Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Theophilus, bishop of Antioch
Theophilus (4), bp. of Antioch (Eus. H. E. iv. 20; Hieron. Ep. ad Algas. quaest. 6), succeeded Eros c. 171, and was succeeded by Maximin c. 183, according to Clinton (Fasti Romani), but the dates are only approximations. His death may probably be placed c. 183–185 (Lightfoot, S. Ignatius, vol. ii. p. 166). We gather from his writings that he was born a heathen, not far from the Tigris and Euphrates, and was led to embrace Christianity by studying the Holy Scriptures, especially the prophetical books (ad Autol. i. 14, ii. 24). 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 (H. E. iv. 24). He was a fertile writer in different departments of Christian literature, polemics, exegetics, and apologetics. Dr. 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 Christian church, but alike in the East and in the West carry it to the front in literary eminence, and distance all their heathen contemporaries" (Studia Biblica, p. 90). Eusebius and Jerome mention numerous works of Theophilus current in their time. They are (1) the existing Apology 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 one undoubted extant work of Theophilus is his Apologia ad Autolycum, in three books. Its ostensible object is to convince a heathen 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 he exhibits the falsehood and absurdity of paganism. His arguments, drawn almost entirely from O.T., with but very scanty reference to N.T., are largely chronological. He makes the truth of Christianity depend on his demonstration that the books of O.T. were long anterior to the writings of the Greeks and were divinely inspired. Whatever of truth the heathen 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 heathen 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" (lib. iii. cc. 15, 16), of Aratus, who had the hardihood to assert that the earth was spherical (ii. 32, iii. 2), 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, i.e. early in the reign of Commodus. He regards the Sibylline verses as authentic and inspired productions, quoting them largely as declaring the same truths with the prophets. The omission by the Greeks of all mention of O.T., 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 Him Who is the only fountain of truth (iii. 30, ad fin.). He can recognize in them no aspirations after the divine life, no earnest gropings after truth, no gleams of the all-illumining light. The heathen religion was a mere worship of idols, bearing the names of dead men. Almost the only point in which he will allow the heathen writers to be in harmony with revealed truth is in the doctrine of retribution and punishment after death for sins committed in life (ii. 37, 38). The literary character of the Apology deserves commendation. The style is characterized by dignity and refinement. It is clear and forcible. The diction is pure and well chosen. Theophilus also displays wide and multifarious though superficial reading, and a familiar acquaintance with the most celebrated Greek writers. His quotations are numerous and varied. But Donaldson (Hist. Christ. Lit. iii. p. 69) remarks that he has committed many blunders, misquoting Plato several times (iii. 6, 16), ranking Zopyrus among the Greeks (iii. 26), and speaking of Pausanias as having only run a risk of starvation instead of being actually starved to death in the temple of Minerva (ib.). His critical powers were not above his age. He adopts Herodotus's derivation (ii. 52) of θεός from τίθημι, since
God set all things in order, comparing with it that of Plato (Crat. 397 c) from θέειν, because the Deity is ever in motion (Apol. i. 4). He asserts that Satan is called the dragon δράκων on account of his having revolted ἀποδεδρακέναι from God (ii. 28), and traces the Bacchanalian cry "Evoe" to the name of Eve as the first sinner (ib.). His physical theories are equally puerile. He ridicules those who maintain the spherical form of the earth (ii. 32) and asserts that it is a flat surface covered by the heavens as by a domical vault (ii. 13). His exegesis is based on allegories usually of the most arbitrary character. He makes no attempt to educe the real meaning of a passage, but seeks to find in it some recondite spiritual truth, a method which often betrays him into great absurdities. He discovers the reason of blood coagulating on the surface of the ground in the divine word to Cain (Gen. iv. 10–12), the earth struck with terror (φοβηθεῖσα ἡ γῆ) refusing to drink it in. Theophilus's testimony to the O.T. is copious. He quotes very largely from the books of Moses and to a smaller extent from the other historical books. His references are copious to Ps., Prov., Is., and Jer., and he quotes Ezek., Hos. and other minor prophets. His direct evidence respecting the canon of N.T. does not go much beyond a few precepts from the Sermon on the Mount (iii. 13, 14), a possible quotation from Luke xviii. 27 (ii. 13), and quotations from Rom., I. Cor, and I. Tim. More important is a distinct citation from the opening of St. John's Gospel (i. 1–3), mentioning the evangelist by name, as one of the inspired men (πνευματοφόροι) by whom the Holy Scriptures (αἱ ἅγιαι γραφαί) were written (ii. 22). The use of a metaphor found in II. Pet. i. 19 bears on the date of that epistle. According to Eusebius (l.c.), Theophilus quoted the Apocalypse in his work against Hermogenes; a very precarious allusion has been seen in ii. 28, cf. Rev. xii. 3, 7, etc. A full index of these and other possible references to O. and N. T. is given by Otto (Corp. Apol. Christ. ii. 353–355). Theophilus transcribes a considerable portion of Gen. i.–iii. with his own allegorizing comments upon the successive work of the creation week. 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—τύποι τῆς τρίαδος—the first place in Christian writings where the word is known to occur (lib. ii. c. 15)—i.e. "God, His Word and His Wisdom."
The silence regarding the Apology of Theophilus in the East is remarkable. We find the work nowhere mentioned or quoted by Greek writers before the time of Eusebius. Several passages in the works of Irenaeus shew an undoubted relationship to passages in one small section of the Apology (Iren. v. 23, 1; Autol. ii. 25 init.: Iren. iv. 38, 1, iii. 23, 6; Autol. ii. 25: Iren. iii. 23, 6; Autol. ii. 25, 26), but Harnack (p. 294) thinks it probable that the quotations, limited to two chapters, are not taken from the Apology, but from Theophilus's work against Marcion (cf. Möhler, Patr. p. 286; Otto, Corp. Apol. II. viii. p. 357; Donaldson, Christ. Lit. iii. 66). In the West there are certain references to the Autolycus, though not copious. It is quoted by Lactantius (Div. Inst. i. 23) under the title Liber de Temporibus ad Autolycum. There is a passage first cited by Maranus in Novatian (de Trin. c. 2) which shews great similarity to the language of Theophilus (ad Autol. i. 3). In the next cent. the book is mentioned by Gennadius (c. 34) as "tres libelli de fide." He found them attributed to Theophilus of Alexandria, but the disparity of style caused him to question the authorship. The notice of Theophilus by Jerome has been already referred to. Dodwell found internal evidence, in the reference to existing persecutions and a supposed reference to Origen and his followers, for assigning the work to a younger Theophilus who perished in the reign of Severus (Dissert. ad Iren. §§ 44, 50, pp. 170 ff. ed. 1689). His arguments have been carefully examined by Tillemont (Mém. eccl. iii. 612 notes), Cave (Hist. Lit. i. 70), Donaldson (u.s. ii. 65), and Harnack (u.s. p. 287), and the received authorship fully established. Cf. W. Sanday in Stud. Bibl. (Oxf. 1885), p. 89.
Editions.—Migne's Patr. Gk. (t. vi. col. 1023–1168), and a small ed. (Camb. 1852) by the Rev. W. G. Humphry. Otto's ed. in the Corpus Apologet. Christ. Saec. Secund. vol. ii. (Jena, 1861, 8vo) is by far the most complete and useful. English trans. by Belty (Oxf. 1722), Flower (Lond.1860), and Marcus Dods (Clark's Ante-Nicene Lib.).