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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

St Cyril of Alexandria Against Nestorius (Part 1 of 2)

Translated by P. E. Pusey

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S. Cyril's accession to the Archiepiscopal Throne of Alexandria brought him at once into a position of great power in Alexandria; and brought too, in the early part of it, trials in regard of the disunion between him and Orestes the Governor resulting from the Jewish insurrection against the Christians. To this succeeded some years of great quiet, during which S. Cyril seems to have been very little heard of, outside his Great Diocese. The Archbishops of Alexandria, even in the very stillest times, were brought into yearly contact with the Churches every where by the annual Letter which they wrote to announce the day on which Easter would fall. S. Cyril's letters were evidently intended primarily for his own Egypt [5]. Thus in his seventh Paschal homily A.D. 419, he speaks very strongly about deeds of violence in Egypt and mentions the famine there. S. Cyril introduces the subject with, " [6] And these things we now say to you most especially, who inhabit Egyptian territory," shewing that the Letters themselves had a larger scope. I do not know at what time the Letter was sent out, so as to reach the distant churches of Rome and Constantinople and Antioch in good time to announce when Lent would begin. But although S. Cyril became Archbishop in October A.D. 412, his first Letter was for 414, in the early part of which (as Tillemont points out) S. Cyril speaks of having succeeded his Uncle. He introduces the subject by mentioning the natural dread of those of old, of " [7][ ]the greatness of the Divine Ministry," and speaking of Moses and Jeremiah as instances of this, adds, that "since the garb of the priesthood calls to preach, in fear of the words, Speak and hold not thy peace, I come of necessity to write thus."

Much of these quiet years S. Cyril probably employed on his earlier writings: of these, two were on select passages of the Pentateuch; one volume being allotted to those which S. Cyril thought could in any way be adapted as types of our Lord, the other to the rest, as being types of the church. The commentaries on Isaiah and the Minor Prophets and the Books against the Emperor Julian probably belong to this period. Besides these S. Cyril, following the example of his great predecessor S. Athanasius, wrote two Books against the Arians: first, the Thesaurus, in which S. Cyril brought to bear his knowledge of Aristotle; then the de Trinitate, which was written, though not published till later, before A.D. 424. In his Paschal homily for that year A.D. 424, S. Cyril also speaks of the Eternal Generation of the Son, and towards the close of the homily [8] he opposes the Arian terms "Generate," "Ingenerate."

A. D. 429, the circulation of tracts of Nestorius in Egypt occasioned him first to write on the heresy of Nestorius. There can be little doubt that the powerful mind of S. Leo, who was the soul of the Council of Chalcedon, was, in his young days when S. Celestine's Archdeacon in 429, taught through those writings; as S. Cyril himself had been taught by the writings of S. Athanasius.   

5. [e] So the three Paschal homilies of the Archbishop Theophilus preserved by S. Jerome, are addressed, To the Bishops of the whole of Egypt, t. i. 555, 577, 605 Vall. 

6. [f] hom. 7. p. 87 init.

7. [g] hom. 1. 3 c. 4 a.

8. [h] pp. 174 d e 175, 176.

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