The Dynamic Reception of Theodore of Mopsuestia in the Sixth Century: Greek, Syriac, and Latin

Adam H. Becker, New York Univesity

The dynamism of Greek literature in late antiquity is evident in its broad and at times rapid dissemination into Latin and the multiple new literary languages that came into being concomitant with, and often under the influence of, Christianization. [1] Late antiquity saw the birth of new literacies and new forms of Paideia throughout the Mediterranean world and well beyond, as far north as Northumbria and Ireland, south into Ethiopia, and eastwards into the Sasanian Empire and Central Asia. This movement of texts and ideas out from the Greek center created new paths for the transmission of knowledge, paths that could at times circuit back, allowing for the periphery to flow into the center in richly generative and new ways. One such instance of these movements out of and back into the dominant Greek culture of the day can be seen in the translation of the work of Theodore of Mopsuestia (d. 428) into Syriac and the subsequent influence that the Syriac version of Theodore’s thought had on the West, both Greek and Latin. At the same time that Theodore’s works and person were condemned at the fifth ecumenical council of 553, they were emulated by writers in Latin, Greek, and Syriac; this ‘Theodorism’ illustrates how wide open the intellectual oikoumene was in the sixth century, with intellectuals visiting Constantinople and Alexandria from the far west and east.

In this chapter I would like to examine Theodore’s influence on Christian intellectual culture in Constantinople, Alexandria, and the Latin West via the transmission of his thought through the School of Nisibis, the East-Syrian (Syriac ‘Nestorian’) intellectual center located just across the Roman border in the Sasanian Empire. Theodore, who was a pupil of the famous rhetor Libanius and of the Christian exegete Diodore of Tarsus, as well as an associate of John Chrysostom, was extremely productive although most of his works do not come down to us in the original Greek. His Antiochene theology, which emphasized the duality of Christ’s nature, made him a controversial figure long after his death. Junillus Africanus, a figure in the emperor Justinian’s court, played an important role in the transmission to the Latin West of Theodore’s thought as mediated through the School of Nisibis. I will address the question of Junillus’s dependence on Theodore and attempt to resolve it by suggesting that Junillus relied on the particular version of Theodore’s thought which was emanating from the School of Nisibis in the sixth century. [2] This East-Syrian ‘Theodorism’ affected Junillus as it also did the Alexandrian Greek author of the Christian Topography, known by scholars as Cosmas Indicopleustes, whom I will also address below.

Junillus Africanus served as Quaestor Sacri Palatii in the court of Justinian I (527–565 CE) in the 540s, soon after the compilation of Justinian’s Corpus Iuris Civilis. Junillus composed and dedicated to Primasius of Hadrumentum the Instituta Regularia Divinae Legis, a manual in Latin concerning biblical exegesis in question-and-answer format, which would become a popular text in the Medieval West. [3] The implications of the chief legal figure of the later Roman Empire having left us a prolegomenon to the study of scripture have until now not been fully addressed. This desideratum in the scholarship has been admirably fulfilled by Michael Maas’s Exegesis and Empire in the Early Byzantine Mediterranean: Junillus Africanus and the Instituta Regularia Divinae Legis (2003). [4] In this volume Maas argues that the common scholarly position regarding Junillus’s dependence on Theodore of Mopsuestia is inaccurate. Rather, the Instituta should be set within the context of Justinian’s attempts at renovatio and the development of neo-Chalcedonian orthodoxy, in particular at the time of the controversy surrounding the Three Chapters (543–553 CE). Maas further asserts that Junillus’s legal training and position within Justinian’s court, as well as his close connections with Byzantine North Africa, should serve as the main interpretive lens for understanding his composition.

Maas’s book is important because it provides a serious attempt at contextualizing Junillus and his project and will certainly renew the scholarly discussion of a text that is referred to more often than it is studied. [5] However, Maas’s book requires more nuance in its discussion of Junillus’s dependence on Theodore. In his attempt to give new life to the study of Junillus and to displace the earlier, dominant model of reading him, Maas has downplayed Junillus’s dependence on Theodore too much: even if the biblical exegesis of Theodore of Mopsuestia is no longer to be the key to understanding the Instituta, I maintain that Theodore’s thought remains central to this text and this connection must not be lost.

The modern study of Junillus and his work began with Heinrich Kihn’s study and edition of the Latin text of the Instituta published in 1880. [6] As Maas points out, it was Kihn who first identified Junillus as Justinian’s Quaestor; up until that point the common opinion, deriving from the Middle Ages, was that Junillus was a bishop in Africa. [7] The connections that Kihn drew between Theodore and Junillus have been followed by the majority of scholars, although at times with some qualification. [8] Junillus of course nowhere states his dependence on Theodore. However, such an acknowledgment would be surprising coming from an official at a court that was busy condemning Theodore posthumously—contrary to traditional practice—in order to please miaphysite (‘Monophysite’) Christians who rejected the Chalcedonian position.

The explicit clue to Junillus’s dependence on Theodore is his statement in the dedicatory letter appended to the front of the Instituta. Junillus tells Primasius, for whom the work is ostensibly written, that it is based on the Rules (regulae) of Paul the Persian, ‘who was educated at the Syrian School in the city of Nisibis, where the Divine Law is taught in a disciplined and orderly fashion by public teachers in the same way that in a secular education grammar and rhetoric are taught in our cities.’ [9] It has been accepted that this same Paul appeared as an interlocutor with a Manichaean by the name of Photinus at Justinian’s court in 527. [10] It is then that Junillus may have met Paul and received his book of rules. [11] Theodore of Mopsuestia is introduced into the calculus in as much as the School of Nisibis is often understood to be a thoroughly Theodoran institution. Thus, the working assumption has been that Junillus’s dependence on a member of the School of Nisibis implies an ultimate dependence on Theodore. The simplistic nature of this equation, which I will not wholly reject, will be addressed below.

Kihn devoted a large portion of his study to delineating numerous areas where he found overlaps between Junillus’s text and the thought of Theodore. He suggested that there are formal connections between Junillus and Theodore; for example, that they share the same biblical canon [12] and the same approach to scripture, [13] and, more significantly, that they agree on—to use Kihn’s chapter titles to summarize— their ‘teaching on the Trinity and Christology,’ ‘the Two Katastaseis (or Conditions of the World),’ ‘Creation and the Governing of the World,’ ‘Anthropology and Pelagianism,’ and ‘Callings, Types and Foretellings.’ [14] In contrast, Robert Devreesse, in his influential 1948 study of Theodore, rejected Kihn’s presentation of Junillus as a thinker heavily indebted to Theodore of Mopsuestia. [15] Devreesse’s position has served as the opposite pole to Kihn’s regarding the relationship between Junillus and Theodore and is wholly accepted by Maas.

According to Maas, ‘Devreesse demonstrated not only that Junillus was not completely dependent upon Theodore of Mopsuestia, but that he shared neither canon nor doctrine with the fifth-century theologian.’ [16] However, at this point Maas, following Devreesse, notes that influence from Theodore can in fact be seen in Junillus’s ‘treatment of Psalms with messianic prefiguring.’ [17] Contra Maas, Devreesse hardly ‘demonstrated’ a looser connection between Theodore and Junillus; he only suggested it in his brief treatment of Junillus (pp. 273–274). Maas qualifies this claim when he states in a footnote that Devreesse ‘did not deny the connection to the School of Nisibis, but argued that Junillus had only a general relation to Theodore, except in his treatment of messianic Psalms.’ [18] In the midst of a discussion of Theodore of Mopsuestia’s influence on the Church of the East, Devreesse mentions the connection between Paul the Persian and Junillus’s Instituta Regularia:

Quant aux Instituta Regularia de Junillus, je dois faire l’aveu qu’après les avoir lus et relus—une bien mince section peut-être mise à part, qui regarde les psaumes ‘messianiques’— je n’y découvre rien qu’on doive rattacher spécifiquement à Théodore. [19]

He continues in a new paragraph:

Je ne me dissimule pas que cette phrase, dont je pèse tous les mots, étonnera plus d’un lecteur. Car depuis 1880, tous les patrologues repètent après Kihn que le ‘compendium’ de Junillus est l’exacte expression du système scriptuaire et théologique de Théodore en même temps que l’exposé didactique des principales thèses défendues par les maîtres de Nisibe. [20]

Devreesse goes on to praise Kihn’s work, but then raises an apparent contradiction. In another work, Kihn had confirmed the orthodoxy of Junillus’s text and Devreesse asks how it is possible to say that Junillus was both orthodox and dependent on Theodore for his theology considering the fact that Theodore was a heretic. [21] Devreesse then goes on to suggest that Junillus’s relationship to Theodore is far less concrete.

Il serait plus sage de conclure, si l’on veut absolument conclure, que les Instituta représentent tout simplement une partie ou un courant de l’enseignement des maîtres de Nisibe. [22]

As will become apparent below, I agree with Devreesse regarding the looser connection between Junillus and Theodore. However, his theological critique, the stricter doctrinal analysis that he presents, is misleading. A similar problem exists in Maas’s argument, which seems to take the extreme position drawn from Devreesse’s more nuanced statements.

In his attempt to broaden the Western (i.e. Constantinopolitan and North African) context in which to study Junillus, Maas relies on scholarly positions (Kihn vs. Devreesse) that are, I would suggest, both obsolete. Kihn and Devreesse, despite the great learning of their respective volumes, were engaged in dogmatic history not wholly disembedded from the contemporary theological concerns of their day. My point is important and perhaps obvious: questions of intellectual history may sometimes be resolved by thoroughly disengaging them from the preceding theological disputes which served as their original framework. For example, in his study of the ancient traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition and Assumption, Stephen J. Shoemaker argues that much of the confusion in the scholarship on these traditions derives from an interest in bolstering and subverting respective theological positions that arose around the Catholic Church’s 1950 dogma regarding the Assumption of Mary. [23] Likewise, the scholarship on Theodore of Mopsuestia has at times been guided by contemporary theological concerns in ways that can often be misleading. This is because Theodore, a contested figure in antiquity, has remained so in some modern scholarship.

Interest in his works has often been tied to theological projects. For example, the modern coinage of ‘typology’ is often associated with him, and his supposedly more literal reading of scripture has enticed some Protestant theologians. [24] An ‘historical’ or ‘literal’ approach to scripture as well as an adoptionist misunderstanding of ‘Nestorian’ Christology has made Antiochene thinkers such as Theodore more palatable to contemporary Protestants. [25] Theodore’s supposed ‘anti-platonism’ has also piqued Protestant interest. [26] Even some recent studies maintain a subtle theological framework in their approach to his work. [27] Modern theological concerns provide a useful impetus for studying ancient authors, but can result in burdening research with questions and even value judgments that distort our perception of the author’s thought. For Devreesse Theodore is a heretic foremost because of Catholic dogma, but he then employs this anachronistic theological position in his discussion of the relationship between Junillus and Theodore.

Furthermore, Devreesse’s point about the contradiction in Kihn’s acceptance of Junillus’s orthodoxy suggests a perspective that reflects the unified, rationalized view that doctrine (and of course adherents of the notion of ‘doctrine’) depicts itself as having but which may not in fact have existed among the reading public of late antiquity. In other words, systematic thinking imagines itself as systematic and then relies on presuppositions of systemicity as forms of proof. However, exceptions to this are easy to find. Take for example the relationship between Jerome and Origen. No one would deny Origen’s immense influence on Jerome, yet Jerome is certainly an acceptable figure in Catholic doctrine while Origen was condemned at the same ecumenical council that condemned Theodore. Arguments against Junillus’s (excessive) dependence on Theodore should not be employed within a model of demonstration that derives more from the realm of theology than intellectual history. Such criticisms would only be accurate if thinkers were as consistent as theologians would like them to be.

The reasons that have been put forward for distinguishing Junillus’s thought from that of Theodore need to be addressed head-on. As stated above, the one explicit link between Junillus and the School of Nisibis (and therefore Theodore of Mopsuestia) is Junillus’s statement of dependence on Paul the Persian in the preface to the Instituta. The question has been raised as to whether we should take Junillus’s statement at its word. [28] However, demonstrating that the Instituta is not a translation of Paul does not prove much, especially since Junillus specifically states that he is relying on Paul but recasting whatever original text he purports to have access to. To be sure, Junillus engages in the usual modicum of prefatial humility at the beginning of the Instituta, but there is little reason to take his statement as completely literary and to understand this literariness as somehow decisive for answering the question of whether Junillus depends on Paul or not. [29] If Junillus did not mean his statement literally, why mention Paul at all, especially since he was a ‘Nestorian’? It is true that Paul, if he is the same figure, may have ingratiated himself with the emperor in his public disputation with Photinus the Manichaean, but nonetheless it may still have been dangerous to ally oneself with an alumnus of the famous ‘Nestorian’ School of Nisibis, especially since the church to which it belonged was presently accommodating itself to the Persian Empire [30] and at a time when its predecessor, the School of the Persians in Edessa, was regularly maligned in West-Syrian (i.e. Syriac miaphysite) sources. [31] The ‘Nestorianism’ of the School of the Persians in Edessa was known even in Constantinople. [32] If one accepts Kihn’s position that Junillus was heavily dependent on Theodore’s thought, then one might argue that one way Junillus could cite his sources without endangering himself or putting a blemish on his work was to refer back to Paul the Persian. However, hiding behind Paul the Persian, a ‘Nestorian’, in order to avoid connections to Theodore of Mopsuestia would seem rather foolish. In contrast, we might posit that the fame of the School was not so great at this time in Constantinople and that therefore its ‘Nestorianism’ was little known.

There are certainly problems with a simple acceptance of Junillus’s statement about Paul the Persian’s ‘Rules’. In what language would this have been composed? No doubt the appellation ‘Persian’ refers to the empire of Paul’s origin and does not suggest anything about his ethnicity. [33] The Regulae would have been composed in Greek one assumes, since Junillus certainly did not know Syriac and Paul would have debated in Constantinople in Greek. [34] There is other evidence of East Syrians going west and learning Greek on the way, but interestingly enough there is little evidence of a decent knowledge of Greek at the School of Nisibis. [35] It is difficult to draw definite conclusions about Junillus’s statement about Paul the Persian; however, it certainly need not be discounted as an affectation of an age that shied away from self-presentations of originality. Furthermore, the genre in which Junillus composes does not help us resolve the issue regarding his relationship to Paul. The question-and-answer format was not yet attested in Syriac by Junillus’s day [36] and he specifically states that he is rendering Paul’s text into a question-and-answer format. [37] The use of questions and answers was clearly his own addition to the material. [38]

Another argument against Junillus’s dependence on the thought of Theodore of Mopsuestia is based upon what Maas finds to be a streak of neo-Chalcedonianism in Junillus’s work. [39] If Junillus shows a theological tendency associated with Justinian and the condemnation of the Three Chapters, the argument goes, then it is unlikely that he would be relying on Theodore. Furthermore, this helps to tie Junillus more closely to Justinian. [40] Even if neo-Chalcedonian characteristics would be enough to distinguish Junillus from Theodore—and I do not think they would—I disagree that this is what we find here. Junillus does not demonstrate the kind of compromise between a Cyrilline and a Chalcedonian perspective that is associated with Neo-Chalcedonianism. Certain phrases in the few Christological passages in the Instituta would suggest an adherence to Chalcedon. For example, the ‘distinct characteristics’ (inconfusas proprietatesinconfuse) of the divine and human natures is reminiscent of the Chalcedonian definition and its usage of the adverb ‘distinctly’ (). [41] Such phrasing was reiterated in 553. [42] However, theopaschite language typical of Justinian’s attempt to please the Miaphysite party does not appear in Junillus’s text. [43] The ‘assumption of the flesh’ (carnis assumptio), contrary to Maas’s interpretation, does not reflect ‘the Cyrilline notion accepted by neo-Chalcedonians that the Word actually became flesh’. [44] In fact, those who wanted to emphasize the unity of the divine and human natures in the incarnation, such as Miaphysites and Neo-Chalcedonians, would perhaps have been wary of such a usage.

In general, Maas’s evidence of neo-Chalcedonianism is flimsy, while his characterization of both the ‘Nestorian’ (non-Chalcedonian Dyophysite) and the ‘Monophysite’ (Miaphsyite) positions simplifies non-Chalcedonian theology. [45] It is also worth noting that the same passage that Maas identifies as ‘Neo-Chalcedonian’ Kihn sees as reflecting Theodore’s Christology. [46] One could certainly find a dyophysite emphasis in Junillus’s discussion of the two natures of Christ in this passage. [47]

Rather than being a strong voice for neo-Chalcedonianism, one might argue that Junillus is walking a fine line between a Chalcedonian position and the more questionable versions of dyophysitism. We might understand his ambiguous position lying between the moderate and the questionable as equivalent to those earlier quietist positions on the other end of the theological divide, such as those of the Henoticon of 482, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, and Jacob of Sarug, all of which strayed between miaphysite and Chalcedonian. The last of these three may provide a model of what I am suggesting here: Jacob both condemned Theodore and also relied upon his exegesis (see below). Junillus would not have sung the praises of Theodore in Justinian’s court but this does not in the least disprove that he relied on his ideas.

Although he understands Junillus as a Neo-Chalcedonian and wants to unlink Junillus from Theodore of Mopsuestia, Maas several times confirms a general Antiochene background to Junillus’s work. He makes the suggestion that ‘perhaps he [Junillus] intended to show western clergymen that aspects of the Antiochene tradition were entirely compatible with Chalcedonian Christianity.’ [48] According to Maas, ‘the Instituta presents a more “literalist” Antiochene approach to the Bible.’ [49] Certainly it is correct to emphasize that an Antiochene position does not necessarily include that of Theodore of Mopsuestia. For example, Junillus’s canon conforms to ‘what was a fairly standard Antiochian New Testament canon of the fifth and sixth centuries rather than one that was unique to Theodore’. [50] Furthermore, even if Junillus’s dependence on the School of Nisibis is accepted, we need bear in mind that the School of Nisibis was not necessarily Theodoran. Scholarship has recently shown the School of Nisibis was not merely reiterating the positions of Theodore of Mopsuestia. [51] Theodore was not the sole intellectual authority in the School of Nisibis and the Church of the East, which with regard to the ‘Exegete’ seemed to talk the talk but failed to walk the walk. However, Maas argues his position mainly by showing that there was an anti-Theodore position at the School even in its heyday in the late sixth century. [52] Things are more complex than this. This argument also limits the question of Theodore’s influence mainly to exegetical questions. [53] This is especially inappropriate since this was not how Kihn framed the issue in the first place.

I would suggest that many of the arguments for detaching the Instituta from the thought of Theodore of Mopsuestia are too tight, too specific. Singular inconsistencies between Junillus and Theodore do not disprove Theodore’s influence; rather, they mean that we need to qualify our usage of the word ‘influence’ and posit a more subtle connection between the two authors. Some of the arguments, such as the difference in canon, could be used to argue that the School of Nisibis itself was not influenced by Theodore, which would be wrong.

One way to resolve the various inconsistencies between those who find the influence of Theodore of Mopsuestia on Junillus and those who reject this and find it only in his ‘treatment of Psalms with messianic prefiguring’ [54] is to distinguish between the thought of Theodore of Mopsuestia and what we might call the ‘Theodorism’ of the sixth century. Junillus was thoroughly influenced by the thought of Theodore of Mopsuestia as it was mediated through the School of Nisibis and more generally through the apparently popular ‘Theodorism’ of his day. To be sure, in a sense the issue of an author’s influence on another should always raise hermeneutical questions about how posterity (mis)reads the books of the dead (and the living). Perhaps more radical discontinuities always exist between thinkers than is normally considered in dogmatic history and the realms of influence are broader than those of the strictly doctrinal or exegetical. But my point here is a less theoretical one.

In the sixth century in different places church writers of different theological positions adhered to an outlook that derived at least in part from the writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia. Some time ago Wanda Wolska posited a progressive vulgarization of Theodore of Mopsuestia’s thought in the sixth century. [55] Wolska was referring to the influence of the School of Nisibis, via Mar Aba, Catholicos of the Church of the East in the mid sixth century, on Cosmas Indicopleustes in Alexandria. At approximately the same time as Junillus met in Constantinople with Paul the Persian, a member of the School of Nisibis, Cosmas Indicopleustes, the author of the Christian Topography, was learning in Alexandria from Mar Aba (d. 552), also a member of the School and the future Catholicos of the Church of the East. Cosmas’s Christian Topography, a hybrid Greek text combining geography, cosmology and, for lack of a better term, Christian science, maintains numerous ideas deriving originally from Theodore’s writings. [56] By the late fifth and early sixth centuries the mark of Theodore’s exegesis of Genesis 1 is easily identifiable in the Syriac homilies (memre) on creation written by the East Syrian Narsai, head of the School of Nisibis from its foundation in 489 until his death (c. 500), [57] and the West-Syrian Jacob of Sarug (d. c. 520). Jacob is an interesting example because although he is a West Syrian who condemns the Antiochene writers such as Diodore of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia [58] he nonetheless shows evidence of reading Theodore in his homilies. [59]

Theodore’s impact on the thought of the Church of the East need not be disputed, even if we now need to qualify claims about East-Syrian dependence on him. [60] This is not the place to go into the complex issue of the East-Syrian use of Theodore’s thought. [61] However, it is important to note that it seems the East Syrians proclaimed Theodore as the exegetical authority and standard more than they actually followed him. Perhaps we need to distinguish between an emic and an etic reliance on Theodore. While the East Syrians presented themselves as followers of Theodore and yet maintained positions and exegesis that are not Theodoran, certain thinkers who denied their dependence on Theodore (i.e. Jacob of Sarug) or most certainly would if asked (i.e. Junillus), were engaged with his thought.

A closer comparison of Junillus and Cosmas would shed light on Junillus’ dependence on the East. [62] In Cosmas, we find a figure who, like Junillus, seems to have had a significant engagement with an alumnus of the School of Nisibis when the latter visited the west and then went on to compose a text in which he fully acknowledges his debt to this East Syrian. [63] A commonplace feature of East-Syrian thought, which can be found in Cosmas’s Christian Topography as well as in the Instituta, is what I have referred to elsewhere as the ‘pedagogical model’, that is, a tendency to employ metaphors from the sphere of learning to discuss the creator and his relationship with the creation, in particular with rational beings such as angels and human beings. [64] For Theodore, there are two worlds, the present and the future one. We have been set in this world, bounded by mortality, so that we may be trained in the virtues. God has endowed us with free will so that we can choose either good or bad. The training of the virtues comes about through the use of our reasoning faculty which negotiates the desires and needs associated with mortality on the one hand and the commandments of the law on the other. For Theodore God instructs us in this world, which serves as an arena to test us for the world to come.

In a section on ‘What pertains to the Governance of the World’, Junillus answers the question ‘What is particular governance (gubernatio specialis)?' with the following response:

The one through which individual creatures, and especially the rational ones, are governed by God, just as was commanded regarding the Tree of Eden. For just as the power of God preserves all creation that it might endure, so too does it educate (erudit) rational beings at various opportune times in order that they may advance. [65]

This is not the only instance of the pedagogical model being employed in the Instituta. [66] Such a set of pedagogical metaphors derives ultimately from metaphors employed by Theodore in his exegesis of Genesis 1, and can be found also in Theodore’s broader notion of the two katastaseis, which also shows up in the Instituta. [67]

Regarding the notion of natural law that appears in the Instituta Maas makes an interesting suggestion by tying it to the legal concepts that were being developed in contemporary civil law. [68] I do not mean to suggest that Junillus’s conception of law derives solely from that of Theodore, but there are similarities between what we find in Junillus’s text and the surprisingly positive statements about law that appear occasionally in Theodore’s writings.

He gave us diverse laws as an aid and those modes of conduct which are according to the choice of the spirit, with the result that we do not choose the worse, but learning the good rather we run to the choice of it (i.e. the good). [69]

This positive usage of ‘law’ appears in the East-Syrian tradition in general. [70] Hypothetically I might suggest that if Junillus was such an important figure in Justinian’s court, then perhaps Maas is then inadvertently demonstrating Theodore’s distant influence on the Justinianic code. However, I see here a correlation rather than a genetic connection.

Related to the issue of Junillus’s dependence on Paul the Persian and the thought of the School of Nisibis is the question of his use of philosophical material. Several works on Junillus have laid out his dependence on a number of philosophical concepts, particularly those deriving from Aristotle. [71] For example, the questions typical of the Neoplatonic prolegomena to Aristotle’s works seem to be the source for part of Junillus’s presentation of his approach to scripture and they were also employed in the East-Syrian texts from the time of Mar Aba onwards. Some scholars have held that the Aristotelian material that appears in the Instituta derives from the influence of Aristotle on the School of Antioch. [72] However, this view may be contested. The commonplace position that Antiochene exegesis employed Aristotelian logic and that it then found its way to the School of Nisibis via the School of the Persians in Edessa, the fifth-century predecessor of the School of Nisibis, is wrong. [73] This is not the place to engage with this rather long and convoluted issue, but the more likely explanation is that the philosophical material, and more specifically the use of Aristotelian logic, that we find in texts associated with the Church of the East bears the traces of the influx of a Neoplatonic version of Aristotle into the Syriac milieu from the late fifth and especially the early sixth centuries onwards. [74] Certainly the philosophical usage we find in the Instituta could be found in other contemporary Constantinopolitan and Greek texts, but this is irrelevant. [75] It is already clear that the Instituta relies on material with a Nisibene provenance. Therefore it is more likely that this philosophical material also derives from Paul the Persian and the East, even if it coincides with similar philosophical material in the contemporary West. [76] In fact the philosophical material in the Instituta ultimately demonstrates Junillus’s participation in sixth-century Theodorism.

It seems that one characteristic of how Theodore’s thought was received in the sixth century and onwards was its intermingling with a number of philosophical ideas. For example, the Instituta’s combination of philosophical terminology with notions found in Theodore’s exegesis of Genesis 1 is reminiscent of the description of the creation in Barḥadbešabba’s Cause of the Foundation of the Schools, a late-sixth century text from the School of Nisibis, which describes the history of the world as a series of schools. [77] This kind of interpolation of Theodore’s exegesis of Genesis with numerous philosophical concepts would continue in the later East-Syrian exegetical tradition, for example, in the eighth-century Scholion of Theodore Bar Koni. [78] Not only should the Instituta be read against these texts, but if we accept Junillus’s claims about Paul the Persian, then Junillus’s text offers an early attestation of this East-Syrian exegetical practice. [79]

At the same time that a Nisibene version of Theodore’s thought was being disseminated throughout the Church of the East, culminating in formal statements confirming his authority in the late sixth and early seventh centuries, an interest in his ideas was being propagated in the West by members of the School. The Latin translation of Theodore’s commentary on the minor Pauline Epistles has an apparent African provenance and the translator seems to have had some kind of legal background. [80] The translation has been further localized to the fifth-century circle of Primasius of Hadrumentum, who, as mentioned above, was the dedicatee of the Instituta. [81] The reception of Junillus’s Instituta in the Latin West as well as the transmission of anonymous Latin translations of Theodore’s works suggest that there was a whole network of adherents to Theodore’s thought in the early medieval West. The most famous of the early readers of the Instituta was Cassiodorus (d. 585), who would exert an ongoing influence on learning in the Middle Ages. [82] An affinity for Theodore’s ideas continued for some time. The commentary on the Pauline Epistles would be read for centuries to come. It was employed, for example, by the learned Carolingian abbot and bishop Hrabanus Maurus (d. 856). [83] One copy in Merovingian miniscule from the Corbie region in France, dated to c. 750–c. 800, was still being used in the twelfth century as the running titles that have been added would suggest. [84]

Junillus’s Instituta, along with the Christian Topography, are fine examples of how the work of a Greek author could be translated into another language and then come back full circle and influence Greek and Latin literary culture. Theodore was a contested figure whose influence could be felt across a wider span of the theological spectrum than many at the time would have liked to admit. Did Junillus actually read Theodore? Perhaps not. But, if I may introduce a modern, perhaps anachronistic analogy, how many in our own culture speak of the ‘unconscious’, the ‘id’, and the ‘superego’ and have never cracked open a single book of Sigmund Freud?

Since the work of Antoine Guillaumont on the Origenism of late antiquity it has been commonly recognized that when we speak of Origenism we often mean Origen’s thought as mediated by later thinkers, such as Evagrius of Pontus. [85] The equivalent study for Theodore of Mopsuestia, one that addresses how this influential thinker was received in the Greek, Latin, Syriac, and Armenian churches, has yet to be written. Theodore’s thought as mediated through the School of Nisibis and from Syriac into Latin and Greek is one of the few instances of Syriac influence on Greek (and Latin!) letters and learning, such as the seventh-century monastic writer, Isaac of Nineveh, an author who was heavily influenced by the Greek monastic writer Evagrius of Pontus, but whose works benefited from the open translinguistic Christian literary oikoumene and thus came back and affected Greek monastic spirituality.


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———. The Fear of God and the Beginning of Wisdom: The School of Nisibis and Christian Scholastic Culture in Late Antique Mesopotamia (Philadelphia: 2006). Bedjan, Paul. Histoire de Mar-Jabalaha et trois autres Patriarches (Paris and Leipzig: 1895).

———. Homiliae selectae Mar-Jacobi Sarugensis (5 vols, Paris and Leipzig: 1905–1910).

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Brooks, E.W. John of Ephesus: Lives of the Eastern Saints, Patrologia Orientalis, vols 17: 1–307; 18: 511–698; 19: 152–285 (Paris: 1923–1926).

Bruns, Peter. ‘Bemerkungen zur biblischen Isagogik des Junilius Africanus’, Studia Ephemeridis Augustinianum 68 (2000): 401–403.

Bultmann, Rudolf. Die Exegese des Theodor von Mopsuestia (Marburg: 1912; repr. Stuttgart: 1984).

———. ‘Ursprung und Sinn der Typologie als hermeutische Methode’, Theologische Literaturzeitung 75 (1950): 205–212.

Devreesse, Robert. Essai sur Théodore de Mopsueste, Studi e Testi 141 (Vatican City: 1948).

Fiey, J.-M. ‘Les étapes de la prise de conscience de son identité patriarcale par l’Église syrienne orientale’, OS 12 (1967): 3–22.

Gignoux, P. Narsai, Homélies sur la Création. Patrologia Orientalis 34.3–4 (Turnhout: 1968).

Greer, R. Theodore of Mopsuestia: Exegete and Theologian (London: 1961).

Griffith, S.H. ‘Theodore Bar Koni’s Scholia: A Nestorian Summa Contra Gentiles from the First Abbasid Century’, in N.G. Garsoïan, T.F. Mathews, and R.W. Thompson (eds), East of Byzantium: Syria and Armenia in the Formative Period (Washington, D.C.: 1982), 53–72.

Guillaumont, Antoine. Les ‘kephalaia gnostica’ d’Evagre le Pontique et l’histoire de l’origénisme chez les grecs et chez les syriens, Patristica Sorbonensia 5 (Paris: 1962).

Gutas, Dimitri. ‘Paul the Persian on the Classification of the Parts of Aristotle’s Philosophy: A Milestone between Alexandria and Baghdad’, Der Islam 60 (1983): 231–268.

Halporn, James W. Cassiodorus: Institutions of Divine and Secular Learning and On the Soul (Liverpool: 2004).

Hanson, G.C. Theodore Anagnostes: Kirchengeschichte, GCS 54 (Berlin: 1971).

Hunter, E. ‘The Transmission of Greek Philosophy via the “School of Edessa”’, in Catherine Holmes and Judith Waring (eds), Literacy, Education and Manuscript Transmission in Byzantium and Beyond (Leiden and Boston: 2002), 225–239.

Jansma, T. ‘L’Hexaméron de Jacques de Saroug’, L’Orient Syrien 4 (1959): 3–42, 129– 162, 253–284.

Kihn, Heinrich. Theodor von Mopsuestia und Junilius Africanus als Exegeten. Nebst einer kritischen Textausgabe von des letzteren Instituta regularia divinae legis (Freiburg im Breisgau: 1880).

Kominko, Maja. ‘The World of Cosmas. East-Syrian and Alexandrian Sources of the Christian Topography’, in D. Taylor and A. Lahdo (eds), Symposium Aramaic—The Language of Jesus, a Symposium held 27 September–3 October 2004, Istanbul/Tur Abdin (Uppsala: forthcoming).

Maas, Michael. ‘Junillus Africanus’ Instituta Regularia Divinae Legis in its Justinianic Context’, in P. Allen and E. Jeffreys (eds), The Sixth Century: End or Beginning?, Byzantina Australiensia 10 (Brisbane: 1996), 131–144.

———. Exegesis and Empire in the Early Byzantine Mediterranean: Junillus Africanus and the Instituta Regularia Divinae Legis, Studies and Texts in Antiquity and Christianity 17 (Tübingen: 2003).

Macina, Robert. ‘L’homme à l’école de Dieu. D’Antioche à Nisibe: Profil herméneutique, théologique et kérugmatique du mouvement scoliaste nestorien’, Proche-Orient chrétien 32 (1982): 87–124, 263–301; 33 (1983): 39–103.

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Morony, Michael. Iraq after the Muslim Conquest (Princeton: 1984).

Norris, R.A. Manhood and Christ: A Study in the Christology of Theodore of Mopsuestia (Oxford: 1963).

O’Keefe, J.J. ‘“A Letter that Killeth”: Toward a Reassessment of Antiochene Exegesis, or Diodore, Theodore, and Theodoret on the Psalms’, Journal of Early Christian Studies 8 (2000): 83–104.

Olinder, G. Iacobi Sarugensis Epistulae quotquot supersunt, CSCO 110 (Paris and Louvain: 1937).

Patterson, L. Theodore of Mopsuestia and Modern Thought (London: 1926).

Scher, A. Mar Barḥadbešabba ‘Arabaya: Cause de la fondation des écoles, Patrologia Orientalis 4:4 (Paris: 1908).

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Van Rompay, Lucas. ‘Quelques remarques sur la tradition syriaque de l’oeuvre exégétique de Théodore de Mopsueste’, in H.J.W. Drijvers, et al. (eds), IV Symposium Syriacum 1984: Literary Genres in Syriac Literature, Orientalia Christiana Analecta 229 (Rome: 1987), 33–43.

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Vööbus, Arthur. History of the School of Nisibis, CSCO 266 (Louvain: 1965). Wallace-Hadrill, D.S. Christian Antioch: A Study of Early Christian Thought in the East (Cambridge: 1982).

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[ back ] 1. This article is based on a shorter piece, ‘Junillus Africanus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and the “Theodorism” of the Sixth Century,’ delivered at the June 5, 2004 conference. I would like to thank the organizers and editors of the volume, as well as the Oxford Byzantine Society, which sponsored the event. I would also like to thank Edward T. Mathews, Jr. and Peter Brown for comments on an earlier version of this paper. As always, I thank Leyla B. Aker for her editorial comments.

[ back ] 2. On Theodore’s thought at the School of Nisibis, see Becker, 2006: chap. 6.

[ back ] 3. The work is summarized in several places: see Bienert, 1995. For a fuller summary, see Maas, 2003: 6–8. For the Nachleben of this text, see Bienert, 1995: 307–309.

[ back ] 4. In order to provide full disclosure, I should acknowledge that prior to its publication I read and commented on some of the portions in Maas’s book, which were composed by Edward T. Mathews, Jr. I thank him for sharing this material with me.

[ back ] 5. An earlier form of some of his arguments can be found in Maas, 1996: 131–144.

[ back ] 6. Kihn, 1880. For a summary of prior scholarship, see Kihn: 215–219.

[ back ] 7. Maas, 2003: 4.

[ back ] 8. See summary of scholars’ positions in Maas, 2003: 11 n. 20.

[ back ] 9. Translation from Maas, 2003: 118–121 (text: 118.22–120.3).

[ back ] 10. Maas, 2003: 17; the exact identity of this Paul is notoriously confused. For example, see Dimitri Gutas, 1983: 231– 268, esp. 238–239 n. 14, for a discussion of the several Pauls.

[ back ] 11. Kihn, 1880: 267.

[ back ] 12. Kihn, 1880: 344–382.

[ back ] 13. Kihn, 1880: 382–392.

[ back ] 14. Respectively chapters I , ‘Trinitätslehre und Christologie’ (pp. 393–409); II, ‘Die zwei Katastasen oder Weltzustände’ (pp. 410–417); III, ‘Schöpfung und Regierung der Welt’ (pp. 418–426); IV, ‘Anthropologie und pelagianischer Lehrbegriff’ (pp. 426–438); and V, ‘Berufungen, Typen und Vorhersagungen’ (pp. 438–464) of Part Three, Section Two. The last of this list I translated to match Maas’s renderings of Junillus’s vocationes, typi, and praedictiones.

[ back ] 15. 15 Robert Devreesse, 1948.

[ back ] 16. Maas, 2003: 15–16.

[ back ] 17. Maas, 2003: 16.

[ back ] 18. Maas, 2003: 11 n. 20.

[ back ] 19. Devreesse, 1948: 274.

[ back ] 20. Devreesse, 1948: 274.

[ back ] 21. Devreesse, 1948: 274..; for Kihn, see ‘Junilius’, in Heinrich Wetzer, 1847–1860: 2021.

[ back ] 22. Devreesse, 1948: 274.

[ back ] 23. Shoemaker, 2002.

[ back ] 24. Bultmann, 1912; Bultmann, 1950: 205–212.

[ back ] 25. E.g., Patterson, 1926.

[ back ] 26. Norris, 1963: 128–129. See also Greer, 1961.

[ back ] 27. See O’Keefe. In this otherwise intellectual historical essay, O’Keefe agrees with ancient critics of the Antiochene position who argued that it was weak because of its failure to make a strong enough linkage between the two testaments.

[ back ] 28. Maas, 2003: 19.

[ back ] 29. Text at Maas, 2003 : 122.2–12, translation, p. 123.

[ back ] 30. Morony, 1984: 334–335; on Church’s centralization under Seleucia-Ctesiphon, see Macomber, 1968: 179–200. Fiey, 1967: 3–22.

[ back ] 31. Letter of Simeon of Beit Arsham in. J.S. Assemani, 1719–1728: 353; Brooks, 1923–1926: 17:138–9 (1923). This is not to suggest that there was much originality to these accounts. John seems to be relying on Simeon as a source.

[ back ] 32. Anagnostes, 1971: 122, 155.

[ back ] 33. Bienert, 1995: 316; note the contrast in the introduction to the Instituta between Greeks and Persians, text at Maas, 2003: 118.18.22, translation p. 119.

[ back ] 34. Bienert, 1995: 312

[ back ] 35. Mar Aba, the future Catholicos of the Church of the East, went to Edessa, learned Greek, and then traveled through the eastern Roman Empire. See his Life in Bedjan 1895: 206–287.

[ back ] 36. Maas, 2003: 20–25.

[ back ] 37. Maas, 2003: 120.13-16, translation 121: ‘I cast them in the helpful form of actual dialogue in order that students might read them aloud, briefly, one by one, and with the utmost clarity, with the students asking questions and the teacher answering.’

[ back ] 38. For further discussion of the question-and-answer format of the Instituta, see Mannino, 1991: 405–419. In general, see articles in Volgers, 2004.

[ back ] 39. Maas, 2003: 65–66; e.g. at text pp. 152.6–154.13, translation pp. 153– 155.

[ back ] 40. Maas, 2003: 65–66.

[ back ] 41. Maas, 2003: 152.24. Cf. ‘in duabus naturis inconfuse, immutabiliter, indivise, inseparabiliter agnoscendum, nusquam sublata differentia naturarum propter unitionem magisque salva proprietate utriusque naturae et in unam personam atque subsistentiam concurrente’, Tanner, 1990: 86.

[ back ] 42. Tanner, 1990: 115, 117–118.

[ back ] 43. E.g., Anathema 3, Tanner, 1990: 114.

[ back ] 44. Maas, 2003: 66.

[ back ] 45. ‘There is no suggestion that Christ’s humanity was ever separate. The biblical texts cited by Junillus all assume the Son and the Word as the subject of the incarnation. More significant than Junillus’ acceptance of two natures, however, is that he maintains at the same time the Cyrillian emphasis on the unity of the subject of the Incarnation and the realities of the two natures. This makes him more than a Chalcedonian. He is a neo-Chalcedonian’; Maas, 2003: 66.

[ back ] 46. Kihn, 1880: 401. The ‘Nestorian’ position is not presented in Maas’s discussion of Theological diversity (Maas, 2003: 43–47).

[ back ] 47. Book I, Section 16 ‘Quot modis significatur filius?’ (Maas, 2003: 152.6– 154.13, translation pp. 153–155).

[ back ] 48. Maas, 2003: 113.

[ back ] 49. Maas, 2003:30, 91–92.

[ back ] 50. Maas, 2003: 87; for the whole discussion of canon, see 84–89.

[ back ] 51. Becker, 2006: chap. 6.

[ back ] 52. cf. Maas, 2003:94, 102, 108–111. See the discussion of the controversy surrounding Henana of Adiabene in Becker, 2006: chap. 9.

[ back ] 53. Maas, 2003: 113.

[ back ] 54. Maas, 2003:16.

[ back ] 55. Wolska, 1962: 37–62.

[ back ] 56. For Cosmas’s complex relationship to the East-Syrian tradition, see Kominko.

[ back ] 57. Gignoux, 1968. See Gignoux 470-495 introductory chapter on Narsai’s relationship to Theodore of Mopsuestia.

[ back ] 58. Olinder, 1937: 58–59.

[ back ] 59. For the text of Jacob on creation, see Bedjan, 1905–1910: 1–151. See also English translation of homily on the first day of Creation by Young in Trigg, 1988: 184–202; See Jansma, 1959: 3–42, 129–162, 253–284.

[ back ] 60. Van Rompay, 1987: 33–43.

[ back ] 61. Again, see Becker, 1895: chap. 6.

[ back ] 62. It is a pity that Cosmas Indicopleustes does not appear in Maas’s book; exception: p. 87, but not relevant.

[ back ] 63. Wolska 1962: 63–85.

[ back ] 64. Macina, 1982, was the first to formally analyze this core paradigm in East-Syrian thought. See also Becker, 1895: chap. 1.

[ back ] 65. Maas, 2003: 180.4–17, translation p. 181.

[ back ] 66. Maas, 2003: 184.3–13, translation p. 185; see also p. 172.24.29, translation p. 173, for angels and humans.

[ back ] 67. Maas, 2003: 228.16–230.2, translation pp. 229–231.

[ back ] 68. Maas, 2003: 67–69; he finds the Instituta itself to be organized in a legal format, see Maas, 2003: 71–75.

[ back ] 69. Theodore of Mopsuestia, in Swete, 1880–1882: I:26.23–26.

[ back ] 70. See, for example, Scher, 1908: 331.4–9.

[ back ] 71. E.g. Bruns, 2000: 401–403.

[ back ] 72. Wallace-Hadrill, 1982: 96–116; Maas, 2003: 25–26.

[ back ] 73. See Becker, 2006, chaps 4 and 7.

[ back ] 74. Sebastian Brock noted sometime ago, for example, that there is no evidence of philosophical texts at the School of the Persians in Edessa (Brock, 1984: 26). However, he has often been ignored: see e.g., E. Hunter, 2002: 225–239.

[ back ] 75. See for example, Maas, 2003: 148.11.12 (translation p. 149), 150.15–18 (translation p. 151), 154.9 (translation p. 155).

[ back ] 76. Kihn himself engaged in this error of attributing philosophical material to the Edessene period (Kihn, 1880: 337), which suggests that he was not aware of the extent to which this material was being mediated through the School of Nisibis.

[ back ] 77. Maas, 2003: 168.12–178.27 (translation pp. 169–79; Instituta II.ii). Barḥadbešabba ‘Arabaya, Cause de la fondation des écoles, 348.4–349.13. For several approaches to how to study this passage, see Becker, 2004: 174–194.

[ back ] 78. On this text in general, see Griffith, 1982: 53–72.

[ back ] 79. Arthur Vööbus used the Instituta for reconstructing the Nisibene curriculum as if it were a direct translation of Paul’s purported Regulae; see Vööbus, 1965: 179–185.

[ back ] 80. Swete, 1880–1882: I.xli, ‘Noteworthy also is the circumstance that in his choice of words he continually treads in the steps of the law-books and jurists. The coincidences are so marked that one might readily suspect him of having been at some time in his life engaged in the practice of the law, or of having at least received a legal education.’

[ back ] 81. Swete, 1880–1882: I.lviii.

[ back ] 82. See most recently Halporn, 2004.

[ back ] 83. Swete, 1880–1882: I: xlviii–xlix.

[ back ] 84. MS 2081 in the Schøyen Collection. This manuscript was probably copied from one of the manuscripts used by Swete for his edition of the text.

[ back ] 85. Guillaumont, 1962