VATICAN - Saint Cyril of Alexandria, “tireless and steadfast witness” of Jesus Christ, Incarnate Word of God: General Audience Pope Benedict XVI continues his teaching on the Apostolic Fathers

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Vatican City (Agenzia Fides) - This morning Pope Benedict XVI arrived from Castel Gandolfo to take up residence again in the Vatican now that the Summer is over. Then, during the weekly Audience in St. Peter's Square, the Holy Father dwelt on the figure of Saint Cyril of Alexandria. “Connected with the Christological controversy which led to the Council of Ephesus in 431 and last important representative of the Alexandrian tradition in the Greek east, Cyril was later known as ‘custodian of exactness’ - meaning custodian of the truth faith - and indeed even ‘seal of the Fathers’, the Pope said in his address. Cyril in fact made constant reference to earlier ecclesiastical authors, to demonstrate the continuity of his theology with the tradition of the Church, “in which he recognised the guarantee of continuity with the Apostles and with Christ himself ”.
Venerated as a saint in the east and in the west, Cyril in 1882 was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII. We know little about his life before his election to the see of Alexandria. Nephew of Theophilus, Cyril, probably born in Alexandria of Egypt between 370 and 380, received a good cultural and theological education. On the death of his uncle Theophilus in 412, Cyril, still young, was elected Bishop of Alexandria, and he governed with great energy for thirty two years. In 417 or 418, “the Bishop of Alexandria demonstrated his realism by healing the breach in communion with Constantinople, which had happened in 406 as a consequence of the deposition of Chrysostom” Pope Benedict XVI recalled . However the old dispute with the see of Constantinople flared up again in 428, with the election to that see of Nestorius, who “in his preaching preferred for Mary the title of 'Mother of Christ’ (Christotòkos), rather than the one - already dear to popular devotion - ‘Mother of God (Theotòkos). The reason for the choice of Bishop Nestorius was his support for Antiochian type of Christology, which, to safeguard the importance of Christ's humanity, ended up affirming the division from divinity”.
Cyril - at the time the most important exponent of Alexandrian Christology, which instead laid emphasis on the unity of Christ's person - reacted firmly, addressing even a few letters to Nestorius, recalling the “Bishop's duty to preserve the faith of the People of God” illustrating his Christological faith with great clarity: “We affirm that different are the natures united in real unity, but from both comes only one Christ and Son, not that because of the unity the difference of the natures is eliminated, but rather because divinity and humanity, united in unspeakable and inennarrable unity, produced for us One Lord and Christ and Son ”. The Bishop of Alexandria had Nestorius repeatedly condemned, also by the 3rd ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431. The gathering, held with alternating vicissitudes, concluded with the first great triumph of devotion to Mary and with the exile of the Bishop of Constantinople who refused to recognise the Blessed Virgin with the title "Mother of God". Cyril managed however in 433 to reach a theological formula of compromise and reconciliation with the Antiochians. “And this too is significant - the Pontiff underlined -: on the one hand there is clarity of the doctrine of the faith but on the other an intense quest for unity and reconciliation”. Cyril sought with every means to defend and explain his theological position until his death on 27 June 444.
Cyril left a great number of writings, already diffused and even translated in various Latin and eastern translations during his life, which “are of primary importance for the history of Christianity”: commentaries on many books of the Old and New Testaments, many doctrinal works to defend the Trinitarian faith and in response to anti-Christian controversy . “Of Jesus Christ, incarnate Word of God, Saint Cyril of Alexandria was a tireless and steadfast witness - the Holy Father concluded -, underlining above all His unity… faith in Jesus Logos born of the Father and well rooted in history because, as Saint Cyril affirms, this Jesus came into time with his birth from Mary the Theotòkos, and as he has promised is with us always. This is important: God is eternal, he was born of a woman and is with us day after day. In this trust we live, in this trust we find the path of our life.” (S.L.) (Agenzia Fides 4/10/2007 - righe 49, parole 717)