Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Saint Theophilus of Antioch


Bishop, Martyr, and Early Church Father

Saint Theophilus of Antioch, is one of the Greek Fathers of the Church, and one of whom was a great apologist, an apologist in truth, as great as Justin Martyr or Irenaeus of Lyons in his understanding and reasoning. Born a pagan in the second century, he was originally a philosopher in the eastern Roman Empire, and he began studying the Scriptures with the intent of attacking Christianity. However, his study of the Scriptures demonstrated the absurdity of the pagan gods, and convinced him of the truth of Christianity, and so, he converted.

Little is known of the early life of Theophilus, other than that he came from that part of Syria which bordered upon Mesopotamia. Theophilus received a Greek education and seems to have had some knowledge of Hebrew. Eusebius in his History of the Church (Ch.4,20), wrote that Theophilus was the sixth bishop of Antioch from the apostles, the names of his predecessors being Eros, Cornelius, Hero, Ignatius, and Euodius. We also learn from Eusebius, that Theophilus succeeded to the bishopric in the 8th year of the reign of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, which would have been about 168 A.D. There is some disagreement as to when Theophilus died, some sources saying his episcopate lasted 13 years until 181 A.D, others indicating his episcopate lasted 21 years until his death in 189 A.D.

Saint Theophilus was apparently a prolific writer, and Eusebius, Saint Jerome, and others mention his numerous works against the prevailing heresies of the day. The only work which survives, is his three volume “Apology” or “Defense of Christianity” to his friend Autolycus, a pagan. In this three volume work, Theophilus has the distinction of his being the earliest writing to contain the Greek term “triados” (Book 2, Chapter 15) which is the equivalent of the English word Trinity. It would be 1 or 2 decades later before we find in the North African writer Tertullian's writings, the Latin equivalent "Trinitas" for the first time. Eusebius mentions other writings of his, a work against the heresy of Hermogenes, another against Marcion, and a few books for the instruction and edification of the faithful. St. Jerome mentions a Commentary on the Book of Proverbs and Commentaries on the Gospel. Of all these works, there remain but the fragments of the Commentaries cited by St. Jerome.

Some believe that Theophilus' Apology was written in response to a published work against Christianity written by Autolycus, but, Theophilus himself indicates in his work, that what he writes is in response to disparaging remarks Autolycus made to him in conversation. Indeed, at the very beginning of his Apology, Theophilus wrote:

A fluent tongue and an elegant style afford pleasure and such praise as vainglory delights in, to wretched men who have been corrupted in mind; the lover of truth does not give heed to ornamented speeches, but examines the real matter of the speech, what it is, and what kind it is. Since, then, my friend, you have assailed me with empty words, boasting of your gods of wood and stone, hammered and cast, carved and graven, which neither see nor hear, for they are idols, and the works of men's hands; and since, besides, you call me a Christian, as if this were a damning name to bear, I, for my part, avow that I am a Christian, and bear this name beloved of God, hoping to be serviceable to God. For it is not the case, as you suppose, that the name of God is hard to bear; but possibly you entertain this opinion of God, because you are yourself yet unserviceable to Him. (Book 1, Chapter 1)

Theophilus is severe, yet also gentle is his dealings with his antagonistic friend, and his contempt with the pagan heathenism is apparent, and he even repudiates Plato and Socrates, and stressed his maxim, "The world by wisdom knew not God." The entire work is well suited to lead an intelligent pagan to at least a cordial acceptance of Christianity. The three books are not however, as one might suppose, one work, but, were three distinct works which were joined together. This was done because there is a very real connection between the three books, in that all three are addressed to the same person, Autolycus, and all three deal with almost the same topics.

The first book has 14 chapters, and is a response to Autolycus who had asked Theophilus to show him his God, had praised the pagan gods, and had mocked the name Christian. Theophilus explains the nature of God who is invisible to the eyes, but, who's presence is known to us:

You will say, then, to me, "Do you, who see God, explain to me the appearance of God." Hear, O man. The appearance of God is ineffable and indescribable, and cannot be seen by eyes of flesh. For in glory He is incomprehensible, in greatness unfathomable, in height inconceivable, in power incomparable, in wisdom unrivaled, in goodness inimitable, in kindness unutterable. For if I say He is Light, I name but His own work; if I call Him Word, I name but His sovereignty; if I call Him Mind, I speak but of His wisdom; if I say He is Spirit, I speak of His breath; if I call Him Wisdom, I speak of His offspring; if I call Him Strength, I speak of His sway; if I call Him Power, I am mentioning His activity; if Providence, I but mention His goodness; if I call Him Kingdom, I but mention His glory; if I call Him Lord, I mention His being judge; if I call Him Judge, I speak of Him as being just; if I call Him Father, I speak of all things as being from Him; if I call Him Fire, I but mention His anger. You will say, then, to me, "Is God angry?" Yes; He is angry with those who act wickedly, but He is good, and kind, and merciful, to those who love and fear Him; for He is a chastener of the godly, and father of the righteous; but he is a judge and punisher of the impious. (Book 1, Chapter 3)

Theophilus goes on to explain in the first book, that we can only contemplate God when we are clothed in incorruptibility. He then denounces the pagan gods, the worship of the emperors and extols the Christians:

Wherefore I will rather honor the king [than your gods], not, indeed, worshiping him, but praying for him. But God, the living and true God, I worship, knowing that the king is made by Him. You will say, then, to me, "Why do you not worship the king?" Because he is not made to be worshiped, but to be reverenced with lawful honor, for he is not a god, but a man appointed by God, not to be worshiped, but to judge justly. For in a kind of way his government is committed to him by God: as He will not have those called kings whom He has appointed under Himself; for "king" is his title, and it is not lawful for another to use it; so neither is it lawful for any to be worshiped but God only. Wherefore, O man, you are wholly in error. Accordingly, honor the king, be subject to him, and pray for him with loyal mind; for if you do this, you do the will of God. For the law that is of God, says, "My son, fear thou the Lord and the king, and be not disobedient to them; for suddenly they shall take vengeance on their enemies."

And about your laughing at me and calling me "Christian," you know not what you are saying. First, because that which is anointed is sweet and serviceable, and far from contemptible. For what ship can be serviceable and seaworthy, unless it be first caulked [anointed]? Or what castle or house is beautiful and serviceable when it has not been anointed? And what man, when he enters into this life or into the gymnasium, is not anointed with oil? And what work has either ornament or beauty unless it be anointed and burnished? Then the air and all that is under heaven is in a certain sort anointed by light and spirit; and are you unwilling to be anointed with the oil of God? Wherefore we are called Christians on this account, because we are anointed with the oil of God. (Book 1, Chapters 11 and 12)

The second book of Theophilus' Apology to Autolycus contains 38 chapters, and more fully develops the thoughts and ideas expressed in the first book. Theophilus exposes the insufficiency and childishness of the pagan teachings, and contrasts those teachings with those of Holy Scripture concerning the origin of the world, the worship due to God, and the moral life man should lead:

When we had formerly some conversation, my very good friend Autolycus, and when you inquired who was my God, and for a little paid attention to my discourse, I made some explanations to you concerning my religion; and then having bid one another adieu, we went with much mutual friendliness each to his own house although at first you had home somewhat hard upon me. For you know and remember that you supposed our doctrine was foolishness. As you then afterwards urged me to do, I am desirous, though not educated to the art of speaking, of more accurately demonstrating, by means of this tractate, the vain labour and empty worship in which you are held; and I wish also, from a few of your own histories which you read, and perhaps do not yet quite understand, to make the truth plain to you. (Book 2, Chapter 1)

The third book in Theophilus' Apology to Autolycus, contains 30 chapters, and is a response to Autolycus' charge that “your religion is new, and your Scriptures are recent writings." The first 15 chapters Theophilus devoted to showing the futility of the accusations brought against Christians concerning immorality and cannibalism, and in the remainder he takes up the chronological discussion and gives a resume of Jewish history, and concludes that Moses must have lived from 900 to 1000 years before the Trojan War. He counts 5695 years from the beginning of the world to the death of Marcus Aurelius. He begins:

Theophilus to Autolycus, greeting: Seeing that writers are fond of composing a multitude of books for vainglory,--some concerning gods, and wars, and chronology, and some, too, concerning useless legends, and other such labour in vain, in which you also have been used to employ yourself until now, and do not grudge to endure that toil; but though you conversed with me, are still of opinion that the word of truth is an idle tale, and suppose that our writings are recent and modern;--on this account I also will not grudge the labour of compendiously setting forth to you, God helping me, the antiquity of our books, reminding you of it in few words, that you may not grudge the labour of reading it, but may recognise the folly of the other authors. (Book 3, Chapter 1)

Theophilus was a most patient man, who took a great deal of time and care in his defense of the true faith. He had an intimate knowledge of Holy Scripture, and was very apt at demonstrating the truth of God and His Church as compared to the absurdities and childishness of the pagan gods and their followers. The Apology to Autolycus can be read in it's entirety online.

From Saint Jerome's “Lives of Illustrious Men”:

Theophilus the bishop

Theophilus, sixth bishop of the church of Antioch, in the reign of the emperor Marcus Antoninus Verus composed a book Against Marcion, which is still extant, also three volumes To Autolycus and one Against the heresy of Hermogenes and other short and elegant treatises, well fitted for the edification of the church. I have read, under his name, commentaries On the Gospel and On the proverbs of Solomon which do not appear to me to correspond in style and language with the elegance and expressiveness of the above works.

Copyright © 2006 Steve Smith. All Rights Reserved.


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