Timothy II Aelurus


The twenty-sixth patriarch of the See of Saint Mark (457-477). Along with Philoxenus of Mabbug and OF ANTIOCH, Timothy was the preeminent champion of MONOPHYSITISM. He adhered to CYRIL’S well-known formula “one incarnate nature of the divine Logos” and took up DIOSCORUS’ cause when the latter was deposed at CHALCEDON.

Consecrated patriarch on 16 March 457 in opposition to Proterius, a supporter of the Council of Chalcedon, Timothy was regarded by many of his contemporaries and by later writers as an intruder into the Alexandrian See. Less than a fortnight after Timothy’s consecration, Proterius was murdered by a Monophysite mob. For his alleged complicity, the questionable legitimacy of his episcopal appointment, and his opposition to the Council of Chalcedon, Timothy spent most of his patriarchate in exile. Even after his recall by the emperor Basiliscus in 475, he fell out with Acacius, patriarch of Constantinople, and would certainly have been banished once more, had he not died just in time, on 31 July 477.

Several modern writers (e.g., Bright, 1887; Opitz, 1937) have described Timothy as a ruthless opportunist. Their accounts derive primarily from the writings of his critics, among them the various eastern metropolitan bishops whose letters comprise the Codex Encyclicus, THEOPHANES, JUSTINIAN, and Pope LEO I. In his own letters and other works Timothy appears as a remarkably moderate person ever ready to make peace with his opponents. These letters lend support to Zacharias Rhetor’s account of Timothy’s willingness to accept into communion Proterius’ followers (Historia ecclesiastica 5.4).

His several writings, composed during exile, clarify his opposition to the Council of Chalcedon and are excellent statements of Monophysite beliefs, which played an important part in the development of the Armenian church (Sarkissian, 1965; Akinian, 1909). His unusual sobriquet, Aelurus, is ambiguous in Greek and is often translated “cat” but should be rendered “weasel” (Ebied and Wickham, 1985, p. 115, n. 1). Zacharias Rhetor (4.1) claims that his slender build gave rise to the epithet.

Others such as Theodore Lector (Historia ecclesiastica 1.8, PG 86, pp. 169-72) and Theophanes (Chronographia, Anno Mundi 5949) attribute the nickname “weasel” to his ostensible practice of slinking about Alexandria at night to solicit support for his episcopal appointment from the monks.


Zacharias Rhetor (3.1-5.7), EVAGRIUS (Historia ecclesiastica 2.5-3.7), Michael the Syrian (Chabot, 1963, pp. 91, 126-40, 145-47), Liberatus (Breviarium ad Causas Nestorii et Eutychianorum 13-16, Schwartz, 1936, pp. 98-141), Theophanes (Chronographia, Anno Mundi 5949-5952, no. 5967), John Rufus (Vita Petri Iberi; Raabe, 1895, pp. 59-72), Theodore Lector (Historia ecclesiastica 1.8-9, 30-34, PG 86, pp. 169-72, 179-80), and JOHN OF NIKIOU (Chronicles 88) describe Timothy’s career. The History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church has a brief but almost entirely accurate account of Timothy’s career (Vol. 2, p. 445) remarkably free of the anecdotes so frequent in the other entries. The author does not recognize the archepiscopates of either Proterius or TIMOTHY SALOFACIOLUS and his statements about the length of time Timothy served in are at variance with all other records.

Having been a monk, Timothy was ordained a presbyter by Cyril I and served in this capacity under Dioscorus. He accompanied the latter to the Second Council of Ephesus (the so-called “Robber Council” or Latrocinium) in 449, at which Eutyches of Constantinople was restored. Neither Dioscorus nor Timothy accepted, however, Eutyches’ refusal to believe in Christ’s consubstantiality with humans (Zacharias, Historia ecclesiastica, 4.1, 5.4; Raabe, 1895, p. 65; Sellers, 1953, pp. 258, n. 1, 262).

Thereafter, Timothy’s life was marred by conflict. He was made patriarch by two bishops previously outlawed, Eusebius of and Peter of Iberia. John of Nikiou incorrectly states (Chronicles 88.14-16) that the emperor, Leo, appointed Timothy patriarch. Soon after, he was banished by Dionysius the Roman governor, but returned to Alexandria almost immediately and later capitalized on popular dislike for Proterius. Zacharias (4.1) relates an interesting story about the number of persons the two Alexandrian patriarchs baptized at Easter.

The multitudes of converts received by Timothy wearied the clerks recording their names. Proterius received only five candidates. He was murdered in his own church very shortly after Timothy’s consecration, and if his assassination occurred on Maundy Thursday, as Liberatus claims (Schwartz, 1936, p. 134), Zacharias’ account of the Easter baptisms cannot be true, though it may well be valid evidence of Timothy’s popular support.

According to Emperor Leo in a letter to Anatolius, the archbishop of Constantinople, Timothy set about ridding Egypt of the Proterian and Eutychian clergy (Schwartz, 1936, pp. 17-21). Evagrius (Historia ecclesiastica, 2.8) claims that Timothy’s followers were responsible for the assassination of Proterius but notes that Zacharias believed that the Roman military carried out the deed. Timothy himself was blamed in a libellus quoted by Evagrius (2.8) and Zacharias (4.4), sent to the emperor by several Egyptian clerics, who also protested Timothy’s ordination. This letter forged a lengthy concatenation of indictments against Timothy.

Upon receipt of the letter, the emperor wrote to Anatolius. Despite the influence of Timothy’s party at the capital, the emperor’s inclination toward Timothy, and the considerable favor of Leo’s military commander, Aspar, under pressure from Anatolius, the emperor did not call a general synod to resolve the matter of Timothy’s consecration. Instead, he requested the opinions of Pope Leo as well as Anatolius together with sixty eastern metropolitan bishops and three renowned monks, about the Council of Chalcedon and the legitimacy of Timothy’s consecration (Zacharias, 4.5; Evagrius, 2.9, Theophanes, Chronographia, Anno Mundi 5951; Schwartz, 1936, pp. 9-11, 22-24).

The numerous replies from the clerics were later collected in a single volume, known as the Codex Encyclicus (Schwartz, 1936, pp. 24-79, 84-98; nos. 12-39, 41-48). It is an invaluable indication of eastern acceptance of the conciliar decrees. Only Amphilochius of Side in Anatolia, who had supported Dioscorus at Chalcedon, refused to give approval to the conciliar decisions but even he joined in the unanimous of Timothy (Zacharias, 3.1, 4.7; Chabot, 1963, pp. 145-46; Evagrius, 2.10). Zacharias claims (4.7) that Anatolius instigated their disapproval and sent his own bitter opinion to the emperor.

John of Nikiou has the interesting remark (Chronicles 88.17-21) that Amphilochius and Eustathius of Berytus alone dared tell the emperor the truth of what had occurred at Chalcedon, all the other clerics having feared imperial wrath. Pope Leo, in calling Timothy “the unholy parricide” (Epistle 169; PL 54, p. 1212; cf. Epistle 150; PL 54, p. 1121), set the tone for the other letters by charging Timothy with responsibility for his mob’s actions. Many of the Oriental bishops spoke of Timothy’s “tyranny” and “cruelty.” John of Damascus, echoing his colleagues’ sentiments, called Timothy “not the pastor of Christ’s sheep but an intolerable wolf, not a father but a parricide, not the betrothed [of the church] but the rapist of the bride.” Such vilification earned for Timothy the reputation of an Antichrist both in his own time and even later (Leo, Epistle 171; Theophanes, Chronographia, Anno Mundi 5950).

Probably as a result of the overwhelming support for Chalcedon from the East, Pope Leo felt compelled to demonstrate Western assent in two letters, Epistles 156 and 165 (PL 54, pp. 1127-32, 1155-90), the second of which is the so-called Second Tome. Despite the universal of Timothy, Emperor Leo was slow to act. He sent a copy of the Second Tome to Timothy, who not only rejected it but reviled the First Tome and the council as well. His long reply is recorded by Zacharias (4.6).

He emphatically disagreed with those who divided Christ into natures and hypostases. He was excommunicated as “murderer and heretic” (Theophanes, Chronographia, Anno Mundi 5952) and finally banished to in Paphlagonia, where Dioscorus had also spent his exile. Timothy Salofaciolus, a partisan of the Proterian faction, was ordained archbishop in his place. He was promptly excommunicated by Pope Leo. (Zacharias, 4.7-9; Raabe, 1895, pp. 69-70; Evagrius, 2, 8, 10; John of Nikiu 88.23; Schwartz, 1936, pp. 46-50).

Timothy spent four years in Gangra (460-464/465). Because of his generosity and piety in Gangra, he won the jealousy of both the local bishop and Gennadius, patriarch of Constantinople, and he was sent to Cherson in the Crimea, where he spent the next eleven years.

Throughout his exile, Timothy continued to write against the conciliar decisions of Chalcedon, the Tome of Leo, the Eutychians, and the Nestorians. Zacharias (4.12) preserves a very long letter directed against two Egyptian clerics, Isaiah, bishop of Hermopolis, and Theophilus, presbyter of Alexandria, whom he excommunicated for their Eutychian beliefs. This letter is also found in another Syriac manuscript.

When Basiliscus usurped Zeno and became emperor early in 475, he pardoned Timothy, who thereupon went to the capital. He was so well received (Zacharias, 5.1) that Pope Simplicius wondered how people could honor a person of Cain’s status (Epistle 4; PL 58, p. 38). Timothy persuaded the emperor to send an encyclical to all bishops anathematizing the Council of Chalcedon and Leo’s Tome.

On his return to Alexandria, Timothy stopped in Ephesus and restored the patriarchate that had been taken away at Chalcedon. This action offended Acacius, archbishop of Constantinople, because it encroached on the prerogatives awarded to the capital at Chalcedon. Meanwhile, with Timothy’s restoration to the See of Alexandria, Timothy Salofaciolus retired to a monastery in Canopus.

Timothy Aelurus was quick to forgive the Proterian faction (Zacharias, 5.4). Acacius initiated sedition against Basiliscus, who then recanted his encyclical and his support for Timothy. Liberatus claims that Timothy drank poison to escape further banishment (Schwartz, 1936; see also John of Nikiou, Chronicles 88). He was succeeded by PETER III MONGUS.

At some point in his career, Timothy finished the great church of ABU MINA in the Maryut that had been begun by THEOPHILUS (History of the Patriarchs, vol. 3, p. 122).


Timothy’s literary activity was considerable, to judge from a Coptic source: “Timothy being in exile, produced 512 commentaries written in two books, [wherein] he spoke of many passages of the Scriptures, expounding them excellently” (Crum, 1902, p. 81). Zacharias notes (4.11) that his literary productivity while in was immense. He is frequently quoted by later critics such as

Justinian, Leontius of Byzantium, and Anastasius of the Sinai (PG 86, pp. 903-4, 1127-30).

Of the numerous works attributed to him, the majority survive in Syriac and Armenian translations. Only two minor works are in Coptic, and their authenticity is uncertain. One (Crum, 1902, pp. 68-84) is a historical narrative describing briefly the events from the Latrocinium to about 475. Some ancient authors make reference to Timothy’s works of historical character, and a Syriac treatise is important evidence of Timothy’s historical interests (PO 8, pp. 83-85; Lebon, 1909, pp. 103-11). The second Coptic text is a sermon, very likely spurious, on the dedication of a Pachomian monastery (van Lantschoot, 1934, pp. 13-56).

By far the most important manuscript containing Timothy’s works is British Library Add. MS 12,156, a Syriac text written before 562. It includes two great treatises, which comprise Timothy’s summa theologica. One of the two tracts is sometimes called Refutation of the Synod of Chalcedon or Against Those Who Speak of Two Natures, but is more accurately stated On the Unity of Christ (Ebied and Wickham, 1985, p. 118). It survives in a complete Armenian version (ed. Ter-Mekerttschian and Ter-Minassiantz, 1908) and in a Syriac epitome (PO 13, pp. 202-218; see also Ebied and Wickham, 1970, p. 323; Geerard, 1979, p. 62, no. 5475).

Timothy’s other great work is Against the Definition of the Council of Chalcedon (PO 13, pp. 218-36; Ebied and Wickham, 1985; Geerard, 1979, p. 64, no. 5482). A carefully composed, richly documented florilegium, it contains much more than the title suggests. Following a line-by-line rebuttal of the conciliar articles of faith, it has an extensive criticism of Pope Leo’s Tome, a summary of the decisions reached at the in 449, and a final section with many quotations from the fathers.

From exile, Timothy wrote at least six letters, also found in the London manuscript. He defended his beliefs and condemned both the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon and especially Eutychianism (Ebied and Wickham, 1970; Geerard, 1979, pp. 63-64). They are remarkable for their charitable spirit. The first of these, written to the residents of Constantinople, is an important of the Eutychian heresy. The second letter is directed against one Isaiah, bishop of Hermopolis, and Theophilus, presbyter of Alexandria, whose heresy occasioned the first epistle. Timothy’s humanity, almost completely unrecognized until the publication of these letters, emerges clearly from his willingness to forgive his two clerics if only they would renounce their heterodoxy.

Although Timothy’s claim may seem to be a self-serving rhetorical device, its sincerity is corroborated by his instructions to his clergy to receive with charity all converts from diphysitism after one year’s penance (Zacharias, 4.12). These terms of penance lend support to Zacharias’ claim (5.4) that when Timothy was restored to the patriarchate in 475, he readmitted penitent Proterians under the terms stipulated from his exile. In the fourth letter, his goodwill extends to lapsed clergy and foreigners. His generous spirit is everywhere apparent in the fifth letter to his deacon Faustinus, whom Timothy instructs to be sparing in his treatment of the simple and innocent converts from diphysitism. The sixth letter is a of Eutychianism.


Throughout his writings, Timothy insists that Christ has but one nature and is consubstantial with both God and man. By assuming our flesh at the Incarnation, He did not lose His divinity. This belief was in accord with Dioscorus’ sentiments (see, e.g., Zacharias, 3.1). Few, if any, of his extant works were written for purely exegetical or contemplative purposes, but rather as exposés of heresy. Consequently, Timothy was more pamphleteer than theologian. His sole mission was to condemn the perversion wrought on the Council of Ephesus by Leo’s Tome and by the decisions reached at Chalcedon.

He instructs his faithful to be on guard against and Nestorianism. In his Against the Definition of the Council of Chalcedon, Timothy quotes EUTYCHES as saying, “I confess that our Lord was of two natures before the union, but after the union, I confess one nature” (Ebied and Wickham, 1985, p. 157).

Timothy believed, on the contrary, that the Eternal Logos was consubstantial with the Father and was immutable in its divinity that became man in the person of Christ. Christ’s flesh was the same as ours. His opinion is stated concisely in the treatise On the Unity of Christ (fol. 19r): “We anathematize those who speak of two natures or of two ousiai (beings) in respect of Christ” (Lebon, 1908, p. 687). He rejected the Nestorians, too, because they spoke of two natures (Against the Definition of the Council of Chalcedon, fol. 41v; PO 13, p. 231). The title of the letter to the city of Constantinople is also a succinct explanation of his faith.

It was “written against the heretics [the Eutychians] who do not confess that God the Word who is consubstantial in his Godhead with the Father, is consubstantial in the flesh with us . . .” (Ebied and Wickham, 1970, p. 351). For Timothy divinity and flesh had but one immutable nature in the person of Christ:

The divine Logos, not [yet] incarnate, was conceived in the womb of the holy Virgin, and was then incarnate of the flesh of the holy Virgin, in a manner that he alone knew, while remaining without change and without conversion as God; and he is one with his flesh. In fact, the flesh had neither hypostasis nor ousia before the conception of God the Logos, that it equally could be called a nature, separate and [existing] by itself.

[(Ebied and Wickham, 1970, pp. 228-29)].

Also in Against the Definition of the Council of Chalcedon, Timothy faulted Pope Leo for his inconsistency with regard to Christ’s nature. He praises the pope (fol. 43R) for the words:

For when God is believed to be Almighty and Father, the Son is shown to be co-eternal with him, differing in nothing from his Father because as God from God, almighty from almighty and from eternity has he been begotten as co-eternal, not temporally younger, not less in power, not different in glory or separate in substance but the eternal only-begotten of the eternal Father has been born of the Holy Ghost and Mary the Virgin; and this temporal birth neither detracted from nor added to his divine, eternal nature.

(Ebied and Wickham, 1985, pp. 143-44)

Later, Timothy quotes Leo as writing that at the Incarnation, two natures, divinity and humanity, became one. Here Timothy finds traces of Nestorianism. The rest of the document is full of similar charges.


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