Some interesting thoughts here.
It does seem that Theodosius I was not particularly deserving of the title 'the Great', as he was really no more than a competent Emperor, not nearly in the league of a Constantine or Augustus. I agree that it seems very likely that this title was given as a result of his handling of religious affairs.
Theodosius I and Valentinian I are no different to any other father who passed the Empire to their son(s), except perhaps (as you say) that they must have known the Empire was in a fairly dire position and they should really have known better than to put the Empire in the hands of untested boys.
I suppose Theodosius I at least tried to keep the Empire stable by putting Stilicho in charge of his sons and the Empire. Unfortunately, that man's position was usurped in the East by other politicians, who were, unfortunately, exceptionally hostile to that general. It seems the stability of the Empire was undermined by the overgrown courts, who were full of people who really had probably seen little outside their comfy estates (be they in the West or the East), and who were more interested in their own position and financial state than that of the Empire. As a result, the very few competent leaders who popped up (the aforementioned Stilicho, Aetius) were brought down by these fat, backstabbing politicians.
Also I don't think anyone could have possibly known that Honorius would be as ridiculously incompetent as he turned out to be... sure, the Empire had had some questionable leaders (Nero, Commodus, Caracalla, others), but none of them had really been incompetent (dodgy - yes, incompetent - no, even Nero had the good sense (?luck) to have an exceptional commander like Corbulo around... of course, he did have him killed later, but that was after everything was made better), or at least not as incompetent as Honorius turned out. Arcadius was not much better, fortunately, he had the good sense to die a whole lot sooner than Honorius.
--- In imperialrome2@..., "cooperalfred89" <alfred.copper@...> wrote:
> I have often wondered why this emperor received the appellation "the Great" and figure that it was only because of his support for orthodox Christianity. He was unsuccessful in defeating the invading Goths and eventually made a treaty with them giving them lands within the empire and the unprecedented privilege of living together under their own leaders. Even Theodosius' elevation to the purple is shrouded in controversy. Worst of all, he bequeathed the empire to his immature and worthless sons when strong leadership was demanded. Similarly, The dynastic principle seemed to override other considerations when Valentinian 1 bequeathed the empire to his infant son Valentinian 2 and teenage son Gratian. Thus we have a series of puppet emperors at the head of the empire when strong leadership was demanded. I should qualify these remarks in respect of Gratian who showed signs of being a competent ruler before being killed by his own troops at a young age.