Thursday, June 28, 2007

St. Cyril of Alexandria

His feast day was yesterday, but I wasn’t blogging then. In the East, his feast is on January 18 (with St. Athanasius) and June 9 (so perhaps my Olivia should have been Cyrilia??).

St. Cyril’s Christology was deeply influential on the Council of Ephesus which clearly defined the two natures of Christ. His Christological writings are without parallel in their orthodoxy. He has been called a Doctor of the Church and the “Seal of the Fathers.”

But he’s a problematic saint. Apparently he was not always a very nice guy. Where humility is praised, Cyril often exhibited the opposite. Even his hagiographers note his expulsion of pagans and Jews from Alexandria and his sometimes heavy-handed ways.

There are several responses to this. Roman Catholics and Orthodox could well respond that not even the saints in their earthly lives are perfect, but are repentant sinners like all of us. Lutherans could respond by emphasizing that the honorific “saint” is just that: a title given by the Church to honor one’s service to the Church (Ultimately I think this could amount to a dumbing-down of the doctrine of sanctification, but I’ll leave that to another post).

But St. Cyril’s heavy-handed ways need to be understood in the context in which he lived. While Patriarch of Alexandria at the turn of the 4th to 5th Centuries, St. Cyril also had a prominent role in state affairs. The official religion of the Empire was Christianity, and Cyril had authority to enforce this.

While this alone may not justify Cyril’s behavior at times–and shouldn’t– the other matter we must remember is that we live in wimpy times. Political Correctness has transformed our culture completely. I’ll say it again: we are wimps. Having our feelings hurt debilitates us. Causing offense is the unforgivable sin. Being offended is like death, and also makes us cry. Yes, our parishes and offices may be kindler, gentler places, and kindness and gentleness are Christian virtues, but pair that with political correctness and we have become big babies–myself included.

Ad Orientem has a great post about a new show on AMC called “Mad Men.” It’s about the business and social life of men in the 1960s. While the characters depicted in the blurb are behaving as pagans, and our society’s treatment of women has greatly improved (but has a ways to go), the men were not expected to be angels, perfect and inoffensive to everyone. There was no political correctness, just politics, and that could be rough stuff.

In parishes sixty years ago, I’ve heard that one could witness fistfights in the parking lot after voter’s meetings. Perhaps that is a good argument against voter’s meetings. But after the fight, the bloodied men would go and drink a few beers together. That’s the myth anyway.

Which world would you rather live in? One with great, nasty conflict, or this one where everything seems to run under the surface and we are slaves to our emotions and feelings? I don’t know how I would answer.