Bishop of Laodicaea Combusta Phrygia, at the beginning of Emperor Constantine’s reign he built a large church. His inscription survives: Having been made bishop by the will of almighty God, and having administered the episcopate for 25 years with great distinction, and having rebuilt from its foundations the whole church and all the adornment around it, consisting of stoa and tetrastoa and paintings and mosaics and fountains and the outer gateway, and having provided for its entire construction in stone and, in a word, with everything, and being about to depart the life of this world, I made for myself a sarcophagus and a base on which it must be placed, for the distinction of the church and of my family. CYRIL of Alexandria 370380444.

Born at Alexandria sometime between 370 and 380, he entered religious life and may have spent some time as a monk. He was nephew to the powerful Bishop Theophilus, whom he accompanied in 403 to the Synod of the Oak, which deposed John Chrysostom, and whom he succeeded as bishop of Alexandria, 17 October 412. He inherited his uncle’s power and ambitions, as well as his energy, political capacity, harshness to his enemies and lack of scruples.

Only in 417 did he decide, for political reasons, to readmit Chrysostom’s name to the diptychs of his church. The policy of violence that he initiated against pagans and heretics caused, among other things, the murder of the famous Platonist philosopher Hypatia by a gang of fanatical monks. The election of Nestorius, representative of the rival see of Antioch, as bishop of Constantinople could not have pleased him; so he made the most of the opportunity offered by the protests aroused by Nestorius’s imprudent statements on Christology, and criticized him 429 in various letters, including some to Nestorius himself.

The appeal of both parties to Pope Celestine 430 ended in the Roman condemnation of Nestorius. Charged with communicating Rome’s decision to Nestorius, Cyril supplemented it with the famous 12 anathemata, a series of christological propositions formulated in terms unacceptable to any Antiochene. Nestorius’s appeal to the emperor Theodosius II resulted in the calling of an ecumenical council at Ephesus for spring 431. Cyril, exploiting the Antiochenes’ delayed arrival, began proceedings on 22 June without waiting for them and rapidly obtained Nestorius’s condemnation. Arriving four days later, the Antiochene bishops, led by John of Antioch and favorable to Nestorius, condemned Cyril’s actions and Cyril himself.

Theodosius at first declared both Nestorius and Cyril deposed and had them imprisoned; but Cyril managed to return to Alexandria, which he entered in triumph, 30 October. He later thought it opportune to seek a reconciliation with the Antiochenes, with whom he concluded the Pact of Union 433; they left Nestorius to his fate, and Cyril dropped the anathemata. He spent the next years defending and clarifying his christological doctrine against rivals and friends unconvinced of the soundness of his actions. Around 438440, he joined the attacks against Diodore of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia, accused of having been Nestorius’s precursors, but retracted in the face of John of Antioch’s protest. He died 27 June 444. Cyril wrote much, and the rise of the Nestorian controversy divides his output into two parts: at first, he dedicated himself mainly to scriptural exegesis and wrote against Arianism; once the controversy began, it directly and indirectly polarized all of his activity, including his literary work. We also possess ca. 20 of his homilies and ca. 100 letters.

CYRIL CELER Photo Gallery

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