Thursday, June 27, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we remember the man remembered as, “the Pillar of Faith and the Seal of All of the Fathers”: Cyril of Alexandria.

It is the 27th of June 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


We are already five days into Summer, and I am hot and exhausted. But that shouldn’t mean anything for this show, as we are entering a season that I think will be fruitful for all of us.

Back in 2019, when “COVID” didn’t mean anything and we started this show, it was with TWO memorials per day that each got just a few words (and, honestly, I was still figuring out how this show and format would work). So- it means some of the biggest names in church history have only been afforded a few words and many years ago such that we will be taking a fresh look at some of the pillars of the faith- figures and events are coming: Thomas Cranmer? The Patron saints of Europe? Cyril and Methodius? The Scopes Monkey Trial (and how American history from the 20s only makes sense in light of this). OK- without further ado, I introduce you to a giant in the church, a man recognized across traditions (as he lived before the big ones came about) and someone recognized as an official “Dr.” of the church and as the “Pillar of Faith and Seal of all the Fathers”. Whoa.

He was Cyril of Alexandria—born around 375. He died on this day in 444. These were heady days in the church, between the Council of Nicaea in 325 and the Council of Chalcedon in 451, just a few years after Cyril’s death.

So you might guess that Cyril has something to do with the definition of Christ as the God-Man that dominated the 4th and 5th centuries, and you would be right.

Cyril came from a family with ecclesiastical connections: His uncle was the archbishop, sometimes referred to as “the Pope,” of Alexandria, Egypt. Remember, in the early church, there were five centers—not just Rome and Constantinople but Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.

Alexandria was known for its proximity to centers of Greek philosophy, and thus, this hub was often at the forefront of debates about the role of philosophy in theology. Christian theology had something that Greek philosophy couldn’t quite square: how was Jesus 100% God and 100% Man without being 200% a human—or two humans?

Moreover, you may have heard what this meant for the “person” of the virgin Mary. Did she give birth to all 200% or just the human side? No one of import thought calling Mary “the mother of [just] the man,” but some wanted to call her “Theotokos” or “the mother/bearer of God.”

Some freaked out, and this position would coalesce under Constantinople's patriarch/bishop/pope, Nestorius.

Just as Arius had before him, Nestorius was trying to protect an important doctrine- the divinity of God. Nestorius believed that the two natures of Jesus needed to be safeguarded from each other- that a blending of the two diluted both, fair enough. But this distinction leads to Mary being the mother of the Christ- but not God… once again, as with Arianism, we run into trouble because a God that saves can do it himself- and to posit a Christ that is not of the same substance as the Father presents a Jesus that is not fully divine and thus unable to save.

For Cyril of Alexandria, the key to this was an understanding of the “hypostatic union.” Cyril would borrow this from another giant from Alexandria: Athanasius, whose “on the Incarnation” might be the shortest and greatest defense of Orthodox Christology. The “Hypostatic union” refers to the union of Christ's human and divine natures—100% both but in 1 person.

Despite Nicaea being 50 years before Cyril, the church had not yet fully bought in. The Council of Ephesus with Cyril and then the Council of Chalcedon after his death would solidify this teaching and Cyril’s place as a giant in early battles over the central doctrines of the person of Christ. Cyril’s zeal- not unlike that of Athanasius- could make him a pest and perhaps overzealous when it came to fighting for other doctrines of less significance- but it is often the firebrand whose zeal for truth that can call our attention to pressing matters- as did the man called the “Pillar of Faith and Seal of all the Fathers” Cyril of Alexandria who died on this, the 27th of June in 444.


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary and a personal note from 2 Corinthians 7:

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. 12 So even though I wrote to you, it was neither on account of the one who did the wrong nor on account of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are. 13 By all this we are encouraged.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 27th of June 2024, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man whose favorite Cyril characters include Alexandria, the villainous Aardvark from the Raccoons, and Cyril, the Frogman—a friend of Thomas the Tank Engine. He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man whose favorite Cyril comes from his second favorite Disney animated film: Cyril Proudbottom- Mr. Toad’s horse- I’m Dan van Voorhis. 

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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