Eutychian, Patriarch of Constantinople, relates the following well-known story of Theophilus. The Patriarch was an eye-witness of the fact which we here relate, and which is confirmed by St. Peter Damian, St. Bernard, St.Bonaventure, St. Antoninus, and others. Theophilus was archdeacon of the Church of Adanas, a city of Cilicia; and was so much esteemed, that the people wished him to become their bishop, but his humility prevented his consent.
Some malicious persons afterwards accused him, and he was deposed from his office. This afflicted him so much, that, blinded by passion, he went to a Jewish magician, who induced him to apply to Satan for help in his misfortunes. The devil answered that if he wished his assistance, he must renounce Jesus, and Mary his mother, and hand over to him the act of renunciation, written with his own hand.
Theophilus executed the vile document. On the following day, the bishop having heard of the wrong done him by his calumniators asked his forgiveness and restored him to his office. But Theophilus began then to feel so tortured by remorse of conscience on account of the great crime he had committed, that he wept continually. What does he do? He enters a church, prostrates himself in tears before an altar of the Blessed Virgin, and exclaims: “Oh Mother of God, I will not despair having thee, who art so merciful, to aid me”.
He persevered forty days in weeping and praying thus to the holy Virgin; when behold, one night the mother of mercy appeared to him and said:
“Oh Theophilus, what have you done? you have renounced my friendship and that of my Son; and for whom? for your own and my enemy”. “Oh Lady” answered Theophilus, “it belongs to thee to pardon me, and to obtain my pardon from thy Son”. Then Mary, seeing his confidence, answered: “Take courage, and I will pray for thee”.
Theophilus, encouraged by these words, redoubled his tears, his penance, and his prayers, remaining constantly at the foot of the altar. And, behold, Mary appeared to him again, and with a joyful countenance said to him: “Theophilus, rejoice, I have presented thy tears and thy prayers to God; he hath accepted them, and hath already pardoned thee; henceforth be grateful and faithful”. “Oh Lady” replied Theophilus, “this is not sufficient to console me; the enemy still holds that impious deed, by which I have renounced thee and thy Son; thou canst obtain it for me”
After three days Theophilus awoke one night, and found the paper on his breast. The next day, when the bishop with a large assembly were present in the church, Theophilus cast himself at his feet, related the whole story, weeping bitterly, and gave him the infamous writing, which the bishop immediately ordered to be burned in presence of all the people, who wept for joy, praising the goodness of God, and the mercy of Mary towards that miserable sinner.
Theophilus returned to the church of the Virgin, and there, three days afterwards, he died happily, with thanksgivings to Jesus and his holy mother on his lips.
From “The Glories of Mary” by St Alphonsus Liguori