1. Theodore’s Life, Education, and Ministry

Theodore of Mopsuestia stands out as an influential figure well situated to observe and contribute to the Christianization of the Roman Empire during the late-fourth and early-fifth centuries. He was born into a well-to-do family in the city of Antioch (Antakya in southern Turkey) around the year AD 350. He was educated, along with his better-known contemporary John Chrysostom, in the school of the famous Antiochene rhetor Libanius. [1] Theodore then pursued an ascetic life along with theological and biblical study outside Antioch under Diodore (d. ca. 390), later bishop of Tarsus. Theodore served as a priest in Antioch from 383 until he was ordained bishop of Mopsuestia in Cilicia (modern Yakapınar in southern Turkey) in 392. Theodore served as bishop of Mopsuestia until his death in 428.
Theodore’s training and the offices he held positioned him to engage in some of the most pressing theological debates of his day. He wrote extensively on Christian scripture, both commenting on the texts and articulating a distinctive hermeneutical theory. He also wrote several works defending the theology of the councils of Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381) against so-called “Arian” opponents and, in doing so, put forward a comprehensive set of ideas on the relationship between humanity and divinity in Christ. Though Theodore was a well-regarded theologian in his day, the positions he took on both of these theological topics, hermeneutics and Christology, would leave him out of step with future generations of Christian thinkers and powerbrokers. At the Council of Constantinople in 553, Theodore was condemned for views deemed heretical at that time.
This development has had a tremendous impact on Theodore’s legacy, as it ensured that most of his original Greek writings did not survive into the modern period. Furthermore, much of Theodore’s extant Greek stems directly from the collections of questionable statements put together by his theological detractors for the purpose of demonstrating his error and condemning him. Fortunately, a rather significant number of Syriac translations along with some Latin translations have survived. The Catechetical Homilies present a case in point. Theodore delivered his homilies in Greek, most likely sometime in the early 390s while still a presbyter in Antioch. [2] As a result of Theodore’s condemnation during the sixth century, however, the sermons are no longer extant in the original Greek. They remained unknown to the scholarly community until 1932 and 1933, when Alphonse Mingana published the Syriac text of the homilies along with an English translation. [3] This manuscript dates to the fourteenth century but contains a translation of the fifth or sixth century. [4] Many other works by Theodore have not fared as well and remain available only through small fragments.
Consequently, the development of Theodore’s career and the circumstances leading to his condemnation have greatly affected his scholarly reception. In addition to his work’s poor state of preservation, the controversies in which Theodore engaged have dominated the scholarship on him. To date, this literature has left little room for the consideration of Theodore as a pastorally minded minister. Nevertheless, certain biographical details combine with the nature of many of Theodore’s theological positions and the subject of several lost works to show him as a religiously sensitive pastor concerned to communicate the Christian life with great concern for the care of his flock. These concerns relate directly to our treatment of the Catechetical Homilies, in so far as Theodore’s sermons have generally been treated as a source of evidence for understanding his Christology. While they can serve that purpose, they were not delivered as a piece of systematic theology. Theodore preached these sermons as an act of pastoral ministry in which he sought to engage catechumens and initiate them into the Christian life, and we must attempt to view him in that light. In so far as Theodore did not consider theology unimportant to his pastoral aims, we will give consideration to an outline of his thought. Nevertheless, in what follows we will take up the events of Theodore’s life and career with a particular focus on his concern for pastoral care.

Theodore’s Youth and Education

We know little of Theodore’s upbringing or family history, except that he likely came from a well-to-do family. Theodore attended the rhetorical school of Libanius in Antioch, one of the most elite educational institutions of the day. [5] Rarely could anyone outside the upper ranks of Roman society afford this sort of training. Under Libanius, Theodore received an education thoroughly grounded in the Greek classics of poetry and prose. This education entailed more than mastery of literary texts, however. Ancient Greco-Roman education oriented students toward the production of rhetorical speeches in political and judicial contexts. Mastery of the tradition’s literature thus served as the entryway into public life. When governors conveyed the will of the emperor in provincial capitals, when curiales deliberated in the town councils, or when lawyers adjudicated cases, public speech provided the common medium of these interactions. Knowledge of, and facility with, the received canon of literature remained the most effective way to craft compelling speech and thus to advance in late Roman society. [6] This education, designed to produce effective participants in the exercise of power within the late Roman world, bore the name paideia, a Greek term encompassing both “education” and “culture.” The semantic range of this term nicely highlights the social significance of the course of study. In a large empire made up of people with diverse regional, civic, and ethnic identities, paideia served the essential function of offering a common culture for elite Roman subjects from as far afield as Gaul, Syria, or Egypt. Literature provided a mainstay of this shared culture, and elites needed the ability to comprehend and produce complex literary references as they engaged in public life.
At the center of the culture that paideia sought to inculcate in Theodore and other young elite males stood a concept of morality focused on a sense of decorum and comportment. [7] The budding members of the curial and senatorial classes needed to possess such skills as second nature. Civic and imperial politics could be brutal affairs, as military might regularly accompanied provincial governors who could find themselves facing an angry mob at any moment. Theodore, Chrysostom, and Libanius all experienced this first-hand, probably on many occasions, but certainly during the so-called “Affair of the Statues,” in which the city of Antioch erupted in anger over a substantial rise in their tax burden. [8] In the resulting uprising, the crowd pulled down the statues of the emperor Theodosius and his family. This constituted an act of treason and resulted in a very tense situation in which both Libanius and the bishop Flavian urged the emperor to respond leniently. Such situations called for a remarkable level of composure on the part of governors, town councilors, emperors, and bishops. Paideia thus shaped the characters as well as the minds of the elites who received this education, in turn helping negotiate relations between rulers and subjects at times of crisis. Control of one’s emotions, and even one’s physical gestures, was seen as essential in the tense climate of late antique political life. As such, paideia sought to shape the minds, characters, and bodies of the young men who would soon enter into positions of social and political prominence. This type of training under the rhetor Libanius constituted the early part of Theodore’s education and would have an impact on his intellectual activity throughout his life.
Following his rhetorical training, Theodore would again join Chrysostom in studying Christian scripture and theology under Diodore (d. ca. 390), later bishop of Tarsus. [9] The ancient church historians who discuss this school use the term askētērion (ἀσκητήριον), which literally means “a place of asceticism,” a monastery. Few details emerge from this period of Theodore’s life, but if we can take Chrysostom’s experience as an indication, the monks at Diodore’s askētērion practiced a rigorous form of asceticism. Palladius states that Chrysostom lived for a time as a hermit and pursued an asceticism so severe that he damaged his kidneys permanently, which forced his return to a more normal course of life. [10] It is conceivable that Theodore followed similar practices. However, Diodore’s askētērion comprised something different from the stereotyped notions of complete poverty and withdrawal from the world that often surround monastic renunciation. [11] Diodore was a productive biblical scholar during these years and Theodore began his literary career in the askētērion as well. Theodore almost certainly produced his Psalm commentary and his commentary on the minor prophets of the Hebrew Bible during his time at the askētērion. [12] This type of study required resources, particularly access to a library of rather expensive books. [13] We must see Diodore’s askētērion as a school that offered a monastic setting for immersion in Christian scholarship at a high level, rather like a modern Roman Catholic theological seminary, where one would pursue spiritual formation through celibacy, prayer, and fasting, alongside advanced biblical and theological study.
Another well-known event of Theodore’s involvement with Diodore’s school comes from an incident in which Theodore left and his friend John Chrysostom wrote to him hoping to convince him to return. [14] It seems that Theodore left the askētērion in order to pursue marriage, family, and the type of secular career for which studying under Libanius had prepared him. Such a career would have been the norm for someone of his station in life and educational background. Chrysostom understood Theodore’s departure as a serious matter demanding attention. “If it were possible,” lamented Chrysostom, “to express tears and groans by means of writing I would have filled the letter, which I now send to you, with them.” [15] While Chrysostom very likely thought that walking away from the intellectual formation offered at Diodore’s school would adversely affect Theodore, he was much more concerned with the state of Theodore’s soul. Leaving Diodore’s school entailed leaving the monastic life after Theodore had taken vows to pursue it. As such, two concerns appear repeatedly in Chrysostom’s personal letter to Theodore. First, Chrysostom cautioned Theodore regarding the pursuit of a secular career. He feared that Theodore’s engagement in civic life would entail the pursuit of money and prestige, lead him away from Christ, and ultimately condemn his soul. [16] Chrysostom also argued that abandoning a monastic vow was tantamount to abandoning Christ as one’s savior. Theodore had become married to Christ and the monastic community. By leaving it and taking a wife, he rejected this spiritual marriage and sought his security and place in the world. Chrysostom admitted that marriage itself did not harm a Christian, but still insisted that leaving the monastic community for a life of marital comforts and obligations constituted a betrayal of Christ for the monk. [17]
Theodore’s decision may have been personally motivated, stemming from a desire for a wife, family, and civic prominence as opposed to a life of ascetic devotion and biblical study. Most commentators have indeed tended to understand it this way. [18] An alternative explanation presents itself as rather plausible, however. His decision may have been a reluctant one, the result of his succumbing to pressure from his parents to continue the family legacy and use his expensive education to secure the well-being of his family. [19] Several developments suggest this interpretation. We know for certain that Chrysostom’s pleas successfully recalled Theodore to Diodore’s school and the monastic life. [20] That Theodore chose to return to the askētērion even though no serious sanction would have affected him had he chosen otherwise shows his earnest attachment to his religious life. Furthermore, Theodore’s activity during this period of his life further suggests the serious nature of his commitment. It seems as though he had already been engaged in a high level of biblical study and commentary while at the askētērion. Leontius of Byzantium asserted that Theodore began commenting on biblical texts when merely eighteen years old. [21] Leontius likely exaggerated in making this claim, but Theodore’s youth at the time of his Psalm commentary remains certain. We cannot secure precise dating of these events, but it is quite possible that Theodore began writing commentaries before the departure from the askētērion that prompted Chrysostom’s letter. [22] As such, there remains little reason to suspect the sincerity of Theodore’s desire to pursue asceticism and biblical study. It seems most appropriate to see his decision to leave the askētērion as motivated by external factors, with pressure from his family being a likely source. These events suggest an image of Theodore as a religiously sensitive young man who took Christian devotion seriously even while family pressures weighed upon him, not as someone bent on escaping a monastic lifestyle for personal gain or marital pleasure. Regardless of exactly how we read Theodore’s motivation, this entire episode casts him in a very human light and urges us to consider him as more than a theological polemicist.
As a final point with respect to Theodore’s early life, we must note the combination of classical paideia and Christian education that occupied so much of it. The focus of each differed considerably from the other. The classical system of education focused on mastering an elite literature, imbibing a cultural system, and using these resources in pursuit of a public life. The askētērion urged withdrawal from public life and attention to a very different literature. However, each sought to train mind and body for proper engagement with particular institutions. It would be misleading to suggest that Theodore set out consciously to replicate either of these pedagogical experiences when taking up the task of teaching Christian catechumens. Nevertheless, by the time he preached his catechetical homilies he had given over two decades of his life to these educational institutions and had clearly gained considerable understanding of how to train minds and bodies, as well as of what it meant to be socialized into two distinctive cultures. These themes will reappear in subsequent chapters as we analyze how Theodore taught theology and ritual participation while grounding it in the life and culture of a community.

Theodore’s Ecclesiastical Career in Context

The character of Theodore’s youth and education would manifest itself throughout his life. While Theodore did not use his rhetorical training for the secular career his parents likely imagined, he would go on to employ the skills he gained under Libanius to his pastoral ministry and commentaries on the Bible. We know little of the details of Theodore’s daily life and what aspects of his ascetic training he continued to exhibit once he entered the ranks of the clergy in 383. The intellectual component of Theodore’s training, with its dual focus on theological and Biblical studies, would form his outlook considerably and set the intellectual trajectory for the rest of his career. We will return to a more detailed discussion of these two components of Theodore’s thought shortly. First, however, it will be helpful to situate these two intellectual pursuits within the context of Antioch at the end of the fourth century.

Antioch and the Arian controversy

The cultural and strategic prominence Antioch held in Late Antiquity made it one of the four most important cities in the Roman world along with Rome, Constantinople, and Alexandria. Located in ancient northern Syria some twenty miles from the Mediterranean Sea, Antioch was close to Mesopotamia and the northeastern border regions of the Roman Empire. The coastal city of Seleukia Pereia, located near the mouth of the Orontes River, served as the port city of Antioch. As Silk Road trade flourished following the conquests of Alexander and the establishment of Hellenic cities throughout Mesopotamia and the Iranian Plateau, Antioch and its port facilitated, and greatly profited from, this trade.
Antioch exploited this position and wealth to establish itself as a major center of Hellenic culture in the eastern Mediterranean throughout the Roman period. Antioch’s several agoras and numerous bath complexes marked it as a paradigmatic Hellenic city within its Syrian context. [23] A tradition of Greek letters and flourishing educational institutions distinguished Antioch as a cultural as well as an economic powerhouse. [24] The Antiochenes who benefited from these civic institutions also had easy access to a world-famous playground for the rich and famous just outside their city. Sometimes called a suburb of Antioch, the resort town of Daphne lay less than ten miles from Antioch and offered the elites of the city a nearby refuge of lush groves, mountain springs, and an extensive array of amenities. The opportunities for wealth and pleasure offered by Antioch and its environs prompted one commentator to describe it as “the fair crown of the Orient.” [25]
The obvious appeal of Antioch existed in tension with its relative proximity to a hostile neighbor. The Persians—the Parthians from 238 BC to AD 226 and the Sassanians from AD 226 to 651—presented a persistent threat to the Antiochenes. Indeed, the Sassanians sacked Antioch in AD 256 and again in 260. [26] As long as Antioch offered the Persians a major Roman city accessible from the border regions of Mesopotamia and granting easy access to the Mediterranean Sea, it remained a constant target of Persian ambition. The Romans, in turn, increasingly used it as a staging point for their incursions into Mesopotamia. As such, Antioch presented a well-fortified city with a large military presence and a robust imperial bureaucracy. It also frequently served as an eastern residence for Roman emperors, particularly those preparing to go on campaign against the Persians. This reality produced a situation in which imperial politics were woven into the day-to-day life of Antioch, with all of the benefits and liabilities that entailed.
The clergy of Antioch enjoyed this prominence as much as those of the curial or senatorial classes. As with Theodore and Chrysostom, the clergy often came from prominent families, making their expectations of proximity to political power that much greater. [27] The elite rhetorical training Theodore pursued as a young man prepared him for a public career as a local notable serving his city and rubbing shoulders with imperial power brokers. Theodore’s involvement with Diodore’s askētērion set him on a course suited to an ecclesiastical career, but likely did not alter too significantly his expectation of civic prominence. The exact nature and duration of Theodore’s monastic study remains unclear, but we know that the bishop Flavian ordained him presbyter in the city of Antioch in 383.
In many cities this would have been a rather straightforward matter. However, Antioch was a tumultuous place for Christians, laity and clergy alike. As an important Roman city garnering so much imperial attention, Antioch had little hope of escaping the most contentious theological disagreements of the day. For much of the fourth century, Antioch was one center of what came to be known as the Arian controversy. The issues at stake in this contentious series of disagreements can be summed up rather succinctly as a question regarding the relationship between God and Jesus, between the Father and the Son. In the early 390s when Theodore preached his catechetical sermons, this controversy continued to divide Christians. As we will see, Antioch continued to have three distinct Christian churches. These divisions provide essential context for understanding Theodore’s theological instruction and attempts to create Christian community through catechesis.
Early in the fourth century, the Alexandrian presbyter, Arius, had proposed that the nature of Jesus’ divinity was derivative, that the ontological gap between creator and creature fell in such a way as to include Jesus, the Son, among the created. The biblical phrase “only-begotten Son of God” [28] provided one of the strongest proof-texts offered by Arius and those in agreement with his theology. Those who disagreed saw Jesus as a fully divine figure who did not come into being in time but rather existed with the Father before time began. Each position held that Jesus was divine and that Jesus existed as a divine mediator between God and human beings. The difference came down to the fullness or completeness of that divinity and where one should recognize the line between creator and creature. [29]
The dispute came to the attention of the first Christian emperor, Constantine, who called a universal council of the church in order to deal with this contentious matter. Held in the city of Nicaea in the year 325, the council aimed to settle the dispute permanently. The council affirmed that the Son is “God from God, light from light, very God from very God, begotten, not made, one substance with the Father …” [30] The council chose language designed to exclude Arius’ theology. The full divinity of the Son whose source is the divine Father comes across clearly. Less clear is the inclusion of the term homoousios (ὁμοούσιος), “one substance.” It most likely gained acceptance as an expression of what it meant for the Son to be “God from God.” Nevertheless, while the participants in the council departed Nicaea in triumphant agreement, they returned to their respective sees in a haze of confusion, with many people left wondering what exactly it meant for the Father and the Son to be homoousios. Many bishops, particularly in the east, feared that declaring Jesus to be one substance with the Father might fracture divine unity, simplicity, and impassibility, thus calling into question Christian monotheism. Rather than unify the Christians of the empire, the Council of Nicaea and its creed produced deep divisions that resulted in further religious and political turmoil for most of the fourth century. [31]
The theology discussed by the numerous bishops and theologians involved in these debates was highly technical, but the specifics need not concern us in this context. The important thing for our purposes here is that these issues were highly divisive, especially since emperors throughout this period sought to follow the lead of Constantine and enforce consensus through exiling troublesome bishops and denouncing ideas out of keeping with what they thought would produce harmony within church and empire. This situation produced division throughout much of the empire, but Antioch became the focus of particularly contentious partisanship. Eustathius served as the bishop of Antioch during the Council of Nicaea at which he took a firm position against the theology of Arius. A council held in Antioch in 327 subsequently deposed him. [32] Athanasius would interpret this as part of a grand “Arian” conspiracy to marginalize and eradicate Nicene “orthodoxy.” [33] This is likely a misrepresentation but the perception stuck. Those favoring Nicaea and the term homoousios considered him the rightful bishop of Antioch until his death. A series of bishops who did not favor the Nicene formula followed, and Nicenes in the city of Antioch continued to oppose the so-called “Arian” theology, which they felt plagued their city.
Diodore, Theodore’s teacher, and Flavian, who, as the bishop of Antioch would later ordain Theodore, first appear in the sources in this context during the 340s. Though not yet ordained, they whipped up popular support against the bishop Leontius (344–358) after he tried to ordain the openly non-Nicene Aetius as a deacon. [34] Though forced to relent, Leontius and his successor Eudoxius (358–360) continued to favor non-Nicene interpretations of the relationship between the Father and the Son. Conciliar machinations continued over the next several decades and imperial power secured the exile and return of several bishops. [35] Flavian, bishop from 381–404, eventually won the support of all the major sees of the empire, but a technical division persisted in Antioch until 415. As a result, when Theodore preached his catechetical homilies, he did so in the context of the dispute, and the community he worked to form did not present the only option available to those seeking initiation. The divided nature of Antiochene Christianity made the persuasive articulation of Christianity an essential pastoral duty. Theological polemics demonstrate the process of boundary formation and maintenance in Late Antiquity. The ability to garner popular support even among people who may not have understood the finer points of the theology played an important role in this process. [36]

Theodore’s Theological Controversies

The context of the Arian Controversy is also essential for understanding Theodore’s thought and the scholarly treatment it has received. As Theodore was groomed for Christian ministry in such a theological atmosphere, it should not surprise that Theodore’s intellectual activity continued to center around theological controversy. Most of Theodore’s writings engaged in one of the two great controversies that marked his career. The first controversy surrounded the continued discussion of the relationship between the Father and the Son, with the status of the Holy Spirit also becoming contentious as a full-fledged doctrine of the Trinity took shape. [37] Theodore engaged deeply in these debates and became a major figure in shaping the discussions over almost four decades. These Christological debates never fully took him away from his early interest in biblical exegesis, however, and Theodore continued to write commentaries and an important work on hermeneutical theory in which he attacked the Christian use of allegory in the interpretation of scripture.
Theodore’s engagement with these theological controversies gained him a great reputation in some circles and considerable notoriety in others. His theological writings made him a prominent figure among the clergy of Antioch and led to his elevation to the bishopric of Mopsuestia in 392. Theodore even gained the attention of Theodosius and received considerable praise after preaching before him. [38] The canons of the Council of Chalcedon also mention him favorably, accepting Ibas of Edessa’s characterization of him as “a herald of the truth and doctor of the Church.” [39] However, Theodore also received negative attention as well, particularly from theologians active in Alexandria. [40] The positions Theodore took on these controversies and the reception they received have contributed significantly to the questions that drive the scholarly treatment of Theodore in general and his catechesis in particular. Denunciation of Theodore’s theology would continue until reaching a crescendo in the sixth century, when the emperor Justinian secured his condemnation as a heretic. This combination of praise and condemnation has continued to reverberate in the modern scholarship on Theodore, which focuses on the two main controversies he engaged in. The predominance of these controversies in the scholarship on Theodore has made it difficult to appreciate him as a pastoral theologian. Nevertheless, some of Theodore’s concern for pastoral matters emerges even in the context of considering his exegetical and Christological thought.


Theodore wrote extensively on almost the entire Christian scripture. [41] As we saw earlier, Theodore commented on the Psalms and the Minor Prophets when still at Diodore’s askētērion. While many of Theodore’s commentaries are no longer extant, important references to these works appear in the tenth- to eleventh-century Chronicle of Siirt and the Catalog of ʿAbdišōʿ (d. 1318). [42] Between them we can determine that Theodore wrote commentaries on the Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, Job, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. [43] ʿAbdišōʿ mentions commentaries on each of the Synoptic Gospels and Acts, while we have extant Theodore’s commentary on John. Theodore commented on the entire Pauline corpus, including Hebrews, which he believed to be written by Paul. [44]
The interpretive method that Theodore employed in these commentaries focused on drawing attention to the historical events recounted in the text and emphasizing the work of God through those actual events. [45] As a consequence, he strongly opposed the use of allegory in the interpretation of the Bible. His critique focused on the origins and effects of allegorical interpretation. He believed that allegory was a method devised by pagans and therefore incapable of fruitful application to Christian scripture. [46] The fragments of his Treatise against the Allegorists often mention the errors of the third-century theologian Origen in adopting this “pagan” method. Theodore saw Origen’s use of allegory as leading him away from the words of scripture. He repeatedly insisted that God’s Spirit communicated to his people through those very words and that allegory drew one away from them. [47] Antiochene theologians preferred historical readings of texts and openly criticized the use of allegory. As a result, many have characterized the disagreement between the Antiochene tradition of hermeneutics and the Alexandrian as a disagreement over historical versus allegorical interpretation. However, the simple conclusion that Origen promoted speculative readings distanced from the true meaning of the text while Antiochenes promoted a critical, historical reading entails numerous problems. In particular, non-literal, figurative readings do appear in the work of Theodore and other Antiochene exegetes. This problem has inspired a sizeable body of literature on the precise nature of Theodore’s hermeneutical theory and how he applied it in practice. [48] The best recent work shows that the root of the disagreement was between rhetorical and philosophical readings. [49]
Theodore’s rhetorical education involved more than simply reading texts and practicing the delivery of speeches. Rhetorical training entailed intimate knowledge of texts and as such required proficiency in literary criticism. Teachers spent considerable time analyzing both the background and the content of the literature with their students. [50] In the earlier stages of the curriculum, a grammarian (grammatikos) worked with his young students to ensure that they knew how to handle texts. In the ancient world, this was no straightforward matter. All texts were copied out by hand, and variations inevitably crept in. Furthermore, scribes customarily wrote without punctuation or breaks between words, with the result that simply reading a text took considerable effort. [51] Thus grammarians taught their students to pay careful attention to deciphering every word of the text. Students also learned about word choice and style, what type of vocabulary and grammatical constructions accomplished various aims within a text. The rigorous study of the lexical and grammatical components of classical texts formed the basic method (methodikē) of textual analysis. [52] In addition to the careful attention to methodikē, the grammarian also taught students to analyze the text under consideration within its broader context. Students learned to identify the subject matter (hypothesis) of the text, then moved to the consideration of context. Questions such as when and to whom the author wrote, as well as what texts take up similar subjects and how they treated those subjects, thus came under consideration. This analysis of broader context was referred to as historikē. The English word “history” derives from historikē, but it would be a mistake to see the ancient and modern senses as closely related. Teachers and students in the rhetorical schools did not bring a modern critical approach to their pursuit of historikē. Rather, literary concerns motivated the rhetor’s emphasis on historikē. He sought to reconstruct the context that would help him analyze texts. [53]
These categories of textual analysis largely served the purpose of isolating the proper text and determining its subject matter through a consideration of its context. As such, historikē did not provide the fundamental disagreement with Origen’s hermeneutical method. Origen also gave considerable attention to the particulars of language and context. [54] His massive work of textual scholarship, the Hexapla, sufficiently attests to this interest. [55] Furthermore, Theodore and Origen both moved beyond this level of textual analysis. Their theories ultimately diverged however, on the level of how to effect that move. Rhetorical schools had developed elaborate systems of inquiry for the purpose of considering the higher meaning (theōria) contained within classical literature. “Theorizing” literature took many forms, but krisis, or the use of judgment in analyzing a text, offers the most important theoretical tool for situating Theodore’s approach to texts. The type of krisis relevant to considerations of theōria dealt with ethical judgment, and the application of this judgment thus formed the basis for commentary and exposition of scripture. For Theodore and for the Antiochenes more generally, sound exegesis required that theōria find its basis in historikē. [56] Historical context determined the legitimate avenues for considering the higher meaning of a text. [57] On the contrary, Origen’s allegorical method adopted a more philosophical approach to literature. [58] While this approach took historikē into consideration, it never limited the intended meaning of the divine author to the historical circumstances of the human author. By permitting legitimate theōria to relate the text under consideration to abstract metaphysical forms and eternal truths, Origen ultimately freed himself from the constraints of historikē.
Theodore’s emphasis on the historical grounding of revelation appears to stem from the defenses of Christianity that Theodore made in response to the critiques of the pagan emperor Julian. [59] The idea that Christianity contained nothing more than silly fables was a staple of Julian’s critique. [60] If unchallenged, Julian’s attack on Christianity could be rather devastating. Felix Thome has thoroughly studied the fragments of Diodore and Theodore on the subject of Julian’s religious policy. While he has not found definitive proof that they formulated their critique of allegory in order to undermine Julian’s attack on Christianity, he has shown a strong resonance between the concerns that motivated the rejection of Julian’s religious program and Origen’s allegory. While this apologetic connection to Theodore’s hermeneutical theory is not, narrowly speaking, a pastoral issue, it relates to the ability of Theodore to articulate a compelling vision of Christianity. Without such a vision, attracting and maintaining parishioners within a religiously competitive atmosphere could become difficult.


Another major area of scholarly inquiry concerns Theodore’s view of the relationship between the Father and the Son. Contemporary debates over the person of Christ most often cast the discussion in terms of theological fine points and high-stakes ecclesiastical politics. While an engagement with Christology certainly required considerable intellectual rigor and while political maneuvering usually lurked behind pious statements of doctrine, we must not miss the pastoral concerns that emerge in Theodore’s Christology.
Ordained by bishop Flavian of Antioch in 383, just two years after the Council of Constantinople, Theodore was an ardent Nicene. He wrote numerous works attempting to defend what he saw as orthodox doctrine against enemies on many sides. One early work, On the Incarnation, gained Theodore a good reputation while he was still a priest in Antioch. [61] Here he tackled various positions he believed to be in error. On the one hand, he argued against Arius and Eunomius, who diminished the humanity of the Son by considering him a creature. [62] This aspect of On the Incarnation addressed the familiar Nicene question of whether or not the Son should be considered fully divine. On the other hand, he also argued against the theology of Apollinaris, who strongly emphasized the divinity of the Son. Apollinaris had argued that two substances becoming one constituted a logical impossibility. Thus, he thought it illegitimate to speak of two natures in Christ, one human and the other divine. [63] Theodore’s sense that these theological systems continued to threaten the church persisted; later in his career, he wrote additional works on similar themes, Against Eunomius and Against Apollinaris.
Theodore did not see these debates as merely academic. Human salvation depended upon the full humanity of Christ. [64] “However, if he had not received a soul and it was the Deity who conquered [sin],” argued Theodore, “then nothing he did would benefit us. For what advantage would there be for the perfection of our way of living in having the Deity [acting] as the human soul? For then our Lord’s struggles would seem to have no advantage for us, but rather to have been [done] for the sake of show.” [65] Theodore insisted on the true humanity of Christ as a way to ensure that the salvation accomplished by Christ might apply to human beings. Furthermore, he seems to suggest that despair would befall a Christian struggling to live the Christian life, if the Son had only managed to overcome sin because of his divine soul. Theodore wrote often of the activity of Christ’s free human will in this connection. [66] Faced with one theology that diminished Christ’s divinity and another that diminished his humanity, Theodore focused on asserting two natures in Christ. He insisted that Christ was fully divine but also fully human. Furthermore, this humanity and divinity existed together in one person according to Theodore. [67] Theodore understood this emphasis on full humanity and full divinity as an attempt to combat the theological errors that he believed threatened the idea that God had truly become human in a way that could guarantee the availability of salvation. The ability to assure parishioners that they worshipped a savior truly capable of securing their salvation drove much of his Christological theory.

The Reception of Theodore and His Works

This cursory summary of Theodore’s Christology greatly simplifies what can only be described as a highly complicated set of theological problems that have received a great deal of attention from historians of Christian dogma. The ways in which Theodore and the larger Antiochene tradition described the precise relationship between the humanity and the divinity of Christ have presented considerable interpretive difficulties. In particular, the language he used to explain the unity of the two natures would prove problematic to many. Theodore preferred the idea that Christ’s human nature and divine nature each had its own hypostasis (ὑπόστασις) and that these two hypostases were united in one prosōpon (πρόσωπον). [68] Theodore understood hypostasis to refer to a substantial nature, thus emphasizing the concrete completeness of each of Christ’s natures. The use of prosōpon for the union of Christ’s two natures was the source for much of the trouble with Theodore’s formula. Prosōpon could be used in a theatrical context for the masks worn by actors and thus suggested to Theodore’s detractors that the unity of the human and divine natures in Christ was not a real unity. [69] Theodore insisted that the unity of the natures in Christ was a real unity. [70] While it seems unlikely that he intended to communicate unreality by using the term prosōpon, many detractors found Theodore’s language problematic. It did not help Theodore’s case that he regularly sought to distinguish between some actions of Jesus that were proper to his human nature and others that were proper to his divine nature. Theodore’s most troublesome manifestation of this practice came in reference to the birth of Christ from Mary. Theodore insisted that “the divine nature is not born from a virgin. Rather, it is the one composed from the substance of the virgin who is born of the virgin. In no way had God the Word been born of Mary!” [71] This idea would cause considerable trouble for Antiochene theology and ultimately play a significant role in Theodore’s downfall.
This troubling statement did not immediately bring about the downfall of Theodore as an orthodox theologian, however. Indeed, when he died in 428 he maintained a solid reputation among many in the church. Nevertheless, when his Antiochene compatriot Nestorius took up the bishopric of Constantinople in that same year, he almost instantly caused an uproar by rejecting the use of the term Theotokos (Θεοτόκος), “Mother of God,” to describe Mary. [72] The Council of Ephesus in 431 would condemn Nestorius for holding too great a distinction between the two natures of Christ and, in doing so, would explicitly affirm the use of Theotokos. Despite these events, Theodore still maintained his good name and standing. This is so even though Cyril of Alexandria, the driving force behind Nestorius’ condemnation, would begin attacking the theology of Theodore. [73] Theodore would have a mixed reception during the rest of the fifth and much of the sixth century. As those who did not consider the theology of Nestorius to be problematic came to settle in Sassanian Persian territory just outside the Roman Empire, the theology of Theodore spread widely in the East Syrian tradition, where he came to be known as “The Interpreter.” [74] Theodore’s theology also found support in some western parts of the Roman world. [75]
Despite the many people interested in Theodore and his theology, he fell out of favor in a rather decisive way in the events surrounding the so-called Affair of the Three Chapters in 544–545 and the Council of Constantinople in 553. In this period, the Emperor Justinian sought to reunite his empire religiously after the fractures caused by the formula of the Council of Chalcedon in 451. [76] The Council of Chalcedon had exonerated the Antiochene theologian Theodoret along with Ibas of Edessa, whose writings included a letter in praise of Theodore. In short, Justinian hoped to sidestep non-Chalcedonian charges that the Council of Chalcedon asserted Nestorian theology by condemning Theodore’s writings, declaring him a heretic, and also condemning suspect writings by Theodoret and Ibas’ letter praising Theodore.
The results of these sixth-century developments have had a tremendous impact on Theodore and his reception. Most importantly, the majority of Theodore’s original Greek compositions have disappeared. [77] Fortunately, a number of Syriac and Latin translations remain extant, along with many fragments collected in florilegia used to secure the condemnation of Theodore in the sixth century. The fragmentary nature of this evidence has led to many interpretive difficulties. Serious questions arose over whether or not the fragments collected for hostile purposes had been manipulated, with some scholars suggesting that they could not be used to assess Theodore’s theology. [78] Francis Sullivan has argued convincingly that the fragments do indeed provide valuable sources for Theodore that can be corroborated by unproblematic material. [79] A related issue has driven most of the scholarship on Theodore’s Christology as many scholars have taken up the question of whether or not the fifth ecumenical council rightly condemned Theodore. [80] Theodore’s insistence on a two-nature Christology can indeed sound compatible with Chalcedon’s emphasis on two natures in Christ. However, as we have seen, Theodore’s language can also suggest a false unity between those natures. The issues do not resolve themselves easily.
While these remain interesting questions of historical theology, this book makes no pretense of attempting to resolve them. Instead, this study poses very different questions about Theodore and his ministry. The nature of Theodore’s condemnation and the uneven preservation of his work have led to a scholarly literature consumed by theological and hermeneutical intricacies. [81] This work can result in an image of Theodore as little more than a polemical figure with a theological agenda. With this mindset, we can miss his early struggle with the tension between Christian vocation and family obligations. We can miss Theodore’s earnest attempts to steer the believing community toward right belief. We can miss the pastoral concern behind his emphasis on Christ’s free human will and the related ability of ordinary people to live the Christian life. We might be more likely to understand Theodore as a pastoral figure if we had not his lost treatises, On the Priesthood, To a Monk, and On the Perfection of Observances. We have no reason to speculate in any detail on the content of these treatises, but it remains significant that they bear titles suggestive of his concern for pastoral ministry. [82] Furthermore, Theodore’s corpus of letters, the so-called Book of Pearls, is also no longer extant, an unfortunate fact that hampers efforts to understand Theodore’s personality. Chrysostom’s Letter to Theodore, delivered while Chrysostom was in exile, demonstrates a deep sense of appreciation for Theodore’s devoted friendship. Additional assessments of Theodore’s personality remain rare.
These lacunae make it difficult to think of Theodore as someone actively engaged in pastoral care. Several bishops, particularly John Chrysostom with his rich corpus of sermons and letters, attract the attention of an active group of scholars who work on pastoral care. [83] Preaching, missionary activity, and philanthropic work emerge as regular pastoral activities in this literature. If we had extant the full corpus of his writings, Theodore would have his place within this body of literature as well. One aim of this book is to consider what we can say about Theodore’s contribution to this important field of study. The Catechetical Homilies demonstrate considerable attention to pastoral ministry and sensitivity to reaching people with a compelling presentation of the Christian life. They show Theodore using a wide range of tools to craft a Christian paideia and communicate it to a new generation as they approached initiation into the Christian community.


[ back ] 1. Socrates Church History 6.3; and Sozomen Church History 8.2.
[ back ] 2. There is some disagreement on the date of Theodore’s homilies. Vosté (1925:80) places them during Theodore’s episcopate—that is, after 392. McLeod (2009) follows Vosté, but without giving any reason. Tonneau and Devreesse (1949) prefer to place the homilies in Antioch, but again give little argument. Abramowski (1992:481–513) establishes that the discussion of the Holy Spirit best fits the period when Theodore was still a priest in Antioch.
[ back ] 3. I will cite Mingana’s edition as WS (for Woodbrooke Studies), followed by the volume number and page of Mingana’s English translation. In footnotes containing the Syriac text of the manuscript facsimile, I will cite the published facsimile as Homélies Catéchétiques, followed by the sermon number and the manuscript folio number. See the Author’s Note on Citations and Translations for a fuller discussion on citations and abbreviations.
[ back ] 4. For a description of Mingana Syriac 561, see Mingana 1933–1985, 1:1041–1044. Mid-nineteenth-century missionary accounts contain several vague references to the possibility of additional manuscripts. The most promising mentions “a copy of the history of the Nicene Council by Theodorus of Mopsuestia.” The last known location of the manuscript was the American Mission Library in Beirut in 1863. Unfortunately, it can no longer be located; see Laurie 1853:203.
[ back ] 5. On Libanius’ school in Antioch, see Cribiore 2007:30–37.
[ back ] 6. Already by Libanius’ time, however, the study of law as opposed to rhetoric had become an expedient means of advancing one’s career, a fact about which Libanius complained bitterly, as he lost good students who went to study law in Berytus (Beirut); cf. Or. 62.21.
[ back ] 7. Brown 1992a:49–61.
[ back ] 8. Sozomen Church History 7.23; Theodoret Church History 5.19; Zosimus New History 4.41. John Chrysostom delivered his homilies, On the Statues, in conjunction with this very episode. They offer an excellent example of public speech urging the general public to adopt the kind of composure emphasized in late antique paideia.
[ back ] 9. Kelly 1995:19. For the suggestion that Theodore did not complete his rhetorical training, see Carter 1962:97–98.
[ back ] 10. Palladius Dialogue 5.
[ back ] 11. See Athanasius’ Life of Anthony for the paradigmatic image of complete withdrawal for the Christian monk. For a critical reading of this and similar texts that shows the numerous ways monks engaged with society, see Chitty 1966.
[ back ] 12. Hill 2004:42 and 2001:111–113.
[ back ] 13. On monks with large libraries, see M. H. Williams 2006:133–166.
[ back ] 14. Chrysostom’s writings include a letter to a Theodore and a treatise to a monk who left the monastic community. It is likely that the letter is to Theodore of Mopsuestia, while the treatise is not; Carter 1962:87–101.
[ back ] 15. John Chrysostom Letter to Theodore 1.
[ back ] 16. John Chrysostom Letter to Theodore 2–3.
[ back ] 17. Letter to Theodore 3.
[ back ] 18. Devreesse 1948:3–4; Behr 2011:52. Socrates and Theodoret ignore the incident, while Sozomen (Church History 7.23) gives an account that does not discuss motives very deeply.
[ back ] 19. Festugière (1959:158) suggests a similar interpretation but speculates further that Theodore’s decision came about in response to the death of his father.
[ back ] 20. For a brief discussion of a contested letter claiming to be Theodore’s response to Chrysostom, see Dumortier 1966:20–21. The consensus, supported by Dumortier, is that Theodore did not write this letter. Nevertheless, Dumortier includes the Greek text and a French translation of this letter on pp. 220–239.
[ back ] 21. Leontius of Byzantium Contra Nestorianos et Eutychianos 8; Hill 2004:52; Zaharopoulos 1989:30–31.
[ back ] 22. On the date of Theodore’s Psalm commentary, see Vosté 1925:71. Vosté asserts that the Psalm commentary ought to be dated to Theodore’s second stay at the askētērion. However, his only argument for this is that the commentary shows signs of immaturity but also considerable familiarity with Diodore’s exegetical method, a familiarity Vosté does not seem to believe Theodore could have gained on his initial stay. Since the dates and lengths of neither stay are known, there is little reason to adopt this interpretation.
[ back ] 23. Libanius Oration 11.134, 212, 218–248; and Stillwell, et al. 1934–1972, 1:4–48. On the traditional religious monuments and festivals of Antioch, see Soler 2006:13–42.
[ back ] 24. Cicero Pro Archia 3.
[ back ] 25. Ammanius Marcellinus Rerum Gestarum 22.9.14.
[ back ] 26. Downey 1961:260–262.
[ back ] 27. Rapp 2005:183–194.
[ back ] 28. John 1.14, 18; 3.16; I John 4.9. The canonical New Testament also contains many additional references to Jesus being the “Son of God.”
[ back ] 29. Our main concern here is the political impact of this theological dispute on the history of Christianity. See chapter four for a fuller discussion of the theology at stake in this dispute.
[ back ] 30. Symbolum Nicaenum: θεὸν ἐκ θεοῦ, φῶς ἐκ φωτός, θεὸν ἀληθινὸν ἐκ θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ, γεννηθέντα, οὐ ποιηθέντα, ὁμοούσιον τῷ πατρί …
[ back ] 31. Williams 1987; Vaggione 2000; Gwynn 2007.
[ back ] 32. This revised date was proposed by Chadwick 1948:27–35. This date is also accepted by Barnes 1978:59–60 and Gwynn 2007:141. Hanson (1988:208–210) continues to assert the conventional date of 330/1.
[ back ] 33. Gwynn 2007:27–28.
[ back ] 34. Theodoret Church History 2.19; Behr 2011:49.
[ back ] 35. For a discussion of the schism and its treatment in recent scholarship, see Spoerl 1993.
[ back ] 36. Gregory 1979.
[ back ] 37. Theodore of Mopsuestia Against the Macedonians.
[ back ] 38. Facundus of Hermiane Defense of the Three Chapters 2.2. In this section, Facundus quotes John of Antioch on Theodore.
[ back ] 39. Acts of the Council of Chalcedon 10.138; ACO 2.1:392.
[ back ] 40. Behr 2011:88–100; and Wessel 2004:278.
[ back ] 41. Theodore is sometimes referred to as the “founder” of the so-called “School of Antioch.” This “school” is marked by a historical and grammatical approach to scripture and by displeasure with allegorical interpretation. As long as we understand by “school” a general approach to interpretation and keep in check overwrought ideas of a radical disjunction between Antioch and Alexandria on this score, the use of the term is acceptable. We must also note that the set of ideas associated with this school are really attributable to Diodore rather than Theodore. See Hill 2004:17–24; and Viciano 1996:370–405.
[ back ] 42. ʿAbdišōʿ Catalog 30–35; and Chronicle of Siirt; see also, Zaharopoulos 1989:33–36.
[ back ] 43. For more on Theodore’s Old Testament writings, see Zaharopoulos 1989:27–43.
[ back ] 44. See the bibliography for a list of editions and translations of Theodore’s writings.
[ back ] 45. McLeod 2009:19.
[ back ] 46. Against the Allegorists frags. 3–4; translation in McLeod 2009:75–79.
[ back ] 47. McLeod 2009:19.
[ back ] 48. Bultmann 1984; Devreesse 1948:53–93; Greer 1961; Kihn 1880; Hill 2005; Thome 2004; Dudley Tyng 1931:298–303; and Zaharopoulos 1989. For an assessment of this work and additional scholarship on Antiochene exegesis, see Nassif 1996:343–377.
[ back ] 49. Young 2003:334–354; and Young 1989:182–199; see also Viciano 1996:370–405.
[ back ] 50. Quintilian, although writing in Latin, is very much a representative of the Hellenic tradition of rhetorical education. His Institutio Oratoria offers some of the best descriptions of rhetorical education, especially in its early stages. Cribiore 1996 is an invaluable resource for school exercises and a very helpful discussion of the contexts in which they were produced. On the educational and social role of educators, see Kaster 1988.
[ back ] 51. Quintilian Institutio Oratoria 1.8; Cribiore 2001:189–190.
[ back ] 52. Quintilian Institutio Oratoria 1.9.1; Marrou 1982:275; Young 1989:186.
[ back ] 53. Marrou 1982:280.
[ back ] 54. Young 2003:339.
[ back ] 55. Grafton and Williams 2006.
[ back ] 56. Wallace-Hadrill 1982:35.
[ back ] 57. Theodore of Mopsuestia Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians 4.24.
[ back ] 58. On the use of allegory in philosophical interpretation, see Lamberton 1986:1–43; and Dawson 1992:23–72.
[ back ] 59. Behr 2011:66–82.
[ back ] 60. Hoffman 2004:75, 79.
[ back ] 61. Theodore of Mopsuestia On the Incarnation.
[ back ] 62. On this topic, Theodore also wrote Against Eunomius, of which only two small fragments remain.
[ back ] 63. Behr 2011:9–11.
[ back ] 64. McLeod 2009:35.
[ back ] 65. On the Incarnation 15: “Animam autem si non recepisset, sed deitas est quae euicerat, nullatenus eorum quae facta sunt ad nos respicit lucrum—quae enim ad conversationis perfectionem similtudo deitatis et animae humanae?—et viderentur Domini certamina non ad nos respiciens habere lucrum, sed ostentationis cuisdam gratia fuisse.”
[ back ] 66. On the Incarnation 7; PG 66:976–977; McLeod 2005; and Norris 1963.
[ back ] 67. On the Incarnation 7; PG 66:977.
[ back ] 68. McLeod 2009:48.
[ back ] 69. Mcleod 2009:49.
[ back ] 70. On the Incarnation 7, 8.
[ back ] 71. Against Apollinaris 3: ἀλλ’ οὐχ ἡ θεία φύσις ἐκ παρθένου γεγέννηται, γεγέννηται δὲ ἐκ τῆς παρθένου ὁ ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας τῆς παρθένου συστάς· οὐκ ὁ θεὸς λόγος ἐκ τῆς Μαρίας γεγέννηται.
[ back ] 72. Socrates Church History 7.32; Cyril of Alexandria Letter 2.
[ back ] 73. Behr 2011:88–100.
[ back ] 74. ʿAbdišōʿ Catalog; Chronicle of Siirt. See also Becker 2006:112–125; and McLeod 2007:18–38.
[ back ] 75. Becker 2006b. There was considerable disagreement with the condemnation of Theodore among bishops in the west. Particularly problematic was the fact that Theodore’s two-nature theology looked enough like Chalcedon that they believed an anathema against Theodore was an anathema against Chalcedon. Furthermore, Theodore had died at peace with the church and in some quarters it was seen as deeply problematic to condemn someone who had died in such a position. However, detailed knowledge of Theodore in the west was by no means widespread, and Justinian’s inability to exert his influence over the entire Christian west actually made little difference for the preservation of Theodore’s Greek writings. What texts of Theodore could be found in the west were circulating in Latin translation; his commentary on the so-called Minor Pauline Epistles even circulated throughout the Middle Ages under the name of Ambrose of Milan; see Swete 1880, 1:ix–xvi.
[ back ] 76. On Justinian’s religious policy, see Menze 2008 and Price 2009:8–42.
[ back ] 77. The only complete work extant in Greek is Theodore’s commentary on the Minor Prophets.
[ back ] 78. Richard 46:55–75; and Devreesse 1930:362–377.
[ back ] 79. Sullivan 1956:35–158.
[ back ] 80. For a synopsis of the earliest scholarship, see Norris 1963:246–262. For discussions of the more recent scholarship, see Clayton 2007:53–74; Behr 2011:28–34; and McLeod 2009:8–16. On the theologically invested nature of much of this literature, see Bruns 1995:5–15.
[ back ] 81. The Catechetical Homilies have also been the focus of this scholarly interest; many of the scholars cited in the note above have used the Catechetical Homilies as a source. Furthermore, two recent studies focused on these sermons take considerable motivation from questions of Christology and Theodore’s condemnation: Bruns 1995 and Gerber 2000.
[ back ] 82. ʿAbdišōʿ Catalog 34–35.
[ back ] 83. Mayer 2001:58–70; Mayer and Allen 2000:345–397; Greer 2007:567–584; Allen 1999:387–400; and Bailey 2010.