18 March 2010

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem

18 MARCH 2010. Today the Church remembers the feast day (optional observation) of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, a distinguished fourth century theologian and doctor of the Church.

Saint Cyril was born about A.D. 313, possibly near Caesarea Maritima. While the date and place of his birth is more a matter of historical conjecture, history does reveal that Saint Cyril was ordained a deacon by Saint Macarius of Jerusalem in about A.D. 335, and was ordained a priest eight years later by Saint Maximus. In about A.D. 350, Saint Cyril superseded Saint Maximus as the bishop of Jerusalem.

Today's Liturgy of the Hours introduction to Saint Cyril says: "He was involved in the dispute over Arianism and was more than once punished with exile." (Arianism is the heresy that Jesus was not divine and not one in being with the father.)

As a priest, Saint Cyril was put in charge of the instruction of catechumens. The writings attributed to Saint Cyril that survive today are from his catechetical lectures, written down by those in the congregation. A fine example of Saint Cyril's catechesis is the manner in which he gave instruction on the mysteries of the faith:
But some one will say, If the Divine substance is incomprehensible, why then do you discourse of these things? So then, because I cannot drink up all the river, am I not even to take in moderation what is expedient for me? Because with eyes so constituted as mine I cannot take in all the sun, am I not even to look upon it enough to satisfy my wants? Or again, because I have entered into a great garden, and cannot eat all the supply of fruits, would you have me go away altogether hungry?.. I am attempting not to glorify the Lord, but not to describe him, knowing nevertheless that I shall fall short of glorifying God worthily, yet deeming it a work of piety even to attempt it at all.
 After the death of Saint Maximus, Saint Cyril was consecrated as Bishop of Jerusalem. The Arian bishop of Caesarea supported Saint Cyril's consecration as bishop and, because of the Arian's support, the orthodox criticized Saint Cyril's bishopric. Both would later turn out to be opposed to Saint Cyril in one way or another.

When a famine hit Jerusalem, the poor turned to Saint Cyril for help and Cyril, seeing the poor starving to death, sold some of the Church's goods to buy food for the poor. This is a desperate act that several saints have resorted to, which has probably has saved many lives and souls of the faithful. However, Saint Cyril had a falling out with Acasius, Bishop of Beroea, because Acacius claimed he had authority over all bishops in Palestine, including Saint Cyril, while Cyril argued that Jerusalem was an apostolic see--one set up by the apostles--not subject to Acacius' authority. When Saint Cyril failed to attend councils called by Acacius, Acacius accused Saint Cyril of selling church goods and had him banished from Jerusalem. Saint Cyril stayed in Tarsus while waiting for the appeal of his banishment to be decided.

Constantius called a council to decide the appeal of Saint Cyril, but a dispute arose and no final judgment was ever enteredl. However, Acacius and the other Arian bishops were condemned by the council. Historians believe that the condemnation of Acacius and the fact that no final judgment entered indicates that the charges against Cyril were thrown out by the council. However, we do not have to speculate that this was not the end of Saint Cyril's troubles.

Acacius, condemned by the council, then took his story against Saint Cyril directly to the emperor, with the embellishment that some of the items sold had been gifts from the emperor and a dancer died wearing one of the emperor's robes. A new synod, run by Acacius, was called and again Saint Cyril was banished from Jerusalem, partially on the basis of the acts of the some of the bishops of Tarsus, while Saint Cyril was in exile there.

Saint Cyril's second exile lasted until Julian became emperor and recalled all exiled bishops, orthodox and Arian. Afterwards, Cyril returned to Jerusalem, and after Acacius died Cyril nominated his nephew, Gelasius,  to be bishop of Caesarea and the Arians nominated a rival. While Saint Cyril's actions may appear to be ripe with nepotism, all the orthodox sources spoke of Gelasius' holiness. A year later, however, Julian's recall of exiled bishops was reversed and Saint Cyril, with Gelasius, was again driven out of Jerusalem.

Eleven years later Saint Cyril was allowed to return to Jerusalem, which had been decimated by heresy and strife. While Saint Cyril worked to restore order he was never able to completely put things right in his lifetime. However, he did attend the Council at Constantinople in A.D. 381 where the Nicene Creed and orthodoxy won out over Arianism which was finally condemned. At the same council, Saint Cyril received justice as all previous charges against him were officially cleared and he commended for fighting a good fight against Arianism.

Saint Cyril returned to Jerusalem following the council and died some years later in A.D. 385 or 386. Saint Cyril was declared a doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII.


Of all Saint Cyril's writings, those about the Blessed Sacrament are considered by many to be the most important. On the Blessed Sacrament, Saint Cyril was unambiguous
Since He Himself has declared and said of the bread: This is My Body, who shall dare to doubt any more? And when He asserts and says: This is My Blood, who shall ever hesitate and say it is not His Blood?
While Saint Cyril acknowledges that the bread and wine are symbols, "in the type of bread is given thee the Body, in the type of wine the Blood is given thee;" he goes on to proclaim the truth that they do not remain in their original condition, but have been changed, though the senses cannot tell us this:
Do not think it mere bread and wine, for it is the Body and Blood of Christ, according to the Lord's declaration . . . . Having learned this and being assured of it, that appears to be bread is not bread, though perceived by the taste, but the Body of Christ, and what appears to be wine is not wine, though the taste says so, but the Blood of Christ . . . strengthen thy heart, partaking of it as spiritual (food), and rejoice the face of thy soul.
The whole of the doctrine of transubstantiation cannot but be seen in these words of Saint Cyril who with them gives us the truth of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

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