Theodore of Mopsuestia (ca. 350–428)

Bp. of Mopsuestia, biblical commentator, author of theological works and homilies. Little is known of Theodore’s early years, except that he studied with the pagan rhetor Libanius in Antioch and probably knew Diodore of Tarsus and John Chrysostom. That he wavered from his ascetic endeavors and needed to be rebuked by John Chrysostom rests entirely on the identification of Theodore with the addressee of John’s letter ‘To the fallen Theodore’, an identification Theodore’s later opponents were eager to make, but for which there is very little evidence. In 392 Theodore became bp. of Mopsuestia, north of Antioch, a position that he held until his death in 428. He died in peace with the Church.

Following the deposition of Nestorius at the Council of Ephesus (431), Theodore began to be seen as the originator of Nestorianism. Rabbula, bp. of Edessa and follower of Cyril of Alexandria, anathematized Theodore’s works in 432 and ordered them to be burned. Although Theodore was somewhat rehabilitated when at the Council of Chalcedon (451) Hiba’s letter to Mari the Persian was read, which spoke about Theodore in positive terms, later he again was targeted for his allegedly Nestorian views, which eventually led to his condemnation at the Fifth Ecumenical Council at Constantinople (553).

Theodore’s works started being translated into Syriac perhaps even during his life, or shortly after his death. They became very popular in Edessa, in particular at the School of Edessa, even though the followers of Bp. Rabbula (d. 435) strongly rejected them. They had a decisive influence on those theologians who in the second half of the 5th cent. left Edessa and founded a new School in Nisibis, within the Persian Empire. The theology of the late-5th-cent. councils of the Ch. of E. primarily reflects the views of Theodore. He saw a clear distinction between the divine and human natures in Christ: the Word of God indwelt the assumed Man, whereby the two came together in one ‘person’ (Greek prosōpon, Syr. parṣopā), serving as one object of veneration. In his biblical interpretation Theodore, a major representative of the so-called School of Antioch, saw the biblical text primarily in its historical context. Only rarely, and under strict conditions, was he willing to admit NT references or Christological typologies within the OT. His main interpretative framework was God’s salvation plan, seen as a process of education throughout history, leading up to the NT realities and the hereafter, whereby each individual phase is respected in its own right. Theodore rejected the idea of double meanings in the biblical message, which he saw as the major shortcoming of allegorical interpretation, which he connected with Philo of Alexandria and Origen.

While only small portions of Theodore’s works survive in Greek (with the exception of the commentary on the Twelve Prophets, which survives in its entirety), E.-Syr. tradition has preserved a collection of 16 catechetical homilies (ed. Tonneau and Devreesse), biblical commentaries dealing with both OT and NT (ed. Sachau, Vosté, Tonneau, Jansma, and Van Rompay), and a disputation with the followers of Macedonius (ed. Nau). One major theological work, on the Incarnation, existed in the library of Msgr. Addai Scher in Siirt, Turkey, but it was lost during the First World War. Excerpts and quotations from many more of Theodore’s works can be found in a great number of E.-Syr. writings, while he is a much quoted authority in all E.-Syr. biblical commentaries, often introduced with the simple term mpaššqānā, i.e., the Interpreter. One of the Eucharistic Anaphoras in use in the Ch. of E. is attributed to him.

    Primary Sources

    • CPG 3827–3873.
    • P. Bruns, Theodor von Mopsuestia. Katechetische Homilien (2 vols.; FC 17; 1994–1995). (GT)
    • T.  Jansma, ‘Théodore de Mopsueste. Interprétation du livre de la Genèse. Fragments de la version syriaque (B. M. Add. 17,189, fol. 17–21)’, LM 75 (1962), 63–92. (Syr. and FT)
    • F. Nau, Théodore de Mopsueste. Une controverse avec les Macédoniens (PO 9.5; 1913). (Syr. and FT)
    • E. Sachau, Theodori Mopsuesteni fragmenta syriaca (1869). (Syr. and LT)
    • W. Strothmann, Das syrische Fragment des Ecclesiastes-Kommentar des Theodor von Mopsuestia (GOF I.28; 1988).
    • W. Strothmann, Syrische Katenen aus dem Ecclesiastes-Kommentar des Theodor von Mopsuestia (GOF I.29; 1988).
    • R. M.  Tonneau, ‘Théodore de Mopsueste. Interprétation (du livre) de la Genèse (Vat. Syr. 120, ff. I–V)’, LM 66 (1953), 45–63. (Syr. and FT)
    • R.  Tonneau and R.  Devreesse, Les Homélies catéchétiques de Théodore de Mopsueste (SeT 145; 1949). (Syr. and FT)
    • L. Van Rompay, Théodore de Mopsueste. Fragments du Commentaire des Psaumes (Psaume 118 et Psaumes 138–148) (CSCO 435–436; 1982). (Syr. and FT)
    • J.-M.  Vosté, Theodori Mopsuesteni Commentarius in Evangelium Iohannis Apostoli (CSCO 115–116; 1940). (Syr. and LT)

    Secondary Sources

    • P. Bruns, Den Menschen mit dem Himmel verbinden. Eine Studie zu den katechetischen Homilien des Theodor von Mopsuestia (CSCO 549, 1995).
    • R. Devreesse, Essai sur Théodore de Mopsueste (SeT 141; 1948).
    • R. A.  Greer, Theodore of Mopsuestia. Exegete and Theologian (1961).
    • C.  Leonhard, Ishodad of Merw’s Exegesis of the Psalms 119 and 139–147. A study of his interpretation in the light of the Syriac translation of Theodore of Mopsuestia’s Commentary (CSCO 585; 2001).
    • W. F.  Macomber, ‘The Christology of the Synod of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, A.D. 486’, OCP 24 (1958), 142–54.
    • J.  Vadakkel, The East Syrian Anaphora of Mar Theodore of Mopsuestia (Oriental Institute of Religious Studies India 129; 1989).
    • L.  Van Rompay, ‘John Chrysostom’s “Ad Theodorum lapsum”. Some remarks on the oriental tradition’, OLP 19 (1988), 91–106.

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