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Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on the Nicene Creed (1932) pp.1-18






The present volume is the fifth in the series of Woodbrooke Studies, the contents of which are drawn from MSS. in my collection. Owing to the fact that I have relinquished my duties in the John Rylands Library, Manchester, it was not found convenient to continue the publication of the "Studies" in serial parts in the "Bulletin" of that Library. Slight changes have accordingly been made in the preliminary matter as well as in the headings of the "Studies," and it is hoped that these will be found more suitable to works of this kind.

This volume contains the hitherto lost commentary of Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. 350-428) on the Nicene Creed, which is undoubtedly one of the most important theological works of the golden age of Christianity. In places I experienced some difficulty in following the author's method of reasoning, but it may confidently be stated that the translation which I have adopted in the following pages reveals as accurately as possible the secret of the author's argumentation, which is nearly always fresh and illuminating.

Short passages were by inadvertence omitted in the first part of the work, which was published in the January issue of the "Bulletin of the John Rylands Library". These have been inserted in the present edition together with some corrections.

It is a pleasing duty to offer here my sincerest thanks to Mr. Edward Cadbury whose generosity has again made possible the publication of the "Studies" in their new form.


Selly Oak Colleges Library, Birmingham,
      5th July, 1932.


(i) Theodore of Mopsuestia.

IT is a great satisfaction for any scholar to be in a position to publish the hitherto lost theological works of Theodore of Mopsuestia. In the Mingana collection of MSS.,1 I have so far discovered two works by this Father, which I propose to edit and translate according to their chronological order.

This is not the place to write the history of Theodore nor to give a full list of his works, some of which have, wholly or partially, survived in their Greek original or in East Syrian translations. He seems to have been the most profound thinker and independent inquirer of the Fathers of the Church in the golden age of Christianity: the fourth and the fifth centuries. He is directly or indirectly responsible for the three general Councils of Ephesus, of Chalcedon and of the Three Chapters. In the Council of Ephesus Nestorianism was discussed and condemned, but Nestorianism was in reality an amplification of some points in Theodore's teaching in connection with the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word, while the Council of Chalcedon seems to have accomplished little except to reveal a slight reaction against the Christological conclusions drawn from the doctrine established at Ephesus under the familiar ecclesiastical sanction of anathema sit. The fifth Council, commonly called the Council of the Three Chapters, is even more directly concerned with Theodore than its two immediate predecessors.

It tells much in favour of the high esteem in which Theodore was held by all his contemporaries that in condemning doctrinal points which had their origin in his writings no one dared to mention his name in relation to them, and the first Synodal fulminations in which his name is found are those of the fifth Council, held about one hundred and twenty-five years after his death. |2 

I will here allude to a few episodes in the life of Theodore, which might illustrate the respect with which his contemporaries regarded his scientific attainments. In 394 he was present in Constantinople on the occasion of the Synod held to decide a question concerning the see of Bostra in the patriarchate of Antioch.2 His fame had spread to such an extent in the Capital that the Emperor Theodosius, who was already making preparations for his last journey to the West, desired to hear him. Theodore preached before Theodosius, who declared at the end of the sermon that he had never heard such a teacher: "Qui in desiderio visionis viri factus, in ecclesia ejus doctrinae fuit auditor magnus ille imperator; nec arbitratus est alterum se talem comperisse doctorem, superadmiratus quidem ejus doctrinam, et colloquio delectatus atque obstupefactus." 3 We are also informed by John of Antioch that the Emperor Theodosius the Younger was often in correspondence with Theodore: "Jam vero et a vestro imperio, pro sui reverentia, et spiritali sapientia, ei saepius attestatum est, et vestris litteris honoratus est." 4

The same John of Antioch, who had become Patriarch of the historic see of the Metropolis of Syria in the year following Theodore's death in 428, speaks in eloquent terms of his work and teaching: "Qui bene de vita profectus est beatus Theodorus, et quinque et quadraginta annis clare in doctrina praefulsit, et omnem haeresim expugnavit nullam alicubi detractionem ab orthodoxis in vita suscipiens." 5

The same prelate addresses, in glowing words, the Emperor who had shown interest in Theodore's memory: "Iste ille est Flaviani magni Antiochensium sanctae Dei Ecclesiae pontificis amantissimus discipulus, et beati Joannis Constantinopolitani episcopi condiscipulus, cujus memoriam redivivam fecistis, maximam hunc gloriam pietatis vestrae imperio facientes." 6

A glimpse of the early life of Theodore is supplied by the writings of his bosom friend John Chrysostom who testifies that his days were spent in reading and his nights in prayer, that his fasts were long and |3 his bed was the bare ground, that he indulged in every form of asceticism and self-discipline. [Greek omitted] 7

A letter from Chrysostom to Theodore shows that the former's affection and admiration for the friend of his childhood remained till the end of his days. The letter was written while Chrysostom was in exile at Cucusus (a.d. 404-407). In it the exiled Patriarch testifies that "he can never forget the love of Theodore, so genuine and warm, so sincere and guileless, a love maintained from early years," 8 and thanks him for the efforts that he had made to obtain his release, and ends his correspondence with the memorable sentence: "Exile as I am I reap no ordinary consolation from having such a treasure, such a mine of wealth within my heart as the love of so vigilant and noble a soul." As the late Dr. Swete points out, higher testimony could not have been borne, or by a more competent judge.9

Death did not put a stop to the fame of Theodore. It is recorded in Tillemont 10 that Meletius, Theodore's successor to the see of Mopsuestia, asserted that he would have endangered his own life if he had uttered words detrimental to his predecessor. Even Cyril of Alexandria whose views on the Incarnation were not in harmony with those of Theodore was obliged to avow that in the Churches of the East one often heard the cry: "We believe as Theodore believed; long live the faith of Theodore!" 11 The same Cyril of Alexandria informs us that when a party of bishops was found ready to condemn him, the answer of the bishops of Syria to them was: "We had rather be burnt than condemn Theodore." 12 Leontius Byzantinus informs us also that Cyril of Alexandria advised against the condemnation of Theodore because all the bishops of the Eastern Church considered |4 him an eminent Doctor, and if he were condemned there would be serious disturbance in that Church.13 The famous Church historian, Theodoret, was pleased to call him "Doctor of the Universal Church." 14 This title is also ascribed to him by a much later Greek author, Nicephorus Callistus, who calls him "Doctor of all the Churches." 15

There is no need to emphasise the fact that Theodore's memory and especially his writings have always been considered as the most esteemed treasures of the East Syrian Church. They were gradually translated after his death; and their authority among the innumerable adherents of the Eastern Church, which for a long time stretched from the eastern Mediterranean shores to Manchuria and from the Caspian Sea to the Indian Ocean, was only one degree below that of Paul. With them he was the "interpreter" par excellence. The only discordant note seems to have been struck towards the end of the sixth century by individual teachers of no great importance in the councils of the Church, but the Synod held in a.d. 596 by the Patriarch Sabrisho` rose vehemently against them: "We reject and anathematize all those who do not adhere to the commentaries, the traditions and the teaching of the eminent Doctor, the blessed Theodore the interpreter; and who endeavour to introduce new and foreign doctrines saturated with errors and blasphemies, which are in contradiction to the true and exact teaching of this saint and of all the orthodox Doctors, heads of the schools, who have followed in his steps, corroborated his doctrine and taught the true faith of the incorruptible orthodoxy in our eastern regions." 16

In the Synod of Gregory I, held in a.d. 605, all the eastern archbishops and bishops bound themselves to abide by the teaching of Theodore: "We all assembled in this Synod have decided that each of us should receive and accept all the commentaries and works written by the blessed Theodore the interpreter, bishop of Mopsuestia, a man by the grace of God set over the treasures of the two Testaments: the Old and the New, and who like a river of abundant floods watered and nurtured the children of the Church in his lifetime and after his death with the true meaning of the sacred Books in which he was instructed by the Holy Spirit. ... No one, who in these days wishes to perform the office of teaching in the Church, is allowed to deviate |5 from the works of this eminent and divine man. . . . All our venerable Fathers who have handed down this true faith to us, in their teaching, from his day to our own, have studied his writings and adhered to his statements." 17

I will also refer to two of the earliest East Syrian historians: "He (Theodore) did not astonish the world in his lifetime only, but also astonished every one with his books after his death. Who is able to narrate the good works of this sea of wisdom, or who is in a position to describe the prodigies which the Spirit 18 worked in him! When other bishops came near him, they considered themselves as mere pupils; and philosophers, subtle in reasoning, were before him as students. Every knotty and difficult problem stopped with him and never went beyond him, and he explained it before inquirers and made it as clear as the light of the sun." 19

"At that time shone in all branches of knowledge the truly divine man St. Theodore the interpreter, who was the first to explain philosophically and rationally the economy of the divine mysteries of the birth and the passion of our Lord." 20

In the West the only writer who before the fifth Council dared to speak openly against Theodore was Marius Mercator, who died about 450. As early as the year 431 he accused him of being the real author of Pelagianism: "Quaestio contra Catholicam fidem apud nonnullos Syrorum et praecipue in Cilicia a Theodoro quondam episcopo oppidi Mopsuesteni jamdudum mota. . . ." 21 This hostile note is also clearly found in his Latin translations of some of Theodore's treatises, in which he denounced him as the master of Nestorius and Nestorianism: ". . . Pravum ejus de dispensatione Dominica, et a fide Catholica alienum, ac satis extorrem sensum, quo Nestorium Constantinopolitanae urbis quondam episcopum secum male decepit. . . ." 22

An anti-Theodorian party, however, was steadily gaining ground in Egypt where Cyril of Alexandria held sway. Towards the middle of the sixth century the Alexandrian Doctors, followers of Cyril, counted many adherents in the Metropolis, who were powerful enough |6 to influence the Emperor Justinian and induce him to summon a Council and condemn Theodore.

Given free rein the outbursts of the Cyrillian Bishops of the Council knew no bounds. Expressions such as "impious," "blasphemous," "heretical" were continuously hurled against a man dead one hundred and twenty-five years previously. The following phrases reveal the spirit which permeated the Fathers of the fifth Council:

Isti sunt thesauri impietatis Theodori. Sceleratum symbolum impii Theodori. . . .23 Et postquam lectae sunt blasphemiae Theodori Mopsuesteni et impium ejus symbolum. . . .24 Et post acclamationes sancta synodus dixit: Multitudo lectarum blasphemiarum, quas contra magnum Deum et Salvatorem nostrum Jesum Christum, imo magis contra suam animam Theodorus Mopsuestenus evomuit,justam ejus facit condemnationem.25

The condemnation of a dead man gave satisfaction to his adversaries in the Cyrillian camp, but rent asunder the Catholic Church of the time and caused a deep wound in the spiritual body of the faithful. The evil effects of that wound are to some extent felt even in our days, in which the theological admirers of Theodore are, more than one thousand and five hundred years after his death, still counted in thousands.

The condemnation of the works of the great Antiochian theologian decreased their influence on Western thought, and the MSS. containing them were either burnt or underwent a gradual process of slow disappearance from the shelves of ecclesiastical libraries. Fortunately, however, his works were translated shortly after his death by his admirers in the East, and the Catalogue of `Abdisho` 26 registers almost all of them. When `Abdisho` wrote his Catalogue in about a.d. 1298 all the works of Theodore were found in the churches and monasteries of his day, and probably also in his own library at Nisibin. The numerous persecutions inflicted since that date on the eastern Christians by Mongols, Turks and Kurds have, however, resulted in their complete disappearance even in East Syrian lands, and the only complete treatises known to have survived are: (a) his commentary on the Gospel of John which was edited in 1897, |7 according to a MS. of our Lady near Alkosh, by J. B. Chabot who, however, did not venture to give any translation of it; (b) his short controversial treatise against the Macedonians which was edited and translated in 1913 by F. Nau,27 from a recently acquired MS. of the British Museum.

(ii) The Present Work.

The work of which I give an edition and translation in the following pages is in form of catechetical lectures, and is the one called "The Book on Faith" by `Abdisho` in his Catalogue,28 while the Chronicle of Seert 29 calls it more accurately "The interpretation of the faith of the three hundred and eighteen," i.e., of the Council of Nicea. In a letter of the Pope Pelagius the work is referred to as "De interpretatione symboli trecentorum decem et octo Patrum," 30 and the Acts of the fifth Council mention it also once under the same title: "De interpretatione symboli trecentorum decem et octo sanctorum Patrum." 31 Nicephorus Theotokes 32 has doubtless this work in mind when he writes: ἑπμηνεία εἰς τὸ Νικαίᾳ σύμβολον, "An explanation of the Nicene Profession of faith."

From the extracts that I give below it will be seen that the work is more frequently referred to under the title "Liber ad baptizandos." The Acts of the fifth Council quote it once under the title " Interpretatio symboli trecentorum decem et octo sanctorum Patrum" 33 and eight times under the title of "Liber ad baptizandos." Facundus also quotes it under the slightly modified title of "Liber ad baptizatos." 34

This "Liber ad baptizandos" is divided into two distinct parts which embrace all the Christian doctrine which the Catechumens had to learn before their baptism. The first part deals with the explanation of the Nicene Creed, as above, and the second part, which constitutes a book by itself, contains a commentary on the Lord's Prayer, on the sacrament of baptism in general, and the Greek liturgy used in his day. |8 

I will give now the quotations from the present work found in the Acts of the fifth Council, in the synodical letter of the Pope Pelagius, in the works of Facundus and in those of Marius Mercator. 

[Material in Latin and Syriac omitted, pp.8-14] |15

From the above quotations we may infer that the official Latin translator of the Acts of the fifth Council was not always a good translator. Extenuating circumstances may be pleaded in his favour from the fact that he was dealing with stray quotations and isolated extracts culled from their context without any regard to the sequence of events, but when every allowance is made under this head there still remain some imperfections in his work. Let us take as examples two sentences from the first and the fourth quotations as given above. In the first quotation Theodore says: "Nobody believes that he who is from the Jews according to the flesh is God by nature, nor that God who is above all 35 is from the Jews by nature." This simple and clear sentence has received the complicated and inaccurate rendering: Nemo igitur neque eum qui secundum carnem ex Judaeis est, dicat Deum qui est super omnia, secundum carnem ex Judaeis. The sentence is somewhat better translated in the Synodical letter of the Pope Pelagius as follows: Nemo igitur, neque eum qui secundum carnem ex Judaeis est, dicat Deum: nec iterum Deum qui est super omniar secundum camem ex Judaeis.

In the second quotation the translator of the Council does not seem to have understood the meaning of some words in Theodore's sentence. Theodore says: "But He (God) remained with him (Christ) until He by (His) help assisted him to loose the pains of death.36 And He delivered his soul from bonds which were indissoluble; and raised him from the dead and transferred him to immortal life, and made him immortal and incorruptible, and caused him to go up to heaven where he is now sitting at the right hand of God." The Latin translation of this sentence is given as follows: Permanens autem, donec secundum suam creaturam et virtutem solvens mortis dolores, liberavit eum ineffabilibus illis vinculis etc. The Latin translator seems here to have misread a possible Greek word ἄρρηκτος unbroken as ἄρρητος unspeakable, ineffable.

So far as Marius Mercator is concerned, we may point out that he seems to have deliberately omitted to translate two sentences of Theodore. The first sentence is: "And the separation of natures does not preclude their being one" [Syriac omitted] |16 

The second sentence reads: "It is known that here he (Paul) calls "Son" the one made of the seed of David in the flesh." 37

Mercator deliberately omits also to translate the adjective "close" when Theodore uses it to express the " close union " between God the Word and man. The Syriac expression used in this connection is [omitted] 38

We may incidentally remark that the technical terms used in the mystery of the Incarnation were so imperfectly fixed even in the time of Marius Mercator that he translates the word nature, the Syriac [Syriac] which doubtless renders the Greek φύσις, by the Latin substantia. This last word generally renders the Greek ὑπόστασις and the Syriac [Syriac] and hardly ever stands for the word "nature."

It should here be stated that some quotations from the present work of Theodore may be seen in East-Syrian literature, especially in a MS. recently added to my collection through the good offices of Mr. W. G. Greenslade.

(iii) Theodore's Doctrine.

We do not intend to give here a synopsis of the Christological doctrine of Theodore, which gave rise to such bitter controversies among Christian theologians who came after him, and which divided the followers of Christ into so many distinct and hostile groups. We assume that the readers of the present work are well acquainted with the Trinitarian and Christological dogmas with which it deals, and we leave to them the task of understanding and assimilating Theodore in his own words. It will be sufficient to state that in arguing against some early Christian thinkers who had unduly emphasised the divine side of Christ to the detriment of His humanity, he laid great stress on the fact that the man Jesus was a true man, endowed with all human faculties including a true human soul, and that the second person of the Trinity, or God the Word, Son of God the Father, |17 was to be distinguished from the human son of Mary, born of the seed of David, although through the very close and intimate union existing between them, they were not two Sons but one Son. The man Jesus was, so to speak, only figuratively and honorifically the Son of God, while the true and natural Son of God was and is the Word-God who assumed the form of the man Jesus. The close union between them was, as it were, not physical but moral and spiritual, manifesting itself in one visible individual, or rather personage, who formed the one πρόσωπον or outward appearance of Christ. Nowhere, however, do we find in Theodore the idea of two persons (ὑποστασις) in Christ. Such an idea had its full development in the time that followed the Council of Ephesus. Theodore never goes beyond the idea of two natures and one πρόσωπον.39 He writes in the third chapter: "From the fact also that they (the Fathers of the Council of Nicea) referred both words to the one person (= prosopon) of the Son they showed us the close union between the two natures": [Syriac]

As the present work is a commentary on the Nicene creed and consequently covers the whole field of Christian religion, the readers will find in it many other interesting points besides Trinity and Incarnation. These last two points, however, are treated with much more detail than the others.

As a commentator Theodore has been criticised by no less an authority than Harnack 40 as too prosaic and monotonous. This stylistic defect is noticeable in the present work which is in some places marred by many verbal antitheses and repetitions arising from his desire to stress his point for his readers or rather hearers.

(iv) The Manuscript. 

The MS. containing the present work of Theodore is found in my collection of MSS. and is therein numbered Mingana Syr. 561.41 As the MS. is not throughout in a good state of preservation and is in |18 many places wormed and damaged by damp, it was not found desirable to reproduce it in facsimile. For this reason I have had to copy all its text and edit it in the ordinary Syriac type instead of following the usual practice in my Woodbrooke Studies of giving facsimiles in case of unique texts.

1. 1 The Mingana Collection has now found a definite home in the newly erected Selly Oak Colleges' Library, Birmingham. The Library owes its existence to the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Cadbury.

2. 1 Mansi, Sacr. Conc. nova et amp. collectio, iii. 851.

3. 2 John of Antioch as quoted by Facundus in Migne's Pat. Lat., lxvii. 563.

4. 3 Ibid.

5. 4Facundus, Pat Lat., lxvii. 562. Facundus died shortly after 571.

6. 5 Ibid

7. 1 Ad Theodorum lapsum in Montfaucon's edition (Venice, 1734), p. 36 sq., and in Migne's Pat. Gr., xlvii. 310 sq. The late Dr. H. B. Swete in referring to this passage in Dict. of Christian Biography, p. 935, quotes also the sentence: "he was full withal of light-hearted joy as having found the service of Christ to be perfect freedom." I do not believe that in the context this sentence is meant to apply to Theodore. Chrysostom is here making a general statement that has no direct bearing on any particular person.

8. 2 Pat. Gr., lii. 668-669.

9. 3 Dictionary of Christ. Biography, iv. 936. I am indebted for the above references to this article which is permeated with sound scholarship.

10. 4 Memoires, xii. 442.

11. 5 Pat. Gr., lxxvii. 340.

12. 6 Ibid., 343-346.

13. 1 Pat. Gr., lxxxvi. 1237. 

14. 2 Eccl. Hist., v. 39.

15. 3 Pat. Gr., cxlvi. 1156.

16. 4 Synodicon Orientale, p. 459.

17. 1 Synodicon Orientate, p. 210 (of the text).

18. 2 Lit. "the hidden sign."

19. 3 Barhadhbeshabba `Arabaya edited by Nau in Pat. Orient., ix. 503-504.

20. 4 Meshihazekha in my Sources Syriaques, i. 141.

21. 5 Pat. Lat., xlviii. 110.

22. 6 Ibid., 1042-1043.

23. 1 Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amp I. collectio, ix. p. 227. 

24. 2 Mansi, ibid., p. 229.

25. 3 Mansi, ibid., pp. 229-230.

26. 4 Assemani, Bib. Orient., iii. 30-35.

27. 1 Pat. Orient., ix. 637-667.

28. 2 Bibl. Orient., iii. 33.

29. 3 In Pat. Orient., v. 290.

30. 4 Mansi, Sac. Conc. Nov. et amp. collectio, ix. 443. 

31. 5 Mansi, ibid., ix. 216.

32. 6 Seira, i. p. 18 (Leipzig, 1772). Which is the source of Theotokes, who died in a.d. 1800, for this statement?

33. 7 Mansi, ix. 216.

34. 8 Migne's Pat. Lat. lxvii. 747.

35. 1 Cf. Ephes. iv. 6.

36. 2 Cf. Acts ii. 24. Lit. "he loosed."

37. 1 Rom. i. 3.

38. 2 Theodore uses also in this connection the expression [Syriac] perfect union (chap. vi.).

39. 1 The doctrine that "natura humana Christi immediate terminatur per hypostasim Verbi" is later than Theodore's time. 

40. 2 E.B., 11th edition, xxvi. 767.

41. 3 For a description of the MS. see pp. 1041 -1044 of the Catalogue of the Syriac and Garshuni MSS. of my collection.

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