Scripture and soteriology in the Christological system of St. Cyril of Alexandria

James John Doherty, Fordham University


Cyril of Alexandria has been scorned by many liberal theologians and church historians of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Some liberal Protestants, in particular, have regarded the fifth-century Egyptian bishop either as a Christian Platonist, whose theology was captive to philosophy, or as an Apollinarian, whose excessive concern for Christ's divinity resulted in a de facto denial of his true and full humanity. This study reviews and rejects both those assessments. It examines Cyril's treatises, his dialogues, and his scriptural commentaries, and it finds that they provide little real basis for such criticisms. It contends that Cyril, far from being a Christian philosopher, was an evangelical theologian who disliked philosophy and feared its power to distort the basic Christian kerygma. It places Cyril in the Pauline, rather than the Neoplatonist, tradition, and traces Cyril's Christology to the apostle's account of the incarnation in the Epistle to the Philippians. The study finds, after a review of Cyril's writings from the fifth-century Christological controversy, that liberal Protestant church historians have erred in depicting Cyril as virtually Apollinarian. It argues that he instead portrayed Jesus Christ as having a perfected humanity--a humanity that was transformed and elevated by divinity, but that nonetheless remained quite fully human. Finally, the study asserts that Cyril of Alexandria, as a scriptural exegete and evangelical theologian, was a forerunner of the Lutheran-Barthian tradition of orthodox Protestantism. It sees a congruence between the Cyrillian and the orthodox Protestant attitudes toward Scripture, philosophy, soteriology, Mariology, and spirituality. It concludes that when conservative Protestants in the late twentieth century seek to recapture a scripturally based faith, they are thereby reclaiming the theology of Cyril of Alexandria.

Subject Area

Theology|Religious history

Recommended Citation

Doherty, James John, "Scripture and soteriology in the Christological system of St. Cyril of Alexandria" (1992). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9223812.