6. Bishop of Alexandria, in the latter part of the fourth and the beginning of the fifth centuries of our era, is distinguished for his persecutions of the Origenists, for his hostility to Chrysostom, and as being altogether one of the most violent and unscrupulous even among the ecclesiastics of the fifth century. His life belongs rather to ecclesiastical than to literary history, and therefore only a very brief account of it is required here.
He succeeded Timotheus, as bishop of Alexandria, in A. D. 385 (Socrat. H. E.
5.12; not 387, as the date is given by Theophanes, p. 60b., and Sozomen, H.E.
7.14; see Clinton, Fasti Rom. s. a. 387
). Soon after his elevation to the episcopal throne, he secured the favour of the emperor by a most characteristic manoeuvre. When the fate of the empire was suspended on the battle which was to decide between Maximus and Theodosius, A. D. 388, he sent his legate, Isidorus, to Rome, provided with letters to both, the one or the other of which he was to deliver, with certain presents, according to the issue of the battle (Sozom. H. E.
He also emulated the zeal of Theodosius against heathenism ; and having in A. D. 391 obtained the emperor's permission to take severe measures with the pagans in his diocese, he proceeded to destroy their temples, and to seize their property, until, after Alexandria had been troubled with insurrections and bloodshed, most of them were driven out of Egypt (Socrat. H. E.
5.16). How little this religious zeal proceeded from the dictates of conscience or of calm judgment may be seen by the pains which Theophilus afterwards took to force the bishopric of Cyrene upon Synesius, in spite of his avowed devotion to the heathen Greek philosophy. [SYNESIUS.]
His behaviour to the different sects, into which the Christians of his diocese were divided, was marked by the same unscrupulous inconsistency.
He appears to have passed a part of his early life among the monks of Nitria, who were divided among themselves upon the chief controversy of the day, some being Origenists, and others Anthropomorphites.
The ignorance of the latter party he must therefore have well known, and he was far too strong-minded to share their prejudices; while, on the other hand, he was quite capable of appreciating the works of Origen, with which it is evident that he was well acquainted.
At first, he declared himself decidedly against the Anthropomorphites, and in opposing them he sided openly with the Origenists, and drew his arguments from the works of Origen. When, however, it became evident that the majority of the Egyptian monks were Anthropomorphites, and when that party had shown their strength by the tumults which they stirred up, about A. D. 399, Theophilus went over to their side, condemned the writings of Origen, and comnanded all his clergy to condemn them, and commenced a cruel persecution of the monks and others who opposed the Anthropomorphites; and all this, while he himself continued to rend the works of Origen with admiration. In A. D. 401, he issued a violent paschal or encyclical letter. in which he condemned the writings of Origen, and threatened his adherents; and in the following year he sent forth another letter of the same character, to the unbounded delight of Jerome, who had been long intimate with Theophilus, and who writes to him on the occasion in terns of exultation and flattery, which are absolutely disgusting (Epist. 57,
ed. Mait., 86, ed. Vallars.).
By these proceedings, and by his general character, Theophilus well earned the name of Ἀμφαλλάξ
, which we find applied to him (Pallad. apud Montfauc. vol. xiii. p. 20).
The persecuted monks of the Origenist party fled for refuge to Constantinople, where they were kindly received by Chrysostom, against whom Theophilus already had a grudge, because Chrysostom had been made bishop of Constantinople in spite of his opposition.
The subsequent events, the call of Theophilus to Constantinople by the empress Eudoxia, and his success in procuring the deposition and banishment of Chrysostom (A. D. 403), are related under CHRYSOSTOMUS [Vol. I. p. 704a.] During the tumult which followed the deposition of Chrysostom, Theophilus made his escape secretly from Constantinople, and returned to Alexandria, where, in the following year (A. D. 404) he issued a third paschal letter against the Origenists, and where he closed his turbulent career in A. D. 412.
The works of Theophilus mentioned by the ancient writers are :--
Against the Origenists
One against the Origenists, which is quoted by Theodoret (Dial. 2,
p. 191), under the title of προσφωνητικὸν πρὸς τοὺς φρονοῦντας τὰ Ὠριγένονς
, and which Gennadius (33) calls Adversus Origenem unum et grande volumen
Letter to Porphyry
A Letter to Porphyry, bishop of Antioch
, quoted in the Acta Concil. Ephes.
The Three Paschal Letters
The three Paschal Letters, or episcopal charges, already mentioned, and one more; and some other unimportant orations. letters, and controversial works.
The Paschal Letters are still extant in a translation by Jerome, and are published in the Antidot. contra divers. omnium seculorum heresias, Basil. 1528, fol.
The whole of his extant remains are contained in Gallandii Biblioth. Patr. vol. vii. pp. 603, foll.
Socrat. H. E.
6.7-17; Sozom. H. E.
8.11-19; Cave, Hist. Litt. s.a. 385,
pp. 279, 280; Fabric. Bibl. Graec.
vol. vii. pp. 108, foll.; Murdock, note to Mosheim, Eccl. Hist.
vol. i. p. 444, Engl. ed.; Gieseler, Eccl. Hist.
vol. i. pp. 364-367, Davidson's transl.; Clinton, Fast. Rom. s. aa. 385, 387, 401, 402, 404.