A series of posts on Cyril of Alexandria at “All along the watchtower”

An incoming link draws my attention to a blog previously unknown to me, All along the watchtower.  The blog has begun a series of posts by “Chalcedon451″ on Cyril of Alexandria.

It is certainly the case that few of the Fathers enjoy a lower reputation in the English-speaking world than Cyril.  “Chalcedon451″ suggests that we have Gibbon to blame for this.

He’s probably right.  Few other than specialists had any access to the Fathers, and the impact of Decline and Fall on the literate world was immense.  His slurs on Eusebius are still repeated; his negative opinion of Cyril was likewise definitive. 

It is telling that the 19th century American pirate edition of the Fathers, the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers series, while it reprinted the translations of Augustine and Chrysostom, left sternly to one side the translations of Cyril of Alexandria in the same series.

I have always felt that Cyril suffers from his association with the Nestorian dispute.  That was a matter of high politics, in which he is unlikely to appear very pleasing to our eyes.  It would be much, much better if we could start with something we DO sympathise with, the Contra Julianum.  One of the last apologetic works of antiquity, the arguments of Cyril would at least be directed against the anti-Christianity of Julian the Apostate, rather than Nestorius, with whom many of us feel some sympathy.  A translation of this work is in progress; but it seems unlikely that it will be accessible to non-specialists.

It will be interesting to see what is said in the blog series, all the same.

6 Responses to “A series of posts on Cyril of Alexandria at “All along the watchtower””


  1. Steve Bricker

    Thanks for the notice. Cyril certainly has not been given his due (re, English translation). I quite enjoyed On the Unity of Christ published by St Vladimir’s Press.

    PS: “American pirate version”? I’ve not read that epithet before.

  2. Roger Pearse

    Yes, few people realise that the ANF / NPNF was a pirate job. But it is the case, and T. & T. Clark, the UK publishers of the ANCL and other translations, were very angry about it.

    They had no recourse, however. US law did not protect the copyright of foreigners at that period, and the latter had to make whatever deals they could.

    In fact the repackaging produced a superior product, which has remained in print ever since (officious additional anti-Catholic notes by the Episcopalian bishop of New York notwithstanding; there is a negative review in the Dublin Review of the time which mentions this).

  3. Fernando

    I too didn’t know that about the NPNF. Very interesting!

    Part of the problem with Cyril is his (supposed?) role in the killing of Hypatia, of which much has been made. She was quickly romanticized into a symbol of the pagan culture “murdered” by Christians (as a recent piece in the TLS put it).

  4. Roger Pearse

    I agree that the Hypatia incident is mythologised. But we can live with that. The reality is that she tried to play politics, angered the Alexandrian mob — something Ptolemaic kings tried not to do — and was butchered in the street by the “Christian” faction. I doubt that Cyril knew a sausage about it, or could have stopped it if he had wanted to.

    The real problem is the perception of Cyril as a cold, calculating plotter, causing two schisms in the church — with the Nestorians, and then the backlash at Chalcedon — purely out of selfishness. And it’s hard to deny that he did both of these things.

  5. Dioscorus Boles

    Men of the Enlightenment have used the Hypatia story, sexualised it, and employed it in attacking the Church and Cyril I. I would advise people to read Hypatia of Alexandría by María Dzielska (1995) to get to know more about the unreasonable, non-evidenced accusations and onslaught on the reputation of Cyril I, which was led by Voltaire and Gibbon.

  6. Roger Pearse

    Interesting … thank you. I must look out for the book.



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