5th-Century Marian Devotee: Saint Cyril of Alexandria (376-444)


St. Cyril (376-444+), Patriarch of Alexandria (412-444), was a prominent theologian in the 5th-century disputes on Christology. He is famous for combating the error of Nestorius, who refused to say the Virgin Mary was the “Mother of God”, thinking she was limited to “Mother of Christ”. The person of the Son of God was who was born of Mary, in the nature of human being, and thus she gave birth to God. That much is plain and simple. At the Council of Ephesus, St. Cyril preached against Nestorius with the following praise of the Virgin Mary. I thought it would be worth posting especially since I’ve come across people who say that the whole “Mother of God” controversy was not about Mary, but solely about the identity and deity of Christ. This typically comes from Protestants, but can even be supposed by critical historians. However, as can be seen, this is very much a hasty observation from nothing other than a lack of study. Here below we are told by this Pontiff of Alexandria, the second See of holy Christendom, that the Virgin Mary is the treasure of the entire world and that, through her, all of creation is set aright. Even the sacred sacraments of Baptism and Chrismation are said to have depended upon her instrumentality. He makes mention of a Church in Ephesus which was formally dedicated to the Virgin; which is something you don’t see in the world of Protestant communities anymore. At least, I’m not aware of any, unless they are perhaps high-Church Anglo-Catholics, or the like. One cannot but help, however, to see that Mary’s greatness depends, not on her works of piety, but on the grace and mercy of God to choose her for the task and privilege she was given. One also cannot but help to notice that this is another early instance of Marian devotion, e.g. a celebratory prayer to the Virgin herself.

I hope you enjoy.

“I see the assembly of the saints, all zealously gathered together, invited by the holy Mother of God, Mary, ever-virgin. I was feeling very sad, but then the presence of the holy Fathers changed this sorrow into merriment. Now the sweet words of the hymnographer David has been fulfilled in our presence: ‘Behold how fair, and how pleasant it is, when brother dwell together as one’! (Ps 133:1). Hail, we say, O holy and mystic Trinity, who have called us together in this Church dedicated to Mary, Mother of God. We hail you, O Mary Mother of God, venerable treasure of the entire world , inextinguishable lamp, crown of virginity, scepter of orthodoxy, imperishable temple, container of him who cannot be contained, Mother and Virgin, through whom it is said in the holy Gospels: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ (Matt 21:9). Hail, you who held the Uncontainable One in your holy and virginal womb! Through you, the Holy Trinity is glorified; the precious Cross is celebrated and adored throughout the world; heaven exults, the angels and archangels rejoice, the demons are put to flight, the devil, the tempter, falls from heaven, the fallen creation is brought back to paradise, all creatures trapped in idolatry come to know the truth. Through you, holy baptism and the oil of gladness are administered to the believers; through you, churches are established throughout the world; the peoples are led to conversion. What more shall I say? Through you, the only begotten Son of God shone forth as a light upon those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death. Through you, the prophets made their predictions, and the apostles preached salvation to the nations; through you the dead rise, sovereigns reign, and through you the Holy Trinity reigns. But who among men is capable of celebrating Mary most glorious? The virginal womb; such a great wonder! This miracle has me enraptured. When has it ever been heard that a builder was prevented from dwelling in temple that he himself built? Could he, who calls his own handmaid to be his Mother, be considered deserving of this shame? Behold, now: the whole universe is rejoicing. The sea obeyed, recognizing [in the Fathers] its fellow servants. For while the water surged in stormy billows, the passage of the saints made it smooth and calm. The creature water remembered the voice of the Savior ‘Silence! Be Still!’ (Mk 4:39). The passage of the Fathers also subdued the earth, which previously had been infested with brigands. ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news of peace’ (Rom 10:15). But what peace is this? Jesus, our Lord, who was born from Mary, as He Himself willed”

Homily IV – Preached at Ephesus contra Nestorius 431 A.D., P.G. 77, 992-96; Translation taken from Luigi Gambero, “Mary and the Church Fathers”, pp. 247-48)

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