Pope Theophilus of Alexandria

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Theophilus of Alexandria
Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark
Goleniscev Papyrus - Theophilus on Serapeion (crop).jpg
Theophilus atop the Serapeum, depiction from the Alexandrian World Chronicle
Papacy began 384
Papacy ended 15 October 412
Predecessor Timothy I
Successor Cyril "Pillar of Faith"
Personal details
Born Egypt
Died 15 October 412
Buried Dominicium, Alexandria
Nationality Egyptian
Denomination Coptic Orthodox Christian
Residence Saint Mark's Church
Feast day 18 Paopi (Coptic Calendar)
15 October (Julian Calendar)
Currently 28 October (Gregorian Calendar) until 2099

Theophilus was the 23rd Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark. He became Pope at a time of conflict between the newly dominant Christians and the pagan establishment in Alexandria, each of which was supported by a segment of the Alexandrian populace. Edward Gibbon described him as "...the perpetual enemy of peace and virtue, a bold, bad man, whose hands were alternately polluted with gold and with blood."[1]


In 391, Theophilus (according to Rufinus and Sozomen) discovered a hidden pagan temple. He and his followers mockingly displayed the pagan artifacts to the public which offended the pagans enough to provoke an attack on the Christians. The Christian faction counter-attacked, forcing the pagans to retreat to the Serapeum. A letter was sent by the emperor that Theophilus should grant the offending pagans pardon, but destroy the temple; according to Socrates Scholasticus, a contemporary of his, the latter aspect (the destruction of the temple) was added as a result of heavy solicitation for it by Theophilus.

Scholasticus goes on to state that:

The destruction of the Serapeum was seen by many ancient and modern authors as representative of the triumph of Christianity over other religions. According to John of Nikiu in the 7th century, when the philosopher Hypatia was lynched and flayed by a mob of Alexandrian Coptic monks, they acclaimed Theophilus's nephew and successor Cyril as "the new Theophilus, for he had destroyed the last remains of idolatry in the city".[3]

Theophilus turned on the followers of Origen after having supported them for a time. He switched his view of God from the incorporeal view of God held by Origen to the anthropomorphic view held by many local monks who were hostile to his pastoral letter of 399.[4]

He was accompanied by his nephew Cyril to Constantinople in 403 and there presided at the "Synod of the Oak" that deposed John Chrysostom.

On 10 July in the Eastern (Greek) Orthodox Synaxarion, there is a commemoration for the 10,000 monks slain on the orders of Pope Theophilus in his paranoid campaign against perceived Origenism and the Four Tall Brethren. His nephew and dynastic successor Cyril was canonized in both Eastern and Western Christendom, with the notable exception of the Assyrian Church of the East, for his articulation and defense of the hypostatic union, his central role at the First Council of Ephesus, and his opposition to Patriarch Nestorius of Constantinople.

Surviving works

In popular culture

Theophilus appears in the novel Flow Down Like Silver, Hypatia of Alexandria by Ki Longfellow.

He appears as a character played by Manuel Cauchi in the 2009 film Agora, directed by Alejandro Amenábar.


The lunar crater Theophilus was named after him, as part of a group of three lunar craters named after prominent Alexandrian Christians.

Pope Theophilus is venerated as a saint only within the Coptic Church of Alexandria; his sainthood is not recognized by the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Assyrian Churches.

Further reading

  • Charles, R. H., The Chronicle of John, Bishop of Nikiu: Translated from Zotenberg's Ethiopic Text, 1916. Reprinted 2007. Evolution Publishing.
  • Russell, N., Theophilus of Alexandria (London, Routledge, 2006) (The Early Church Fathers).
  • Polański, T., "The Three Young Men in the Furnace and the Art of Ecphrasis in the Coptic Sermon by Theophilus of Alexandria," Studies in Ancient Art and Civilisation, 10 (2007), 79–100.


  1. ^ Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, New York: The Modern Library, n.d., v. 2, p. 57 et seq.
  2. ^ Socrates Scholasticus, The ccEcclesiastical History, 16
  3. ^ Chronicle of John of Nikiu
  4. ^ J.N.D. Kelly, Golden Mouth, New York, Cornell University Press, pp. 191–193

External links

  • "Theophilos (385–412)". Official web site of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa. Retrieved 14 November 2016. 
  • "Theophilos". The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 14 November 2016. 
  • Christian Classics Ethereal Library: Theophilus
  • Bede's Library: Theophilus
  • Order of the Magnificat: St. Cyril
  • Cyril of Alexandria
  • Nestorian Theology
  • John of Nikiu, Chronicle: the lynching of Hypatia
  • Socrates and Sozumenos Ecclesiastical Histories ch. vii
Titles of the Great Christian Church
Preceded by
Timothy I
Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria
Succeeded by

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