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SAINT CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA

Bishop, Confessor, and Doctor of the Church, c. 376-444

THERE was no room for compromise or indifference in the issues involved. The disagreement, violent on both sides, concerned one of the basic dogmas of Catholicism: the divinity of Christ. The adversaries were Cyril of Alexandria and Nestorius of Constantinople. Both were bishops.

A short time after he was made bishop of Constantinople in 428, Nestorius began preaching that there were two distinct persons in Christ: God and man. He denied the Incarnation, that is, that God was made man. Although he accepted the Blessed Virgin as the mother of the man Christ, he denied that she was the mother of God. He stated flatly that Christ was not divine.

When Cyril read these denials, he wrote several letters to Nestorius pointing out his errors, but he received only contemptuous answers. He consequently appealed to Pope Celestine to intervene. After inspecting the false doctrine at a council in Rome, the pope condemned it and pronounced the sentence of excommunication against Nestorius unless he retracted his statements within ten days. Cyril was appointed papal delegate to preside at the Council of Ephesus (431), at which two hundred bishops were present. Again all the Nestorian documents underwent scrupulous examination and again all were condemned. Nestorius refused to retract his statements and was banished to the desert, where he died after drawing many persons after him into his erroneous sect.

Saint Cyril had succeeded in halting the heresy. Although some sects still adhere, to this day, to the dictates of Nestorius, the heresy was no longer a real threat to the Catholic Church after the Council of Ephesus. Pope Celestine described Cyril as a "generous defender of the Church and faith, the Catholic doctor and apostolic man."

While his chief fame rests on his suppression of Nestorianism, Cyril was also responsible for encouraging devotion to the Holy Eucharist through his emphasis on the effects this sacrament produces in the souls of those who receive it worthily. His life work seems to be summed up in one of his famous writings: "Christ is not a man into whom the Word has descended, but the very Word taking birth in flesh that is its own. It is in this sense that it is said in all truth that God is born, that He died, and that Mary is the mother of God."

Saint Cyril, called Doctor of the Incarnation, died in 444 during his thirty-second year as bishop of Alexandria.

 

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