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Cyril of Alexandria, Pastor and Confessor

Today, we commemorate Cyril of Alexandria, and we read an explanation of his theological debates with Nestorius as described in History of Theology: Fourth Revised Edition.

Introduction

One of the mysteries of the Christian faith is how Jesus can be both fully man and fully divine at the same time. In the fifth century AD, Cyril of Alexandria faithfully defended the Church’s belief in Christ’s nature. May we, too, embrace this mystery and put our trust in the promises God has revealed to us.

Devotional Reading

The bitter struggle . . . between Nestorius and Cyril [took place] at the beginning of the fifth century. . . . Nestorius, who became patriarch of Constantinople in 428, was in general a representative of the Antiochene school of theology. The verdict of history on Nestorius and his works has changed radically. Because of the anathema hurled at him by his contemporaries, it has been generally concluded that he carried the Antiochene point of view a bit too far and that he came up with a false Christology as a result. It has been thought that he set forth a doctrine of “two Christs,” one divine and one human, and thereby invalidated the Christian faith. . . .

Cyril emphasized that Christ is completely man, with a human soul. Both natures are found in Him, each retaining its own qualities. . . . Cyril therefore stressed that there are two complete natures in Christ and that they are not changed into or confused with one another.

But in contrast to Nestorius, Cyril insisted that there is a real, substantial union between the two natures in Christ. He rejected the idea of a moral or devotional union. . . . If it was not God Himself who appeared in Christ’s earthly life, so that God Himself thus suffered and died, He cannot be our Savior. Nestorius’ point of view made Christ’s true divinity an impossibility, and thereby also salvation through Him.

Cyril described the unity between God and man as a physical or substantial unity. The heart of the matter is found in his words “unity with respect to the hypostasis.” This expression may appear to correspond to the doctrine of the personal union, unio personalis. But in the writings of Cyril the word “hypostasis” does not denote “person,” as in the doctrine of the Trinity; it is rather used as a synonym for ousia. This expression, therefore, suggests the same as the words “unity with respect to the essence.” What Cyril is trying to say here is that this is a question of a real union, which is implicit in the nature of the matter itself, in Christ Himself, and not simply in our worship of Him.

Devotional reading is from History of Theology: Fourth Revised Edition, pages 93–94, 96–97 © 1968, 2007 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, true God and man, Son of the Father and Mary’s Son, grant me Your Holy Spirit so that I may behold Your glory in Your Word, even as Your disciples beheld it with enlightened eyes. And grant that I may believe in You, as Your disciples believed in You, in order that I may belong to the blessed company of those who obtain eternal life through faith in You. Amen.

Prayer is from The Lord Will Answer, page 223 © 2004 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

 

Written by

Anna Johnson

Deaconess Anna Johnson is a marketing manager at Concordia Publishing House. After graduating from the deaconess program at Concordia University Chicago, she continued her studies at the University of Colorado—Denver in education and human development. She has worked as a church youth director and served a variety of other nonprofit organizations, such as the Lutheran Mission Society of Maryland. Anna loves playing video games and drinking a hot cup of tea almost as much as she loves her cat and her husband.

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