Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Letter to the Priests and Deacons by Cyril of Alexandria / Works of Love

Cyril of Alexandria

Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria
Cyril of Alexandria was born near the end of the fourth century and became Patriarch of Alexandria in 412. Cyril was, along with Athanasius, one of the greatest defenders of Christ's deity. His commentary on John is still considered a masterpiece (it runs around 1400 pages), but he is probably best known for his debates with Nestorius over the nature of Christ. Nestorius held to a view which said that Christ was two natures in one person. One nature was divine; one nature was human. Nestorius claimed that the divine nature neither suffered nor was born of a woman. In this letter, Cyril has not yet traced the teaching specifically to Nestorius but has heard of its existence. This is a short passage where he defends the essential unity of Christ.

A Letter to the Priests and Deacons

For his (Christ's) only begotten Word, as I said, was begotten from the substance of God the Father. But after the Word assumed flesh and made it his own, he also bears the name Son of man and became like us. It is in no way absurd to say, I think, but rather necessary to confess also that he was born according to the flesh from a woman, just as, of course, the soul of a man is generated together with its own body and is considered as one with it, even though in nature it is known in comparison with the body to be different and existing by itself according to its own logos. And if someone wished to say that the mother of someone is the mother of a body but not the one who brought a soul into the world, he is thinking extremely foolishly. For a living being is born, as I said, skillfully composed of unlike principles, from two, indeed, but one man results, each principle remaining that which it is, both brought together as if into one natural unity and so joined with each other that each communicates to the other what is proper to itself.

That the unity in Christ is very, very necessary is entirely without difficulty and easy to perceive through many other arguments.
     (Letter 1, pages 21-22, from Letters 1-50 by St. Cyril of Alexandria)

Analysis

Christ Crucified Between Two Thieves by Rembrandt
Cyril defends that the Word did come from the Father, but that it also was born of a woman. He says that just as any soul is born with a body from a woman so was the Word, and no one says mothers are mothers only to bodies. While Cyril admits that there are two different principles, they function together as a natural unity the way they're supposed to. I don't think Cyril completely clears up the problem of how Christ's soul was born of a woman, but I don't think this is so much a question of Christ's divinity as the problem of how souls are connected to bodies in the first place.

Application

If we're going to be Christians, then we need to admit the mystery at the heart of our religion and own it.
Christians believe that Christ is an incarnate union of the divine and the human, and what's at stake here is a Savior who suffered. If we lose that, we are of all men most miserable.

Acknowledgments

I am indebted to the introductory material found in On the Unity of Christ. This passage can be found in Cyril's Letters 1-50

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