St. Cyril of Alexandria: Warrior for the Dogma of the Divine Maternity of Our Lady


According to Tradition, it was St. Cyril of Alexandria who composed the second part of the Hail Mary: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”

Newsroom(05/08/2021 14:00, Gaudium Press) In the fifth century, there were numerous controversies concerning the Person and natures of our Lord Jesus Christ. The main focus of the discussion concerned the Divine Maternity of Mary Most Holy, and the great warrior who intrepidly defended this dogma was St. Cyril of Alexandria.

Events in the Basilica of Saint Sophia

St. Cyril came from an honourable Alexandrian family. Information regarding his youth is scarce, but, judging by the depth of knowledge evident in his sermons and writings, he appears to have received an excellent education.

In 412, he became Patriarch of the city where St. Athanasius too had shone, when he had struck terrible blows against the Arian heresy.

Soon after, the monk Nestorius assumed the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which was the capital of the Eastern Empire.

One day in the year 429, in the packed Basilica of St. Sophia, there was a solemnity presided over by Nestorius, at which Bishop Saint Proclus delivered the homily. The Saint proudly declared that in Jesus Christ there are two natures – the divine and the human – which have been united in one divine Person; therefore, the Virgin Mary is the Mother of God. The faithful applauded him enthusiastically, but at the end of the ceremony, Nestorius took the floor and, misleadingly, placed restrictions on the declarations of St. Proclus.

The following Sunday, in the same Basilica, Bishop Dorotheus declared, “If anyone calls Mary the Mother of God, let him be anathema!” Hearing this, the faithful rose up, shouting against Dorotheus for having spoken such blasphemy.

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The Pope’s representative at the Council of Ephesus

Learning of the doctrinal deviations advocated by Nestorius, St. Cyril wrote him a letter – which is an authentic treatise – in which he proclaimed the truth and refuted the other’s errors. He also wrote to the Emperor, Theodosius II, who had allowed himself to be ambushed by Nestorius.

Such was the petulance of Nestorius that in 430 he even sent to Pope St. Celestine I the texts of his sermons against the divine Maternity of Our Lady. On learning of this, St. Cyril wrote a letter to the Pontiff in which he summarized Nestorius’ errors. In his missive, the Saint declared, “I am pained to announce to you that Satan is rising up against the Church of God.”

Several priests and bishops became supporters of Nestorianism, luring in great numbers of the people as well; but many people chose an intermediate position, as a third force in the controversy.

The Emperor, Theodosius II, convoked a Council to be held in Ephesus in 431. In that city, where Our Lady had lived for several years with St. John the Evangelist, and where Her Glorious Assumption took place, the Creator wished to glorify Her by proclaiming the Dogma: Mary is the Mother of God.

Being unable to go to Ephesus because of the great distance between Rome and that city, the Pope, St. Celestine, appointed St. Cyril as his representative, who proceeded to journey there accompanied by 50 Egyptian bishops.

Nestorius died with his tongue eaten away by worms

The Council, presided over by St. Cyril and which the wicked Nestorius refused to attend, declared that Nestorius was deposed from the episcopate, from the priesthood, from Catholic communion – in other words – excommunicated.

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On the evening when the great assembly ended, the people applauded the bishops who had taken part in it and accompanied them with torches to the places of their lodgings; in many houses, as they passed by, fragrant plants were burnt.

Theodosius II exiled Nestorius, who was taken to a monastery in the city of Antioch, whose bishop was a supporter of his; sometime later he was taken to a distant city in Arabia.

As he continued to preach his nefarious doctrine to the people, it was decided that Nestorius should be transported to an oasis in the Libyan desert. Due to an invasion of barbarians, he fled that place and in his flight, he suffered a wound that later became gangrenous. He died in 439, with his tongue having been eaten by worms.

According to Tradition, St. Cyril composed the second part of the Hail Mary: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”

In 444, after having wisely led the Diocese of Alexandria for 32 years, St. Cyril died.

Those who most hinder the Catholic Cause

During the doctrinal battle of St. Cyril of Alexandria against Nestorius, there were people who took the third position, claiming to favour neither St. Cyril nor Nestorius.

On this question, Dr. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira commented:

“There is a race of souls who correspond to what is said in Scripture: ‘If you were cold or hot, I would accept you; but since you are lukewarm, I shall vomit you out of my mouth’ (cf. Rev 3:15-16).

“That is, if you would accept the truth, I would accept you; if you would accept your error and repent, I would forgive you. But since you are of that kind of lukewarm people, who are neither on the side of truth nor on the side of error, you cause Me to have a nausea that lukewarmness causes. […]

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They are the ones who hinder the Catholic Cause the most: because they always approach others, telling them not to follow the defenders of the truth, because they, the lukewarm, are Catholics too, though not as obviously Catholic as the others.

“It is because of this that the ranks of the true followers of the Catholic cause have far fewer adherents than they should. The best defense of error is not among those who profess it, but among those who claim to profess the truth, yet in their actions further the error; they are truly the fifth-column that has always existed in this kind of struggle. […]

“We must be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect, and if that ejaculatory prayer: ‘Sacred Heart of Jesus, make my heart like Yours’ is legitimate, then we must also be nauseated by those who nauseate the Heavenly Father; if we want to imitate the Heart of Jesus, we must also be horrified by the ones who horrify Him.

“Therein lies the request we must make of Our Lady: to understand vividly the horror of this position and to stand against it with all the infinite execration that God has towards these kinds of people. It must be a condemnation extending to the very limit: with disgust and contempt. This intermediate, third position draws down the divine wrath more than the defined opposite position.”

By Paul Francis Martos

Compiled by Sandra Chisholm

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