June 27

St. Cyril of Alexandria

St. Cyril of Alexandria

The Alexandrian Patriarch

Cyril was most probably born in Alexandria, the great city of ancient Egypt, between 370 and 380. Based on his writings, it appears that he received a solid literary and theological education. Together with his uncle, Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria, he played a crucial role in an early dispute in the 5th century between the Egyptian and Greek Churches. He was a monk before he was named a bishop.

When Patriarch Theophilus died in 412, Cyril was chosen as his successor as the 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 about the year 418.

The Nestorian Heresy

A theological issue caused a new breach between Alexandria and Constantinople ten years after Cyril became the Bishop of Alexandria. His reputation as a brilliant theologian had been manifested from 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 fully divine and not subject to birth or death.

Later Years

In 431, Cyril presided over the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus which ran from June 22 to July 31. 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, was deposed as Patriarch of Constantinople, and later suffered exile. Cyril reconciled with many other Antiochian theologians who once supported Nestorius.

Cyril of Alexandria died in the year 444. He served as Bishop of Alexandria for nearly 32 years. He was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1883. His feast day is June 27.

Five Interesting Facts About St. Cyril of Alexandria

  1. St. Cyril of Alexandria was long celebrated as a saint, particularly in the Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.
  2. St. Cyril of Alexandria’s reputation within the Christian world has resulted in his titles “Pillar of Faith” and “Seal of all the Fathers”.
  3. The Nestorian bishops at the Council of Ephesus declared St. Cyril of Alexandria a heretic, labelling him as a “monster, born and educated for the destruction of the church.”
  4. According to some writers, St. Cyril of Alexandria’s temperament was confrontational, even divisive.
  5. The Roman Catholic Church did not commemorate St. Cyril of Alexandria in the Tridentine Calendar. His feast was added only in 1882, assigning to it the date of February 9.

Prayer to St. Cyril of Alexandria

O God, who made the Bishop Saint Cyril of Alexandriaan invincible champion of the divine motherhoodof 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.