Ps.-Theophilus of Alexandria, Sermon on the Cross and the Good Thief (CPG 2622; clavis coptica 0395)

This translation of Ps.-Theophilus of Alexandria’s sermon on the Cross and the Good Thief (CPG 2622; clavis coptica 0395), which is preserved only in the Sahidic dialect of Coptic, appeared in A. Suciu, “Ps.-Theophili Alexandrini Sermo de Cruce et Latrone (CPG 2622): Edition of M595 with Parallels and Translation,” Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum – Journal of Ancient Christianity 16 (2012) 181-225. For details concerning the text, please refer to this article.

The homily attributed to Theophilus of Alexandria contains a long hymn of the Cross (cf. par. XV) which is derived from the pseudo-chrysostomic work In venerabilem crucem sermo (CPG 4525).

 Codex B-Turin Egyptian Museum cat. 63000 cod. 2 (title page of Ps-Theophilus-De Cruce

An exegesis of Apa Theophilus, the archbishop of Alexandria, which he pronounced concerning the Cross and the thief. In the peace of God, Amen!

I. Proemium: Christological hymn

The sun of righteousness has appeared from out of the Eastern places,

Lightening those who are in the darkness and the shadow of death.

The king of justice has borne the crown of the kingdom

(And) all his enemies have been vanquished under his feet.

The good odor has spread out on the altar of salvation

(And) has dissipated the stench with the perfume of its ointment.

The powerful lion has risen from the forests

(And) the beasts have hidden in their dark lair.

The holy physician has come to us with his medicines of life

(And) everyone who is afflicted has received the cure for free.

The joy of the whole creation was revealed:

They rejoice with him!

II. The Parable of the two kings

For, just as if a hostile king encircles a city and besieges it, then all those who are inside it are in subjugation, tormented, grieving (and) groaning. But when the king that has authority over it hears about the great effrontery, just as he ventures to kill his troops, then he gathers his entire host and their war equipment. After he instructed his host to fight with his enemies, he marches in front of them with joy, knowing that he will vanquish his opponents with great power.

This is also the manner of our Lord Jesus Christ when he sees the enemy of the entire mankind, this being the Devil. He surrounded the entire inhabited world, afflicted everyone with his fetters full of sin, scattered them by his many plagues, these being the idolatry, the robbery, the obscenity, the theft, the murder, the denunciation, the envy, the hate, the wrath, the anger, the drunkenness, the witchcraft, the pollution, the guile, the trickery, the arrogance, the false oaths, the abominations, the fornications, the crookedness and those of the same kind, resembling them. These are the snares by which the Devil entraps humans until he leads them astray and brings them to naught. Come now to see in what way Christ, our King, fights with him until he takes away from him our souls and makes them free.

III. The Jews reject Christ

When it pleased him, God the Almighty sent his beloved Son to the world through his great love with which he loved us. He went to the defiled people (and) preached to them: “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near!” But they did not pay attention to his holy advices. After these, he performed in their midst all the miracles which are numberless: he made the blind to see, made the deaf to hear, made the cripples to walk, cleansed the leprous, raised the dead, cast forth the demons, straitened the withered hands, satisfied the poor with bread, purified the depraved, forgave their sins through his Godhead (and) made them like virgins. For that woman was worthy of a great honor <when> her hands anointed the feet of the one who created her. When she partook in the purity of his Godhead, then the voice of God reached her: “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.”

After all these that he has done, they did not believe in him, but captured him, handed him over (and) crucified him. When he entered into the palace of the High Priest, they gave him blows instead of praise. Then the word that was written was fulfilled: “They have done to me evil instead of good, and hate instead of my love.” Which are the evils that these murderers have done to their Lord when they arrested him? Come and let us know them, for they are fearful to express. My tongue suffers, my eyes weep, my spirit groans, my soul is troubled to express them. It is God that they seized, it is the Lord that they bound, it is the King that they crucified, it is Jesus Christ that they fettered! They nailed him in his holy hands, slapped the face of the one who created them, struck the head of their Lord, put a crown of thorns on him, clothed him with a scarlet robe (and) gave him vinegar and gall. All these things were done to him.

IV. The two thieves on the cross

They have crucified him with two other thieves. And one of them, who was not worthy for the glory of God, said to the Lord mocking at him: “If you are the Christ, save yourself and save us too!” The other one rebuked him with fury: “Don’t you fear God? For we are receiving according to the merit of  the sins that we have done but this one has not done anything bad.” And he said: “Remember me to the Lord when you enter into your kingdom.” Jesus said to him with great joy: “Today you will be with me in my Paradise. The gate of Paradise is closed since the moment when Adam transgressed but I will open it to you and receive you inside.

You have recognized the highness of my Godhead being on the cross, you will be my companion in the joy of my kingdom.

You have glorified me in the midst of the sinners, I will glorify you in my turn in the midst of my angelic host.

Stick to me on the Cross, being sweet towards me by your heart’s desire (and) I will love you in my turn and my angels will serve you at the feast of the saints!

You used to be in the company of murderers, behold, I have made you my companion. I am the life of everyone.

For you were walking in the nights with the sons of darkness (and) behold, I have made you walking with me. I am the light of the world.

First you were taking counsel with the murderers (and) I have made you my companion. I am the Savior.

I will grant you all these because you have confessed my divinity in the presence of those who have denied me. They have seen all the miracles that I have done (and) they did not believe in me. But you, although you are a thief, murderer, robber, impetuous, briber and yet you have confessed that I am God. Because of this, your numerous sins are forgiven for you have confessed me.

I will make you to become inhabitant of Paradise,

I will make your body to be perfect until I raise you up.

But this one who has denied me will see you wrapped in glory while he is wrapped in shame and sufferance.

He will see you wrapped in the light while he endures the darkness.

He will see you wrapped in gladness and joy while he endures the sorrow and the groan.

He will see you in dilation and joy, whereas he is in misery and curse.

He will see you while the angels are encouraging you, whereas he is in the Tartar.

Not only that he has not confessed me, but he has denied me and my divinity. He kept mocking and deriding me. Because of this everyone receives according to his deeds. For I have already told them in the midst of everybody: ‘The one who will confess me in the front of men, I will confess him in front of my Father who is in heavens.’”

V. Paraenesis

So you see, O brothers, how is the sufferance that will befall on the man who will deny his Lord. Therefore, let us guard ourselves so that they may not deceive us and estrange from the one who has created us, by reason of the affairs of this world. There are some who deny God for possessions. For the cupidity closes the eyes of the one who has desired. He takes in his turn Judas’ part for he has also sold his Lord for thirty silver coins.

VI. The Cross. God’s endurance and long-suffering

Now, it is good for us to cast our attention to the Lord, because he is the one who will take care of us according to the word of our father Peter. Let us turn now to the exposition about the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and the thief because a life giving wood is the wood of the Cross.

The angels ascend to the Father and descend to the Son on the Cross, looking forward to his will. Behold God’s compassion and his forbearance: watching from the height he sees his only-begotten Son nailed on the Cross enduring in his goodness. As for him, our Lord Jesus Christ, they are nailing his hands and they are slapping his face, they are striking on his head, they are giving him to drink vinegar and gall, they are dividing his garments among them, they are casting lots for them and they are striking his head with a reed; during all these he did not get angry nor had he guile in his heart against them. Do you want to know? Listen and I will inform you. Hear him declaring: “My Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing.” You have seen now the great endurance of the Father and of his Son toward us.

VII. The crucified Christ purifies the creation

He ascended on the Cross saving the entire creation. In the moment when he was hanged on the Cross he purified the entire creation, those of the heaven and those of the earth. He has cleaned the entire air purifying it with God’s body. Likewise, his holy blood that was shed has cleaned the earth from the pollution which was on it. Moreover, he descended into Amente (and) spoiled it. He freed the souls that were imprisoned in the chambers of darkness (and) released them. For he promised us with his mouth of truth, from which no lie ever came out: “When I will be lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me by the bond of my love.”

VIII. Christ sacrificed himself willingly for our sake

Now what love is as great as this by which he mounted on the wood of the Cross and bonded himself alone? For if it had not been his wish, who would have been able to seize him? Because who could seize the living God? In the moment when the godless Jews captured him, he questioned them with great endurance: “Whom are you seeking with these swords and rods?” They answered him in their ignorance, their arrogance and their insolence, saying: “We are looking for Jesus the Nazarene!” He replied saying: “It is me.” The beams of light of his divinity stroke their face (and) they fell down. Likewise again, he raised them up in his great mercy because perhaps they will repent (but instead) they have seized his disciples in ignorance.

IX. The punishment of sinners

Now God has performed all these wanting salvation for every man. Verily in that hour he will make the earth to open its mouth and swallow them in the abyss and make them go down to the place of their brother Nineve and also of their other brothers who have been swallowed when the earth opened its mouth, Dathan  and Abiram and the sons of Korah, the ones who rose up against Moses in the desert.

X. An Old Testament prophecy about the Cross

Now let us return again to the greatness of the invisible Cross and discuss about it and to know the prophecies that the prophets have said about it since the beginning until the end. You in your turn, O hearers, spread forth your senses and listen quietly. Come to open the great holy treasure and bring out the spiritual ornaments to adorn the souls of the Logos-loving people.

Summon with me the God-lover, the Logos-lover and the one who is with the angels, this being Abraham, God’s friend. Let him come and teach us concerning the type of this tree, Sabek, that has caught the ram in it. For the interpretation of Sabek is “the resting-place of the Savior,” this being the wood of the Cross on which the lamb of God has mounted in a great splendor in order to fulfill the oikonomia full of salvation. He reposed on it like a man that has come from the field where he worked, threw himself upon the bed and rested from his toil. This is how the Savior has done when he rested on his bed, this being the Cross of truth. He suffered on it until he saved the entire human kind.

XI. Christ’s mercy. The persecutors did not know who he was

He has not been disheartened nor has he been troubled nor furious when they nailed him nor irritated (when) they put a crown of thorns upon him nor has he cursed when they hit him in his face nor has he been coward when they gave him to drink vinegar mixed with gall. For he has not opposed to those who mocked him nor has he been furious when they divided his garments and cast lots for them.

Do you want to know which is the truth? I am telling it, listen and I will inform you. In the moment when they have done all these to him, he raised his eyes toward his Father (and) begged him: “My Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” In this way you will know what the Father is doing and has done at that time, for his mercies to us are great, or else he would have sent upon them the incurable fury. Thus the voice of his only-begotten reached him and summoned his mercy to turn back his fury and wrath.

And he sent a powerful angel (and) he cut in two the curtain of the temple. The earth moved, the rocks split, the sun grew dark. This great luminary has darkened the entire earth in order to overshadow his holy body on the Cross because they have stripped off his clothes (and) divided them among them. Look, O my friends, and see God’s endurance. They have stripped off his garments on the Cross, the one who has clothed the entire creation, but the sun covered his Lord in darkness. This has happened because they were not worthy for the great mystery which was on the Cross. But the one who was worthy has contemplated the entire perfection of his divinity in that moment.

XII. The vision of the Good Thief after his confession

Now who was worthy for this great honor? Let us know him. It is the thief mounted on the height of the cross. He has seen everything that happened and rejoiced because he has seen them. What has he seen if not the army of angels surrounding the Cross (and) singing hymns to it? The Father looks from heaven contemplating his Only-begotten Son and glorifying him. The entire air sings, the whole earth is shouting aloud because its king shed his blood on it. All the trees blossom because the Lord has mounted on the wood of the Cross.

XIII. The hymn of the wood of the Cross

The wood of incorruptibility,

The wood of forgiveness of sin,

The wood of the healer,

The wood of the life-giver,

The wood of the fruit-giver,

The wood of relief,

The wood of gladness,

The wood of joy,

The wood of salvation,

The wood of blessing,

The wood of life,

The wood of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the one which has been hanged on the wood of the Cross.

XIV. The confession of the Good Thief after the vision

“I have seen the entire creation established and arranged in the image of the Cross.”

XV. The hymn of the Cross

(The Cross) is the one who makes man young again after he grows old, signs him through the holy baptism by making him with the oil and Christ’s seal.

The Cross purifies the man that pursues the energies cast forth from it.

The Cross is the holy mystery. For when they seal the bread and the chalice on the holy table and they accomplish them, it is not anymore bread nor wine but it is holy body and blood.

The Cross is the consolation of those who are in distress because of their sins.

The Cross is the straight way, not leading astray those who walk on it when they are estranged.

The Cross is the high tower which receives those who are running to it.

The Cross is the ladder which raises man to the sky.

The Cross is the garment which the Christians are wearing.

The Cross is the helper of the poor and the help for those who are distressed.

The Cross is the one who has destroyed the temple of the Jews, opened the Church and has crowned it.

The Cross destroyed the demons (and) cast them away in fear.

The Cross is the stability of the ships that are sailing in beauty.

The Cross is the establishment of the priests that are in the house of God with wisdom.

The Cross is the immutable judge of the apostles.

The Cross is the lamp of gold whose holy flame is shining.

The Cross is the father of the orphans, taking care of them.

The Cross is the judge of the widows, wiping out the tears from their eyes.

The Cross is the consolation of the sojourners.

The Cross is the companion of those who are in the desert.

The Cross is the ornament of the holy altars.

The Cross is the sweetness of those who were bitter.

The Cross is the help of man in the moment of his necessity, when he goes out from the body.

The Cross is the governor of the compassionates.

The Cross is the administrator of those who have put their care in it.

The Cross is the chastity of the virgins.

The Cross is the fortified wall.

The Cross is the physician who cures every sickness.

Come, all tribes of the earth, rejoice and jubilate because the Lord has reigned from the wood of the Cross! Be glad all those who are moving in the waters because blood and water have flown from him. Spread your wings with gladness, all birds of the sky, because he has spread his arms on the Cross. Be glad and rejoice, beasts that are in the desert, because his preaching was good news for you.

You have seen of what sort is the greatness of the Cross and its great help for the entire creation.

XVI. Exhortation to prayer

For in the moment when man will spread his arms on the image of the Cross and will pray with faith, the angels entreat God until he fulfills his demand. Zechariah prayed (and) Gabriel came to him (and) fulfilled his demand, this being John. Peter prayed (and) the angel came to him (and) made the chains of iron to loosen and the gate of iron <to open alone>. Likewise again, he prayed (and) resurrected Tabitha. Cornelius prayed (and) the angel came to him. Paul and Silas prayed and the angel came to them (and) the foundations of the prison have moved. Moses prayed (and) he defeated the Amalek. Tobias prayed and Raphael came to him (and) healed him.

Therefore, let us pray continually with every occasion. The apostle said: “Pray continually.” The prayer cures those possessed by demons. For this reason I have established today for us to fast and pray in the holy place. Let the prayer be your companion everywhere you are. Pray when you lay down and you will be safe in the trial. Pray while you are in the tribunal and God will fight for you. Pray when you embark on waters and you will be safe from submerging. If they invite you to a feast pray, do not eat, and God will bless your bread and everything that you will prepare. Whether you eat, whether you drink, whether you do something else, do everything so as to glorify God.

XVII. Doxology

In all these, let us glorify his holy name by every good thing, our Lord Jesus Christ, the one whom befits the glory and the honor and the blessing until all the generations and until all the eternities of eternities, Amen.


About Alin Suciu

I am a researcher at the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities. I write mostly on Coptic literature, Patristics, and apocryphal texts.
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1 Response to Ps.-Theophilus of Alexandria, Sermon on the Cross and the Good Thief (CPG 2622; clavis coptica 0395)

  1. Interesting text. What would you say is its initial composition-date, and what is the original language? (You might have mentioned this before but I’m having to speed through things today.)

    Btw, another question: I found the online images of papyri in the John Rylands Library. What would you say is the most interesting Coptic item there?

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