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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Cyril

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(ST.) (Κύριλλος ), of Alexandria, was born in Alexandria towards the end of the 4th century, and was educated under his uncle Theophilus, bishop of that place. Theophilus died in 412, and Cyril was elected patriarch of Alexandria. One of his first steps, according to Socrates, was to plunder and shut up the churches of the Novatians (Socr. Hist. Ecclesiastes 7:7). He led on a furious mob, which drove out the Jews, who had enjoyed many privileges in the city for ages. This proceeding excited the anger of Orestes, the governor of the city, and made him henceforth the implacable opponent of the bishop. An attack was made on the governor in his chariot by a band of 500 monks; and one who severely wounded him having suffered death on the rack, Cyril, in his church, pronounced a eulogy over his body as that of a martyr (Socrates, 1. vii, c. 14). He is also charged with the murder of Hypatia, the celebrated daughter of the mathematician Theon; but his share in this atrocity was only indirect. (See HYPATIA).

The titles of Doctor of the Incarnation and Champion of the Virgin have been given to Cyril on account of his violent dispute with Nestorius. "The condemnation and deposition of Nestorius having been decreed by Pope Celestine, Cyril was appointed to execute the sentence, for which he presided at a council of sixty bishops at Ephesus. John, patriarch of Antioch, having a few days afterwards held a council of forty-one bishops, who supported Nestorius and excommunicated Cyril, the two parties appealed to the emperor Theodosius, who forthwith committed both Cyril and Nestorius to prison, where they remained for some time under rigorous treatment. Cyril, by the influence of Celestine, was at length liberated and restored (431) to the see of Alexandria, which he retained until his death, which occurred in 444" (Engl. Cyclop. s.v.). (See NESTORIUS).

Cyril's doctrinal writings are chiefly on topics connected with the controversies on the Trinity. The following are some of the principal treatises: Thesaurus on the Trinity, intended as a complete refutation of Arianism. In Dialogues on the Incarnation, in Five Books against Nestorius, and in an ample Commentary on St. John's Gospel, the same subject is continued. Ten books against Julian contain replies to that emperor's three books against the Gospels, which, if Cyril's quotations are faithful, were as weak and absurd as the answers. Seventeen books On Worship in Spirit and Truth show that all the Mosaical institutions were an allegory of the Gospel; "a proof," says Dr. Adam Clarke, "how Scripture may be tortured to say anything." Thirteen books on the Pentateuch and the Prophets are written with a similar view. Thirty paschal Homilies announce, as customary at Alexandria, the time of Easter. Sixty-one epistles nearly all relate to the Nestorian controversy. Cyril's Synodical Letter contains twelve solemn curses against Nestorius, who as solemnly replied with twelve curses against Cyril. His writings abound in turgid praises of Mary, though he did not hold her to be with out sin. "The history of none among the Christian fathers is more disgraceful to the Christian character than that of St. Cyril of Alexandria a man immoderately ambitious, violent, and headstrong; a breeder of disturbances; haughty, imperious, and as unfit for a bishop as a violent, bigoted, unskillful theologian could possibly be but resolved that if the meek inherit the earth, the violent should have possession of the sees" (Clarke, Succession of Sacred Literature, 2:137). "But the faults of his personal character should not blind us to the merits of Cyril as a theologian.

He was a man of vigorous and acute mind, and extensive learning, and is clearly to be reckoned among the most important dogmatic and polemic divines of the Greek Church. Of his contemporaries Theodoret alone was his superior. He was the last considerable representative of the Alexandrian theology and the Alexandrian Church, which, however, was already beginning to degenerate and stiffen; and thus he offsets Theodoret, who is the most learned representative of the Antiochian school. He aimed to be the same to the doctrine of the incarnation and the person of Christ that his purer and greater predecessor in the see of Alexandria had been to the doctrine of the Trinity a century before. But he overstrained the supranaturalism and mysticism of the Alexandrian theology, and in his zeal for the reality of the' incarnation and the unity of the person of Christ he went to the brink of the Monophysite error, even sustaining himself by the words of Athanasius, though not by his spirit, because the Nicene age had not yet fixed beyond all interchange the theological distinction between οὐσία and ὑπόστασις " (Schaff, Church History, § 171). The best edition of the Opera Omnnia of Cyril, in Greek and Latin (Paris, 1638), is that of Aubert (7 vols. fol.). This edition is followed by Migne, in his Patrol. Cursus Completus (lxviii-lxxvii). His Comm. in Lucca Evangeliumn was re-edited in Latin by R. P. Smith (Oxford, 1858); and in an English version; by the same, with notes (Oxf. 1859). See Clarke, Succession Sac. Lit. 2:137; Cave, Hist. Lit. Anno 412; Tillemont, Memoires, 14:272; Butler, Lives of Saints, Jan. 28; Neander, Church History, 2:453-498; Lardner, Works, vol. iv; Dorner, Person of Christ (Edinb. trans.), div. i, vol. ii.


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Cyril'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/c/cyril.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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