St Cyril of
Doctor of the Church. St. Cyril has his feast in the Western Church on the
28th of January; in the Greek Menaea it is found on the 9th of June, and (together with St.
Athanasius) on the 18th of January.
He seems to have been of an Alexandrian family and was
the son of the brother of Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria; if he is the Cyril addressed by
Isidore of Pelusium in Ep. xxv of Bk. I, he was for a time a monk.
He accompanied Theophilus
to Constantinople when that bishop held the "Synod of the Oak" in 402 and deposed St. John
Chrysostom. Theophilus died 15 Oct., 412, and on the 18th Cyril was consecrated his uncle's
successor, but only after a riot between his supporters and those of his rival Timotheus. Socrates
complains bitterly that one of his first acts was to plunder and shut the churches of the Novatians.
He also drove out of Alexandria the Jews, who had formed a flourishing community there since
Alexander the Great. But they had caused tumults and had massacred the Christians, to defend whom
Cyril himself assembled a mob.
This may have been the only possible defence, since the
Prefect of Egypt, Orestes, who was very angry at the expulsion of the Jews was also jealous of the
power of Cyril, which certainly rivaled his own. Five hundred monks came down from Nitria to defend
the patriarch. In a disturbance which arose, Orestes was wounded in the head by a stone thrown by a
monk named Ammonius. The prefect had Ammonius tortured to death, and the young and fiery patriarch
honoured his remains for a time as those of a martyr.
The Alexandians were always riotous as
we learn from Socrates (VII, vii) and from St. Cyril himself (Hom. for Easter, 419). In one of these
riots, in 422, the prefect Callistus was killed, and in another was committed the murder of a female
philosopher Hypatia, a highly-respected teacher of neo-Platoism, of advanced age and (it is said)
many virtues. She was a friend of Orestes, and many believed that she prevented a reconciliation
between the prefect and patriarch. A mob led by a lector, named Peter, dragged her to a church and
tore her flesh with potsherds till she died. This brought great disgrace, says Socrates, on the
Church of Alexandria and on its bishop; but a lector at Alexandria was not a cleric (Scr., V, xxii),
and Socrates does not suggest that Cyril himself was to blame. Damascius, indeed, accuses him, but
he is a late authority and a hater of Christians.
Theophilus, the persecutor of
Chrysostom, had not the privilege of communion with Rome from that saint's death, in 406, until his
own. For some years Cyril also refused to insert the name of St. Chrysostom in the diptychs of his
Church, in spite of the requests of Chrysostom's supplanter, Atticus. Later he seems to have yielded
to the representations of his spiritual father, Isisdore of Pelusium (Isid., Ep. I, 370). Yet even
after the Council of Ephesus that saint still found something to rebuke in him on this matter (Ep.
I, 310). But at last Cyril seems to have long since been trusted by Rome.
It was in
the winter of 427-28 that the Antiochene Nestorius became Patriarch of Constantinople. His heretical
teaching soon became known to Cyril. Against him Cyril taught the use of the term Theotokus in his
Paschal letter for 429 and in a letter to the monks of Egypt. A correspondence with Nestorius
followed, in a more moderate tone than might have been expected. Nestorius sent his sermons to Pope
Celestine, but he received no reply, for the latter wrote to St. Cyril for further
Rome had taken the side of St. John Chrysostom against Theophilus, but had
neither censured the orthodoxy of the latter, nor consented to the patriarchal powers exercised by
the bishops of Constantinople. To St. Celestine Cyril was not only the first prelate of the East, he
was also the inheritor of the traditions of Athanasius and Peter.
The pope's confidence was
not misplaced. Cyril had learnt prudence. Peter had attempted unsuccessfully to appoint a Bishop of
Constantinople; Theophilus had deposed another. Cyril, though in this case Alexandria was in the
right, does not act in his own name, but denounces Nestorius to St. Celestine, since ancient custom,
he says, persuaded him to bring the matter before the pope. He relates all that had occurred, and
begs Celestine to decree what he sees fit (typosai to dokoun--a phrase which Dr. Bright chooses to
weaken into "formulate his opinion"), and communicate it also to the Bishops of Macedonia and of the
East (i.e. the Antiochene Patriarchate).
The pope's reply was of astonishing
severity. He had already commissioned Cassian to write his well known treatise on the Incarnation.
He now summoned a council (such Roman councils had somewhat the office of the modern Roman
Congregations), and dispatched a letter to Alexandria with enclosures to Constantinople, Philippi,
Jerusalem, and Antioch.
Cyril is to take to himself the authority of the Roman See and to
admonish Nestorius that unless he recants within ten days from the receipt of this ultimatum, he is
separated from "our body" (the popes of the day had the habit of speaking of the other churches as
the members, of which they are the head; the body is, of course the Catholic Church). If Nestorius
does not submit, Cyril is to "provide for" the Church of Constantinople.
Such a sentence of
excommunication and deposition is not to be confounded with the mere withdrawal of actual communion
by the popes from Cyril himself at an earlier date, from Theophilus, or, in Antioch, from Flavian or
Meletius. It was the decree Cyril has asked for. As Cyril had twice written to Nestorius, his
citation in the name of the pope is to be counted as a third warning, after which no grace is to be
St. Cyril summoned a council of his suffragans, and composed a letter
which were appended twelve propositions for Nestorius to anathematize. The epistle was not
conciliatory, and Nestorius may well have been taken aback. The twelve propositions did not emanate
from Rome, and were not equally clear; one or two of them were later among the authorities invoked
by the Monophysite heretics in their own favour.
Cyril was the head of the rival theological
school to that of Antioch, where Nestorius had studied, and was the hereditary rival of the
Constantinopolitan would-be patriarch. Cyril wrote also to John, Patriarch of Antioch, informing him
of the facts, and insinuating that if John should support his old friend Nestorius, he would find
himself isolated over against Rome, Macedonia, and Egypt.
John took the hint and urged Nestorius
to yield. Meanwhile, in Constantinople itself large numbers of the people held aloof from Nestorius,
and the Emperor Theodosius II had been persuaded to summon a general council to meet at
The imperial letters were dispatched 19 November, whereas the bishops sent by Cyril
arrived at Constantinople only on 7 December. Nestorius, somewhat naturally, refused to accept the
message sent by his rival, and on the 13th and 14th of December preached publicly against Cyril as a
calumniator, and as having used bribes (which was probably as true as it was usual); but he declared
himself willing to use the word Theotokos. These sermons he sent to John of Antioch, who preferred
them to the anathematizations of Cyril.
Nestorius, however, issued twelve propositions with
appended anathemas. If Cyril's propositions might be might be taken to deny the two natures in
Christ, those of Nestorius hardly veiled his belief in two distinct persons. Theodoret urged John
yet further, and wrote a treatise against Cyril, to which the latter replied with some warmth. He
also wrote an "Answer" in five books to the sermons of Nestorius.
As the fifteenth-century
idea of an oecumenical council superior to the pope had yet to be invented, and there was but one
precedent for such an assembly, we need not be surprised that St. Celestine welcomed the initiative
of the emperor, and hoped for peace through the assembly. (See EPHESUS, COUNCIL OF.) Nestorius found
the churches of Ephesus closed to him, when he arrived with the imperial commissioner, Count
Candidian, and his own friend, Count Irenaeus. Cyril came with fifty of his bishops. Palestine,
Crete, Asia Minor, and Greece added their quotient. But John of Antioch and his suffragans were
Cyril may have believed, rightly or wrongly, that John did not wish to be present at
the trial of his friend Nestorius, or that he wished to gain time for him, and he opened the council
without John, on 22 June, in spite of the request of sixty-eight bishops for a delay. This was an
initial error, which had disastrous results.
The legates from Rome had not arrived, so that
Cyril had no answer to the letter he had written to Celestine asking "whether the holy synod should
receive a man who condemned what it preached, or, because the time of delay had elapsed, whether the
sentence was still in force". Cyril might have presumed that the pope, in agreeing to send legates
to the council, intended Nestorius to have a complete trial, but it was more convenient to assume
that the Roman ultimatum had not been suspended, and that the council was bound by it. He therefore
took the place of president, not only as the highest of rank, but also as still holding the place of
Celestine, though he cannot have received any fresh commission from the pope. Nestorius was
summoned, in order that he might explain his neglect of Cyril's former monition in the name of the
pope. He refused to receive the four bishops whom the council sent to him. Consequently nothing
remained but formal procedure.
For the council was bound by the canons to depose Nestorius
for contumacy, as he would not appear, and by the letter of Celestine to condemn him for heresy, as
he had not recanted. The correspondence between Rome, Alexandria, and Constantinople was read, some
testimonies where read from earlier writers show the errors of Nestorius. The second letter of Cyril
to Nestorius was approved by all the bishops.
The reply of Nestorius was condemned. No
discussion took place. The letter of Cyril and the ten anathemaizations raised no comment. All was
concluded at one sitting. The council declared that it was "of necessity impelled" by the canons and
by the letter of Celestine to declare Nestorius deposed and excommunicated. The papal legates, who
had been detained by bad weather, arrived on the 10th of July, and they solemnly confirmed the
sentence by the authority of St. Peter, for the refusal of Nestorius to appear had made useless the
permission which they brought from the pope to grant him forgiveness if he should repent. But
meanwhile John of Antioch and his party had arrived on the 26th and 27th of June.
themselves into a rival council of forty-three bishops, and deposed Memnon, Bishop of Ephesus, and
St. Cyril, accusing the latter of Apollinarianism and even of Eunomianism. Both parties now appealed
to the emperor, who took the amazing decision of sending a count to treat Nestorius, Cyril, and
Memnon as being all three lawfully deposed. They were kept in close custody; but eventually the
emperor took the orthodox view, though he dissolved the council; Cyril was allowed to return to his
diocese, and Nestorius went into retirement at Antioch. Later he was banished to the Great Oasis of
Meanwhile Pope Celestine was dead. His successor, St. Sixtus III,
confirmed the council and attempted to get John of Antioch to anathematize Nestorius. For some time
the strongest opponent of Cyril was Theodoret, but eventually he approved a letter of Cyril to
Acacius of Berhoea. John sent Paul, Bishop of Emesa, as his plenipotentiary to Alexandria, and he
patched up reconciliation with Cyril.
Though Theodoret still refused to denounce the defence
of Nestorius, John did so, and Cyril declared his joy in a letter to John. Isidore of Pelusium was
now afraid that the impulsive Cyril might have yielded too much (Ep. i, 334). The great patriarch
composed many further treatises, dogmatic letters, and sermons. He died on the 9th or the 27th of
June, 444, after an episcopate of nearly thirty-two years.
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