Pope Theophilus and St. John Chrysostom

I was reading St. John's Biography at:


and in the conclusion if you notice it says:

St. Cyril, the 24th Pope of the See of Alexandria, denounced the exile of St. John Chrysostom. History documents that St. Cyril knew of the regret of the exile and cruel death of the Bishop of the See of Constantinople by Pope Theophilus.

Can any one explain to me why  Pope Theophilus agreed to his exile in the first place?  I figured that the problem was between the queen and St John; I just don't understand Abba Theophilus's stance?


  • Dear Gregory,

    Whilst not wishing in any way to dissent from the account you recommend, especially given its provenance, matters were a little more complex than the space available to the bishop perhaps allowed.

    Abba Theophilus was increasingly worried by the intentions of the bishops of Constantinople to try to make their city, the new Rome, the second city of the empire in terms of ecclesiastical primacy. Until the founding of Constantinople, Alexandria had been, unquestioningly, the second most important See in Christendom. Theophilus saw in St. John Chrysostom's episcopate an attempt to make Constantinople the second See, and was not unwilling to use the bishop's rather naive political sense to assert the superiority of Alexandria. Theophilus had originally wanted one of his own bishops, Isidore, to be bishop of Constantinople, and when some of his own rebellious monks (the Four Tall Brothers) protested to St. John about his own persecution of them, and Theophilus found himself summoned to Constantinople to answer their charges, all his fears about the ambitions of Constantinople were aroused.

    Abba Theophilus was a much better ecclesiastical political than Chrysostom and was able, with the help of those whom the future saint had upset (especially the empress and some of the other bishops) to have Chrysostom condemned at the Synod of the Oak in 403.

    I should be interested to know the source of the notion that Theophilus later regretted this, or than St, Cyril did; the latter certainly refused to recognise Chrysostom in the list of bishops which each see customarily held of other sees, and St. Cyril himself accomplished much the same feat in getting rid of a bishop of Constantinople at Ephesus in 431 when Nestorius was deposed. It was at least in part resentment at these successes which prompted the reaction against St. Dioscorus at Chalcedon in 451 - with the results we all know.

    It would seem unlike either Abba Theophilus or St. Cyril to have had regrets - but if there is some evidence, it would be good to know what it was; but then, as an historian, I always think evidence useful!

    In Christ,

  • Thanks for the thorough and informative explanation, Anglian. God bless you!
  • Dear Filobateer,

    Happy to be of service.

    I would note, though, that nearly all our evidence for this comes from none Coptic sources, and even the best of these still leave the impression that Theophilus was just trying to do St. John Chrysostom down in an ecclesiastical competition; whilst not ruling that out - Theophilus was a masterful bishop with a great care for his see - I am mindful of the fact that St. John's greater fame and popularity has resulted in most of the versions of the Synod of the Oak being rather anti-Theophilus in tone. It would be good to know of any Coptic accounts which give a fuller picture of the motives of Theophilus.

    Western historians and theologians have finally begun to recognise St, Cyril for the giant he was - but justice remains to be done for his uncle.

    In Christ,

  • Very Very Very informative, thanks anglican
    but just to clear up one murky detail?

    I'm pretty sure Nestorian was deposed, because of his heresy?  I mean even if there was "political motives"
    those would have only been a secondary reason to his depositoin? Am I right?
  • Dear Gregory,

    Most assuredly, Nestorius was deposed because he refused to attend the hearings at Ephesus where he was charged with heresy. His teachings were condemned as heretical and he was exiled.

    Although some modern scholars have argued that Nestorius himself was not a Nestorian (that is that he did not believe in 'Two Sons') his Christology was undoubtedly not Cyrilline and was therefore defective, and thus heretical. There can be little doubt that it was the success of Theophilus and St. Cyril in maintaining the position of Alexandria that stirred up some of the resentment that came out at Chalcedon.

    Part of the problem was that the Arian controversy of the preceding two generations had created an atmosphere in which conciliation and compromise were difficult for fear of doing so with a dangerous heresy; that meant that all differences tended to get treated in that way. It is one of the many marks of the greatness of St. Cyril that he was able to effect a reconciliation with John of Antioch in 433 A.D.. Had the great Saint been spared to be alive in 451 A.D., the results of Chalcedon would not, I suspect, have been as disastrous as they were. Indeed, it was only when the bishops were convinced that Leo's Tome was in line with St. Cyril's teaching, that it was accepted.

    St. Cyril was, and remains, one of the great Christian leaders of all time.

    In Christ,

  • Dear John,

    I believe the idea of St. Cyril regretting the deposition of St. John is something that is inferred from the fact that St. Cyril allowed his name in the Alexandrian diptychs in the latter stage of his life. This is obviously non-sequitor. One work I read in the past (the name of which I cannot recall I'm afraid), suggested that such a move needs to be understood within the context of his union with the Antiochenes (subsequent to the 433 Formulary of Union) i.e. it was a move to placate them given their devotion to him.
  • Dear Iqbal,

    You're right on both counts.

    It is a false deduction stemming from St. Cyril's greatness of spirit in agreeing to the reconciliation of 433. There is no sign that he repented of what his uncle had done, because, frankly, there was no need to; Theophilus had done nothing wrong.

    It is a sign of how great St. Cyril's spirit was that, once he was convinced that the Antiochenes were not preaching 'Two Sons' he was happy to sponsor a reconciliation. It is good to see modern scholarship is now acknowledging his greatness. Alexandria has given the Christian world some great Saints, but I do think that St. Cyril's all-round contribution makes him one of the very greatest - along with St. Mark the beholder of God.

    It is so easy to forget the role Alexandria has played, and I think will play again, in the history of Christianity. Kyrillos VI and HH Pope Shenouda III have been towering modern figures, and worthy successors of that great line of Popes.

    In Christ,

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