Ember Days
Cyril of Alexandria
by Philip Schaff

Cyril of Alexandria

Life and Character.

Archbishop of Alexandria; d. there June 27, 444. His early life is known only from notices in Socrates and a few elsewhere. He was a nephew of the archbishop Theophilus, whom he accompanied in 403 to Constantinople to attend the synod Ad Quermm (see Chrysostom, § 4). When the uncle died, Oct. 15, 412, Cyril succeeded him in his see. The government was not pleased with this choice. It feared, not without reason, that the new bishop would show too much independence; and, indeed, on every occasion Cyril proved that he was master in Alexandria. He closed the churches of the Novatians, expelled the Jews from the city in spite of the opposition of the prefect Orestes, and when soon afterward Nitrian monks insulted the prefect in the open street, he praised their leader as a martyr. He did not order the murder of Hypatia (q.v.), but his lector and the parabolani, who were guilty of it, were well aware that the female philosopher was an eyesore to the archbishop. His restless, violent conduct, which excited the masses, seems to have hurt him at the court. Theodosius II. as well as Pulcheria listened to him rather than to the prefect. For the rest of the archbishop's life, which is closely connected with the dogmatic controversies of the times, see Nestorius. From the very beginning Cyril opposed Nestorius. It was the climax in his life when the emperor confirmed the deposition of his opponent which he had decreed at the Synod in Ephesus in 431, whereas he retained his office, though the Syrian bishops had declared him also deposed. His administration shows the Alexandrian bishops at the height of their power and influence, from which they were thrown by the pretentious but short-sighted and incapable Dioscurus (see Eutychianism; Monophysites). Among the Greeks Cyril is commemorated on June 9, among the Latins on Jan. 28. Leo XIII. promoted him in 1883 to the rank of doctor ecclesioe.

Literary Activities.

In general Cyril's literary activity was in the dogmatic and exegetical field. In his homilies and epistles dogmatic subjects are often touched upon. As an apologist Cyril became famous by his refutation of the attack of the emperor Julian upon Christianity, in thirty books, of which only the first ten are extant entire, eleven to twenty in fragments. The dogmatico-polemical literary activity of the archbishop was very comprehensive. At the head stand the writings on the doctrine of the Trinity composed before the Christological controversy. The controversy itself caused a large number of treatises against Nestorianism. The results of the exegetical labor of the patriarch are contained in the seventeen books "On Worship in Spirit and in Truth," in the thirteen books of "Elegant Expositions" on the Pentateuch, as well as in numerous commentaries on the Old and New Testaments. The typico-allegorical interpretation, characteristic of the Alexandrian school in opposition to the Antiochian school, is very prominent in Cyril's exegesis. The most important work in that direction is the comprehensive commentary on the Gospel of John.

Significance for Doctrine.

As regards his teaching, Cyril not unjustly bears the title of "Seal of the Fathers," as the one who finally fixed the true doctrine of the Trinity. Great as is his glory in that direction, the question has often been raised whether his Christology does not contain traces of a relationship with Apollinarianism, which he himself opposed from conviction (see Apollinaris of Laodicea). At any rate, his Christology approaches very near the limit which separates orthodoxy from Monophysitism. It rests on the suppositions of the older Alexandrians (Athanasius) and the Cappadocians by which they knew A distinguished theologian of the early Church; d. 386. Little is known of his life before he became bishop; the assignment of the year 315 for his birth rests on mere conjecture. He seems to have been ordained deacon by Bishop Macarius of Jerusalem about 335, and priest some ten years later by Maximus. Naturally inclined to peace and conciliation, he took at first a rather moderate position, distinctly averse from Arianism, but (like not a few of his undoubtedly orthodox contemporaries) by no means eager to accept the uncompromising term homooussios. Separating from his metropolitan, Acacius of Cęsarea (q.v.), a partizan of Arias, Cyril took the side of the Eusebians, the "right wing" of the post-Nicene conciliation party, and thus got into difficulties with his superior, which were increased by Acacius's jealousy of the importance assigned to Cyril's see by the Council of Nicaea. A council held under Acacius's influence in 358 deposed Cyril and forced him to retire to Tarsus. On the other hand, the conciliatory Council of Seleucia in the following year, at which Cyril was present, deposed Acacias. In 360 the process was reversed through the metropolitan's court influence, and Cyril suffered another year's exile from Jerusalem, until Julian's accession allowed him to return. The Arian emperor Valens banished him once more in 367, after which he remained undisturbed until his death, his jurisdiction being expressly confirmed by the Second Council of Nicaea (381), at which he was present.

Theological Position.

Though his theology was at first somewhat indefinite in phraseology, he undoubtedly gave a thorough adhesion to the Nicene orthodoxy. Even if he does avoid the debatable term homoousios, he expresses its sense in many passages, which exclude equally Patripassianism, Sabellianism, and the Arian formula "There was a time when the Son was not." In other points he takes the ordinary ground of the Eastern Fathers, as in the emphasis he lays on the freedom of the will, the autexousion, and his imperfect realization of the factor so much more strongly brought out in the West--sin. To him sin is the consequence of freedom, not a natural condition. The body is not the cause, but the instrument of sin. The remedy for it is repentance, on which he insists. Like many of the Eastern Fathers, he has an essentially moralistic conception of Christianity. His doctrine of the Resurrection is not quite so realistic as that of other Fathers; but his conception of the Church is decidedly empirical-- the existing catholic Church form is the true one, intended by Christ, the completion of the Church of the Old Testament. His doctrine on the Eucharist is noteworthy. If he sometimes seems to approach the symbolical view, at other times he comes very close to a strong realistic doctrine. The bread and wine are not mere elements, but the body and blood of Christ.