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Theophilus of Alexandria


Patriarch 385 to 428, theologian, and ecclesiastical statesman. Theophilus, the uncle of Cyril of Alexandria, was evidently well educated although almost nothing is known of his background or early career. While still a priest or deacon he composed a table computing the dates of Easter and the paschal cycle for the years 380 to 479. As patriarch he engaged in a violent war on pagan survivals in Alexandria and, with the permission of Emperor theodosius i, destroyed (391) many pagan shrines, including the famous Sarapeum, the Mithraeum, and the Temple of Dionysius. He used the materials from these temples to construct a large number of new churches.

Evidently a follower of origen in his earlier years, Theophilus was challenged by a group of Egyptian monks on a statement in one of his pastoral letters concerning the incorporeity of God. He then changed his opinion in regard to the orthodoxy of Origen, siding with St. jerome against Bp. john of jerusalem and rufinus of aquileia. In a synod at Alexandria (401) he condemned Origenism and began a persecution of the monks in the Nitrian Desert, four of whom, called the tall brothers, appealed for justification to john chrysos tom in Constantinople. Theophilus used this development to organize a campaign against John, which ended at the Synod of the oak near Chalcedon (403), in which John was deposed and exiled. Thereafter Theophilus seems to have played an important part in the politics of the Oriental Church and, at home, to have earned the title of "Pharao." But this characterization depends on evidence supplied by his enemies and the friends of John Chrysostom. He was esteemed by Pope Leo I (Epist. 53, 63, 74) and Vigilius of Thapsus (Contra Eutyches 1.15), and was a friend of the abbots Orsiesi and Ammon, whom he considered his spiritual fathers. The apophthegmata patrum (Patrologia Graeca 65:200) represents him as a reputable fosterer of monasticism.

Because Theophilus was considered suspect as the opponent of John Chrysostom, his works have been preserved only in part. Besides the Paschal Canon, he wrote many letters, among which were three letters addressed to Jerome regarding the Origenistic controversy and two to epiphanius of salamis. He was also in correspondence with John Chrysostom regarding the Tall Brothers, with Popes anastasius i and innocent i, and with Bishops Flavian and Porphyrius of Antioch. Information regarding 26 of his paschal letters has been preserved; those for 401, 402, and 403 were translated into Latin by St. Jerome (Epist. 96, 98, 100); others are mentioned by contemporaries, and a few fragments have been found in Coptic.

Theophilus composed a violent pamphlet against John Chrysostom (Facundus of Hermiane, Pro defensione trium capitulorum 6.5), and Jerome translated it into Latin, preserving a fragment in his own Epist. 113. He also wrote against Origen (Theodoret, Dialogues 2), probably in his pastoral letters. Of his homilies six have been found and edited, while a number in Coptic and Ethiopic still await edition.

Many spurious works have been accredited to Theophilus, but recent scholarship indicates that he may be the author of the De visione Isaiae VI.17, edited by A. M. Amelli as a work of St. Jerome. Theophilus is commemorated as a saint in the Coptic Church on October 15; in the Syrian, on October 17.

Bibliography: Patrologia Graeca, ed. j. p. migne (Paris 185766) 65:4752. j. quasten, Patrology, 3 v. (Westminster, Md. 1950) 3:100106. b. altaner, Patrology, tr. h. graef from 5th German ed. (New York 1960). g. lazzati, Teofilo d'Alessandria (Milan 1935). w. bright, A Dictionary of Christian Biography, ed. w. smith and h. wace, 4 v. (London 187787) 4:9991008. j. faivre, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillart et al. (Paris 1912) 2:319323. r. delobet and m. richard, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables Générales 1951) 15.1:523530. a. favale, Teofilo d'Alessandria (Turin 1958). h. g. opitz, Paulys Realenzyklopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, ed. g. wissowa et al. 5A.2 (1934) 214965. m. richard, Muséon 52 (1939) 3350, writings. e. schwartz, Christliche und jüdische Ostertafeln (Berlin 1905). e. drioton, Revue d'Orient chrétien 20 (191517) 92100; 113128, paschal letters. c. baur, Revue Bénédictine 23 (1906) 430436; John Chrysostom and His Time, tr. m. gonzaga, 2 v. (Westminster, Md. 196061). For the homilies see j. quasten, Patrology 3:104105.

[f. x. murphy]

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