1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Theodore of Mopsuestia

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THEODORE OF MOPSUESTIA (c. 350-428), early Christian theologian, the most eminent representative of the so-called school of Antioch, was born at Antioch about the middle of the 4th century and was a friend of John Chrysostom; in rhetoric the celebrated Libanius was his teacher. Soon, however, he attached himself to the school of the great exegete and ascetic, Diodorus, a presbyter in Antioch, and with only a transitory period of vacillation, from which he was won back by Chrysostom, he remained faithful to the theology and ascetic discipline of this master. Under Diodorus he became a skilful exegete, and ultimately outstripped his master in biblical learning. About 383 Theodore became a presbyter in Antioch, and began to write against Eunomius the Arian and against the christology of Apollinaris. Soon after 392 he became bishop of Mopsuestia in Cilicia (the modern Missis near Adana). As such he was held in great respect, and took part in several synods, with a reputation for orthodoxy that was never questioned. It was greatly to his advantage that in the Eastern Church the period between the years 390 and 428 was one of comparative repose. He was on friendly terms even with Cyril of Alexandria. He died in 428 or 429, just at the beginning of the Nestorian controversy.

Theodore was a very prolific writer, but, before all, an exegete. He wrote commentaries on almost every book of the Old and New Testaments, of which, however, only a small proportion is now extant, as at a later period he lost credit in the church. We still possess in Greek his commentary on the Minor Prophets, in a Syriac version his commentary on St John,[1] and, in Latin translations, commentaries on the snorter Pauline epistles, besides very many fragments, especially on the epistle to the Romans. Theodore's importance as an exegete lies in two characteristics: (1) in opposition to the allegorical method he insists on getting at the literal meaning, and adheres to it when found; (2) in his interpretation of the Scriptures he takes into account the historical circumstances in which they were produced, and substitutes the historical-typological for the pneumatico-christological interpretation of prophecy; in other words, he interprets all Old Testament passages historically in the first instance, and sees the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy in the history of Christ and His church only in so far as the entire Old Testament is a “shadow of things to come.” Following his master Diodorus, who had already written a treatise Missing title in Greek Theodore also was the author of a special dissertation against the allegorists, i.e. against Origen and his followers, which, however, has unfortunately perished. The comparative freedom of Theodore's view of inspiration is also noteworthy. He discriminates between historical, prophetical and didactic writings, and in accordance with this distinction assumes varying degrees of inspiration. Finally, he entertained very bold opinions about the canon and several of the books included in it. He esteemed very lightly the Solomonic writings and the book of Job; Canticles he explained as a nuptial poem of Solomon's; the book of Job appeared to him in many places hardly worthy of its subject, and he censures the writer sharply; Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah he entirely rejected; he denied the accuracy of the titles of the Psalms, anticipated the hypothesis that many of them belong to the Maccabean age, and referred the so-called Messianic element almost invariably to the kings of Israel; he even criticized the Catholic epistles and rejected the epistle of James. Characteristics such as these bring Theodore, of all patristic writers, nearest to the modern spirit. His commentaries contain a great deal of learned matter, and his grammatico-historical observations are still to some extent useful. But, on the other hand, his learning must not be overestimated. It falls behind that of Origen, Eusebius and Jerome, notwithstanding the superiority of his method. It is specially noticeable that Theodore troubled himself little about textual criticism. He simply accepts the text of the LXX as that or revelation, and never manifests the slightest effort to control it by the original or even by the Syriac. He is a prosaic and often monotonous writer, and has other faults, e.g. a lack of insight into the deeper movements of scriptural thought, and a want of spiritual and devotional fervour.

In addition to his commentaries Theodore also wrote extensive dogmatico-polemical works, which were destined to operate long after his death disastrously for his fame. As a disciple of Diodorus, Theodore accepted the Nicene teaching on the doctrine of the Trinity, but at the same time in christology took up a position very closely approaching that of Paul of Samosata. The violence of his opposition to his fellow-countryman, Apollinaris of Laodicea, perhaps the most acute and far-seeing theologian of the century, made it necessary for Theodore to formulate his christology with precision (in fifteen books on the Incarnation — all lost except a few fragments — and in special treatises against Apollinaris). He starts with a theory of man's relation to the world. Man is the vinculum of the cosmos, uniting in his person the material and the spiritual. This bond, broken by sin, was restored by Christ. According to Theodore the Logos assumed a complete manhood, which had to pass through the stages of ethical development just as in the case of any other human being. In this the Logos only supported the man Christ Jesus, but was not essentially connected with him; the Logos dwelt in him (evolkeiv), but any such thing as epwoig fvrucg did not and could not exist, because the finite is not "capax infiniti," and because any epwoig would have destroyed the reality of the human nature. The same sober and thoughtful way of looking at things, and the same tendency to give prominence to the moral element, which characterize the commentaries of Theodore, appear also in his dogmatic. When, accordingly, the Nestorian controversy broke out, his works also were dragged into the discussion. At Ephesus, indeed, the memory of Theodore does not appear to have been attacked,[2] but soon afterwards the assault began. Marius Mercator, Rabbula of Edessa, Cyril, and other monophysites brought the charge of heresy against his writings, and sought to counteract their influence. But it was not until more than a century afterwards that his fanatical adversaries succeeded — in spite of the strong opposition of the best theologians of the West — in obtaining from Justinian the condemnation of his works in the controversy of the Three Chapters; this act of the emperor was confirmed by the fifth oecumenical council, and Theodore's name was accordingly deleted from the list of orthodox writers. From that day Theodore's works ceased to be read within the Byzantine Church, and hence have been lost. The Syrians, on the other hand, have always held in high esteem the memory of the great teacher, and have even carried back their liturgy to his name. The Nestorians, who called him "the Interpreter," possess, or possessed, a very large number of writings by him in Syriac translations.[3]

Theodore took part also in the Pelagian controversy at the time when it raged in Palestine. In the treatise, only partially preserved,[4] Προς τους λεγοντας φυσει kαι ον γνωμη πταίειν τονς άvθρωπονς, he sharply controverts the doctrine of original sin and Jerome its advocate. In his view the theory of Augustine is "a new heresy," a "malady"; he regarded it as a doctrine which necessarily led to dualism and Manichaeism. The attitude thus taken by Theodore is not surprising; he more nearly takes up the ground of the old church doctrine as set forth in the apologists and in the great Greek fathers of the 3rd and 4th centuries. The Pelagians driven from the East were received by him in Cilicia.

A brother of Theodore, Polychronius by name, bishop of Apamea in Syria (d. 430) also achieved high fame as an exegete, and expounded the theology of the school of Antioch.[5]

Literature.—Migne, Patrol., ser. Gr., lxvi. The Greek fragments of Theodore's New Testament commentaries have been collected by O. Fr Fritzsche (Theod. Mops, in N.T. Comm., Turin, 1847). The commentaries on the Pauline epistles (Pitra, Spicilegium Sotesmense, Paris, 1852, i. 49 seq.) have been edited by H. B. Swete (Theod. Mops, in Epp. B. Pauli Comm., i., ii., Cambridge, 1880-82), along with the Greek fragments and the fragments of the dogmatical writings; on this edition, see E. Schuerer, Theol. Lit. Ztg., 1880-82. The commentary on the Minor Prophets will be found in Mai's Nov. Pair. Biblioth., vii. 1854 (Berlin, 1834; Mai, Script. Vet. Nov. Coll., vi., 1832). See also E. Sachau. Theod. Mops. Fragm. Syriaca (Leipzig, 1869); Fr. Bathgen, "Der Psalmen-commentar des Theod. v. Mops, in Syr. Bearbcitung," in Ztschr. f. Alt-Test. Wissensch., v. 53 seq., vi. 261-288, vii. 1-60; and H. Lietzmann in Sitzungsbencnte der Kgl. preuss. Akad. der Wissensch. zu Berlin, 1902, pp. 334 seq. Extracts from the writings of Theodore occur in the Catenae of Marius Mercator, in the Acta of the third and fifth oecumenical councils in Facundus, Liberatus, and Theodore's chief adversary Leontius Byzantinus. E. von DobschOtz, in Amer. Journ. of Theol., ii. 353-387, published the Greek prologue of a commentary on Acts that is probably the work of Theodore.

The principal monograph on Theodore, apart from the prolegomena of Swete, and the same writer's article in Dict. Christian Biog., iv. (1887), is that of H. Kihn (Th. v. Mops. u. Junilius Afric. als Exegeten, Freiburg, 1880). On his importance for the history of dogma see the works of Baur, Dorner, Harnack, Loofs and Seeberg. Literary and biographical details will be found in O. Fr. Fritzsche, De Theod. Mops. Vita et Scriptis (Halle, 1836); Fr. A. Specht, Theod. v. Mops. u. Theodoret (Munich, 1871); H. Kihn in the Tub. Quartalschr., 1879; E. Nestle in Theol. Stud. aus Wurtemb., ii. 210 seq.; P. Batiffol, "Sur une Traduction Latine de Th. de Mops.," in Ann. de Philos. Chret., 1885; Th. Zahn, "Das N. T. Theodors von Mop.," in Neue Kirchl. Zeitschr., xi. 788-806; W. Wright, Syriac Literature (London, 1894); R. Duval, La litterature syriaque (Paris, 1899).(A. Ha.)

  1. Ed. P. B. Chabot (Paris, 1897).
  2. A confession, however, drawn up by him was spoken of; see Hahn, Biblioth. der Symbols, 2nd ed., p. 229 seq.
  3. * See the catalogue in Assemani, Bibl. Or., lii. 1, p. 3 seq., based on Ebedjesu, the Nestorian metropolitan (d. 1318).
  4. See Photius, Biblioth., c. 177; Mercator, p. 339 seq., ed. Baluz.
  5. See O. Bardenhewer, Polychronius (Freiburg, 1879).