Stylos is the blog of Jeff Riddle, a Reformed Baptist Pastor in North Garden, Virginia. The title "Stylos" is the Greek word for pillar. In 1 Timothy 3:15 Paul urges his readers to consider "how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar (stylos) and ground of the truth."
Image (left side): Decorative urn with title for the book of Acts in Codex Alexandrinus.
St. Cyril of Alexandria, On the Unity of Christ, trans. and
introduction by John Anthony McGuckin (St. Vladimir’s Press, 1995): 151 pp.
Life of Cyril of
Cyril of Alexandria (378-444) was the nephew of Theophilus,
bishop of Alexandria from 385-412. Upon the death of Theophilus in 412, Cyril,
at age 34, became his uncle’s successor. He clashed with Nestorius, bishop of
Constantinople over the unity of the person of Christ and the orthodoxy of the
title theotokos (“God-bearer”) for
Mary, which Cyril supported and Nestorius opposed. This led to the second
ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431, which upheld Cyril’s views and denounced
those of Nestorius. Philip Jenkins says Cyril was both “a brilliant thinker”
and “an obnoxious bully” (Jesus Wars,
p. 58). One of the darkest marks against him in Alexandria was his role in the
death of a noted pagan woman philosopher named Hypatia in 415. He also used his
political power and muscle to depose Nestorius and send him into exile.
His stress on the one person of Christ was distorted by
Dioscuros, his successor at Alexandria, in the so-called “Gangster Synod” or
“Robbers’ Council” at Ephesus in 449 which declared one nature of Christ. This “one
nature” view (or the monophysite view, from the Greek physis, nature) had been championed by Eutyches (c. 375-454). David
Bentley Hart summaries this view: “in the Incarnation, Christ’s humanity was
wholly assumed into his divinity” (The
Story of Christianity, 126). This meeting was dubbed the second council of
Ephesus but due to its errant christology it is not accepted by the orthodox among
the great early ecumenical councils. In later church councils, most notably at
Chalcedon in 451, a more balanced and well-defined orthodox Christology was articulated
which declared Christ to be one person with two natures (true man and true God;
the diophysite view). The monophysite view, however, continued and continues to
be held in the so-called “Oriental” churches (the Coptic Church of Egypt, the
Ethiopian Church, the Syrian Jacobite Church, and the Armenian Church).
This orthodox Christology, is reflected in the Protestant
confessions of the Reformation era, including the Second London Baptist
Confession (1689). Compare confession 10:2:
2. The Son of God, the second person in the Holy Trinity, being very and
eternal God, the brightness of the Father's glory, of one substance and equal
with Him who made the world, who upholds and governs all things He has made,
did, when the fullness of time was complete, take upon Him man's nature, with
all the essential properties and common infirmities of it,9 yet
without sin;10 being conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of
the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit coming down upon her: and the power of the
Most High overshadowing her; and so was made of a woman of the tribe of Judah,
of the seed of Abraham and David according to the Scriptures;11 so
that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures were inseparably joined together
in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion; which person is
very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and man.12
Cyril’s book On the
Unity of Christ (Greek title: Ho heis
ho Christos) was composed toward the end of his life and long after the
conflict with Nestorius. It reflects Cyril’s mature views on Christology. The
book uses a hypothetical dialogue format with questions on Christology posed
See this post on how the reflections of Cyril
likely influenced WCF/2LBCF (1689) 10:3.
Citations below are from the edition translated and
introduced by John Anthony McGuckin and printed in the “Popular Patristics
Series” from St. Vladimir’s Press.
Here are a few citations:
On the incarnation:
“It follows, therefore, that He Who Is, The One Who Exists,
is necessarily born of the flesh, taking all that is ours into himself so that
all is born of the flesh, that is us corruptible and perishing beings, might
rest in him. In short, he took what was ours to be his very own so that we
might have all that was his” (p. 59).
“For God was in humanity. He who was above all creation was
in our human condition; the invisible one was made visible in the flesh; he who
is from the heavens and from on high was in the likeness of earthly things; the
immaterial one could be touched; he who is free in his own nature came in the
form of a slave; he who blesses all creation became accursed; he who is all
righteousness was numbered among transgressors; life itself came in the
appearance of death” (p. 61).
On Christ’s rational
“We must admit, of course, that the body which he united to
himself was endowed with the rational soul, for the Word, who is God, would
hardly neglect our final part, the soul, and have regard only for the earthly
body. Quite clearly in all wisdom he provided for both the soul and the body”
On the term theotokos:
“…if our opponents insist that the holy virgin must never be
called The Mother of God, but Mother of Christ instead, then their blasphemy is
patent, for they are denying that Christ is really God and Son” (p. 64).
On the authority of
“Come, let us investigate the divine and sacred scripture and
let us seek the solution there” (p. 72).
On the hypostatic
“How wicked they are, then, when they divide in two the one
true and natural Son incarnated and made man, and when they reject the union
and call it a conjunction” (pp. 73-74).
“Well, Godhead is one thing, and manhood is another thing,
considered in the perspective of their respective and intrinsic beings, but in
the case of Christ they came together in a mysterious union without confusion
or change. The manner of this union is entirely beyond conception” (p. 77).
“My friend, if anyone says then when we speak of the single
nature of God the Word incarnate and made man we imply that a confusion or
mixture has occurred, then they are talking utter rubbish” (79).
“It was not impossible to God, in his loving-kindness, to
make himself capable of bearing the limitations of the manhood” (p. 79).
“He lived as a man with earthly beings, and came in our
likeness, but he was not subject to sin like us, but was far beyond the
knowledge of any transgression. The same was at once God and man” (p. 89).
On the unity of Christ:
“…if someone has another added to him he cannot be considered
one. How could he be? He would be one plus one, or rather one plus something
different, and without question this makes two” (p. 91).
“In his own nature he certainly
suffers nothing, for as God he is bodiless and lies entirely outside suffering”
“The Word remained what he was even
when he became flesh, so that he who is over all, and yet came among all
through his humanity, should keep in himself his transcendence of all and
remain above all the limitations of the creation” (p. 129).
“He suffers in his own flesh, and not
the nature of the Godhead” (p. 130).
“No, as I have said, he ought to be
conceived of as suffering in his own flesh, although not suffering in any way
like this in the Godhead” (p. 130).
Cyril of Alexandria was certainly not
a perfect man. He was a very flawed man, in the providence of God he was used to
articulate an orthodox view of Christology, especially by stressing the oneness
of Christ. Though some of his views were distorted by Eutyches and the monophysites,
that too was, in God’s providence, corrected. We are less familiar with Cyril but
we see his views reflected in our Protestant orthodox confessions.