- Cyril of Jerusalem
Saint Cyril of Jerusalem Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church Born ca. 313
possibly near Caesarea Maritima, Syria Palaestina (Modern-day Israel)
Jerusalem, Syria Palaestina
Honored in Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Church,
Oriental Orthodox Church
Feast March 18
Cyril of Jerusalem (Greek Κύριλλος Α΄ Ἱεροσολύμων) was a distinguished theologian of the early Church (ca. 313 – 386). He is venerated as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Anglican Communion. In 1883, Cyril was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII. He is highly respected in the Palestinian Christian Community.
Family and religious background
It is believed[who?] that Cyril came from a family of Christians and was immediately drawn to the Church. Most scholars[who?] believe that Cyril was born and brought up in Caesarea of Palestine but some[who?] say he may have been born in Jerusalem because of his early knowledge of the city's layout, but this could have been attributed to research or information he learned after moving there to become bishop. Cyril also helped a member of his family in pursuit of religious career in 366, appointing his nephew Galesius to the bishopric of Caesarea.
Life and character
Little is known of his life before he became a bishop; the assignment of his birth to the year 315 rests on conjecture. St. Cyril was ordained a deacon by Bishop St. Macarius of Jerusalem in about 335 and a priest some eight years later by Bishop St. Maximus. About the end of 350 he succeeded St. Maximus in the See of Jerusalem. Naturally inclined to peace and conciliation, St. Cyril at first took a rather moderate position but (like not a few of his undoubtedly orthodox contemporaries) was by no means eager to accept the homoousios (ὁμοούσιος) doctrine - that Jesus Christ and God are of the "same substance" and are equally God. Separating from his superior, Metropolitan Acacius of Caesarea, a partisan of Arius who taught that Jesus was a divine being created by — and therefore inferior to — God the Father, St. Cyril took the side of the Eusebians of the post-Nicene conciliation party and thus got into difficulties with his superior that were increased by Acacius's jealousy of the importance assigned to St. Cyril's See by the Council of Nicaea. A council held under Acacius's influence in 358 deposed St. Cyril and forced him to retire to Tarsus. At that time he was officially charged with selling church property to help the poor. The conciliatory Council of Seleucia, at which St. Cyril was present, deposed Acacius the following year. In 360 this was reversed through the Metropolitan's court influence and Cyril suffered another year's exile from Jerusalem until the Emperor Julian's accession allowed him to return. The Arian Emperor Valens banished him once more in 367. St. Cyril was able to return again at the accession of Emperor Gratian after which he remained undisturbed until his death in 386. St. Cyril's jurisdiction over Jerusalem was expressly confirmed by the First Council of Constantinople (381), at which he was present. At that council he voted for acceptance of the term homoousios, having been finally convinced that there was no better alternative.
Appointment to the bishopric of Jerusalem
The exact date of Cyril’s appointment to Bishop of Jerusalem is not known but many believe the date to be around the early to mid part of the Fourth century. The Evidence supporting this claim comes in the form of the Catecheses by Cyril where he continually refers to himself as bishop and a letter written by Cyril to Constantius in 351 where he refers to his vision of the burning cross in the sky as his “First Fruits”. Cyril’s appointment to the Bishop of Jerusalem is also shrouded in conspiracy. Most of the rumors circle from the same source of Saint Jerome who claimed “ Cyril was an out and out Arian, was offered the see on Maximus death on the condition that he would repudiate his ordination at the hands of that Bishop”. Saint Jerome was claiming not only that Cyril was an Arian but also involved directly or indirectly in the death of Maximus who he replaced as Bishop of Jerusalem. Most scholars disagree with this account because Saint Jerome often made statements more entertaining than factual. Most accounts of Cyril place him in better light like Theodoret of Cyrrhus who referred to Cyril as “an earnest champion of the apostolic decrees of Nicaea and says nothing about Arian conspiracy to make him Maximus successor”. Cyril was clearly held with high regard by many members of the Church and was able to sustain his place in the History of Jerusalem, despite serious charges and punishments that included banishments for years at a time from his position and his city of Jerusalem.
Letter to Constantius
The beginning of his episcopacy was remarkable for a prodigy by which is related by Socrates,Philostorgius, the chronicle of Alexandria, &c. St. Cyril, an eye-witness wrote immediately to the emperor Constantius, an exact account of this miraculous phenomenon: and his letter is quoted as a voucher for it by Sozomen, Theophanes, Eutychius, John of Nice, Glycas, and others. Dr. Cave has inserted it at length in his life of St. Cyril. The relation he there gives of the miracle is as follows: "On the nones (or 7th) of May, about the third hour, (or nine in the morning,) a vast luminous body, in the form of a cross, appeared in the heavens, just over the holy Golgotha, reaching as far as the holy mount of Olivet, (that is, almost two English miles in length,) seen not by one or two persons, but clearly and evidently by the whole city. This was not, as may be thought, a momentary transient phenomenon: for it continued several hours together visible to our eyes, and brighter than the sun;; the light of which would have eclipsed it, had not this been stronger. Many in the city, struck with a reverential fear, tempered with joy, ran immediately to the church, young and old citizens and strangers, all with one voice giving praise to Jesus Christ. He concludes his letter with wishes that the emperor may always glorify the holy and consubstantial Trinity. Philostorgius and the Alexandrian chronicle affirm, that this cross of light was encircled with a large rainbow." The Greek church commemorates this miracle on the 7th of May.
Work in Jerusalem
Cyril became well known for his charitable works in the City of Jerusalem. Cyril followed in the example of St Augustine where the bishop fed the poor even by means of selling the church treasury. For example in the mid 350’s the city of Jerusalem was hit with drastic food shortages at which point church historians Sozomen and Theodoret reported “Cyril secretly sold sacramental ornaments of the church and a valuable holy robe, fashioned with gold thread that the emperor Constantine had once donated for the bishop to wear when he performed the rite of Baptism”. It was also believed Cyril sold ornaments and many imperial gifts all in the name of charity to keep his people from starving. Besides his charitable works as Bishop Cyril had many responsibilities in City life. These duties included the administration of justice with the Episcopal court, the negotiation of ransom for captures, Teaching and preaching to the masses, Converting non believers, offering spiritual guidance, maintaining political duties, and many other important duties. Cyril was constantly busy with work that ranged from saying Mass to meeting with the people of his flock and not to mention making it a top priority to make sure people were not starving or being seduced by the call of false idles and religious skeptics. Luckily during the time Cyril was bishop of Jerusalem. Bishops were experiencing a rise in civic power. Constantius and his successor had expanded the power of Bishops placing them on the same level as civic elites. The evidence establishing the rise in a Bishops status comes in the form of Cyril being able to serve as a patron. This clearly shows a rise in Bishops status and power during this time period. . Being a bishop was a position that gained power because bishops and other key religious figures could withstand the constant change of government and political leaders allowing them to become an authority on the city and its political endeavors.
Though his theology was at first somewhat indefinite in phraseology, he undoubtedly gave a thorough adhesion to the Nicene orthodoxy. Even if he did avoid the debatable term homooussios, he expressed its sense in many passages, which exclude equally Patripassianism, Sabellianism, and the formula "there was a time when the Son was not" attributed to Arius. In other points he takes the ordinary ground of the Eastern Fathers, as in the emphasis he lays on the freedom of the will, the autexousion (αὐτεξούσιον), and his imperfect realization of the factor so much more strongly brought out in the West: sin. To him sin is the consequence of freedom, not a natural condition. The body is not the cause, but the instrument of sin. The remedy for it is repentance, on which he insists. Like many of the Eastern Fathers, he has an essentially moralistic conception of Christianity. His doctrine of the Resurrection is not quite so realistic as that of other Fathers; but his conception of the Church is decidedly empirical: the existing catholic Church form is the true one, intended by Christ, the completion of the Church of the Old Testament. His interpretation of the Eucharist is disputed. If he sometimes seems to approach the symbolic view, at other times he comes very close to a strong realistic doctrine. The bread and wine are not mere elements, but the body and blood of Christ.
Cyril of Jerusalem is often renowned for his beliefs in the nature of Jesus and God. His writings are filled with the loving and forgiving nature of God which was somewhat uncommon during his time period. Many religious leaders focusing on the wrath of God instilling a fear in their members. Cyril fills his writings with great lines of the healing power of forgiveness and the Holy Spirit like “The Spirit comes gently and makes himself known by his fragrance. He is not felt as a burden for God is light, very light. Rays of light and knowledge stream before him as the Spirit approaches. The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen and to console”. Cyril truly believes in the forgiving aspect of Christianity and knows the power it holds to turn those in pain towards the light of god. Cyril himself followed God's message of forgiveness himself many times throughout his life. Most clearly seen in his two major exiles where Cyril was disgraced and forced to leave his position and his people behind. He never wrote or showed any ill will towards those who wronged him. Cyril’s central messages also contain the primary principle of faith. Cyril new religion wasn’t about proving the existence of God or proving the divinity of Christ but rather instilling a faith in people. Cyril knew the power and importance of faith and tried at every opportunity to pass his faith onto others, allowing them to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. Through his simple message Cyril became recognized as one of the most profound and admired Bishops in church history, which ultimately led to his canonization by the Christian church.
Throughout Cyril’s career charges of Arianism were leveled against him. When Cyril’s bishop Maximus died Cyril was appointed bishop by Acasius of Caesaria, who was himself an Arian and viewed Cyril as a theological ally. The time when Cyril was Bishop of Jerusalem was one of general tolerance, however, as set forth by the ecumenist Emperor Constantius who was preoccupied with unity. Cyril’s many works stay within the realm of biblical stories and religious thought contrived from other Christian authors.
His famous twenty-three catechetical lectures (Greek Κατηχήσεις), which he delivered while still a presbyter in 347 or 348, contain instructions on the principal topics of Christian faith and practise, in rather a popular than a scientific manner, full of a warm pastoral love and care for the catechumens to whom they were delivered. Each lecture is based upon a text of Scripture, and there is an abundance of Scriptural quotation throughout. After a general introduction, eighteen lectures follow for the competentes, and the remaining five are addressed to the newly baptized, in preparation for the reception of Holy Communion. These last instructional addresses are called mystagogic (μυσταγωγικαί), because they deal with the mysteries (μυστήρια) i.e. Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist.
Parallel with the exposition of the Creed as it was then received in the Church of Jerusalem are vigorous polemics against pagan, Jewish, and heretical errors. They are of great importance for the light which they throw upon the method of instruction usual of that age, as well as upon the liturgical practises of the period, of which they give the fullest account extant.
St. Cyril's feast day is commemorated on March 18.
In this lecture Cyril of Jerusalem discusses the Crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ. The main themes that Cyril focuses on in these lectures are Original sin and Jesus’ sacrificing him to save us from our sins. Also The burial and resurrection that occurred three days later proving the divinity of Jesus Christ and the loving nature of the father. Cyril was very adamant about the fact that Jesus went to his death with full knowledge and willingness. Not only did he go willingly but throughout the process he maintained his faith and forgave all those who betrayed him and engaged in his execution. Cyril writes “who did not sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth, who, when he was reviled, did not revile, when he suffered did not threaten”. This line by Cyril shows his belief in the selflessness of Jesus especially in this last final act of Love. The lecture also gives a sort of insight to what Jesus may have be feeling during the execution from the whippings and beatings, to the crown of thorns, to the nailing on the cross. Cyril intertwines the story with the messages Jesus told throughout his life before his execution relating to his final act. For example Cyril writes “I gave my back to those who beat me and my cheeks to blows; and my face I did not shield from the shame of spitting”. This clearly reflects the teachings of Jesus to turn the other cheeks and not raising your hands against violence because violence just begets violence begets violence. The segment of the Catechesis really reflects the voice Cyril maintained in all of his writing. The writings always have the central message of the bible; Cyril doesn’t try to add his own beliefs in reference to religious interpretation and remains grounded in true biblical teachings.
Banishment and trouble
Cyril of Jerusalem spent his religious career as a rebel who upheld from what he believed to be right. In the mid 350s he sold items of the church so that he could feed the starving in Jerusalem. Cyril was caught when a dancer was seen wearing a coat that contained gold thread, a direct gift from the emperor Constantius. The person who caught Cyril was Acacius who insisted Cyril report the sale to the synod. Cyril refused and the synod deposed him in 357. Acacius, once a great ally of Cyril, began to harbor feelings of aggression towards him because Cyril never became a religious ally in the fight for Arianism. Cyril was exiled from Jerusalem until 359 when imperial authority placed him back as Bishop after Cyril was able to plead his case to Emperor Constantius referencing the multitude of people who were starving and he was able to feed with the money he made from the sale. Cyril got in trouble again when he appointed his nephew to bishop of Caesarea. This was not the first time Cyril had appointed someone close to him to a high position in the church. The Emperor Valens reacted strongly, exiling him to Eastern Asia Minor. Cyril did not return to Jerusalem until 366 after Valens had died.
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- Omer Englebert, "Lives of the Saints" New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1994, ISBN 1-56619-516-0
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- Letter to Constantius by Cyril of Jerusalem
- The Life, Writings and Doctrine of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
- Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Cyril of Jerusalem
- EWTN Library: St. Cyril, Confessor, Archbishop of Jerusalem
- Tradition In Action - Saint of the Day: St. Cyril of Jerusalem - March 18
Bishop of Jerusalem
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Jackson, Samuel Macauley, ed (1914). "article name needed". New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (third ed.). London and New York: Funk and Wagnalls.
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