Saint Cyril of Alexandria|
Defender of Theotokos
The eleventh Doctor chronologically in the list of Doctors of the Church was a man who fought heresy all his life, the Patriarch of Egypt
Saint Cyril of Alexandria. He is the second Cyril to be so elevated to the august privelege of Doctor, joining St. Cyril of Jerusalem, the third Doctor after St. Ephrem and the first Doctor of the Church St. Athanasius.
This Cyril whom we celebrate today was born in Alexandria, Egypt in the year 370 AD. Cyril was the nephew of the Patriarch of Alexandria - Theophilus and, under his influence, rose to prominence while unfortunately being prejudiced against Saint John Chrysostom. Present at the synod of 403, Cyril was among those who deposed the golden throated Doctor.
From that time on Cyril advanced, succeeding in 412 his uncle as Patriarch of Alexandria. Shortly after his appointment he realized the traps that had been set and could more readily sympathize with St. John Chrysostom. Heresies were rampant in his city, most notably Novatianism and Nestorianism. Pope Zozimus I was impressed by Cyril's zeal and had approved his appointment, hopeful Cyril could sweep out heresy. In fact, from that point on Cyril refuted all heresies, specifically more than a decade later Nestorianism which was promulgated by Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople in 428. Nestorius denied the divinity of Jesus and then that Mary was not truly the Mother of God. This infuriated Cyril so that he addressed the matter to Zozimus' successor Pope Celestine I who made it a priority to excommunicate Nestorius if he persisted.
It must be noted that at that time in history most of Christendom leaned toward Nestorianism, just as the bishops prior to that had favored Arianism. Just as today so many have cowtowed to modernism, only a remnant remain loyal to the True Teachings of the Church Christ founded.
Celestine was one who realized the errors of Nestorianism and charged Cyril with the duty of informing Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, and the Syrian bishops in Ephesus. The letter Celestine had sent with Cyril was badly interpreted by the Syrians and they, in turn, thinking it was Cyril's own handwriting, charged Cyril with heresy and acting as an imposter. Just as St. John was rebuked, and as his Lord and Savior Jesus had been rebuked by the Sanhedrin, so Cyril was too. He was imprisoned and abandoned until the Council of Ephesus, which was convened by the emperor Theodosius in 431 in which the saint was exonerated and elevated to the highest chair, representing Pope Celestine I as he presided over the Council. Truly the last shall be first. Cyril decreed that the Nicene Creed be read and then he declared as twelve anathemas against Nestorius.
After this Cyril went on to write profound treatises on the Incarnation and the dogma of Mary's Divine Motherhood - Theotokos. Though he had his critics who felt he could have been tougher on Nestorianism, the truth is that ever since his condemnation of Nestorianism, it ceased to be a threat to Holy Mother Church.
A staunch defender of the Faith, Cyril died in his beloved city of Alexandria at the age of 64 in 444 with the Church stronger for his efforts. His feast had always been celebrated in the Byzantine and Coptic liturgies but was extended to the Universal Church in 1883 by Pope Leo XIII, who also officially proclaimed Cyril a Doctor of the Church at that time.
February 9, 2008
volume 19, no. 40
Doctors of the Church