§ 176. Theophilus of Antioch.

Theophilus was converted from heathenism by the study of the Scriptures, and occupied the episcopal see at Antioch, the sixth from the Apostles, during the later part of the reign of Marcus Aurelius. He died about a.d. 181.1365

His principal work, and the only one which has come down to us, is his three books to Autolycus, an educated heathen friend.1366 His main object is to convince him of the falsehood of idolatry, and of the truth of Christianity. He evinces extensive knowledge of Grecian literature, considerable philosophical talent, and a power of graphic and elegant composition. His treatment of the philosophers and poets is very severe and contrasts unfavorably with the liberality of Justin Martyr. He admits elements of truth in Socrates and Plato, but charges them with having stolen the same from the prophets. He thinks that the Old Testament already contained all the truths which man requires to know. He was the first to use the term "triad" for the holy Trinity, and found this mystery already in the words: Let us make man "(Gen. 1:26); for, says he, "God spoke to no other but to his own Reason and his own Wisdom," that is, to the Logos and the Holy Spirit hypostatized.1367 He also first quoted the Gospel of John by name,1368 but it was undoubtedly known and used before by Tatian, Athenagoras, Justin, and by the Gnostics, and can be traced as far back as 125 within the lifetime of many personal disciples of the Apostle. Theophilus describes the Christians as having a sound mind, practising self-restraint, preserving marriage with one, keeping chastity, expelling injustice, rooting out sin, carrying out righteousness as a habit, regulating their conduct by law, being ruled by truth, preserving grace and peace, and obeying God as king. They are forbidden to visit gladiatorial shows and other public amusements, that their eyes and ears may not be defiled. They are commanded to obey authorities and to pray for them, but not to worship them.

The other works of Theophilus, polemical and exegetical, are lost. Eusebius mentions a book against Hermogenes, in which he used proofs from the Apocalypse of John, another against Marcion and "certain catechetical books" ( Gr. ) Jerome mentions in addition commentaries on the Proverbs, and on the Gospel, but doubts their genuineness. There exists under his name though only in Latin, a sort of exegetical Gospel Harmony, which is a later compilation of uncertain date and authorship.


Jerome is the only ancient writer who mentions a Commentary or Commentaries of Theophilus on the Gospel, but adds that they are inferior to his other books in elegance and style; thereby indicating a doubt as to their genuineness. De Vir ill. 25: La734 "Legi sub nomine eius [Theophili] in Evangelium et in Proverbia Salomonis Commentarios, (qui mihi cum superiorum voluminum [the works Contra Marcionem, Ad Autolycum, and Contra Hermogenem] elegantia et phrasi non videntur congruere." He alludes to the Gospel Commentary in two other passages (in the Pref. to his Com. on Matthew, and Ep. 121 (ad Algasiam), and quotes from it the exposition of the parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1 sqq.). Eusebius may possibly have included the book in the kathchtika; bibliva which he ascribes to Theophilus.

A Latin Version of this Commentary was first published (from MSS. not indicated and since lost) by Marg. de la Bigne in Sacrae, Bibliothecae Patrum, Paris 1576, Tom. V. Col. 169–196; also by Otto in the Corp. Apol. VIII. 278–324, and with learned notes by Zahn in the second vol. of his Forschungen zur Gesch. des neutest. Kanons (1883), p. 31–85. The Commentary begins with an explanation of the symbolical import of the four Gospels as follows: "Quatuor evangelia quatuor animalibus figurata Jesum Christum demonstrant. Matthaeus enim salvatorem nostrum natum passumque homini comparavit. Marcus leonis gerens figuram a solitudine incipit dicens: ’ Vox clamantis in deserto: parate viam Domini,’ sane qui regnat invictus. Joannes habet similitudinem aquilae, quod ab imis alta petiverit; ait enim: ’In principio erat Verbum, et verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat Verbum; hoc erat in principio apud Deum; vel quia Christus resurgens volavit ad cślos. Lucas vituli speciem gestat, ad instar salvator noster est immolatus, vel quod sacerdotii figurat officium." The position of Luke as the fourth is very peculiar and speaks for great antiquity. Then follows a brief exposition of the genealogy of Christ by Matthew with the remark that Matthew traces the origin "per reges," Luke "per sacerdotes." The first book of the Commentary is chiefly devoted to Matthew, the second and third to Luke, the fourth to John. It concludes with an ingenious allegory representing Christ as a gardener (who appeared to Mary Magdalene, John 20:15), and the church as his garden full of rich flowers) as follows (see Zahn, p. 85): "Hortus Domini est ecclesia catholica, in qua sunt rosae martyrum, lilia virginum, violae viduarum, hedera coniugum; nam illa, quae aestimabat eum hortulanum esse significabat scilicet eum plantantem diversis virtutibus credentium vitam. Amen."

Dr. Zahn, in his recent monograph (1883), which abounds in rare patristic learning, vindicates this Commentary to Theophilus of Antioch and dates the translation from the third century. If so, we would have here a work of great apologetic as well as exegetical importance, especially for the history of the canon and the text; for Theophilus stood midway between Justin Martyr and Irenaeus and would be the oldest Christian exegete. But a Nicene or post-Nicene development of theology and church organization is clearly indicated by the familiar use of such terms as regnum Christi catholicum, catholica doctrina, catholicum dogma, sacerdos, peccatum originale, monachi, saeculares, pagani. The suspicion of a later date is confirmed by the discovery of a MS. of this commentary in Brussels, with an anonymous preface which declares it to be a compilation. Harnack, who made this discovery, ably refutes the conclusions of Zahn, and tries to prove that the commentary ascribed to Theophilus is a Latin work by an anonymous author of the fifth or sixth century (470–520). Zahn (1884) defends in part his former position against Harnack, but admits the weight of the argument furnished by the Brussels MS. Hauck holds that the commentary was written after a.d. 200, but was used by Jerome. Bornemann successfully defends Harnack’s view against Zahn and Hauck, and puts the work between 450 and 700.