ST. CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA:
Doctor of the Incarnation;
Doctor of the Church
370 – 444
The writings of this Doctor of the Church St. Cyril of Alexandria (not to be confused with another Doctor of the Church St. Cyril of Jerusalem) strenuously defended the dogma that Jesus had two natures in one person. He has been known therefore as the Doctor of the Incarnation.
In 403 he accompanied his patriarch uncle to the Synod of the Oak in Constantinople that deposed and exiled Saint John Chrysostom who he believed to be guilty of heresy (even though the charges were unjust).
So while he was a stern (sometimes too stern) and zealous enemy of heretics and non Christians he vigorously and at times harshly opposed these doctrinal opponents of the church. It’s no wonder that his enemies called him “the Pharaoh of Egypt.”
He not only ruthlessly closed all Novatian churches in Alexandria but he also pillaged them as well seizing their sacred vessels.
Having succeeded in expelling the Novatians he then began but apparently did not complete the expulsion of Jews who had been established by Alexander the Great to encourage commerce in his city. This incurred the wrath of the governor Orestes who already disagreed with Cyril about some of his actions.
St. Cyril was preaching that in Christ there were two distinct and separate persons: that of the Son of God and that of the man Jesus joined only by a moral union. In insisting that Mary was the mother of Jesus the man and denying that she was the mother of the Son of God Nestorious consequently denied the Incarnation and the Divine Motherhood of Mary as well as the unity of the divine and human natures in Jesus.
On this basis Nestorious and his followers refused to call Mary Theotokos (“mother of God” or literally “God-bearer”). Since he believed that there were two distinct persons in Christ – the divine and the human – Mary, who was human, was the mother only of the human person, not of the divine person. So he preferred to call the Virgin Mary Christokos (“mother of Christ”) or Theodokos (“God receiving”).
On the other hand Cyril saw this as a clear opposition to what the Nicene Creed says and in direct conflict with the Orthodox doctrine that taught that the two natures of Christ were combined in one person.
Cyril staunchly believed in this unity of God and man in Christ which at that time was called “the indwelling of the divine word in human flesh.” So he insisted on the term Theotokos (“God-bearer”, i.e. Mother of God) as it expressed the “intimate union of the divine and human natures, made one in the incarnation.”
His writings have been characterized by “accurate thinking, precise exposition and great reasoning skill.” It’s no wonder that most people regarded him the most brilliant theologian of the Alexandrian tradition and Warrior for the Truth.
At his death, to show how much some people hated him a bitter letter circulated at his death. It began, “Behold, at long last this wicked man is dead.”
Truly Cyril was rightfully named “The Doctor of the Incarnation.” His numerous letters and treatises developed his theology further emphasizing more definitely the “fullness of Christ’s humanity along with the oneness of his person.”
Cyril is honored as a saint both by the Eastern and Western churches more in tribute to his being a brilliant theologian and for his historic achievements than for his character which continue to puzzle interpreters today. Because while he was brave, he was a man of strong and impulsive character but sometimes was violent even over-vehement. Though he basically loved peace he loved truth even more at any cost. Though unscrupulous and ruthless at times no one can deny the “considerable mark he left on the formulation of orthodox theology.” He remains to this day “the invincible champion of the Divine Motherhood of Mary.”
Cyril also manifested a great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament which he maintained was really the life-giving and very flesh of the World Himself.
Because Cyril used consistently and well the procedures of invoking the Fathers of the Church as proof for doctrine he has rightfully earned the title “Seal of the Fathers” and “Guardian of Accuracy.” In so doing Cyril made clear to the whole world that he recognized the position of the “Bishop of Rome as visible head of the whole church.”
The Popes in turn recognized his greatness:
1. Pope Celestine described him as “the generous defender of the Catholic faith” and “an apostolic man.”
2. It was Pope Leo XIII in 1882 who proclaimed Cyril a Doctor of the Church.
3. In 1931 Pope Piux XI praised St. Cyril as “that most holy man and champion of Catholic integrity.”
4. In 1944 Pope Pius XII called him “the ornament of the Oriental Church.”
The Alexandrians bestowed on him the title of Teacher of the World.
Cyril is commemorated as a “tower of truth and interpreter of the Word of God made flesh” in the intercession of the Syrian and Maronite Mass.
In the West June 27 is his feast day while in the East it is on June 9.
Other Sources of Reference:
A Calendar of Saints – p 121
A Year With the Saints – June 27
Butler’s Saint for the Day – pp 298 – 299
Illustrated Lives of the Saints – Vol. 1 p 273
My First Book of Saints – pp 134
Saint Companions – pp 234 – 235
Saint of the Day – pp 146 – 147
The Doctors of the Church – Vol. I – pp 147 – 158
The 33 Doctors of the Church – pp 134 – 147
Saints – A Visual Guide – pp 260 – 261
Voices of the Saints – pp 170 – 171
Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives – Group 3 Card 34