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 Theophilus: The Prelate who sold his Soul to the Devil Header

As enclaves in modern European cities, medieval cathedrals reach up to the skies like giants of stone, challenging the persistent work of time and weather.  They were built by souls full of fervor who wanted to immortalize their Faith down through the centuries.

 

 

Theophilus - Cathedral

Cathedrals: the Gospel etched in stone

These cathedrals, silent witnesses of successive historical eras, constitute a living instruction in the wisdom of the Holy Catholic Church. In their stone sculptures and delicate stained glass windows, they reflect the ideal order of the universe as established by God. Because of this, the cathedrals were called “the Bibles of the poor.”

In these new Bibles of stone and crystal, the artists of the past have carved innumerable parables teaching in a living manner the virtues that a faithful Catholic must practice. Among these stories carved in stone is one about Theophilus. The episode took place in Sicily and gave birth to a famous legend which inspired "The Miracle of Theophilus", one of the most famous works of medieval literature.

 

Turning to Black Magic for answers

At midnight, the narrow, winding streets of the city were empty. Concealed in his black gown and hidden by the shadows of the night, Theophilus stole away to the door of a dreary house in an outlying neighborhood. Soon afterward, he was received inside by a wizard who listened to his woes and problems.

“No,” the wizard pointed out to him. “My alchemy can do nothing in such delicate case.”

What was Theophilus’ problem? As a parish priest in a prosperous diocese in Sicily, he had for a long time administered Church properties with care and dedication, making it easier for his bishop to govern souls.

However, to the great sadness of the faithful, one day the bishop died. Who was to become the new bishop? “Theophilus, of course!” everyone declared. When the honor was offered to him, Theophilus declined with simplicity, stating that it was his vocation to remain a parish priest.

Eventually, a new bishop was installed in that diocese. But the prelate did not trust Theophilus and dismissed him a little later.

 

Despair and the Devil’s artifice

Theophilus - Image 1Sadness and desolation invaded the priest’s soul. While he wandered about the streets of the town the devil whispered to him, “To lose your post! To lose your career! How could they do this to you, Theophilus? You can’t let this situation stand!”

It was in this state of soul that the unfortunate priest knocked on the wizard’s door. The latter, however, told him the solution is not easy.

“There’s only one way out, “said the wizard, “to invoke the help of evil powers.”

Theophilus hesitated for a moment, but resentment ate up his heart. He finally accepted the proposal. Invoked by the wizard, the devil immediately appeared in all his hideousness.

Amidst shouts, blasphemies and course words, Satan dictated to Theophilus the terms of his contract which was to be written on parchment by Theophilus’ own blood, and sealed with his ring. He was to renounce the Catholic Faith, the Church, the Most Holy Virgin, and Our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Theophilus - Image 2

 Gaining the world at the loss of his soul

This infamous scene is etched in stone above the door leading to the cloister of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Kneeling down, the former parish priest pays homage and promises obedience to the devil that appears as a monstrous figure. As in a medieval ceremony of vassalage, wherein the vassal promised obedience to his lord, Theophilus put his hands together, palm to palm, and the devil clasped them with his own, signifying that he would protect the person placing himself under his authority.

Theophilus soon recovered his post. Fortune and pleasures smiled on him, but a great malaise tormented his soul. He felt as though an invisible hand were crushing his heart.

In addition, he felt extremely unhappy with the simple idea that one day his happiness was going to end. Most of all, he was terrified with the knowledge of who his master was.

 

Remorse and Our Lady’s pardon

Unable to bear that situation any longer, Theophilus entered the church and threw himself at the feet of the Most Holy Virgin and bitterly wept for his sin. He did this for forty consecutive days, renewing his supplications and begging for forgiveness.

Theophilus - Image 3One evening Our Lady appeared to him and severely reproached the infamous deed he had committed. Always in tears, Theophilus implored mercy from the Mother of God, reminding Her of so many examples of sinners such as David, King and Prophet; St. Mary Magdalene; and St. Peter. Our Lady said She would forgive him for having denied Her, but that She could not forgive him for having denied Her Son.

Theophilus prayed fervently, but he dared not to address Our Lord, but asked Our Lady to intercede for him.

The Holy Virgin reminded him that, before anything else, it was necessary to retrieve the contract he had signed with the devil. The contract was in hell, She said, and Christ would not go to such a hideous place to get it. Finally, full of mercy, Our Lady decided to retrieve the contract Herself.

For three days, Theophilus lay prostrate on the ground. Then, the Immaculate Virgin appeared again and gave him the contract as a symbol of Her pardon.

 

Our Lady, an icon of strength and fortitude

This apogee of mercy of the Mother of God is depicted in the impressive illustration. While the repentant priest prays fervently, the Most Holy Virgin with sword in hand – a model of fortitude – obliges the devil to return the parchment. In this picture, Theophilus shows confidence and calm; Our Lady appears full of strength and maternal protection; and the devil displays cynical hatred and profound despair.

However, this is not the end of the story. After Sunday Mass, which was celebrated by the Bishop, Theophilus publicly confessed his sins. The cursed parchment was burned as the people chanted in thanksgiving. Three days later, Theophilus died, comforted by the holy Sacraments, and was buried in that same church.

 

 


 *Adopted from Crusade for a Christian Civilization Magazine, Vol. 7, Number 6, November-December, 1977

 

 

Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for July 25, 2021

When you can do nothing at prayer, make acts of humility, co...

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July 25

 

When you can do nothing at prayer,
make acts of humility, comparing
your nothingness with God’s greatness,
your ingratitude with His benefits,
your lack of virtue with the purity and perfection of the saints.

St. Claude de la Colombière


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Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. James the Greater

The Virgin Mother, then still living, appeared to him on the...

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St. James the Greater

James the Greater was the son of Zebedee and Salome, one of the women at the tomb on Easter morning, (Matt.27:56, Mark 15:40, 16:1) and the brother of John – probably the elder of the two. He is called “the greater” to distinguish him from James the Lesser, who was probably shorter in stature.

There is evidence in Scriptures that these two brothers were cousins of the Lord, which may explain Our Lord entrusting His mother to John as He was dying. Both James and John were probably of a fiery temperament for which they were called “sons of thunder.”  They once wished to call fire upon a city, for which Our Lord rebuked them. (Luke 9:51-6)

James was one of the first apostles called by Jesus, and was one of the three selected to witness His transfiguration.

James was apostle in Iberia, in the region of present-day Spain. Ancient tradition ascertains that when praying one night in the year 40, the Virgin Mother, then still living, appeared to him on the banks of the River Ebro to encourage him in his difficult mission. She was accompanied by a multitude of angels who bore with them a marble pillar on top of which was a small statue of her holding the Child Jesus. She bid James build a shrine where the pillar was to be placed, which he did, the first shrine dedicated to the Mother of God on earth. Today, the sacred pillar, still in the same spot, is enshrined in the great Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar in Zaragoza.

James returned to Judea after this apparition, and was the first apostle to suffer martyrdom. He died by the sword in Jerusalem at the command of Herod Agrippa in the year 44. His relics rest in the city of Compostela in northern Spain, the final destination of the famous pilgrims of the “Camino de Compostela.”

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

In the Secret of the Rosary, St. Louis de Montfort relates t...

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The Rosary and the Possessed Girl

In his book, The Secret of the Rosary, St. Louis de Montfort relates that a Dominican, Father Jean Amat, was once giving a Lenten Mission in the Kingdom of Aragon, Spain, when a young girl, possessed by the devil was brought to him.

Father Amat began the exorcism. After several unsuccessful attempts, the priest had an idea; taking his Rosary, he looped it around the girl’s neck. 

No sooner had he done this, the girl began to squirm and scream and the devil, shouting through her mouth shrieked, “Take if off, take off; these beads are tormenting me!”

At last, moved to pity for the girl, the priest lifted the Rosary beads off her neck.

The next night, while the good Dominican lay in bed, the same devils who possessed the young girl entered his room. Foaming with rage, they tried to seize him, but he had his Rosary clasped in his hand and no efforts from the infernal spirits could wrench the blessed beads from him.

Then, going on the offensive and using the Rosary as a physical weapon, Fr. Amat scourged the demons crying out, “Holy Mary, Our Lady of the Rosary, help me, come to my aid!” at which the demons took flight.

The next day on his way to church, the priest met the poor girl, still possessed. One of the devils within her taunted him, “Well, brother, if you had been without your Rosary, we should have made short work of you…”

With renewed trust and vigor, the priest unlaced his Rosary from his belt, and flinging it around the girl’s neck commanded, “By the sacred names of Jesus and Mary His Holy Mother, and by the power of the holy Rosary, I command you, evil spirits, leave the body of this girl at once.”

The demons were immediately forced to obey him, and the young girl was freed.

“These stories,” concludes St. Louis de Montfort, “show the power of the holy Rosary in overcoming all sorts of temptations from the evil spirits and all sorts of sins because these blessed beads of the Rosary put devils to rout.”

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In the Secret of the Rosary, St. Louis de Montfort relates that a Dominican, Father Jean Amat, was once giving a Lenten Mission in the Kingdom of Aragon, Spain, when a young girl, possessed by the devil was brought to him.

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