(circa 378-444)
Most of us would like to think that our revered saints are without blemish, that everything in their lives was chaste, holy and just.
There are some parts of St. Cyril’s story that would challenge that idea by our modern standards.
Cyril was the nephew of Theophilus, the patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt. Ordained by his uncle, Cyril accompanied him to the Synod of Constantinople in 403 that would depose John Chrysostom as the bishop of that city (John had made enemies with the imperial court for his condemnation of their use of their riches and the antagonism between the church in Constantinople and Alexandria already was long standing.).
Upon the death of his uncle in 412, Cyril became the next patriarch of Alexandria after a riot between his supporters and those of his rival Timotheus.
Cyril’s reign was punctuated with the rooting out of, and appropriation of, the property of the Novatians, a strict sect opposed to reintegration of lapsed Catholics. He promoted driving the Jews out of Alexandria, and confrontations with Orestes, the governor of Alexandria, over some of his policies resulting in his stoning. Cyril’s followers also were responsible for the slaying of the famous female philosopher and scientist, Hypatia, a proponent of logic and reasoning.
In 430. there once again rose rancor between Alexandria and Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople. Nestorius challenged the title of “Theotokos” (God-bearer) to the Virgin Mary. Cyril saw the union of divine and human in the Incarnation. Nestorius said they were two distinct natures (in effect, Christ’s body was a vessel for the divine so Mary just bore a human child who was infused with the Divine Spirit and therefore, like any human mother).
The pope condemned Nestorius in a synod in Rome. In 431, Cyril presided over the third General Council of 200 bishops at Ephesus to condemn Nestorius. The Archbishop John of Antioch and 42 followers were prepared to defend Nestorius but because they arrived late Cyril disqualified them. The latter group then had a meeting of their own and deposed Cyril. Nestorius and Cyril were arrested by the emperor, but Cyril was released after a papal delegation defended him. It took two more years for John and Cyril to hammer out a sort of detente which ultimately deposed Nestorius.
Cyril is known as a prolific writer. He wrote “Commentaries on the Old Testament,” “Thesaurus,” “Discourse Against Arians,” “Commentary on St. John’s Gospel” and “Dialogues on the Trinity,” among other scholarly works. His output was unmatched from 429 to his death. His writings and theology still are an important part of Church tradition today.
Adapted by A.J. Valentini from