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Theophilus of Antioch

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Venerated in  Roman Catholic Church
Feast  13 October
Canonized  Pre-congregation
Died  183 AD, Antioch, Turkey
Theophilus of Antioch wwwcatholicorgfilesimagessaints2263jpg

Similar  Athenagoras of Athens, Justin Martyr, Pope Theophilus of Alexan, Agabus, Babylas of Antioch

Theophilus of antioch

Theophilus, Patriarch of Antioch (Greek: Θεόφιλος ὁ Ἀντιοχεύς) succeeded Eros c. 169, and was succeeded by Maximus I c. 183, according to Henry Fynes Clinton, but these dates are only approximations. His death probably occurred between 183 and 185.


We gather from his writings (the only remaining being his apology to Autolycus) that he was born a pagan, not far from the Tigris and Euphrates, and was led to embrace Christianity by studying the Holy Scriptures, especially the prophetical books. He makes no reference to his office in his existing writings, nor is any other fact in his life recorded. Eusebius, however, speaks of the zeal which he and the other chief shepherds displayed in driving away the heretics who were attacking Christ's flock, with special mention of his work against Marcion. He made contributions to the departments of Christian literature, polemics, exegetics, and apologetics. William Sanday describes him as "one of the precursors of that group of writers who, from Irenaeus to Cyprian, not only break the obscurity which rests on the earliest history of the Church, but alike in the East and in the West carry it to the front in literary eminence, and distance all their heathen contemporaries".


Eusebius and Jerome mention numerous works of Theophilus existing in their time. They are:

  1. the existing Apologia addressed to Autolycus;
  2. a work against the heresy of Hermogenes;
  3. against that of Marcion;
  4. some catechetical writings;
  5. Jerome also mentions having read some commentaries on the gospel and on Proverbs, which bore Theophilus's name, but which he regarded as inconsistent with the elegance and style of his other works.

The Apology to Autolycus

The one undoubted extant work of Theophilus, the 7th Bishop of Antioch (c. 169–c. 183), is his Apology to Autolycus (Apologia ad Autolycum), a series of books defending Christianity written to a pagan friend.

The ostensible object of Ad Autolycum is to convince a pagan friend, Autolycus, a man of great learning and an earnest seeker after truth, of the divine authority of the Christian religion, while at the same time exhibiting the falsehood and absurdity of paganism. His arguments, drawn almost entirely from the Old Testament, with but very scanty references to the New Testament, are largely chronological. He makes the truth of Christianity depend on his demonstration that the books of the Old Testament were long anterior to the writings of the Greeks and were divinely inspired. Whatever truth the pagan authors contain he regards as borrowed from Moses and the prophets, who alone declare God's revelation to man. He contrasts the perfect consistency of the divine oracles, which he regards as a convincing proof of their inspiration, with the inconsistencies of the pagan philosophers. He contrasts the account of the creation of the universe and of man, on which, together with the history contained in the earlier chapters of Genesis, he comments at great length but with singularly little intelligence, with the statements of Plato, "reputed the wisest of all the Greeks", of Aratus, who had the insight to assert that the earth was spherical, and other Greek writers on whom he pours contempt as mere ignorant retailers of stolen goods. He supplies a series of dates, beginning with Adam and ending with Marcus Aurelius, who had died shortly before he wrote, thus dating this work to the years of the reign of Commodus, 180-92. Theophilus regards the Sibylline books that were still in Rome as authentic and inspired productions, quoting the Sibylline oracles (scholars dispute that these are the same) largely as declaring the same truths with the prophets. The omission by the Greeks of all mention of the Old Testament from which they draw all their wisdom, is ascribed to a self-chosen blindness in refusing to recognize the only God and in persecuting the followers of the only fountain of truth. He can recognize in them no aspirations after the divine life, no earnest gropings after truth, no gleams of the all-illumining light. The pagan religion was a mere worship of idols, bearing the names of dead men. Almost the only point in which he will allow the pagan writers to be in harmony with revealed truth is in the doctrine of retribution and punishment after death for sins committed in life. Theophilus's critical powers were not above his age. He adopts Herodotus's derivation of θεός (theòs) from τίθημι (tithemi), since God set all things in order, comparing with it that of Plato from θεεῖν (theein), because the Deity is ever in motion. He asserts that Satan is called the dragon (Greek drakon) on account of his having revolted apodedrakenai from God, and traces the Bacchanalian cry "Evoe" to the name of Eve as the first sinner. He discovers the reason of blood coagulating on the surface of the ground in the divine word to Cain, the earth struck with terror refusing to drink it in. In addition, Theophilus misquotes Plato several times, ranking Zopyrus among the Greeks, and speaking of Pausanias as having only run a risk of starvation instead of being actually starved to death in the temple of Minerva.


It is most notable for being the earliest extant Christian work to use the word "Trinity" (Greek: τριάς trias), although it does not use the words "the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" to describe the Trinity. Rather, Theophilus himself puts it as "God, his Word (Logos) and his Wisdom (Sophia)." It is possible that the word may have been used before this time as many Greek Christian works before Theophilus were lost. The context for his use of the word Trinity is commentary on the successive work of the creation weeks (Genesis chapters 1-3). According to Theophilus, the sun is the image of God; the moon of man, whose death and resurrection are prefigured by the monthly changes of that luminary. The first three days before the creation of the heavenly bodies are types of the Trinity.

Theophilus explains the Trinity as follows:

Alternatively, the references to the Logos and Sophia (wisdom) may be ideas taken from Greek philosophy or Hellenistic Judaism. The concept of intermediate divine beings was common to Platonism and heretical Jewish sects. In Proverbs 8 Wisdom (as feminine consort) is described as God's Counsellor and Workmistress, who dwelt beside Him before the creation of the world.

Conditional immortality and resurrection

Ad Autolycum 1:13, 2:27 illustrate Theophilus' belief in conditional immortality and judgment at the future resurrection.

References to Old Testament

The theology of Theophilus was rooted in Jewish ideas and the Hebrew scriptures. Theophilus's quotation from the Old Testament scripture is copious, drawing largely from the Pentateuch and to a smaller extent from the other historical books. His references to Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah, and Jeremiah are also numerous, and he quotes from Ezekiel, Hosea and other minor prophets. His direct evidence respecting the canon of the New Testament does not go much beyond a few precepts from the Sermon on the Mount, a possible quotation from Luke 18:27, and quotations from Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 1 Timothy. More important is a distinct citation from the opening of the Gospel of St. John (1:1-3), mentioning the evangelist by name, as one of the inspired men by whom the Holy Scriptures were written The use of a metaphor found in 2 Peter 1:19 bears on the date of that epistle. According to Eusebius, Theophilus quoted the Book of Revelation in his work against Hermogenes; a very precarious allusion has been seen in ii. 28, cf. Revelation 12:3, 7, etc. A full index of these and other possible references to the Old and New Testament is given by Otto.

Although Theophilus cites the opening of the Gospel of St. John (1:1), he does not speak of the incarnation of the Word in the person Jesus of Nazareth. Theophilus makes no mention of the name of Jesus or use the word Christ or the phrase Son of God. There is no explicit reference to a historical person Jesus or to the concept of the atoning sacrificial death of the Son of God.

Meaning of term Christian

Theophilus explains the meaning of the term Christian as follows:


In his third book Theophilus presents a detailed chronology “from the foundation of the world" to emperor Marcus Aurelius. This begins with the Biblical first man Adam through to emperor Marcus Aurelius. Theophilus lived in the reign of this emperor. The chronology puts the creation of the world at about 5529 BC: "All the years from the creation of the world amount to a total of 5,698 years." He uses this chronology to prove that Moses and the other Hebrew prophets preceded the philosophers. The leading chronological epochs correspond to the Old Testament prophets.

Patristic Citations

The silence regarding his Apology in the East is remarkable; we fail to find the work mentioned or quoted by Greek writers before the time of Eusebius. Several passages in the works of Irenaeus show an undoubted relationship to passages in one small section of the Apologia, but Harnack thinks it probable that the quotations, limited to two chapters, are not taken from the Apologia, but from Theophilus's work against Marcion In the West there are a few references to the Autolycus. It is quoted by Lactantius under the title Liber de Temporibus ad Autolycum. There is a passage first cited by Maranus in Novatian which shows great similarity to the language of Theophilus. In the next century the book is mentioned by Gennadius as "tres libelli de fide." He found them attributed to Theophilus of Alexandria, but the disparity of style caused him to question the authorship.


Jacques Paul Migne's Patrologia Graeca, and a small edition (Cambridge 1852) by W. G. Humphry. Johann Carl Theodor von Otto's edition in the Corpus apologetarum christianorum saeculi secundi vol. ii. (Jena, 1861) is by far the most complete and useful. English translations by Joseph Betty (Oxford 1722), W. B. Flower (London, 1860), Marcus Dods (Clark's Ante-Nicene Library), and Robert M. Grant (Clarendon Press, 1970).

This article uses text from A Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century A.D., with an Account of the Principal Sects and Heresies by Henry Wace


Theophilus of Antioch Wikipedia