Feast Day: June 27
Cyril was born in Alexandria, Egypt. His uncle, Theophilus, was the patriarch of Alexandria and upon his death, Cyril succeeded him as patriarch. It is thought that Cyril was present at the Synod of the Oak, a meeting at which Saint John Chrysostom was deposed.
Saints are not born with halos around their heads. Cyril, recognized as a great teacher of the church, began his career embroiled in the church politics of heresies. He pillaged and closed the churches of the Novatian heretics and confiscated Jewish property, expelling the Jews from Alexandria in retaliation for their attacks on Christians. Cyril’s importance for theology and church history lies in his championing the cause of orthodoxy against the heresy of Nestorius. Besides needing to soften some of his opposition to those who had sided with Nestorius, Cyril had difficulties with some of his own allies, who thought he had gone too far, sacrificing not only language but also orthodoxy.
Presiding as Pope Celestine’s representative at the Council of Ephesus (431), Cyril condemned Nestorianism and proclaimed Mary truly the “God-bearer” (the mother of the one Person who is truly God and truly human). In the confusion that followed both Cyril and Nestorius were arrested. However, Cyril was released upon intervention of the pope and welcomed back to Alexandria as a second Athanasius (the champion against Arianism). Eventually Nestorius was condemned and banished to the Great Oasis of Egypt.
A brilliant scholar, Cyril left a legacy of exegetical works, treatises, commentaries on the Gospels and the Pentateuch, sermons, letters and an apologia against Julian the Apostate. He is known especially for his writing on the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation. “On Adoration in Spirit and Truth” is a 17-book exposition on the spiritual nature of the Old Law.
Until his death, Cyril’s policy of moderation kept his extreme partisans under control. On his deathbed, despite pressure, he refused to condemn the teacher of Nestorius.
“I have been amazed that some are utterly in doubt as to whether or not the Holy Virgin is able to be called the Mother of God. For if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, how should the Holy Virgin who bore him not be the Mother of God?”—Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Letter to the Monks of Egypt
Foley, Leonard, O.F.M., and Pat McCloskey, O.F.M. “Saint of the Day.” Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2009.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. “The Encyclopedia of Saints.” New York, NY: Checkmark Books, 2001.
Hoagland, Victor, C.P., ed. “The Book of Saints: The Lives of the Saints According to the Liturgical Calendar.” New York: Regina Press, 1986.