CHAPTER 25

ORIGEN AND THEODORE OF MOPSUESTIA

We have considered the development of the doctrine of the annihilation of the wicked by Irenaeus, of the school of John in Asia Minor, and also by Justin Martyr and Arnobius. We now come to the schools in which the doctrine of the final restoration of all men to holiness was taught, or favored.

School, What?

The word school is used in two senses: One, more general, to denote certain teachers and those who adopt their opinions, though not collected in one place where buildings are erected and teachers employed for purposes of instruction. The other is applied more strictly to denote institutions at which scholars are gathered, and teachers, libraries, and buildings, are provided for their instruction. 

Of the former kind were the schools of Asia Minor and of Northern Africa. Of the latter were the schools of Alexandria, Cesarea, Antioch, and Edessa. Of these, that of Alexandria and that of Cesarea were properly schools truly Origenistic; that at Antioch, and that at Edessa, were schools under the influence of Theodore of Mopsuestia and Diodore of Tarsus.

Error of Historians.

As Theodore agreed with Origen in teaching the doctrine of final restoration, he has, by some historians, been spoken of as of the school of Origen. Hagenbach (Section 142, note 6) speaks of Diodore of Tarsus, and Theodore of Mopsuestia, as adopting the milder notions of Origen concerning a final restoration. This may have led Prof. Shedd, who follows Hagenbach as to his authorities, and is misled by him, to consider them as of the school of Origen.

But as the principles of interpretation adopted by Theodore, as well as his anthropology, were opposed to those of Origen, the result in which they agreed was reached in ways so different that it is not proper to call Theodore a scholar of Origen. Moreover, the history of the opinions of Origen, and their final condemnation under Justinian, is entirely separate from the history of the opinions of Theodore, and their condemnation under the same emperor. In addition to this, the extension of the influence of Theodore among the Nestorian churches was peculiar to him, and was not at all shared by Origen.

Origen and Theodore Contrasted.

We will, therefore, before continuing the history of the opinions of Origen, and then of Theodore, give a summary statement of their points of difference, and as Theodore, though a voluminous writer in his day, is little known by us, since his condemnation led to the destruction of the greater part of his works, we shall be more full in the presentation of his opinions. A great ignorance of them seems to be manifested even by some intelligent historians.

Theodore rejected almost entirely the spiritual, allegorical, and mystical interpretation of Origen; and, in common with the Antiochian school, adopted the principles of historical and grammatical interpretation.

Origen on Free-Will and Preexistence.

The system of Origen, also, was based on free-will, carried to its utmost extent, and never lost, so that reformation in sinners would be always possible. He also held to the preexistence of men, and that the original sinfulness of man in this world was the result of his fall and transgressions in a previous state of being. This fall, however, they had the power to avoid, and multitudes did avoid it. The hope of their final restoration lies in the fact that they have this indestructible power of free agency, and that God is able, in the course of ages of suffering, to induce them finally to use it aright, and to return to him, in love and obedience.

Opposite View of Theodore.

The fundamental principles of Theodore differed entirely from these. He did not hold to preexistence, or to any such extreme power of free agency as Origen taught. He held, on the other hand, that sin is an unavoidable part of the development and education of man; that some carry it to a greater extent than others, but that God will finally overrule it for their final establishment in good.

Dr. Bushnell Anticipated.

His principles of development and establishment in stable virtue, through an experience of sinning, in some points anticipate those of Dr. Bushnell, except that the latter does not push them to the result of universal restoration. Neander thus states his fundamental principles: “Human nature, nay, the nature of all created spirits, is, according to this system, so constituted from the beginning that it could no otherwise than by a redemption attain to its final destination.” Of course, sin is unavoidable. This resembles Dr. Bushnell’s idea of the necessity of turning the corner of a fall and redemption. But Dr. Bushnell would not agree with all the statements of Theodore, some of which we give, from the records of the Fifth Ecumenical Council, in which he was condemned for his Nestorian doctrines.

Two States.

He says: “It pleased God to divide his creatures into two states. One is the present, in which he has made all things mutable; the other is to occur when he shall renew all things and render them immutable. Of this final state he has showed us the beginning, in the dispensation of our Lord Jesus Christ, whom in his human nature he raised from the dead, and rendered immortal in body and immutable in mind, by which he demonstrated that the same result shall be effected in all his creatures.” To illustrate the extent of his last remark, he proceeds to say that millions of angels and spirits will be established with men in immutability.

This immutability is to be the result of a final and full communion with God, in order thus to be pervaded by a principle of divine life. Any created beings, left to themselves, would be sure to sin and to need redemption.

Reason of the First State.

The reason why God left his creatures to themselves, in the first mutable and sinful state, was that they could in no other way than by an experiment of evil learn the worth of the opposite blessings. In book v., “De Creatura,” he says: “God knew that men would sin in all ways, but permitted this result to come to pass, knowing that it would ultimately be for their advantage. For since God created man when he did not exist, and made him ruler of so extended a system, and offered so great blessings for his enjoyment, it was impossible that he should have not prevented the entrance of sin, if he had not known that it would be ultimately for his advantage.”

What the Benefit?

But, it may be asked, what is the benefit to be derived from leaving the creatures at first to a state of mutability and sin? This question he thus answers: “It was not possible that in any other way we should have a full knowledge of the nature and consequences of sin, and the evils of our sinful passions, and know our weakness, disclosed in these experiences, so as to show by contrast the greatness of the immutability to be given to us, unless it had been so ordained by God from the beginning, that by experiment and comparison we might know the magnitude of those infinite benefits that are to be conferred on us. On this account knowing that it would, on the whole, be for our advantage, he permitted sin to enter.” And, again: “It is the prerogative of a rational creature to distinguish between good and evil things. If, therefore, there were not opposite qualities, it would not be possible for him to discern the differences. Therefore, at the outset, he introduced these great contrarieties into his creation.

General View.

We will give another extract from Theodore, in which some of the things already said are repeated, but in new relations, and with a more full view of his system: “God did not introduce death among men unwillingly, and contrary to his judgment, nor did he permit the entrance of sin for no beneficial end. He was not unable to prevent it if he desired, but he permitted it, because he knew that it would be beneficial to us, or rather to all intelligent beings, that there should be first a dispensation including evils, and that then they should be removed and universal good take their place. Therefore god divided the creation into two states, the present and the future. In the latter he will bring all to immortality and immutability. In the former he gives us over to death and mutability. For if he had made us at first immortal and immutable, we should not have differed from irrational animals, who do not understand the peculiar characteristics by which they are distinguished. For if we had been ignorant of mutability we could not have understood the good of immutability. Ignorant of death, we could not have known the true worth of immortality. Ignorant of corruption, we could not have properly valued incorruption. Ignorant of the burden of sinful passions, we could not have duly exulted in freedom from such passions. In a word, ignorant of an experiment of evils, we should not have been able properly to understand the opposite forms of good.”

Agency of Christ.

In the view of Theodore, therefore, this universal restitution of all to holiness was the end aimed at in the first dispensation, involving sin and to be effected through it. Christ and his cross, moreover, he regarded as the centre of the great movement toward universal restitution. In support of this view he appealed to such passages as Col. i. 19, 20: “For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell; and having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth or things in heaven.” These, then, were the doctrines of Theodore “the Interpreter,” the great oracle of the Nestorians and of their schools

Person of Christ. – Nestorianism.

Out of this system grew his peculiar views of the person of Christ, whose supreme divinity he fully believed. God ordered, in his view, that in his human nature he should go through a development which should be the type and exemplar of the development to be wrought in us, and therefore he maintained that sharp separation between the human and divine in the person of Christ that resulted in Nestorianism. For these reasons to the Nestorian churches he was ever the great Scriptural interpreter and theological oracle.

Nestorian Liturgy.

We are now prepared to understand the full import of the following extracts from the sacramental liturgy which he drew up for the Nestorian churches, in which he introduced the great proof passage from Colossians, which we have quoted. (See E. Renaudot’s “Oriental Liturgies,” vol. ii., p. 610.)

In the opening part of the service, in accordance with the statements of Theodore as to the relations of Christ to the harmonizing and establishment of the universe in holiness, the priest sets forth “the Son of man, an acceptable victim offered to God the Lord of all for all creatures in the universe.”

Then, in prayer, the priest reviews the dispensation of the incarnation, and says of Christ: “He is the head of the Church, the perfecter of all beings, by whom all things are accomplished. He, by the Eternal Spirit, offered himself an unspotted offering to God, and sanctified us by the oblation of his body once made. Moreover, he made peace by the blood of his cross, among those in heaven and in earth.” After this he says, “Let us celebrate the great, tremendous, sacred, and divine mystery, by which a great salvation was made for the whole human race.”

After this he says in prayer: “We offer with contrite heart and humble spirit, before thy glorious Trinity, this sacrifice, living and holy, which is the mystery of the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world, asking and entreating before thee, O Lord, that thy adorable divinity may take pleasure in it, and by thy compassion this pure and sacred offering, by which thou art appeased and reconciled, may be accepted in behalf of the sins of the whole world.”

Farther on he says, “This sacrament is offered for all kinds of men who live in sin and error, that by thy grace thou wouldst make them worthy to know thy truth and adore thy majesty, that they may know thee whose will it is that all men should live, and turn to and acknowledge the truth.”

The true meaning of this liturgy no one can doubt who knows the system of Theodore, and notes the emphatic extension of the atonement to all the universe declared in it, presenting Christ as the perfecter of all creatures, and who considers the fact that it does not confine the efficacy of the sacrament almost or quite exclusively to the Church, as the Romish liturgy does, and others of that class, but extends it to all mankind without exception, and to the whole creation. Any one who will read this liturgy side by side with the Romish will not fail to be struck with this radical difference.

Of the liturgy of Theodore, Renaudot says it is the second of those generally used in the Nestorian Church, and is found in all the manuscripts. It was also translated for the use of the churches of India.

Of the Nestorian churches, he says they peculiarly revere Theodore, and call him, by way of eminence, the Interpreter, on account of his numerous commentaries on the word of God. 

Theodore’s Confession of Faith.

In Theodore’s confession of faith this relation of Christ to the salvation of all is once more clearly presented. Of him he says: “He is called the second Adam, by the blessed Paul; constituted an Adam of the same nature, and showing to us the future state, and exhibiting so much difference from the first Adam as will exist between him who bestows the ineffable gifts of the future state, and him who began the present mournful state of things. In like manner, he is called the second man, as disclosing the second state, because Adam began the first, a state mortal, and possibly full of many pains, in which he showed a typical similitude to him. But Christ the Lord began the second state. He in the future, revealed from heaven, will restore us all into communion with himself. For the apostle says, The first man was of the earth earthy, the second man is the Lord from heaven, that is, who is to appear hereafter thence, that he may restore all to the likeness of himself.”

Those who recall the statements of Dorner and other leading historians, of the influence of Theodore as a theologian, and the most eminent divine, and the master of the East, will regard as of great historical moment the statements we have given coming directly from himself. Of the influence of these Nestorian churches more will be said hereafter.

FORWARD>> (Next Chapter: THEODORE OF MOPSUESTIA AND THE NESTORIANS)

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