Double (1955 Calendar): February 9
St. Cyril, patriarch of Alexandria, was known as the Doctor of the Incarnation. He took a fearless stand against the Nestorian heretics who denied that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity was made man. As the Pope's legate, Cyril presided over the third General Council, held at Ephesus in 431. The clear statements of this great council regarding the Incarnation defined that the Son of God is both God and man and that the Blessed Virgin, His Mother, is truly the Mother of God. Of St. Cyril it may be said, "Nations shall declare his wisdom, and the Church shall show forth his praise" (Eccli. 39:14).
The main impetus for the Council of Ephesus started not with discussions about the nature of Christ but about the title of Mary, the Blessed Mother. In 428, the Patriarch of Constantinople died. The choice among the clergy within Constantinople was splintered by factions so an outsider from Antioch, Nestorius, was chosen. Nestorius at first seemed like an excellent choice as Patriarch of Constantinople. He had a reputation for eloquence and was the head of a monastery in Antioch. The Emperor of the East, Theodosius II, approved of him and Nestorius was installed on April 10, 428. Around the end of the year, a priest that Nestorius had brought with him from Antioch began to preach that the Blessed Mother should not be called Theotokos (God Bearer) because God, being human, could not be born. The people of Constantinople were upset that such a doctrine had won approval from their new Patriarch. Theotokos was an ancient title of Mary. St. John Chrysostom (a former Patriarch of Constantinople himself) had called Mary Theotokos –
“It is truly right to bless you, O Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, without defilement you gave birth to God the Word. True Theotokos we magnify you.”Nestorius, unfortunately, agreed with the priest from Antioch. He stated that Mary should rightly be called Christotokos or Christ-Bearer. Nestorius began to preach against the title of Theotokos. When monks from Constantinople protested, they were scourged and imprisoned for their Marian devotion. Nestorius’ heresy was more serious than a debate about what to call the Blessed Virgin – he and his followers actually denied the Hypostatic Union. The Hypostatic Union is the union between the Divine Nature of our Lord and the human nature He adopted for our salvation. Nestorius treated Jesus as if He had two separate natures.
Nestorius published his sermons, even sending them to Pope Celestine. Cyril, the Patriarch of Alexandria, also heard of the sermons and immediately warned the Egyptian desert monks of Nestorius’ errors. In August, 430, Pope Celestine held a synod in Rome, condemning Nestorius teachings and ordered him to recant. Pope Celestine appointed Cyril to carry out this sentence to Nestorius in Constantinople. Before Cyril could arrive, Theodosius II, the Emperor of the East, convened a general Church council in Ephesus on June 7, 431 – Pentecost Sunday
We know many details of what happened at the Council of Ephesus. First, the Nicene Creed was read out to the assembled Bishops. Then, letters that Cyril, the Patriarch of Alexandria, and Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, had written to each other when the dispute first started were examined. Cyril’s letter was acknowledged as adhering to the faith while Nestorius’ letter was condemned as heretical. We shall quote the later part of Cyril’s letter:
“But I turn to a subject more fitting to myself and remind you as a brother in Christ always to be very careful about what you say to the people in matters of teaching and of your thought on the faith. You should bear in mind that to scandalise even one of these little ones that believe in Christ lays you open to unendurable wrath. If the number of those who are distressed is very large, then surely we should use every skill and care to remove scandals and to expound the healthy word of faith to those who seek the truth. The most effective way to achieve this end will be zealously to occupy ourselves with the words of the holy fathers, to esteem their words, to examine our words to see if we are holding to their faith as it is written, to conform our thoughts to their correct and irreproachable teaching.
“The holy and great synod, therefore, stated that “ 1. the only begotten Son, begotten of God the Father according to nature, true God from true God, the light from the light, the one through whom the Father made all things, came down, became incarnate, became man, 2. suffered, rose on the third day and ascended to heaven.
“We too ought to follow these words and these teachings and consider what is meant by saying that the Word from God took flesh and became man. For we do not say that the nature of the Word was changed and became flesh, nor that He was turned into a whole man made of body and soul. Rather do we claim that the Word in an unspeakable, inconceivable manner united to Himself hypostatically flesh enlivened by a rational soul, and so became man and was called son of man, not by God's will alone or good pleasure, nor by the assumption of a person alone. Rather did two different natures come together to form a unity, and from both arose one Christ, one Son.
It was not as though the distinctness of the natures was destroyed by the union, but divinity and humanity together made perfect for us one Lord and one Christ, together marvellously and mysteriously combining to form a unity. So He who existed and was begotten of the Father before all ages is also said to have been begotten according to the flesh of a woman, without the divine nature either beginning to exist in the holy virgin, or needing of itself a second begetting after that from his Father.
(For it is absurd and stupid to speak of the one who existed before every age and is coeternal with the Father, needing a second beginning so as to exist.) The Word is said to have been begotten according to the flesh, because for us and for our salvation He united what was human to himself hypostatically and came forth from a woman. For He was not first begotten of the holy virgin, a man like us, and then the Word descended upon Him; but from the very womb of His mother He was so united and then underwent begetting according to the flesh, making His own the begetting of His own flesh.
“In a similar way we say that He suffered and rose again, not that the Word of God suffered blows or piercing with nails or any other wounds in His own nature (for the divine, being without a body, is incapable of suffering), but because the body which became His own suffered these things, He is said to have suffered them for us. For He was without suffering, while His body suffered. Something similar is true of His dying.
For by nature the Word of God is of itself immortal and incorruptible and life and life-giving, but since on the other hand His own body by God's grace, as the apostle says, tasted death for all, the Word is said to have suffered death for us, not as if He Himself had experienced death as far as His own nature was concerned (it would be sheer lunacy to say or to think that), but because, as I have just said, His flesh tasted death. So too, when His flesh was raised to life, we refer to this again as His resurrection, not as though he had fallen into corruption--God forbid--but because His body had been raised again.
“So we shall confess one Christ and one Lord. We do not adore the man along with the Word, so as to avoid any appearance of division by using the word "with". But we adore Him as one and the same, because the body is not other than the Word, and takes its seat with Him beside the Father, again not as though there were two sons seated together but only one, united with his own flesh. If, however, we reject the hypostatic union as being either impossible or too unlovely for the Word, we fall into the fallacy of speaking of two sons.
We shall have to distinguish and speak both of the man as honoured with the title of son, and of the Word of God as by nature possessing the name and reality of sonship, each in His own way. We ought not, therefore, to split into two sons the one Lord Jesus Christ. Such a way of presenting a correct account of the faith will be quite unhelpful, even though some do speak of a union of persons. For scripture does not say that the Word united the person of a man to Himself, but that He became flesh. The Word's becoming flesh means nothing else than that He partook of flesh and blood like us; He made our body His own, and came forth a man from woman without casting aside His deity, or His generation from God the Father, but rather in His assumption of flesh remaining what He was.
“This is the account of the true faith everywhere professed. So shall we find that the holy fathers believed. So have they dared to call the holy virgin, mother of God, not as though the nature of the Word or His godhead received the origin of their being from the holy virgin, but because there was born from her His holy body rationally ensouled, with which the Word was hypostatically united and is said to have been begotten in the flesh. These things I write out of love in Christ exhorting you as a brother and calling upon you before Christ and the elect angels, to hold and teach these things with us, in order to preserve the peace of the churches and that the priests of God may remain in an unbroken bond of concord and love.”
O God, You made Cyril, Your blessed confessor bishop, the invincible champion of the most blessed Virgin Mary's divine Motherhood. We firmly believe that she is truly the Mother of God. May her motherly protection save us through the prayers of St. Cyril. Through Our Lord . . .