THEODORUS OF MOPSUESTIA (c. 350-428)
A theologian and biblical exegete. Born into a wealthy family at Antioch, Theodorus enjoyed opportunities for education and intellectual advancement. He was a lifelong friend of JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, and as young men together, they attended the lectures of the sophist Libanius. Chrysostom, who had become converted to the spiritual life, exerted his influence on Theodorus, and they entered the monastic school of Carterius and Diodorus. Theodorus was ordained a priest at Antioch, probably in 383. It is likely that he left Antioch for Tarsus in 386 or shortly thereafter. In 392 he became bishop of Mopsuestia, a free town 12 miles (19 km) from the sea on the Pyramus River, midway between Tarsus and Issus. He held this position until his death in 428.
Theodorus was an accomplished orator, as evidenced by the fact that the emperor Theodosius I had learned of his fame and desired to hear him speak. Afterward, impressed by what he had heard, Theodosius said he had never met with such a teacher. Theodorus was a zealous laborer both within and beyond his diocese. It is said that he converted the city of Mopsuestia, driving out Arianism and other heresies. He was known in all the churches of the East as the herald of truth and a doctor of the church. But his enemies, heretics whom he had attacked, exploited his fame by altering some of his writings to make him appear guilty of heterodoxy.
After Theodorus’ death in 428, opinion about him was split. In the East, where he had lived and worked, his former adherents continued to revere him, but elsewhere he came under condemnation because of his connection with the heterodox Nestorians, who had adopted his writings as the best exposition of their beliefs. Sometime between 543 and 546, the emperor JUSTINIAN issued an edict in which he condemned the Three Chapters—that is, the writings of Theodorus, the Christological Letter of Ibas of Edessa, and THEODORET’s work against the Twelve Anathemas of Cyril. This edict was ratified, though with some reluctance, by the (Fifth Ecumenical) Council of CONSTANTINOPLE in 553.
Theodorus was a prolific writer. Among his literary remains are fragments of exegetical works on most books of the Old and New Testaments (the commentaries on Galatians and the nine following epistles are extant in Latin translation); fragments of a treatise, originally in fifteen books, on the Incarnation; fragments of works against APOLLINARIANISM; a fragment of a work against Eunomius; an outline (preserved in Photius) of a work against those who assert that men sin by nature, not by conscious act; a fragment of a work on miracles; fragments of a work on the mysteries; and Syriac and Latin translations of a liturgy. References in other authors reveal that Theodorus also wrote two tomes on the Holy Spirit, three books on “Persian Magic,” a treatise on the priesthood, and various hermeneutical works such as On Obscure Language, On the Giving of the Law, and Against the Allegorizers. His letters, which have not survived, were known to the Nestorians of Syria as the Book of Pearls.
That many of Theodorus’ writings were preserved in Latin translation is attributable to the fact that many bishops in the West and particularly in Africa were not sympathetic to the edict of Justinian that anathematized him. They argued that the edict tampered with the decisions of the Councils of EPHESUS and CHALCEDON and violated the sanctity of the dead. In an attempt to become better acquainted with the works that had been condemned, Justinian’s opponents read Theodorus’ writings and translated them into Latin for wider circulation in the West. To avoid recriminations, they often published these works under the name of Saint Ambrose.
Though Theodorus’ style is unwieldy and devoid of both warmth and vivacity, his writings are the best surviving representatives of the middle Antiochian school of interpretation and thought.
- Dewart, J. M. The Theology of Grace of Theodore of Mopsuestia. Studies in Christian Antiquity 16. Washington, D.C., 1971.
- Swete, H. B. “Theodorus (26), Bishop of Mopsuestia.” In DCB 4, pp. 934-48. Repr. New York, 1974.