THEOPHILUSThe legend of Theophilus. Transept north tympanum,
Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, mid-13th century. Top panel:
the bishop exhibits and reads the pact to his hearkening
parishioners. Below: the adventure reads from left to right.
Here is a miracle of the Blessed Virgin, who is ever willing and able to come to our aid. A bishop once installed a vicar, named Theophilus, who performed all the ecclesiastical offices so well and was so amiable to clergy and laity alike that the canons were minded, when the bishop died, to elect Theophilus as his successor. Theophilus, however, declined the honor, out of humility, requesting the assembled canons that he be allowed only to continue in his vicarage. They acceded to this desire, selecting another bishop, who then confirmed Theophilus in his former office.
After some time, however, a dispute arose in the parish, as a result of which Theophilus was relieved of his position. He took this injury with ill grace. The dignity of the office had satisfied a certain fondness for power in him, which broke to the surface now that he had been deposed.
In the same city there dwelt a Jew, who was thoroughly conversant with books of magic and knew how to summon devils. In evil despair, Theophilus went to this man in search of some iniquitous remedy for the slight he had received.
"Do as I tell you," said the Jew, "and I will restore you to your former station of respect. First, you must renounce God, Christianity, and the Virgin Mary. There's nothing much to that, of course, but as a first step, it should suffice to regain for you your former power. Then, with Satan's aid, you can climb to great heights."
"Only help me win back my office," said Theophilus, "and I will forswear, as you have told me."
The Jew at once called forth a devil to take charge of the matter. "If you determine to persist," the Jew told Theophilus, "Satan demands that you write a manifest in which you renounce God, Mary, and the Christian life, and deliver it to him."
With an accursed hand, Theophilus wrote what was required, set his seal on it and gave it to the devil, who took it down to infernal regions, were a place was being prepared in which Theophilus would suffer freezing and blazing tortures after his death.
It soon became apparent that Satan had indeed begun to steer the course of Theophilus' affairs; the very next day, the new bishop sent for him and, after greeting him warmly, asked him to resume his former office as vicar, since no one so well knew its duties as did he. By Satan's evil mockery, Theophilus thus regained his former station of respect, and indeed soon had honors far higher.
But our dear Lord, in his wisdom and mercy, made of Theophilus an example to teach us, weak sinners all, never to waver from our holy trust in him. And debt of wrong though we owe, or diligent be in evil causes, yet can our sincere repentance burst asunder any bonds of sin and cast them utterly away. A tiny coal of true contrition was lit in Theophilus' soul, which soon grew into the fire of confession. Realizing how his sin bore him down, and what his just recompense would be after this life should end, he trembled, his soul struck through by the brilliant ray that is the fear of hell. He turned from all pleasure and luxury to extend hands and heart in supplication to God and to the blessed virgin Mary. With cries and wailing, he testified to God's grim judgment of his miserable life, which when he contemplated he washed with a river of tears, swelling from the font of repentance.
It came about, after he had continued some time in contrition, that as he lay on his face, with great weeping and sighing, before an image of our blessed lady and her child, he fell asleep in utter fatigue. As he lay, our lady appeared to him in a vision, and rebuked him harshly, saying: "fool that thou art, to renounce so vilely me and my blessed son, and the Christian life accorded in grace unto thee!"
"Ah, blessed lady," he lamented, "in your great mercy, have pity on me, miserable sinner, lest I be eternally damned! Oh, soften your anger, and bid for the grace of your dear son, that he relent of his displeasure upon me, richly though I deserve it! Woe, and yet woe again, woe that I have so offended, and still offend!"
Again the queen of heaven spoke to him, and said: "wilt thou earnestly confess me and my son, and henceforth call thyself by the name of Christ, and hold thereto at all times and in all places?"
"Yes, yes, in truth, yes," he swore, "yes, I will! With all my heart and mind will I ever be yours, if only you intercede to turn aside your son's great wrath toward me!"
She bid Jesus in Theophilus' behalf, who had compassion upon him, and relented. Then Mary commanded him never to entangle himself again in the snares of evil, and to remember always that he had been forgiven once.
Thereupon Theophilus awoke, and threw off his sorrow, praising our lady for the vision in which she interceded for him with her son, but still he could not forget his last fear when he thought of the manifest he had written and delivered into Satan's keeping. Again he turned fervently to prayer, imploring our lady to reveal whether he had found grace.
"Ah, that brief, hidden away, it witnesses against me! Oh, my lady, act once more, and return it to me. Then only shall my faint heart know peace!" In praying, he fell into a swoon, and again saw Mary, as before, who once more came to his aid, commanding in all her power that most base spirit to fetch back the contract.
"Assault," cried the devil, "tort, insult, and injury, as always, at the hands of the Virgin!" Little did it help him; he was compelled to plunge into the fires below and retrieve the pact, which was returned to Theophilus, who, on awaking, found it beside him.
Filled with joy, he went to the bishop, and caused the entire clergy and people to be assembled, before whom he declared publicly how he had defiled himself with the devil, and how he had implored the virgin Mary to defend him, and at last he made his confession full in handing over the awful pact to the bishop. "Praise be to God," cried all the people, "and to the blessed mother, who can help and protect us if we trust in her and truly call upon her!"
Three days later, Theophilus died. Thus did Mary deliver him from pain, affliction, and misery. Blessed be thou, oh queen of heaven!