A monk and bishop of Oxyrhynchus during the second half of the fourth century and the beginning of the fifth. He is best known through Coptic sources and, later, from Arabic sources as well. A complete account of his life is handed down in a manuscript from Turin (Cat. 63000, ed. Rossi, 1887-1892). He is also mentioned in the Life of PAUL OF TAMMAH. The Apothegmata (Greek collection) ascribed to him only one apothegm, the content of which seems to be in agreement with the Coptic sources.
According to the Life, he was a disciple of the first hermits, and he chose a very unusual kind of ascesis. He mixed himself with a herd of buffalo in the desert and lived as they did. Once a year only he would be visited by a brother who reminded him about Easter, at which time he returned to town and participated in the ceremonies. During one of these visits he heard someone reading Theophilus’ Festal Letter against the anthropomorphite doctrine. Presumably this was the letter dated 399.
Inspired by God, he went to the archbishop of Alexandria to dispute the orthodoxy of such a point of view. After a long disputation, essentially based on the literal or typological interpretation of scriptural passages, Theophilus was convinced and changed his mind completely. The impression of Aphu’s personality so affected Theophilus that at the death of the archbishop of Oxyrhynchus, he obligated the inhabitants to elect that unknown monk as their bishop. Aphu accepted unwillingly, but refused to spend days other than Saturdays and Sundays in town and continued to reside in a monastery during the rest of the week until his death.
His last words expressed regret for the solitude of the desert, which alone allowed growth toward spiritual perfection. The apothegm mentioned above is also inspired by such sentiments.
The disputation with Theophilus aroused a certain interest among the scholars, who are not inclined to give it any importance as a strictly historic event. Nevertheless, we cannot exclude that beyond the literary disguise there could be an allusion to real events. The literal or allegorical interpretation of the famous verse of Genesis 1:26, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” which was one of the questions linked with the Origenist controversy, blossomed under Theophilus and was emphasized by the monastic milieu. The monks related it to the motivation of the ascesis, in order to keep the body in its original purity.
The exegesis and theology of the Egyptian monks in Upper and Central Egypt (apart from the Pachomian community) are substantially unknown to us, but there are elements that lead us to believe that the silence of the sources conceals literalistic ways of thinking, perhaps of Asian influence.
It is then possible that Aphu’s life is the product of that environment and situation, and it shows how a part of the Nile Valley monasticism interpreted the events of 399-400, choosing a person particularly venerated as a spokesman of its own point of view. On the other hand, it is quite possible that Aphu might have taken part in all those events.
- Drioton, E. “La Discussion d’un moine anthropomorphite audien avec le patriarche Théophile d’Alexandrie en lannée 399.” Revue de l’Orient chrétien, series 2, 10 (1915):92-100, 113-28.
- Florovsky, G. “Theophilus of Alexandria and Apa Aphou of Pemdje.” In Harry Austryn Wolfson Jubilee Volume on the Occasion of his Seventy-fifth Birthday, Vol. 1. Jerusalem, 1965.
- Revillout, E. “La Vie du bienheureux Aphou évêque de Pemdje (Oxyrinque).” Revue d‘Égyptologie 3 (1885):27-33.
- Rossi, F. I Papiri copti del Museo Egizio di Torino, 2 vols., 10 issues. Turin, 1887-1892.