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E06773: In the late 5th century or later, the Greek Life of *Theodoulos (Stylite in Edessa, ob. 5th century. S02603), recounts the story of an Urban Prefect of Constantinople who embraced ascetic life as a stylite near Edessa (Syria). After 48 years on the pillar, it was revealed to him that his ascetic struggles were the equivalent of the life of Kornelios, a musician from Damascus. Seemingly a man living in sin, Kornelios once sold all his belongings, in order to pay off the debts of a woman who was about to prostitute herself. Written in Greek in Syria (?).

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posted on 2018-10-08, 00:00 authored by erizos
Life of Theodoulos the Stylite (BHG 1785)


1. Theodoulos lived under the emperor Theodosius the Great (379-395), serving as Urban Prefect of Constantinople. He was living and ruling according to virtues and honour, despising violence and valuing tolerance.

2-3. Theodoulos shared his doubts about the fleetingness of human life with his wife Prokla, quoting Paul, Psalms and Ecclesiastes. He proposed that they renounce their material possessions, for these are fleeting while the Kingdom of Heaven is everlasting.

4. Prokla was unhappy because of her husband’s decision. She cried out that he should not leave her and she quoted Paul (1 Cor. 7:5), trying to convince him not to leave her.

5-6. Theodoulos stepped down and the emperor accepted his resignation, although he loved him very much. However, the people of the city asked the emperor to keep him in office because of his great merits. The emperor Theodosius gave a speech to the crowd, praising Theodoulos and explaining the reasons why he had let him go.

7-8. Realising that her husband was indeed embracing a monastic lifestyle, Prokla was distressed. She proposed that they give up their possessions and live in poverty and chastity together in the city, because she was unable endure the hardships of monastic life proper.

9. Theodoulos went to sleep and had a vision of Christ, encouraging him to proceed with is plan. Obeying, he asked for Christ's guidance as to what he should do to relieve Prokla’s distress.

10. Christ replied that he would take Prokla, in order that Theodoulos might devote his life to Him. Prokla indeed died, and Theodoulos buried her with all honours. He then distributed all his possessions to the poor, and left for Edessa where, with permission from the local bishop, he bought a pillar and started a life as a stylite.

11. Theodoulos conducted an ascetic life on the pillar, living frugally and fighting the devil. People were amazed by his sanctity and visited him when they were physically or spiritually ill, since God had granted him the power of healing. After his thirtieth year on the pillar, he completely gave up eating, and only received the Eucharist on Sundays.

12. After 48 years and 7 months on the pillar, Theodoulos asked of God to reveal to him in whose company he would inherit the kingdom of heaven, if he had indeed been worthy of it. God reassured Theodoulos that he had indeed been pleasing to Him, and revealed that his companion in Heaven would be a certain Kornelios, a musician from Damascus.

13. Theodoulos was distressed assuming that this meant that his long struggles had been regarded as worthless by God, the equivalent of the life of a musician.

14. Troubled by the revelation, he descended his pillar and went to Damascus, where he found Kornelios returning from the hippodrome with a prostitute.

15-16. He took Kornelios to a private place and asked him to tell him of any good deeds he had ever done in his life. Initially reluctant and ashamed of a life spent with prostitutes and mimes, Kornelios disclosed that he once attempted to have intercourse with a woman who suddenly started crying. He asked her the reason of her tears and she answered that she was prostituting herself to pay for her husband’s debts.

18. Kornelios was moved by the story of the woman and decided to give all his money and precious belongings to pay off her debts and save her from prostitution. Impressed by Kornelios’ actions, Theodoulos asked of Kornelios to pray for him, when he enters to Heaven.

19. Theodoulos returned to his column and lived for another five years. When he died, Kornelios, already dead, welcomed him, together with the other saints, into the Kingdom of Heaven. The remains of Theodoulos were buried by all the bishops, abbots, monks and lay people of the region. Many sick people visited his burial place and were healed.

Text: Acta Sanctorum
Summary: Giovanni Hermanin de Reichenfeld, Lavinia Cerioni, Efthymios Rizos.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Theodoulos, stylite in Edessa, ob. 5th c. : S02603

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Lives


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Revelation of hidden knowledge (past, present and future)

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Women Monarchs and their family Relatives of the saint Officials


For the manuscript tradition of the text, see:


The story of Theodoulos is an interesting piece of monastic hagiography, consisting of two parts. The first extensively discusses the saint's conversion to monastic life and denunciation of the worldly goods of a successful career and marriage. The motif of the despairing relative of the monk-to-be is particularly prominent in 6th and 7th century hagiography. Showing sympathy for a good-willing wife who is affected by the hero's tough decision, the author reassures us that a good solution can come from God. This solution, namely the peaceful death of the wife, recalls similar motifs, e.g. in the Life of Symeon the Fool by Leontius of Neapolis (E06891), or the Life of Ioulianos and Basilissa (E07135). The second part of the account is practically an edifying story, warning against vainglory and extolling the value of charity. This is achieved by a case of concealed sanctity, akin to the spirit of the hagiography of holy fools like Symeon of Emessa. The accomplished ascetic Theodoulos is frustrated when God tells him that his 48 years of labours on a pillar will earn him the same reward as earned by the life of a man of the world of spectacles, the musician Kornelios. The ascetic seeks out his presumed peer and finds him returning from the circus, with his guitar in one hand and a prostitute in the other. Yet it transpires that Kornelios once rescued a woman from prostitution by giving off all his wealth in order to rid her from her debts. The conclusion is that a single act of great charity can outweigh a whole life in sin, and have the same value as 50 years of ascetic perfection. The precise date of the text is unknown and the veracity of its historical references cannot be confirmed. No Constantinopolitan Urban Prefect of the name Theodoulos is known from the times of Theodosius I, although a vicar of Rome named Theodulus is known in 408/423 (i.e. during the reign of Theodosius II; see PLRE 2, 1106, 'Theodulus 6').


Text: Acta Sanctorum, Mai VI (1688), 756-767.

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