History of Christianity
“Indeed the mystery of Christ runs the risk of being disbelieved precisely because it is so incredibly wonderful”
He was an iron man who stood strong against the different waves of heresy. Fought the good fight of the faith, that which was given to the saints once and for all. His name is none other than Cyril of Alexandria. He was one of the predominant Patriarchs of the Eastern Orthodox Church’. He was a man who was reputed to be “the pillar of faith” and “Seal of all the Fathers”, and the “Doctor of Church”.
Saint Cyril of Alexandria, (born c. 375—died June 27, 444; Western feast day June 27; Eastern feast day June 9), Christian theologian and bishop active in the complex doctrinal struggles of the 5th century. He is chiefly known for his campaign against Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, whose views on Christ’s nature were to be declared heretical. Cyril was named a doctor of the church in 1882.
When Cyril died in 444, he and his uncle Theophilus, whom he had succeeded on the throne of Alexandria in 412, had ruled the Alexandrian Church for a total of fifty-nine years. For as long as anyone could remember they had dominated the ecclesiastical politics of the East Roman world. Between them they had deposed two archbishops of Constantinople, declared leading teachers of the Antiochene tradition heretical, and pursued ecclesiastical and theological courses of action, the one against Origenism, the other against Antiochene christology, which made them enemies throughout the East.
It does not come as a surprise that someone should have written to a friend on the occasion of Cyril’s death:
“At last with a final struggle the villain has passed away. His departure delights the survivors, but possibly disheartens the dead;
there is some fear that under the provocation of his company they may send him back again to us….Care must therefore be taken to order the guild of undertakers to place a very big and heavy stone on his grave to stop him coming back here.”
Patriarch of Alexandria:
He succeeded his uncle Theophilus as bishop of the see of Alexandria in 412 and came in conflict with the civil administration over the zeal with which he championed orthodoxy. He closed the churches of the Novatians, a schismatic sect that denied the power of the church to absolve those who had lapsed into idolatry during persecution. He also was involved in the dismissal of Jews from Alexandria following their attacks upon Christians. Riots ensued, and Cyril, who if not directly responsible at least had done nothing to prevent them, was forced to acknowledge the authority of the civil government.
Cyril remained a chief citizen of Egypt and in his struggle with Nestorius he was in some ways a political as well as a religious leader. The conflict concerned not only doctrinal matters; it also reflected the Egyptians’ fear that Constantinople might come to dominate them.
The religious argument involved the relation of the divine and human within Jesus Christ. Cyril emphasized the unity of the two in one Person, while Nestorius so emphasized their distinctness that he seemed to be splitting Christ into two Persons acting in concert. The conflict came to the fore over Cyril’s insistence that the Virgin Mary be called Theotokos (Greek: God-bearer) to describe the intimateunion of the two natures in the Incarnation. Nestorius refused to accept such terminology, and their dispute was referred to a general council at Ephesus in 431.
Armed with a commission to represent Pope Celestine I as well as himself, Cyril convened the council and condemned Nestorius. He had not waited, however, for the arrival of certain bishops from the East, particularly from the see of Antioch, where Nestorius had lived before he became bishop of Constantinople.
When they did reach Ephesus, they reconvened the council and condemned Cyril. Papal recognition of Cyril’s council was eventually obtained, however, and Nestorius was banished as a heretic.
Even so, the dispute continued, and peace in the church was only restored in 433, when Cyril accepted a statement, representing a compromise with Antioch, that emphasized the distinctness of the two natures within the one Person of Christ.
The Nicene council and the decision:
First, Cyril explained that Nestorius’ sermons constituted an elaborate pretense, for he merely feigned one Son and one Lord, but, in fact, attributed the Sonship and Lordship to the Word of God alone, and ascribed to another Lord the events of the dispensation. It was Cyril’s next task to distinguish Nestorius’ faulty doctrine from the allegedly orthodox Eastern position, a difficult task which Cyril accomplished mainly by subtly distorting both parties’ positions. While Nestorius supposedly allotted some sayings to God the Word and others to a distinct, woman-born So, Cyril claimed that the Easterners recognized only a single, identical person as the author of all the dominical expressions recorded in the bible.78 The reality was certainly much more complex, for Nestorius later defended his doctrinal position in the Bazaar of Heracleides and declared that while the divinity and humanity of Christ each contained its own dual and nature, both elements were intimately and definitively joined together through the single proposition.
At the same time, the Eastern position was ultimately not unlike Nestorius’, for they generally subscribed to an actual and permanent distinction of natures in Christ.80 Cyril,
nevertheless, adamantly declared a stark differentiation between the two doctrinal positions. To appease his critics further, Cyril contended that the Easterns’ dual nature Christology was not only distinct from Nestorius’ heretical doctrine, but was, in fact, entirely consistent with the teachings of Cyril’s predecessor Athanasius – especially the teachings contained in his letter to Epictetus, in which Athanasius declared the body not consubstantial with the Word. Deftly extrapolating from Athanasius’ doctrinal pronouncement, Cyril believed that this necessarily implied two mutually different natures joined together into one single, unique Son.8 I Indeed, concessions had been made by both parties for the sake of ecclesiastical peace, and Cyril’s carefully wrought defense of the dual nature language contained in the Formula was crucial to secure its acceptance by the churches of Egypt.
The Process of defining the authentic Christology:
Though some scholars find that Cyril’s theology post was entirely consistent with his earlier writings. Cyril’s Christological position after required, in any event, some explanation and interpretation in order to render it consistent with his earlier works and comprehensible to the monks and bishops of Egypt. For example, Cyril had informed the monks of Egypt in his encyclical letter of 428 AD that the Word, born of God, and the flesh born of Mary. Came together in perfect and complete unity.84 Likewise, Cyril had declared to the monks that the perfect commingling of God and man ultimately enabled humanity’s complete salvation.
Nonetheless, Cyril’s second letter to Nestorius had admittedly employed language much more agreeable to the eventual resolution at Chalcedon when Cyril explained that the difference between the natures of Christ was not abolished by their union surprisingly, though. Cyril’s festal letters composed for each of his remaining eleven years as bishop of Alexandria, contained little direct teaching on the two-nature Christological language eventually included in the document of reconciliation (432 AD).Never mentioning Nestorius nor any of the Antiochene bishops by name, Cyril subtly alluded to the Christological settlement contained in the Formula when he explained to his churches that Christ was paradoxically both God and man — the true light, yet fully human, from the seed of Abraham.88 Part of Cyril’s Easter sermon, this teaching was meant to refute the Jews who had crucified Jesus, claiming that Jesus had blasphemously made himself God, though only a simple man.89 Within the broader context of Christ’s crucifixion, Cyril artfully demonstrated that to fully accept the paradox of Christ’s humanity and divinity was to keep the Christian faith secure against the heresy of the Jews. Without mentioning the controversy or its settlement by name, Cyril implied that those who refused to embrace a Christ who was perfect God and man combined were, like the Jews who crucified Christ, blind to the paradox of Christ’s true nature.
Cyril and His theological works:
In addition to commentaries on selected passages of the first five books of the Old Testament, on Isaiah, and on the Gospels of John and Luke, Cyril’s writings included a reply to Against the Galileans by Julian the Apostate, Roman emperor from 361 to 363, who had been brought up as a Christian but announced his conversion to paganism on his accession.
This reply, the latest of ancient Christian apologetic works against paganism, also preserves significant extracts from Julian’s works. His writings show his knowledge of his contemporary Christian writers Eusebius, Origen, Didymus the blind, and writers of the Curch of Alexandria.
Russell, Norman. “The Making of a Bishop.” In Cyril of Alexandria, 3-5. London ; New York: Routledge, 2000.