Theodore of Mopsuestia

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Bishop, leading exponent of the Antiochene School of exegesis and theology; b. Antioch, c. 350; d. Mopsuestia, 428. While studying rhetoric under the pagan sophist Libanius of Antioch, Theodore was persuaded by his fellow student John Chrysostom to enter the monastic school conducted by diodore, later bishop of Tarsus. When, after a first period of fervor, Theodore abandoned the monastery, an eloquent letter from Chrysostom (Patrologia Graeca 47:309316) persuaded him to return. He continued his studies under Diodore's direction until 378; in 381 he was ordained a priest of the Church of Antioch and 11 years later was named bishop of Mopsuestia in Cilicia. There is good reason to believe that throughout his long episcopate he enjoyed an excellent reputation for eloquence, learning, and orthodoxy. He died in 428, the year in which another representative of the Antiochene School, nestorius, became bishop of Constantinople.

During the decade following the condemnation of Nestorius by the Council of Ephesus (431), charges of heterodoxy were raised against Theodore's teaching by several prominent bishops, the most important of whom was cyril of alexandria, who wrote a work titled Contra Diodorum et Theodorum, only fragments of which are extant. Cyril accused Theodore of having taught the same "impiety" for which Nestorius had been condemned (Patrologia Graeca 77:340). However, at the Council of Chalcedon (451) the Fathers listened without protest to the letter of Ibas of Edessa that praised Theodore as a "herald of truth and doctor of the Church" (Acta conciliorum oecumenicorum 2.1:392). During the episcopate of Ibas many of Theodore's works were translated into Syriac, thus becoming the heritage of the Nestorian Church, which conferred on him the title "the Interpreter" in recognition of his merits as an exegete. At the Second Council of Constantinople, however, just 125 years after his death, his writings were the first of the three chapters to be condemned, and he himself was anathematized as heretical. This verdict prevailed until 1932, when the publication of a Syriac text of his Catechetical Homilies stimulated a fresh examination of the evidence. Some scholars now pronounce his authentic teaching thoroughly orthodox, while others still see in it the root error of nestorianism.

Writings. Nestorian writers of the 13th and 14th centuries provide the best available lists of Theodore's works. The only complete work extant in Greek is his Commentary on the Twelve Minor Prophets (Patrologia Graeca 66:123632). Of his other exegetical writings, we possess the greater part of his Commentary on the Psalms, fragments of his Commentary on Genesis, a Syriac version of his Commentary on St. John's Gospel, and a Latin version of much of his Commentary on the Minor Epistles of St. Paul. Greek catenae have yielded considerable fragments of his exegesis of the major Pauline Epistles, and of the Gospels of Matthew and John. Of his other works, the only complete texts are Syriac versions of his Catechetical Homilies and his Controversy with the Macedonians. Most of the extant fragments of his major theological works, On the Incarnation and Against Apollinaris (Patrologia Graeca 66:9691002), were compiled by his adversaries. R. Devreesse and M. Richard have argued that these compilers so misrepresented Theodore's thought that their extracts are completely unreliable as a basis for a judgment on his doctrine. F. Sullivan's study of the evidence has led him to the conclusion that this verdict was not justified. Opinion among scholars on this question remains divided.

Exegesis. Theodore's exegesis is that of the Antiochene School, noted for its insistence on the literal sense, and its aversion for the allegorism characteristic of the Alexandrian School. Typical is his exegesis of the Psalms, which is based on these principles: David is the author of all the Psalms; each Psalm refers to a historical situation, to be determined in the light of the argument of the Psalm as a whole; this situation can be either in the life of David or future to him; in the latter case, David foresees the future event and speaks words appropriate to it. Of the 80 Psalms whose commentary we possess, he relates about 50 to events in the history of Israel from the time of Solomon to that of the Maccabees, and only three [2, 8, 44 (45)] to Christ. His Commentary on the Minor Prophets shows a similar insistence on the historical situation envisioned by each prophet. While Theodore saw in the Old Law a "shadow" of what was to come in the New, in only a few events of Israel's history did he recognize "types" of Christ or the Church. His commentaries on John and Paul show a sustained effort to follow and explain the argument of the Apostle, but his explanations often strongly reflect his own Antiochene theology.

Theology. The most distinctive elements of Theodore's theology are his Christology and his anthropology. Among his positive contributions to the development of Christology are his insistence on the human soul of Christ and on the significance of His free moral activity in the work of redemption. Rejecting the formula "Word and flesh," he used the formula "Word and assumed man," and insisted that these two "natures" constitute "one Son" and "one Lord" because they are united in one person (πρόσωπον). It hardly seems possible that Galtier was correct in affirming that Theodore understood this πρόσωπον to be the divine Person of the Word, since texts cited by friendly as well as by hostile sources show that this πρόσωπον is something brought about or effected by the union (Patrologia Graeca 66:981; Patrologia Latina 67:587, 753). A newly discovered fragment of Theodore's Contra Eunomium shows that in his view the πρόσωπον of Christ is not a [symbol omitted]πόστασις (as is the πρόσωπον of Peter or Paul) but is a subject of honor and adoration [Muséon 71 (1958) 99100]. The ineffable union that began in Mary's womb conferred on the assumed man a share in the honor, dominion, sonship, and adoration proper to the Word. Since the two natures are inseparably united, so also the adoration that we direct to the divine Word rightly includes the man in whom He dwells "by good pleasure as in a son" (Patrologia Graeca 66:976).

Fundamental to Theodore's anthropology is his doctrine of the "two states" of human existence: the present state of mortality and mutability, and the future state of immortality and immutability, of which the baptized already have a pledge, but which will be actually possessed only after the resurrection. It was God's design that we should first experience mortality, so that we would the more appreciate the blessings of immortality, but our present state is also the result of Adam's sin. Adam's disobedience, which God had foreseen, brought on the sentence of death that he transmitted, with his mortal nature, to his posterity. Theodore's explanation of Rom 5.19, "By the disobedience of the one man the many were constituted sinners," is that the word "sinners" here means "mortal and inclined to sin" (Patrologia Graeca 66:800). While he held death and concupiscence to be effects of Adam's fall, it is very doubtful whether he taught that children are born in an inherited state of sin.

Bibliography: É. amann, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, 15 v. ed. a. vacant et al, (Paris 190350) 15:1:235279. h. b. swete, A Dictionary of Christian Biography, ed. w. smith and h. wace (London 187787) 4:934948. w. de vries, "Der 'Nestorianismus' Theodors von Mopsuestia in seiner Sakramentenlehre," Orientalia Christiana Analecta 7 (1941) 91148. r. devreesse, Essai sur Théodore de Mopsueste, Studi e Testi 141 (Vatican Cty 1948). j. gross, "Theodor von Mopsuestia: Ein Gegner der Erbsündenlehre," Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 65 (195354) 115. f. a. sullivan, The Christology of Theodore of Mopsuestia (Rome 1956). p. galtier, "Théodore de Mopsueste: sa vraie pensée sur l'incarnation," Recherches de science religieuse 45 (1957) 161186, 338360. j. l. mckenzie, "Annotations on the Christology of Theodore of Mopsuestia," Theological Studies 19 (1958) 345373. l. abramowski, "Zur Theologie des Theodors von Mopsuestia," Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 72 (1961) 263293. r. a. greer, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Exegete and Theologian (London 1961). u. wickert, Studien zu den Pauluskommentaren Theodors von Mopsuestia (Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 27, 1962). r. a. norris, Manhood and Christ: A Study in the Christology of Theodore of Mopsuestia (Oxford 1963). j.e.m. dewart, The Theology of Grace of Theodore of Mopsuestia (Washington, DC 1971). a. grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition (London/Oxford 1975) 1:421439. d. zaharopoulos, Theodore of Mopsuestia on the Bible. A Study of His Old Testament Exegesis (New York 1989). f. g. mcleod, "Theodore of Mopsuestia Revisited," Theological Studies 61 (2000) 447480.

[f. a. sullivan]

Theodore of Mopsuestia

views updated May 23 2018


THEODORE OF MOPSUESTIA (350428), Christian biblical exegete and theologian. Theodore was born in Antioch about the same time as John Chrysostom, who became his friend and fellow student. Since Theodore belonged to the noble class, he attended courses given by the most renowned professor of rhetoric at that time, Libanius. He was later admitted to the Asketerion, the famous school near Antioch, of Diodore (later bishop of Tarsus) and Karterios. Even after his ordination as bishop of Mopsuestia, in Cilicia, he occasionally lectured at the school, where his reputation as a teacher attracted such distinguished pupils as Rufinus, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, and Nestorius. His work in uprooting the remnants of polytheism in his province was very successful.

Theodore wrote widely on various subjects, but only a part of his literary production has been preserved. A pioneer in biblical exegesis, he basically followed the hermeneutic principles of his teacher Diodore, although he diverged from them in some important points. He showed greater confidence in his personal understanding than in the authority of traditional hermeneutics, with the result that he rejected the canonicity of many books of scripture.

Only four of his commentaries have been preserved: On the Twelve Prophets, parts of On the Psalms, On John, and On the Epistles of Paul. In all of these he uses critical, philological, and historical methods and rejects the Alexandrian method of allegorical interpretation. Also of great importance are his Catechetical Homilies, which were discovered in a Syriac translation.

As an indefatigable combatant against the heresies of his time, Theodore's attention was particularly directed toward Apollinaris of Laodicea. Theodore's dogmatic fragments that have been preserved, especially On the Incarnation, are directed against him. Theodore's extreme position on the two natures of Christ is largely a response to Apollinaris's teaching about the mutilation of Christ's human nature. Following the Antiochene line of thought, which combined the spiritual element with the material in such a way that they are not confused, Theodore admitted that the two natures of Christ are perfect and also remain two. His only concession on this subject was to conceive a single person only in reference to the union of the two natures; in this case the being of the person is not in essence, but in God's will, and the union is not natural but moral. Accordingly, Mary, the mother of Christ, is only nominally theotokos, mother of God.

As an Antiochene, Theodore stressed the great importance of the human contribution to salvation, which he developed beyond the position of the Antiochene school. He ascribed all human achievements to free will, thus destroying the meaning and the importance of original sin. He also attributed free will to Jesus Christ, who, according to this understanding, is subject to sin, believing thereby that Christ's perfection would be worthy of greater estimation. In this area he was a forerunner and probably a teacher of Pelagius.

Because of these doctrines, and especially because of his position as a forerunner of Nestorianism, Theodore was the posthumous victim of strong polemics. Some of his writings together with his doctrine on the incarnation were condemned by Justinian and by the Second Council of Constantinople (533).


The edition of Theodore's texts in Patrologia Graeca, edited by J.-P. Migne, vol. 66 (Paris, 1847), is incomplete. Editions of individual works with better, although fragmentary, texts are his commentary on Psalms, Le commentaire de Théodore de Mopsueste sur les Psaumes, ILXXX, edited by Robert Dev-reesse (Vatican City, 1939); his commentary on the Prophets, Theodori Mopsuesteni commentarius in XII prophetas, edited by Hans Norbert Sprenger (Wiesbaden, 1977); the Syriac text of his commentary on the Gospel of John with a Latin translation, Comentarius in Evangelium Ioannis Apostoli, 2 vols., edited by J.-M. Vosté, Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientarium, vol. 115 (in Syriac) and vol. 116 (in Latin) (Louvain, 1940); his commentary on the epistles of Paul, In epistolas B. Pauli commentarii, 2 vols., edited by Henry B. Swete (18801882; reprint, Farnborough, 1969); and the commentaries On the Nicene Creed and On the Lord's Prayer and on the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, "Woodbrooke Studies," vols. 5 and 6 (Cambridge, 19321933), which include the Syriac texts and English translations edited by Alphonse Mingana.

Theodore's life and work is discussed in Leonard Patterson's Theodore of Mopsuestia and Modern Thought (New York, 1926); Robert Devreesse's Essai sur Théodore de Mopsueste, "Studi e testi," vol. 141 (Vatican City, 1948); and Rowan A. Greer's Theodore of Mopsuestia, Exegete and Theologian (London, 1961). A recommended study of his theology is Richard A. Norris's Manhood and Christ: A Study in the Christology of Theodore of Mopsuestia (Oxford, 1963).

Panagiotis C. Christou (1987)

Theodore of Mopsuestia

views updated May 14 2018

Theodore of Mopsuestia (c.350–428). Christian theologian and biblical commentator. He became bishop of Mopsuestia (in Cilicia, modern SE Turkey) in 392 and remained there the rest of his life. On account of his Christology, identified with Nestorianism, he was condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 553; as a consequence his works have mostly been lost in Greek. On the basis of Syriac versions, modern W. scholars have usually allowed that Theodore's thought is not unorthodox.

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Theodore of Mopsuestia