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Cyril the Pillar of Faith and Doctor of the Church

Cyril the Pillar of Faith and Doctor of the Church

June 27 is Feast Day of Saint Cyril of Alexandria, patron saint of theologians and scholars, is best known for his defense of the doctrine of the Incarnation (that the one Person of Jesus was the divine Son, the Second Person of the Trinity), and for his brilliant exegetical writings.

Cyril was also known as Cyril the Pillar of Faith, lived during the 4th and 5th centuries AD, and was known as a zealot, impulsive, often violent, actions: He pillaged and closed the churches of heretics, participated in the deposing of Saint John Chrysostom – John was the son of a high-ranking military officer and was raised as a Christian by his widowed mother. Although he studied law

under a distinguished pagan rhetorician, Libanius, he gave up his profession to study theology, ultimately becoming an ascetic hermit-monk – and confiscated Jewish property, expelling the Jews from Alexandria in retaliation for their attacks on Christians.  Not unlike Saint Thomas More, Cyril walked the talk.

Cyril, recognized as a great teacher of the Church, began his career as archbishop of Alexandria, Egypt,   which was a bustling metropolis and a center of learning in ancient Egypt. Alexandria was renowned for its great library and played a crucial role in the spread of Christianity during Cyril’s time.

The Fall of Rome (410 AD): In 410 AD, the Visigoths, led by Alaric I, successfully invaded and plundered Rome. This event shocked the Roman Empire, as the city had not been captured by an enemy in nearly 800 years. The fall of Rome had far-reaching consequences for the Western Roman Empire and marked the decline of Roman influence in the region.

The Founding of Constantinople (330 AD): Constantinople was built over six years, and consecrated on 11 May 330. Constantine divided the expanded city, like Rome, into 14 regions, and ornamented it with public works worthy of an imperial metropolis

Emperor Constantine the Great established Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) as the new capital of the Roman Empire in 330 AD. This strategic move shifted the focus of the empire to the East and laid the foundation for the Byzantine Empire, which would become a major center of Christianity and culture.

When Patriarch Theophilus died in 412, Cyril was chosen as his successor as head of the Egyptian Church. He continued his uncle’s policy of Alexandria’s preeminence within the Church over Constantinople in spite of the political prominence of the imperial capital. Eventually, these two Eastern Churches re-established communion around the year 418.

Ten years after Cyril became the Bishop of Alexandria, a theological issue caused a new breach between Alexandria and Constantinople.  His reputation as a brilliant theologian was manifested in his defense of Catholic orthodoxy during this time.

In the year 428, a monk named Nestorius became the new Patriarch of Constantinople. Nestorius was not willing to use the term Theotokos (Mother of God) to describe the Blessed Virgin Mary. Rather, he opted to insist on the term Christotokos (Mother of Christ). This became a source of controversy, for Nestorius’ claim was against the revered doctrines of the Church.

Mary, the Theotokos – The Greek Church had already held two ecumenical councils to confirm Christ’s eternal preexistence as God before the Incarnation. Thus, based on this unchanging belief, it followed logically that Mary was the Mother of God. The doctrine of Mary as Theotokos confirmed the doctrine of the Incarnation as well as the status of Christ as equal with God the Father.

Cyril and many other bishops disagreed with Nestorius’ claims and his refusal to acknowledge Mary as the Mother of God. Nestorius’ convictions revealed a heretical view of Jesus Christ, splitting Him into two united but distinct persons: one that is fully human and born of Mary, and the other that is fully divine and not subject to birth or death.

In 431, Cyril presided over the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, which ran from June 22 to July 31. The Council of Ephesus was a council of Christian bishops convened in Ephesus (near present-day Selçuk in Turkey) in AD 431 by the Roman Emperor Theodosius II. While the council was a tumultuous affair,  Cyril brilliantly defended the orthodox belief in Christ as one eternally divine person who also became incarnate as a man. Nestorius was condemned by the Council, deposed as Patriarch of Constantinople, and later suffered exile. Cyril reconciled with many other Antiochian theologians who once supported Nestorius.

Besides needing to soften some of his opposition to those who had sided with Nestorius, Cyril had difficulties with some of his own allies, who thought he had gone too far, sacrificing not only language but orthodoxy. Until his death, his policy of moderation kept his extreme partisans under control. On his deathbed, despite pressure, he refused to condemn the teacher of Nestorius.

Cyril  died in the year 444, having served as Bishop of Alexandria for nearly 32 years. He was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1883. 

Prayer for Saint Cyril 

Dear Lord, we thank You for giving us Your servant, St. Cyril of Alexandria, as an example of holiness. Help us to imitate the devotion to You he showed in defending the true teachings of Your Church.

Prayer to Saint Cyril

O God, who made the Bishop Saint Cyril of Alexandria an invincible champion of the divine motherhood of the most Blessed Virgin Mary, grant, we pray, that we, who believe she is truly the Mother of God, may be saved through the Incarnation of Christ your Son. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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