Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop, Confessor, Doctor of the Church

February 9

Today is the feast day of Saint Cyril.  Ora pro nobis.

from the Roman Breviary

The praises of Cyril of Alexandria have been celebrated not only by one writer or another, but have even been registered in the acts of the Ecumenical Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. He was born of distinguished parents, and was the nephew of Theophilus, Bishop of Alexandria. While he was still young, he gave clear proof of his excellent understanding. After giving a deep study to letters and science he betook himself to John, Bishop of Jerusalem, to be perfected in the Christian faith. After his return to Alexandria, and the death of Theophilus, he was raised to that see. In this office he kept ever before his eyes the type of the Shepherd of souls described by the Apostle; and by ever adhering thereto deservedly earned the glory of a holy Bishop.

He burned with zeal for the salvation of souls, and took all care to keep the flock entrusted to him in purity of faith and life, and to guard them from the poisonous pastures of heresy and infidelity. Hence, in accordance with law, he caused the followers of Novatus to be expelled from the city, and procured the punishment of the Jews, whose rage had led them to plan a massacre of the Christians. Cyril’s singular care for the preservation of the Catholic faith shone forth especially in his conflict with Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, who declared that Jesus Christ had been born of the Virgin Mary as man only and not as God, and that the divinity had been bestowed upon Him because of His merits. Cyril in vain attempted to convert Nestorius, and then denounced him to Pope St. Celestine.

A delegate of Pope Celestine, Cyril presided at the Council of Ephesus where the Nestorian heresy was absolutely proscribed; Nestorius was condemned and deprived of his see; and the Catholic doctrine as to the unity of Person in Christ and the divine Motherhood of the glorious Virgin Mary was laid down amid the rejoicings of all the people, who escorted the bishops to their lodgings with a torch-light procession. For this reason Nestorius and his followers made Cyril the object of slanders, insults, and persecutions which he bore with profound patience, for he cared only for the faith, and paid no attention to what the heretics might do or say against him. At length he died a holy death, in the year of salvation 444, the thirty-second of his episcopacy, after having performed great labors for the Church of God, and having composed numerous works, both in refutation of paganism and heresy, in exposition of sacred Scripture, and in explanation of Catholic dogmas. (1)

Saint 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 honored 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. (4)

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 Catenae 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 utraquem schohia de Incarnatione Unigeniti” (Oxford, 1875); “De recta fide ad principissasm de recta fide ad Augustas, quad unus Christus dialogusm 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 supersant Syriace c MSS. 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 MS.” (London, 1874); J. H. Bernard, “On Some Fragments of an Uncial MS. 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). (4)

St. Cyril of Alexandria’s Litany of Praise of the Mother of God

Excerpt from sermon preached by St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria (444), presiding as representative of the Holy See at the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, 431. In refuting Nestorianism, he is called Doctor of the Incarnation. The above translation of his praises of Dei-para received the imprimatur of the Most Rev. Francis Gilfillan, Bishop of St. Joseph (d. 1933).


Hail, O Mary, Mother of God, Virgin and Mother! Morning Star, perfect vessel. 

Hail, O Mary, Mother of God! holy temple in which God Himself was conceived.

Hail, O Mary, Mother of God! chaste and pure dove. 

Hail, O Mary, Mother of God! ever-effulgent light; from thee proceedeth the Sun of Justice.

Hail, O Mary, Mother of God! Thou didst enclose in thy sacred womb the One Who cannot be encompassed. 

Hail, O Mary, Mother of God! With the shepherds we sing the praise of God, and with the angels the song of thanksgiving: Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to men of good will. 

Hail, O Mary, Mother of God! Through thee came to us the Conqueror and the triumphant Vanquisher of hell.

Hail, O Mary, Mother of God! Through thee blossoms the splendor of the resurrection.

Hail, O Mary, Mother of God! Thou hast saved every faithful Christian.

Hail, O Mary, Mother of God! Who can praise thee worthily, O glorious Virgin Mary! (1)

Research by REGINA Staff


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