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Theodore of Mopsuestia in Cilicia (350 – 429)

by John Wijngaards

The following three extracts are taken from Theodore’s Commentaries on St. Paul ’s letters.

On 1 Tim 3,11. Since Paul was speaking immediately before about deacons, and since this name [deacon] applies also to women given to similar tasks, he quite logically added that the women also should be chaste. This does not mean that the wives of deacons were established in this service, but that any women who were established in it to exercise the same office as the [male] deacons had to be as distinguished in their zeal for virtue as those same deacons . . . . After having mentioned cases of women given the responsibility of the diaconate, a mention which is explicable because of the similarity of the names, [Paul] went on to pick up the thread again of what he had been saying about [male] deacons. And he added: “Let deacons be the husband of one wife.”[1]

It is worth adding that we should not be surprised at the fact that he [Paul] does not mention subdeacons or readers here. For these [functions] are actually outside the orders of real ministry [λειτουργια] in the Church. They were created later on by the need of many things that had to be done by others for the good of the multitude of the faithful. That is why the law does not permit them to receive ordination in front of the altar because they do not minister [’ου λειτουργοντ] at this mystery [= sacred service at the altar]. For the readers look after the readings and the subdeacons in the sacristy prepare what is needed for the service of the deacons and look after the lights in church. However, only the priests and deacons perform the ministry of the mystery [at the altar]: the former by fulfilling their priestly role, the latter by ministering to sacred things.[2]

On 1 Timothy 5,9. The apostle [Paul] wanted above all to indicate the age that must be attained by those to be received into the order of widows. Certain people, however, paying little attention to his reason for providing this indication, have wondered if it was possible to ordain women deacons [at a younger age, imagining that women deacons somehow necessarily had to be received into the higher order of widows. These people have not understood that if [Paul] had wished to prescribe such an age rule for ordination, he would certainly have prescribed it first of all for priests and bishops. But this is manifestly not the case. Paul never believed that function should be deter­mined in accordance with age. Timothy, after all, was very young.[3]


1. Although the text was originally in Greek, we have only a Latin translation of it. In Epistolas b. Pauli Commnetarii, ed. H.B.Swete, vol.2, Cambridge 1882,pp.128-9.
2. In Epistolas, pp. 132-4.
3. In Epistolas, pp.158-160.

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