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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 April 19, 2021

He asked to die like a thief and steal Paradise....

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April 19

 

A dying man asked a dying man for eternal life. 
A man without possessions asked a poor man for a Kingdom. 
A thief at the door of death asked to die like a thief and steal Paradise. 
 
One would have thought a saint would have been the first soul 
purchased over the counter of Calvary by the red coins of Redemption. 
 

But in the Divine plan it was a thief 
who was the escort of the King of kings 
into Paradise.

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

 
SIGN me UP as a 2021 Rosary Rally Captain

 

Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Alphege of Canterbury

Alphege hastened to the defense of his people, and pressing...

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St. Alphege of Canterbury

As a youth, Alphege became a monk in the monastery of Deerhurst in Gloucestershire, England, afterwards an anchorite and later an abbot in a monastery in Bath. At thirty, at the insistence of St. Dunstan and to his great consternation, he was elected Bishop of Winchester. As bishop, he maintained the same austerity of life as when a monk. During his episcopate he was so generous toward the poor that there were no beggars left in the diocese of Winchester.

Alphege served twenty-two years as bishop of this see and was then translated to the see of Canterbury at the death of Archbishop Aelfric.

During this period, England suffered from the ravages of the Danes who joined forces with the rebel Earl Edric, marched on Kent and laid siege to Canterbury. When the city was betrayed, there was a terrible massacre, men and women, old and young, dying by the sword.

The Archbishop hastened to the defense of his people, and pressing through the crowd begged the Danes to cease the carnage. He was immediately seized, roughly handled, and imprisoned.

A mysterious and deadly plague broke out among the Danes, and, despite the fact that the holy prelate had healed many of their own with his prayers and by giving them blessed bread, the Danes demanded an exorbitant ransom for his release. As the Archbishop protested that the country was too poor to pay such a price, he was brutally assassinated.

St. Alphege was the first Archbishop of Canterbury to die a violent death. In 1023, the martyr's body was translated with great ceremony to Canterbury accompanied by the Danish King Canute. Although he did not die directly in defense of the Faith, St. Alphege is considered a martyr of justice.

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

In the mountainous region of Trent in Germany, there lived a...

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The Robber Who Stole Heaven

In the mountainous region of Trent in Germany, there lived a notorious robber who made his living by bringing misfortune on others. His occupation being what it was, he would only increase his property by decreasing that of his victims.

One day, he was admonished by a local religious to change his course of life and thereby insure his eternal salvation. The only answer the robber gave was that for him there was no remedy.

"Do not say so," said the religious, "do what I tell you. Fast on each Saturday in honor of the Virgin Mary, and on that day of the week do no harm to anyone. She will obtain for you the grace of not dying in God’s displeasure.”

The robber thought to himself, “This is a small price to pay to insure my salvation; I will do as this holy man has prescribed.” He then obediently followed the religious’ advice, and made a vow to continue to do so. That he might not break it, from that time on he traveled unarmed on Saturdays.

Many years later, our robber was apprehended on a given Saturday by the officers of justice, and that he might not break his oath, he allowed himself to be taken without resistance. The judge, seeing that he was now a gray-haired old man, wished to pardon him.

Then the truly miraculous occurred. Rather than jump for joy thanking the judge for his leniency, the old robber, said that he wished to die in punishment of his sins. He then made a public confession of all the sins of his life in that same judgment hall, weeping so bitterly that all present wept with him.

He was beheaded, a death reserved for the nobility, rather than hanged. Then his body was buried with little ceremony, in a grave dug nearby.
Very soon afterwards, the mother of God came down from Heaven with four holy virgins by her side. They took the robber’s dead body from that place, wrapped it in a rich cloth embroidered with gold, and bore it themselves to the gate of the city.

There the Blessed Virgin said to the guards: "Tell the bishop from me, to give an honorable burial, in such a church to this dead person, for he was my faithful servant." And thus it was done.

All the people in the village thronged to the spot where they found the corpse with the rich pall, and the bier on which it was placed. And from that moment on, says Caesarius of Heisterbach, all persons in that region began to fast on Saturdays in honor of she who was so kind to even a notorious robber.

From the Glories of Mary, by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori.

In the mountainous region of Trent in Germany, there lived a notorious robber who made his living by bringing misfortune on others. 

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