Tuesday, October 29, 2019


Agnès Lorrain, Le Commentaire de Théodoret de Cyr sur l'Épître aux Romains. Études philologiques et historiques. Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, Band 179. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2018. Pp. xv, 390. ISBN 9783110537888. €129,95.

Reviewed by Jacopo Marcon, Institute of Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing (ITSEE), University of Birmingham (JXM1151@student.bham.ac.uk)

Version at BMCR home site


In this book, Agnès Lorrain offers a complete overview of the Intepretatio in XIV epistulas S. Pauli of Theodoret of Cyr, the only ancient commentary on the Pauline Epistles with the whole original text in Greek; it has a focus on particular sections of the work: the Prologue and the Letter to the Romans. The author provides a thorough analysis of the commentary of the Greek Church Father from a literary, philological, exegetical and hermeneutical point of view: the first section of the book describes the style, the genre and the language of Theodoret, and investigates the interrelationships between Theodoret of Cyr, John Chrysostom and Cyril of Alexandria, whereas the second part is more focused on the theological implications of the work (the position of Theodoret on the anti-Jewish controversy and the Trinitarian and Christological debates). The book is intended for a public of specialists in the field, though its clarity in explanation and its completeness in providing extensive quotations from the original Greek text — with French translation — make it an useful tool for anyone who is involved in the study of New Testament textual criticism and in the analysis of commentaries and catenae on the Pauline Epistles.

The book opens with an introduction that gives a comprehensive panorama of the structure of the work. Lorrain proposes comparing Theodoret's exegesis with that of John Chrysostom, the main work in the field in antiquity, in order to understand how Theodoret had direct access to that text. Excluding the study of the works of Origen and Theodore of Mopsuestia, the former because it is preserved in the Latin translation of Rufinus, the latter due to the fragmentary nature of the text, Lorrain's next step is to consider how the biblical manuscripts and the text of Theodoret's commentary on Romans 1 influenced each other.

In the first chapter, Lorrain situates the commentary of Theodoret within the exegetical tradition of Romans. Alongside the commentary of Origen, preserved in the Latin translation of Rufinus, and the fragments of Diodorus of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Severian of Gabala and Cyril of Alexandria in the exegetical catenae, the commentary of Theodoret is the earliest complete commentary on the Pauline Epistles in Greek, with an opening prologue.2 Besides the possibility of dating the work based on the language and the theological argumentation (around the beginning rather than the end of Theodoret's career [433-448]), the analysis of the manuscript tradition and the text itself confirms a faithful reproduction of the biblical text, with the use of linking words, such as φησί, γάρ, τουτέστι, to connect the biblical lemmata to the text of the exegesis. Overall, the system of Theodoret's work is undoubtedly traditional, the style is linear and sober, and the interpretation of the Pauline text is given from a literary point of view, although the frequent change of tone and voice might confuse the reader.

The second chapter provides a complete overview of the language of the commentary of Theodoret. The author collects a huge number of expressions used by Theodoret with the help of the TLG database and critical editions of the texts. Besides the expressions inherited from previous tradition (especially John Chrysostom and Cyril of Alexandria), the distinctive feature of Theodoret is his mastery of terms that rarely appear in other authors, or that appear but with different nuances. For instance, the word κολοφών is sporadically attested in Greek Church Fathers and always with the negative meaning of "the completion of sins and evils", whereas in Theodoret it has the unique meaning of "completion of good actions". Furthermore, Lorrain acutely suggests that even if the language of Theodoret cannot precisely date the commentary itself, it can at least give a glimpse of the theological implications of his exegesis.

Chapter Three examines the richness of the Prologue from a rhetorical and literary point of view. According to Lorrain, this adheres perfectly to the tradition of the genre of the commentary and it has a triple function: "presentation du sujet", "justification de l'entreprise" and "exposé des principes".3 Furthermore, Lorrain emphasizes how the effort of Theodoret in the second section of the Prologue to retrace the chronological order of the Pauline epistles is remarkable. With a methodological approach similar to that of a historical writer, Theodoret proposes a reconstruction of the chronological sequence of the Pauline letters according to the information he finds in the epistles themselves and in the Acts.

Chapter Four makes a comparison between the homilies of John Chrysostom and the commentary of Theodoret of Cyr. According to Lorrain, the biggest differences concern the "actualization moralisante" and the "interpretations parfois violemment antijudaïques",4 which are more emphasized in the text of John Chrysostom. Lorrain analyzes in detail the work of Theodoret as a rewriter of Chrysostom: he restricts himself to selecting some passages from Chrysostom and gives only a literary explanation, in a clear and sober style, without all the moral implications of the Chrysostomian reading.

The last chapter of the book analyzes the exegetical and theological implications of the Argumentum of the In Romanos, in order to explain the doctrinal positions of Theodoret and, especially, his interpretation of the Pauline text. According to Lorrain, Theodoret's approach to the antijudaic verses is purely historical and aimed to provide a positive description of Paul rather than a concrete criticism of the Jewish community. However, if there are some features that could be interpreted as a polemic against Jews, these need to be considered as the proof of the widespread antijudaic tendency of contemporary tradition, and, especially, a legacy of the Chrysostomian reading of the Pauline text. The next two sections of the chapter shed new light on the positions of Theodoret regarding the Marcionites, Valentinians, Manichaeans and Trinitarian controversies, with the purpose of illustrating the unitarian position of Theodoret against the dualistic visions of the aforementioned heresies. In doing so, Lorrain is particularly interested in retracing the sources of the commentary, so as to confirm a comprehensive use of the traditional topoi (especially from John Chrysostom's homilies) by Theodoret, but with an independent rearrangement.

Finally, the book has a rich appendix: alongside a list of abbreviations, there is a complete bibliography with a very useful thematic organization. This is followed by a detailed list of recurrent Greek expressions in the book, with reference to the authors, and an index of biblical characters. Then, in preparation for her forthcoming critical edition of the text, Lorrain appends a list of concordances between her new edition, the Migne Patrologia Graeca, and the text of Romans, and an index of citations from the Bible, Theodoret and the Greek Church Fathers. The book ends with a list of manuscripts, including catenae, and printed editions. This study is a valuable contribution to the field of Biblical Studies and offers an innovative investigation on the commentary of Theodoret of Cyr. After the pivotal works of J. N. Guinot, 5 used by Lorrain especially for the evaluation of the sources of Theodoret and the section on the Trinitarian and heretical controversies, this monograph offers a detailed panorama of the New Testament exegesis of Theodore of Cyr for the first time. Another valuable contribution is Lorrain's thorough analysis of the relationship between Τheodoret of Cyr and John Chrysostom. Besides the previous works in the field,6 she offers an accurate philological analysis of the similarities and the differences between the two authors and a detailed reconstruction of Theodoret's working method. Furthermore, the questions posed by Lorrain suggest stimulating reflections on the sources of the commentary and on the influence of the contemporary exegetical tradition. Did Theodoret copy directly from the homilies of John Chrysostom, from an annotated Bible or personal notes? To what extent is the practice of selection, substitution, and transposition of the text of the sources related to the way of excerpting and combining exegetical material of catena manuscripts? This last question could provide a starting point for further discussion.

One of the strengths of Lorrain's analysis is the extensive quotation of sources, from the classical tradition to the New Testament works. In particular, in the chapter about the language of Theodoret, she provides an exhaustive description of the terms, with fluent French translations and an indication of the number of occurrences in Greek Church Fathers and classical authors (Homer, Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Plato…). A linguistic analysis of the words is provided as well. Overall, her method of investigation of the sources is consistent and precise: for instance, in the summary table at p. 132 Lorrain gathers a considerable amount of data from the Prologue of the In Romanos in order to illustrate the attempt of Theodoret to order the Pauline epistles chronologically.

To conclude, the book provides a very helpful guide for a comprehensive understanding of the commentary of Theodoret of Cyr, especially in combination with the forthcoming critical edition7Besides the number of translations into modern languages (including the English translation by R. C. Hill, Theodoret of Cyr. Commentary on the Letters of St. Paul. Brooklin MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2001), we need a revised and updated edition of the text which takes into consideration the manuscripts of the direct and indirect traditions (catenae) and the previous editions of the In Romanos, especially that of Jean Paul Migne for the Patrologia Graeca.8 Such work accords with the increasing interest in the study of commentaries and catenae of the New Testament: the ParaTexBib Project led by Martin Wallraff and Patrick Andrist at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München and the Catena Project led by Hugh Houghton at the University of Birmingham, alongside the revised edition of Geerard - Noret, Clavis Patrum Graecorum. Concilia. Catenae,9 testify how commentaries and catenae are a vibrant field in New Testament textual criticism.


1.   Henceforth, In Romanos.
2.   Theodoret, bishop of Cyr (393-450/460?).
3.   Lorrain, p. 92.
4.   Lorrain, p. 215.
5.   J. N. Guinot, L'Exégèse de Théodoret de Cyr and Theodoret de Cyr (Théologie historique 100), Paris, 1995; Théodoret de Cyr, exégète et théologien (= Exégète et théologien), 2 vol. (Patrimoines. Christianisme), Paris, 2012, among all.
6.   The work of P. M. Parvis (Theodoret's Commentary on the Epistles of St. Paul: historical setting and exegetical practice, diss. pro manuscripto, Oxford, 1975) focuses on the contacts between Theodoret of Cyr, Theodore of Mopsuestia and John Chrysostom, while the contributions of J.-N. Guinot (see note 4) examine the sources of the commentary of Theodoret and the contacts with his commentaries on the Old Testament.
7.   Before the publication of the forthcoming critical edition by Agnès Lorrain for the Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller, the most up-to-date version of Theodoret's commentary is Agnès Lorrain, Théodoret de Cyr, Interpretatio in Epistulam ad Romanos: édition, traduction et commentaire, diss. pro manuscripto, Université de Paris-Sorbonne, Paris, 2015.
8.   J. P. Migne, B. Theodoreti episcopi Cyrensis Interpretatio XIV epistularum Sancti Pauli Apostoli, PG 82, Paris, 1864.
9.   M. Geerard – J. Noret, Clavis Patrum Graecorum. Concilia. Catenae. Deuxième edition, revue et mise à jour, Corpus Christianorum. Clavis Patrum Graecorum (CCCPG 4), Brepols, 2018.

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