Bishop of Jerusalem and Doctor of the Church, born about 315 at or near the city of Jerusalem; died probably 18 March, 386.
In the East his feast is observed on the 18th of March, in the West on the 18th or 20th.
Little is known of his life. We gather information concerning him from his younger contemporaries, Epiphanius, Jerome, and Rufinus, as well as from the fifth-century historians, Socrates, Sozomen and Theodoret. Cyril himself gives us the date of his "Catecheses" as fully seventy years after the Emperor Probus, that is about 347, if he is exact. Constans (d. 350) was then still alive.
Mader thinks Cyril was already bishop, but it is usually held that he was at this date only as a priest.
He was ordained a priest by Saint Maximus, who gave him the important charge of instructing and preparing the candidates for Baptism. This office he held for several years, and today we still have one series of his instructions, given in the year 347 or 348. They are of singular interest as being the earliest record of the systematic teaching of the Church on the Creed and Sacraments, and as having been given in the church built by Constantine on Mount Calvary. They are solid, simple, profound, precise, and saturated with Holy Scripture, and, as a witness and exposition of the Catholic faith, invaluable.
St. Jerome confirms (Chron. ad ann. 352) that Cyril had been ordained priest by St. Maximus, his predecessor, after whose death the episcopate was promised to Cyril by the metropolitan, Acacius of Caesarea, and the other Arian bishops, on condition that he should repudiate the ordination he had received from Maximus. He refused and consented to minister as deacon only, and was rewarded for this "impiety" with the see.
St. Jerome says Maximus had consecrated Heraclius to succeed himself, but Cyril, by various frauds, degraded Heraclius to the priesthood. But Socrates relates that Acacius drove out St. Maximus and substituted St. Cyril.
At the beginning of his episcopate a cross was seen in the sky, reaching from Mount Calvary to Mount Olivet, and so bright that it shone at noonday. Saint Cyril gave an account of it to the emperor, and the faithful regarded it as a presage of victory over the Arian heretics.
A quarrel soon broke out between Cyril and Acacius, apparently on a question of precedence or jurisdiction.
At Nicaea the metropolitan rights of Caesarea had been guarded, while a special dignity had been granted to Jerusalem. Yet St. Maximus had held a synod and had ordained bishops. This may have been as much as the cause of Acacius' enmity to him as his attachment to the Nicene formula.
On the other hand, Cyril's correct Christology may have been the real though veiled ground of the hostility of Acacius to him.
At all events, in 357 Acacius caused Cyril to be exiled on the charge of selling church furniture during a famine. Cyril took refuge with Silvanus, Bishop of Taraus. He appeared at the Council of Seleucia in 359, in which the Semi-Arian party was triumphant. Acacius was deposed and St. Cyril seems to have returned to his see.
But the emperor was displeased at the turn of events, and, in 360, Cyril and other moderates were again driven out, and only returned at the accession of Julian in 361.
In 367 a decree of Valens banished all the bishops who had been restored by Julian, and Cyril remained in exile until the death of the persecutor in 378.
In 380, St. Gregory of Nyssa came to Jerusalem on the recommendation of a council held at Antioch in the preceding year. He found the Faith in accord with the truth, but the city a prey to parties and corrupt in morals.
St. Cyril attended the great Council of Constantinople in 381, at which Theodosius had ordered the Nicene faith, now a law of the empire, to be promulgated. St. Cyril then formally accepted the homoousion; Socrates and Sozomen call this an act of repentance.
While Saint Cyril was Bishop of Jerusalem, the apostate emperor Julian resolved to defy the words of Our Lord (Luke 21:6) by rebuilding the ancient temple of Jerusalem. He employed the power and resources of a Roman emperor; the Jews thronged enthusiastically to him and gave munificently. But Cyril was unmoved. “The word of God abides,” he said; “one stone shall not be laid on another.” When the attempt was made, a pagan writer tells us that horrible flames came forth from the earth, rendering the place inaccessible to the scorched and frightened workmen. The attempt was made again and again, and then abandoned in despair. Soon after, the emperor perished miserably in a war against the Persians, and the Church had rest.
Socrates gives 385 for St. Cyril's death, but St. Jerome tells us that St. Cyril lived eight years under Theodosius, that is, from January 379.
The extant works of St. Cyril of Jerusalem include a sermon on the Pool of Bethesda, a letter to the Emperor Constantius, three small fragments, and the famous "Catecheses".
The letter describes a wonderful cross of light, extending from Calvary to the Mount of Olives, which appeared in the air on the nones of May, after Pentecost, toward the beginning of the saint's episcopate.
The catechetical lectures are among the most precious remains of Christian antiquity. They include an introductory address, eighteen instructions delivered in Lent to those who were preparing for baptism, and five "mystagogical" instructions given during Easter week to the same persons after their baptism.
They also contain interesting local references as to the finding of the Cross, the position of Calvary in relation to the walls, to the other holy places, and to the great basilica built by Constantine in which these conferences were delivered.
They seem to have been spoken extempore, and written down afterwards. The style is admirably clear, dignified, and logical; the tone is serious and full of piety.
The subjects are thus divided:
1. Hortatory. 2. On sin, and confidence in God's pardon.
3. On baptism, how water receives the power of sanctifying: as it cleanses the body, so the Spirit seals the soul.
4. An abridged account of the Faith.
5. On the nature of faith.
6-18. On the Creed:
6. On the monarchy of God, and the various heresies which deny it.
7. On the Father.
8. His omnipotence.
9. The Creator.
10. On the Lord Jesus Christ.
11. His Eternal Sonship.
12. His virgin birth.
13. His Passion.
14. His Resurrection and Ascension.
15. His second coming.
16-17 On the Holy Ghost.
18. On the resurrection of the body and the Catholic Church. The first mystagogical catechesis explains the renunciations of Satan, etc. which preceded baptism; the second is on the effects of baptism, the third on confirmation, the fourth on Holy Communion, and the fifth on holy Mass for the living and the dead.
The hearers are told to observe the disciplina arcani; Rom. they must repeat nothing to heathens and catechumens; the book also has a note to the same effect.
A few points may be noted. The mythical origin of the Septuagint is told, and the story of the phoenix, so popular from Clement onwards.
The description of Mass speaks of the mystical washing of the priest's hands, the kiss of peace, the "Sursum Corda", etc., and the Preface with its mention of the angels, the Sanctus, the Epiclesis, the transmutation of the elements by the Holy Ghost, the prayer for the whole Church and for the spirits of the departed, followed by the Paternoster, which is briefly explained.
Then come the "Sancta Sanctis" and the Communion. "Approaching do not come with thy palms stretched flat nor with fingers separated. But making thy left hand a seat for thy right, and hollowing thy palm, receive the Body of Christ, responding Amen. And having with care hallowed thine eyes by the touch of the Holy Body, take it, vigilant lest thou drop any of it. For shouldst thou lose any of it, it is as though thou wast deprived of a member of thy own body." "Then after Communion of the Body of Christ, approach the Chalice of His Blood, not extending thy hands, but bending low, and with adoration and reverence saying Amen, sanctify thyself by receiving also the Blood of Christ. And while thy lips are yet wet, touch them with thy hands, and sanctify thy eyes and thy forehead and thy other senses" (Cat. Myst., v, 22, 21-22).
We are to make the sign of the cross when we eat and drink, sit, go to bed, get up, talk, walk, in short, in every action (Cat. iv, 14).
Again: "if thou should be in foreign cities, do not simply ask where is the church (kyriakon), for the heresies of the impious try to call their caves kyriaka, nor simply where is the Church (ekklesia), but where is the Catholic Church, for this is the proper name of this holy Mother of all" (Cat. xviii, 26).
St. Cyril's doctrine is expressed in his creed, which seems to have run thus:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten by the Father true God before all ages, God of God, Life of Life, Light of Light, by Whom all things were made. Who for us men and for our salvation came down, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary, and was made man. He was crucified . . . and buried. He rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures, and sat at the right hand of the Father. And He cometh in glory to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end. And in one Holy Ghost, the Paraclete, Who spake by the prophets; and in one baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, and in one holy Catholic Church, and in the resurrection of the body, and in life everlasting.
The italicized words are uncertain. St. Cyril teaches the Divinity of the Son with perfect plainness, but avoids the word "consubstantial", which he probably thought liable to misunderstanding. He never mentions Arianism, though he denounces the Arian formula, "There was a time when the Son was not". He belonged to the Semi-Arian, or Homoean party, and is content to declare that the Son is "in all things like the Father".
He communicated freely with bishops such a Basil of Ancyra and Eustathius of Sebaste. He not only does not explain that the Holy Trinity has one Godhead, but he does not even say the Three Persons are one God. The one God for him is always the Father. "There is one God, the Father of Christ, and one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of the only God, and one Holy Ghost, Who sanctifies and deifies all things" (Cat. iv, 16). But he rightly says: "We do not divide the Holy Trinity as some do, neither do we make a melting into one like Sabellius" (Cat. xvi, 4). Cyril never actually calls the Holy Ghost God, but He is to be honoured together with the Father and the Son (Cat. iv, 16). There is therefore nothing incorrect in his doctrine, only the explicit use of the Nicene formulae is wanting, and these, like St. Meletius and others of his party, he fully accepted at a later date.
St. Cyril's teaching about the Blessed Sacrament is of the first importance, for he was speaking freely, untrammelled by the "discipline of the secret". On the Real Presence he is unambiguous: "Since He Himself has declared and said of the bread: This is My Body, who shall dare to doubt any more? And when He asserts and says: This is My Blood, who shall ever hesitate and say it is not His Blood?" Of the Transformation, he argues, if Christ could change water into wine, can He not change wine into His own Blood? The bread and wine are symbols: "In the type of bread is given thee the Body, in the type of wine the Blood is given thee"; but they do not remain in their original condition, they have been changed, though the senses cannot tell us this: "Do not think it mere bread and wine, for it is the Body and Blood of Christ, according to the Lord's declaration". "Having learned this and being assured of it, that appears to be bread is not bread, though perceived by the taste, but the Body of Christ, and what appears to be wine is not wine, though the taste says so, but the Blood of Christ . . . strengthen thy heart, partaking of it as spiritual (food), and rejoice the face of thy soul". It is difficult not to see the whole doctrine of Transubstantiation in these explicit words.
Confirmation is with blessed chrism: "As the bread of the Eucharist after the invocation of the Holy Ghost is not bread, but the Body of Christ, so this holy myrrh is no longer simple, as one might say, after the invocation, but a gift of Christ and capable by the presence of the Holy Ghost of giving His divinity" (ii, 4).
St. Peter and St. Paul went to Rome, the heads (prostatai) of the Church. Peter is ho koryphaiotatos kai protostates ton apostolon. The Faith is to be proved out of Holy Scripture.
St. Cyril, as the Greek Fathers generally, gives the Hebrew canon of the Old Testament omitting the deutero-canonical books. But yet he often quotes them as Scripture. In the New Testament he does not acknowledge the Apocalypse.
There have been many editions of St. Cyril's works:--(Vienna, 1560); G. Morel (Paris, 1564); J. Prévot (Paris, 1608); T. Milles (London, 1703); the Benedictine edition of Dom Touttée (Paris, 1720; reprinted at Venice, 1763); a new edition from manuscripts, by G.C. Reischl, 8vo (Munich, 1848; 2nd vol. by J. Rupp, 1860); Migne gives the Bened. ed. in P.G., XXXIII; Photius Alexandrides (2 vols., Jerusalem, 1867-8); Eng. tr. in Library of the Fathers (Oxford).