- Paideia and Cult: Christian Initiation in Theodore of Mopsuestia by Daniel L. Schwartz
Paideia and Cult: Christian Initiation in Theodore of Mopsuestia
Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies, 2013
xii + 170 pages. Paperback. $24.95.
A revised version of his Princeton dissertation (directed by Peter Brown), Daniel Schwartz’s study seeks to explore the issue of Christianization in the late-antique world through a particular set of catechetical homilies—those composed and presented by Theodore of Mopsuestia while he was a priest in Antioch in the early 390s. Christianization has been a heated topic of debate among scholars over the past half-century, spawning reflection on many interesting and important questions: How was the Roman Empire converted? To what extent was it converted and when? What does “conversion” mean? In this study, Schwartz is pushing back against several scholarly trends that have emerged. First, he is resisting the overly intellectualized understanding of conversion in late antiquity found in scholars from Darby Nock in the 1930s up to the scholarship of Ramsey MacMullen. Schwartz argues that intellectual understanding of Christian concepts cannot be the sole criterion for judging the extent of conversion and Christianization in late antiquity. Second, he advises that our evaluation of Christianization should not be based merely on sociological and institutional models—such an approach loses sight of the fact that conversion involves individual human agents. Schwartz proposes that studying Theodore of Mopsuestia’s catechetical homilies offers a fruitful path to avoid the pitfalls of these two trends. By analyzing Theodore’s catechesis, Schwartz argues, one can better see the way that conversion was based on more than just education and intellectual assent to certain doctrines—it also presupposed “immersion into a social context” and “culminated in ritual activity” (4). Theodore’s sermons, Schwartz argues, “employ a pedagogy that consistently integrates [theological understanding and ritual] while also maintaining a focus on community formation and the integration of converts into that community” (5)—a pedagogy similar to that found in classical paideia. In this sense, Schwartz argues that conversion is, at its core, initiation into a community shaped by a particular [End Page 216] set of intellectual commitments and formed by a specific group of ritual actions.
Schwartz’s study has an introduction, five main chapters, and a conclusion followed by a bibliography and an index. The introduction presents the general terrain of the study, indicating scholarly perspectives on catechesis, Christianization and conversion. The first chapter then turns to Theodore himself, giving an overview of his life, education, career, as well as the reception of his works. Here, Schwartz is particularly concerned with negating common opinions about Theodore’s Christology and exegesis. In the second chapter, Schwartz addresses the issue of catechesis in the late ancient world, focusing on the use of secrecy and the desire to inspire awe in catechumens. Schwartz’s overview mentions various authors including Theodore, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Augustine in order to give a broader survey of catechetical practices and techniques. In the third chapter, Schwartz discusses the Christian community itself, describing its organization and the functions of its constituent members. Schwartz’s basic purpose here is to make clear that “initiation into the Christian church entailed initiation into a social network that manifested itself in multiple ways” (91), including social welfare programs, a spiritual hierarchy, as well as the important relationship between catechumen and sponsor.
Schwartz turns in the fourth chapter to a detailed analysis of the first group of Theodore’s catechetical homilies, addressing the Antiochene method of explaining the creed to the catechumens. Schwartz emphasizes the fact that Theodore’s mission was not to train theological experts, but rather to integrate people into his particular Christian community. Thus, an important part of this integration was education and emphasis on those specific elements of the creed that distinguished Theodore’s pro-Nicene Christian community from rival “Arian” groups. The fifth chapter then analyzes the second and final group of the catechetical homilies, which treat the ritual and liturgical actions the catechumens would encounter in the baptismal liturgy. Schwartz emphasizes that Theodore approaches this topic by addressing the catechumens both as observers of...