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Cyril and the Person of Christ

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The following was a college essay written by Jessica Lincoln. It has been edited and approved by Christopher Centrella. If you have a Theology essay that you would like published that received a grade of an A- or higher, please be sure to contact us. Cyril of Alexandria clearly and competently lays out the reality of the Christological identity in his letters to Nestorius. Seeking to defend the truth against Nestorius’ heresy, which claims that there are two persons in Christ (one divine person and one human person), Cyril affirms that Christ’s two natures do not constitute two separate persons, but one divine Person with two united, distinct natures. He asserts that “though the natures joined together to form a real unity are different, it is one Christ and Son coming from them” (Second Letter to Nestorius, 7). Cyril makes it abundantly clear that the distinction in Christ’s two natures does not make Him less human (or less divine, for that matter), but actually more so. Christ is the perfect human being, though He is also more than human. Christ is something new. He does divine things humanly and human things divinely. Cyril further clarifies: “it was not by virtue of being God that he [Jesus] did divine things, not by virtue of being a man that he did what was human, but rather, by the fact of being God-made-man he accomplished something new in our midst- the activity of the God-man” (Letter Four, 265). The Son did something that had never been done before: He took on a new, second nature – without ever shedding his first – and did what can simply be called the “God-man” thing. By retaining His divine nature while also taking on human nature, Christ remained one Person with two distinct natures, acting in a way perfect to both. These lessons from Cyril are able to help one acquire mastery of the basic “grammar” of Christology and Trinitarian theology through this clarity he provides on Christ’s natures and single Personhood. Although in other places there is confusion on what is meant by the term “nature,” it is clear that Cyril believes in one Person of Christ who is both fully divine and fully human. Interestingly enough, while Cyril does help clarify the grammar, his more important contribution is to demonstrate that the grammar itself is NOT what is most crucial: what matters most is knowing who Christ is, and knowing Him truly as the divinely human and humanly divine Son of God, the Word made Flesh, who Cyril of Alexandria encountered personally and who we, too, can personally encounter today. Through reflecting on this, it has been very interesting to learn about the way Cyril teaches this doctrine. I knew that Christ is one Person with two natures, but I had not given much thought to how His natures may play into the way He carries out His divine and human actions, nor was I truly aware of what Nestorius heretically taught. It had seemed obvious to me that Christ is one person, but in learning about the ideas held within the early Church, I have come to understand why confusion would have befallen so many people in regard to substances, natures, and prosopos within Christ and the Trinity. It seems likely that the reason I have grown up with this doctrine firmly rooted in my beliefs is because of Cyril’s straightforward clarification, established both in his letters to Nestorius and in his work at the Council of Ephesus. I was also moved by the way Cyril describes Jesus’ love for humanity as evident in His dual nature. Cyril states: “Out of his very great love for humanity, he became quite truly a human, both superhuman and among humans; and, though himself beyond being, he took upon himself the being of humans” (264). By making the free choice to become fully human as well as fully divine, Jesus demonstrated His immense love for His people. It is only because of His full divinity that He is able to supernaturally love humanity and redeem it completely, and it is because of His full humanity that He is able to be united so intimately to it. Cyril’s teachings are about much more than just the grammar that defines the terms of Christ’s being; His teachings are about Christ’s innermost being and His great love for every other human being who has ever existed and will ever exist.
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