Theophilus of Adana

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Theophilus of Adana
Maastricht Book of Hours, BL Stowe MS17 f255v (detail).png
Theophilus as archdeacon
Adana, Cilicia, Eastern Roman Empire
(modern-day Adana, Turkey)
Diedc. 538
Austrasia, Kingdom of the Franks
Venerated inEastern Orthodox Church
Roman Catholic Church
FeastFebruary 4[1]

Saint Theophilus the Penitent or Theophilus of Adana (died c. 538 AD) was a cleric in the sixth century Church who is said to have made a deal with the Devil to gain an ecclesiastical position. His story is significant as it is one of the oldest popular stories of a pact with the devil and was an inspiration for the Faust legend. Eutychianus of Adana, who claimed to be an eyewitness of the events, is the first to record Theophilus's story.

Although Theophilus is considered to be an historical personage, the tale associated with him is of an apocryphal nature. His feast day is February 4.[1]


Theophilus making a pact with the devil. Miniature in the Maastricht Hours, ca. 1300-25

Theophilus was the archdeacon of Adana, Cilicia, then a part of the Byzantine Empire. He was unanimously elected to be a bishop, and when out of humility he turned the position down, another man was elected in his stead. When the new bishop, based on malicious and unfounded rumors, unjustly deprived Theophilus of his position as archdeacon, Theophilus regretted his previous stance and sought out a necromancer, who helped him contact Satan. In exchange for his aid, Satan demanded that Theophilus renounce Christ and the Virgin Mary in a contract signed with his own blood. Theophilus complied, and the devil gave him the position as bishop.[2]

Later, fearful for his soul, Theophilus repented and prayed to the Virgin for forgiveness. After forty days of fasting, the Virgin appeared to him and verbally chastised him. Theophilus begged forgiveness and Mary promised to intercede with God. He then fasted a further thirty days, after which Mary appeared to him again, granted him absolution. However, Satan was unwilling to relinquish his hold over Theophilus, and three days later, Theophilus awoke to find the damning contract on his chest. He then took the contract to the legitimate bishop and confessed all that he had done. The bishop burned the document, and Theophilus died out of sheer joy to be free from the burden of his contract.[1]


Theophilus's story played a role in establishing the importance of the intercession of the Virgin Mary, in addition to providing a basis for later tales involving the conjuration of devils. In the 10th century, the German canoness Hrotsvitha included the story of Theophilus in her Book of Legends.[3]

The Virgin Mary increased in her theological importance throughout the 11th century. The story was used to illustrate the power and necessity of her intercession by Peter Damian, Bernard of Clairvaux, Anthony of Padua, Bonaventure and much later on by Alphonsus Liguori. The story of Theophilus formed the basis of a thirteenth-century miracle play by the trouvère Rutebeuf, Le Miracle de Théophile, one of the earliest pieces of French theatre extant. Over time, the tale acquired a number of variations. In some, Theophilus was motivated by jealousy. In another, the pact was sealed with a ring.[4]

The story of Saint Theophilus is an important example in the development of the theology of witchcraft. As seen in the tale, the summoning of devils was not originally considered to be a damning sin, Theophilus's troubles come from the fact that he has sold his soul, not that he treated with the devil. This changed during the late 13th century and into the 14th century as Inquisitors such as Bernard Gui and Nicolau Aymerich sought to expand the power of the Inquisition, whose mandate was the suppression of heresy, by defining sorcery as a form of heresy. Accordingly, Theophilus would have been branded a heretic for his association with the devil.[citation needed]

The legend in art[edit]

The legend of Theophilus first appears in art in the 11th century in an historiated initial, which depicts the Virgin (who is seated between two angels) with Theophilus at her feet.[5] The earliest intact narrative cycle is at the abbey church of Sainte-Marie at Souillac, France.[6] This sculpture depicts four scenes of the legend: the signing of the bond, the oath of loyalty to the devil, Theophilus's repentance, and the return of the bond by the Virgin.

The legend was the most popular in art in the 13th century; it occurred most frequently in illuminated manuscripts[7] and stained glass.[6] In both illuminated manuscripts and stained glass that depict this legend there are usually four scenes that are shown: the sealing of the bond between Theophilus and the devil, Theophilus repenting, the Virgin recovering the bond, and the Virgin returning the bond to Theophilus.[6] This legend is the only non-biblical Marian story consistently depicted in sculpture and glass in French cathedrals during this time.[8][9]

Marcel Proust briefly mentions him in Swann's Way as being an important figure of sculpture in France.


  1. ^ a b c Baring-Gould, Sabine. "Theophilus", Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, London. Rivington's, 1877Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  2. ^ Fryer, Alfred C., (1935) "Theophilus, The Penitent, as Represented in Art", Archaeological Journal, 92:1, 287-333 doi: 10.1080/00665983.1935.10853649
  3. ^ Hudson, William Henry (1888). "Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim". The English Historical Review. III (XI): 431–457. doi:10.1093/ehr/III.XI.431. ISSN 0013-8266.
  4. ^ McCleery, I. (2004). "The Virgin and the Devil: The Role of the Virgin Mary in the Theophilus Legend and its Spanish and Portuguese Variants". Studies in Church History, 39, 147-156 doi:10.1017/S0424208400015059
  5. ^ Mâle, Emile (1986). Religious Art in France: The Thirteenth Century. Translated by Mathews, Marthiel. Princeton University Press. p. 261.
  6. ^ a b c Cothren, M.W. (1984). "The Iconography of the Theophilus Windows in the First Half of the Thirteenth Century". Speculum. 59 (2): 308–341. doi:10.2307/2856394. JSTOR 2856394. S2CID 54544208.
  7. ^ Root, Jerry (2017). The Theophilus Legend in Medieval Text and Image. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer. ISBN 9781843844617.
  8. ^ Mâle, Emile (1984). Religious Art in France: The Thirteenth Century. Translated by Mathews, Mathiel. Princeton University Press. p. 262,266.
  9. ^ Sangster, Minnie B. (1999). "Envisioning Le Miracle de Theophile in France: Stained Glass, Sculpture, and Stage". Medieval Perspectives. 14: 191–201.


External links[edit]

The National Library of the Netherlands has a collection of images pertaining to Saint Theophilus.