Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria (385-412). Concerning the extraction and early life of Theophilus we have but scanty information. He had a sister of similar temperament and St. Cyril, his successor, was his nephew. Hydatius (“Chron.”, II; P.L., LI, 874) calls him a “most learned man”, and dedicates to him an Easter table for 100 years. St. Jerome informs us that he did not come forward as a public teacher before 385 (“Contra Rufin.”, III, 18, in P.L., XXIII, 492). After his election to the Patriarchate of Alexandria (385) he showed himself a man of great intellectual gifts and capacity, but also extremely violent and unscrupulous in the choice of his means. His name is connected with three important historical events: the decay of paganism in Egypt, the Origenistic controversy, and the deposition and banishment of St. John Chrysostom. About 390 Theophilus deprived the pagans of Alexandria of a temple, probably with the consent of the Emperor Theodosius I, and apparently destroyed several other temples (Socrates, V, 16; Ammian., XXII, xi, 7). A riot ensued, and a number of Christians were slain. With Theophilus at their head, the Christians retaliated by destroying the celebrated temple of Serapis, on the ruins of which the patriarch erected a church. He also erected a magnificent church at Canope. In 391 or 392 Theophilus was requested by the Synod of Capua to exert his influence to end the schism at Antioch. However, he failed to establish peace, and it was only in 398 that St. John Chrysostom, with the assistance of Theophilus, succeeded in reestablishing ecclesiastical communion between Flavian and Rome.
Until 399 Theophilus was regarded as a friend of Origen and the Origenists. Many of the so-called Origenist monks were among his best friends; some of them he appointed to ecclesiastical offices and dignities: for example, he named Isidore archpresbyter and patriarchal oeconomus, and raised others to the episcopate. In the quarrel between Johannes-Rufinus and Epiphanius-Jerome he took the side of the first (Socrates, VI, 10), informed Jerome through Isidore in 396 that he should show more respect for the authority of his bishop, John of Jerusalem (Epp. lxiii and lxxxii; “Contra Rufin.”, III, 17; “Contra Johannem Hieros.”, 37), and accused St. Epiphanius of anthropomorphism. He also banished the Egyptian bishop Paulus, an opponent of the Origenists, and reproached St. Jerome for the hospitality he showed him (Jerome, “Cont. Rufinum”, III, 17 and 78). Between 399 and 400 Theophilus suddenly altered his attitude; the chief motive for the change seems to have been a personal quarrel with the archpresbyter Isidore, well known as a friend of the Origenists. Isidore had taken charge of a sum of money and, in accordance with the express request of the donor, did not inform Theophilus, who suffered from a “mania for building” and avarice (St. Isidore Pelus., Ep. i, 152). The patriarch heard of the matter, however, and did not shrink from the vilest slanders against Isidore and even acts of violence (Pall., VI; Sozomen, VIII, 12). Isidore found protection with his friends, the monks of Nitria, whereupon Theophilus turned against them also. At first he set the anthropomorphic-minded monks, the enemies of the Origenists, against them, although he had condemned their views in his Easter letter of 399 (Sozomen, VIII, 11; Cassian, “Coll.”, X, 2), then directed against them his Easter letter of 401 (P.L., XXI, 773), and finally condemned Origenism at the Synod of Alexandria in 401.
Then placing himself at the head of soldiers and armed servants he marched against the monks, burned their dwellings, and ill-treated those whom he captured (Pall., vii; Socrates, VI, 7; for Jerome’s congratulations to Theophilus see Jerome, Ep. lxxxvi). The monks, about 300 in number, proceeded first to Palestine, where the majority of them settled near Scythopolis; the four Tall Brethren meanwhile proceeded to Constantinople to ask protection and justice from St. John Chrysostom and the emperor. Theophilus was summoned to Constantinople to answer their charges, and thus begins his connection with the tragedy of Chrysostom, which soon took the first place in his and the public interest (see Saint John Chrysostom). At the Synod of the Oak in 403 Theophilus concluded an equitable peace with the persecuted monks, and on his return to Alexandria is said to have again received the books of Origen (Socrates, VI, 17). That Theophilus may have been really very “broadminded”, is shown by the fact that he consecrated the philosopher Synesius bishop about 410, although the latter had not yet been baptized, and had stipulated that, as bishop, he might retain his wife and adhere to his Platonic views (pre-existence of soul, allegorical explanation of the Resurrection, etc.). As a writer Theophilus did not attain much prominence. In addition to his Easter letters, of which three are extant in a Latin translation by Jerome (P.L., XXII, and P.G., LXV, 53 sqq.), he wrote “one large volume against Origen” (Gennadius, 33), of which some fragments are preserved (collected in Gallandi, “Bibl. vet. patr.”, VII, 801-52; P.G., LXV, 33-68; Zahn, “Forschungen zur Gesch. des neutest. Kanons”, II, Erlangen, 1883, p. 234 sqq.). The Canons ascribed to Theophilus are in Pitra, “Juris eccles. Grwcor. hist. et monum.”, I (Rome, 1864), 546-649. Inauthentic and doubtful writings were also in circulation under Theophilus’s name (Gennadius, 33: “Legi et tres libros suo nomine titulatos, sed lingua inconsonans est. Non valde credidi”).