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Theodore of Mopsuestia, Prologue to the Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles. Preface to the online edition.

The following extracts from the complete article may be of interest to readers of this collection.

Ernst von Dobschütz, The American Journal of Theology, Vol. 2, No. 2. (Apr., 1898), pp. 353-387.


The oldest manuscripts of the Bible contain, as is well known, only the text of the Holy Scriptures. Even the brief titles and subscriptions in the Codex Sinaiticus and the Vaticanus are in part added by a later hand. Soon, however, it began to be customary to add all sorts of explanatory material. The canons and sections of Eusebius, the brief prologues of Jerome, are familiar examples. The largest collection of such material passes under the name of Euthalius... In all probability we shall have to assume several authors for the various parts of the work. On the one side this is in entire agreement with the fact, observable in the history of literature in general, that the lesser names disappear, their work being attributed to a more famous writer. Conspicuous examples are furnished by the names of Cyprian and Augustine in Latin literature, under which even writings of Novatian, Pelagius, and others are hidden. On the other side this appears in the notorious fondness of the scribes of biblical manuscripts in later centuries for bringing together the greatest possible variety of material in order to give higher value to their manuscripts.

The admirable descriptions of the New Testament manuscripts which we owe to Professor Caspar Rene Gregory, of Leipzig, are especially exhaustive with reference to this matter, and give an authentic picture of the way in which, in the course of time, materials have been heaped together in the manuscripts of the Bible. We do not now refer to the fact that biblical manuscripts have also been used for copying other and profane literature. We are concerned only with the introductory matter which stands in relation to the New Testament itself. One who would become acquainted with this material----and it is quite worth while to study the history of biblical interpretation which is embodied in it----can obtain a good impression of it from the older editions of the New Testament, especially from those of Mill and Matthaei, not to mention also the commentaries of Theophylact and Oecumenius, and the well-known catenae. It would no doubt be a task worth undertaking, though not practicable for an individual or at private expense, to gather together and to sift critically all such introductory material as exists in the manuscripts and printed books, and thus to produce a corpus introduc-toriutn Novi Testamenti. Undoubtedly many treasures still await discovery.

The following pages will furnish an example of this hidden material.

The public library at Naples possesses a manuscript which contains the latter half of the New Testament. Gregory's description of the manuscript is as follows :

83.  (P 93 Ap 99) Neapoli bibl. nationalis II. Aa. 7. 
saec XII (al. X vel XI), 26.5 X 18.6, membr, foll. 123, coll. 2, ll. 37, στίχων numeri in mg notantur; prol, capp-t, tabulae multae : Act Cath Paul (Heb Tim) Apoc (mut post Apoc 3 ?); 1 Ioh 5,7 in mg habet. Textum olim cum codice Pamphili Caesareae conlatum esse profitetur. Evagrius scripsit. Birch, et Scholz. Bib.-kr. Reise p.136 seq. locc sell cont. Nescio quis in usum Burgonii cont. Vidi 24 Apr 1886.

The statement about the scribe rests upon an oversight easily explicable. As frequently occurs, the scribe of our manuscript has simply copied the subscription of his exemplar. The "Evagrius" is undoubtedly the same as the one mentioned in the subscription of Codex H of the Pauline letters, first pointed out by Ehrhard. To the same cause is due also the statement concerning a collation of the text with the Codex Pamphili in the library at Caesarea. We may set aside the question of the relation of this Evagrius to Euthalius, whether, as Ehrhard thinks, he is the proper author whose name was later corrupted into Euthalius; or, as I have suggested, a later writer who audaciously put his name in the subscription in place of the author's name, a thing which occurs quite often; or, finally, as Robinson has recently suggested, an independent redactor of "Euthalius." For our present purpose it is likewise immaterial whether Codex Neap. is copied directly or indirectly from Codex H, or again is derived from a sister manuscript of Codex H. In any case the scribe of our manuscript had several exemplars before him, and from one of these that had no relation to Codex H and Euthalius he took the Prologue printed in the following pages.

According to the minute description which the royal librarian, Salvator Cyrillus, gave in his catalogue of the Greek manuscripts of the Bourbon library (now the national library) in Naples,1 the manuscript contains, on folio i, the well-known Euthalian Prologue to the Acts of the Apostles (Zacagni, p. 403) without heading; then folio 3, a second preface to this book, likewise without superscription, of which Cyrill gives a small part.

Through the courtesy of two friends I am able to give this highly interesting Prologue in full. Dr. Erich Forster, pastor at Frankfort-on-the-Main, the well-known editor of the Chronik der christlichen Welt, and afterward Mr. James Hardy Ropes, instructor in Harvard University, had the great kindness to furnish me the entire text, partly in transcription and partly in epilation. The manuscript is in places very much defaced and only with difficulty legible, which is no doubt the reason why only a part has been printed by Cyrill, and that in a very faulty way. Single words are even yet not read with perfect certainty. As I have not seen the codex myself, I cannot undertake the full responsibility, particularly where the two collations at my disposal do not agree. It is nevertheless better to print the text even with some mistakes than to leave scholars much longer in ignorance of it. I am indebted to several acquaintances, above all to Professor Blass, of Halle, and Dr. Koetschau, professor at the Gymnasium in Jena, well known by his studies in Origen, for various suggestions in the restoration of the text by conjecture.

This introduction to the Acts of the Apostles, as can be readily seen, consists of four main parts :

1. The introduction and dedication.

2.   The recapitulation of the gospels.

3.   The statement of contents of the Acts of the Apostles.

(a)  The mission of the first disciples.

(b)   Paul.

(c)   The gospel among the Jews and the Gentiles.

4.   The principles of the ensuing interpretation.

This last part, especially the closing sentence, shows clearly that we have here not an independent prologue, but merely the introduction to a commentary, which unfortunately does not seem to be preserved in the manuscript. The plan of this commentary seems to have been this: a continuous explanation of a certain portion of the text was given; the text itself was not always quoted explicitly and in full and then commented upon, but was often merely incorporated in the form of a paraphrase into the exposition. This seems to be the meaning of the somewhat difficult closing paragraph, the only one that (as Professor Blass remarks) is not well and clearly written. The real explanation of the difficulty, however, may be that we are not sufficiently acquainted with the terminology of the school and period to which he belonged. Our author explicitly states that he follows the hermeneutical method which, in distinction from that of the glossarists and catenists, laid most emphasis upon the understanding and exposition of the connection of thought; perspicuity and brevity are the objects that he rightly sought for. Quite in harmony with the method of ancient exegesis, he also, as it seems, sharply distinguishes the speeches from the narrative portions; one need but recall the statement of contents of the gospel of Mark by Papias, "Christ's sayings and deeds." Our author is by no means a novice in the art of exegesis, for he informs us that he has already written a commentary on the gospel of Luke on the same principles, and we can discern from his whole method of handling his subject the trained master of interpretation, who wrote with rare mastery of his language. 

The exegetical skill of our author, shown most brilliantly in the whole conception of the problem of the Acts of the Apostles, appears likewise in some measure in the terminology of which we give examples.

All this points to one of the great Greek commentators, and it is difficult to suppose that such a man should be unknown to us. The neglect of the rubricator, who failed to write the superscription with his minium, or, perhaps owing to the neglect of a predecessor, knew not what he should add here, has deprived us of the name of our commentator. It is highly improbable that this was done intentionally, as, for example, because the name was obnoxious as that of a heretic; for beside the superscription there are lacking also the large initial letters, which surely were dogmatically unobjectionable, and likewise the superscription to the preceding prologue. We are thus compelled to recover the name ---- at least hypothetically----by the help of conjecture. In doing this three points have to be considered: 

I. The authors own historical statements in the dedication.

II. The statements preserved to us concerning Greek commentaries on these writings.

III. The character of the exegesis and of the whole theological conception of the author, recognizable even in this preface.


The commentary on the Acts of the Apostles is dedicated to a bishop Eusebius, whom our author describes as one very dear to him, and devoted to the study of the Sacred Scriptures. It is a more important fact for us that he calls him the successor to another bishop Eusebius, whom ---- as our author says ---- he resembled not only in name, but also in the striving after Christian virtues and the zeal for the Sacred Scriptures. This predecessor induced him to write his commentary on the gospel of Luke, while the successor requested him to continue it in the case of the Acts of the Apostles. Unfortunately the author does not say in what episcopal see we have to look for the two men. We should suppose it an easy matter to find two men named Eusebius who had occupied the same episcopal cathedra in immediate succession, but our knowledge of the history of the Greek church during the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries is so meager that we cannot on this basis determine anything with any degree of certainty... consequently we gain from this source no conclusive information concerning the author himself.


If now we turn our attention to the question what commentaries on the Acts of the Apostles we know to have existed in the Greek church, we find that for the solution of this question also nothing has as yet been done. For little is gained from the few titles of leading works that are usually quoted in modern commentaries. The best help is afforded by the catena, but here we must be on our guard lest we number among commentators of the writing in question all names mentioned there; e. g., there is no doubt that the three fragments of Theodore of Heraclea, mentioned in Cramers Catena in Acta Apostolorum (Oxon., 1844, P. 145, 3, 9, 12), refer to his well-known commentary on Isaiah. If now we combine the quotations in catena and all accounts of commentaries handed down to us, we gain approximately the following list:

A. D. (ca.) 250. Origen. Only homilies to the Acts are certified; Jerome, De vir. illustr. 17; cf. Harnack-Preuschen, Geschichte der alt-christlichen Litteratur bis Eusebius, I, 373. (The commentary mentioned there, after Verderius, is no doubt the result of a blunder.)

A. D. (ca.) 300. Pamphilus of Caesarea. 

A. D. (ca.) 350. Didymus "the Blind," ed. by J. Chr. Wolf in Anecdota graeca, T. IV, Hamburg, 1724, from a catena.

A. D. (ca.) 370. Ephrem Syrus, preserved only in an Armenian catena; Venice, 1839. 8vo.

A. D. (ca.) 380* Diodorus of Tarsus, according to Suidas.

A. D. (ca.) 400. Theodore of Mopsuestia. (See below.)

A. D. 400-401. Chrysostom: 55 homilies; opera ed. Montfaucon, IX, 1731.

A. D. (ca.) 400. Severianus of Gabala (+ after 408), perhaps author of homilies; cf. Gennadius, chap. 21.

(?) A. D. (ca.) 430. Hesychius Presbyter (+ 433); fragment of catena. Migne, Patrol, grceca, 93.

[A. D. (ca.) 440. Cyrill of Alexandria. The fragments of catenae are probably not derived from a commentary on the Acts.]

[A. D. (ca.) 440. Theodoret of Cyrus. The same may be said with still greater certainty here.]

A. D. (ca.) 440. Theodotus of Ancyra, a partisan of Cyrill; fragments of catenae.

A. D. (ca.) 450. Ammonius of Alexandria, fragments of catenae.

After A. D. 500. Andreas of Caesarea in Cappadocia; scholia, also to Acts, in cod. Athous 129. S. Pauli 2 (Ac. 374, Gregory, p. 650); cf. Ehrhard in Krumbacher, Geschichte der byzantinischen Litteratur (Iwan Muller's Handbuch der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, Vol. IX), 2d edition, p. 130. Andreas is also the name of the compiler of the catena in cod. Coisl. 25 (= Ac. 15, Gregory, p. 618), Saec. X, and Oxon. Nov. coll. 58 (= Ac. 36, Gregory, p. 621), Saec. XII, which Cramer published in Catena, T. Ill, Oxon., 1844.

A. D. (ca.) 900. Leo Magister: Scholia to Matt., Luke, John, Acts, and Cath. Epp.; cf. Ehrhard, I. c, 131, No. 4.

(Date unknown) Oecumenius : fragments in the following work:

Tenth century (?). Oecumenius-Catena, edidit Morellus, Par. 1631; Migne, Patrol, graeca, 118, 119.

A. D. (ca.) 1078. Theophylact, archbishop of Achrida in Bulgaria. Ed. Foscari, Venice, 1754-63, wholly dependent upon the preceding.

(?) Nicetas of Naupaktos. Manuscripts mentioned by Ehrhard, l. c, 137.

(?) Anonymi hom. 54 breves in cod. Vindob. 45, 4to, fol. 1-101; Lambecius, III, 63.

This list, of course, does not pretend to be complete, for it is very probable that a reference may have escaped me. And, above all, it is very doubtful whether we have any knowledge of all the commentators on the Acts of the Apostles; and whether, perhaps, many anonymous scholia are not the work of still unknown exegetes. In view of this we must speak with a great reservation in attempting to say who among the persons mentioned above was the author of our prologue.

At the very outset we must exclude the Byzantine authors of commentaries after 500 A. D., for they represent, in the great majority of instances, recensions wholly dependent on the earlier exegetical material, of value only in so far as they have preserved fragments of their predecessors of the classic period of Greek theology, otherwise lost. Compare the excellent description which Ehrhard has given of this exegesis in Krumbacher's Geschichte der byzantinischen Litteratur, 2. Aufl., 1896, pp. 122 ff.

But also among the commentators preceding the fifth century we have to reject a considerable number. In the case of many, among these Cyrill and Theodoret, it cannot be shown at all that they ever composed a commentary on the Acts of the Apostles; others again, e. g. Origen and Chrysostom, have left us only continuous homilies on this book, the nature of which excludes our prologue as an introduction; and again, commentators of the Alexandrian school, Didymus, Cyrill, Theodotus of Ancyra, and others, are decisively excluded by the character of the theological conceptions which pervade our prologue, which, it may be said here by way of anticipation, is strictly of the Antiochian school. This and the masterly character of the commentary lead us to think above all of Diodorus of Tarsus, or his yet more famous pupil, Theodore of Mopsuestia.

To the former Suidas, Lexicon, sub voce Διόδωρος (ed. Bernhardy, I, 1, 1379), following a catalogue compiled by Theodore Lector, ascribes, among other works, and especially after a chronicon, correcting the Eusebian chronology, two volumes : (on the gospels and on the acts).

Among the fragments of catenae collected in Migne, Patrologia graeca, T. 33, there is none at all belonging to writings on the New Testament, and although there are, as far as comparison is possible, several linguistic points of contact with our prologue, we nowhere find that originality of expression and conception which characterizes our document.

On the other hand, any one of the more numerously preserved fragments of the exegetical works of Theodore, e. g., his prologue to the commentary on the minor prophets,2 shows a surprisingly close linguistic relationship to our fragment.

To this may be added the decisive weight of an external testimony. The existence of a commentary of Theodore on the Acts of the Apostles is variously attested; in particular during the fifth oecumenical (or general) council, the second Constantinopolitanum, there were read, at the fourth session, held May 12 (or 13), A. D. 553, a number of extracts from Theodore's writings, and among these, beside passages of the commentaries on the gospels of Luke and John, also a passage from the first book of his commentary to the Acts of the Apostles:... [Latin text omitted]

It is to the Syrian fathers, however, that we owe a more accurate knowledge of the writings of Theodore "the exegete," a title with which they rightly honored him. Already Ibas, the well-known Edessene, we are told, had his writings translated into Syriac, for which he was reproached by his adversaries. It is, therefore, not surprising that as late as the fourteenth century a learned Nestorian, Ebed-Jesu, the metropolitan of Zoba and Armenia (f 1318), was able to incorporate a list of thirty-six writings of Theodore into his rhymed catalogue of 200 Syrian authors, in which it constituted chap. 19. This catalogue has been published by Assemani in his Bibliotheca orientalis, Tom. Ill, 1, 3-362, together with a Latin translation and excellent notes. ...

Our prologue shows that its author dedicated two commentaries to two Eusebii, the one on the gospel of Luke to the older, that on the Acts of the Apostles to his successor. In Ebed-Jesu's list we have three commentaries of Theodore dedicated to a Eusebius, namely, those on the gospel of Luke, the gospel of John, and the epistle to the Romans. It appears to be almost like a provoking accident that the commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, standing between the last two, was not dedicated to a Eusebius, but to a Basilius. Is this really the case? or may we not have here merely a mistake of Ebed-Jesu or of one of his predecessors?

It appears to me certain that we have here a case of transposition of the Acts and the gospel of John, occasioned by the author's desire to preserve as far as possible the traditional order of the canon. The two tomoi contain the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles; alongside of these the commentary on the gospel of John occupied a much more independent place. And thus I suspect that this was dedicated to a Basilius, while the two were dedicated to an older and a younger Eusebius. We have to make, therefore, only a very slight correction in Ebed-Jesu's list of the writings of Theodore, in order to obtain a testimony that our prologue is the introduction to the commentary of Theodore of Mopsuestia on the Acts of the Apostles dedicated to Eusebius, better than we could have dared to wish for.


Theodore's authorship of the prologue is confirmed finally by an analysis of the theological conceptions expressed in it.  The special points of controversy concerning Christology, so frequently discussed in the fifth century, are, to be sure, not mentioned in it. This very fact, however, may point to Theodore as the author of the discussion, inasmuch as this controversy was imposed upon him from the outside, rather than grew out of his own religious position. ...

If we should go into further details, many more phrases of our prologue could be traced also in the other writings of Theodore, still extant. Yet there is no need of doing this. What has thus far been said will, I assume, amply prove my suggestion, expressed also on a former occasion, that our prologue is a fragment of a work of Theodore....

Yet even more important than this precise location of a single writing of Theodore's is the observation that, notwithstanding the reproach of heresy, laid upon him by the orthodox church of the Justinian age, even as late as a hundred years after his death, though not without meeting with violent opposition, his writings have not been destroyed so completely as one might suppose and as was formerly believed by many. A careful research and examination of the catena will certainly yield also for this commentator some valuable material. It would be highly interesting to find out from what source the writer of our codex Neapolitanus in the twelfth (or perhaps even in the tenth or eleventh) century took this prologue. We can hardly suppose any connection of it with "Euthalius," even if Mill's well-known supposition that Euthalius in his prologue to the epistles of Paul alluded to Theodore as his source really rested on a sounder foundation than is actually the case. The only question now is whether the writer of the codex had still before him the entire commentary of Theodore, or----and this is by far more probable----whether he found this fragment in one of his exemplars as an independent prologue to the Acts of the Apostles. One might feel provoked at the scribe, or his predecessor, for having saved for us only this introduction, instead of copying the entire commentary. Yet rather let us be thankful to him for having preserved at least so much for us; for we can justly say that such an introduction forms one of the most valuable parts of a commentary, the knowledge of which should stimulate us to further research and investigation. Contrary to their own will and intention, later writers, though fully persuaded of Theodore's pernicious and dangerous influence, have nevertheless unwittingly preserved many fragments of his writings which for the history of exegesis are far more valuable than all their other compilations together. 

[A couple of the copious footnotes]

1. Codices Graeci MSS. Regiae Bibliothecae Borbonicae descripti atque illustrati a Salvatore Cyrillo. Neapol, 1726, I, pp. 13-24.

2. Mai, Nova Patrum Bibl., VII, 1854; ed. von Wegnern (1834), pp. 3 ff. My citations are from this edition.

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