aA
aA
aA
aA
aA
aA
History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600.
« Prev Cyril of Alexandria Next »

§ 171. Cyril of Alexandria.


I. S. Cyrillus, Alex. archiepisc.: Opera omnia, Gr. et Lat., cura et studio Joan. Auberti. Lutetiae, 1638, 6 vols. in 7 fol. The same edition with considerable additions by J. P. Migne, Petit-Montrouge, 1859, in 10 vols. (Patrol. Gr. tom. lxviii-lxxvii.). Comp. Angelo Mai’s Nova Bibliotheca Patrum, tom. ii. pp. 1–498 (Rom. 1844), and tom. iii. (Rom. 1845), where several writings of Cyril are printed for the first time, viz.: De incarnatione Domini; Explanatio in Lucam; Homiliae; Excerpta; Fragments of Commentaries on the Psalms, and the Pauline and Catholic Epistles. (These additional works are incorporated in Migne’s edition.) Cyrilli Commentarii in Lucca Evangelium quae supersunt, Syriace, e manuscriptis spud museum Britannicum edidit Rob. Payne Smith, Oxonii, 1858. The same also in an English version with valuable notes by R. P. Smith, Oxford, 1859, in 2 vols.

II. Scattered notices of Cyril in Socrates, Marius Mercator, and the Acts of the ecumenical Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. Tillemont: Tom. xiv. 267–676, and notes, pp. 747–795. Cellier: Tom. xiii. 241 sqq. Acta Sanctorum: Jan. 28, tom. ii. A. Butler: Jan. 28. Fabricius: Biblioth. Gr. ed. Harless, vol. ix. p. 446 sqq. (The Vita of the Bollandists and the Noticia literaria of Fabricius are also reprinted in Migne’s edition of Cyril, tom. i. pp. 1–90.) Schröckh Theil xviii. 313–354. Comp. also the Prefaces of Angelo Mai to tom. ii. of the Nova Bibl. Patrum, and of R. P. Smith to his translation of Cyril’s Commentary on Luke.


While the lives and labors of most of the fathers of the church continually inspire our admiration and devotion, Cyril of Alexandria makes an extremely unpleasant, or at least an extremely equivocal, impression. He exhibits to us a man making theology and orthodoxy the instruments of his passions.

Cyrillus became patriarch of Alexandria about the year 412. He trod in the footsteps of his predecessor and uncle, the notorious Theophilus, who had deposed the noble Chrysostom and procured his banishment; in fact, he exceeded Theophilus in arrogance and violence. He had hardly entered upon his office, when he closed all the churches of the Novatians in Alexandria, and seized their ecclesiastical property. In the year 415 he fell upon the synagogues of the very numerous Jews with armed force, because, under provocation of his bitter injustice, they had been guilty of a trifling tumult; he put some to death, and drove out the rest, and exposed their property to the excited multitude.

These invasions of the province of the secular power brought him into quarrel and continual contest with Orestes, the imperial governor of Alexandria. He summoned five hundred monks from the Nitrian mountains for his guard, who publicly insulted the governor. One of them, by the name of Ammon, wounded him with a stone, and was thereupon killed by Orestes. But Cyril caused the monk to be buried in state in a church as a holy martyr to religion, and surnamed him Thaumasios, the Admirable; yet he found himself compelled by the universal disgust of cultivated people to let this act be gradually forgotten.

Cyril is also frequently charged with the instigation of the murder of the renowned Hypatia, a friend of Orestes. But in this cruel tragedy he probably had only the indirect part of exciting the passions of the Christian populace which led to it, and of giving them the sanction of his high office.20242024   Comp. above, § 6, p. 67, and Tillemont, tom. xiv. 274-’76. The learned, but superstitious and credulous Roman Catholic hagiographer, Alban Butler (Lives of the Saints, sub Jan. 28), considers Cyril innocent, and appeals to the silence of Orestes and Socrates. But Socrates, H. E. l. vii. c. 15, expressly says of this revolting murder: Τοῦτο οὐ μικρὸν μῶμον Κυρίλλῳ, καὶ τῇ τῶν Ἀλεξανδρέων ἐκκλησίᾳ εἰργάσατο, and adds that nothing can be so contrary to the spirit of Christianity as the permission of murders and similar acts of violence. Walch, Schröckh, Gibbon, and Milman incline to hold Cyril responsible for the murder of Hypatia, which was perpetrated under the direction of a reader of his church, by the name of Peter. But the evidence is not sufficient. J. C. Robertson (History of the Christian Church, i. p. 401) more cautiously says: “That Cyril had any share in this atrocity appears to be an unsupported calumny; but the perpetrators were mostly officers of his church, and had unquestionably drawn encouragement from his earlier proceedings; and his character deservedly suffered in consequence.” Similarly W. Bright (A History of the Church from 313 to 451, p. 275): “Had there been no onslaught on the syna gogues, there would doubtless have been no murder of Hypatia.”

From his uncle he had learned a strong aversion to Chrysostom, and at the notorious Synodus ad Quercum near Chalcedon, a.d. 403, he voted for his deposition. He therefore obstinately resisted the patriarchs of Constantinople and Antioch, when, shortly after the death of Chrysostom, they felt constrained to repeal his unjust condemnation; and he was not even ashamed to compare that holy man to the traitor Judas. Yet he afterwards yielded, at least in appearance, to the urgent remonstrances of Isidore of Pelusium and others, and admitted the name of Chrysostom into the diptychs20252025   That is, the διπτυχα νεκρῶν, or two-leaved tablets, with the list of names of distinguished martyrs and bishops, and other persons of merit, of whom mention was to be made in the prayers of the church. The Greek church has retained the use of diptychs to this day. of his church (419), and so brought the Roman see again into communication with Alexandria.

From the year 428 to his death in 444 his life was interwoven with the Christological controversies. He was the most zealous and the most influential champion of the anti-Nestorian orthodoxy at the third ecumenical council, and scrupled at no measures to annihilate his antagonist. Besides the weapons of theological learning and acumen, he allowed himself also the use of wilful misrepresentation, artifice, violence, instigation of people and monks at Constantinople, and repeated bribery of imperial officers, even of the emperor’s sister Pulcheria. By his bribes he loaded the church property at Alexandria with debt, though he left considerable wealth even to his kindred, and adjured his successor, the worthless Dioscurus, with the most solemn religious ceremonies, not to disturb his heirs.20262026   Dioscurus, however, did not keep his word, but extorted from the heirs of Cyril immense sums of money, and reduced them to extreme want. So one of Cyril’s relatives complained to the Conc, Chalc. Act. iii. in Hardouin, tom. ii. 406). A verification of the Proverb: Ill gotten, ill gone.

His subsequent exertions for the restoration of peace cannot wipe these stains from his character; for he was forced to those exertions by the power of the opposition. His successor Dioscurus, however (after 444), made him somewhat respectable by inheriting all his passions without his theological ability, and by setting them in motion for the destruction of the peace.

Cyril furnishes a striking proof that orthodoxy and piety are two quite different things, and that zeal for pure doctrine may coëxist with an unchristian spirit. In personal character he unquestionably stands far below his unfortunate antagonist. The judgment of the Catholic historians is bound by the authority of their church, which, in strange blindness, has canonized him.20272027   Even the monophysite Copts and Abyssinians celebrate his memory under the abbreviated name of Kerlos, and the title of Doctor of the World. Yet Tillemont feels himself compelled to admit that Cyril did much that is unworthy of a saint.20282028   Mémoires, xiv. 541: “S. Cyrille est Saint: mais on ne peut pas dire que toutes es actions soient saintes.” The estimate of Protestant historians has been the more severe. The moderate and honest Chr. W. Franz Walch can hardly give him credit for anything good;20292029   Comp. the description at the close of the fifth volume of his tedious but thorough Ketzerhistorie, where, after recounting the faults of Cyril, he exclaims, p. 932: “Can a man read such a character without a shudder? And yet nothing is fabricated here, nothing overdrawn; nothing is done but to collect what is scattered in history. And what is worst: I find nothing at all that can be said in his praise.” Schröckh(l.c. p. 352), in his prolix and loquacious way, gives an equally unfavorable opinion, and the more extols his antagonist Theodoret (p. 355 sqq.), who was a much more learned and pious man, but in his life-time was persecuted, and after his death condemned as a heretic, while Cyril was pronounced a saint. and the English historian, H. H. Milman, says he would rather appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, loaded with all the heresies of Nestorius, than with the barbarities of Cyril.20302030   History of Latin Christianity, vol. i. p. 210: “Cyril of Alexandria, to those who esteem the stern and uncompromising assertion of certain Christian tenets the one paramount Christian virtue, may be the hero, even the saint: but while ambition, intrigue, arrogance, rapacity, and violence, are proscribed as unchristian means—barbarity, persecution, bloodshed, as unholy and unevangelic wickednesses—posterity will condemn the orthodox Cyril as one of the worst heretics against the spirit of the Gospel. Who would not meet the judgment of the divine Redeemer loaded with the errors of Nestorius rather than the barbarities of Cyril?”

But the faults of his personal character should not blind us to the merits of Cyril as a theologian. He was a man of vigorous and acute mind and extensive learning and is clearly to be reckoned among the most important dogmatic and polemic divines of the Greek church.20312031   Baur(Vorlesungen über Dogmengeschichte, i. ii. p. 47) says of Cyril: “The current estimate of him is not altogether just. As a theologian he must be placed higher than he usually is. He remained true to the spirit of the Alexandrian theology, particularly in his predilection for the allegorical and the mystical, and he had a doctrine consistent with itself.” Of his contemporaries Theodoret alone was his superior. He was the last considerable representative of the Alexandrian theology and the Alexandrian church, which, however, was already beginning to degenerate and stiffen; and thus be offsets Theodoret, who is the most learned representative of the Antiochian school. He aimed to be the same to the doctrine of the incarnation and the person of Christ, that his purer and greater predecessor in the see of Alexandria had been to the doctrine of the Trinity a century before. But he overstrained the supranaturalism and mysticism of the Alexandrian theology, and in his zeal for the reality of the incarnation and the unity of the person of Christ, he went to the brink of the monophysite error; even sustaining himself by the words of Athanasius, though not by his spirit, because the Nicene age had not yet fixed beyond all interchange the theological distinction between οὐσία and ὑπόστασις.20322032   This is not considered by R. P. Smith, when, in the Preface to his English translation of Cyril’s Commentary on the Gospel of Luke from the Syriac (p. v.), he says, that Cyril never transcended Athanasius’ doctrine of μία φύσις τοῦ Θεοῦλόγου σεσαρκωμένη, and that both are irreconcilable with the dogma of Chalcedon, which rests upon the Antiochian theology. Comp. §§ 137-140, above.

And connected with this is his enthusiastic zeal for the honor of Mary as the virgin-mother of God. In a pathetic and turgid eulogy on Mary, which he delivered at Ephesus during the third ecumenical council, he piles upon her predicates which exceed all biblical limits, and border upon idolatry.20332033   Encomium in sanctam Mariam Deiparam, in tom. v. Pars ii. p. 880 (in Migne’s ed. tom. x. 1029 sqq.). “Blessed be thou,” says he, “O mother of God! Thou rich treasure of the world, inextinguishable lamp, crown of virginity, sceptre of true doctrine, imperishable temple, habitation of Him whom no space can contain, mother and virgin, through whom He is, who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed be thou, O Mary, who didst hold in thy womb the Infinite One; thou through whom the blessed Trinity is glorified and worshipped, through whom the precious cross is adored throughout the world, through whom heaven rejoices and angels and archangels are glad, through whom the devil is disarmed and banished, through whom the fallen creature is restored to heaven, through whom every believing soul is saved.”20342034   Δι ̓ ἧς πᾶσα πνοὴ πιστεύουσα σώζεταιͅ These and other extravagant praises are interspersed with polemic thrusts against Nestorius.

Yet Cyril did not, like Augustine, exempt the Virgin from sin or infirmity, but, like Basil, he ascribed to her a serious doubt at the crucifixion concerning the true divinity of Christ, and a shrinking from the cross, similar to that of Peter, when he was scandalized at the bare mention of it, and exclaimed: “Be it far from thee, Lord!” (Matt. xvi. 22.) In commenting on John xix. 25, Cyril says: The female sex somehow is ever fond of tears,20352035   Φιλόδακρυ and given to much lamentation .... It was the purpose of the holy evangelist to teach, that probably even the mother of the Lord Himself took offence20362036   ̓Εσκανδάλισε πάθος. at the unexpected passion; and the death upon the cross, being so very bitter, was near unsettling her from her fitting mind .... Doubt not that she admitted20372037   Εἰσεδέξατο. some such thoughts as these: I bore Him who is laughed at on the wood; but when He said He was the true Son of the Omnipotent God, perhaps somehow He was mistaken.20382038   ̓Αλλ ̓ υἱον ἑαυτὸν ἀληθινὸν εἶναι λέγων τοῦ πάντων κρατοῦντος Θεοῦ, τάχα που καὶ διεσφάλλετο. He said, ’I am the Life;’ how then has He been crucified? how has He been strangled by the cords of His murderers? how did He not prevail over the plot of His persecutors? why does He not descend from the cross, since He bade Lazarus to return to life, and filled all Judaea with amazement at His miracles? And it is very natural that woman,20392039   Or woman’s nature, τὸ γύναιον, which is sometimes used in a contemptuous sense, like the German Weibsbild. not knowing the mystery, should slide into some such trains of thought. For we should understand, that the gravity of the circumstances of the Passion was enough to overturn even a self-possessed mind; it is no wonder then if woman20402040   Τὸ γύναιον. slipped into this reasoning.” Cyril thus understands the prophecy of Simeon (Luke ii. 35) concerning the sword, which, he says, “meant the most acute pain, cutting down the woman’s mind into extravagant thoughts. For temptations test the hearts of those who suffer them, and make bare the thoughts which are in them.”20412041   Cyril, in Joann. lib. xii. (in Migne’s ed. of Cyril, vol. vii. col. 661 sq.). Dr. J. H. Newman(in his Letter to Dr. Pusey on his Eirenicon, Lond. 1866, p. 136) escapes the force of the argument of this and similar passages of Basil and Chrysostomagainst the Roman Mariolatry by the sophistical distinction, that they are not directed against the Virgin’s person, so much as against her nature (τὸ γύναιον), of which the fathers had the low estimation then prevalent, looking upon womankind as the “varium et mutabile semper,” and knowing little of that true nobility which is exemplified in the females of the Germanic races, and in those of the old Jewish stock, Miriam, Deborah, Judith, Susanna. But it was to the human nature of Mary, and not to human nature in the abstract, that Cyril, whether right or wrong, attributed a doubt concerning the true divinity of her Son. I think there is no warrant for such a supposition in the accounts of the crucifixion, and the sword in the prophecy of Simeon means anguish rather than doubt. But this makes the antagonism of these Greek fathers with the present Roman Mariology only the more striking. Newman(l.c. p. 144) gratuitously assumes that the tradition of the sinlessness of the holy Virgin was obliterated and confused at Antioch and New Caesarea by the Arian troubles. But this would apply at best only to Chrysostomand Basil, and not to Cyril of Alexandria, who lived half a century after the defeat of Arianism at the second ecumenical council, and who was the leading champion of the theotokos in the Nestorian controversy. Besides there is no clear trace of the doctrine of the sinlessness of Mary before St. Augustine, either among the Greek or Latin fathers; for the tradition of Mary as the second Eve does not necessarily imply that doctrine, and was associated in Irenaeus and Tertullianwith views similar to those expressed by Basil, Chrysostom, and Cyril. Comp. §§ 81 and 82, above.

Aside from his partisan excesses, he powerfully and successfully represented the important truth of the unity of the person of Christ against the abstract dyophysitism of Nestorius.

For this reason his Christological writings against Nestorius and Theodoret are of the greatest importance to the history of doctrine.20422042   Adversus Nestorii blasphemias contradictionum libri v (Κατὰ τῶν Νεστωρίου δυσφημιῶν πενταβίβλος ἀντίῤῥητος); Explanatio xii capitum s. anathematismorum (Ἐπίλυσις τῶν δώδεκα κεφαλαίων); Apologeticus pro xii capitibus adversus Orientales episcopos; Contra Theodoretum pro xii capitibus—all in the last volume of the edition of Aubert (in Migne, in tom. ix.). Besides these he has left us a valuable apologetic work, composed in the year 433, and dedicated to the emperor Theodosius II., in refutation of the attack of Julian the Apostate upon Christianity;20432043   Contra Julianum Apostatam libri x, tom. vi. in Aubert (tom. ix. in Migne); also in Spanheim’s Opera Juliani. Comp. §§ 4 and 9, above. and a doctrinal work on the Trinity and the incarnation.20442044   De S. Trinitate, et de incarnatione Unigeniti, etc., tom. v. Pars i. Not to be confounded with the spurious work Detrinitate, in tom. vi. 1-35, which combats the monothelite heresy, and is therefore of much later origin. As an expositor he has the virtues and the faults of the arbitrary allegorizing and dogmatizing method of the Alexandrians, and with all his copiousness of thought he affords far less solid profit than Chrysostom or Theodoret. He has left extended commentaries, chiefly in the form of sermons, on the Pentateuch (or rather on the most important sections and the typical significance of the ceremonial law), on Isaiah, on the twelve Minor Prophets, and on the Gospel of John.20452045   Tom. i.-iv. To these must now be added fragments of expositions of the Psalms, and of some of the Epistles of Paul, first edited by Angelo Mai; and a homiletical commentary on the Gospel of Luke, which likewise has but recently become known, first by fragments in the Greek original, and since complete in a Syriac translation from the manuscripts of a Nitrian monastery.20462046   By Angelo Mai and R. P. Smith. See the Literature above. And, finally, the works of Cyril include thirty Easter Homilies (Homiliae paschales), in which, according to Alexandrian custom, he announced the time of Easter; several homilies delivered in Ephesus and elsewhere; and eighty-eight Letters, relating for the most part, to the Nestorian controversies.20472047   The Homilies and Letters in tom. v. Pars ii. ed. Aubert (in Migne, with additions, in tom. x.).



« Prev Cyril of Alexandria Next »

Advertisements


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |