Theodoret of Cyrrhus

I. Theodoret’s Life and Work

Theodoret was born in Antioch in 393 CE. He was educated in a monastery under the direction of the monks Macedonius and Peter, where he studied mainly the writings of the Antiochene church fathers Diodore of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia and John Chrysostom. In 413 CE, he became a monk in the monastery of Nicerte, close to Apamea. In 423 CE, he was elected bishop of the diocese of Cyrrhus. He put great effort into his pastoral care and started important enterprises for the public welfare.

Around 430 CE, he was involved in the Nestorian controversy: John of Antioch asked him to refute Cyril of Alexandria’s Twelve Anathemas against Nestorius (CPG 5221). Theodoret was a great friend of Nestorius, so wrote against Cyril (CPG 6214) and confronted him at the ecumenical council of Ephesus in 431 CE. During these dogmatic debates, he was the main proponent of the eastern theology against Alexandrian Monophysitism. He also attended the synods of Antioch and Tarsus and, in 433 CE, he authored the Formula of Union with the help of Andrew of Samosata. This Formula was planned as a solution to the clash between Antioch and Alexandria. Theodoret remained a convinced dyophysite, opposing first Cyril and then his successor Dioscorus, who became bishop of Alexandria in 444 CE. The Alexandrian bishop dominated the council of Ephesus in 449 CE, when Theodoret was condemned as a heretic and exeiled to the monastery of Nicerte. However, Theodoret had a good reputation with the empress Pulcheria and with the Roman see, so he was able to attend the third ecumenical council in Chalcedon, in 451 CE. There, he was finally rehabilitated. Several years later, probably in 458 CE, he died.

Theodoret was a productive writer in different genres. Beside apologetic and dogmatic texts, he wrote a church history (CPG 6222), as well as commentaries on the Epistles of Paul (CPG 6209), and on several books of the Old Testament such as:

  • Quaestiones in Octateuchum (CPG 6200)
  • Quaestiones in libros Regnorum et Paralipomenon (CPG 6201)
  • Interpretatio in Psalmos (CPG 6202)
  • Explanatio in Canticum Canticorum (CPG 6203)
  • Interpretatio in Danielem (CPG 6207)
  • Interpretatio in Ezechielem (CPG 6206)
  • Interpretatio in Isaiam (CPG 6204)
  • Interpretatio in Ieremiam (CPG 6205)
  • Interpretatio in duodecim prophetas minores (CPG 6208)

II. Theodoret’s Commentary on Psalms

1. Direct tradition and fortune of a great writing

The Commentary on Psalms (Interpretatio in Psalmos, CPG 6202) occupies an important place among Theodoret’s exegetical works. It is the longest commentary from an Antiochene author which has entirely survived until today. It is also one of the main witnesses to the so-called Antiochene text of the Psalter and an important source of hexaplaric readings. According to an agreement with our Project partner, „Die alexandrinische und antiochenische Bibelexegese in der Spätantike“ (Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities), led by Prof. Christoph Markschies, this commentary shall be edited as part of the Göttingen Psalter project.

So far, this huge work by Theodoret has not received the attention that it deserves. Because of its complex manuscript tradition, it has not been easy to establish a reliable critical text. About eighty copies survive, ranging in date from the ninth to the eighteenth century. Most of them contain the full text. The stemmatic relationships between these witnesses need to be clarified in order to build a reliable stemma codicum. These are the manuscripts which have been described by the Göttingen Psalter Project already:

List of MSS
Rahlfs Number olim Place Shelf Mark Date
9001 1003 Athens EBE, 1 X med.
9002 Athens EBE, 4 s. X
9017 Florence BML, Laur.Plut.XI.5 s. XI; s. XII; s. XIV; s. XVI
9026 Kraków Jagiellonian Library, Berol. graec. IV. 38 s. XI; s. XIV; s. XIV-XV
9035 Moscow State Historical Museum, Sinod. gr. 213 s. X; s. XI
9046 Oxford Bodl. Lib., Barocc.132 s. X; s. XII; s. XIII; s. XIII-XIV; s. XV: s. XVI
9049 Paris BN, Par. gr. 1051 s. IX: 0IIIv-385v; s. XVII: ff. 00Ir-0IIIv
9052 Paris BN, Coisl. 80 s. XI-XII: ff. 007v-431r; s. XIII: ff. 001r-004v, 432r-435v (cf. Parpulov); s. XIV: ff. 005r-v (cf. Canart; Devreesse)
9071 Sinai St. Catherine's Monastery, Sinait. gr. 21 s. IX-X: f. 003v; s. X: ff. 002r-365v, 366r-403v; s. XIV (?): f. 001r-v, 404r
9077 Vienna ÖNB, Vind.theol.gr.159 s. X: ff. 008r-265r; s. XIII: ff. 265v-266; s. XVI: 001r-007v
9078 Vienna ÖNB, vind.theol.gr.294 s. XI: 011r-168v (cf. Hunger); s. XVI (2.Hälfte): ff. 00Ir-010v, 169r-00V'v
9082 Grottaferrata Biblioteca Statale, Α. δ. XI, V (gr. 14) s. XI-XII
9083 1039 Kraków Jagiellonian Library, Berolinensis Graec. qu. 58 s. XII

These manuscripts attest the commentary’s great popularity over the centuries. The text is transmitted in two versions: a recensio longior and a recensio brevior. Furthermore, its was translated into Old Slavonic (studied by Jacques Lépissier) and into Armenian (studied by Bernard Outtier, who intends to publish a critical edition of the Armenian version within the coming years).

2. The editions

There are two editions of the Commentary on Psalms by Theodoret: the editio princeps by Jacques Sirmond (1642), based on an unknown manuscript, and its revision by Ludwig Schulze (1769). Schulze’s edition was reprinted in Migne’s Patrologia Graeca, volume 80. Schulze’s text is completely unreliable for different reasons: it is based on the editio princeps and offers variants from three manuscripts (designated as cod. 1–3): Ra 9038 (olim Ra 1114), Ra 9039 (olim Ra 1693), and Ra 1113 (a catena). These manuscripts have no special text critical value.

The importance of Theodoret’s Commentary is undeniable, and Alfred Rahlfs was aware of it. He was also aware that the currently available text of Theodoret was unreliable for distinguishing old Antiochene variants from the later so-called “vulgar” readings. Therefore, Emil Große-Brauckmann was asked to revise the work by Schulze. Große-Brauckmann re-collated the manuscripts used by Schulze, added a couple of other ancient manuscripts and tried to make a comparison between the text of Theodoret that he found in the manuscripts and the text that he found in the editions of Theodore of Mopsuestia and John Chrysostom. Obviously, Große-Brauckmann had much fewer sources than we have today, but he did useful work, collecting a great number of variants for the Psalter text. Große-Brauckmann found a lot of matches in Theodoret, Theodore and Chrysostom and a lot of matches with the Syrohexapla.

A major task for our future studies will be to distinguish between “vulgar” readings and the ancient Antiochene ones. This task has been outlined by Reinhart Ceulemans, who has shown that Rahlfs made some mistakes in distinguishing these two layers of the Antiochene tradition.[i] The identification of the old Antiochene readings, of the later Lucianic recension and of its descendants will be one of the main challenges for the Göttingen Psalter project within the upcoming years.


[i] R. Ceulemans, Theodoret and the Antiochen text of the Psalms, in XV Congress of the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies, W. Kraus, M. Meiser and M. N. Van der Meer (eds.), SBL.SCSt 64, Atlanta 2016, pp. 149–164.

Theodoret of Cyrus. Illustration from Thevet's 'Les vrais pourtraits et vies des hommes illustres' (Paris, 1584), p.20.
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