 As such, the city long represented the eastern gateway to central Egypt. 65 It witnessed
over time imperial delegations passing through its gates, such as those of Vespasian in 70,
Hadrian in 130, and Diocletian in 298, as well as pilgrims and intellectuals alike who made their
way West to Alexandria.66
From his letters, one gleans that he became sickened by the actions of the prominent
secular officials of there. Isidore accuses them of cupidity, basking in luxury, using violence,
64 The old province of Egypt was first divided into smaller provinces in 297 CE by Diocletian. In 315 CE the area
around the Delta was subdivided into two more provinces, Aegyptus Herculia in the East and Aegyptus Jovia in the
West. After being re-merged in 324 CE, they were once again separated and called Augustamnica and Aegyptus in
341 CE. All of these provinces, including Augustamnica, were later on again subdivided into further sets of two.
A.H.M. Jones, The Cities of the Eastern Roman Provinces (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), 336.
65 Josephus mentions Pelusium as a stronghold falling to Mithridates of Pontus after the death of Pompey in 48
BCE and later on as a resting place for Titus army during the Jewish War of 70 CE. Josephus, Bel. jud. 1.187 and
4.654 respectively (Eng. trans. G.A. Williamson, Penguin, pp. 52 and 286).
66 J.Y. Carrez-Maratray, Pluse, la grande cit oublie du delta, Le Monde de la Bible 82 (1993): 26-27; Pierre
vieux, introduction to Isidore de Pluse: Lettres I, 24.

15

selling Church property, and using their elevated social positions for their own personal gain. 67
Perhaps that was why he eventually decided to move into the desert, even urging others to follow
in his footsteps and flee.68 As Peter Brown puts it, Isidore lived with one foot in the desert
and the other firmly planted in his city,

69

so that while away from all the corruption and

intrigues, he could at the same time use his authority as priest and holy monk to criticize and
reprimand, but also to praise, reassure, and inspire. 70 Isidore may also have been acting in
opposition to a popular monastic movement at the time, in which monks moved back into the
cities to make a living, subsisting on the charity of others and offering their services as daylabourers and in the law courts.71 Isidore talks of these monks in some letters, describing their
journeys in order to fill their bellies.72

III. Manuscript Tradition:


3.1 Reasons for Preservation:
Although the existence of the first collections of Isidores letters can only be ascertained
from the testimony of those that consulted them at the time, it is significant that evidence of these
now lost collections goes back to only about 100 years after his death.

That the letters

themselves did not disappear but were preserved by monks over the centuries testifies to the fact
that Isidore was viewed as an important Christian authority. As already stated, the style of his
Greek and his handling of Scripture alone would justify this preservation. vieux speculates that

67 See Epp. 1480 (= 5.196, PG 78, 1449 A), 1409 (= 5.140, PG 78, 1408 B), 1228 (= 5.12, PG 78, 1332 B-C),
1915 (= 4.4, PG 78,1052 C-1053 A), 627 (= 2.127, PG 78, 565 A- 572 C).
68 Ep. 246 (= 1.246, PG 78, 341 B): , , .
69 Brown, Power and Persuasion, 140.
70 vieux, Lettres I, 106.
71 Daniel Caner, Wondering, Begging Monks: Spiritual Authority and the Promotion of Monasticism in Late
Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 204.
72 See Epp. 41 (= 1.41, PG 78, 208 C), 173 (= 1.173, PG 78, 296 B-C), 314 (= 1.314, PG 78, 364 C-D).

16

probably not long after Isidores death, copies of his letters were distributed among the monastic
circles of Egypt and Palestine.73 He suggests that small collections of his letters would have been
assembled with the purpose of teaching the meaning of Scriptural passages and how to act in a
proper Christian way.74 This has led some scholars to suspect the genuineness of the letters,
which they suppose were really just rhetorical exercises meant for schools. 75 Some have even
gone so far as to doubt the existence of Isidore himself, arguing that since many of the fragments
consist of short sayings from other authors and long doctrinal and rhetorical discourses, they
must have been the work of a monk who collected fragments together under the pseudonym of
Isidore of Pelusium.76 But this argument neglects the reality that many of Isidores addressees
were officials who really existed, such as the Prefect Rufinus and Hermogenes of Rhinocorura,
not to mention that the contents of the letters are also consistent with the context of particular
fifth century events surrounding the First Council of Ephesus.77

3.2 First Uses of Isidore and Historical References to his Existence:


Regardless of the reasons for the letters very first stages of preservation, the picture
becomes clearer at the beginning of the century after Isidores death, when some of the letters
became of use to the anti-Chalcedonians. Indeed, it had long been the practice at the time to
select and gather letters of different ecclesiastics consisting of exegetical commentaries, spiritual
advice, and explanations of doctrine in order either to portray an author in a certain light or to

73 vieux, Lettres I, 105.


74 Ibid, 106.
75 Morton Smith, The Manuscript Tradition of Isidore of Pelusium, The Harvard Theological Review 47 (1954),
207.

76 vieux, tat des recherches, 325.


77 See vieux, Isidore de Pluse, 46-48 for a good summary of the historical background.
17

back up one side of the Christological debates.78 Isidore does at times delve into Christological
matters, especially in Ep. 324 to Cyril and Ep. 419 to Hermogenes of Rhinocorura (as we will
see below).79 And although Isidore seems to have agreed with Cyrils single nature view of 433
CE, in Ep. 310 he is generally critical of the bishops actions at Ephesus. The complex nature of
Isidores stance as regards the bishop of Alexandria therefore became useful during the later
dispute between the monophysites and the Chalcedonians over the interpretation of Cyrils
stance.
As it turns out, the earliest reference to the writings of Isidore of Pelusium was by the
monophysite Severus of Antioch, who wrote in the early sixth century CE. As the leading
theologian of those Christians who refuted the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE, 80 Severus
monophysism was similar to Cyril of Alexandrias single nature view of 433 CE in that it
emphasized the single nature of Christ as the product of the union of the Word and the human
being after the incarnation.81 This theological stance was also shared by the emperor Anastasius
until, in 518 CE, Justin I came to the throne and the two distinct natures view of Chalcedon again
became official doctrine in Constantinople. As a result, Severus found himself in exile in
Alexandria for two years, during which time he continued to administer his see from abroad and
published a work called Liber Contra Impium Grammaticum, a critique of the apologist John the
Grammarian and his defense of Chalcedon (which we know about only through Severus). 82
Severus tells us that John made use of Isidore. 83 In his critique, however, Severus has also made
78 Adam M. Schor, Theodorets People: Social Networks and Religious Conflict in Late Roman Syria (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2011), 35.
79 Epp. 324 (= 1.324, PG 78, 369 C), 419 (= 1.419, PG 78, 416 C).
80 Volker L. Menze, Justinian and the Making of the Syrian Orthodox Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2008), 14.
81 Pauline Allen and C.T.R. Hayward, Severus of Antioch (London: Routledge, 2004), 34.
82 Menze, Syrian Orthodox Church, 25-31; Allen and Hayward, Severus, 27.
83 Schmid believes that John the Grammarian used only those instances where Isidore is critical of Cyril. P.
Andreas Schmid, Die Christologie Isidors von Pelusium (Freibourg: Paulusverlag, 1948), 6-10.

18

use of Isidore and tells us that he even consulted a numbered collection of his letters in
Alexandria, in which some letters explicitly disagree with the Chalcedonian view.84
Furthermore, he refutes John the Grammarians claim that Isidore was originally a bishop of
Pelusium. According to the results of his investigations, Severus learned from his sources that
Isidore was in fact living at the time of the bishop Hermogenes of [Rhinocorura] and that the
actual bishop of Pelusium was a certain Eusebius, both of whom were present at the council. 85
By the beginning of the sixth century CE, therefore, there was already a collection of Isidores
letters ready for consultation in Alexandria.86 What is more, Severus clearly knew about Isidore
before he arrived in Egypt, since in a letter to a Zacharias of Pelusium, Severus cites a passage
from a certain presbyter (Isidore, I mean, a native of your city of Pelusium, who was wise in
learning and in piety).87 This would suggest that a collection of Isidores letters had made it to
Antioch and was consulted there by Severus, probably because of the Pelusians connection to
Cyril and the concepts of monophysism.
The next mention of Isidore comes at around 549 CE, when Facundus, bishop of
Hermiane, reports in his Pro Defensione Trium Capitulorum about the existence in
Constantinople of a collection of 2,000 letters by an Egyptian presbyter called Isidore of
Pelusium.88 With Facundus the story of the collection is brought into the episode of the Three-

84 Severus of Antioch, Liber Contra Impium Grammaticum (ed. J. Lebon, CSCO 102, pp. 182-183); Ren Aigrain,
Quarante-neuf lettres de Saint Isidore de Pluse (Paris: Picard & Fils, 1911), 21, n. 2.
85 Severus of Antioch, Cont. Imp. Gramm. (CSCO 102, ed. J. Lebon, p. 182); vieux, tat des recherches, 329
86 Pierre vieux, Isidore de Pluse, la numrotation des lettres dans la tradition manuscrite, Revue dhistoire des
textes 5 (1975): 62-63.
87 Severus of Antioch, The Sixth Book of the select Letters of Severus of Antioch, trans. and ed. by E. W. Brooks,
vol. 2 (Oxford: Williams and Norgate, 1969), 251.
88 Nam uir etiam sanctissimus et magnae in Ecclesia Christi gloriae, Isidorus presbyter Aegyptius Pelusiota,
quem duo millia epistularum ad aedificationem Ecclesiae multi scripsisse nouerunt, qui etiam pro uitae ac
sapientiae suae meritis, ut pater ab ipso beato Cyrillo et horatus est et uocatus Facundus of Hermiane, Defence
of the Three Chapters 2.4.12, (ed. by Anne Frasse-Btoulires, SC 471, p. 320). Also see C. H. Turner, The letters
of Saint Isidore of Pelusium, The Journal of Theological Studies 6 (1905): 71; Smith, Manuscript Tradition, 207;
Schmid, Die Christologie,17; Menze, Syrian Orthodox Church, 253.

19

Chapters of 543/544 CE. Subsequent to the Council of Chalcedon of 451 CE, which officially
confirmed the two-nature of Christ as both human and divine, failed attempts were made by the
emperors Anastasius I and Justin at achieving a reconciliation between Chalcedonian and nonChalcedonian adherents.89 The non-Chalcedonians, also known as monophysites, supported the
one-nature model, which was the result of the union of both the divine and human natures of
Christ after the incarnation. In 536 CE, emperor Justinian attempted another reconciliation of the
two sides.90 Known as the Three-Chapters reconciliation, it specified the condemnation of three
chapters, or works, of the Oriental bishops Theodore of Mopsuesta, Ibas of Edessa, and
Theodoret of Cyrrhus, especially of the latter, whose rehabilitation at the council of Chalcedon in
451 CE had been one of the major complaints of the non-Chalcedonians. 91 Facundus, in his
defense of the Three-Chapters, mentions Isidores criticisms of Cyril of Alexandria and cites
Epp. 310 and 370 as proof of the monks support of the Antiochenes, 92 since in these two letters,
as will be seen below, Isidore chastises Cyril for quarrelling with the Oriental bishops. One can
see how the critical tone towards Cyril found in these letters attracted the attention of Facundus,
who was attempting to defend the reputation of Orientals, whom Cyril had either criticised or
quarrelled with during the Nestorian controversy.93 Lastly, at the end of the sixth century CE,
Evagrius Scholasticus lists Isidore in his Church History alongside Synesius of Cyrene,
89 Aloys Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition:From the Council of Chalcedon (451) to Gregory the Great
(590-604), trans. by Pauline Allen and John Cawte, vol. 2, part 1 (Oxford: Mowbray and Co., 1987), 314-325.
90 Menze, Syrian Orthodox Church, 253-254.
91 Ibid, 265-266.
92 Ecce et in hac epistula [Ep. 310] arguit illum, uelut animi passione et aemulatione caecatum, uiolenter magis
quam iusto examine, causas agere atque irrideri a multis, quod iniuriae priuatae uindictam, non quae Christi sunt
orthodoxe requisierit apud Ephesum in causa Nestorii,. Facundus of Hermiane, Defense 2.4.16 (ed. FrasseBtoulires, SC 471, p. 324). Schmid, Die Christologie, 28; Turner, Letters, 74.
93 Schor, Theodorets People, 111-112; Timothy E. Gregory, Vox Populi: Popular Opinion and Violence in the
Religious Controversies of the Fifth Century A.D. (Columbus OH: Ohio State University Press, 1979), 130. As
Schor and Gregory note, by 435 CE some clerics were again shouting their support for Nestorius, despite the ruling
of the First Council of Ephesus. Cyril worked to counter them by informing the emperor and writing a treatise
against Theodore, whom Cyril thought was the real animating force behind Nestorius. George A. Bevan,
Theodoret of Cyrrhus and Syrian Episcopal Elections in Episcopal Elections in Late Antiquity, ed. by Johann
Leemans, Peter Van Nuffelen, Shawn W. J. Keough, and Carla Nicolaye (Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 2011), 65.

20

mentioning that Isidore was famous for his ascetic lifestyle and for his doctrinal knowledge, and
that since he wrote to Cyril of Alexandria, he must have been a contemporary.94
It is in 564 CE, with the deacon Rusticus, that a set of translations of Isidores letters
appears for the first time. Rusticus is known to history for having compiled and revised the Latin
version of the Acta of the Council of Chalcedon of 451 CE,95 as well as for having composed a
work called the Synodicon, a bare-bones Latin version of Irenaeus Tragoedia, which itself
narrated the events following the First Council of Ephesus to 435 CE. 96 In the Synodicon,
Rusticus includes 49 letters by Isidore translated into Latin, which he says he extracted from an
original collection of the letters he found in Constantinople. 97 Rusticus further adds that this
original collection consisted of four books of five hundred letters each and that it was collected
by the Sleepless Monks, the order of monks in Constantinople founded by the heretic Alexander
in c. 440 CE and whose members adhered to a strict system of continual prayer and
genuflexion.98 It was the criticism of Cyril, the great opponent of the Oriental bishops, found in
the letters that caused the Sleepless Monks to preserve them,

99

since the monastery was

vigorously against Monophysitism.100 Thus, these ancient testimonies reveal that there were at
94 , ,

, ,
, .
,
. Evagrius Scholasticus, HE 1.15.1 (ed. by Laurent
Angliviel and Guy Sabbah and French trans. by A. J. Festugire, Bernard Grillet, and Guy Sabbah, SC 542, p. 172).
See also vieux, Isidore de Pluse, 301-302. For a good English translation of this passage, see The Ecclesiastical
History of Evagrius Scholasticus (Eng. trans. by Michael Whitby, TTH 33, p. 41).
95 Cameron, Last of the Pagans, 482; Aigrain, Quarante-neuf lettres, 9
96 Millar, Greek Roman Empire, 170, 239.
97 Aigrain, Quarante-neuf lettres, 9; Smith, Manuscript Tradition, 206.
98 Jules Pargoire, Un mot sur les Acmtes, chos dOrient 2 (1899), 308; Caner, Wandering, Begging Monks,
130-132. For a good account of the founding of the order in the environs of Constantinople, see also Gilbert
Dagron, Les moines et la ville: le monachisme Constantinople jusquau concile de Chalcdoine (451), in
Travaux et Mmoires 4, ed. by Paul Lemerle and Jean Gouillard (Paris: ditions E. de Boccard, 1970), 235-236.
99 Schmid, Die Christologie, 20; Turner, Letters, 74.
100 Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition, 318. Caner, Wandering, Begging Monks, 250. Marcellus, the orders
third leader (448-484 CE), communicated with Theodoret, who had been condemned at the Second Council of
Ephesus in 449 CE for his Nestorian sympathies. Dagron, Les moines et la ville, 237. For Theodorets letters to

21

least three main areas where collections or individual letters of Isidore existed and could be
consulted: Antioch and Alexandria as indicated by Severus, and Constantinople by Facundus and
Rusticus. Even more important, Constantinople was where a lost collection of 2000 letters was
maintained by the Sleepless Monks sometime during the fifth and sixth centuries CE.

3.3 Manuscript Tradition:


The oldest extant manuscript of the letters of Isidore is from the Greek monastery Grotta
Ferrata (identified with the press-mark B 1). This dates to the year 985 and consists of two
sections, one with 600 letters and the other 1000 letters. 101 C. M. Turner suspects that this MS
was probably based on the original collection of the Sleepless Monks, although there is no sure
way of determining this.102 Whatever its origin, it is by far the largest surviving MS of a
continuous series of Isidores letters. All other MSS consist primarily of a few hundred to at
most a thousand letters: Paris MS, gr. 832 (thirteenth century); Vat. gr. 649-650 and Vat. Ottob.
gr. 341-383 (both sixteenth century); Vienna cod. gr. ccxci (fourteenth century); Paris gr. 949
(sixteenth century); Venetus Marcianus 126, saec. xiv (seventeenth century); Munich gr. 49,
saec. xvi and Munich gr. 50 (seventeenth century). 103 The history of the major published editions
of the letters begins with the Greek version of Jacob Billi of 1585 (containing 1213 letters),
Marcellus, see Epp. 142 and 143, in Thodoret de Cyr: Correspondance III (ed. by Yvan Azma, SC 111, pp. 152158). See in particular the beginning of Ep. 143, in which Theodoret praises Marcellus for his support:
,
.
, , ,
, .
, . Theodoret to Marcellus, Ep. 143 (ed. Azma,
SC 111, p. 156). As Azma notes, Marcel fut le deuxime successeur dAlexandre, fondateur de la communaut.
On ne sera point surpris que Thodoret apprcie sa vie sainte et son zle pour la vrit si lon se souvient quaprs
avoir dfendu lorthodoxie mise en pril par lhrsie nestorienne, il lutta aussi contre Eutychs, participa au concile
de Constantinople en 448 et celui de Chalcdoine en 451. Yvan Azma, introduction to Thodoret de Cyr:
Correspondance III (SC 111, ed. Azma), 38.
101 Turner, Letters, 74.
102 Turner, Letters, 74-75.
103 Ibid, 76-78.

22

which was then revised in 1605 by Conrad Rittershusius (adding 230 letters) and translated into
Latin by Andreas Schott in 1623, who then published a separate volume in 1629 with an
additional 569 letters.104 The culmination of these separate versions was Aegidius Morels 1638
volume that combined Rittershusius edition with Schotts separate volume of new letters. 105
This version became the now standard edition of 2012 letters, divided into five books with notes
by the Jesuit Petrus Possinus, which J. P. Migne finally incorporated in his multi-volume
Patrologia graeca in 1860.106
In 1911, R. Aigrain published a volume of the 49 letters that were part of Rusticus
Synodicon, with an introduction that lightly touched upon the importance of Isidore in relation to
Christological matters.107 At the turn of the last century, C. H. Turner published his article
detailing the different manuscripts of the letters and the earliest editions, while L. Bayer analyzed
the Hellenic elements found in Isidores oeuvre. Isidorian scholarship continued to address
Christological and Scriptural elements in the monks correspondence, thus the work of A.
Schmid and C. M. Fouskas, although Schmid interestingly enough revealed the thread that
connected Isidore to Severus of Antioch, Facundus of Hermiane, and the lost original collection
mentioned by Rusticus. It was not until the second half of the twentieth century, when Morton
Smith, Pierre vieux, and Roland Delmaire published their articles and later vieux his major
all-encompassing study on Isidore, that light was finally shed on the letters that related to secular
officials in Constantinople.108 The last stage was set, then, for an attempt at a modern edition of
104 Ibid, 78-79.
105 Ibid, 80.
106 Ibid, 81-82.
107 Aigrain, Quarante-neuf lettres (1911); Smith, Manuscript Tradition, 206.
108 In 1973 the late Morton Smith, then professor of ancient history at Columbia University, published The Secret
Gospel, an account of his discovery in 1958 of a supposed new gospel of Mark, which caused some controversy and
has led to accusations of forgery. See Morton Smith, The Secret Gospel: the Discovery and Interpretation of the
Secret Gospel According to Mark (New York: Harper and Row, 1973). The controversy is still ongoing, with recent
books on the subject having been published in the last few years. See Stephen C. Carlson, The Gospel Hoax:
Morton Smiths Invention of Secret Mark (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2005) and Scott G. Brown, Marks

23

the letters in translation. vieuxs 1997 two volume set in French, although thorough in its
presentation of the large range of addressees included in the corpus, failed to include translations
of the important letters of Isidore to Cyril of Alexandria, Theodosius II, and some of the other
important officials, perhaps due to his death in 2007. An English translation of the letters has yet
to be published.

IV. Secular Connections:


4.1 The Usefulness of a Network:
A brief glance at the recipients of Isidores correspondence will reveal the range of
secular and religious acquaintances maintained by the monk. As we shall see, Isidore knew
praetorian prefects, governors (called the praefectus Augustalis in Egypt and corrector in
Augustamnica), 109 and even palace eunuchs, all positions of great power and influence within the
imperial administration. Indeed, one is quickly struck by the fact that both Theodosius II and
Cyril of Alexandria also appear as his addressees. Although surprising at first, this is the result
of a combination of factors: the importance of maintaining a social network to promote oneself
and ones community, the degree of involvement of the emperor and the bishop of Alexandria in
the affairs of the empire, and the unique position of the holy man in the late Roman state. Added
to this, the letters of Isidore reveal the portraits of some important secular and religious officials,
both locally and at Alexandria and Constantinople, which all confirm that Isidore was a very well
connected individual.
Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton Smiths Controversial Discovery (Waterloo, ON: Wilfred Laurier University
Press, 2005).
109 Bagnall, Later Roman Egypt, 64; on the establishment of correctores beginning in the reign of Diocletian, see
Jones, Later Roman Empire A Social, Economic and Administrative Survey 284-602, vol. 1 (1964; repr., Oxford:
Basil Blackwell,1973), 45. As Jones notes further on, Moesia was divided into the two dioceses of Dacia and
Macedonia by Constantine, and Egypt was detached from that of Oriens by Valens; the governors of the last two
dioceses bore the exceptional titles of praefectus Augustalis and comes Orientis respectively. Jones, Later Roman
Empire, vol. 1, 373.

24

In order for a request to be at its most effective in the early fifth century CE, it was
important that the person making the request be of sufficient gravitas and in possession of a good
network of connections.110 Persons of distinction in distant communities of the empire had to
know the identity of the powerful intermediaries in Constantinople and at home who could exert
enough influence to help them.111 In such a milieu, letters represented the links of friendship that
bound individuals despite the great distances that separated them, in which the writer could
advance the cause of family members, friends, or even an entire town. 112 Sometimes the letter
writer wrote to protect his reputation or position in society. A good example of this is the
episode concerning bishop Athanasius of Perrha in 444 CE, who because of certain accusations
of criminality was ousted from his episcopate by a number of clerics of the city. 113 For support
against the accusations, Athanasius wrote to Cyril of Alexandria, who in turn wrote to Domnus
of Antioch in defence of his friend.114 Although Athanasius appeal to Cyril did not seem to have
110 In the case of Libanius under Julian in the early 360s CE, the prestige of his position in Antioch as one of the
foremost teachers of rhetoric helped him to emerge as the chief intermediary between emperor and city, a position
that gave him enormous influence. Bradbury, in introduction to Selected Letters, 10. See also Christopher Kelly,
Ruling the Later Roman Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 130.
111 For example, much like Isidore, when requesting favors, Theodoret of Cyrrhus would regularly adopt
different tones in his letters to achieve common ground with his correspondent and thus win his appeal. Panegyric
elements such as praising the officials gentleness, appealing to his interest in Classical philosophy and literature,
and drawing on Christian moral teachings, such as divine mercy and providence, all helped Theodoret to garner the
officials attention and secure his aid. Adam M. Schor, Performance and Social Strategy in the Letters of
Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrrhus, Journal of Late Antiquity 2:2 (2009), 278-280. See also Millar, Greek Roman
Empire, 215.
112 Kelly, Ruling, 160. Traditionally, the art of letter correspondence in Greek culture was seen as a literary gift
from one man of culture to another. Bradbury, introduction to Selected Letters (TTH 41), 19. Thus, as we have
seen above in the case of Isidore, letters would frequently contain beautifully rendered Classical allusions and would
be written in a sophisticated and classicizing Greek. Since such letters represented literary confirmation of the bond
of friendship between correspondents, it became important to preserve the letters and make duplicates. Another use
of collecting letter duplicates was that they strengthened a correspondents sense of protection, since the social
importance, or gravitas, in court circles of individuals of the likes of Libanius or Theodoret revealed a lot about the
power of the correspondents backers. Schor, Performance, 291. One can find an example of this in a letter of
Theodoret, in which the bishop recounts that he provided a young woman with one of his letters so that she could
pass through a local religious festival () in safety and rejoin her father. Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Ep. 70 (ed.
Azma, SC 98, p. 154).
113 The episode is briefly mentioned in the acts of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE. See The Acts of the
Council of Chalcedon (Eng. trans. by Richard Price and Michael Gaddis, TTH 45.3, p. 59). On Athanasius troubles
at this time and his rivalry with Theodoret, see Bevan, Syrian Episcopal Elections, 67-70.
114 Let your holiness deign, if the city of Antioch is far from that which the most God-fearing bishop,
Athanasius, mentioned previously, was assigned to administer, to grant a hearing to certain people through a letter of

25

the desired result,115 it is plain that despite his unpopularity Athanasius made sure that he did not
stand alone and took care to foster a network that included the powerful bishop of Alexandria
and his network of allies as well. This was true of both secular and religious personages, as the
correspondences of Libanius, Symmachus, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Synesius of Cyrene, and
Isidore of Pelusium testify.116 It was important that these circles of acquaintances be maintained
over the years, since the number of correspondents guaranteed the authors standing both at
home and at court. The copying and re-copying of letters either by the author or by someone else
in his circle also gave evidence of a far-reaching social network, since the copies circulated
among the authors acquaintances and collections of them could be gathered together by his
followers in distant regions.117 Isidores two letters to Theodosius II and the handful of others to
Cyril of Alexandria are but a few testimonies of this rich epistolary system.118

4.2 Constantinople:
But did these appeals to the highest officials in the state actually ever reach them? And if
so, could these heads of state be effective? This is difficult to ascertain in regards to Isidore,
your own. Cyril of Alexandria, Ep. 77, in St. Cyril of Alexandria: Letters 51-110 (Eng. trans. John I. McEnerney,
FC 77, p. 93).
115 The bishop ultimately resigned from his see and was deposed in 445 CE, although Domnus did investigate the
affair as Cyril asked of him. See, Bevan, Episcopal Elections, 67-68.
116 In a letter to the prefect Constantinus, Theodoret asks for help to relieve Cyrrhus of its crushing taxes and for
defence against the false accusations of Athanasius of Perrha. Ep. 42 (ed. Azma, SC 98, p. 106-113). Synesius
wrote to a certain Constans (possibly Constans 3, magister utriusque militiae in 412 CE according to PLRE 2, 311)
on behalf of an acquaintance of his who was the victim of a friend of Constans, all the while reminding Constans of
his love of philosophy and honour. Ep. 27, in Synsios de Cyrne, Correspondance, vol. 2, 32. Libanius also wrote
to many officials on behalf of his friends. In one letter to Florentius, Libanius provides a character description of
one of his good friends, who hopes for advancement. Ep. B41, in Selected Letters (Eng. trans. Bradbury, TTH 41, p.
70). On the social network of Libanius, whose two thousand letters testify to a diverse network of connections in
fourth-century Antioch, see also Isabella Sandwell, Religious Identity in Late Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2007), 231-239. As Sandwell notes, when cousins, ex-pupils and old friends went on to hold
positions in the imperial bureaucracy, in the court or senate of Constantinople or in civic government, these personal
relationships tied Libanius into the centres of power of the late Roman empire. Sandwell, Religious Identity, 232.
117 Schor, Theodorets People, 33-35 and 145.
118 The preservation of collections of letters thus also served to show off erudition, moral authority, and
membership in an elite intellectual circle.

26

since we do not possess any responses to his letters. By looking into some of the actions
undertaken by the emperor and Cyril of Alexandria, however, we may be able to say that Isidore
knew very well how effective these heads of state could be whenever the fancy suited them. It
has been the fashion in the past to view Theodosius II as a sort of puppet ruler, susceptible
throughout his reign to the wills of his eunuchs and empresses. This was certainly a factor early
on when Theodosius inherited the throne as a child of seven in 408 CE. 119 There has, however,
been of late a recent and important reassessment of the role exerted by Theodosius both in court
and in ecclesiastical politics, at least once he came of age. 120 Indeed, as Synesius letter of
410/411 to the dux Anysius would indicate, in which the bishop asks the latter to send a
submission to the emperor to increase local troops, it is conceivable that the emperor viewed
submissions himself even early on in his reign, when he would have been about 10 years old. 121
119 On this subject, see Holum, Theodosian Empresses, 91-93, 97, 101-102 and 130: at the very beginning of his
reign, Theodosius sister Pulcheria accompanied the emperor whenever he met his advisors, shielded him from other
women, and appointed officials and promoted barbarian generals in his stead. Although many of the reports on
Theodosius dependency on others are apocryphal, Holum nonetheless concludes that the gossipers managed a
good characterization of Theodosius, who emerges from the history of his mature years as a man of intelligence and
sincerity but little backbone. Holum, Theodosian Empresses, 130. Cf. the assessment of the level of Pulcherias
power at court in Richard W. Burgess, The Accession of Marcian in the Light of Chalcedonian Apologetic and
Monophysite Polemic, Byzantinische Zeitschrift 86:7 (1993/4), 47-68. See also note 120 below.
120 See the collection of recent essays in Christopher Kelly, ed., Theodosius II: Rethinking the Roman Empire in
Late Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). See especially Christopher Kelly, Rethinking
Theodosius, chap. 1 in Kelly, Theodosius II, 19-21: a convincing case can be made, for example, that because the
fine-grained detail of the formation of imperial policy (the shifts, the negotiations, the compromises, the coalitionbuilding) is more fully discoverable in the case of Theodosius, his indecision and irresolution is more evident and
can be more easily criticized than that of past emperors. But, ultimately, as Millar points out, no matter how
many, or how forceful, the competing streams of rhetorical persuasionin the end the Imperial system was a
monarchy, and the Emperor, at least when once arrived at adulthood, could decide. Millar, Greek Roman Empire,
231. See also Burgess, The Accession of Marcian, 47-68, in which he convincingly downplays Pulcherias role in
the succession of Marcian upon the death of Theodosius II in 450 CE. After a thorough examination of the historical
evidence, Burgess concludes that far from being a proto-Irene, one of the first Byzantine empresses, as [Kenneth
G.] Holum would have us believe, Pulcheria was manipulated and sacrificed to the whims of a man [emperor
Marcian] who held much greater power and influence than she, even though she was an Augusta, a title replete with
ceremonial awe but invested with little actual power when put to the test. Burgess, The Accession of Marcian,
68.
121
. ,
. Ep. 78 in Synsios de Cyrne: Correspondance, vol. 3, ed. by Roques, 200.
As Millar emphasizes, We should not fail to take note of how extraordinary (in one sense) this procedure is. These
barbarian soldiers can approach the bishop, and he can ask the Dux to send a submission to the distant Emperor. No
heed is paid to the fact that the latter was currently aged about ten. Millar, Greek Roman Empire, 61.

27

Of course, the submissions were first vetted by intermediaries, such as Anysius, the praespositus
(imperial chamberlain), or members of the consistory, who would all have their say in the final
decision process on whether to send the troops or not, but the contents of Synesius letter
suggests that it was not unfeasible for a bishop, and one of Synesius stature no less, who was no
fool, to expect that a request be directed towards the emperor.122 It even could happen at times
that the emperor would later countermand a decision or law that was originally made in
consultation with members of his consistory to satisfy another group negatively affected by it.123
Of course, one of the more famous instances of Theodosius involvement in affairs of
state happened later on when the twenty-nine year old emperor decided to call the council of
Ephesus in 431 to resolve the Christological quarrel that erupted between the Oriental bishops
and Cyril. On that occasion, what mattered most for the emperor was not orthodoxy of belief in
itself, which was the concern of the bishops assembled, but that these bishops come to a united
decision as a public demonstration of consensus.124 Foremost on his mind was the worry that a
divided church would harm the state.125 At the time of the council Theodosius had come of age,
122 Members of the consistory included, among others, legal officers, military officers, various comites, and the
powerful praefectus praetorio orientis. Jones, Later Roman Empire, vol. 1, 333. For the extent and limits of the
powers of the emperors consistory in the late Empire, see Jones, Later Roman Empire, vol. 1, 334-341: in the
fourth century the consistory was an active and effective council of state, which debated matters of moment and
advised the emperor upon them... [and] the consistory continued to meet and to transact business in the fifth and
sixth centuries [but] the emperor remained absolute and he not only could, but often did, act on his own initiative
without consulting his council. The consistory thus tended to be a subservient body, whose members, instead of
presenting a common front, vied with one another to win the emperors approval, and intrigued to discredit their
rivals. But, as Elton concedes, both ancient and modern historians have exaggerated such personal influences
and suggested that the emperor was dominated by eunuchs, women, or barbarian generalsthe emphasis on
reaching the emperor in his apartments also ignores the fact that he was not cocooned there. Although the
praepositus could grant or restrict access to the imperial household, he could not isolate the emperor. Hugh Elton,
Imperial Politics at the Court of Theodosius II in Cain and Lenski, Power of Religion in Late Antiquity, 135.
123 In September 440 CE Theodosius enacted a law under the recommendation of the Praetorian Prefect Cyrus,
thus abolishing the praescriptio fori enjoyed by soldiers and officials, which allowed them to claim recourse to
special courts reserved especially for them. Two months later the emperor would retract the law, declaring that he
had never intended to touch the praescriptio fori and drafting a new law more advantageous to the soldiers
involved. Jones, Later Roman Empire, vol. 1, 339-340.
124 Kelly, Rethinking Theodosius, 13
125 Susan Wessel, The Ecclesiastical Policy of Theodosius II. Annuarium Historiae Conciliorum 33:2 (2001)
297-98.

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relying less and less on the imperial consistory as the time went on. 126 Even though access to the
imperial household continued to be protected by the praepositus, or imperial chamberlain, this
palace official often fell from favour and it was then up to the emperor to decide whom to meet
and when.127 Theodosius also showed his disapproval of Cyril when the bishop attempted to
undermine the emperors authority and plant discord within the imperial family by sending
Christological treatises against Nestorius to the empresses.128 When the First Council of Ephesus
finally came to a close and Theodosius learned from his official representative Candidianus that
its decision to depose Nestorius had been rushed by Cyril, who had strong-armed some of those
present, the emperor commanded an investigation into the affair.129

Indeed, the fact that

Theodosius sent Candidianus to ensure the smooth progression of the council with special
instructions not to take part in any of the deliberations meant that the emperor suspected mischief
by the two sides of the controversy.130 It is thus perhaps not too far-fetched that Isidore could
hope for action from Theodosius when he wrote to him.

4.3 Alexandria:
Anyone wishing to advance a personal or communal cause could of course turn to
members of the clergy for support, but real ecclesiastical power in Egypt that could influence
local officials and even sway the imperial administration in Constantinople lay with the bishop of
Alexandria. An effective network of influential acquaintances in early fifth century Egypt would
thus benefit in having Cyril of Alexandria among its members, and as we shall see, Isidore knew
126 Thomas Graumann, Theodosius II and the Politics of the First Council of Ephesus, chap. 4 in Kelly,
Theodosius II, 110; Jill Harries, Men without Women: Theodosius Consistory and the Business of Government,
chap. 2 in Kelly, Theodosius II, 87.
127 Elton, Imperial Politics, 135.
128 Wessel, Ecclesiastical policy, 287 and 293.
129 Wessel, Ecclesiastical Policy, 170-171; Elton, Imperial Politics, 139.
130 Graumann, Politics of the First Council of Ephesus, 119

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the bishop well enough that he could write to him from time to time. Under the episcopate of
bishop Athanasius, a century before Cyrils tenure, the status and power of the bishop of
Alexandria grew as the Egyptian see became one of the wealthiest in East. 131 Not only did the
Alexandrian Church collect the profits of the regional land properties and expand its assets
throughout the Nile delta over the course of the fourth century CE,132 but the Council of Nicaea
of 325 CE also confirmed the patriarch of Alexandrias jurisdiction over the bishops of Egypt,
Libya, and the Pentapolis,133 with the result that, during the ecclesiastical Councils of fifth
century, the Egyptian bishops voted according to the wishes of the Alexandrian patriarch. 134
Indeed, on the eve of the Council of Ephesus Cyril could hope to secure at least 155 signatures
agreeing to the deposition of Nestorius.135 The bishop of Alexandria could also count on the
protection of a guard of attendants called the parabalani whenever he faced local adversaries,
such as he did in 415 CE against the city prefect Orestes and the Jewish authorities. 136 Socrates
even states that Orestes was extremely jealous of Cyrils powers, which he believed encroached
on the civil and imperial jurisdiction and was the cause of a power conflict between the bishop
and the governor of Alexandria.137
131 McGuckin, St. Cyril, 7; Timothy D. Barnes Athenasius and Constantius: Theology and Politics in the
Constantinian Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), 32-3 and 179.
132 Russell, Cyril of Alexandria (London: Routledge, 2000), 10.
133 Barnes, Athenasius and Constantius, 178; Jones, Later Roman Empire, vol. 2, 883.
134 Russell, Cyril of Alexandria, 9-10. Also, the powers of the bishop were autocratic. He might consult his
clergy or even his whole flockbut his judgement was final. Jones, Later Roman Empire, vol. 2, 874.
135 McGuckin, St. Cyril, 74
136 McGuckin, St. Cyril, 11 and 15. For examples of the use of the parabalani as a means of intimidation during
the episcopate of Cyrils successor, Dioscorus, during the Second Council of Ephesus in 449 CE, see Gregory, Vox
Populi, 145 and 149; see also A. Philipsborn, La compagnie dambulanciers parabalani dAlexandrie, Byzantion
20 (1950), 186.
137 Susan Wessel, Cyril of Alexandria and the Nestorian Controversy: the Making of a Saint and of a Heretic
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 34. For details on this power conflict, see Socrates, Church History 7.7
and 7.13. Timothy Barnes in his review of a critical edition of Socrates History prepared by Gnther Hansen,
which is based on an ancient Armenian version first published in 1897, has made an important observation about the
nature of Cyrils relationship with the secular administration at Alexandria. See Timothy D. Barnes, Armenica
Veritas, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 48, no. 4 (1997):723-731. Chapter seven of Book seven of the standard
English translation of Socrates, edited by A. C. Zenos, describes the elevation of Cyril as bishop of Alexandria on
the death of his uncle and predecessor, Theophilus. According to Socrates, a great contest immediately arose about

30

Cyrils influence over secular officials in Constantinople is also well attested. When the
council of Ephesus decided to anathematize Nestorius in his absence in 431, Cyril sent the
imperial tribune Aristolaus to Antioch to deliver the news of the council ahead of time to the
emperor so as to convince him to remain firmly in the Alexandrian camp. It was also with this
purpose in mind that in 432 CE Cyril drew up a list of eulogiae, or benedictions (a euphemism
for bribes) in the form of money and goods, to be given to influential individuals of the court,
including, among others, the master of the offices, the quaestor, and the chamberlains Chryseros
and Chrysaphius.138 These eulogiae indicate that Cyril was well aware of the different back ways
of reaching the ear of the emperor.139 He also warned a number of members of the clergy in
the appointment of a successor, some seeking to place Timothy the archdeacon in the episcopal chair; and others
desiring Cyrila tumult having arisen on this account among the people, Abundantius, the commander of the troops
of Egypt, took sides with Timothy. Socrates, HE 7.7 (Eng. trans. Zenos, NPNF, p. 156,). This passage has usually
been seen to show that the secular administration of Alexandria was completely opposed to the election of Cyril and
that Cyrils subsequent encroaching on secular matters resulted in Orestes growing antipathy towards the bishop.
Socrates, HE 7.13 (Eng. trans. Zenos, NPNF, p. 159). On the opposition of the secular administration of Alexandria
to Cyril see also, Lionel R. Wickham, introduction to Cyril of Alexandria: Select Letters, ed. and trans. by L. R.
Wickham (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), xiii. According to the Armenian translation newly edited by Hanson,
however, which Barnes calls the best and most important witness to the text, which has a stemmatic value equal to
that of all the other witnesses put together (Barnes, Armenica, 724), Abundantius actually takes sides with Cyril.
This would suggest, Barnes intimates, that Cyril may in fact have had the support of the administration of
Alexandria early on and that therefore most of what has been written about Cyrils quarrel with the prefect Orestes
and about the murder of Hypatia needs to be rethought (Barnes, Armenica, 729).
138 For a complete list of the eulogiae, see Cyril of Alexandria, Ep. 96, in Letters 51-110 (Eng. trans. McEnerney,
FC 77, pp. 151-153). Holum, Theodosian Empresses, 180-181. Also see Kelly, Ruling, 171-172 and Pierre Batiffol,
Les prsents de saint Cyrille la cour de Constantinople, chap. 4 in tudes de liturgie et darchologie chrtienne
(Paris: Librairie Lecoffre, 1919), 154-179. As Batiffol states, Alexandria suffered financially to satisfy Cyrils
machinations: lglise dAlexandrie, pour distribuer ainsi plus dun million aux gens de la cour de Thodose II,
avait t bel et bien mise sec par Cyrille. Batiffol, Les prsents, 168. But, for [Cyril] and his supporters,
depleting the church treasury at Alexandria to provide presents for influential courtiers ensured a just conclusion to a
long and bitter doctrinal dispute. Kelly, Ruling, 172.
139 Cameron, The poet and the Empress, 256. On the eunuchs Chryseros and Chrysaphius, see PLRE 2,
Chryseros 1, 297 and Chrysaphius qui et Ztummas, 295-297. On Chrysaphius influence on Theodosius II:
, ,
,
.... John Malalas, Chron. 14.19 (eds. Beck, Kambylis, and Keydell, p.
283). It is telling of the degree of influence of Chrysaphius at court that, as Malalas reports, one of the first acts of
Theodosius successor Marcian upon acceding to the throne in 450 CE was to execute the influential eunuch
immediately. On the power of eunuchs at court in general, see Jones, Later Roman Empire, vol.1, 568: Owing to
the secluded state in which the emperor by tradition lived, his eunuchs, who alone had regular and familiar
intercourse with him and controlled private and informal access to him by outsiders, at all times enjoyed
considerable influence, and in some reigns were all powerful. As for Chryseros, Cyril admitted that special care
had to be made to persuade him to fall in line with the Alexandrians: ...to the prefect Chryseros, that he would cease
to oppose us, we were forced to dispatch double amounts. Cyril of Alexandria, Ep. 96 (Eng. trans. McEnerney,

31

Constantinople against Nestorius and pressed the holy man Dalmatius, a favourite of the
emperor, to make an appearance at the palace to make sure that Theodosius did not waver.140
Socrates also describes Cyrils power as being greater than that of his predecessor and uncle,
Theophilus, who was also known as the Egyptian Pharaoh because of the influence he
exerted.141 As will become obvious below, Isidore was all too familiar with Cyrils tactics. By
cultivating friendly but respectful communication with Cyril of Alexandria, Isidore would have a
powerful ally when, as we shall see, he was confronted with local problems in Pelusium.

4.4 The Influence of Isidore at Court:


To understand the degree of influence Isidore wielded over the emperor and members of
the court, we should first establish the position of authority holy men possessed in Late
Antiquity. The holy man, whose asceticism and miracle working were all indications of divine
grace, made him into a reliable and impartial mediator and one who possessed authority, even
over the emperor, as a man enjoying a unique relationship with God. 142 While the emperor and
the powerful bishops exercised power either for the good of the state or for their own purposes,
monks were in a unique position to influence them, since their word was believed to represent
the word of God and the powerful thus often listened to them. In the fourth century CE, for
instance, emperor Constantine and his sons were said to have sought the opinion of St. Anthony,
the traditional founder of desert monasticism, who advised them to despise material possessions

FC 77, p. 151). See also Wickham, Select Letters, 66. n.8: [Chryseros] support had to be obtained by suitably
grand largesses which drained the coffers of the Church of Alexandria, as maliciously exposed by Irenaeus. Also
see ACO 1. 4, p. 222.
140 Festugire, phse et Chalcdoine, 258-261; Brown, Power and Persuasion, 16; Gregory, Vox Populi, 110111; Caner, Wandering, Begging Monks, 219-221; Dagron, Les moines et la ville, 267.
141 Socrates, HE 7.7 (Eng. trans. Zenos, NPNF, p. 156).
142 Richard M. Price, Holy Mens Letters of Rebuke, Studia Patristica 16, no. 2 (1985): 52.

32

and to think of their own salvation and for the welfare of the poor.143 Anthony also wrote to
Constantine in support of his friend and bishop Athanasius when the latter fell out of imperial
favour.144 Another Egyptian monk of note was John of Lycopolis, whom Theodosius I relied on
for information on the state of Egypt and, most famously, on the appropriate action to take
against the usurper Maximus when the latter was threatening the Rome in 383 CE. 145 The fact
that emperors on occasion consulted monks in far-flung deserts should not be so entirely
surprising given the fact that Roman rulers had long been accustomed to consulting pagan priests
whenever they faced urgent matters of state, a practice which clearly did not stop with the
coming of Christianity. It was crucial that their actions and decisions be thought/seen to have
divine sanction, since the only superior force above the emperor was the Christian God, and the
officially designated link between the two were the bishops and the holy men. 146 One can thus
imagine that for Isidore, as a member of this religious elite of the desert, there was probably
nothing exceptional in the fact that he might write to the emperor, especially to one as involved
in the ecclesiastical affairs of his realm as Theodosius II.147
In consideration of Isidores own influence we may begin by examining his connection
with Constantinople. As already stated, Isidore wrote two letters to Theodosius II. 148 Ep. 311 is
crucial since it deals directly with the First Council of Ephesus and the emperors involvement in
the deliberations, which will be outlined below in its proper place.

What is even more

noteworthy, however, is that both letters reveal the emperor, as someone who has come of age

143 Ivan Gobry, Les moines en Occident: De saint Antoine saint Basile les origines orientales (Paris: Fayard,
1985), 160.
144 Barnes, Athanasius and Constantius, 121.
145 Gobry, Les moines en Occident, 192-193.
146 Barnes, Athanasius and Constantius, 179; Peter Brown, The Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Late
Antiquity, Journal of Roman Studies 61 (1971): 93.
147 Millar, Greek Roman Empire, 230
148 Ep. 35 (= 1.35, PG 78, 204 C) and Ep. 311 (= 1.311, PG 78, 361 D-364 A).

33

and seems increasingly in charge of the affairs of the empire. In Ep. 35, Isidore thus pleads with
the emperor to relieve the economic burden on cities and reminds him that God rewards good
management. Isidore here surely has in mind the heavy taxes imposed on the cities of the East to
rebuild the Roman army after the disaster of Adrianople in 378 CE. 149 Although Bagnall has
revealed that the taxation rates of Egypt were relatively low by the time of Diocletian, its
inflexibility made it burdensome in villages with low productivity as compared to the larger
centres.150 As the capital of Augustamnica I and located at the crossroads between Egypt and the
East, Pelusium must have benefitted somewhat from its position, but it certainly did not escape
the effects of economic fluctuations and social disruptions of the fourth and fifth centuries CE.
The letters of Isidore at least testify to this to a certain degree: local officials steal from the
people and the Church, individuals devote themselves to vice and carnal excesses, and Isidore
himself urges his colleagues to flee the cities. In Ep. 35, therefore, Isidore alludes to an unfair
distribution of taxes and urges the emperor to ease the fiscal burden that weighs over the citizens
of the empire.151 During such times of upheavals, local holy men like Isidore held spiritual sway
over their communities by directing collective penance and leading the charge against
misfortune.152 Thus, his contemporary Synesius wrote that in a just system the supplying and
equipping of the army ought not to overburden the citizens that it is there to defend, 153 while
Theodoret, during the latter half of the century, regularly contacted influential figures at court to
complain of heavy taxation and the difficulties of repayment due to poor harvests. 154 Again, the
149 Van Minnen, The Other Cities in Later Roman Egypt in Egypt in the Byzantine World, 300-700, ed. Roger
S. Bagnall (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 221.
150 Roger S. Bagnall, Agricultural Productivity and Taxation in Later Roman Egypt. Transaction of the
American Philological Association 115 (1985), 307.
151 Ep. 35: ...
152 Brown, Rise and Function, 90.
153 Synesius of Cyrene to Evoptius, Ep. 95, in Synsos de Cyrne: Correspondance, vol. 3, ed. by Roques, 218.
See also Alan Cameron and Jacqueline Long, Barbarians, 141.
154 On this subject, see series of letters by Theodoret to persons of high ranking at court: Epp. 42-47 (106-124,
SC 98 ed. Azma). See also I. G. Tompkins, Problems of Dating and Pertinence in Some Letters of Theodoret of

34

emperor often responded to such individual pleas by bringing forward legislation.

In one

instance in 415 CE Theodosius wrote to the Praetorian Prefect Aurelianus to tell him that soldiers
are not allowed to appropriate for themselves any land not granted by imperial ordinance and to
limit taxes on landowners.155 In composing his Ep. 35, therefore, Isidore had at least some
reason to hope that he stood a chance that the emperor would listen and, perhaps, act
accordingly.

4.5 Cyrenius and Gigantius:


Besides showing the relative degree of influence which Isidore exercised on the emperor
as a holy man, one can also discern throughout some of Isadoras correspondence a social
malaise that pervaded Pelusium. This general social malaise is due to many factors, says Isidore,
but it is those at the top who are to blame. Chief among these in Pelusium are Cyrenius, the
corrupt governor (corrector) of Augustamnica, and the overly ambitious Gigantius. Both cases
occur around the year 431/432 CE, which is indicated by the fact that Isidore complains about
them to Rufinus, the Praetorian Prefect of the East at the time. 156 Just as revealing, however, is
what Isidores letters say about these two officials in terms of the extent of his connections in
those years. But before establishing this circle of acquaintances it is important first to understand
what drove Isidore to write to them. One of Cyrenius first acts upon being made governor,

Cyrrhus, Byzantion 65, no. 1 (1995): 176-182. A number of the letters also make references to an anonymous
party in the capital, whom Theodoret describes as our bishop and as a slanderer (). Theodoret
complains bitterly that this excommunicated bishop was obstructing his efforts at having the reduction of the iugatio
for Cyrrhus confirmed. Bevan, Episcopal Elections, 69. The identity of the individual Theodoret complains
about has subsequently been identified as Athnasius of Perrha, who as already mentioned above (note 116) was
deposed from he episcopate in 445 CE. As Tompkins notes, there were no other bishops in the patriarchate of
Antioch known to have been deposed at a local council in this period. Therefore, it is almost certain that Athanasius
is the figure to whose conduct Theodoret is repeatedly alluding in these letters. Tompkins, Problems, 191. For
an example of such a letter in which Theodoret references Athanasius, see note 117.
155 Millar, Greek Roman Empire, 47.
156 PLRE 2, 953: Rufinus 8.

35

according to Isidore, was to put up a declaration on the front of the church of Pelusium that
effectively removed the right of the citizens to defend themselves or from seeking asylum in their
church.157 In Ep. 176, Isidore tells the citizens of Pelusium that their governor is putting up the
courts for sale by peddling judgements to the highest bidder and urges them to avoid embroiling
themselves in litigations.158 In fact, he suggests that it was better for small-landholders to walk
away from litigation than to pay the high fees to settle a dispute in the courts.

159

In the letter to

Rufinus alone (Ep. 178), Isidore complains of the fact that Cyrenius has reduced the citizens of
Pelusium to such a state of misery that the rule of law is ignored and no one dares to resist.160
In the case of Gigantius, Isidore claims to have faced a man whose ruthless ambition
could only be surpassed by his crimes. 161 In a series of pointed letters, Isidore sent word to
officials in Constantinople of the threat that Gigantius represented. He accuses him of slander, of
stealing from the citizens, of appropriating money originally sent out for the poor, of lying to the
courts, and of attacking the Church. Gigantius excesses have even driven some citizens out of
the city to find work in other parts. 162 Isidore warns a certain Seleucus, who was presumably a
person of influence in Constantinople and perhaps even the famous Fl. Taurus Seleucus Cyrus
mentioned above, that Gigantius is at court ( ) and claims once again the
governorship for himself ( ), which suggests that he either once
held this position in Pelusium or that he claimed it before. 163 Thus, with Pelusium facing a
157 Ep. 174 (= 1.174, PG 78, 296 C-297 A).
158 Ep. 176 (= 1.176, PG 78, 297 B)
159 The administration of the later Empire issued an ordo salutationis which listed, in often complex and
knowingly opaque legalistic detail, fixed prices for specified bureaucratic actions. Kelly, Ruling, 138. As Kelly
also underlines, such administrative barriers discouraged many small-landholders from seeking justice,
notwithstanding all their other financial obligations, such as taxes and poor harvests. Kelly, Ruling, 140.
160 Ep. 178 (= 1.178, PG 78, 297 D-300 A).
161 All that is known about Gigantius comes from the letters of Isidore. Apart from being an a corrupted and
ambitious governor of Augustamnica, we also learn from Isidore that Gigantius was a native of Cappadocia. See
also PLRE 2, 512: Gigantius.
162 Ep. 487 (= 1.487, PG 78, 448 B-C).
163 Ep. 484 (= 1.484, PG 78, 445 C).

36

situation in which the citizens suffered under the weight of over-taxation, the city was at war
with one governor, and there was a possibility of an even worse one on the way, the future
looked bleak.

Isidore could hopefully look towards his highly-placed connections in

Constantinople for help.

4.6 Appeals to Praetorian Prefects of the East:


But who are these court officials to whom Isidore writes to campaign against Gigantius?
Rufinus, the Praetorian Prefect already mentioned, allows us to date the governorship of
Cyrenius and the machinations of Gigantius. The two letters addressed specifically to him, 164
one of which is addressed specifically to him under the title of Praetorian Prefect, portray a
highly placed individual who managed the affairs of the East and had the ear of the emperor.165
The chronicler John Malalas states that Theodosius II made a relative of his named Rufinus PPO
to replace Antiochus Chuzon the Younger, the grandson of the elder Antiochus Chuzo, and
adds that this Rufinus was put to death for plotting a rebellion. 166 Martindale observes that John
Malalas has confused the Rufinus of Theodosius II, who actually succeeded Antiochus the Elder,
with the Rufinus who served under Theodosius I, thus confirming that there was indeed a PPO

164 Ep. 178 and Ep. 489 (= 1.489, PG 78, 448 D).
165 Ep. 489:... ,... As Dagron notes, surtout, lintrieur de

la pars orientalis, on note bien des ingalits dans les divisions administratives. Il ny a aucune commune mesure
entre la petite prfecture dIllyricum, rsultat dun partage politique, et la prfecture dOrient qui est le corps mme
de lEmpire. [Constantinople] appartient administrativement la prfecture du prtoire dOrient, mais le prfet,
jusqu Thodose I, rside souvent Antioche; lorsquil sinstalle Constantinople, il perd son caractre de prfet
rgional et devient, malgr son titre inchang, un vritable premier ministre ayant comptence sur lEmpire entier.
Gilbert Dagron, Naissance dune capitale: Constantinople et ses institutions de 330 451 (Paris: Presses
universitaires de France, 1974), 75.
166 , ,
.
. John
Malalas, Chron.14.17-18 (eds. Beck, Kambylis, and Keydell, pp. 282-283).

37

named Rufinus in 431/432 CE.167 As to Isidores relationship with him, the monk seems quite
respectful as he urges the Prefect to save the Pelusians from the clutches of Cyrenius (Ep. 178).
In Ep. 489, Isidore tells Rufinus that, since he is a close advisor to the emperor, he can have the
law changed so as to prevent Cappadocians from governing the Province and let Egyptians take
their place.168

Although Isidore does not name Gigantius specifically, the reference to

Augustamnica having had to suffer once before under a corrupt Cappadocian governor seems to
confirm Gigantius first term in that office.
Isidore continues his crusade against Gigantius in letters to two other very important
officials who both served as the highest official during the crucial decade of 428-438 CE, at the
height of Isidores influence. The first is Fl. Florentius, and although again there is no official
title that accompanies this letter, its content and Isidores somewhat respectful tone leave no
doubt as to the addressees identity.169 According to the laws emitted under his name, Fl.
Florentius was City Prefect in 422 CE, twice Praetorian Prefect of the East in 428-429 CE and
438-439 CE, and consul in 429 CE. 170 Isidore warns him that Gigantius is again at court seeking
power for himself. Although so far he has escaped retribution, the monk urges Florentius that it
is now time for Gigantius to be chastised, especially while he is over there at court, which Isidore
claims is overflowing with many such filthy individuals. Indeed, Isidore goes so far as to state
that there have been too many Cappadocians like Gigantius allowed remain in the administration
of the state.
The other official in Constantinople Isidore knows at this time is possibly his namesake
Fl. Anthemius Isidorus, who became Praetorian Prefect of Illyricum in 424 CE, and later became
167 PLRE 2: Rufinus 8, 953.
168 vieux remarks that due to the excesses of Gigantius, Isidore grouped all Cappadocians together as being part
of an offensive and corrupt race. vieux, Isidore de Pluse, 49.
169 Ep. 486 (= 1.486, PG 78, 448 A).
170 Martindale, ed. PLRE 2, 478-479: Fl. Florentius 7. See also CLRE, 392-393.

38

Praetorian Prefect in the East in 435-436 CE and finally consul in 436 CE. 171 In Ep. 485, Isidore
writes to an Isidorus about the corruption of Cappadocians, again in reference to Gigantius. 172
Although, as with Florentius, no official title for this Isidorus has been preserved with the letter,
the language yet again suggests someone who wielded considerable authority. On the other
hand, Ep. 299, in which Isidore asks for help on behalf of the trader Bonus who lost his grain at
sea, is addressed to a certain Isidorus , which would confirm this Isidorus as being a
prefect.173 We may tentatively conclude therefore that Isidorus was probably not Prefect of East
when Isidore wrote to him about the Cappadocians, which fits the timeline of 431-432 CE, but
that he was either a prefect or consul, probably in 436 CE, when the monk wrote to him about
the trader Bonus. Interestingly enough, according to an inscription from Ephesus, Fl. Anthemius
Isidorus was a native of Alexandria.174
One might thus speculate here concerning a possible connection between Isidore of
Pelusium and Fl. Anthemius Isidorus, one which could have been fermented while the future
Prefect was in Egypt. If one analyzes the language, however, Isidore keeps a respectful tone,
which at first would not seem to signify a close relationship nurtured over many years. 175 But
neither does this necessarily preclude the possibility that the two knew each other in some
previous capacity, since Isidores tone could just as easily be a reflection of the formal way of
addressing an official in another part of the empire. 176 For instance, although there is evidence
171 For details on his career, see PLRE 2: 631-632: Fl. Anthemius Isidorus 9.
172 Ep. 485 (= 1.485, PG 78, 445, D).
173 Ep. 299 (= 1.299, PG 78, 356, D). Isidorus was PPO in 435-436 CE. PLRE 2, 631. He was also consul in
436 CE together with FL. Senator (PLRE 2, 631-633). CLRE, 406-407.
174 PLRE 2, 632. The inscription is as follows:
, ,
.
175 For example, consider the end of Ep. 299 (= 1.299, PG 78, 357 A):
, , .
176 Bishops and clerics addressed officials in different ways according to their rank in the administration. Schor,
Theodorets People, 144-145. So, in a letter to Florentius, who was prefect in 428-429 CE (PLRE 2: Florentius 7,
478) and consul in 429 CE (CLRE, 393), Theodoret makes use of all the linguistic trappings of someone addressing

39

that Theodoret had a relationship with the bishop Proclus over a period of twelve years, his tone
always remained distantly affectionate and functional, but when writing to local colleagues, it
became more friendly.177 The problem is that we do not possess any other letter from Isidore to
Isidorus to make a valid comparison, so that the only certain conclusion is that at the time of
Gigantius actions in Pelusium, Isidorus was not in office as Praetorian Prefect of the East, but in
some other powerful office.
Florentius and Isidorus were thus key figures of the court who not only pursued
distinguished careers before serving as Praetorian Prefect, but were probably also well versed in
the intricacies of imperial court politics.

Isidore manifestly knew whom to contact when

attempting to convince the emperor to act. Indeed, it seems that he even had access to at least
two imperial chamberlains. While it is true, as we have seen, that the emperor did involve
himself as best he could in the affairs of the empire as he came of age, he was not always
successful at this, surrounded as he was by palace courtiers and ambitious officials. And if
Isidore felt certain enough, as a holy man of standing, that his plea on the part his community
might have a chance to reach the emperor, he was also under no illusions that the court was a
paradise devoid of any corruption. After all, Gigantius must have felt justified in his hopes of
obtaining success in Constantinople, or he would not have been there in the first place.
Indeed, two letters from Isidore to palace eunuchs have survived, both addressed
() . The first to be listed in Migne is Ep. 27, which is addressed to the
eunuch Pharismanius and consists of a general criticism of this courtiers greediness and love of
an official of important standing: ...
... ... .... Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Ep. 5,
(ed. Azma, SC 40, pp. 77-78). With officials who ranked lower than praetorian prefects, such as governors,
however, Theodoret used a tone of mild superiority. For example, in a letter to the governor of Euphratensis, Neon
(PLRE 2: Neon 1, 776), Theodoret admonishes him against the dangers that come with power and reminds him of
his responsibilites, while approving of his governorship in general. Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Ep. 37, (ed. Azma, SC
40, pp. 101-102).
177 Schor, Theodorets People, 28-29.

40

pleasure.178 The letter does not reveal much else about Pharismanius and happens to be the only
proof of his existence.179 We are however more fortunate in the case of Ep. 36, which is
addressed to a certain Antiochus.180 Originally from Persia, he arrived in Constantinople in 404
CE and took care of the early education of the emperor and his sisters. 181 He was said to have
controlled Theodosius from the beginning and continued to do so until the emperor dismissed
him, confiscated his property, and demoted all holders of the post of praepositus.182 In a letter
written to his brother in 404/405 CE, Synesius of Cyrene lists the names of the different
individuals who had the ear of the emperor and admitted to him that the power of Antiochus
was such that the eunuch could do whatever he wished.183 Similarly, Isidore tells Antiochus that
although he is a servant of the imperial power and has the ability to orient that power however he
likes, he should seek to give force to justice if he is so interested in the holy Scriptures, however
blinded by visions of grandeur he may be.184 Clearly Isidore was just as aware of the instances of
intrigue and corruption going on in Constantinople as he was of those in Pelusium. He reveals as
much to the tribune Serenus in Ep. 462, in which he councils the tribune who is about to leave on
a journey to Constantinople. 185 If Serenus prays to God, Isidore tells him, he should be able to
178 Ep. 27 (= 1.27, PG 78, 200 B).
179 PLRE 2, 872: Pharismanius 1.
180 Ep. 36 (= 1.36, PG 78, 204-205 D-A).
181 PLRE 2, 101-102: Antiochus 5. Curiously enough, despite being an individual of high rank in charge of the
imperial children, there is no mention of Antiochus in any of the surviving histories, outside of the chronicles and
contemporary letters. Yet, as Greatrex and Bardill suggest, an influential Persian eunuch at the court of
Constantinopolitan court[was] scarcely suitable material [for the Church historians]. Geoffrey Greatrex and
Jonathan Bardill, Antiochus the Praepositus: A Pesian Eunuch at the Theodosisus II Dumbarton Oaks Papers 50
(1996), 178.
182
...
. John Malalas, Chron., 14.14. (eds. Beck, Kambylis, and Keydell, p. 281); Millar, Greek Roman
Empire, 194.
183 .
, . Synesius of Cyrene, Ep. 110, in Synsios de Cyrne:
Correspondance, vol. 3, ed. by Roques, 245. For the dating of this letter, see Greatrex and Bardill, Antiochus the
Praepositus, 174-176. See also Roques, tude, 166-167 and Holum, Theodosian Empresses, 81.
184 Ep. 36.
185 PLRE 2, 993: Serenus 3. Ep. 462 (= 1.462, PG 78, 436 D).

41

reach the emperor he longs after, whom the hermaphrodite seeks liberally for himself. 186 Thus,
Isidores influence and experience seemed to have gone beyond the sphere of public officials and
reached the inner sanctum of the emperors court.
Isidore also writes to an official in Egypt whose position of influence would also have
represented an asset for the monk. Isidore addresses three letters to a Theodorus. 187 Two of them
include the title , which as we have seen is the designation for provincial governor
for the territory west of Augustamnica.188 Even without the titles to help us identify him,
however, Theodorus position as governor would still have been discernable from the contents of
the letters alone, which pertain to the theme of good governorship. Although Isidore does not
mention any specific names to help us pinpoint a date for the letters, he does allude to the
problems faced by the Pelusians and the empire as a whole, such as the tyranny of certain
officials, the buying and selling of offices, and foreign wars. Martindale lists a Theodorus who
was praefectus Augustalis during the time when the Neo-Platonist philosopher Proclus studied
with Leonas the sophist in Alexandria.189 The reference is taken from Marinus of Samaria, who
writes that Proclus travelled with Leonas to Constantinople as a favour to Theodorus, the
Alexandrian governor, a man of great distinction, liberality and friendliness to philosophy. 190
Marinus also includes Proclus horoscope at the end of his Vita Procli, which was dated by
Delmaire to 412 CE. Assuming Proclus was eighteen at the time of his journey to

186 Ep. 462 (= 1.462, PG 78, 436 D): ,


.
187 Ep. 850 (= 3.50, PG 78, 764 D-A); Ep. 1728 (= 5.372, PG 78, 1549 C); Ep. 1859 (= 5.462, PG 78, 1596 B).
188 Jones, Later Roman Empire, 381.
189 PLRE 2, 1088: Theodorus 15.
190 Marinus, Vita Procli 9, ed. by David R. Fideler and trans. by Kenneth S. Guthrie (Grand Rapids, MI: Phanes
Press, 1986), 22.

42

Constantinople, his governor friend Theodorus would thus have had to have been in office in 430
CE.191
In this sense, Ep. 1728 is perhaps even more suggestive. Isidore argues that a good leader
is not someone who would exploit different factions or buy off votes with bribes, nor one who
would be celebrated for the effectiveness of his speech alone. Although at face value the letter
appears to concern corrupt secular officials of the likes of Cyrenius and Gigantius, it would be
tempting to view it as a reflection of Isidores criticism of Cyril of Alexandria and his
machinations for securing the deposition of Nestorius at Ephesus in 431 CE. As will be shown,
Isidore did not shy away from making known to Cyril himself how he viewed the bishops style
of politics. If the letter does indeed hold elements of Isidores disappointment with the actions of
Cyril, one could tentatively date it to immediately after the Council of Ephesus, once the full
extent of Cyrils desire to depose Nestorius became known among his allies back in Egypt. The
letters to Theodorus also possibly indicate an aspect of the relationship between Isidore and
Alexandria itself. The tone of the letters is similar to that found in those to Harpocras and others,
in which Isidore seems to be explaining a matter to friends who value his experience and
knowledge. If Isidores Theodorus is the same as the one described by Marinus, it would
indicate that the monk remained in close contact with an official in Alexandria, who had the
potential to rise in the ranks and eventually reach Constantinople. Finally, the later career of the
prefect Isidorus tells us something of the degree of influence that Isidore may have been able to
exert on such officials in Egypt who were rising in the ranks.

V. Ecclesiastical Connections:
191 Roland Delmaire, Notes prosopographiques sur quelques lettres dIsidore de Pluse, Revue des tudes
Augustiniennes, 34 (1988): 233; Marinus, Vita Procli 35, ed. by J. Boissonade (1814. Reprint, Amsterdam: Adolf M.
Hakkert, 1966), 28.

43

5.1 Social Role of Clerics:


Among Isidores ecclesiastical correspondents, we have already established that there are
good grounds to believe that the Synesius to whom Isidore wrote is indeed Synesius of Cyrene,
the famous philosopher and bishop of Pentapolis. 192 It seems fitting therefore that Isidores sole
letter to Synesius should also be one of his most expansive, since it presents two very important
aspects of the ecclesiastical world of the fifth century. 193 The first concerns what Isidore believes
is the duty of an ecclesiastic in that world, stressing that a true servant of God should have
confidence that he will be able to ward off his enemies and that he ought to avoid indifference
when faced with adversity.194 Thus, a priest or a bishop ought to protect his community as best
he can from both internal and external hostile forces and he will be guided in this by his
confidence in God. As we have seen, Isidores actions in Pelusium seemed to reflect this
philosophy. It was the duty of the ecclesiastic not just to teach the Word of God, but also to put it
into action on behalf of his community and the destitute. Similarly, rather than underlining the
bishops role as the official representative of a particular see, Synesius believed that he had a
primarily social responsibility: the citizens chose Synesius to plead with the emperor for tax
relief and protection from the corrupt governor Andronicus, much as they would have done with
a local politician in earlier times.195 Also reminiscent of a secular role, bishops would travel to
the capital on behalf of the poor, much like the traditional embassies sent from cities to the
emperors.196

Isidore therefore would probably have agreed with Synesius concept of the

192 The letter must therefore date to the period before 413/414 CE, the approximate date of Synesius death.
Denis Roques, introduction to Synsios de Cyrne: Correspondance, vol. 2, ix. See also pp. 13-15 above.
193 Ep. 232 (= 1.232, PG 78, 325 C): , ,
, ...
194 vieux, Isidore de Pluse, 78. vieux also thinks that the opening sentence of Ep. 232 hints at the violent
struggle Synesius led in Cyrene against the neighbouring barbarian tribes.
195 Bregman, Synesius, 42 and 77.
196 Brown, Poverty and Leadership, 71.

44

philosophical ecclesiastic, who looks beyond mere temporal affairs and focuses instead on
ideal forms of good in order to bridge the gap between the human and the divine.197
The other aspect of the ecclesiastical world reflected in Ep. 232 is Isidores observation
that this important social role of the ecclesiastic was being threatened. 198 From what he says it
appears that he had noticed a lack of discipline among religious officials: priests had become
careless, so that as agents of God they could not properly defend the people from hostile
forces. Isidore of course was not the first to observe this, since Origen already in the third
century complained about bishops in large cities who regarded asceticism with wariness and who
were constantly surrounding themselves with wealthy and refined ladies. 199 Indeed, just as in the
imperial bureaucracy, payments of money and the sale of offices had become a common
occurrence within the ecclesiastic community in the fifth and sixth centuries.200

5.2 Cyril of Alexandria:


If one reads Isidores letters to Cyril of Alexandria, one gets the impression that he
thought the bishops actions reflected the troubling state of the Church and merited the same
criticism as he outlines in Ep. 232 to Synesius cited above. Isidore wrote eleven letters in all to
Cyril, eight addressed to him with the title of bishop of Alexandria and three without the title. 201
197 Bregman, Synesius, 136-137.
198 Ep. 232: , ,

,
.
199 Origen, Contra Celsum 3.9, ed. and trans. by Henry Chadwick (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1980), 129. See also Henry Chadwick, Bishops and Monks, Studia Patristica 24 (1993): 47. Upon being made
bishop of Constantinople in 397 CE John Chrysostom himself began a sweeping series of measures against corrupt
clergy, and he also ejected some of the clergy from the Church. He was naturally disposed to reprehend the
misconduct of others, and to antagonize righteously those who acted unjustly. Sozomen, HE 8.3 (Eng. trans. by
Chester D. Hartranft, NPNF, p. 400). Chrysostom, like Isidore, also disapproved of monks who moved to urban
centres and mingled with the crowd, since the bad air was said to pose a danger to their life of simplicity and labour.
John Chrysostom, De Sacerdotio, (PG 48, cols. 682-85). See also Gregory, Vox Populi, 45-46
200 Huebner, Currencies of Power, 170.
201 With the title: Epp. 310 (= 1.310, PG 78, 361 C); 323 (= 1.323, PG 78, 369 B); 324 (= 1.324, PG 78, 369 C);
370 (= 1.370, PG 78, 392 C); 627 (= 1.127, PG 78, 565 A-572 C); 1106 (= 3.306, PG 78, 976 B); 1328(= 5.79, PG

45

Nothing in the contents of Epp. 25, 393, and 497 helps us to distinguish whether Isidore is
writing to Cyril the bishop or any other Cyril. Of the letters addressed to Cyril as bishop, Epp.
1106 and 1582 concern the relationship of power between the empire and the Church. Isidore
tells Cyril that in the past the Church was strong enough to criticize the wrongs committed by the
empire, but that now the Church has lost much of its former strength and does the empires
bidding. None of these letters really indicate the date of their composition, since this change in
the balance of power between empire and Church could refer to any number of events in the fifth
century CE. Ep. 1328 concerns corrupt priests and their oikonomoi [stewards] in Pelusium, who,
Isidore suggests, have a tendency to fall victim to cupidity.202 The oikonomoi took care of the
finances of the local ecclesiastic community, sometimes assisting the community as a whole or
just one individual cleric.203 Although again this letter could refer to any event that might have
occurred in and around Pelusium, it may be possible to suggest a plausible identification for one
particular oikonomos. In Ep. 127, Isidore complains to Cyril about a troublesome oikonomos,
whom he names Martinianus.204 In other letters, Isidore writes to this Martinianus to criticize
him directly for his insolent behaviour and his general arrogance, which, he says, has no place in
the life of a man of God.205 It is possible that Ep. 1328 belongs to this same group of letters in
which Isidore complains of Martinianus actions in Pelusium. Significantly, Isidore feels that he
can broach this subject with Cyril and expect results, like Athanasius of Perrha did when he

78, 1373 B); 1582 (= 5.268, PG 78, 1493 A) without the title: Epp. 25 (= 1.25, PG 78, 197 B-C); 393 (= 1.393, PG
78, 404 B); 497 (= 1.497, PG 78, 452 D-453 A).
202 Ep. 1328 (= 5.79, PG 78, 1373 B):
.
203 Antoine Guillaumont, Histoire des moines aux Kellia in Aux origines du monachisme chrtien: Pour une
phnomnologie du monachisme (Bgrolles en Mauges: Abbaye de Bellefontaine, 1979), 161. According to
Guillaumont, some of the responsibilities and duties of the oikonomoi included intervening when money was left by
a stranger, the selling of baskets woven by the community. 161.
204 vieux, Isidore de Pluse, 217-218
205 Epp. 460 (= 1.460, PG 78, 436 B) and 1122 (= 3.322, PG 78, 984 C).

46

faced the rebellion of priests in his see (pp. 24-25 above). Ep. 1328 and Ep. 127 would thus
suggest the possibility that Cyril was an essential member of Isidores social network in Egypt.
Whether, on the other hand, Cyril considered himself part of a network with Isidore
remains unclear, since we do not possess any replies from Cyril to Isidore. We do, however, get
some sense of the intensity of their relationship from the viewpoint of Isidore, and it is possible
to construct a time frame from those letters which are addressed to Cyril as bishop of
Alexandria.206 The tone of the language of the letters seems to suggest some deep familiarity
between Isidore and Cyril: as with the letters to Harpocras and Synesius, Isidore is quite blunt
and presents a no-nonsense attitude with Cyril. Let us first consider Ep. 370. Isidore mentions
that Cyril sometimes refers to him as father. Ought we to conclude then that Cyril had been a
student of Isidores at some point early in his career? The tone of the letter certainly sounds
like that of a mentor or teacher reprimanding a former student. 207

For example, Isidore

commands Cyril to stop his quarrels with others, since he risks endangering the Church, and to
create in it instead an atmosphere of perpetual discord. Interestingly enough, in another letter
addressed to Cyril, this time without a title, Isidore chastises him for taking an interest in
worldly affairs rather than meditating in solitude. 208 Although this letter could have been meant
for any other Cyril, the contents seem to match Cyril of Alexandrias actions in his see and his
quest to depose Nestorius. The letter also seems to suggest that Cyril lost his ascetic ways
when he became bishop. One could postulate from this a scenario in which a young Cyril is
trained as a monk in the eastern deserts while staying with Isidore, although Cyril never
206 Epp. 310, 323, 324, 370.
207 McGuckin, St. Cyril of Alexandria, 3.
208 Ep. 25: given the general vagueness of the contents of this letter and its focus on Cyrils interest in world
affairs, its date could range at any time between the beginning of Cyrils episcopate in 412 CE, when Socrates tells
us that Cyril began to assume the administration of secular matters, and the establishment of the Formula of
Reunion in 433 CE, which as will be shown is the latest we can confidently date Isidores letters to Cyril. Socrates,
HE 7.7 (Eng. trans. Zenos, NPNF, p. 156).

47

mentions such a time in his correspondence to other monks. 209

More realistically, the

designation of Isidore as father by Cyril could just as well represent a mark of respect from
one spiritual father to another, who would have deserved the appellation because of his
reputation of virtuous asceticism.210 Regardless of the exact nature of their relationship, it is
revealing that here, in these two letters, Isidore tries to make Cyril understand that the power of
his see is corrupting him and that his selfishness will create perpetual problems for himself
and the Church.
Given the particularly confrontational nature of Cyrils episcopate, the contents of Ep.
370 do not provide us with a reliable idea of the date of its composition. As already mentioned,
Isidore does allude to Cyrils quarrels and talks of avenging a personal insolence, but these
allusions could serve as references to any period of Cyrils time as bishop, such as his clashes
with Orestes, the Jews, the Novatians, or even the Antiochenes during the Nestorian
controversy.211 However Epp. 310, 323, and 324 can all be reasonably dated to the crucial period
of 431-433 CE at the early stages of Cyrils quarrel with Nestorius and the Antiochenes. The
easiest to date is Ep. 310, since, like Ep. 311 to Theodosius, it explicitly mentions the council of
Ephesus of 431 CE. In both Epp. 310 and 324, Isidore reproves Cyril, while Ep. 323, much like
Ep. 419 to bishop Hermogenes, is a declaration of Isidores theological view within the context
209 McGuckin, St. Cyril of Alexandria, 3.
210 Theodoret considered Acacius, bishop of Beroea, for whom he had great affection, a spiritual father whom
he shared with others who had been touched by him. See Schor, Theodorets People, 19. Thus, in a letter to the
priests of Beroea, Theodoret writes: . ,
, , . Theodoret of Chyrrus,
Ep. 75 (ed. Azma, SC 98, p. 161). On Isidores piety and knowledge of Scripture note also Severus of Antioch:
adversus Isidorum sapientem in Domino presbyterum Pelusiipresbyter orthodoxus illius civitatis, plenusque erat
divina sapientia et scientia inspiratae Scripturae, cuius explanationes recte faciebat. Severus of Antioch, Lib. Cont.
Imp. Gramm. 247, 3-8 (ed. Lebon, CSCO 102, p. 182,). Also Evagrius Scholasticus on Isidores ascetism: this
man so wasted the flesh by toils and so enriched the soul with elevating words that on earth he pursued and angelic
life and throughout was a living monument of solitary life and contemplation of God. Evagrius Scholasticus, HE
1.25.15 (Eng. trans. Whitby, TTH 33, p. 41).
211 For the struggle between Cyril and the Novatians and Jews, see Socrates, HE 7.7 (Eng. trans. Zenos, NPNF, p.
156) and 7.13-16 (Eng. trans. Zenos, NPNF, pp. 159-161).

48

of the Christological debate.

We ought first to analyze Isidores criticisms of Cyril and

understand how the bishops actions represent for Isidore a symptom of the malaise that affected
the Church at this time. In Ep. 310, Isidore advises Cyril not to seek vengeance on his enemies,
but rather to judge them in a fair manner.212 He also tells the bishop that those who have been
assembled at the council ridiculed Cyril behind his back because he chose to quarrel with
Nestorius about theological details for reasons of glory, while neglecting the message of Christ.
The fact that Isidore allowed himself to be somewhat critical of Cyril tells us something about
the nature of their relationship and emphasises Isidores role outlined above as the virtuous monk
standing on behalf not just of his community but of the Church in general as well. Cyrils
standing as the powerful bishop of Alexandria thus in no way intimidated Isidore, since he let the
bishop know of what he saw as the formers petty and vengeful ways.

5.3 John Chrysostom:


Isidore reserves one of his severest criticisms of Cyril for the end of Ep. 310, where he
compares the bishop to his uncle and episcopal predecessor Theophilus, whose quarrel with John
Chrysostom upon the latters ordination in 397 CE needlessly brought the deposition and exile of
the much beloved bishop six years later.213 Isidore underlines in his letter the fact that, in his
actions, Cyril was starting to resemble his uncle Theophilus, whose ruthless ways perfectly
212 The contents of Ep. 310 would thus date to the period of the First Council of Ephesus of June 431 CE, either
just prior to or during the deliberations, since the perfect tense of the verb in the sentence
suggests the translation of those who have been gathered together in Ephesus, i.e. those who have been
assembled and are presently still in a state of having been assembled. vieux narrows it down even further: la
lettre 310 correspond au dbut du concil dphse, en 431.[Isidore] engage Cyrille dune part soumettre les
causes et les personnes jugement impartial, sans violence, dautre part, viter de vider se querelles personnelles.
Nous sommes donc l peu avant louverture du concile, cest--dire au mois davril ou de mai 431. vieux,
Isidore de Pluse, 82-83. It must be stated however that it is next to impossible to know exactly when in
conjunction with the council this letter was sent, and how vieux arrives at his almost precise date is difficult to
determine from the context of the letter.
213 Timothy D. Barnes and George Bevan, introduction to The Funerary Speech for John Chrysostom (TTH 60),
3. See appendix for a translation of Isidores comparison of Cyril to Theophilus.

49

encompassed for Isidore what was problematic in the Church of his day. It would thus be timely
here to outline the events surrounding the affair of the Tall Brothers and the Synod of the Oak.
When Nectarious, bishop of Constantinople, died in 397 CE, a hotly contested election for his
replacement ensued, in which different sides and cities put forward a host of candidates.214
Among them was John of Antioch, later known under the nickname Chrysostom (golden
mouth). Theophilus, who opposed Johns candidacy, proceeded to enter his own candidate into
the race, an Alexandrian priest under his control called Isidorus, but the powerful eunuch in the
imperial court, Eutropius, convinced the emperor Arcadius to choose the popular bishop of
Antioch instead.215 Partly as a result of his elevation to the episcopacy and the immediate
reforms he undertook within the Church, therefore, John soon attracted to himself the enmity of
Theophilus and other members of the clergy, who wasted no time to begin to plot against him.216
In 400 CE, the brothers Dioscorus, Ammonius, Eusebius, and Euthymius, collectively
called the Tall Brothers, had been priests working in the service of Theophilus. 217 According to
Socrates, the Tall Brothers fell out of favour with Theophilus because they had decided to leave
his service and move to the desert since they were disgusted with his supposed devotion to greed
and the acquisition of wealth.218 Another factor that influenced Theophilus was that the Tall
Brothers had given shelter to the presbyter Isidore, who had previously been expelled from the

214 Gregory, Vox Populi, 44; Barnes and Bevan, introduction to the Funerary Speech, 2-3.
215 Barnes and Bevan, introduction to the Funerary Speech (TTH 60), 3; Sozomen, HE 8.2 (Eng. trans. Hartranft,
NPNF, p. 400). Gregory speculates that the reason John was ultimately chosen was because he had previously
refrained from actively taking part in factional politics and because, as a stranger to the court, he could be more
easily controlled by Eutropius (unlike Theophilus candidates, who would look towards Alexandria rather than the
court if elected). Gregory, Vox Populi, 44-45.
216 Wherefore Theophilus bishop of Alexandria, immediately after [Johns] ordination, was plotting his
overthrow; and concerted measures for his purpose in secret, both with the friends who were around him, and by
letter with such as were at a distance. For it was not so much the boldness with which John lashed whatever was
obnoxious to him, that affected Theophilus, as his own failure to place his favourite presbyter Isidore in the
episcopal chair of Constantinople. Socrates, HE 6.5 (Eng. trans. Zenos, NPNF, p. 140).
217 Kelly, Golden Mouth, 190-191.
218 Socrates, HE 6.7 (Eng. trans. Zenos, NPNF, p. 143).

50

Church by the bishop on a question of money that Theophilus thought should have gone to him
for the building of churches.219 The bishop subsequently accused the Tall Brothers of being
disciples of Origen, the third-century theologian who espoused the belief in an incorporeal God.
This was an unpopular teaching among the less-educated monks who supported an
anthropomorphic deity.220 The Brothers and their supporters were forced to leave Egypt and
travel to different places in the East, each time being refused shelter from monks who had been
forewarned by the agents of Theophilus about the Brothers supposed heretical beliefs.221 They
finally arrived in Constantinople and brought their case against Theophilus to the attention of
John Chrysostom, who was reluctant to help them in order to avoid the possibility of creating
conflict with the powerful Egyptian bishop.222 Despite the danger, John did come to the priests
aid, and with that Theophilus trap was set. The bishop of Alexandria then convinced Johns
enemies in Constantinople to unearth dirty secrets against their bishop, and sent his agents to sow
discord between John and the empress Eudoxia.223 Once Theophilus arrived in the capital in 403
CE, the deed had been done. John Chrysostom was deposed at a synod that took place in a
suburb of Chalcedon called The Oak and exiled.224
Regardless of this defeat, Johns support among his followers was such that, returning
from his first exile, he could remain in his episcopal palace while sixty bishops assembled
together in that city, and annulled all the decrees of the council of the Oak. 225 After a time,
however, Johns enemies worked to convince the emperor of Johns lack of support, and the
219 Sozomen, HE 8.12 (Eng. trans. Hartranft, NPNF, p. 406).
220 Elizabeth Clarke, The Origenist Controversy: the Cultural Construction of an Early Christian Debate
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), 44-47. See also Wessel, Cyril of Alexandria, 25
221 Kelly, Golden Mouth, 194-195.
222 Sozomen, HE 8.13 (Eng. trans. Hartranft, NPNF, p. 407).
223 Kelly, Golden Mouth, 203-212.
224 Kelly, Golden Mouth, 217.
225 Sozomen, HE 8.19 (Eng. trans. Hartranft, NPNF, p. 412); Gregory, Vox Populi, 58.

51

bishop was exiled again in 404 CE, this time to the Caucusus, where the harsh winters and the
dangers posed by the local Isaurians took a toll on him. 226 Finally, in 407 CE, John was ordered
by emperor to travel to a remote military outpost along the north-eastern Black Sea, but the
former bishop died at the beginning of his journey.227 Although John had lost his see and
suffered two exiles as result of Theophilus machinations, his popularity among his adherents
never waned, even when many of them were hunted down and tortured by Johns enemies.228
Due to his rhetorical skill and the power of his pen, 229 Johns writings were dispersed all over the
East, and his reputation as a virtuous and kind-hearted bishop who stood in the face of
wrongdoers and their injustices had an effect on many clerics, including Isidore of Pelusium.230
As already mentioned above (p. 5), Johns rehabilitation took place a few years after his
death, when in about 416 CE the bishop of Antioch, Alexander, became the first to inscribe
Johns name on the local diptychs, or list of revered saints.231 Atticus, the new bishop of
Constantinople, soon followed suit and also restored Johns name to the diptychs.232 Interestingly
226 I am distressed by the oppression of being in fear of the Isaurians, by the desolateness of the place and the
severity of the winter John Chrysostom to Marcianus, Ep. 122M (Eng. trans. Barnes and Bevan, TTH 60, pp.
143-144).
227As Socrates specifies: John was taken into exile died in Comana on the Euxine, on the 14th of September, in
the following consulate, which was the seventh of Honorius, and the second of Theodosius [i.e. 407 CE]. Socrates,
HE 6.21 (Eng. trans. Zenos, NPNF, pp. 151-152). See also Sozomen, HE 8.28 (Eng. trans. Hartranft, NPNF, p. 418)
and Barnes and Bevan, introduction to The Funerary Speech, 4.
228 Sozomen, HE 8.23 (Eng. trans. Hartranft, NPNF, p. 414); Gregory, Vox Populi, 58-64.
229 On Johns possible studies with Libanius, the famous Antiochene teacher and sophist, see A.H.M. Jones, St.
John Chrysostoms Parentage and Education, The Harvard Theological Review 46:3 (1953), 171-173. Both
Socrates (6.3) and Sozomen (8.2) agree that John studied under Libanius. According to Socrates, John came from a
well-to-do family in Antioch and was on the point of entering a career in law when he was persuaded by a certain
Evagrius to enter the priesthood. Socrates, HE 6.3 (Eng. trans. Zenos, NPNF, p. 138).
230 Hence he was exceedingly beloved not only in Armenia, where he dwelt, but by all the people of the
neighbouring countries, and the inhabitants of Antioch and the other parts of Syria, and of Cilicia, who frequently
sought his society. Sozomen, HE 8.27 (Eng. trans. Hartranft, NPNF, p. 417). On the diffusion of Johns written
output, see Edmond Bouvy, S. Jean Chrysostome et saint Isidore de Pluse, chos dOrient 1:17 (1898), 196. On
Johns popularity during and after his death, see also Gregory: Support for John was thus a very simple matter: to
many people he was a kind and saintly bishop who was persecuted for having dared to speak the truth about the
powerful of the world. Gregory, Vox Populi, 68. On Isidores knowledge and reverence of Johns writings, see Ep.
1255 (= 5.32, PG 78, 1348 A) and below.
231 Theodoret of Cyrrhus, HE 5.35 (ed. by J. Bouffartigue, Annick Martin, Luce Pietri, and Franoise Thelamon
and trans. by Pierre Canivet, SC 530). Barnes and Bevan, introduction to The Funerary Speech, (TTH 60), 4.
232 Socrates, HE 7.25 (Eng. trans. Zenos, NPNF, p. 166).

52

enough, however, Atticus was forced to write to Cyril, who had recently taken over as bishop of
Alexandria from his uncle in 412 CE, to persuade him to assent to also inscribe Johns name in
the dyptichs of Egypt.233 At first Cyril refused, listing to Atticus several reasons why it would be
inappropriate to celebrate the memory of a bishop who was officially deposed by the Church. 234
This is not so surprising since in a letter to Acacius, bishop of Beroea, written in c. 433 CE, Cyril
mentions that he had been in attendance during the Council of the Oak in 403 CE and had agreed
with Acacius position to depose John.235 Although Cyril did eventually relent and came to
venerate John like everyone else when, starting in 428 CE, the emperor celebrated John as a
saint, Theophilus actions to depose the man seem likely to have had a great influence on Cyrils
behaviour thirty years later prior to and during the First Council of Ephesus.
As already mentioned (p. 47), Isidore makes clear in Ep. 310 to Cyril that he was well
aware of the events surrounding the deposition of John Chrysostom. In another letter, Ep. 152,
this time to a certain Symmachus, Isidore mentions these events again in detail. 236 Isidore admits
to Symmachus with some embarrassment that Church officials in the province of Egypt (the area
west of Egyptian Augustamnica) are accustomed to act like the Pharaohs of ancient times, even
to this day, persecuting the Jews, launching extensive building programs, and amassing great
wealth. When Theophilus became bishop of Alexandria, continues Isidore, he fought with a
friend of God (John Chrysostom) and found in Isidores namesake (Theophilus presbyter
Isidore) a thorn that had to be removed. Although there is nothing that can really certify the date
233 Hence, do you yourself, most God-loving lord, command that the title of him who has died be inscribed in
the churches throughout Egypt for the sake of universal peace. Atticus of Constantinople to Cyril of Alexandria,
Ep. 75 (Eng. trans. McEnerney, FC 77, p. 85).
234 let the ordinances of the church prevail. Let him who is not a bishop be removed from the clerical lists.
Cyril to Atticus, Ep. 76 (Eng. trans. McEnerney, FC 77, p. 91). Barnes and Bevan give a rough estimate of c. 416418 CE for the dates of Epp. 75 and 76. Barnes and Bevan, introduction to The Funerary Speech, 4, n. 27.
235 Cyril to Acacius of Beroea, Ep. 33 (Eng. trans. McEnerney, FC 76, pp. 130-131). Acacius had been one of the
bishops presiding at the Council of the Oak and Cyril reminds him of that fact. Barnes and Bevan, introduction to
The Funerary Speech, (TTH 60), 5 n. 30.
236 Ep. 152 (= 1.152, PG 78, 284 D-285 A ).

53

of this letter, Pierre vieux dates it no later than to 412 CE, when Chrysostom had regained
favour in Constantinople and Egypt was grappling with the embarrassment, in Isidores words,
of having been involved in his deposition.237 It is possible however to posit a later date from the
context. Perhaps the embarrassment Isidore feels concerning John Chrysostoms deposition is a
reflection of his feelings towards Cyrils reluctance to inscribe Johns name on the diptychs of
Egypt, especially once Johns memory began to be rehabilitated in Constantinople in 416 CE.
Isidore must have felt that his hero was not being properly honoured in his home province. Ep.
152 can also possibly be dated to prior to and during the First Council of Ephesus in 431 CE. In
telling Symmachus that Alexandria finds itself again in the embarrassing situation of
confrontation with Constantinople, Isidore might be alluding to Cyrils struggle with another
bishop of Constantinople, Nestorius. In fact, there is nothing in Ep. 152 that establishes with
certainty its date of composition, including vieuxs date of 412 CE. If one were to suggest
therefore the later date, let us say, of 428-431 CE, the letter would represent another instance of
Isidores displeasure with Cyrils actions, which appeared to him unbefitting of a man of God
and another symptom of the Churchs increasingly questionable morals.
One can therefore also reasonably suggest another possible date for Isidores Ep. 370,
which, as mentioned above (p. 46), can be viewed in a number of different contexts. Isidore tells
Cyril that he should not avenge himself of a private insolence, but instead turn perpetual discord
into piety. Could Isidore be telling Cyril to forget private family wrongs, such as when in 497
CE the eunuch Eutropius chose to support John for the episcopacy of Constantinople over the
candidates favoured by Theophilus, Cyrils uncle? Could Ep. 370 be in fact Isidores plea to
Cyril to relinquish and inscribe Johns name on the dyptichs? But then again, as with Ep. 152,
Ep. 370 could just be referring again to Cyrils struggles with Nestorius. Although no further
237 vieux, Isidore de Pluse, 204.
54

details in these two letters can shed light on this, when Ep. 370 is paired with Ep. 152, two
possible date ranges for the two letters remain in the realm of possibility: either they date to the
beginning period of John Chrysostoms rehabilitation in c. 416-417 CE; or they date to the events
around the First Council of Ephesus in 428-431 CE.
There are many similarities between the thought and actions of John Chrysostom and
those of Isidore, and as already stated above (p. 10 above), Isidore was a great admirer of Johns
character and writings.238 We have also seen how Isidore felt towards the plight of the poor and
the corruption of men like Gigantius. Similarly, Johns sermons were full of exhortations about
helping the poor and condemnations against wrongdoers.239 It is clear from Isidores references
to John that the monk saw him not only as a master to be emulated but also as a kind of kindred
spirit, whose actions in defence of the poor and downtrodden in the face of the wrongdoers must
have confirmed for Isidore the righteousness of his own struggles with adversity and of his
appeals to the powerful. Since Johns works were widely distributed throughout the East, it is
not inconceivable that Isidore might have discovered them while studying rhetoric in Alexandria.
Did the two know each other? While the possibility that they knew each other at some point is
impossible to determine, it is clear from the references in Isidores letters that he was aware of
Chrysostoms past struggles and writings.240 For Isidore, therefore, Theophilus worst crime was
that he brought down by false accusation a man of the greatest virtue, simply because that man
238 , ,

... Ep. 1255 (= 5.32, PG 78, 1348 A). Isidore begins another letter by making known his
disappointment that his correspondent is ignorant of Johns writings, which can be readily accessed even at the
uttermost confinds of the earth and sea: , ,
, , ,
. Ep. 1777 (= 4.224, PG 78, 1317 C). Indeed, Edmond Bouvy sums up Johns popularity as a writer thus: La
rapide diffusion des crits de saint Jean Chrysostome en Orient et en Occident est un des vnements les plus
merveilleux de lhistoire littraire. Bouvy, S. Jean Chrysostome, 199. Significantly, Isidore never admits to
hearing John, but only to reading his works, which would seem to indicate that the two never met.
239 Gregory, Vox Populi, 48. See also Sozomen: [John], having attained power, led his tongue to reproof, and
nerved his wrath more readily against the enemybut as a good and large-minded man, he sought to rectify abuses
throughout the world Sozomen, HE 8.3 (Eng. trans. Hartranft, NPNF, p. 400).
240 For example, Epp. 310 and 152.

55

came to the aid of some desperate monks. What is more, this man was not only innocent of these
accusations but also, as we have seen, a spiritual father of Isidores. This made Cyrils reluctance
to rehabilitate John Chrysostom in 416 CE and his struggle to depose Nestorius in 431 CE even
more difficult for Isidore to digest and thus explains to a certain degree the criticisms Isidore
reserves for Cyril in Epp. 310 and 370 and the panegyric tone for Chrysostom found in Ep. 152.
It was clear to Isidore that in 431 CE Cyril was repeating his predecessors mistakes and, by
deposing Nestorius, the bishop of Alexandria was also insulting the memory of John
Chrysostom.

5.4 The First Council of Ephesus:


The subsequent actions of Cyril in Ephesus in 431 CE to push for the deposition of
Nestorius and to prevent his allies from mounting a proper defence for him were, to Isidore,
deeply reminiscent of the measures adopted by Theophilus against John Chrysostom recounted
above. Indeed, perhaps events were repeating themselves. Just like Theophilus who pushed to
get Chrysostom deposed and exiled back in 403/404 CE, Cyril was now actively working to get
the quick deposition of Nestorius.

What Isidore admitted to Symmachus as being deeply

embarrassing was happening again, this time with new faces performing old roles. Cyrils
actions also seemed to be undermining the effectiveness of the emperors representatives present
at the council. As we have seen, it was essential for Isidore that any good Christian community,
whether local or taken as a whole, could rely on the protection of imperial officials who, in his
view, served not only the will of the emperor, but of God as well. The emperor could not afford
to feel that he was being outmanoeuvred by either side of the debate, as Arcadius and Eudoxia
had been during the vilifying of John Chrysostom, 241 nor could he let the conciliar deliberations
241 Kelly, Golden Mouth, 212-215.
56

fall into disorder. But, as already hinted at above, Cyril was doing his best to stir up opposition
to the meddlesome bishop of Constantinople and to secure his deposition at all costs, regardless
of the position of the emperor. Indeed, during the deliberations Cyril deployed his agents and
sympathizers throughout Ephesus, threatening uncommitted bishops to adhere to the Cyrillians
and intimidating Nestorius followers from meeting in Churches. 242 It was to prevent such
actions that Theodosius sent his representative, Count Candidianus, with a body of soldiers to
Ephesus to oversee the council and curb the influence of the different monastic factions
accompanying the delegations.243 Judging from Epp. 310 and 370 to Cyril, it was clear to Isidore
that Cyril was falling into the same vicious cycle of intimidation and prejudice that had plagued
his uncle, none of which could end well for Cyril.
Meanwhile, Isidore could not remain impassive to what was happening in Ephesus, even
if he seemed to have sided with Cyril theologically, as will be shown below. Clearly Isidore saw
that the imperial representatives, headed by Candidianus, had failed in their mission to curb the
violence. Nothing less than the emperors own presence was required now. Isidore thus made
use again of his position as an influential holy man and sent another plea to the emperor in
person, imploring him to grasp the right moment to be present at the council, 244 to free it from
unruly conduct, and also to keep his ministers in check. 245 The emperor never did grace the
council by his presence, but he did later send a rebuke to Ephesus condemning Cyrils actions
and ordering all delegates to respect Candidianus authority.246 It is also entirely possible that he
did take Isidores advice to heart (assuming that he read his letter), since Theodosius did attend

242 Holum, Theodosian Empresses, 166.


243 McGuckin, St. Cyril of Alexandria, 52.
244 Ep. 311 (= 1.311, PG 78, 361 D-A): .
245 Ep. 311 (= 1.311, PG 78, 361 D-A). Millar, Greek Roman Empire, 232.
246 Holum, Theodosian Empresses, 169.
57

colloquium six weeks later at Chalcedon and assumed an active role in it. 247 Isidore must have
sent his missive to the emperor sometime during July of 431 CE, just at the point when Nestorius
was deposed and events at Ephesus had reached the boiling point. Isidore probably felt the sting
of bitterness once he learned that Candidianus was desperately failing at his charge, being
gradually overwhelmed by the Cyrillians.

5.5 Isidores Theological Stance:


At first glance Isidores theology seems quite straightforward. One must first understand
that it is impossible to know the nature of God, since that nature is much too complicated to be
comprehended it is enough to know that God simply is. 248 In another letter, Isidore warns a
colleague against those who would confuse the simple-minded by means of various complicated
and heretical views, hiding their malice under smooth speeches, just as a sailor confuses a fish by
hiding a hook with bait.249 Thus, when in John 1:14 it says that the Word became flesh, that is
literally what happened and nothing else. To Isidore, the language of Scripture is simple and
clear, so that difficult concepts can be rendered even more understandable to anyone who reads
them.250

But in a handful of letters, Isidore does provide some evidence of theological

interpretation, even going so far as taking a Christological stance. 251 In fact, it could be said that
his views agree with those of Cyril.
The idea that the Scriptures should be read literally is something Cyril probably would
have agreed with. In his Commentary on John of 425-428 CE, Cyril argues that in order to
247 Wessel, Cyril of Alexandria, 255-256.
248Epp. 593 (= 2.93, PG 78, 537 C-B ) and 799 (= 2.299, PG 78, 725-728 D-A); Constantine M. Fouskas, Saint
Isidore of Pelusium and the New Testament (Athens, 1967), 105.
249 Ep.102 (= 1.102, PG 78, 252 C-D).
250 Bartelink, Observations stylistiques, 168.
251 Epp. 323 and 419 (= 1.419, PG 78, 416 C).

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understand Christ and his relationship to God, one has only to look up John 1:14, for the
statement that the Word became flesh means that and nothing else: it is like saying that the Word
became a human being, but even more starkly. 252 What the Scriptures say about Christ should
thus be taken literally: that the Word descended into flesh and suffered as a human would. Cyril
would continue to profess this theory of the single nature both before and during the Council of
Ephesus, using the formula there is one incarnate nature of God the Word. 253 In 430 CE he
even specifies to the Court in his Address to the Most Pious Empresses on the Correct Faith that
the Word degraded into human flesh so as to suffer for our sins. 254 The Word had to become
human so that it could sacrifice itself for us. Both Cyril and Isidore seem to agree that the Word,
having become flesh of man, can suffer, for, as Cyril says in the twelfth explanation of his
Explanations of the Twelve Chapters, the Word of God the Father is these things in his essential
being, he made his own the flesh that is receptive of death, that by means of that which is
accustomed to suffering he might take these sufferings to himself on our behalf. 255 In Ep.
124, Isidore says much the same thing when he states that God assumed human flesh and that, as
such, once united into human nature, He could suffer the passion. 256 Thus, both the Word and
Christ are one, and divine and human once the incarnation took place.

252 As will be shown, Cyrils exegesis of the gospel of John focuses on Christs suffering on the cross, an event
which posed problems for theologians who viewed this as unbecoming of a God. To Cyril, the Passion is associated
with the human side of Christ, which occurred after the incarnation, when the Word fused itself with the human
Christ. This seemed to differ from the focus of traditional Alexandrian exegesis on the divine Logos in the person
of Christ Robert L. Wilken, Cyril of Alexandria, Biblical Exegete, chap. 12 in Handbook of Patristic Exegesis,
861. As R. L. Wickham highlights, it was Cyril who championed most strongly the idea of Christ as the Divine
made flesh, and his classic picture of Christ the God-man, as it is delineated in the formulae of the Church from the
Council of Chalcedon onwards, would be scrutinized by theologians for centuries. Wickham, introduction to
Select Letters, xi. See also Russell, Cyril of Alexandria, 104.
253 ; Wessel, Cyril of Alexandria, 288.
254 Holum, Theodosian Empresses, 160-161.
255 Russsell, Cyril of Alexandria, 189.
256 Ep. 124 (= 1.124, PG 78, 265 A): ... .

59

By 433 CE Cyril seemed to concur with the Orientals that in fact there are two natures,
divine and human, but that Christ was the result when both fused together after the incarnation.257
The first reference in the writings of Cyrils to the two natures, , is found in his
first letters to the Bishop Succensus and Eulogius. 258 In the letter to Eulogius, Cyril makes the
argument in support of the dual nature only to the extent that once the natures unite they make
one.259 To further explain this, in the letter to Succensus Cyril compares this union to that of the
human body, which represents the result of the unification of soul and body to form one being. 260
In Ep. 323 Isidore offers Cyril his view of the divine nature of Christ the man, saying that the
one Son exists of two natures, without a beginning and endless,261 which seems to differ from
the bishops view of one Christ after the incarnation. Whatever the circumstances, the letter was
probably written in the period after the council of Ephesus of 431 CE, since it was only then,
when Cyril was reconciling himself with the Antiochenes in preparation for the Formula of
Reunion of 433 CE, that we find statements in his writings about the two natures. 262 In Ep. 42

257 In Ep. 39 to John of Antioch, written in ca. 433 CE, Cyril responds to criticisms of his view about the
humanity of Christ and includes the text of the Formula of Reunion of 433 CE for clarification: therefore we
confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, is perfect God and perfect man, of a rational soul
and body, begotten before ages from the Father according to his divinity, and that, in recent days, he himself for us
and for our salvation was born from the Virgin Mary according to his humanity, consubstantial to the Father himself
according to divinity and consubstantial to us according to his humanity, for a union was made of his two natures.
We confess one Christ, one Son, one Lord. Cyril of Alexandria to John of Antioch, Ep. 39 (Eng. trans.
McEnerney, FC 76, p. 140). See also ACO I.1.4, pp 15-20 and Festugire, phse et Chalcdoine, 486-491 for the
letter. As Graham Gould has observed, Cyrils account of the two-nature formula relies on an explicit contrast of
before and after the union. That the union was a union of two real different natures must be acknowledged, but after
the union only the result, two united natures, is evident. Graham Gould, Cyril of Alexandria and the Formula of
Reunion, Downside Review 106 (1988): 240.
258 vieux, Thologie, 454. The date of the letter to Eulogius is unknown. Wickham, introduction to Select
Letters, xxvi. As for the letter to Succensus, the date is also uncertain but probably falls somewhere between the
reunion in April 433 and Cyrils overt attacks on Diodore and Theodore in 438. The referencesto the negotiations
over the reunion suggest that this was still news, and hence an earlier, rather than later, date. Wickham, Select
Letters, 70-71 n. 1.
259 Cyril of Alexandria to Eulogius, Ep. 44 (Eng. trans. McEnerney, FC 76, pp. 186-187)
260 Cyril of Alexandria to Succensus, Ep. 45 (Eng. trans. McEnerney, FC 76, p. 193); Schmid, Die Christologie,
56.
261 Ep. 323 (= 1.323, PG 78, 369 B): ... .
262 Delmaire, Notes prosopographiques, 230.

60

Isidore talks of an inexpressible union ( ) 263 and in Ep. 236 Isidore indicates that
saying you are the son of God means the union of two natures, again following Cyrils
arguments supporting the Formula of Reunion.264
Cyrils version of the two natures thus very much mirrors Isidores. Based on his letters,
Isidore would surely have replied to Nestorius along the lines of Cyril and urged him to look at
John 1:14. Perhaps this is why in Ep. 324 Isidore exhorts Cyril to remain firm in his convictions
and not to be seen to appear fickle nor to succumb to any empty glory. 265 Isidore, knowing
Cyrils penchant for under-the-table deals, is expressing his fear of how far, and how low, Cyril
would be willing to go to broker a peace with the emperor on his back. 266 This would indeed
have caused an even bigger rift in the delicate fabric that was the Egyptian religious community,
something which would have represented an appalling situation for Isidore. But the monk did
not have to worry, since, as we already noted, Cyril was able to argue his way out and satisfy
both himself and the Antiochenes by agreeing to the two natures in so far as a union of the two
made one.
In another singular letter, this time to Hermogenes, bishop of Rhinocorura (a city located
a little to the east of Pelusium), Isidore once again urges firm resistance in the face of
adversity.267 This time, however, Isidore says that God never changed after the incarnation and
that he was the same before and after putting on the flesh. 268 This statement seems to counter
Cyrils view of 433 and would indicate that Isidore was perhaps not in total agreement with the
263 Ep. 42 (= 1.42, PG 78, 209 A).
264 Ep. 236 (= 1.236, PG 78, 327 D): , ,

, ..
265 Ep. 324 (= 1.324, PG 78, 369 C): ....
266 For Isidore, a complete about face by Cyril would signify a betrayal of his insistence that Christ must only be
confessed as one the dominant theme of all they [the Cyrillians] had stood together to defend. McGuckin, St.
Cyril of Alexandria, 116.
267 Ep. 419 (= 1.419, PG 78, 416 C).
268 Ep. 419: , , .
, , , .

61

Formula of Reunion. Hermogenes was an important acquaintance for Isidore to nurture, since
not only did he represent for the monk the model of the perfect bishop, similar to Synesius of
Cyrene, but he also took part in the deliberations at the First Council of Ephesus as member of
Cyrils party. Indeed, on the evening of June 21st Cyril had chosen Hermogenes himself, along
with Athanasius of Paralus, Peter of Parembolus, and Paul of Lampa, to go and inform Nestorius
about the opening of the council, to which Nestorius had replied: for the moment I am
assessing, and if I need to come, I will come. 269 It is likely therefore that Isidore was writing to
Hermogenes about the nature of Christ so that the latter could impart to Cyril again, but from
another person, the urgent need not to give in to the Antiochenes demands. Given these
observations, it is highly likely that Ep. 419 was composed during the negotiations that produced
the Formula. Since Isidore clearly had not been able to convince Cyril with Ep. 324, he must
have thought it worth his while to attempt a Cyrillian solution and pass his message in a less
obvious way, at least just this once.

VI. Conclusion:
The letters of Isidore of Pelusium are richly written documents that reveal to us the
degree of involvement of low-level clerics in secular and religious affairs of the early fifth
century CE. Like many of his contemporaries, such as Synesius of Cyrene and Theodoret of
Cyrrhus, Isidore used the rhetorical skills he acquired as a young man, possibly in Alexandria, to
build for himself an epistolary network of acquaintances throughout the eastern empire. His
correspondents included an impressive range of individuals, with the emperor Theodosius II and
bishop Cyril of Alexandria being among the most remarkable. As for the letters themselves, their
269 ACO I.1.2, p. 9. The document is also found in Festugire, phse et Chalcdoine, 197. See also McGuckin,
St. Cyril of Alexandria, 75

62

contents betray a man of extraordinary intellectual gifts and singular wit, be it in Classical
literature, philosophy, or even science. The writings of Isidore of Pelusium thus represent further
proof against the idea that all early Christian clerics were fanatic extremists trying to eradicate
once and for all any remaining trace of Paganism.
Yet Isidore remained for a long time a figure of little more than passing reference for
historians. It was only at the beginning of the past century that interest in his theological views
and his Hellenic education suggested that there was more to discover. Indeed, the range of his
connections and the rich contents of his letters suggest, in fact, that Isidore was a well-connected
holy man who could look to Alexandria and Constantinople whenever he was in need.
Moreover, the familiar tone he adopts with Cyril of Alexandria and Theodosius II during the
period of the First Council of Ephesus of 431 CE probably indicates more than just passing
acquaintance between the men.
The general nature of this paper did not allow for an in-depth overview of daily life in
Pelusium, its role as the regional capital of Augustamnica I, nor the relations between its citizens
and the monks that settled in the bordering deserts. Yet the body of evidence shows that Isidore
was in constant communication with his fellow Pelusians, and his letters reveal much about the
activities and sufferings of that city. A focused study on Eastern Egypt, therefore, with special
emphasis on Pelusium itself in relation to Isidore would be of great value. Also of prime
importance is the present accessibility of the Isidorian corpus. As already mentioned, there is no
modern English translation available of the letters, and they can only be accessed through
Mignes Patrologiae Graeca in the original language or in vieuxs 1997 incomplete French
translations. Although vieuxs work does begin to rectify the situation, it is somewhat limited,
since his collection does not include the important missives of Isidore to Cyril and the emperor

63

during the First Council of Ephesus. Nor, sadly, is it organized in any thematic or chronological
way to help orient readers in the massive corpus. A thematic layout would be most suited in this
case, since Isidore wrote many letters to recurring individuals with different official titles. Thus,
a complete set of English translations of Isidores correspondence, or a continuation of vieuxs
French set, would, consequently, be a great asset to any historian of the early fifth century CE
and would be a welcome addition to the most documented period of the ancient world.

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