The story of a man selling his soul to the Devil is a very old one. While the general concept of a deal struck with one of the darker figures in a religion predates Christianity (the story of Orpheus being an example of many of the concepts in the tale) the version people most recognize is a distinctly Christian one. These days most people think of the legend of Doctor Faustus or the stories of blues legend Robert Johnson but there is a much older story that of Saint Theophilus the Penitent.
Theophilus was an archdeacon of Adana in Cilicia, located in what is now Turkey. This much is historically true. It’s known that he was offered the position of bishop but turned it down; it’s believed out of humility. The man who was appointed in his place went on to remove Theophilus from his position as Archdeacon which is where the legend of his deal with Satan begins.
The details of the story varies based on the source but the general consensus is that Theophilus was angry that he had been denied his position and that he either summoned the Devil himself or contacted a sorcerer (in some versions an anti Semitic slant is given the legend by suggesting it was a Jew) to broker the deal. The story goes on that he was required to renounce both Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary as well as to sign a contract in blood. In return for this he was given the position of Bishop he had originally turned down. The story goes on those years later he repented of his decision and prayed to Mary for intercession. The story again diverges here depending on the source but generally it’s believed that Mary appeared to him to chastise him for his sin and eventually promised to intercede with God on his behalf. After 30 days of prayer and fasting the story concludes that the contract was returned to Theophilus and he then turned it over to the legitimate bishop and publicly confessed and renounced his sin. Finally he supposedly died immediately afterwards out of joy from being freed of his contract.
The legend of Theophilus is questionable at best as a historical account but significant in how it’s influenced later accounts of such deals as well as the Church’s emphasis on Mary as an intercessor. Here the ideas of a contract signed in blood became cemented centuries before it would become a significant part of the Inquisition and witch hunts as well as the tale of Faust. It also establishes that while the contract is damning the person can repent of their sin and find forgiveness with God.
Copyright 2013 Kevin P Meares All Rights Reserved
List of Marian apparitions: http://www.miraclehunter.com/marian_apparitions/approved_apparitions/apparitions_0040-0999.html#adana
Catholic Encyclopedia: http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=2271