http://www.theophilus.org

A wordy and more erudite sort of Jack Chick, although definitely less mean-spirited.

Oftentimes hilarious, yet sometimes strangely poignant. The storyline about chronic constipation is an instant classic.

Think of Theophilus as a fiercely independent, fundamentalist christian Family Circus.

Theophilus
Edwin Arlington Robinson

By what serene malevolence of names
Had you the gift of yours, Theophilus?
Not even a smeared young Cyclops at his games
Would have you long, -- and you are one of us.

Told of your deeds I shudder for your dreams,
And they, no doubt, are few and innocent.
Meanwhile, I marvel; for in you, it seems,
Heredity outshines environment.

What lingering bit of Belial, unforeseen,
Survives and amplifies itself in you?
What manner of devilry has ever been
That your obliquity may never do?

Humility befits a father's eyes,
But not a friend of us would have him weep.
Admiring everything that lives and dies,
Theophilus, we like you best asleep.

Sleep -- sleep; and let us find another man
To lend another name less hazardous:
Caligula, maybe, or Caliban,
Or Cain, -- but surely not Theophilus.

And it was not only friendly eyewitnesses that the early preachers had to reckon with; there were others less well disposed who were also conversant with the main facts of the ministry and death of Jesus. The disciples could not afford to risk inaccuracies, which would at once be exposed by those who would be only too glad to do so. On the contrary, one of the strong points in the original apostolic preaching is the confident appeal to the knowledge of the hearers; they not only said, 'We are witnesses of these things,' but also, 'As you yourselves also know.' 1 Had there been any tendency to depart from the facts in any material respect, the possible presence of hostile witnesses in the audience would have served as a further corrective.
- F.F. Bruce (1910–1990), Concerning the primary -source value of the New Testament records

Like Cain's wife Theophilus is one of many named and unnamed persons in the Bible where very little can be gleaned about from the Bible. Other historical documents from the same era about these anonymous figures that play a part in the scriptures reveal very few clues either. The fifth book of the New Testament in the ordinary collection, Acts accounts for certain periods of the development of Christianity across the three decades immediately following the death and resurrection of Jesus. Initially written as a sequel to the gospel of Luke; both are unmistakably from the same author, who probably designed the work to be used as an entirety from the beginning. In fact Luke and Acts has been the subject of a great deal of research and studies in reference to what it was that stimulated the author to write it. As F.F. Bruce notes the willful manipulations of the facts by the emerging Christians during the very hostile political and religious environment would not have been tolerated among the Jewish sects or the Roman politicians of the times. But because of these studies the two volume work has been dealt with as disjecta membra of divided books rather than the planned result of an entire work which was the author’s original purpose.

As in the gospel of Luke, Acts is addressed solely to Theophilus and many historians say these writings from the early church point to Luke, the companion of Paul, as the author. They also note that the composition date of the gospel is hard to pin down but it has been generally recognized as written after Mark and from detailed references in Acts to the destruction of Jerusalem 2 3 lead many researchers to conclude that it was probably composed sometime after 70 AD adding that an exact date is beyond discovery. From Acts 21:32 it is likely that it was written shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem.

Harvard professor and co author of the NRSV Henry Cadbury puts forward in his The Purpose Expressed in Luke’s Preface that chiefly through a study of the language there lays a somber shadow of doubt on the conventionally acknowledged belief that Luke and Acts are written as a catechumen of the cult of Jesus, and that it was written to lead them didactically to more complete understanding of the tenets of their faith. Instead, Cadbury suggests that Theophilus was indeed a high official of the Roman Empire and the purpose of Luke and Acts is to correct the false impressions, which the author regrettably developed regarding the cult. The speech of the Lucan introduction throws into contrast its defensive contents, which have long since been acknowledged in Acts as appropriate for the settings in which they are placed. Luke's usage of the term "most excellent" (kratistos) recognizes Theophilus as a "strongly affirmative honorary form of address" and each incidence of it in the New Testament refers to governing officials. 4 5 6

Bart Ehrman’s more recent proposal that Paul meeting with a high Roman official as highly unlikely because of class status merits consideration as well. After all Paul was a recently converted tax collector arriving from some in the middle of nowhere town named Jerusalem where some kind of really weird stuff had been happening. As local gods go most offered the Roman citizens good days and bad days based on a variety of whims. Here comes a guy who works for the Roman government speaking on behalf of a small group of mostly Christian Jews who were still considered a slave class and they were talking about one God who offered grace. This was surely a novel idea for the people and no doubt drew a lot of curiosity across all cultures and classes that made up the Roman society. Josephus wrote at length about the interests he experienced from the upper class Roman citizens.

So the rationale of the author behind Luke/Acts could be ecclesiastical, apologetic or perhaps some combination of both. It may have been written to edify the new church or composed to make the case that Christianity was not a menace to the Roman Empire—more explicitly, it appears that it could have been Paul's eventual defense before Caesar. This last point would account for the unexpected and abrupt ending and is compatible with the non-conviction of Paul from governing officials. 7 8 9 et al.

F.F. Bruce, Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at the University of Manchester, England notes in his essay on the Acts of the Apostles that while the designation “most excellent” may mark Theophilus as a member of the equestrian order in Roman society it could also simply be a title of courtesy:

One could regard him as a representative of the intelligent middle class public of Rome, to whom Luke wished to present a reliable account of the rise and progress of Christianity. As late as the time Tacitus, Suetoniue, and Pliny were writing (ca. 110 CE), Christians enjoyed no good repute in Roman society; writing some decades earlier, Luke hoped to bring his readers to a less prejudiced judgment. There is much to be said for the view of Martin Dibelius (1883 –1947; German biblical scholar) that, unlike the other New Testament books, Luke and Acts were written for the book market. Perhaps there was already a positive interest in Christianity in the class of reader Luke had in mind; this could account for the substantial theological content of the work, especially its emphasis on the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps Theophilus is a Roman official or maybe he’s citizen from a lesser class. F.F.Bruce goes on to wrap up that Rome is almost certainly the place for the first publication of the work. Saying that not only is Rome the aspiration toward which Christianity shifts, but with Paul’s appearance there, Rome implicitly replaces Jerusalem as the core from which the faith is to spread.

About the most anyone can say for sure is that there is virtually nothing known about Theophilus, however over time the theological conversations surrounding his possible existence and life story gave rise to great deal of accounts about him over the centuries. One of the earliest examples is that of Dorothea the patron saint for gardeners, brewers of tea, midwives, lovers and young married couples. She is often represented with a "rose-branch in her hand, a wreath of roses on her head, and roses with fruit by her side and, at times, with an angel carrying a basket with three apples and three roses." She became prominent sometime during the third century and described as a, “young, blonde maiden known as Dorothea of Caesarea in Cappadocia, Greece. She was a devout Christian who believed in the Paradise that God had promised to everyone.” A young lawyer named Theophilus, taunted her repeatedly for her beliefs saying, “You will soon meet your husband in that Paradise you always speak of.”

Theophilus became enraged when she ignored his scoffs and sped up her trial condemning her to death. Walking down the streets of Rome on the day of her execution, Theophilus mocked her again saying; "Send me fruits and flowers, Dorothea, when you get to Paradise.” Theophilus was at dinner with a party of companions at the moment of her death an angel brought to him a basket of apples and roses, saying, “From Dorothea, in Paradise,” then vanished. Theophilus immediately converted to Christianity.

Another interesting biography of the mysterious and elusive Theophilus revolves around a person known as Theophilus the Penitent. He lived during the 6th century AD and served as an Archdeacon and diocesan overseer in Adana, Cilicia, and today’s modern Turkey. He met his responsibilities with commendable conduct and when the bishop passed away Theophilus was offered the position. Theophilus declined it out of modesty and another man was selected for the position. Then the new bishop unjustly discharged Theophilus from his position. Disheartened by this unwarranted treatment he left his righteous life behind and made a bargain with the devil. In exchange for the renunciation of his belief in Jesus Christ and the Virgin, Theophilus negotiated to reclaim his previous appointment. As his hypocrisy brought him more and more worldly rewards the increasing remorse led him to break his deal with the devil. Imploring the Virgin to come to his aid, Mary responded to his contrition and new profession of faith by traveling into Hell where she wrenched the sealed pact from the devil and laid it upon the chest of Theophilus while he slept. When he woke up he “immediately made a public confession, performed sincere penance, and had the bishop burn the contract before the assembled congregation.” This particular story arose from the Greek East but eventually emerged in Western literature as early as the 8th century. Sometime during the 11th century references to Theophilus were incorporated into the liturgy and by the 13th century the story of Theophilus had grown to the point were the penitent had become a popular subject of poems and plays as well as art work in the form of stained glass windows that stretch across the churches of Europe today.

In due course Theophilus as an historical figure became quite popular during the Middle Ages ultimately serving as the foundation for the later Faust theme so brilliantly created by Christopher Marlowe and Goethe. Even in the 20th century the quest to find out who was Theophilus continues to inspire conversation and art. Edwin Arlington Robinson’s (1869–1935) work noded by dotc above was characterized by the expert application of the sonnet form and his penetrating character study. Reprinted from American periodical in a 1916 edition of collected poems under the subject of The Man against the Sky , perhaps Arlington’s poem Theophilus is based on one of these stories.

Sources:

The Bereans: Apologetics Research Ministry:
www.thebereans.net/ref-bibreliable.shtml
Accessed July 22, 2005.

Catholic Online - Saints & Angels - St. Theophilus the Penitent:
www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=2271
Accessed July 22, 2005.

Cothren ,Michael W. The Iconography of Theophilus Windows in the First Half of the Thirteenth Century Speculum Vol. 59, No. 2 (Apr., 1984), pp. 308-341
http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=00387134%28198404%2959%3A2%3C308%3ATIOTWI%3E2.0.CO%3B2-Y
Accessed July 22, 2005.

E. Cobham Brewer 1810–1897. “Dorothea (St.), “Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
http://www.bartleby.com/81/5250.html
Accessed July 22, 2005.

Gardener’s Have Their Own Saint:
http://www.angelofthegarden.com/index3.html
Accessed July 22, 2005.

Holy Bible (NRSV) and (KJV)

Mathews, Shailer. Introduction to the Gospel of Luke. I. The Criticism of the Gospel The Biblical World , Vol. 5, No. 5 (May, 1895), pp. 336-342
http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0190-3578%28189505%295%3A5%3C336%3AITTGOL%3E2.0.CO%3B2-G
Accessed July 22, 2005.

Online Etymology Dictionary:
http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=Theophilus&searchmode=none
Accessed July 22, 2005.

Oxford Companion to the Bible, Russell Fuller and Bruce Metzger, author; F.F. Bruce, edited by Bruce Metzger and Michael Coogan. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, p.8-9.

Riddle ,Donald W. The Occasion of Luke-Acts
The Journal of Religion, Vol. 10, No. 4 (Oct., 1930), pp. 545-562.
Accessed July 22, 2005.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.