Get the CD Now!

The Post-Nicene Greek Fathers

Previous ** Contents ** Next



The Anathematizer. Inheriting the spirit of his uncle with his office, Cyril marked his accession to the see of Alexandria, in 412, by seizing upon the churches and church property of the Novatians. Soon afterward, the Jews of the city having done some wrong to the Christians, he put himself at the head of a mob of infuriated monks, who assaulted the synagogues and then sacked and plundered the whole Jewish quarter, driving many thousands of the Jews from the city. A quarrel with Orestes, the governor, ensued, in the course of which the latter was set upon in the streets by a multitude of monks, and only escaped by the opportune intervention of some of the people. One of the monks, who had wounded Orestes with a stone, was put to death on the rack, whereupon he was immediately canonized by Cyril" as a saint and a martyr. But this was not the worst. Hypatia, the celebrated teacher of philosophy in Alexandria, was a friend of Orestes, and it was suspected that she encouraged his animosity toward Cyril. Accordingly, the mob from which he had escaped attacked her in the streets. Socrates says: "Observing her, as she returned home in her carriage, they dragged her from it and carried her to the church called Caesareum, where they completely stripped her, and then murdered her with shells. After tearing her body in pieces, they took her mangled limbs to a place called Cinaron and there burned them." This atrocious outrage, for which Cyril was, at the least indirectly, responsible, gives a key to the spirit with which Cyril dealt with those who opposed him. It explains his malignant hostility to Nestorius. The latter having declined to accept the doctrine of one nature in Christ, or to approve of the term. "Mother of God," Cyril launched against him twelve anathemas. Others at that time dealt in anathemas, Pope Celestine and Nestorius himself having issued them, but no one breathed them as his native air like Cyril, and, of all ecclesiastical haters, none so merits the name of the Anathematizer. At the Council of Ephesus, he proceeded against Nestorius without waiting for the arrival of the Eastern bishops, and afterward he would listen to no compromise which did not involve Nestorius's condemnation. But, rapacious, immoderately ambitious, "the worst of heretics against the spread of the gospel," and resolved, as he was, that "if the meek inherit the earth, the violent should have possession of the sees"(! ) Cyril was a very distinguished man in his age, and, according to the standards of his day, a great theologian. He aspired to be to the doctrine of the Person of Christ what Athanasius had been to the doctrine of the Trinity. He was, however — deservedly — the last conspicuous representative of the Alexandrian church and theology.

His works, which fill ten volumes of Migne, consist of commentaries, paschal homilies, sermons, and letters, chiefly against Nestorius, and various theological treatises.



Besides fragments upon almost every part of Scripture, we have elaborate commentaries on the Pentateuch, on Isaiah, on the twelve minor prophets, and on John. That upon the Pentateuch, entitled "Glaphyra," is of the extreme allegorical order, referring every point of the history and every circumstance or precept in some way to Christ, or to the New Testament. Those upon the prophets are more rational, dealing more with the natural sense of the text. The commentary upon John, which is very full, deals somewhat with the theological topics of the times.



As mentioned, these are devoted very largely to the Nestorian controversy, but they also refer to most of the ecclesiastical events of Cyril's day. They contain long historical and theological disquisitions, sent out for the enlightenment of various of the bishops, or of the clergy or people of Alexandria. One of these letters, which begins, "Cyril and the synod assembled at Alexandria, in the province of Egypt, to their fellow-minister Nestorius, most pious and well-beloved of God, greeting in the Lord," closes with the famous twelve anathemas of Cyril, which are here given.


Cyril's Anathemas against Nestorius.

1. If any one does not confess that Emmanuel is truly God, and that, therefore, the holy Virgin is the Mother of God — since she brought forth according to the flesh the incarnate Word of God — let him be accursed.

2. If any one does not confess that the Word of God the Father, being hypostatically united to the flesh, is one Christ with his own flesh, the same being at once and indisputably God and man, let him be accursed.

3. If any one divides the hypostases in the one Christ after their union, joining them only with a union according to honor, that is to say by authority or power, and not rather by a natural union, let him be accursed.

4. If any one apportions to two persons or hypostases that which is spoken in the evangelical or apostolical scriptures either by holy men concerning Christ or by him concerning himself, and assigns these to him as man considered separately from the Word of God, and those to him only as the divine Word of God, let him be accursed.

5. If any one dares to say that Christ is a God-bearing man, and not rather the true God, as being the only and natural Son, seeing that the Word truly was made flesh, and, alike with us, has been a partaker of flesh and blood, let him be accursed.

6. If any one dares to say that the Word of God the Father is God or Lord of Christ, and does not the rather confess him at once God and man, the Word having become flesh, according to the Scriptures, let him be accursed.

7. If any one says that as man Jesus was energized by God the Word, and was clothed with the glory of the Only Begotten, as being another than he, let him be accursed.

8. If any one shall dare to say that the manhood assumed ought to be adored together with God the Word, and jointly with him to be extolled and entitled God, as one in another (for whenever with is employed it compels this understanding), and does not the rather adore Emmanuel with a sole honor, and ascribe to him a single doxology, as being the Word become flesh, let him be accursed.

9. If any one says that the one Lord Jesus Christ has been glorified by the Spirit as being endowed with another power than his own, and that having received ability from him, he has power over evil spirits and works miracles among men, and does not the rather say that it is his own Spirit by which he works miracles, let him be accursed.

10. The holy Scriptures declare that Christ was the high-priest and apostle of our confession, and gave himself for us as a sweet-smelling savor unto God the Father. If, therefore, any one says that the Word of God himself did not become our high-priest and apostle when he became flesh and man for us, but that it was another than he, the man born of a woman; or if any one says that for himself also he presented this offering and not for us only (for he who knew no sin had no need of an offering), let him be accursed.

11. If any one does not confess the flesh of the Lord to be life-giving, and appropriate to the Word of God the Father himself, but as belonging to some other than he united with him in honor, that is to say, merely possessing a divine dwelling, and not the rather life-giving as we have said, so that it became appropriate to the Word who is able to give life to all things, let him be accursed.

12. If any one does not confess that the Word of God suffered according to the flesh, in the flesh was crucified, in the flesh tasted of death, and became the first-born from the dead, so that he is the life and as God life-giving, let him be accursed. — Epistle 17, Cyril to Nestorius.



The principal treatises of Cyril were a "Thesaurus" upon the Trinity; seven dialogues upon the Trinity, and two upon the Incarnation; five books against Nestorius; an explanation of and an apology for his Twelve Chapters against Nestorius; an apology for Christianity against the attack of the Emperor Julian; and seventeen books "Of God's Worship in the Spirit." The last, which is the most considerable, is deserving of notice as representing the Alexandrian idea of Scripture interpretation. Following is an outline of the work as given by Du Pin:


Of God's Worship in the Spirit.

The work is composed in the form of a dialogue, and its design is to show that the law of Moses, as well as the precepts and all the ceremonies which it prescribes, being understood aright, relate to the adoration of God in spirit and in truth, which the gospel hath discovered. To prove this proposition, the author seeks out all the allegories in the histories of the Old Testament. In the first book he shows that that which happened to Adam, Abraham, and Lot teaches men how they fall into sin, and after what manner they may raise themselves again. The pleasure which allures them is figured by the woman, by the delights of Egypt, by earthly good things; the grace of our Saviour by the calling of Abraham, by the protection which God vouchsafed Lot, by the care which he takes of his people; lastly, repentance, flight from sin, love of virtue, by the actions of the ancient patriarchs. In the second and third, he makes use of several places of the law to show that the fall of man could not be repaired but by the coming of Jesus Christ; that he alone can deliver him from the lamentable consequences of sin, which are death, the tyranny of the devil, an inclination to evil and concupiscence; lastly, that he alone can redeem and justify men. He finds baptism and redemption by Jesus Christ figured in many places of the law and prophets. In the fourth, he uses the exhortations, promises, and threatenings laid down in the law to incline Christians, whom Jesus Christ hath redeemed, to follow their callings, renounce vice, and embrace virtue. In the fifth, he affirms that the constancy and courage of the ancients in suffering evils and opposing their enemies is a figure of the strength and vigor with which Christians ought to resist their vices and irregular passions. In the sixth, he demonstrates that the law commands the worship and love of one God only, and that it hath condemned all superstitions and profaneness contrary to that worship. In the two following books he also prescribes charity toward our brethren and love toward our neighbor. In the ninth and the tenth, he finds infinite resemblances between the tabernacle and the church. The priesthood of the old law, the consecration of the high-priests, the sacerdotal vestments, the ministry of the Levites, etc., furnish him with abundance of matter for allegories, which he treats of in the three following books. The profane and unclean persons under the law, who were shut out of the tabernacle and temple, are the figure of sinners, which ought to be expelled out of churches, and do teach us that none but those that are pure may present themselves before God. Clean and unclean beasts are the subjects of some allegories, being the subject of tha fourteenth and fifteenth books. Lastly, the obligations and sacrifices of the law are types of the spiritual obligations which we ought to offer to God, and the solemn festivals of the Jews denote to us the celestial rewards —this is the subject of the last two books. It is easy to judge, by what we have said, how mystical a work this is, and how full of allegorical and unusual explications. He must needs have an inexhaustible fund of them to furnish out seventeen books so long as these are, which are all along carried on with continual allegories.


Previous ** Contents ** Next

Go to the Tables of Contents of The Post-Nicene Greek Fathers

Please buy the CD to support the site, view it without ads, and get bonus stuff!

Early Christian Writings is copyright © Peter Kirby <E-Mail>.

Get the CD Now!

Kirby, Peter. "Historical Jesus Theories." Early Christian Writings. <>.