Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Pius XII On St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria

ORIENTALIS ECCLESIAE

Encyclical of His Holiness Pope Pius XII On St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria on April 9, 1944

To Our Venerable Brethren the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops and other Ordinaries at Peace and in Communion with the Apostolic See

Venerable Brethren, Health and Our Apostolic Benediction

St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, glory of the Eastern Church and celebrated champion of the Virgin Mother of God, has always been held by the Church in the highest esteem, and We welcome the opportunity of recalling his merits in this brief Letter, now that fifteen centuries have passed since he happily exchanged this earthly exile for his heavenly home.

2. Our Predecessor St. Celestine I hailed him as 'good defender of the Catholic faith,'[1] as 'excellent priest,'[2] as 'apostolic man.'[3] The ecumenical Council of Chalcedon not only used his doctrine for the detecting and refuting of the latest errors, but went so far as to compare it with the learning of St. Leo the Great;[4] and in fact the latter praised and commended the writings of this great Doctor because of their perfect agreement with the faith of the holy Fathers.[5] The fifth ecumenical Council, held at Constantinople, treated St. Cyril's authority with similar reverence[6] and many years later, during the controversy about the two wills in Christ, his teaching was rightly and triumphantly vindicated, both in the first Lateran Council[7] and in the sixth ecumenical Council, against the false charge of being tainted with the error of Monothelitism. He was, as Our saintly Predecessor Agatho proclaimed, 'a defender of the truth'[8] and 'a consistent teacher of the orthodox faith.'[9]

3. We therefore think it proper in this Letter to give some account of his spotless life, faith, and virtue; and this for the benefit of all, but especially of those who belong to the Eastern Church and therefore have good reason to be proud of this luminary of Christian wisdom, this valiant hero of the apostolate.

4. Born of distinguished family, he was raised to the See of Alexandria ─ so tradition tells us ─ in the year 412. His first conflict was with the Novatians and others who attacked the integrity and purity of the faith, and against these he preached, wrote, and issued decrees, ever alert, ever fearless. Later, when the blasphemous heresy of Nestorius began to spread gradually through the East the watchful Pastor was quick to perceive the growth of these new errors and zealous in protecting his flock against them. Throughout this stormy period, and especially at the Council of Ephesus, he showed himself the invincible champion and learned teacher of the divine maternity of the Virgin Mary, of the hypostatic union in Christ, and of the Primacy of the Roman Pontiff. But the leading part which St. Cyril played in these important events has already been admirably described and explained by Our immediate Predecessor of happy memory Pius XI, in the Encyclical Lux Veritatis[10] with which in the year 1931 he celebrated the fifteenth centenary of that ecumenical Council, and therefore it would be superfluous to enter into the details of it here.

5. For Cyril, however, it was not enough to fight vigorously against heresies as they arose, not enough to guard the integrity of Catholic doctrine with energy and solicitude and throw the fullest possible light upon it; he was also untiring in his labors to recall his erring brethren to the straight path of the truth. For when the Bishops of the Province of Antioch were still refusing to recognize the authority of the holy Council of Ephesus, it was due to his efforts that they were at length, after long vicissitudes, brought to complete agreement. And it was only after he had succeeded with God's help in accomplishing this happy reunion and in guarding and securing it against misconceptions that, being now ripe for the reward of everlasting glory, he was taken up to heaven in the year 444, mourned by all men of good will.

6. The faithful of the Eastern rite not only count St. Cyril among the 'ecumenical Fathers,' but also honor him with the deepest veneration in their liturgical prayers. Thus the Greeks chant in the Menaia of the 9th June:

Enlightened in mind by the flames of the Holy Spirit, thou hast uttered oracles even as the sun sends forth its rays. To the ends of the earth and to all the faithful thy teaching has gone forth, O most blessed Saint, illuminating all sorts and conditions of men, and dispelling darkness of heresy by the power and strength of that Light who was born of the Virgin.

7. And the sons of the Eastern Church have every right to rejoice and take pride in this holy Father as one who is peculiarly and especially their own. For he is above all pre-eminent in those three qualities which have so greatly distinguished the other Fathers of the East: an outstanding sanctity of life, marked by a specially ardent devotion to the august Mother of God; exceptional learning, such that the Sacred Congregation of Rites, by a decree of the 28th July, 1882, declared him a Doctor of the Universal Church; and finally an energetic zeal in fearlessly repelling the attacks of heretics, in asserting the Catholic faith, and in defending and spreading the Gospel to the full extent of his power.

8. But our great joy in the deep veneration which all the Christian peoples of the East have for St. Cyril is mingled with an equal regret that not all of them have come together into that desired unity of which he was the ardent lover and promoter. And especially do We deplore that this should be so at the present time, when it is above all necessary that all Christ's faithful ones should labor together in heart and endeavor for union in the one Church of Jesus Christ, so that they may present a common, serried, united, and unyielding front to the daily growing attacks of the enemies of religion.

9. For this to be brought about it is absolutely necessary that all should take St. Cyril as their model in striving for a true harmony of souls, a harmony established by that triple bond which Christ Jesus, the Founder of the Church, willed to be the supernatural and unbreakable link provided by Him for binding and holding together: the bond of one faith, of one charity towards God and all men, and of one obedience and rightful submission to the hierarchy established by the Divine Redeemer Himself. As you know full well, Venerable Brethren, these three bonds are so necessary that, if any one of them be lacking, true unity and harmony in the Church of Christ is unthinkable.

10. Throughout the troubled times of his life on earth the Patriarch of Alexandria taught all men, both by word and by conspicuous example, how this true harmony is to be achieved and steadfastly maintained ─ and We would have him do this also today.

11. And first, as regards the unity of the Christian faith, St. Cyril's untiring energy and unyielding tenacity in guarding it are well known.

We (he writes), to whom the truth and the doctrines of truth are most dear, refuse to follow these (heretics); we, taking the faith of the holy Fathers as our guide, will guard against all errors the divine revelation committed to our trust.[11]

12. In this cause he was prepared to fight even to death and at the cost of the greatest sufferings:

For the faith that is in Christ (he says) it is my greatest wish to toil, to live, and to die.[12] Only let the faith be kept safe and untarnished . . . and no insults, no injuries, no reproaches can move me.[13]

13. And he expressed his valiant and noble desire for the palm of martyrdom in these generous words:

I have made up my mind that for the faith of Christ I will undergo any labor, suffer any torments, even those tortures which are counted most grievous, until I am granted the joy of dying for this cause.[14] . . . For if we are deterred by the fear of suffering some misfortune from preaching God's truth for His glory, with what countenance can we preach to the people in praise of the sufferings and triumphs of the holy martyrs?[15]

14. Animated discussions about the new Nestorian heresy were going on in the monasteries of Egypt, and the watchful Bishop writes to warn the monks of the fallacies and dangers of this doctrine, not, however, in order to foment dissensions and controversies, but (he says, so that if any should chance to attack you, you may be able to oppose their vanities with the truth, and so not only yourselves be saved from the disaster of error but also be able fraternally to convince others with suitable arguments, and thus help them to preserve forever in their hearts the pearl of that faith was delivered through the holy Apostles to the Churches.[16]

15. Moreover, he plainly saw ─ as may be gathered easily from a reading of his letters on the subject of the Antiochene Bishops ─ that this Christian faith, which we must at all costs preserve and protect, has been delivered to us through the Sacred Scriptures and through the teaching of the Holy Fathers,[17] and is clearly and authentically set forth by the living and infallible teaching authority of the Church. Thus, when the Bishops of the Province of Antioch claimed that for the restoration and maintenance of peace it was enough if they kept the faith of the Council of Nicaea, St. Cyril, while himself firmly adhering to the Nicene Creed, also required of his brethren in the Episcopate, as a condition of reunion, that they should reject and condemn the Nestorian heresy. For he quite well understood that it is not enough to accept willingly the ancient pronouncements of the teaching office of the Church, but that it is also necessary to believe humbly and loyally all that is subsequently enjoined upon our faith by the Church in virtue of her supreme authority.

16. Even on the plea of promoting unity it is not allowed to dissemble one single dogma; for, as the Patriarch of Alexandria warns us, 'although the desire of peace is a noble and excellent thing, yet we must not for its sake neglect the virtue of loyalty in Christ.'[18] Consequently, the much desired return of erring sons to true and genuine unity in Christ will not be furthered by exclusive concentration on those doctrines which all, or most, communities glorying in the Christian name accept in common. The only successful method will be that which bases harmony and agreement among Christ's faithful ones upon all the truths, and the whole of the truths, which God has revealed.

17. Let Cyril of Alexandria be a model to all in the energy and fortitude with which he defended the faith and kept it inviolate. No sooner did he discover the error of Nestorius than he wrote letters and other works in refutation of it, appealed to the Roman Pontiff and, acting in his name at the Council of Ephesus, crushed and condemned the growing heresy with admirable learning and unflinching courage. The result was that, when Cyril's 'dogmatic' letter had been publicly read, all the Fathers of the Council acclaimed it by solemn verdict as being in complete accordance with the true faith.

18. His apostolic energy led to his being unjustly deposed from his episcopal see, insulted by his brethren, condemned by an illegitimate council, and subjected to prison and many hardships; but he bore all with unruffled and invincible courage. And not only did he oppose the Bishops who had gone astray from the path of truth and unity; he did not hesitate, in the conscientious discharge of his holy duty, openly to resist even the Emperor himself. In addition to all this, as everybody knows, he wrote countless works in support and defense of the Christian faith, works which bear striking testimony to his extraordinary learning, his intrepid courage, and his pastoral zeal.

19. But faith must be accompanied by charity, charity which unites us all with one another and with Christ; charity which, under the inspiration and motion of the Divine Spirit, welds the members of the Mystical Body of the Redeemer together by an unbreakable bond.

20. This charity, however, must not refuse to embrace also those who have gone astray from the path of truth; and of this we may see an example in St. Cyril's remarkable conduct. Vigorously though he fought against the heresy of Nestorius, yet such was the ardent charity which animated him that, as he openly declared, he yielded to none in his love for Nestorius himself.[19] And in this he was right. Those who wander from the straight path are to be considered as ailing brethren, and treated with gentle and loving care. The Patriarch of Alexandria's prudent advice on this point is worth quoting:

This is a matter calling for the greatest moderation.[20] . . . In many cases a violent clash only drives people to insolence; and it is better to treat your opponents with kindness than to make them suffer by applying the rigor of the law. If they were physically ill you would handle their bodies gently; so in like manner prudence is the best medicine to use in the treatment of ailing souls. Gradually they too will be brought to a proper state of mind.[21] And elsewhere he adds:

21. We followed the example of skillful doctors, who do not immediately apply the drastic remedies of fire and steel as soon as disease or hurt have appeared in the human body; first they soothe the wound with milder liniments, only when the proper time has come do they use cautery and the knife.[22] Filled with this spirit of compassion and loving-kindness towards erring souls, he professes that he is 'the friend of peace and altogether averse to controversy and quarrels; a man, in short, who desires to love everybody and to be loved by everybody in return.'[23]

23. The Holy Doctor's ready inclination for peace was shown especially when he mitigated his earlier severity and devoted his energies to bringing about reunion with the Bishops of the Province of Antioch. Referring to their ambassador he writes:

He was probably expecting great difficulty in persuading us that it was needful to unite the Churches in peace and harmony, to deprive the heterodox of the excuse for mockery, and to repel the forces of diabolical malice. He found us, on the contrary, so much disposed to this course that he met with no difficulty whatever. For we are mindful of our Savior's words: 'My peace I give to you, my peace I leave unto you.'[24]

24. Among the obstacles to this reunion were the twelve 'Chapters' which St. Cyril had drawn up at the Synod of Alexandria, and which were rejected by the Antiochene Bishops as unorthodox because they spoke of a 'physical union' in Christ. With the utmost readiness the Patriarch, while not withdrawing or repudiating these writings ─ for the doctrine they contained was orthodox ─ nevertheless wrote several letters to explain his meaning and remove any possibility of misunderstanding, and so clear the way to peace and harmony. These explanations he gave to the Bishops, treating them 'as brethren, and not as adversaries.'[25] 'For the sake of the peace of the Churches,' he says elsewhere, 'and to prevent them from being divided by difference of opinion, it is worthwhile to waive one's dignity.'[26] In this way St. Cyril's charity bore in abundance the desired fruits of peace; and when at last it was granted him to see the dawn of that reconciliation, when the Bishops of the Province of Antioch had condemned the Nestorian heresy and he was able to embrace them as brothers, he exclaimed with holy joy:

'Let the heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad.' For the middle wall of partition has been broken down; that which had caused us grief is now at peace; every matter of contention has now been removed; Christ, the Savior of us all, has granted peace to His Churches.[27]

25. As it was in those times long past, Venerable Brethren, so will it be also today. More effective than anything else for promoting that reunion of all our separated sons with the one Church of Christ for which all good men are striving, will be a sincere and practical goodwill, with the help and inspiration of God. The fruit of such goodwill is mutual understanding, an understanding which Our Predecessors have sought so earnestly to foster and increase by various means, in particular by founding in Rome the Pontifical Institute of Higher Oriental Studies.

26. This goodwill implies also a proper respect for those traditions which are the special heritage of the peoples of the East, whether these be concerned with the sacred liturgy and the hierarchical Orders or with other observances of the Christian life, so long as they are in keeping with the true faith and with the moral law. Each and every nation of Oriental rite must have its rightful freedom in all that is bound up with its own history and its own genius and character, saving always the truth and integrity of the doctrine of Jesus Christ.

27. We would have this to be known and appreciated by all, both by those who were born within the bosom of the Catholic Church, and by those who are wafted towards her, as it were, on the wings of yearning and desire. The latter especially should have full assurance that they will never be forced to abandon their legitimate rites or to exchange their own venerable and traditional customs for Latin rites and customs. All these are to be held in equal esteem and equal honor, for they adorn the common Mother Church with a royal garment of many colors. Indeed this variety of rites and customs, preserving inviolate what is most ancient and most valuable in each, presents no obstacle to a true and genuine unity. It is especially in these times of ours, when the strife and discord of war have estranged men's hearts from one another nearly all the world over, that all must be impelled by the stimulus of Christian charity to promote union in Christ and through Christ by every means in their power.

28. But the work of faith and charity would remain incomplete and powerless to establish unity firmly in Christ Jesus, unless it rested upon that unshaken rock upon which the Church is divinely founded, that is, upon the supreme authority of Peter and his Successors.

29. And this fact is proved clearly by the Patriarch of Alexandria's conduct in this important matter. Both in his work of repressing the Nestorian heresy and in that of reconciling the Bishops of the Province of Antioch, he remained constantly in close union with this Apostolic See.

30. As soon as the watchful Prelate perceived that the errors of Nestorius were spreading and growing, with increasing danger to the orthodox faith, he wrote to Our Predecessor St. Celestine I in the following terms:

Since God requires us to be vigilant in these matters, and since the ancient custom of the Church persuades us that questions of this kind should be communicated to Your Holiness, I write, driven by necessity.[28]

31. In reply the Roman Pontiff writes that 'he had embraced Cyril as though present in his letter,' since it was clear that 'they were of one mind concerning the Lord.'[29] So orthodox was the faith of this Doctor that the Sovereign Pontiff delegated to him the authority of the Apostolic See, in virtue of which he was to give effect to the decrees which had already been issued against Nestorius in the Synod of Rome. And it is evident, Venerable Brethren, that at the Council of Ephesus the Patriarch of Alexandria acted as the legal representative of the Roman Pontiff; for, although the latter also sent his own Legates, the chief instruction he gave them was that they should support the action and the authority of St. Cyril. It was therefore in the name of the Sovereign Pontiff that he presided at this holy Council, and he w as the first to sign its proceedings. Indeed, so manifest was the agreement between the Apostolic See and that of Alexandria that, after the public reading of St. Celestine's letter in the second session of the Council, the Fathers exclaimed:

This judgment is just. To Celestine, a new Paul; to Cyril, a new Paul; to Celestine, guardian of the faith; to Celestine, who is of one mind with the Synod, the whole of this Synod gives thanks. One Celestine, one Cyril, one faith of the Synod, one faith of the whole world.[30]

32. No wonder, then, that Cyril could write shortly afterwards:

To my orthodox faith the Roman Church has borne witness, and so too has a holy Synod gathered together, so to speak, from the whole of the earth that is under heaven.[31]

33. The same constant union of St. Cyril with the Apostolic See is clearly apparent in all that he did to effect and consolidate reunion with the Bishops of the Province of Antioch. Although Our Predecessor St. Celestine approved and ratified all that the Patriarch of Alexandria had done at the Council of Ephesus, he made an exception for the sentence of excommunication which the President of the Council, together with the other Fathers, had passed upon the Antiochenes. The Sovereign Pontiff wrote:

With regard to those who appear to have been of one mind and one impiety with Nestorius, . . . We have read the sentence you have passed upon them. Nevertheless, We also decree what seems to Us opportune. In these cases many circumstances have to be considered which the Apostolic See has always borne in mind . . . Should the Bishop of Antioch offer hope of being corrected, We would have Your Fraternity come to some Agreement with him by letter.... We must trust that by the divine mercy all may return to the way of truth.[32]

And it was in obedience to this instruction of the Roman See that St. Cyril began to take measures for bringing about reunion with the Bishops of the Province of Antioch.

34. Meanwhile, after St. Celestine's holy death, a report having been spread that his Successor St. Xystus III had objected to the deposition of Nestorius from his episcopal see, the Patriarch of Alexandria refuted these rumors: '(Xystus) has written in terms agreeing with the holy Synod,' he said; 'he has ratified all its proceedings and is of one mind with Us.'[33]

35. All this shows plainly enough that St. Cyril was in perfect accord with this Apostolic See and that Our Predecessors regarded his measures as their own, and gave them their complete approval. Thus St. Celestine, after other numerous proofs of his confidence in St. Cyril and his gratitude towards him, writes as follows:

We rejoice in the vigilance shown by Your Holiness, wherein you surpass even the example set by your predecessors, themselves always defenders of the orthodox faith.... You have laid bare all the wiles of crafty teachers.... This is indeed a great triumph that you have won for our faith, in asserting our truth so valiantly and thus overcoming opposition to it by the testimony of Holy Writ.[34]

36. And when St. Xystus III, his successor in the Papacy, had received news from the Patriarch of Alexandria that peace and reconciliation had been established, he wrote to him joyfully as follows:

Behold-while We were suffering great anxiety ─ for We would have none to perish ─ Your Holiness' letter brought Us news that the Body of the Church has been made whole again. Now that the structure of its members has been fitted together again, We see none outside or gone astray, for their one faith testifies that all are at their places within.... The whole brotherhood has now come to agreement with the blessed Apostle Peter; behold here an auditorium befitting the hearers, befitting the things heard therein.... Our brethren are come back to us, to us whose common aim had been to attack the disease that we might bring health to souls.... Rejoice, beloved Brother, rejoice in triumph over the return of our brethren to us. The Church had been seeking those whom she has now received back again. If we would not have any even of the little ones to perish, how much more must we rejoice now that their rulers are safe.[35]

37. It was with the consolation which he derived from these words of Our Predecessor that the Prelate of Alexandria, this invincible champion of the orthodox faith, this most earnest promoter of Christian unity, passed to his rest in the peace of Christ.

38. And We, Venerable Brethren, as We celebrate the fifteenth centenary of this heavenly birthday, have no more earnest desire than to see all who can be called Christians take St. Cyril as their model, and work ever more and more zealously for the happy return of our separated brethren in the East to Us and to the one Church of Jesus Christ. Let there be in all one faith inviolate; in all one charity, uniting all together in the mystical Body of Jesus Christ; in all one earnest and practical loyalty to the See of Blessed Peter.

39. The furtherance of this worthy and meritorious work must be the special endeavor of those who live in the East and who, by mutual esteem, by friendly intercourse, and by the example of their spotless life, can more easily induce our separated brethren, and especially their clergy, to become reunited with the Church. But all the faithful, besides, can contribute by their prayers and supplications that God may establish throughout the world the one Kingdom of the divine Redeemer and His one fold for all.

40. Indeed, to all alike We recommend in a particular way that most effective aid, which in any work for the saving of souls must take the first place both in order of time and efficacy: fervent, humble, and confident prayer to God. And We would have them invoke the most powerful patronage of the Virgin Mother of God, that, through the gracious intercession of this most loving Mother of us all, the Divine Spirit may enlighten the minds of Eastern peoples with His heavenly light, and that all of us may be one in the one Church which Jesus Christ founded, and which that same Spirit, the Paraclete, nourishes with an unceasing rain of graces and stirs to sanctity.

41. To seminarists and to pupils of other colleges We specially commend the observance of the 'Day for the East'; on that day let prayers more than usually fervent be made to the Divine Shepherd of the whole Church, and let the hearts of the young be stimulated to a burning zeal for the achievement of this holy unity. Finally, let all, alike those who are in Sacred Orders and those who, as members of Catholic Action and other associations, are co-operating with the hierarchy of the Church, perseveringly direct their prayers, their writings, their discourses, to promoting this desired union of all Easterns with the common Father.

42. And God grant that this Our fatherly and urgent appeal may be given a friendly hearing by those separated Bishops and their flocks who, though divided from Us, yet admire and venerate the Patriarch of Alexandria as a hero of their own land. Let this great Doctor's teaching and example move them to restore peace by means of that triple bond which he himself so strongly urged as indispensable, and by which the divine Founder of the Church willed all His sons to be united together. Let them remember that We, by the Providence of God, to-day occupy that same Apostolic See to which the Patriarch of Alexandria felt bound in conscience to appeal, when he wanted to provide a sure defense of the orthodox faith against the errors of Nestorius, and to set a divine seal, so to speak, upon the reconciliation achieved with his separated brethren. And let them be assured that the same charity which inspired Our Predecessors inspires Us too; and that the chief object of Our constant desires and prayers is that the age-old obstacles between us may be happily removed, and the day dawn at last when there shall be one flock in one fold, all obedient with one mind to Jesus Christ and to His Vicar on earth.

43. We address a particular appeal to those of Our separated sons in the East who, though they hold St. Cyril in great veneration, yet refuse to acknowledge the authority of the Council of Chalcedon, because it solemnly defined that there are two natures in Jesus Christ. Let these bear in mind that the decrees which were later issued by the Council of Chalcedon as new errors arose are in no way contrary to the teaching of the Patriarch of Alexandria. As he himself clearly says,

Not everything that heretics say is to be denied and rejected out of hand, for they profess much of what we also assert.... So it is also with Nestorius. He is not wrong in saying that there are two natures in Christ, so far as he means that the flesh is distinct from the Word of God; for the nature of the Word is indeed distinct from the nature of flesh. But he does not profess the union of the natures as we do.[36]

44. Moreover, there is reason to hope that the modern followers of Nestorius also, if they examine St. Cyril's writings with unprejudiced mind and study them carefully, may see the path of truth Iying open before them and, through the inspiration and help of God, feel themselves called back to the bosom of the Catholic Church.

45. It only remains for Us now, Venerable Brethren, on the occasion of this fifteenth centenary of St. Cyril, to implore the most powerful patronage of this Holy Doctor for the whole Church, and especially for all those in the East who glory in the Christian name, imploring for our separated brethren and children that blessing which he himself once so joyfully described:

Behold the sundered members of the Body of the Church are reunited once again, and no further discord remains to divide the ministers of the Gospel of Christ.[37]

46. Sustained by this happy hope, We grant most lovingly in the Lord to each and every one of you, Venerable Brethren, and to the flocks committed to your care, as a pledge of heavenly blessings and in token of Our fatherly goodwill, Our Apostolic Benediction.

Given at St. Peter's, Rome, on the 9th day of April, Easter Sunday, in the year 1944, the sixth of Our Pontificate. 

REFERENCES:

1. Ep. 12,4: Migne, 50, col. 467.
2. Ep. 13, 2: ib., 471.
3. Ep. 25, 7: ib., 552.
4. Cf. Mansi, Vl, 953, 956-7; VII, 9.
5. Cf. Ep. ad Im., Theodosium: Migne P.L.., 54, col. 891.
6. Cf. Mansi, IX, 231 so,.
7. Cf. Mansi, X, 1076 sq.
8. Cf. mansi, XI, 270 so,.
9. Cf. ib., 262 sq.
10. A.A.S., XXIII (1931), pp. 493 sq.
11. Cf. In Joannem, lib. x: Migne, P.G., 74, col. 419.
12. Ep. 10; Migne, P.G., 77, col. 78.
13. Ep.9:ib.,62.
14. Ep. 10: ib., 70.
15. Ep. 9: ib., 63.
16. Ep. 1: ib., 14.
17. Ep. 55: ib., 202-203.
18. Ep. 61: ib., 325.
19. Cf. Ep. 9: ib., 62.
20. Cf. Ep. 57: ib., 322.
21. Ep. 58: ib., 322.
22. Ep. 18: ib., 123-126.
23. Cf.Ep.9:ib.,62.
24. Ep. 39: ib., 175.
25. Ep. 39: ib., 175.
26. Ep. 33: ib., 161.
27. Ep. 39: ib., 174.
28. Ep. 11: ib., 79.
29. Cf. Ep. ad Cyrillum: ib., 90.
30. Mansi, IV, 1287.
31. Apol. ad Theodos.: Migne, P.G., 76, col, 482.
32. Ep. 22: P.L., 50, col. 542-543.
33. Ep. 40: Migne, P.G., 77, col. 202.
34. Ep. 4, 1-2: Migne, P.L., 50. col. 561.
35. Ep. 5, 1, 3, 5: ib., 602-604.
36. Ep. 44: P.G., 77, col. 226.
37. Ep. 49: ib., 254.

St. Cyril of Alexandria

Catholic Encyclopedia

Doctor of the Church. St. Cyril has his feast in the Western Church on the 28th of January [feast date has changed]; in the Greek Menaea it is found on the 9th of June, and (together with St. Athanasius) on the 18th of January.


He seems to have been of an Alexandrian family and was the son of the brother of Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria; if he is the Cyril addressed by Isidore of Pelusium in Ep. xxv of Bk. I, he was for a time a monk. He accompanied Theophilus to Constantinople when that bishop held the "Synod of the Oak" in 402 and deposed St. John Chrysostom. Theophilus died 15 Oct., 412, and on the 18th Cyril was consecrated his uncle's successor, but only after a riot between his supporters and those of his rival Timotheus. Socrates complains bitterly that one of his first acts was to plunder and shut the churches of the Novatians. He also drove out of Alexandria the Jews, who had formed a flourishing community there since Alexander the Great. But they had caused tumults and had massacred the Christians, to defend whom Cyril himself assembled a mob. This may have been the only possible defence, since the Prefect of Egypt, Orestes, who was very angry at the expulsion of the Jews was also jealous of the power of Cyril, which certainly rivaled his own. Five hundred monks came down from Nitria to defend the patriarch. In a disturbance which arose, Orestes was wounded in the head by a stone thrown by a monk named Ammonius. The prefect had Ammonius tortured to death, and the young and fiery patriarch honoured his remains for a time as those of a martyr. The Alexandians were always riotous as we learn from Socrates (VII, vii) and from St. Cyril himself (Hom. for Easter, 419). In one of these riots, in 422, the prefect Callistus was killed, and in another was committed the murder of a female philosopher Hypatia, a highly-respected teacher of neo-Platoism, of advanced age and (it is said) many virtues. She was a friend of Orestes, and many believed that she prevented a reconciliation between the prefect and patriarch. A mob led by a lector, named Peter, dragged her to a church and tore her flesh with potsherds till she died. This brought great disgrace, says Socrates, on the Church of Alexandria and on its bishop; but a lector at Alexandria was not a cleric (Scr., V, xxii), and Socrates does not suggest that Cyril himself was to blame. Damascius, indeed, accuses him, but he is a late authority and a hater of Christians.

Theophilus, the persecutor of Chrysostom, had not the privilege of communion with Rome from that saint's death, in 406, until his own. For some years Cyril also refused to insert the name of St. Chrysostom in the diptychs of his Church, in spite of the requests of Chrysostom's supplanter, Atticus. Later he seems to have yielded to the representations of his spiritual father, Isidore of Pelusium (Isid., Ep. I, 370). Yet even after the Council of Ephesus that saint still found something to rebuke in him on this matter (Ep. I, 310). But at last Cyril seems to have long since been trusted by Rome.

It was in the winter of 427-28 that the Antiochene Nestorius became Patriarch of Constantinople. His heretical teaching soon became known to Cyril. Against him Cyril taught the use of the term Theotokus in his Paschal letter for 429 and in a letter to the monks of Egypt. A correspondence with Nestorius followed, in a more moderate tone than might have been expected. Nestorius sent his sermons to Pope Celestine, but he received no reply, for the latter wrote to St. Cyril for further information. Rome had taken the side of St. John Chrysostom against Theophilus, but had neither censured the orthodoxy of the latter, nor consented to the patriarchal powers exercised by the bishops of Constantinople. To St. Celestine Cyril was not only the first prelate of the East, he was also the inheritor of the traditions of Athanasius and Peter. The pope's confidence was not misplaced. Cyril had learnt prudence. Peter had attempted unsuccessfully to appoint a Bishop of Constantinople; Theophilus had deposed another. Cyril, though in this case Alexandria was in the right, does not act in his own name, but denounces Nestorius to St. Celestine, since ancient custom, he says, persuaded him to bring the matter before the pope. He relates all that had occurred, and begs Celestine to decree what he sees fit (typosai to dokoun─a phrase which Dr. Bright chooses to weaken into "formulate his opinion"), and communicate it also to the Bishops of Macedonia and of the East (i.e. the Antiochene Patriarchate).

The pope's reply was of astonishing severity. He had already commissioned Cassian to write his well known treatise on the Incarnation. He now summoned a council (such Roman councils had somewhat the office of the modern Roman Congregations), and dispatched a letter to Alexandria with enclosures to Constantinople, Philippi, Jerusalem, and Antioch. Cyril is to take to himself the authority of the Roman See and to admonish Nestorius that unless he recants within ten days from the receipt of this ultimatum, he is separated from "our body" (the popes of the day had the habit of speaking of the other churches as the members, of which they are the head; the body is, of course the Catholic Church). If Nestorius does not submit, Cyril is to "provide for" the Church of Constantinople. Such a sentence of excommunication and deposition is not to be confounded with the mere withdrawal of actual communion by the popes from Cyril himself at an earlier date, from Theophilus, or, in Antioch, from Flavian or Meletius. It was the decree Cyril had asked for. As Cyril had twice written to Nestorius, his citation in the name of the pope is to be counted as a third warning, after which no grace is to be given.

St. Cyril summoned a council of his suffragans, and composed a letter which were appended twelve propositions for Nestorius to anathematize. The epistle was not conciliatory, and Nestorius may well have been taken aback. The twelve propositions did not emanate from Rome, and were not equally clear; one or two of them were later among the authorities invoked by the Monophysite heretics in their own favour. Cyril was the head of the rival theological school to that of Antioch, where Nestorius had studied, and was the hereditary rival of the Constantinopolitan would-be patriarch. Cyril wrote also to John, Patriarch of Antioch, informing him of the facts, and insinuating that if John should support his old friend Nestorius, he would find himself isolated over against Rome, Macedonia, and Egypt. John took the hint and urged Nestorius to yield. Meanwhile, in Constantinople itself large numbers of the people held aloof from Nestorius, and the Emperor Theodosius II had been persuaded to summon a general council to meet at Ephesus. The imperial letters were dispatched 19 November, whereas the bishops sent by Cyril arrived at Constantinople only on 7 December. Nestorius, somewhat naturally, refused to accept the message sent by his rival, and on the 13th and 14th of December preached publicly against Cyril as a calumniator, and as having used bribes (which was probably as true as it was usual); but he declared himself willing to use the word Theotokos. These sermons he sent to John of Antioch, who preferred them to the anathematizations of Cyril. Nestorius, however, issued twelve propositions with appended anathemas. If Cyril's propositions might be taken to deny the two natures in Christ, those of Nestorius hardly veiled his belief in two distinct persons. Theodoret urged John yet further, and wrote a treatise against Cyril, to which the latter replied with some warmth. He also wrote an "Answer" in five books to the sermons of Nestorius.

As the fifteenth-century idea of an oecumenical council superior to the pope had yet to be invented, and there was but one precedent for such an assembly, we need not be surprised that St. Celestine welcomed the initiative of the emperor, and hoped for peace through the assembly. (See COUNCIL OF EPHESUS.) Nestorius found the churches of Ephesus closed to him, when he arrived with the imperial commissioner, Count Candidian, and his own friend, Count Irenaeus. Cyril came with fifty of his bishops. Palestine, Crete, Asia Minor, and Greece added their quotient. But John of Antioch and his suffragans were delayed. Cyril may have believed, rightly or wrongly, that John did not wish to be present at the trial of his friend Nestorius, or that he wished to gain time for him, and he opened the council without John, on 22 June, in spite of the request of sixty-eight bishops for a delay. This was an initial error, which had disastrous results.

The legates from Rome had not arrived, so that Cyril had no answer to the letter he had written to Celestine asking "whether the holy synod should receive a man who condemned what it preached, or, because the time of delay had elapsed, whether the sentence was still in force". Cyril might have presumed that the pope, in agreeing to send legates to the council, intended Nestorius to have a complete trial, but it was more convenient to assume that the Roman ultimatum had not been suspended, and that the council was bound by it. He therefore took the place of president, not only as the highest of rank, but also as still holding the place of Celestine, though he cannot have received any fresh commission from the pope. Nestorius was summoned, in order that he might explain his neglect of Cyril's former monition in the name of the pope. He refused to receive the four bishops whom the council sent to him. Consequently nothing remained but formal procedure. For the council was bound by the canons to depose Nestorius for contumacy, as he would not appear, and by the letter of Celestine to condemn him for heresy, as he had not recanted. The correspondence between Rome, Alexandria, and Constantinople was read, some testimonies where read from earlier writers show the errors of Nestorius. The second letter of Cyril to Nestorius was approved by all the bishops. The reply of Nestorius was condemned. No discussion took place. The letter of Cyril and the ten anathemaizations raised no comment. All was concluded at one sitting. The council declared that it was "of necessity impelled" by the canons and by the letter of Celestine to declare Nestorius deposed and excommunicated. The papal legates, who had been detained by bad weather, arrived on the 10th of July, and they solemnly confirmed the sentence by the authority of St. Peter, for the refusal of Nestorius to appear had made useless the permission which they brought from the pope to grant him forgiveness if he should repent. But meanwhile John of Antioch and his party had arrived on the 26th and 27th of June. They formed themselves into a rival council of forty-three bishops, and deposed Memnon, Bishop of Ephesus, and St. Cyril, accusing the latter of Apollinarianism and even of Eunomianism. Both parties now appealed to the emperor, who took the amazing decision of sending a count to treat Nestorius, Cyril, and Memnon as being all three lawfully deposed. They were kept in close custody; but eventually the emperor took the orthodox view, though he dissolved the council; Cyril was allowed to return to his diocese, and Nestorius went into retirement at Antioch. Later he was banished to the Great Oasis of Egypt.

Meanwhile Pope Celestine was dead. His successor, St. Sixtus III, confirmed the council and attempted to get John of Antioch to anathematize Nestorius. For some time the strongest opponent of Cyril was Theodoret, but eventually he approved a letter of Cyril to Acacius of Berhoea. John sent Paul, Bishop of Emesa, as his plenipotentiary to Alexandria, and he patched up reconciliation with Cyril. Though Theodoret still refused to denounce the defence of Nestorius, John did so, and Cyril declared his joy in a letter to John. Isidore of Pelusium was now afraid that the impulsive Cyril might have yielded too much (Ep. i, 334). The great patriarch composed many further treatises, dogmatic letters, and sermons. He died on the 9th or the 27th of June, 444, after an episcopate of nearly thirty-two years.

St. Cyril as a theologian

The principal fame of St. Cyril rests upon his defence of Catholic doctrine against Nestorius. That heretic was undoubtedly confused and uncertain. He wished, against Apollinarius, to teach that Christ was a perfect man, and he took the denial of a human personality in Our Lord to imply an Apollinarian incompleteness in His Human Nature. The union of the human and the Divine natures was therefore to Nestorius an unspeakably close junction, but not a union in one hypostasis. St. Cyril taught the personal, or hypostatic, union in the plainest terms; and when his writings are surveyed as a whole, it becomes certain that he always held the true view, that the one Christ has two perfect and distinct natures, Divine and human. But he would not admit two physeis in Christ, because he took physis to imply not merely a nature but a subsistent (i.e. personal) nature. His opponents misrepresented him as teaching that the Divine person suffered, in His human nature; and he was constantly accused of Apollinarianism. On the other hand, after his death Monophysitism was founded upon a misinterpretation of his teaching. Especially unfortunate was the formula "one nature incarnate of God the Word" (mia physis tou Theou Logou sesarkomene), which he took from a treatise on the Incarnation which he believed to be by his great predecessor St. Athanasius. By this phrase he intended simply to emphasize against Nestorius the unity of Christ's Person; but the words in fact expressed equally the single Nature taught by Eutyches and by his own successor Diascurus. He brings out admirably the necessity of the full doctrine of the humanity to God, to explain the scheme of the redemption of man. He argues that the flesh of Christ is truly the flesh of God, in that it is life-giving in the Holy Eucharist. In the richness and depth of his philosophical and devotional treatment of the Incarnation we recognize the disciple of Athanasius. But the precision of his language, and perhaps of his thought also, is very far behind that which St. Leo developed a few years after Cyril's death.

Cyril was a man of great courage and force of character. We can often discern that his natural vehemence was repressed and schooled, and he listened with humility to the severe admonitions of his master and advisor, St. Isidore. As a theologian, he is one of the great writers and thinkers of early times. Yet the troubles that arose out of the Council of Ephesus were due to his impulsive action; more patience and diplomacy might possibly even have prevented the vast Nestorian sect from arising at all. In spite of his own firm grasp of the truth, the whole of his patriarch fell away, a few years after his time, into a heresy based on his writings, and could never be regained by the Catholic Faith. But he has always been greatly venerated in the Church. His letters, especially the second letter to Nestorius, were not only approved by the Council of Ephesus, but by many subsequent councils, and have frequently been appealed to as tests of orthodoxy. In the East he was always honoured as one of the greatest of the Doctors. His Mass and Office as a Doctor of the Church were approved by Leo XIII in 1883.

His writings

The exegetical works of St. Cyril are very numerous. The seventeen books "On Adoration in Spirit and in Truth" are an exposition of the typical and spiritual nature of the Old Law. The Glaphyra or "brilliant", Commentaries on Pentateuch are of the same nature. Long explanations of Isaias and of the minor Prophets give a mystical interpretation after the Alexandrian manner. Only fragments are extant of other works on the Old Testament, as well as of expositions of Matthew, Luke, and some of the Epistles, but of that of St. Luke much is preserved in a Syriac version. Of St. Cyril's sermons and letters the most interesting are those which concern the Nestorian controversy. Of a great apologetic work in the twenty books against Julian the Apostate ten books remain. Among his theological treatises we have two large works and one small one on the Holy Trinity, and a number of treatises and tracts belonging to the Nestorian controversy.

The first collected edition of St. Cyril's works was by J. Aubert, 7 vols., Paris, 1638; several earlier editions of some portions in Latin only are enumerated by Fabricius. Cardinal Mai added more material in the second and third volumes of his "Bibliotheca nova Patrum", II-III, 1852; this is incorporated, together with much matter from the Catenæ published by Ghislerius (1633), Corderius, Possinus, and Cranor (1838), in Migne's reprint of Aubert's edition (P.G. LXVIII-LXVII, Paris, 1864). Better editions of single works include P. E. Pusey, "Cyrilli Alex. Epistolae tres oecumenicae, libri V c. Nestorium, XII capitum explanatio, XII capitum defensio utraque scholia de Incarnatione Unigeniti" (Oxford, 1875); "De recta fide ad principissas de recta fide ad Augustas, quad unus Christus, dialogus apologeticus ad Imp." (Oxford, 1877); "Cyrilli Alex. in XII Prophetas" (Oxford, 1868, 2 vols.); "In divi Joannis Evangelium" (Oxford, 1872, 3 vols., including the fragments on the Epistles). "Three Epistles, with revised text and English translation" (Oxford, 1872); translations in the Oxford "Library of the Fathers"; "Commentary on St. John", I (1874), II (1885); Five tomes against Nestorius" (1881); R. Payne Smith, "S. Cyrilli Alex. Comm. in Lucae evang. quae supersunt Syriace e manuscripts apud Mus. Brit." (Oxford, 1858); the same translated into English (Oxford, 1859, 2 vols.); W. Wright, "Fragments of the Homilies of Cyril of Alex. on St. Luke, edited from a Nitrian manuscript" (London, 1874); J. H. Bernard, "On Some Fragments of an Uncial manuscript of St. Cyril of Alex. Written on Papyrus" (Trans. of R. Irish Acad., XXIX, 18, Dublin, 1892); "Cyrilli Alex. librorum c. Julianum fragmenta syriaca", ed. E. Nestle etc. in "Scriptorum grecorum, qui Christianam impugnaverunt religionem", fasc. III (Leipzig, 1880). Fragments of the "Liber Thesaurorum" in Pitra, "Analecta sacra et class.", I (Paris, 1888).
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Source: Chapman, John. "St. Cyril of Alexandria." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Pseudo-Dionysius: "Most divine of all sacraments"

“Do thou, O holy Sacrament, most divine of all sacraments, lift the veils that envelope Thee with their symbols, reveal Thyself clearly to our sight, and fill the eyes of our mind with a unifying and clear light!”

~Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (6th cent.): Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, 3, 3.

The Institution of the Eucharist, by Joos van Wassenhove.
Oil on wood, 1473-75; Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Urbino.

Rufinus: God the Father

"That God then is the Father of His only Son our Lord is to be believed, not discussed; for it is not lawful for a servant to dispute about the nativity of his lord. The Father has borne witness from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased: hear Him.” The Father says that He is His Son and bids us hear Him. The Son says, “He who sees Me sees the Father also,” and “I and the Father are one,” and “I came forth from God and have come into the world.” Where is the man who can thrust himself as a disputant between these words of Father and Son, who can divide the Godhead, separate its volition, break asunder the substance, cut the spirit in parts, and deny that what the Truth speaks is true? God then is a true Father as the Father of the Truth, not begetting extrinsically, but generating the Son from that which Himself is; that is, as the All-wise He generates Wisdom, as the Just Justice, as the Everlasting the Everlasting, as the Immortal Immortality, as the Invisible the Invisible; because He is Light, He generates Brightness, because He is Mind, He generates the Word."

~Rufinus (344–410 A.D.): Commentary on the Apostles' Creed, 4.

Holy Family and God the Father, by Johann Karl Loth.
Oil on canvas, 1681; San Silvestro, Venice.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

St. Ambrose: "The heavenly and venerable sacrament"

"THEREFORE dost thou hear that as often as sacrifice is offered, the Lord’s death, the Lord’s resurrection, the Lord’s ascension and the remission of sins is signified, and dost thou not take this bread of life daily? He who has a wound needs a medicine. The wound is that we are under sin; the medicine is the heavenly and venerable sacrament."

~St. Ambrose of Milan (333-397 A.D.): Treatise on the Sacraments, 5, 4, 25.

Institution of the Eucharist, by Fra Angelico.
Fresco, 1441-42; Convento di San Marco, Florence.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

St. Augustine: "The sending of the Holy Spirit"

“THIS operation, visibly exhibited, and presented to mortal eyes, is called the sending of the Holy Spirit; not that His very substance appeared, in which He Himself also is invisible and unchangeable, like the Father and the Son, but that the hearts of men, touched by things seen outwardly, might be turned from the manifestation in time of Him as coming to His hidden eternity as ever present.”

~St. Augustine: De Trinitate, 2, 5.

Pentecost, by Sir Anthony van Dyck. Oil on canvas, 1618-20; Staatliche Museen, Berlin.

On St. Justin Martyr

"St. Justin, apologist and martyr, was one of the most important Christian writers of the second century. He himself tells how his study of all the schools of philosophy led him to Christianity, and how he dedicated his life to the defense of the Christian faith as "the one certain and profitable philosophy."

"St. Justin is particularly celebrated for the two Apologies which he was courageous enough to address in succession to the persecuting emperors Antoninus and Marcus Aurelius. One of them contains a description of the rites of baptism and the ceremonies of Mass, thus constituting the most valuable evidence that we possess on the Roman liturgy of his day. He was beheaded in Rome in 165. Justin is also referred to as the Philosopher." ─ catholicculture.org

● Read The First Apology by St. Justin.

Trial of Justin the Philosopher, by Fra Angelico; 1447-1450.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Origen: On Luke 1:46

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord. (Luke 1:46)

"NOW if the Lord could neither receive increase or decrease, what is this that Mary speaks of, My soul doth magnify the Lord? But if I consider that the Lord our Savior is the image of the invisible God, and that the soul is created according to His image, so as to be an image of an image, then I shall see plainly, that as after the manner of those who are accustomed to paint images, each one of us forming his soul after the image of Christ, makes it great or little, base or noble, after the likeness of the original so when I have made my soul great in thought, word, and deed, the image of God is made great, and the Lord Himself whose image it is, is magnified in my soul."

~Origen Adamantius (184 – 254). Quoted by St. Thomas Aquinas in Cantena Aurea: Gospel of St. Luke.


Visitation, by Mariotto Albertinelli.
Oil on wood, 1503; Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.



Sunday, May 28, 2017

St. Leo the Great: Sermon on the Lord's Ascension (1)

Sermon 73

I. The events recorded as happening after the Resurrection were intended to convince us of its truth

Since the blessed and glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, whereby the Divine power in three days raised the true Temple of God, which the wickedness of the Jews had overthrown, the sacred forty days, dearly-beloved, are today ended, which by most holy appointment were devoted to our most profitable instruction, so that, during the period that the Lord thus protracted the lingering of His bodily presence, our faith in the Resurrection might be fortified by needful proofs. For Christ's Death had much disturbed the disciples' hearts, and a kind of torpor of distrust had crept over their grief-laden minds at His torture on the cross, at His giving up the ghost, at His lifeless body's burial. For, when the holy women, as the Gospel-story has revealed, brought word of the stone rolled away from the tomb, the sepulchre emptied of the body, and the angels bearing witness to the living Lord, their words seemed like ravings to the Apostles and other disciples. Which doubtfulness, the result of human weakness, the Spirit of Truth would most assuredly not have permitted to exist in His own preacher's breasts, had not their trembling anxiety and careful hesitation laid the foundations of our faith. It was our perplexities and our dangers that were provided for in the Apostles: it was ourselves who in these men were taught how to meet the cavillings of the ungodly and the arguments of earthly wisdom. We are instructed by their lookings, we are taught by their hearings, we are convinced by their handlings. Let us give thanks to the Divine management and the holy Father.' necessary slowness of belief. Others doubted, that we might not doubt.

II. And therefore they are in the highest degree instructive

Those days, therefore, dearly-beloved, which intervened between the Lord's Resurrection and Ascension did not pass by in uneventful leisure, but great mysteries were ratified in them, deep truths revealed. In them the fear of awful death was removed, and the immortality not only of the soul but also of the flesh established. In them, through the Lord's breathing upon them, the Holy Ghost is poured upon all the Apostles, and to the blessed Apostle Peter beyond the rest the care of the Lord's flock is entrusted, in addition to the keys of the kingdom. Then it was that the Lord joined the two disciples as a companion on the way, and, to the sweeping away of all the clouds of our uncertainty, upbraided them with the slowness of their timorous hearts. Their enlightened hearts catch the flame of faith, and lukewarm as they have been, are made to burn while the Lord unfolds the Scriptures. In the breaking of bread also their eyes are opened as they eat with Him: how far more blessed is the opening of their eyes, to whom the glorification of their nature is revealed than that of our first parents, on whom fell the disastrous consequences of their transgression.

III. They prove the Resurrection of the flesh

And in the course of these and other miracles, when the disciples were harassed by bewildering thoughts, and the Lord had appeared in their midst and said, Peace be unto you , that what was passing through their hearts might not be their fixed opinion (for they thought they saw a spirit not flesh), He refutes their thoughts so discordant with the Truth, offers to the doubters' eyes the marks of the cross that remained in His hands and feet, and invites them to handle Him with careful scrutiny, because the traces of the nails and spear had been retained to heal the wounds of unbelieving hearts, so that not with wavering faith, but with most steadfast knowledge they might comprehend that the Nature which had been lain in the sepulchre was to sit on God the Father's throne.

IV. Christ's ascension has given us greater privileges and joys than the devil had taken from us

Accordingly, dearly-beloved, throughout this time which elapsed between the Lord's Resurrection and Ascension, God's Providence had this in view, to teach and impress upon both the eyes and hearts of His own people that the Lord Jesus Christ might be acknowledged to have as truly risen, as He was truly born, suffered, and died. And hence the most blessed Apostles and all the disciples, who had been both bewildered at His death on the cross and backward in believing His Resurrection, were so strengthened by the clearness of the truth that when the Lord entered the heights of heaven, not only were they affected with no sadness, but were even filled with great joy. And truly great and unspeakable was their cause for joy, when in the sight of the holy multitude, above the dignity of all heavenly creatures, the Nature of mankind went up, to pass above the angels' ranks and to rise beyond the archangels' heights, and to have Its uplifting limited by no elevation until, received to sit with the Eternal Father, It should be associated on the throne with His glory, to Whose Nature It was united in the Son. Since then Christ's Ascension is our uplifting, and the hope of the Body is raised, whither the glory of the Head has gone before, let us exult, dearly-beloved, with worthy joy and delight in the loyal paying of thanks. For today not only are we confirmed as possessors of paradise, but have also in Christ penetrated the heights of heaven, and have gained still greater things through Christ's unspeakable grace than we had lost through the devil's malice. For us, whom our virulent enemy had driven out from the bliss of our first abode, the Son of God has made members of Himself and placed at the right hand of the Father, with Whom He lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.
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Source. Translated by Charles Lett Feltoe. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 12. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1895.


Ascension of Christ, by Andrea da Firenze. Fresco, 1366-67.
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Origen: Mary, Mother of All

“NO one may understand the meaning of the Gospel [of St. John], if he has not rested on the breast of Jesus and received Mary from Jesus, to be his mother also.”

~Origen (184 – 254 A.D.): In Jn. 1, 6.

Madonna of Humility, by Fra Angelico.
Tempera and gold on panel, c. 1418; The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

St. Augustine: "Understanding is the reward of faith"

"FOR understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore do not seek to understand in order to believe, but believe that you may understand."

~St. Augustine: Tractate 29, 6, in Tractates (Lectures) on the Gospel of John. 

Allegory of Faith, by Moretto da Brescia;
Oil on panel, c. 1540; The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

St. John Chrysostom: "Christ hath risen"

“WHERE is thy sting, O death? Where is thy victory, O hell? Christ hath risen, and thou art overthrown. Christ hath risen, and the demons have fallen. Christ hath risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ has risen, and life reigneth. Christ hath risen, and not one dead resteth in the grave. For Christ having risen from the dead became the first-fruits of them that slept. To Him be glory and majesty to ages of ages. Amen.”

─Byzantine Pentekostarion, Holy Pascha, Catechetical Discourse of St. John Chrysostom at Matins.


The Resurrection, by Passignano.
Oil on canvas, 1600-25; Pinacoteca, Vatican.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

St. John Damascene: The Annunciation and Incarnation

Concerning the manner in which the Word was conceived, and concerning His divine incarnation.

THE angel of the Lord was sent to the holy Virgin, who was descended from David's line. (Lk 1:27) For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah, of which tribe no one turned his attention to the altar (Heb 7:14), as the divine apostle said: but about this we will speak more accurately later. And bearing glad tidings to her, he said, Hail thou highly favoured one, the Lord is with you. (Lk 1:28) And she was troubled at his word, and the angel said to her, Fear not, Mary, for you have found favour with God, and shall bring forth a Son and shall call His name Jesus ; for He shall save His people from their sins. (Mt 1:21) Hence it comes that Jesus has the interpretation Saviour. And when she asked in her perplexity, How can this be, seeing I know not a man? (Lk 1:34) The angel again answered her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you. Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God. (Lk 1:35) And she said to him, Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it unto me according to Your word.

So then, after the assent of the holy Virgin, the Holy Spirit descended on her, according to the word of the Lord which the angel spoke, purifying her, and granting her power to receive the divinity of the Word, and likewise power to bring forth. And then was she overshadowed by the enhypostatic Wisdom and Power of the most high God, the Son of God Who is of like essence with the Father as of Divine seed, and from her holy and most pure blood He formed flesh animated with the spirit of reason and thought, the first-fruits of our compound nature : not by procreation but by creation through the Holy Spirit: not developing the fashion of the body by gradual additions but perfecting it at once, He Himself, the very Word of God, standing to the flesh in the relation of subsistence. For the divine Word was not made one with flesh that had an independent pre-existence, but taking up His abode in the womb of the holy Virgin, He unreservedly in His own subsistence took upon Himself through the pure blood of the eternal Virgin a body of flesh animated with the spirit of reason and thought, thus assuming to Himself the first-fruits of man's compound nature, Himself, the Word, having become a subsistence in the flesh. So that He is at once flesh, and at the same time flesh of God the Word, and likewise flesh animated, possessing both reason and thought. Wherefore we speak not of man as having become God, but of God as having become Man. For being by nature perfect God, He naturally became likewise perfect Man: and did not change His nature nor make the dispensation an empty show, but became, without confusion or change or division, one in subsistence with the flesh, which was conceived of the holy Virgin, and animated with reason and thought, and had found existence in Him, while He did not change the nature of His divinity into the essence of flesh, nor the essence of flesh into the nature of His divinity, and did not make one compound nature out of His divine nature and the human nature He had assumed.

─St. John Damascene: Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book III, Chap. 2.

Annunciation, by Fra Angelico.
Tempera on wood, 1433-341; Museo Diocesano, Cortona.

Monday, March 20, 2017

St. Bernard: Saint Joseph

“THERE is no doubt then that this Joseph, to whom the mother of the Saviour was espoused, was a man good and preeminently faithful. A prudent and faithful servant he was, I say, whom the Lord placed beside Mary to be her protector, and nourisher of His human body, and the single and most trusty assistant on earth in His great design.”

~St. Bernard of Clairvaux: Sermon 2 in Vigil. Nativ. Domini, 16.

St. Joseph with the child Jesus, by Guido Reni.
Oil on canvas, c. 1635; The Hermitage at St. Petersburg, Russia.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

"Their pestilential and deadly creed"

“THEY are heretics who in the Church of God entertain some unwholesome and perverse opinion, and on being rebuked refuse to alter it and square it to sound and right doctrine, but are contumacious in their resistance, refuse to amend their pestilential and deadly creed, and persist in defending the same.”

~St. Augustine: The City of God, 18, 51.

St. Augustine, by Vincenzo Foppa.
Wood panel 1465-70;
Castello Sforzesco, Milan.

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