Severus of Al-Ushmanain: CYRIL THE GREAT [St. Pachomius Library]


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by Severus, Bishop of Al-Ushmunain (fl. ca. AD 955 - 987)


Translated from the Arabic by B. Evetts (from Patrologia Orientalis, first series)

CONTENTS: Cyril refutes Julian --- He corresponds with Nestorius --- He urges Theodosius to convene a council --- He is imprisoned by Candidian --- The Council of Ephesus condemns Nestorius --- Last Days of Nestorius


When the patriarch Theophilus died, the Father Cyril took his seat upon the apostolic throne; and the bishops raised the Four Gospels over his head, and prayed over him, saying : "O God, strengthen this man whom thou has chosen for us." The first thing that Cyril did was to appoint priests to take charge of the churches throughout his diocese, so that they might not be drawn away from the spiritual food by which they were able to do that which pleases God; and he began his patriarchate full of the wisdom which gives life. And the prince, Theodosius the Younger, who loved God, followed the injunctions of his fathers, and assembled the monks around him, and performed his devotions in their company; but he had no son, and his sister administered the empire.

Now the patriarch Cyril never wearied of composing discourses and homilies by the power of the Holy Ghost, who spoke through him; so that most of the principal inhabitants of Alexandria appointed copyists to transcribe for them what the father composed. Then certain philosophers said to him : "Behold, here are discourses written by the prince Julian, in which he casts contempt upon Moses and all the prophets, and alleges that Christ was a mere man; and we used to read his books because it was the prince who wrote them. Julian says: 'The words of the Galilean will I make lies; for Christ said: There shall not remain one stone upon another in the temple of Jerusalem that shall not be thrown down. [Matt 24:2; Mark 13:2; Luke 19:44 and 21:6] But I will rebuild the temple, and falsify his words.' Accordingly Julian destroyed what remained of the temple, that he might rebuild it; but after all he died without restoring any part of it. Thus the words of the Saviour were proved to be true, and we have learnt how great is his power and majesty, because none of his words have been falsified."

Now when Cyril heard these things, he was much troubled, until he had found a copy of Julian's works, and had read them; and he found them worse even than the works of Origen and Porphyry. So when Cyril found that he was unable to collect all the copies of Julian's works which were scattered here and there in the possession of different persons, he wrote to the prince Theodosius to inform him of this matter, saying: "If it is thy pleasure that Julian's works be destroyed and his misbelief rooted out, order these books which he composed, and by means of which he led men astray, to be collected, and cause them to be burnt." And the prince approved of Cyril's letter, and glorified God, and acted in accordance with Cyril's suggestions, and wrote a reply, in which he requested him to bless his empire. So the Father Cyril rejoiced, and composed homilies and discourses, in which he refuted the writings of the prince Julian, and condemned his actions, pointing out how the angel destroyed him in war like Saul; and much besides.

After this, news concerning Nestorius reached the ears of Cyril, and he was informed of the corrupt doctrine of that heretic. And Cyril was sad when he heard this, and said: "No sooner has the misbelief of Julian passed away, than the blasphemies of Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople, have appeared." So Cyril, when he had ascertained how false the opinions of Nestorius were, wrote to him as follows:

"Cyril, patriarch of Alexandria, addresses Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople, with the salutation of the brethren in the true God, who has given us the grace which is one, setting all the world in agreement and in one belief, by the shedding of his blood, which grace is the faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ."

The rest of the epistle is well known, and therefore has not been transcribed in this history. And Nestorius returned an answer which was full of blasphemies. So Abba Cyril wrote to the bishops, to inform them of the case of Nestorius; and they met the patriarch in synod, and said to him: "We have heard the reports concerning Nestorius, and there is a special difficulty in regard to his circumstances. For Arius and his followers, and Paul and Manes and the rest of the heretics were not patriarchs, and yet they led a multitude of men astray. How then can this man remain patriarch of Constantinople?"

Then the Father Cyril wrote to Nestorius a second letter in which he said many things, including the following words: "Verily I do not fully believe what is told me of thee." And he added exhortations and warnings, and taught Nestorius what is the right faith, and begged him to return from his heretical doctrine, and told him that he was not strong enough to oppose God who mounted the Cross for our sakes. The following is a transcription of Cyril's letter:

"To my brother and fellow-minister. I did not believe at first what was reported of thee, nor that the contents of the letters, which came to me, and which were said to be written by thee, in reality proceeded from thee. For the lying doctrines which they contained were attributed to the saints; for they were letters full of blasphemy. And now I charge thee to cast away this blasphemy and these disputes; for thou hast no power to fight against God, who was crucified for us in truth, and died in the body, although he was living in the power of his Godhead. For it is he that is sitting on the right hand of the Father, while the angels and principalities and powers worship him; and he is the eternal King, into whose hands the Father has given all things. And he is the Creator of all; so that thou hast no power to oppose him. I told thee what befell the Jews who withstood him, so that thou art not ignorant of it, and what befell the heretics, Simon Magus and the prince Julian and Arius. Behold what Job the truthful says [Job 6:21 LXX]: Look upon my wounds, and fear, and glorify God. I tell thee that the Church will not endure that thou insult her God; and she it is against whom the gates of hell shall not prevail; for thou knowest what trials she has undergone, and yet that no man has ever had power over her, because she is as a rock in her faith. Beware therefore what thou doest at this time. Farewell."

When this second letter reached Nestorius, he wrote another answer like his first, full of blasphemies, and, when the Father Cyril received it, he again addressed an epistle to Nestorius, saying:

"If thou wert not a bishop, none would know of thee save thy neighbours and kinsmen; but since thou sittest upon the episcopal throne of the Son of God all know thee, through the fame of the Church. Thou hast attacked the Lord with words of blasphemy, which thou canst not confirm or prove.

"For if thou searchest the Old Testament, thou canst not find therein that Christ is called a mere man, as thou pretendest; and in saying thus thou showest only that thou dost resist God thy Creator, who bought thee with his blood, namely God the Son, Son of God the Father. So he is called both in the Old and New Testaments. So he is called in the Gospel of John [1:18], which speaks of him as the Only-begotten son, who is in the bosom of his Father. Matthew the evangelist [Matt 1:23] also says that Christ is Emmanuel, [Matt. 1:23] the interpretation of which is God with us as Isaias says in his prophecy [Is. 7:14]. Mark testifies in his Gospel [Mark 14:61- 65] that when the high priest asked of Jesus: Art thou the Son of God? he answered: Yea, I am he; and hereafter you shall see the Son of God sitting on the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds to judge the living and the dead. Is not this testimony that of which Paul says [1 Tim. 6:13] that it was the good confession which Jesus made before Pontius Pilate? This is the confession in which Christ perseveres, and for it myriads of martyrs have died, whose numbers cannot be counted.

"Hast thou not heard Gabriel saying [Luke 1:32-35] to our Lady Mary that he whom she should hear was of the Holy Ghost, and should be called the Son of God, who is over all, and glorified for ever and ever? Who is it that bears the sins of the world? Is it not Jesus Christ, the son of Mary, whom she bore for us, God the Word incarnate? If thou believest that he was a prophet like Moses, yet neither Moses nor any of the prophets was able to bear the sins of the world; but it is the Prince of Goodness, even Christ, who bears the sins of the world by being raised upon the cross for our sakes. Hast not thou heard Paul, the apostle, saying [Phil 2:6-7]: He is not man, but he is God who became man? Again Paul says [1Thess. 1:10; Heb. 1:4-13 and 2:5-9] that it was no angel or intercessor that saved us, but Jesus Christ; and God the Father raised him from the dead. Seest thou now how he confesses that he is God, and how he acknowledges the sufferings that he endured in his holy body? For if he be not God, how could Paul acknowledge that our salvation came not by a man nor from a man, nor by an angel or intercessor, but by God, even Jesus Christ, whose death he also acknowledges, when he says that the Father raised him from the dead? Thou seest now his wisdom, full of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

"I have sent thee these letters, my brother, that thou mayest preserve them in the church. Thou art not without knowledge, so read the scriptures and learn from these things and more besides. I have sent the brethren to thee, and asked them to remain with thee, that thou mayest enquire diligently during a month, and search through the scriptures, and write to us of what befalls thee. Farewell."

When Nestorius had perused this epistle, he would not receive the brethren who had brought it to him, nor would he accept the advice contained in the letter or write an answer to it. So the messengers remained a whole month at Constantinople as Abba Cyril, the patriarch, commanded them, and paid frequent visits to Nestorius; but he would not allow them to enter, and hardened his heart, as Pharao did.

Now Nestorius had been a friend of the prince Theodosius since the time when they were together in the school; and the prince used to say to Nestorius: "I have never heard any of the doctors of the Church teach according to thy doctrine." But Nestorius would not listen to him.

So the messengers sent to Nestorius by Cyril returned to him, and told him what had happened. Then Cyril availed himself of the weapons of his fathers, Alexander and Athanasius, and put on the breastplate of faith which his predecessors had handed down in the church of Saint Mark the Evangelist; and he went out to war as David did, with his heart strong in Christ who is God. And he wrote to the other bishops, and they sent a letter to the prince, begging him to allow them to hold a council to inquire into the teaching of Nestorius, and reminding him that his fathers, who had reigned before him, had at all times been supporters of the Church:

"They constantly assisted the bishops to confirm the orthodox faith, that they might bless their empire. But now this Nestorius has divided the Church, and is not far from the error of idolatry, since he blasphemously teaches that Christ is a mere man, and no more than a prophet. Many prophets have come into the world, but none of them has ever been worshipped; so that if Nestorius worships a man he is become an idolater. When Peter said to our Lord Christ: [Matt. 17:4; Mark 9:4; Luke 9:33] Master, it is good for us to be here, and let us make three tabernacles, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias, he said it because Christ was the Creator of those two and their God, and had manifested his glory to his disciples by bringing those two, the one from heaven and the other from the earth. Therefore we beg of thy imperial power that we may hold a council to enquire into this man's doctrines. And we will pray for thee and for thy empire that thou mayest obtain salvation, O thou that lovest God!"

When the prince had read this letter, he was moved by the power of the Lord, and, acting together with the patriarch, he summoned a council of the bishops to meet in the city of Ephesus. Accordingly, two hundred bishops assembled there from all the cities, each bishop taking with him two priests and a deacon from his diocese. They sent to Nestorius, demanding his presence; and they waited for him many days, but he did not appear; so they wrote to the emperor, informing him that Nestorius had not appeared but that they were waiting for him. And Nestorius requested the prince to send an official with him to protect him, saying: "The bishops are many, and I fear that they will kill me." So the prince sent with Nestorius a patrician named Candidian, whose opinions agreed with those of Nestorius.

When Candidian came to the council, he seized Cyril by night and imprisoned him in a place in which wheat was kept, together with his friends. And Cyril said to his friends: "What is this beneath our feet?" They answered: "It is wheat." And he said: "Thanks be to God who has given us the victory; for they have put us in the house of life." Now Candidian had done this in order to support Nestorius, and to intimidate Cyril and the bishops with him, who had come together on account of him, that they might be scattered. But Candidian's object was not attained, for the bishops had not met together without having devoted themselves to death, if it should be necessary, for the faith. So when Candidian was convinced of this, he released Cyril and his friends; and as he was afraid lest the affair should reach the ears of the prince, who would cause him to be executed on account of it, he began to guard the roads, and prevented the reporters of news from writing to the prince any account of what had passed.

Then the fathers continued for some time, in company with the bishop of Ephesus, assembling together and praying, while Nestorius remained separated from them, and would not join them. So they sent to him three bishops, requesting him to be present with them for prayer; but the soldiers under the order of Candidian would not allow these bishops to enter the house where Nestorius was. And as he thus held aloof from them, and as the transactions lasted so long that the bishops were troubled at being so far from their dioceses, they were forced to expel that enemy of God from God's Church. Accordingly they brought the four gospels, and also brought the blasphemous writings of Nestorius; and a learned deacon, namely Peter, who was the scribe of Cyril, and knew the blasphemous passages in the compositions of Nestorius, read them out briefly before the holy council; and when they heard them, his misbelief was proved to them. So the bishops anathematized Nestorius and excommunicated him, and subscribed their signatures to the letter of excommunication, which was sent to him; yet he would not receive it, nor give up his misbelief.

Then the bishops desired to send a copy of their letter to the prince, but were not able to do so because of those whom Candidian, the patrician, had set to guard the road. So they consulted together; and at last one of them took the letter, and put it inside a stout cane, and disguised himself, and started off and travelled to Constantinople. There he gave the letter to Dalmatius and Eutyches, the two monks. And they presented it to the prince; and the prince handed it to an eunuch, who received it from him, and gave it to the scribe that he might read it out before the prince. And when he read it, the contents proved to be as follows:

"The Council assembled at Ephesus declares thus. We believe that Emmanuel is God Incarnate. But it is said that Nestorius does not share with us in this faith. Therefore he is a stranger to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, and a stranger to the tradition of the Apostles, and a stranger to the one Holy Church. Everyone who denies that Jesus is Emmanuel, that is to say, God Incarnate, is anathema. And everyone who denies that the Virgin Mary is the Mother of God the Word, truly Incarnate, is anathema. Jesus is the Creator, Jesus is the Conqueror, Jesus is the Saviour of all. To him belongs Glory forever. Amen."

And when this confession of faith was read to the prince, he and all that were in his palace cried out, saying: "Jesus is Emmanuel, God Incarnate." Then Eutyches, the monk, said to the prince: "Let thy majesty subscribe to his excommunication, and write to the bishops, commanding them to appear before thee, to salute thee and bless thy empire." And the prince did so. Therefore the assembly of bishops journeyed to Alexandria, and thence to Constantinople. And the prince received them graciously, and sat in a lower seat than they, and prostrated himself before them, and received their blessing.

But he commanded that Nestorius should be sent into banishment. So Nestorius was exiled in company with a chamberlain who conducted him to Egypt. And the bishops sent a letter to him before he started, in which they said: "Confess that the Crucified is God Incarnate, and we will receive thee again and obtain the repeal of thy sentence of banishment." But Nestorius hardened his heart like Pharao, and returned no answer to them.

And when he said to the chamberlain: "Let us rest here, for I am tired," the chamberlain replied: "The Lord also was weary when he walked until the sixth hour, and he is God. What sayest thou?" And Nestorius answered: "Two hundred bishops assembled to make me confess that Jesus is God Incarnate, but I would not do so. Shall I then say to thee that God suffered fatigue?" And the chamberlain conducted Nestorius on his journey until he brought him to Ikhmim in Upper Egypt; and there he remained in banishment, anathematized and excommunicated, until he died.

Now the holy Father Cyril wrote many epistles, among which was an epistle to Abba John, patriarch of Antioch, beginning thus: "Let the heavens rejoice, and the earth exult." Cyril also wrote an epistle to Acacius, bishop of Malatia, beginning: "How sweet is an assembly of perfect brethren, who remind one another of spiritual doctrines." And he addressed a letter to Valerian, bishop of Iconium, beginning: "The beloved brother and fellow-minister." And he sent an epistle to the priests and deacons and monks and ascetes who remained firm in the orthodox faith after the excommunication and banishment of Nestorius; and an epistle to Eugolius, the Alexandrian priest who dwelt at Constantinople, beginning: "Men are wroth with us on account of the faith proclaimed by the bishops of the East." And he wrote an epistle to Anastasius and Alexander and Martinian and John, and Paregorius, the priest, and Maximus, the deacon, beginning: "I greatly praise your love for learning."

And in every epistle Cyril makes mention of the orthodox faith, and exposes the errors of Nestorius and the corruption of his doctrine, pointing out that it is opposed to the faith of the holy fathers, and to that which is contained in the divine scriptures of the Old and New Testaments; and he proves this by genuine testimonies from the holy writings, in which the Holy Ghost speaks by the tongues of the veracious prophets, the elect apostles, and the holy fathers and doctors of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Cyril also wrote letters to Nestorius, before his banishment, which are conceived in a spirit of benevolence,and in which Cyril exhorts Nestorius, and aims at conciliating and guiding him. Yet Nestorius would not listen to Cyril, nor return from his misbelief and hardness of heart and corrupt creed.


The St. Pachomius Orthodox Library, Nativity 1997.

Have mercy, O Lord, upon Thy servants the translator Basil, and the scribes Mark, Denise, Anne, and Alifa!