Theophilus and Cyril: The Alexandrian Bishop Triumphant

Edward J. Watts

in Riot in Alexandria

Published by University of California Press

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780520262072
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520945623 | DOI:
Theophilus and Cyril: The Alexandrian Bishop Triumphant

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Beginning with Theophilus, the Nicene bishops of Alexandria used imperial support to assert themselves within their city and its surroundings. Early in his career, Theophilus drew upon the same episcopal and ascetic coalition that Athanasius had used to sustain himself and his followers during his later exiles. He mobilized them for a far different purpose, however. Instead of defending the church against impious attacks, Theophilus and his followers led an offensive that spread the faith by destroying Alexandria's pagan religious infrastructure. With imperial help, they then refashioned the city's sacred space through the construction of urban monasteries and martyria. Just as Athanasius served as a model for episcopal defense of orthodoxy, bishop Theophilus's attack on the Alexandrian Serapeum and the complex of temples at Canopus marked him as an exemplar of anti-pagan leadership. Cyril, Theophilus's successor, continued to echo Theophilus by taking periodic swipes at paganism, but he also used the figure of Athanasius to present himself as a fighter for doctrinal orthodoxy.

Keywords: Theophilus; Cyril; Alexandria; bishops; orthodoxy; paganism; monasteries; martyria; Serapeum; temples

Chapter.  12326 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Greek and Roman Archaeology

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