Sacred Texts  Christianity  Early Church Fathers  Index  Previous  Next 

Letter XCII. The Synodical Letter of Theophilus to the Bishops of Palestine and of Cyprus.

The synodical letter of the council held at Alexandria in 400 a.d. to condemn Origenism. Written originally in Greek it was translated into Latin by Jerome.

This letter has been sent in identical terms to the Bishops of Palestine and to those of Cyprus. We reproduce the headings of both copies. That to the Bishops of Palestine commences thus: To the well-beloved lords, brothers, and fellow-bishops, Eulogius, John, Zebianus, Auxentius, Dionysius, Gennadius, Zeno, Theodosius, Dicterius, Porphyry, Saturninus, Alan, Paul, Ammonius, Helianus, Eusebius, the other Paul, and to all the Catholic bishops gathered together at the dedication festival of Ælid, 2638 Theophilus [sends] greeting in the Lord.

The Cyprians he addresses thus: To the well-beloved lords, brothers, and fellow-bishops, Epiphanius, Marcianus, Agapetus, Boethius, Helpidius, Entasius, Norbanus, Macedonius. Aristo, Zeno, Asiaticus, Heraclides, the other Zeno, Cyriacus, and Aphroditus, Theophilus [sends] greeting in the Lord.

The scope of the letter is as follows:

We have personally visited the monasteries of Nitria and find that the Origenistic heresy has made great ravages among them. It is accompanied by a strange fanaticism: men even maim themselves or cut out their tongues 2639 to show how they despise the body. I find that some men of this kind have gone from Egypt into Syria and other countries 2640 where they speak against us and the truth.

The books of Origen have been read before a council of bishops and unanimously condemned. The following are his chief errors, mainly found in the περὶ ᾽Αρχῶν.

1. The Son compared with us is truth, but compared with the Father he is falsehood.

2. Christ’s kingdom will one day come to an end.

3. We ought to pray to the Father alone, not to the Son.

4. Our bodies after the resurrection will be corruptible and mortal.

5. There is nothing perfect even in heaven; the angels themselves are faulty, and some of them feed on the Jewish sacrifices.

6. The stars are conscious of their own movements, and the demons know the future by their courses.

7. Magic, if real, is not evil.

8. Christ suffered once for men; he will suffer again for the demons.

The Origenists have tried to coerce me; they have even stirred up the heathen by denouncing the destruction of the Serapeum; and have sought to withdraw from the ecclesiastical jurisdiction two persons accused of grave crimes. One of these is the woman 2641 p. 186 who was wrongly placed on the list of widows by Isidore, the other Isidore himself. He is the standard-bearer of the heretical faction, and his wealth supplies them with unbounded resources for their violent enterprises. They have tried to murder me; they seized the monastery church at Nitria, and for a time prevented the bishops from entering and the offices from being performed. Now, like Zebul (Beelzebub) they go to and fro on the earth.

I have done them no harm; I have even protected them. But I would not let an old friendship (with Isidore) impair our faith and discipline. I implore you to oppose them wherever they come, and to prevent them from unsettling the brethren committed to you.



In Æliæ encæniis. Ælia was the name given by the emperor Hadrian to the Roman colony founded by him on the site of Jerusalem.


The monk Ammonius is said to have done this and similar things.


Some fifty, led by Ammonius and his three brothers (called the Long or Tall Monks) went first to Syria and then to Constantinople.


This woman is said to have brought a charge of immorality against Isidore and then suppressed it on being placed by him on the list of widows who received the church’s bounty. Isidore was now eighty years old, and there were many causes for the quarrel. Palladius, Socrates and Sozomen intimate that the real cause of Theophilus’ enmity to his old confidant Isidore was that Isidore knew secrets unfavorable to Theophilus. He afterwards went with the Long Monks to Constantinople, where Chrysostom by his reception of them incurred the hatred of Theophilus. See Jerome Letter CXIII.

Next: Letter XCIII