Cyril of Jerusalem

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Saint Cyril of Jerusalem
Saint Cyril of Jerusalem.jpg
Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church
Born c. 313 AD
possibly near Caesarea Maritima, Syria Palaestina (Modern-day Israel)
Died 386 AD (aged 73)
Jerusalem, Syria Palaestina
Venerated in Eastern Orthodox Church
Oriental Orthodoxy
Roman Catholic Church
Anglican Communion

Cyril of Jerusalem (Greek: Κύριλλος Α΄ Ἱεροσολύμων, Kýrillos A Ierosolýmon; Latin: Cyrillus Hierosolymitanus) was a distinguished theologian of the early Church (c. 313[1] – 386 AD). 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.

About the end of 350 AD he succeeded Maximus as Bishop of Jerusalem, but was exiled on more than one occasion due to the enmity of Acacius of Caesarea, and the policies of various emperors. Cyril left important writings documenting the instruction of catechumens and the order of the Liturgy in his day.

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] According to Butler, Cyril was born at or near the city of Jerusalem, and was apparently well-read in both the Church fathers and the pagan philosophers.[3]

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.[4][5][6]


Soon after his appointment, Cyril in his Letter to Constantius[7] of 351 recorded the appearance of a cross of light in the sky above Golgotha, witnessed by the whole population of Jerusalem. 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.[8]

Relations between Metropolitan Acacius of Caesarea and Cyril became strained. 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. 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.[9]

Acacius charged Cyril with selling church property.[10] The city of Jerusalem had suffered drastic food shortages at which point church historians Sozomen and Theodoret report “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”.[11] It was believed that Cyril sold some plate, ornaments and imperial gifts to keep his people from starving.

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.[11] 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,[12] 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.[4] 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.[13]

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 homoousios, 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.[14] 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 in his view of the nature of 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 focuses on high moral living as essential to true 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 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. Chapman finds Cyril less equivocal and finds him upholding the doctrine of Transubstantiation.[14]

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. 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 Catechetical 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.[15]

His catechetical lectures (Greek Κατηχήσεις) [16] are generally assumed, on the basis of limited evidence, to have been delivered either in Cyril's early years as a bishop, around 350, or perhaps in 348, while Cyril was still a priest, deputising for his bishop, Maximus.[17] The Catechetical Lectures were given in the Martyrion, the basilica erected by Constantine.[13] They contain instructions on the principal topics of Christian faith and practice, in rather a popular than a scientific manner, full of a warm pastoral love and care for the catechumens to whom they were delivered. Each lecture is based upon a text of Scripture, and there is an abundance of Scriptural quotation throughout. In the Catechetical Lectures, parallel with the exposition of the Creed as it was then received in the Church of Jerusalem are vigorous polemics against pagan, 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”.[11] 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 been 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”.[11] 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 is not trying to add his own beliefs in reference to religious interpretation and remains grounded in true biblical teachings.


Cyril identified the four beast-kingdoms of Daniel 7: “For as the first kingdom which became renowned was that of the Assyrians, and the second, that of the Medes and Persians together, and after these, that of the Macedonians was the third, so the fourth kingdom now is that of the Romans." The fourth beast he said would be "a fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall surpass all kingdoms. And that this kingdom is that of the Romans, has been the tradition of the Church's interpreters.”[18][19]

The “little horn” that uproots three other of the ten horns of the fourth beast, Cyril called the Antichrist and it was soon to appear. “There shall rise up together ten kings of the Romans, reigning in different parts perhaps, but all about the same time; and after these an eleventh, the Antichrist, who by his magical craft shall seize upon the Roman power will deceive both Jew and Gentile; and of the kings who reigned before him, three he shall humble, and the remaining seven he shall keep in subjection to himself."[18] Then 3 ½ years later the Antichrist would be slain in the second advent of Jesus.[19]

He said that even now Antichrists – heretics in disguise – were in the churches. He charged his hearers to be prepared for the possible imminent coming of Antichrist in the church.[19]

While discussing Nebuchadezzar’s image of Daniel 2 and the stone cut out of a mountain he states, “And in the days of those kingdoms the God of heaven shall set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed, and His kingdom shall not be left to another people."[18] The stone kingdom that supersedes the earthly kingdoms had not yet been established, according to Cyril, and Christ's coming kingdom shall never end.[19]

Cyril used the day-year principle to interpret the sixty-nine weeks of Daniel 9. Using the Olympiads as did Eusebius, he calculated the time period, as extending from the restoration of the temple in the sixth year of Darius to the time of Herod, in whose reign Christ was born.[19]

Cyril looked forward to the Second Advent as surely as he knew of the first. “In His former advent, He was wrapped in swaddling clothes in the manger; in His second, He covereth Himself with light as with a garment. In His first coming, He endured the Cross, despising shame; in His second, He comes attended by a host of Angels, receiving glory. We rest not then upon His first advent only, but look also for His second."[18] He looked forward to the Second Advent which would bring an end to the world and then the created world to be re-made anew. At the Second Advent he expected to rise in the resurrection if it came after his time on earth.[19]

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.[20] 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.[21]

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.[13]


  1. Walsh, Michael, ed. Butler's Lives of the Saints. (HarperCollins Publishers: New York, 1991), pp 83.
  2. Jackson, Samuel Macauley,ed., "Cyril of Jersusalem", New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, (3rd ed.) p.334, London and New York, Funk & Wagnalls, 1914
  3. Butler, Alban. The Lives or the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints Vol. III, D. & J. Sadlier, & Company, 1864
  4. 4.0 4.1 *"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, p. 112
  5. The evidence for this is the Catecheses by Cyril where he continually refers to himself as bishop
  6. Jerome gives a dark account of how Cyril came to be appointed as Bishop of Jerusalem, claiming that “Cyril was an out and out Arian, was offered the see on Maximus' death on the condition that he would repudiate his ordination at the hands of that Bishop”.(Yarnold (2000), p4) Jerome had personal reasons for being malicious, though, and, the story may simply be a case of Cyril conforming to proper church order.Young (2004), p186
  7. English translation is in Telfer (1955)
  8. Frances Young with Andrew Teal, From Nicaea to Chalcedon: A Guide to the Literature and its Background’’, (2nd edn, 2004), p192
  9. Sozomen, HE, 4.25
  10. Frances Young with Andrew Teal, From Nicaea to Chalcedon: A Guide to the Literature and its Background’’, (2nd edn, 2004), p187
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 *" Cyril, Drijvers, J. W. (2004). Cyril of Jerusalem: Bishop and city. Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae, v. 72. Leiden: Brill. , p. 65 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "cyril" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "cyril" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "cyril" defined multiple times with different content
  12. The reasons for this reversal are not entirely clear. According to Theodoret, (HE 2.23), Acacius informed the emperor that one of the things sold by Cyril was a 'holy robe' dedicated by Constantine himself, which consequently turned Constantius against Cyril. The truth of this is not clear though.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Andrew Louth, 'Palestine', in Frances Young et al., The Cambridge History of Early Christian Literature, (2010), p284
  14. 14.0 14.1 Chapman, John. "Saint Cyril of Jerusalem." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 16 Mar. 2015
  15. *"The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, 3rd Edition", Donald Attwater and Catherine Rachel John, New York: Peguin Putnam Inc., 1995, p. 101
  17. The main evidence for this dating is that at one point Cyril casually refers to the heresy of Mani as being seventy years old (Cat 6.20). Andrew Louth, 'Palestine', in Frances Young et al., The Cambridge History of Early Christian Literature, (2010), p284
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 Cyril & Gifford 1894.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 19.4 19.5 Froom 1950, pp. 412=415.
  20. Swaans (1942) makes the main case for an authorship by John; Doval (2001) argues in detail against Swaans's case. The arguments are summarised in Frances Young with Andrew Teal, From Nicaea to Chalcedon: A Guide to the Literature and its Background’’, (2nd edn, 2004), p189
  21. See, for example, Yarnold (1978). Frances Young with Andrew Teal, From Nicaea to Chalcedon: A Guide to the Literature and its Background’’, (2nd edn, 2004), p190



  • Cyril; Gifford, Edwin Hamilton (1894). "Catechetical Lectures of Saint Cyril, Lecture 15, Section 1". In Schaff, Philip; Wace, Henry (eds.). Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. series two. 7. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • 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.
Preceded by
Maximus III
Bishop of Jerusalem
Succeeded by
John II