Theology in Reconciliation p. 157f

Theology in Reconciliation

Such was the didaskalia of the Fathers in the century of Nicaea, to which Cyril of Alexandria was profoundly indebted and upon which his own theology was built. It was a theology which had been given its decisive shape by Athanasius through his immense emphasis upon the vicarious humanity of the incarnate Son, which He fulfilled as our High Priest, ministering not only the things of God to us, but the things of man to God. He assumed all that was ours in the experience of our human life in the body, mind and soul, including human prayer and worship, that he might offer himself to the Father on our behalf and in our place, and present us sanctified and renewed in and through himself to the Father.1 That was a theology of godliness (θεοσέβεια) and devotion (εὐσεβεια), in which the priesthood of Christ, his incarnate worship, his servant mission, are inseparably intertwined in Christ’s complete identification with us, as Mediator, and which as such constituted the theological shape of the Church’s liturgy. It is the continuation and development of the interconnection between theology and worship in the teaching of Cyril of Alexandria to which we now turn.

3. The teaching of Cyril of Alexandria

As a key to Cyril’s basic position we may take a characteristic passage in his Dialogues on the holy and consubstantial Trinity in which he brings together several passages from the Epistle to the Hebrews (1.3; 4.12, 13; 5.7, 8).2 Here on the one hand the only Begotten of God is spoken of according to his divine nature, as the effulgence of God’s glory and the express image of his hypostasis who upholds all things by the word of his power, himself the living and active Word of God who cuts so deeply into our existence even in soul and spirit, discriminating the very thoughts and intentions of the heart, that every creature is laid open to the searching judgment and presence of God; but here on the other hand the only Begotten of God is spoken of in his incarnate state and in his likeness to us, as he who in the flesh offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears to him who was able to save him from death, and was heard for his godly fear, for, although he was Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. Cyril was able to offer a consistent interpretation of those apparently disparate accounts of Christ by taking his stand on the position established by Athanasius who, with reference to John 1.14 (ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο) insisted that the Logos became man and did not just enter into man.3 Hence Cyril frequently argued that ‘being God, the Logos became flesh, and was not in man in the way in which he was in the saints in whom he dwelt through their participation in the Holy Spirit.’4 Since in becoming man or flesh Christ came as man and not as Son of God conjoined to manand was man and was not just in man, Cyril could think consistently of Christ as him in whom God and man completely concur, so that the same person is at once God and man.5 That is why he could think of the incarnate Son as acting completely as man, in a perfectly human way, and yet as acting completely as God in a perfectly divine way, without having to posit some kind οf conjunction between two persons or two realities or some kind of alternation between divine and human activities.6 Hence Cyril was able to put into developed theological terms the two-fold emphasis found in the Fourth Gospel and in the Epistle to the Hebrews in which exalted statements about the divine nature of Christ are made together with the most realistic statements about the humanity, creatureliness and lowliness of Christ, without any need for reserve about  his divine activity in the flesh towards us or his human activity in the flesh towards God the Father. For Cyril this meant that the human experiences of Christ were the experiences of God the Son incarnate, but that as such they were authentically and substantively human experiences, for they were the experiences of the man God the Son became.


1. Athanasius Contra Arianos 4.6

2. Diologus I, MPG LXXV, 681A-C

3. Athanasius Contra Arianos 3.30

4. Cf. Cyril, De recta fide, MPG LXXVI, 1228C, where a similar statement from a later work is found: ‘The Logos of God did not come into man, but really became man, while remaining God.’ The fact that the same decisive statement comes in the early anti-Arian Dialogues as well as in the later anti-Nestorian De recta fide wrecks the thesis of a basic charge in Cyril’s Christology, as advocated by Lìébaert (La doctrine christologique de Saint Cyrille d’Alexandria avant la Querelle Nestorienne, Faculté Catholique, Lille, 1957) and Grillmeier (op cit).

5. See especially the De adoratione et cultu in spiritus et varitate II, MPG LXVIII, 213B-C—the word for ‘concur’ is , but Cyril more often express this concurrence by the terms , , , combined with , or . See especially quod unus sit Christus for a concise reasoned account of this, MPG LXXVII, 1253ff., or Sources Chrétiennes 97, Duex Dialogues Christologiques, pp. 302ff; and Epist. ad Seccensum i et ii, MPG LXXVII, 223ff., 237ff.

6. See G L Prestige, Fathers and Heretics, where this is convincingly expounded Tith reference to Athanasius, Ad Serapionem 4.14, pp. 156ff., 179.