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  • Writer's picturePeter Kennedy

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem

saint cyril

St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s legacy is one defined primarily by the Arian Heresy but I think there is a hidden legacy here we can all learn from, particularly in our highly divided culture.  St. Cyril was bishop of Jerusalem in the fourth century.  During this time there was a tremendous split in the Church over the teachings of Arius who was a priest-theologian just prior to the council of Nicaea in 325 AD.

Arius along with many others of the time, in fact some historians state the majority of the Church, believed that Jesus was subordinate to God the Father to the point where there was a time when God the Father Existed and Jesus did not.  This view is clearly contrary to both the prologue of the Gospel of John and the Epistle to the Hebrews, among others and the consistent teaching of the Apostles as handed down.  St. Cyril was caught in the middle.

It is said that while St. Cyril was understood to be a man of true Catholic faith, he was elected bishop of Jerusalem with the help of friends who were Arians.  This is not dissimilar to the election of St. Ambrose of Milan whom many saw as a Catholic who would go gently on his Arian subjects. Indeed, in the midst of such controversies, it can be difficult to maintain friendships or even kindness as arguments arise around deeply held religious beliefs.  Because of his kindness, Cyril was accused of being in league with the Arians and exiled from his bishopric on multiple occasions.  In one case it was claimed that he had sold furniture belonging to the Church to feed the poor during a famine, but this was not an uncommon practice among the saints and the politics of the time are more likely the reason for his exile.  In fact, he would spend more than half of this time as bishop in exile causing great strife for the people of Jerusalem who were left without guidance and leadership.

Though he was several times accused of being an Arian himself, even by St. Jerome, at his appearance at the Council of Constantinople in 381, he is known to have been one of the defenders of the Catholic teaching on Jesus.  Though many of the council fathers, including St. Athanasius himself, are said to have thrown no little mud in his direction, he was most concerned with the truth and not with politics and he is known to have continued to show kindness to everyone regardless of their standing.

But Cyril would persevere, spending his life as a great catechist preparing people for baptism and remaining with them as a mentor during their first steps as neophytes.  His Catechesis would eventually earn him the title, Doctor of the Church and inspire the revision of the RCIA after the Second Vatican Council.

It is clear from this catechesis, written while he was still a priest, that he always held a true Catholic faith, even telling new members of the Church to be certain to seek out only Catholic Churches to worship, so as to be certain not to fall into heresy. Yet, he was still accused of being a member of a heretic sect!  Why? Because he did not allow another’s fall into heresy make that person an enemy.

While Jesus tells us there is no greater love than to lay your life down for your friends (JN 15:13), it can certainly be said a close second is to love your enemies (Mt 5:43). So frequently, this later command is an often forgotten part of Jesus’s teaching.  It can go against every instinct, every emotion, and even tear at our very souls.  But St. Cyril shows us another way, even allowing himself to be falsely accused and exiled from his home.  The truth is not a license for cruelty, but rather a mandate to love.

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