Theodore of Mopsuestia

Catholic Information

Bishop of Mopsuestia in Cilicia and ecclesiastical writer; b. at Antioch about 350 (thus also known as Theodore of Antioch), of wealthy and prominent parents; d. 428.


According to Syrian sources Theodore was the cousin of the somewhat younger Nestorius (Nestle, op. cit. in bibliography); Polychromius, afterwards Bishop of Apamea, was a brother of Theodore. The clever and highly gifted youth received the education in classical literature usual to his station and studied philosophy and rhetoric in the school of the renowned pagan rhetorician Libanius. He here became acquainted with his early friends, St. John Chrysostom and Maximus, later Bishop of Seleucia (perhaps as fellow-student). Following the example of Chrysostom (Socrates, "Hist. eccl.", VI, iii), Theodore renounced a secular career when about eighteen years old, and devoted himself to the ascetic life in the school of Diodorus (later Bishop of Tarsus) and Carterius, situated near Antiochia. His youthful and too tempestuous zeal soon grew cold, and, owing chiefly to the memory of Hermione whom he intended to take as wife, he resolved to return to the world (Sozomen, "Hist. eccl.", VIII, 2; Hesychius Hieros., "Hist. eccl." in Mansi, "Concil.", IX, 248). Chrysostom's grief at this step of his friend was so great that he addressed him two letters or treatises ("Ad Theodorum lapsum" in P.G., XLVII, 277 sqq.) to recall him to his early resolution. A little later Theodore did indeed return to the "divine philosophy" of the ascetic monastic life. He quickly acquired a great acquaintance with the Holy Scripture. Impetuous and restless of character, he had already, when scarcely twenty years old (at eighteen according to Leontius, "Adv. Incorrupticolas", viii, in P.G., LXXXVI, 1364), applied himself to theological compositions. His first work was the commentary on the Psalms, in which his extreme exegetical tendencies in the sense of an almost exclusively grammatico-historical and realistic explanation of the text is already manifest (see below Theodore's Hermeneutics). Between 383 and 386 he was ordained priest (perhaps together with Chrysostom) by his early teacher (now bishop) Flavian. Theodore soon displayed a very keen interest in the theologico-polemical discussions of the time, writing and preaching against the Origenists, Arians, Eunomians, Apollinarists, magicians, Julian the Apostate, etc. His keen and versatile literary activity won him the name of "Polyhistor" (Sozomen, op. cit., VIII, ii). Theodore apparently left Antioch before 392 to join his old teacher Diodorus, who was then Bishop of Tarsus (Hesychius Hier., op. cit., in Mansi, IX, 248). Probably through the influence of Diodorus he was named Bishop of Mopsuestia in 392, in which capacity he was to labour thirty-six years. In 394 he attended the Synod of Constantinople, and during its progress preached before the Emperor Theodosius the Great. During the confusion concerning Chrysostom, Theodore remained faithful to his early friend (cf. Chrysostom, "Epp.", cxii, in P.G., LII, 668; Latin translation in Facundus, loc. cit., VII, 7). Later (about 421) he received hospitably Julian of Eclanum and other Pelagians, and doubtless allowed himself to be further influenced by their dogmatic errors. However, he later associated himself with the condemnation of Pelagianism at a synod in Cilicia (Marius Merc. in P.L., XLVIII, 1044). He died in 428, the year in which Nestorius succeeded to the episcopal See of Constantinople. During his lifetime Theodore was always regarded as orthodox and as a prominent ecclesiastical author, and was even consulted by distant bishops on theological questions.

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The most complete list of the writings of Theodore is given by Ebedjesu (d. 1318; see Assemani, "Bibl. orient.", III, 30-36). According to this the following works existed in a Syrian translation.

A. Exegetical Commentaries

(a) On the Old Testament: (1) on Genesis, 3 books (Greek fragments in the Nicephoruscatene, Leipzig 1772; Syrian in Sachau, 1-21); (2) on the Psalms, 5 books (Greek fragments in P.G., LXVI, 648; Latin translation discovered by Mercati, see bibliography; Greek text discovered by Lietzmann, but not yet edited, cf. ibid.); (3) on the twelve Minor Prophets (extant in its entirety; edited by Mai in PG LXVI, 124-632); (4) on the First and Second Books of Kings, 1 book (lost); (5) on Job, 2 books, dedicated to St. Cyril of Alexandria (only four fragments preserved in P.G., loc. cit., 697 sq.); (6) on Ecclesiastes, 1 book (lost); (7) to the four Great Prophets, 4 books (lost). Assemani adds "Quæstiones et Responsiones in Sacram Scripturam"; the fragments mentioned by the Fifth Œcumenical Council (Mansi, IX, 225) on the Canticle of Canticles are perhaps taken from a letter.

(b) On the New Testament: (1) on Matthew, I book (fragments in P.G., LXVI, 705 sqq.); (2) on Luke, 1 book (fragments, ibid., 716 sqq.); (3) on John, 1 book (fragments, ibid., 728; Syrian, discovered and edited by Chabot, Paris, 1897); (4) on the Acts, 1 book (fragments in P.G., LXVI, 785 sq.); (5) on all the Epistles of St. Paul (Greek fragments in P.G., LXVI, 188-968) the Epistles to the Galatians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Philemon, Latin edition by H. B. Swete, Cambridge, 1880-82).

B. Opascula

(1) "De sacramentis", 1 book (lost); (2) "De fide", 1 book ("Liber ad baptizatos", according to Facundus, op. cit., LX, 3; fragments in Swete, II, 323-27); (3) "De sacerdotio", 1 book (lost); (4) "De Spiritu Sancto", 2 books, against the Macedonians (lost); (5) "De Incarnatione", 15 books (cf. Facundus, IX, 3; Gennadius, 12; written at Antioch about 382-92 against the Apollinarians and Eunomians; Greek fragm. in P.G., LXVI, 969 sqq., and Swete, II, 290-3l2); (6) "Contra Eunomium", 2 books (one fragment in Facundus, IX, 3; (7) "Contra dicentes: peccatum naturae inesse" 2 books (cf. Photius, "BibI.", 177); (8) "Contra magicam artem", 2 books (cf. Photius, 81); (9) "Ad monachos", 1 book (lost); (10) "De obscura locutione" 1 book (lost); (11) "De perfectione operum", 1 book (lost); (12) "Contra allegoristas", 5 books (cf. Facundus, III, 6: "De allegoria et historia"); (13) "De Assumente et Assumpto", 1 book (lost); (14) "De legislatione", 1 book (lost). Many unidentified fragments are perhaps taken from lost works. The fifteen hooks "De mysteriis" or "Opus mysticum", mentioned by Assemani (III, 1, 563), are probably identical with the "Codex mysticus" cited by Facundus (III, 2). Concerning the "Symbolum fidei" (Facundus, III, 2; Leontius, P.G., LXXXVI, 1367), cf. Fritzsche in P.G., LXVI, 73 sqq. Leontius Byzant. ("Advers. Incorr.", xx, in P.G., LXXXVI, 1368) says, perhaps with reference to the so-called Nestorian Liturgy, that Theodore had also introduced a new Liturgy.

C. Letters

These were collected in one volume which is now lost.


A. Hermeneutics and Canon

As regards the Old Testament, Theodore seems to have accepted Flavius Josephus's idea of inspiration and his canon. He rejected as uncanonical the Book of Job, the Canticle of Canticles, the Book of Esdras, and the deutero-canonical books. From the New Testament he excised the Catholic Epistles (except I Peter and I John) and the Apocalypse (cf. Leontius, loc. cit., III, 13-17, in P.G., LXXXVI, 1365-68). In his explanation of the Holy Writ Theodore employs primarily the prevailing historical and grammatical method of the Antiochene school. Of all the Psalms he recognized only ii, vii, xiv, and cx as containing direct prophetic reference to the Messias; the Canticle of Canticles was pronounced by him a vulgar nuptial poem.

B. Anthropology and Doctrine of Justification

Theodore's doctrine concerning justification gave rise to very grave misgivings, even if we reject the accusations of Leontius (loc. cit., 20-37) as exaggerated. According to Theodore, the sin of Adam rendered himself and mankind subject to death, because he was then mutable. But that which was the consequence of sin in the case of Adam is in his descendants its cause, so that in consequence of mutability all men in some manner or other sin personally. The object of the Redemption was to transfer mankind from this condition of mutability and mortality to the state of immutability and immortality. This happened first in the case of Christ, fundamentally by the union with the Logos, to a greater extent at His baptism, and completely at His Resurrection. In mankind this change is effected by union with Christ. The union begins in baptism, through which (1) all (personal) sins are remitted, (2) the grace of Christ is granted, which leads us to immutability (sinlessness) and immortality. At the baptism of children only this second effect occurs. That these ideas show a certain resemblance to the fundamental thoughts of Pelagianism is not to be denied; whether, however, Theodore influenced Pelagius and Caelestius (according to Marius Mercator, through the medium of the Syrian Rufinus; P.L., XLVIII, 110), or whether these influenced Theodore, is very difficult to determine.

C. Christology

Theodore's Christology exercised a more direct and eventful influence on the doctrine of his (mediate) disciple Nestorius. The contemporary polemics against Arianism and Apollinarianism led the Antiochenes (Diodorus, Theodore, and Nestorius) to emphasize energetically the perfect Divinity and the unimpaired Humanity of Christ, and to separate as sharplv as possible the two natures. Thus, in a sermon which he delivered at Antioch (perhaps the first as bishop), Theodore vehemently attacked the use of the term theotokos, long employed in ecclesiastical terminology, because Mary was strictly speaking anthropotokos, and only indirectly theotokos. It was only by recalling his words and correcting himself that Theodore could appease the excitement resulting from this view (see John of Antioch, "Epist. ad Theodosium imper." in Facundus Herm., "Pro defensione trium capp.", X, 2; P.L., LXXXVII, 771). It cannot indeed be denied that the Antiochene separation of the natures must result in an improper weakening of the union in Christ. Like Nestorius, Theodore expressly declares that he wished to uphold the unity of person in Christ; perhaps they recognized some distinction between nature and person, but did not know exactly what was the distinguishing factor, and therefore used faulty paraphrases and comparisons, and spoke of the two natures in a way which, taken strictly, presupposed two persons. Thus, according to Theodore, the human nature of Christ was not only passibilis, but also really tentabilis, since otherwise His actual freedom from sin would be the result of His physical union with God, not a merit of His free wilt. The union of the human and Divine nature happens not kat ousian nor kat energeian, but kat eudokian (at will), and indeed a eudokia hos en houio, which effects a enosis eis en prosopon. The two natures form a unity, "like man and wife" or "body and soul". Consequently, according to Theodore, the communicato idiomatum, fundamentally speaking, is also lawful.


While during his lifetime (apart from the episode at Antioch) Theodore was regarded as orthodox (cf. Theodoret, "Hist. eccl.", V, xxxix; John of Antioch, in Facundus, II, 2), a loud outcry was raised against him when the Pelagians and Nestorians appealed to his writings. The first to represent him as the father of Pelagianism was Marius Mercator in his work "Liber subnotationum in verba Juliani, Praef." (about 431; in P.L., XLVIII, 111). He was accused of Nestorianism by Hesychius of Jerusalem in his Church History (about 435) Rabulas of Edessa went so far as to pronounce anathema on Theodore. Acting under the influence of the latter, St. Cyril of Alexandria expressed himself in fairly sharp terms concerning Theodore, naming him with Diodorus the "patres Nestorii blasphemæe" ("Ep. lxxi ad Theodosium imp.", in P.G.. LXXVII, 34l-44); he was, however, unwilling to condemn Theodore, as he had died in peace with the Church. Meanwhile the Nestorian strife passed by without any official action being taken by the Church against Theodore, although his writings stood in higher favour among the Nestorians of Edessa and Nisibis than those of Nestorius himself. The General Council of Chalcedon seemed rather to favour Theodore, when it declared his disciples and admirers, Theodoret and Ibas of Edessa, orthodox, although the latter in his epistle to Maris had referred to Theodore in terms of the highest praise. The Monophysitic reaction against the Council of Chalcedon in the sixth century first succeeded in bringing Theodore's person and writings under the ban of the ecclesiastical anathema through the ill-famed dispute of the Three Chapters. Theodore was for the first time condemned as a heretic by the Emperor Justinian in his edict against the Three Chapters (544). Under the influence of imperial pressure Pope Vigilius composed (553) at Constantinople a document in which sixty propositions taken from Theodore's writing were declared heretical. Finally, at the Fifth General Synod (553), at which, however, Vigilius did not participate, the three Chapters, including Theodore's writings and person, were placed under anathema. It was only on 8 December that Vigilius, broken with exile, gave his approval to the decrees of the synod. Among the most zealous defenders of Theodore and the Three Chapters, besides Pope Vigilius (until 533), were the African Facundus of Hermiana ("Pro defensione trium capitulorum libri XII", in P.L., LXVII, 527 sqq.) and the bishops, Paulinus of Aquileia and Vitalis of Milan.

Publication information Written by Chrysostom Baur. Transcribed by Marjorie Bravo-Leerabhandh. In loving memory of my grandmother, Rosario Bravo The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV. Published 1912. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York

The most complete edition of Theodore's works is given in P.G., LXVI, 124 sqq.; see also: SWETE, Theodori Ep. Mopsuesteni in epistolas B Pauli. The Latin Version with the Greek Fragments (2 vols., Cambridge, 1880-52)., SACHAU, Theodori Mopsuesteni fragmenta siriaca, (Leipzig, 1169); and some fragments in S. Innocenti ep. Maronioe: De his qui unum ex trinitate vel unum Subsistentiam seu personam Dominum nostrum Jesus Christurn dubitant confieri, ed. AMELLI in Spicilegium Casinensi I (1888). 148-54. TILLEMONT, Memoires, XII (1732), 433 sqq.; FRIZSCHE, De Theodori Mopsuesteni vita et scriptis (Halle, 1836; reprinted in P.G., LXVI. 9 sqq.; SWETE in Dict. Christ. Biog., s.v.; SPECHT, Der exeget Standpunkt des Theodor u. Theodoret in Auslegung der messian. Weissagungen (Munich, 1871) KIHN Theodore von M. u. Junilius Africanus als Exegeten (Freiburg 1880); ZAHN, Das Neue Testament Theodors v. M. u. der ursprungl Kanon der Syrer in Neue kirchl. Zeitschr., XI (1900), 788-806; DENNEFELD, Der alttestam, Kanon der Antiochen. Schule (Freiburg 1909). 44-61 (Bibl. Studien, 14, 4); BAETHGEN, Der Psalmenkommentar des Theodor v. M. syrischer Bearbeitung in Zeitschr. fur alttestam. Wissenschaft, V (1885) 53-101; VI (1886) 261-88, VII (1887), 1-60; LIETZMANN, Der Psalmenkommentar Theodors v. M. in Sitzungsberichteder kgl. preussichen Akademie der Wissenschaften (1902), 334-46 MERCATI, Un palimpsesto Ambrosiano dei Salmi Esapli (Turin, 1896); cf. ASCOLI, Il codice erlandese dell' Ambrosiana in Archivio glattologico itatiano, V, VI; VON DOBSCHUTZ in American Journal of Theology, II (1898), 353-87; FENDT, Die Christologie des Nesotorius (Kempten, 1910), 9-12; Theodore v. Mopsuesta; NESTLE, Theodor von M. u. Nestorius; Eine Mitteilung aus syrischen Quellen in Theolog. Studien aus Wurttemberg (1881), 210-11.

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