"Make your fold with
the sheep; flee from the wolves: depart not from the Church," Cyril admonished catechumens surrounded by heresy. These were
prophetic words for Cyril was to be hounded by enemies and heretics for most of his life, and although they could exile him
from his diocese he never left his beloved Church.
Cyril's life began
a few years before Arianism (the heresy that Jesus was not divine or one in being with the Father) and he lived to see its
suppression and condemnation at the end of his life. In between he was the victim of many of the power struggles that took
We know little about
Cyril's early life. Historians estimate he was born about 315 and that he was brought up in Jerusalem. He speaks about the
appearance of the sites of the Nativity and Holy Sepulchre before they were "improved" by human hands as if he were a witness.
All we know of his family were that his parents were probably Christians and he seemed to care for them a great deal. He exhorted
catechumens to honor parents "for however much we may repay them, yet we can never be to them what they as parents have been
to us." We know he also had a sister and a nephew, Gelasius, who became a bishop and a saint.
He speaks as one who
belonged to a group called the Solitaries. These were men who lived in their own houses in the cities but practiced a life
of complete chastity, ascetism, and service.
After being ordained
a deacon and then a priest, his bishop Saint Maximus respected him enough to put him in charge of the instruction of catechumens.
We still have these catechetical lectures of Cyril's that were written down by someone in the congregation. When speaking
of so many mysteries, Cyril anticipated the question, "But some one will say, If the Divine substance is incomprehensible,
why then do you discourse of these things? So then, because I cannot drink up all the river, am I not even to t ake in moderation
what is expedient for me? Because with eyes so constituted as mine I cannot take in all the sun, am I not even to look upon
it enough to satisfy my wants? Or again, because I have entered into a great garden, and cannot eat all the supply of fruits,
would you have me go away altogether hungry?.. I am attempting not to glorify the Lord, but not to describe him, knowing nevertheless
that I shall fall short of glorifying God worthily, yet deeming it a work of piety even to attempt it at all."
When Maximus died,
Cyril was consecrated as bishop of Jerusalem. Because he was supported by the Arian bishop of Caesarea, Acacius, the orthodox
criticized the appointment and the Arians thought they had a friend. Both factions were wrong, but Cyril wound up in the middle.
When a famine hit
Jerusalem, the poor turned to Cyril for help. Cyril, seeing the poor starving to death and having no money, sold some of the
goods of the churches. This was something that other saints including Ambrose and Augustine had done and it probably saved
many lives. There were rumors, however, that some of the vestments wound up as clothing for actors.
Actually, the initial
cause of the falling out between Acacius and Cyril was territory not beliefs. As bishop of Caesarea, Acacia had authority
over all the bishops of Palestine. Cyril argued that his authority did not include Jerusalem because Jerusalem was an "apostolic
see" -- one of the original sees set up by the apostles. When Cyril did not appear at councils that Acacius called, Acacius
accused him of selling church goods to raise money and had him banished.