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Many people have been said to have soul their soul to Satan. Musicians such as Robert Johnson and Niccolò Paganini are said to have sold their soul for their musical virtuosity. Faust provides another obvious example, as well as historic witch hunts which resulted in supposed signed documents detailing pacts with demons.

Theophilus of Adana seems a likely early instance of this sort of story, and while the he is said to have died in the 6th century, I don't know much about the origin of the story of a bargain for his soul, or whether this is the earliest such story. If this is the earliest example, when does this story first occur, or when was it documented?

Committing sins in pursuit of worldly wealth or fame can be seen as a figurative deal with the devil, of course, especially in combination with the biblical devil's role as a tempter.

So where does the legend of a literal deal with the devil (or demon, e.g. Mephistopheles) for one's soul, be it written or oral, first appear in the Christian tradition?

  • No Christian denomnation teaches this, and it's not widely taught in the sense that you're referring to. It's more a construct of popular culture than it is of actual Christian teachings. – David Stratton May 20 '15 at 3:27
  • Christian teaching is that all are damned already (John 3:18) so the idea that one can "give up a soul to the devil" when a soul already belongs to him flies in the face of Christian teaching. Therefore, I'm not sure that this is any more on-topic than it is to ask questions about Greek mythology based on marvel comics versions of Hercules. There's the original "myth" and then there's the pop-culture bastardization of the myth. is the bastardization on-topic here? – David Stratton May 20 '15 at 3:34
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    @DavidStratton - I think it's documented appearance in witch trials and inquisitions (such as that of Urbain Grandier, for a notable example), and the canonization of Theophilus of Adana based on his story establish it as a valid myth that once gained fairly broad acceptance, even if it isn't given much credit in current Christian dogma. – femtoRgon May 20 '15 at 3:44
  • @femtoRgon - fair enough. just asking. The site is in beta after all. – David Stratton May 20 '15 at 3:47
  • @DavidStratton - You should ask your question about what's on-topic in the meta. "Bastardisation" is a highly emotive term and best avoided. Questions about myths that only "exist in fictional works" (not ideal phrasing) are off-topic, but there is no policy on questions about modifications of myths in popular culture, as I understand it anyway. – user1618 Mar 17 '18 at 17:27
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The story of Theophilus of Adana, who died in the 6th century CE, is indeed the first documented story of a pact of this type:

The subject of the first recorded story of a pact with the devil, Theophilus of Adana humbly declined to become bishop of Adana, now in modern Turkey.

Historical Dictionary of Witchcraft

Eythichianus of Adana seems to have been the one to have recorded this story.

Eutyches, who claimed to be an eyewitness of the events, is the first to record Theophilus’ story.

Theophilus of Adana

Judging from this and since Theophilus of Adana lived until ca. 538 AD, it is safe to assume that the story was recorded in the 6th century.

Although the story is of an apocryphal nature, Theophilus of Adana is a historical figure.

Although Theophilus is considered to be an historical personage, the tale associated with him is of an apocryphal nature.

Theophilus of Adana

It seems the authorship of Eythichianus is accepted by the Church as factual:

Του Βίου του Θεοφίλου Αδάνων της Κιλικίας, ον συνέγραψεν ο σύγχρονος αυτού Ευτυχιανός, η υπό του Παύλου διακόνου λατινική μετάφρασις υπάρχει εν τοις Acta SS. Februarii 1, 483 έ.


The life of Theophilus of Adana of Cilicia, which was written by his contemporary Eythichianus, is translated in Latin by Paul and is to be found in Acta SS. Februarii 1.

Ιστορία της Βυζαντινής Λογοτεχνίας

By having a look in Acta Sanctorum:

DE THEOPHILO POENITENTE
Auctore Eutychiano
interprete Paulo Diacono Neapoleos.

Acta Sanctorum

7

It appears the Theophilus of Adana is, indeed, the first known instance of this myth. Dating the origin of the myth was a bit harder for me to establish.

It is claimed to have been written by Eutychianus of Adana, but the claim seems questionable to me, and, I've come to find out, others as well. "A Dictionary of Christian Biography, Literature, Sects and Doctrines" sources the story to the biography of Eutychianus of Adana (apparently a part of the Acta Sanctorum), but calls it's veracity into questions: "Cave, however, questions the authenticity of this biography."

The Sources of the Faust Tradition By Robert P. More, Philip M. Palmer state the the last paragraph of the translated story, which provides that accounting of authorship, was likely added by the story's scribe to help authenticity:

Most of the Theophilus scholars are of the opinion that Eutychianus was more probably a scribe who elaborated the original legend and added the final paragraph in order to make the whole more plausible.

The authors state the 6th century dating for the story is possible, but that the first version was probably written:

between 650 and 850 A.D.

With 850 AD being the approximate timing of a more readily verified latin translation, by Paulus Diaconus of Naples. The deal with the devil from this translation (then translated into english) in the same paper, is as follows:

The devil then said : "How shall I give help to him, a man serving his God? But if he will be my servant and be counter among out hosts, I will aid him so that he may do more than before and rule over all, even the bishop." And the perverted Jew said to the wretched steward : "Didst thou hear what he hath said to thee?" And he replied : "I have heard and whatsoever he shall say to me, I will do so long as he helps me." And he began to kill the feet of the prince and to implore him. The devil said to the Jew : "Let him deny the son of Mary and those things which are offensive to me, and let him set down in writing that he denieth absolutely, and whatsoever he may desire he shall obtain from me, so long as he denieth." Then Satan entered into the steward and he replied : "I deny Christ and His mother." And making a written statement and putting wax on it, he sealed it with his own ring and the two went away rejoicing greatly at his perdition.

protected by Community Jul 25 '18 at 10:43

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