Theodore of Mopsuestia

c.350-428. Antiochene exegete and theologian. Of wealthy Antiochene parentage, educated with John Chrysostom* under the eminent rhetorician and philosopher Libanius, like John he abandoned a secular career c.369 for the monastic school of Diodore* (of Tarsus). When marriage and the bar proved tempting, John persuaded him to persevere. He was ordained presbyter by Flavian c.383 and in 392 made bishop of Mopsuestia in Cilicia. During his lifetime his erudition and prolific literary versatility were renowned and his orthodoxy virtually unquestioned, but after the Council of Ephesus* (431) his standing became posthumously entangled with that of his condemned pupil Nestorius (see Nestorianism). Rabbula* of Edessa pressed the attack, Cyril* of Alexandria wrote Against Diodore and Theodore, and despite Chalcedon's* apparent favor, Theodore and his writings were anathematized in the first of the Three Chapters* by Justinian* (543/4) and the Second Council of Constantinople* (553), although defended by the West, especially Facundus* of Hermiane.

Scholars have judged the extracts from Theodore used by Leontius of Byzantium* to incriminate him so tendentious that modern expositions of his theology trust rather his undoubted works, several of which, mostly exegetical (see bibliography), have been recovered from manuscript catenae and translations, chiefly Syriac (whose reliability is sometimes questionable). With the Commentary on the Minor Prophets and numerous fragments—e.g., on Gen. 1-3 (he commented on most biblical books)-these reveal the most brilliant Antiochene exegete (“the Interpreter” of the Nestorian Churches) employing varied critical methods with remarkable insight (even rejecting the canonicity of some OT and NT books), though not wholly eschewing spiritual or typological meanings. His was the first attempt to place the Psalms historically. His lost Against the Allegorists adequately explains the Origenists' promotion of his condemnation.

Although only fragments (often uncertain) of his dogmatic- controversial works-mostly against Arius, Eunomius, and Apollinaris-are extant (except for a Disputation with Macedonians in defense of the Spirit's divinity in 392 at Anazarbus; Syriac ed. F. Nau, 1913), his creative contribution to Christology, especially in refuting Apollinarianism,* is increasingly acknowledged. If hindsight exposes his shortcomings, particularly in terminology, he also partly anticipated Chalcedon. The raw materials of Theodore's theology were more biblical and less philosophical than the Alexandrians'. It focused on immortality, achieved by a conjunction with God patterned on the divine-human conjunction in Christ and initiated through the sacraments. Thus his baptismal catecheses delivered at Antioch c.390 (his sole surviving practical works; lost are treatises on priesthood, monasticism, against magic, and his letters) reject a symbolic view of the Eucharist (yet interpret “daily bread” of normal food). They are invaluable commentaries on Antiochene baptismal, eucharistic, and penitential practices.

Theodore entertained Julian of Eclanum* c.421, wrote a lost anti-Augustinian Against Defenders of Original Sin, and was made the “father of Pelagianism”* by Marius Mercator.* His supposed teaching on the effects of Adam's sin and man's created mortality appears significantly similar, but again recently discovered works allegedly suggest otherwise. The Syrian affinities of Pelagian ideas are under renewed scrutiny (see Rufinus “the Syrian”).

L. Pirot, L'Oeuvre Exégètique de Théodore de Mopsueste (1913); F.J. Reine, The Eucharistic Doctrine and Liturgy of the Mystagogical Catecheses of Theodore of Mopsuestia (1942); E. Amann in Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique (1946), pp. 235-79; F.A. Sullivan, The Christology of Theodore of Mopsuestia (1956); J. Quasten, Patrology 3 (1960), pp. 401-423; R.A. Greer, Theodore of Mopsuestia: Exegete and Theologian (1961); L. Abramowski in Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 72 (1961), pp. 263-93; U. Wickert, Studien zu den Pauluskommentaren Theodors von Mopsuestia (1962); R.A. Norris, Manhood and Christ: A Study in the Christology of Theodore of Mopsuestia (1963); A. Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition (2nd. ed., 1975).