No Half Measures
Cyril of Alexandria
27 June 2017
Cyril of Alexandria (ca. A.D. 378-444) was a hard-nosed church politician who continually campaigned against the heresies of his day. As Bishop of Alexandria (412-444) he battled against the teaching of Bishop Nestorius of Constantinople, who was deposed in 431 for teaching in such a way as to leave the impression that Christ was really two persons united only by will and not by nature. This incomplete assumption of the human nature by the eternal God left human nature with a salvation by will, not by divine act. Nestorius taught, like modern moralists, that the Christian was to emulate the life and piety of Christ and thus to find salvation. Salvation became a choice of the human will rather than the monergistic act of God. The incarnation was not complete, almost as though there were two Christ's; one, Jesus the man, and the other, the divine Logos.
This debate between Cyril and Nestorius is the eastern analog to the debate between Augustine and the Pelagians. In the east, the debate was always couched in terms of Christology, in the west, in terms of soteriology. In the bigger scheme of things both Augustine and Cyril contributed enormous theological gifts to the church, each defending divine monergism in his own way. One might say that Cyril's eastern pattern has experienced a revival partly through the influence of Luther for whom righteousness before God and the person of Christ were inseparable, even if distinguishable. There is something profoundly salutary, though, in the eastern insistence on seeing everything through the lens of Christology that is being appropriated again in many theological circles today. Christ is the one who brings salvation and salvation is about Christ.
Cyril echoed his predecessor, Athanasius, for whom the principal was "what was not assumed could not be saved." An incomplete assumption of the human nature, implied a less than complete salvation. Here the Pelagian error leaps out at us. If Christ's work to save us was incomplete, then we have to pick up where He left off and finish the effort. It is no more likely that we could finish salvation once started than it would be to start what is not yet begun. Cyril saw that a full and complete union between the two natures in Christ is essential to our salvation. No half measures would do.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Cyril of Alexandria
"We believe therefore, not in one like us honored with divinity by grace, lest we be found worshippers of a man. Rather we believe in the Lord who appeared in servant's form, and who was truly like us and in human nature, yet remained God. For God the Word, when He took flesh, did not lay down what He was, but is conceived as the same God alike and Man. This is the right faith. But if anyone says, 'What harm if a man like us be thought of as laying hold on divinity rather than God being made man?' We shall answer that there are a thousand things which may be brought to bear against this, and which all tell us that we ought firmly to strive against it and not believe it.
"Before anything else, let us look at the circumstance of the flesh and thoroughly investigate the nature of our condition. The nature of man, imperiled, brought down to the worst ill, condemned to being cursed and to death and involved in the toils of sin, straying and in darkness, did not know Him who is by nature truly God. Instead, it worshiped the creature more than the Creator. How then could it be freed from such ills? Or do we say that it was right for human nature to lay hold of the divine Nature, even while it did not at all know what the dignity of the supreme Nature is, given that it was possessed by ignorance and darkness, and denied by the filth of sin? How could it mount up to the purest Nature and lay hold on glory which none can lay hold of, except he receive it as a gift? Suppose that by knowledge (and through knowing we say that it lays hold of it) who is to teach it? For how shall they believe except they hear (Rm 10:14)? But this is not to take hold of divinity, nor to seize the glory that belongs to it.
"Therefore, it will be better (and reasonably so) to conceive that God the Word through whom all things exist, desiring to save that which was lost by abasing Himself to us. He lowered Himself to what He was not, in order that the nature of man might also become what it was not: eminent in the dignities of the divine supremacy by union with Him. Human nature was brought up to what was above nature, rather than brought down unto what was alien to His unchangeable nature as God. It was right that the incorruptible should lay hold on the nature subject to corruption, that He might free it from the corruption. He who knew no sin was conformed with those who were under sin, that He might make sin to cease. For as where there is light, surely darkness will have no work. Where there is incorruption, it is necessary that corruption flee. He who knew no sin has made His own that which was under sin, so that sin should come to naught." 

Cyril of Alexandria, Scholia on the Incarnation of the Only-Begotten, 12

Romans 9:1-9

I am speaking the truth in Christ- I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit- that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named." This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: "About this time next year I will return and Sarah shall have a son." (ESV)
Heavenly Father, Bishop Cyril courageously taught that Mary was the Mother of God. May we who cherish this belief receive salvation through the incarnation of Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
For Joanna Karner, and all who suffer from chronic diseases, that the Lord Jesus would be their strength and their hope
For every good and godly vocation, that all persons would recognize that their labor is a gift from God for service to others
For those who travel in their duties to serve the church, that they would be kept safe by the holy angels and have joyful homecomings

For the family of Karolyn Hewitt, whom the Lord took from this vale of tears, that the Lord Jesus would enable them to confess the resurrection of the flesh and the life of the world to come
Art: Anton von WERNER,  Luther Before the Diet of Worms (1877)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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