Theophilus of Antioch: The Greatness of God

Hear me, O man: the form of God is ineffable and inexpressible, since it cannot be seen with merely human eyes. For he is in glory uncontainable, in greatness incomprehensible, in loftiness inconceivable, in strength incomparable, in wisdom unteachable, in goodness inimitable, in beneficence inexpressible.

This quote comes from work To Autolycus (Ad Autolycum) by the second-century apologist Theophilus. According to the Eusebius he became bishop of Antioch 169. Autolycus, was written sometime after the death of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (March 17, 180) since Theophilus refers to it in the work.

Robert M. Grant, the translator of the edition I have quoted from, is cold toward the literary and rhetorical merits of the work. Yet Theophilus begins his work with the warning, “Fluent speech and euphonious diction produce delight and praise—resulting in empty glory, among wretched men who have a depraved mind.” So it appears that the author was not too concerned to impress others “with words of eloquent wisdom.” Even so, luminaries such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Novatian, Methodius, and Lactantius all thought highly enough of the work to cite it in some of their own.

Grant is accurate in identifying a greater difficulty with Autolycus: “The theology of Theophilus…is the most radically monotheistic to be found among the Greek Christian apologists.” I would not hesitate to replace “radically” with “dangerously.” Statements about the generation of the Logos in II.10 and II.22 seem closer to Arianism than Trinitarian orthodoxy.

So, as with all things written by men, To Autolycus must be read with care.

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