Memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria

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Madonna and Child by Matisse

For the memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria we recommend this sketch of the Madonna and Child by Matisse.  Saint Cyril of Alexandria deserves to be remembered for this gift to us, if for nothing else. It is the name he gave to the Blessed Virgin Mary: “Theotokos,” which is Greek for “the bearer of God.”

We honor Cyril as a doctor of the church and give thanks today for his wisdom and courage.

Cyril, who lived from 376 – 444, was the bishop of Alexandria, in Egypt.  Alexandria was a seaport and a city known as a center of Jewish learning and practice, and, later, as a center of Christianity. (The five original Church sees, or districts under the supervision of a bishop, are Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Rome.)

Cyril had a dispute with another bishop, a man named Nestorius. Nestorius was offended by the thought of God as a helpless, wailing, wetting infant. God wouldn’t spit up, or soil himself. God wouldn’t be born from a woman’s body or be fed from her breasts.

Nestorius argued that Mary was the mother of the human Jesus, and only the human Jesus. His divine nature was a later gift.

Cyril strongly and publicly disagreed with Nestorius. He held that Mary was indeed bethrothed to Joseph, but the baby in her womb was conceived without his, or any man’s seed. Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. The child born of Mary was the Christ, and in him, the two natures, human and divine, were fully formed and fully present.

Cyril had Nestorius sent into exile. It was an ugly family fight, but we must be grateful that his teachings prevailed. Cyril wrote of Jesus’ birth,

“For it pleased God the Father to form into one whole all things in him, and to bind together things below and things above, and to make those in heaven and those on earth into one flock.”

We honor Cyril as a doctor of the church and give thanks today for his wisdom and courage.