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St. Cyril of Jerusalem

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St. Cyril of Jerusalem

For other uses, see Cyril.
Saint Cyril of Jerusalem
Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church
Born ca. 313
possibly near Caesarea Maritima, Syria Palaestina (Modern-day Israel)
Died 386
Jerusalem, Syria Palaestina
Honored in Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Church,
Oriental Orthodox Church
Anglican Communion
Feast March 18

Cyril of Jerusalem (Greek Κύριλλος Α΄ Ἱεροσολύμων) was a distinguished theologian of the early Church (ca. 313[1] – 386). He is venerated as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Anglican Communion. In 1883, Cyril was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII. He is highly respected in the Palestinian Christian Community.

Life and character

Little is known of his life before he became a bishop; the assignment of his birth to the year 315 rests on conjecture.[2] It is believed that Cyril came from a family of Christians and was immediately drawn to the Church. Most scholars believe that Cyril was born and brought up in Caesarea of Palestine but some say he may have been born in Jerusalem because of his early knowledge of the city's layout, but this could have been attributed to research or information he learned after moving there to become bishop.

St. Cyril was ordained a deacon by Bishop St. Macarius of Jerusalem in about 335 and a priest some eight years later by Bishop St. Maximus. About the end of 350 he succeeded St. Maximus in the See of Jerusalem.[3][4][5]

Soon after his appointment, Cyril in his Letter to Constantius[6] of 351 recorded the appearance of a cross of light in the sky above Golgotha, witnessed by the whole population of Jerusalem. Cyril regards this as proof that Constantius' piety towards God ensures imperial victory. The Greek church commemorates this miracle on the 7th of May. Though in modern times the authenticity of the Letter has been questioned, on the grounds that the word homoousios occurs in the final blessing, many scholars believe this may be a later interpolation, and accept the letter's authenticity on the grounds of other pieces of internal evidence.[7]


Soon, however, relations between Metropolitan Acacius of Caesarea and Cyril became tense. Acacius is presented as a leading Arian by the orthodox historians, and his opposition to Cyril in the 350s is attributed by these writers to this cause. Sozomen also suggests that the tension may have been increased by Acacius's jealousy of the importance assigned to St. Cyril's See by the Council of Nicaea, as well as by the threat posed to Caesarea by the rising influence of the see of Jerusalem as it developed into the prime Christian holy place and became a centre of pilgrimage.[8] But in fact, the tensions in the 350s were a question of the use of church property.[9] Cyril became well known for his charitable works in the City of Jerusalem. For example in the mid 350s the city of Jerusalem was hit with drastic food shortages at which point church historians Sozomen and Theodoret reported “Cyril secretly sold sacramental ornaments of the church and a valuable holy robe, fashioned with gold thread that the emperor Constantine had once donated for the bishop to wear when he performed the rite of Baptism”.[10] It was also believed Cyril sold ornaments and many imperial gifts all in the name of charity to keep his people from starving. Besides his charitable works as Bishop Cyril had many responsibilities in city life. These duties included the administration of justice with the Episcopal court, the negotiation of ransom for captures, teaching and preaching to the masses, converting non-believers, offering spiritual guidance, maintaining political duties, and many other important duties. Cyril was constantly busy with work that ranged from offering Mass to meeting with the people of his flock and not to mention making it a top priority to make sure people were not starving or being seduced by the call of false idols and religious skeptics.

For two years, Cyril resisted Acacius' summons to account for his actions in selling off church property, but a council held under Acacius's influence in 357 deposed St. Cyril in his absence (having officially charged him with selling church property to help the poor) and forced him to retire to Tarsus.[10] The following year, 359, in an atmospohere hostile to Acacius, the Council of Seleucia reinstated Cyril and deposed Acacius. In 360, though, this was reversed by Emperor Constantius,[11] and Cyril suffered another year's exile from Jerusalem until the Emperor Julian's accession allowed him to return.

Cyril was once again banished from Jerusalem by the Arian Emperor Valens in 367. St. Cyril was able to return again at the accession of Emperor Gratian in 378, after which he remained undisturbed until his death in 386. St. Cyril's jurisdiction over Jerusalem was expressly confirmed by the First Council of Constantinople (381), at which he was present. At that council he voted for acceptance of the term homoousios, having been finally convinced that there was no better alternative.[3] His story is perhaps best representative of those Eastern bishops (perhaps a majority), initially mistrustful of Nicaea, who came to accept the creed of that council, and the doctrine of the homoousion.[12]

Theological position

Though his theology was at first somewhat indefinite in phraseology, he undoubtedly gave a thorough adhesion to the Nicene orthodoxy. Even if he did avoid the debatable term homooussios, he expressed its sense in many passages, which exclude equally Patripassianism, Sabellianism, and the formula "there was a time when the Son was not" attributed to Arius. In other points he takes the ordinary ground of the Eastern Fathers, as in the emphasis he lays on the freedom of the will, the autexousion (αὐτεξούσιον), and his imperfect realization of the factor so much more strongly brought out in the West: sin. To him sin is the consequence of freedom, not a natural condition. The body is not the cause, but the instrument of sin. The remedy for it is repentance, on which he insists. Like many of the Eastern Fathers, he has an essentially moralistic conception of Christianity . His doctrine of the Resurrection is not quite so realistic as that of other Fathers; but his conception of the Church is decidedly empirical: the existing catholic Church form is the true one, intended by Christ, the completion of the Church of the Old Testament. His interpretation of the Eucharist is disputed. If he sometimes seems to approach the symbolic view, at other times he comes very close to a strong realistic doctrine. The bread and wine are not mere elements, but the body and blood of Christ.

Cyril of Jerusalem is often renowned for his beliefs in the nature of Jesus and God. His writings are filled with the loving and forgiving nature of God which was somewhat uncommon during his time period. Many religious leaders focusing on the wrath of God instilling a fear in their members. Cyril fills his writings with great lines of the healing power of forgiveness and the Holy Spirit like “The Spirit comes gently and makes himself known by his fragrance. He is not felt as a burden for God is light, very light. Rays of light and knowledge stream before him as the Spirit approaches. The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen and to console”. Cyril truly believes in the forgiving aspect of Christianity and knows the power it holds to turn those in pain towards the light of God. Cyril himself followed God's message of forgiveness himself many times throughout his life. Most clearly seen in his two major exiles where Cyril was disgraced and forced to leave his position and his people behind. He never wrote or showed any ill will towards those who wronged him. Cyril’s central messages also contain the primary principle of faith. Cyril knew religion wasn’t about proving the existence of God or proving the divinity of Christ but rather instilling a faith in people. Cyril knew the power and importance of faith and tried at every opportunity to pass his faith onto others, allowing them to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. Through his simple message Cyril became recognized as one of the most profound and admired Bishops in church history, which ultimately led to his canonization by the Christian church.

Catechetical Lectures

Cyril's famous twenty-three lectures given to catechumens in Jerusalem being prepared for, and after, baptism are best considered in two parts: the first eighteen lectures are common known as the Catechecical Lectures, Catechetical Orations or Catechetical Homilies, while the final five are often called the Mystagogic Catecheses (μυσταγωγικαί), because they deal with the mysteries (μυστήρια) i.e. Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist.[13]

His Jewish, and heretical errors. They are of great importance for the light which they throw upon the method of instruction usual of that age, as well as upon the liturgical practises of the period, of which they give the fullest account extant.

In the 13th lecture, Cyril of Jerusalem discusses the Crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ. The main themes that Cyril focuses on in these lectures are Original sin and Jesus’ sacrificing himself to save us from our sins. Also, the burial and Resurrection which occurred three days later proving the divinity of Jesus Christ and the loving nature of the Father. Cyril was very adamant about the fact that Jesus went to his death with full knowledge and willingness. Not only did he go willingly but throughout the process he maintained his faith and forgave all those who betrayed him and engaged in his execution. Cyril writes “who did not sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth, who, when he was reviled, did not revile, when he suffered did not threaten”.[10] This line by Cyril shows his belief in the selflessness of Jesus especially in this last final act of Love. The lecture also gives a sort of insight to what Jesus may have be feeling during the execution from the whippings and beatings, to the crown of thorns, to the nailing on the cross. Cyril intertwines the story with the messages Jesus told throughout his life before his execution relating to his final act. For example Cyril writes “I gave my back to those who beat me and my cheeks to blows; and my face I did not shield from the shame of spitting”.[10] This clearly reflects the teachings of Jesus to turn the other cheeks and not raising your hands against violence because violence just begets violence begets violence. The segment of the Catechesis really reflects the voice Cyril maintained in all of his writing. The writings always have the central message of the bible; Cyril doesn’t try to add his own beliefs in reference to religious interpretation and remains grounded in true biblical teachings.

Mystagogic Catecheses

There has been considerable controversy over the date and authorship of the Mystagogic Catecheses, addressed to the newly baptized, in preparation for the reception of Holy Communion, with some scholars having attributed them to Cyril's successor as Bishop of Jerusalem, John.[15] Many scholars would currently view the Mystagogic Catecheses as being written by Cyril, but in the 370s or 380s, rather than at the same time as the Catechetical Lectures.[16]

According to the Spanish pilgrim Egeria, these mystagogical catecheses were given to the newly baptised in the Church of the Anastasis in the course of Easter Week.[12]



  • Gifford, Edwin Hamilton. (1894) Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 7. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co.) [translation of the Catechetical Lectures, available at]
  • McCauley, Leo P and Anthony A Stephenson, (1969, 1970). The works of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem. 2 vols. Washington: Catholic University of America Press [contains an introduction, and English translations of: Vol 1: The introductory lecture (Procatechesis). Lenten lectures (Catecheses). Vol 2: Lenten lectures (Katēchēseis). Mystagogical lectures (Katēchēseis mystagōgikai). Sermon on the paralytic (Homilia eis ton paralytikon ton epi tēn Kolymbēthran). Letter to Constantius (Epistolē pros Kōnstantion). Fragments.]
  • Telfer, W.(1955). Cyril of Jerusalem and Nemesius of Emesa. The Library of Christian classics, v. 4. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
  • Yarnold, E., (2000). Cyril of Jerusalem. The early church fathers. London: Routledge. [provides an introduction, and full English translations of the Letter to Constantius, the Homily on the Paralytic, the Procatechesis, and the Mystagogic Catechesis, as well as selections from the Lenten Catecheses.]
  • Antonio Calisi, Lo Spirito Santo in Cirillo di Gerusalemme, Chàrisma Edizioni, Bari 2013, pp. 216. ISBN 978-88-908559-1-7

Further reading

  • The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, 3rd Edition, Donald Attwater and Catherine Rachel John, New York: Peguin Putnam Inc., 1995, ISBN 0-14-051312-4
  • Lives of the Saints, For Every Day of the Year edited by Rev. Hugo Hoever, S.O.Cist., Ph.D., New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1955
  • Omer Englebert, Lives of the Saints New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1994, ISBN 1-56619-516-0
  • Drijvers, J. W. (2004). Cyril of Jerusalem: Bishop and city. Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae, v. 72. Leiden: Brill.
  • Lane, A. N. S., & Lane, A. N. S. (2006). A concise history of Christian thought. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic.
  • Van, N. P. (January 1, 2007). 'The Career Of Cyril Of Jerusalem (C.348–87): A Reassessment'. The Journal of Theological Studies, 58, 1, 134-146.
  • Di Berardino, Angelo. 1992. Encyclopedia of the early church. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • In Cross, F. L., & In Livingstone, E. A. (1974). The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church. London: Oxford University Press.

External links

Preceded by
Maximus III
Bishop of Jerusalem
Succeeded by
John II

Template:Churchdoctor Template:Catholic saints

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