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Remembering Cyril of Alexandria and the Twelve Anathemas

Cyril of Alexandria died on June 27, 444. Although his reputation has not survived entirely unscathed over the years, he is still widely regarded as one of the most important and influential theologians of the early church, and a staunch opponent of Nestorian christologies in any form. Here are the Twelve Anathemas that Cyril leveled against Nestorius and his supporters, arguing that the personal unity of Christ in the incarnation is of vital importance for Christian theology.

  1. If anyone does not confess the Emmanuel to be truly God, and hence the holy virgin to be Mother of God (for she gave birth in the flesh to the Word of God made flesh), let him be anathema.
  2. If anyone does not confess that the Word of God the Father was hypostatically united to the flesh so as to be One Christ with his own flesh, that is the same one at once God and man, let him be anathema.
  3. If anyone divides the hypostases of the One Christ after the union, connecting them only by a conjunction in terms of honour or dignity or sovereignty, and not rather by a combination in terms of natural union, let him be anathema.
  4. If anyone interprets the sayings in the Gospels and apostolic writings, or the things said about Christ by the saints, or the things he says about himself, as referring to two prosopa or hypostases, attributing some of them to a man conceived of as separate from the Word of God, and attributing others (as divine) exclusively to the Word of God the Father, let him be anathema.
  5. If anyone should dare to say that Christ was a God-bearing man and not rather that he is truly God as the one natural Son, since the Word became flesh and ‘shared in flesh and blood just like us’ (Heb.2.14), let him be anathema.
  6. If anyone says that the Word of God the Father is the God or Lord of Christ, and does not rather confess the same one is at once God and man, since according to the scriptures the Word has become flesh, let him be anathema.
  7. If anyone says that Jesus as a man was activated by the Word of God and invested with the glory of the Only Begotten, as being someone different to him, let him be anathema.
  8. If anyone should dare to say that the assumed man ought to be worshipped along with God the Word and co-glorified and called ‘God’ as if he were one alongside another (for the continual addition of the phrase ‘along with’ demands this interpretation) and does not rather worship the Emmanuel with a single veneration and render him a single doxology since the Word became flesh, let him be anathema.
  9. If anyone says that the One Lord Jesus Christ was glorified by the Spirit, using the power that came through him as if it were foreign to himself, and receiving from him the power to work against unclean spirits and to accomplish divine signs for men, and does not rather say that the Spirit is his very own, through whom he also worked the divine signs, let him be anathema.
  10. The divine scripture says that Christ became ‘the high priest and apostle of our confession’ (Heb.3.1) and ‘offered himself for our sake as a fragrant sacrifice to God the Father’ (Eph.5.2). So if anyone says that it was not the very Word of God who became our high priest and apostle when he became flesh and man as we are, but it was someone different to him, a separate man born of a woman; or if anyone says that he made the offering also for himself and not rather for us alone (for he who knew no sin had no need of offerings), let him be anathema.
  11. If anyone does not confess that the Lord’s flesh is life-giving and the very-own flesh of the Word of God the Father, but says that it is the flesh of someone else, different to him, and joined to him in terms of dignity, or indeed only having a divine indwelling, rather than being life-giving, as we have said, because it has become the personal flesh of the Word who has the power to bring all things to life, let him be anathema.
  12. If anyone does not confess that the Word of God suffered in the flesh, was crucified in the flesh, and tasted death in the flesh, becoming the first-born from the dead, although as God he is life and life-giving, let him be anathema.

Cyril vs. Theodore – exegetical grudge match or hermeneutical harmony?

[We are continuing the process of posting papers from last semester’s class on the Greek Fathers. In this paper, Andy Peloquin argues that the divide between Alexandrian and Antiochene exegetical methodologies is not as great as commonly believed.]

The Exegesis of Cyril of Alexandria and Theodore of Mopsuestia: A Play in Three Acts

There is a common conception that characterizes the method of exegesis in Alexandria and Antioch as allegorical versus literal, respectively. However, recent study indicates that this may not be as simple as it sounds. Therefore to illustrate the precariousness of this premise, this study focuses on two of the most exegetically notable individuals that represent each school from the fourth to fifth centuries: Cyril of Alexandria and Theodore of Mopsuestia, and how they compare with the ‘stereotypes’ of the exegetical methods from their respective schools. In order to do this, three areas are examined: the general Alexandrian and Antiochene exegetical methods; the exegetical distinctives of Cyril of Alexandria and Theodore of Mopsuestia as they compare to these general methods; and as a point of illustration, a comparison of each of their works, in this case, their introductions to commentaries on the book of Jonah. It is shown that this simplification of these schools does not in fact hold up under scrutiny and that the positions of the exegetes were far more nuanced than this classification suggests.

Christians did not burn the library at Alexandria and other things “Agora” gets wrong

David Hart has a great piece at First Things today, “The Perniciously Persistent Myths of Hypatia and the Great Library,” responding to the movie Agora and its depiction of Christians burning the library in Alexandria and murdering Hypatia, a non-Christian woman philosopher. Hart argues that there are problems with both parts of the story, beginning with the fact that the first never happened.

The tale of a Christian destruction of the Great Library—so often told, so perniciously persistent—is a tale about something that never happened. By this, I do not mean that there is some divergence of learned opinion on the issue, or that the original sources leave us in some doubt as to the nature of the event. I mean that nothing of the sort ever occurred.

He goes on to point out that the library was likely destroyed much earlier and that you find no evidence for Christian involvement in its destruction until the 18th century.

With respect to Hypatia, there is no denying that she was brutally murdered and that Christians did it. That absolutely remains a black spot on the record of early Christianity. But, Hart helpfully points out that she was killed for the reasons identified in the movie or in popular imagination. In other words, she wasn’t killed because she was a woman (female teachers being common in Alexandria), because she was a scientist of philosopher (both well supported by Alexandrian Christians), or because she was an enemy of the faith (she had a number of prominent Christian friends). No, Hart argues that she was murdered because she unfortunately got caught in a power struggle between Cyril of Alexandria and the city’s imperial prefect. So, he concludes:

In the end, the true story of Hypatia—which no one will ever make into a film—tells us very little about ancient religion, or about the relation between ancient Christianity and the sciences, and absolutely nothing about some alleged perennial conflict between Christianity and science; but it does tell us a great deal about social class in the late Hellenistic world.

The post is well worth reading, as are some of the comments, if you’d like to understand these events a bit better.

Greek Fathers Annotated Bibliography

We’ve started posting a number of papers and abstracts that some of the Th.M. students wrote during last semester’s class on the Greek Fathers. The class started with Irenaeus and Origen as two fathers who exercised a profound influence on the later Greek Fathers. We then worked our way from Athanasius to John of Damascus. So far we’ve posted the papers that were written on Irenaeus, Origen, Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, and John of Damascus. We’ll be posting a few others over the next couple of weeks.

We also compiled a working Greek Fathers Annotated Bibliography. This is far from an exhaustive bibliography, but it does provide good resources on each of the individuals studied as well as a number of resources on theosis.