Anathemas of Cyril

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A summary under 12 heads (hence the alternative names, κεφάλαια, capitula ) of St. cyril of alexandria's teaching against nestorius. They were worded in such a way that refusal to accept any of them is to be regarded as a denial of the Catholic faith. "If anyone does not confess let him be anathema."

Nestorius was condemned in Rome in 430, and Pope Celestine commissioned St. Cyril of Alexandria to obtain from him a retraction of his errors. On receiving the papal instructions, Cyril took it upon himself to draw up 12 propositions and send them with a covering letter to Nestorius. This action was unfortunate. He went beyond his brief in drawing up what amounted to a new profession of faith, and the way he formulated his doctrine was misunderstood in Antioch and Constantinople. At this time the use of certain terms in Christology was not yet stabilized. Moreover, there were two different current approaches to the theology of the Word Incarnate. Both were legitimate, both were based on scripture; but whereas Alexandria stressed the unity of Christ and thence proceeded to consider the divine and human elements, Antioch began with the humanity and then turned attention to the mystery that this man was also God. Cyril seems to have been unaware of the difference in terminology and emphasis of the two schools. What is more, the sources of some of his phrases were suspect. Both the μίαφύσιζ (one physis ) and the analogy between the human and divine nature in Christ and the union of body and soul in man were taken from Apollinarist works on the mistaken assumption that they were Athanasius'. It was not surprising then, that the Anathemas met with opposition. Theodoret of Cyr and Andrew of Samosata wrote refutations, and Cyril was obliged to defend his views in three apologies: Against the Eastern Bishops (Patrologia Graeca 76:315386); Letter to Eutropius (Patrologia Graeca 76:385452); Explanation of Twelve Chapters Pronounced at Ephesus (Patrologia Graeca 76:293312). The text of the Anathemas can be found in Enchiridion symbolorum 252263.

Contents. The first Anathema deals with the chief objection to Nestorius, since it defends Mary's title of theotokos, Mother of God. The second and third show the inadequacy of Cyril's vocabulary. In describing the unity of Christ he speaks indiscriminately of a physical or hypostatic union. For him the terms physis and hypostasis are interchangeable, and they are used to stress the fact that Christ is truly one, that there is a real union, not a mere association or harmony of two distinct realities. At Antioch the terms physis and hypostasis were also interchangeable, but there they were applied to the humanity and to the divinity to convey the idea that Christ is not only truly man but truly God as well. And so whereas Cyril maintained there was but one physis or hypostasis, Antioch maintained that there were two. Yet both views were within the realm of orthodoxy.

Some of the Anathemas have to do with predication. Both divine and human attributes are to be referred to the same Christ (4). The divine Word really suffered and died (12). St. Cyril later allowed that it was lawful to distinguish between statements concerning the human nature and those concerning the divine. The Nestorian heresy meant the need for caution in the use of certain titles and expressions in reference to Christ. He would not allow Christ to be called Theophoros, God-bearer. Some of the Fathers did use this name, but it does not sufficiently indicate the intimate union of the divine and human in Christ (5). Although scripture speaks of Christ as a servant, one cannot allow the Word of God to be called the master of Christ as Nestorius had done (6). Similarly, Nestorius had misconstrued Heb 3.1. The High Priest of men is not a man, but the Incarnate Word Himself (10). Neither is Christ an instrument of the Word; He is the Word (7). And so there is to be a single adoration of Christ, the Word Incarnate, not a coadoration of the man and the Word (8). Cyril brings out the fact that the Holy Spirit is not an alien power but the very Spirit of Christ (9). In the eleventh Cyril states that the flesh of the Lord has power to vivify, since it is the flesh of the divine Word. Antioch suspected such sentiments of apollinarianism, not recognizing that by flesh was meant the living, animated flesh.

Subsequent History. At the Council of ephesus in 431 approval was given to Cyril's letter to Nestorius (no. 4 in collected letters; Patrologia Graeca 77:4449), and this was accepted as the authentic interpretation of Nicaea I. But the other letter of Cyril (no. 17; Patrologia Graeca 77:105121) to which the 12 Anathemas were appended did not receive such formal recognition. Later, at the time of Pope Vigilius, there was to be confusion as to which of the letters was solemnly approved. As Galtier has shown, the Anathemas are not to be taken as the solemn dogmatic teaching of the Council of Ephesus, although they are to be found in the acts of the Council. This is not to say that one can disregard the Anathemas. The first one with its defense of Theotokos was certainly accepted, and even the others reflect the mind of the Council. But the true meaning of these propositions was clouded by the lack of terminological precision; and when monophysitism arose, the Church defended its position without recourse to the Anathemas. Cyril himself recognized their inadequacy in the discussions after Ephesus; and when union was achieved in 433 with John of Antioch, there was no mention of them. The contention that Monophysitism was a natural outcome of Cyril's teaching cannot be maintained; and if certain less happy terms of his were dropped at Chalcedon, it is incorrect to say that there was an abandonment of his theology.

In the changed conditions of the 6th century there was an attempt to incorporate into the Church's teaching certain formulas of Cyril that had been omitted at Chalcedon, including the Anathemas. But much of this stemmed from a desire to find agreement among the various contending parties. When the good name and traditions of alexandria and antioch were at stake, much depended on the official recognition of the orthodoxy of the great figures in these churches. Consequently, the mention of the Anathemas in subsequent documents is often motivated by reasons other than theology. Now that the terminology has been stabilized, it is only the Monophysite churches that keep to the Cyrilline way of speaking.

See Also: jesus christ, ii (in theology); christology, controversies on; jesus christ, articles on.

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[m. e. williams]