Posted by: ken98 | September 16, 2011

Cyril and Nestorius Day Or Heretics in the Great Christian Musical Chairs Exercise

Day 735 – Ken here (F)(9-16-2011)
(DEF II, v.4, Ch.47, pp.940-950)(pages read: 2000)


NO, not this BAM, but close very close - the early 400's was a continuing period of HOOLIGAN CHRISTIANITY that resembled the World Cup Soccer Championships more than serene, stained-glass-filled church we know today. BAM was what early christians were all about - beating up guys on the street, throwing rocks at the mayor, and rioting and killing as often as they wanted - Viva La Bam German DVD cover

We continue chapter 47 – On The Heresies – and I predict I will get grouchier and grouchier.

We’re back in the mid 400’s now.

We see today the ARCH-RIVAL TOWNS (Alexandria Egypt, Constantinople, Capital) and the STAR QUARTERBACKS of each town (Patriarch Cyril of Alexandria, Patriarch Nestorius of Constantinople) GO AT EACH OTHER in a knock-down, drag-out, winner-take-all battle – THE BATTLE ROYALE the 2 the most powerful cities and 2 of the most powerful bishops – presented to you today at the EPHESUS SPORTS ARENA for your viewing pleasure.

I have to say, Gibbon is soaring to heights of prose he’s seldom attained before. I’ve noticed that the less material he has to work with (hard fact, historical material) and the more often he is forced to address the topic of religion, esp. Christianity, the more outrageously eloquent he becomes. Chapter 47 is turning out to be one long love letter to the art of writing graciously, forcefully, and uncompromisingly vindictively. I recommend it to anyone desiring to get a feel for what the late 18th cent. was capable of in the English rhetoric department.

Today is a day of Fathers – 2 Patriarchs to be exact: Cyril and Nestorius – BOTH WERE EXTRAORDINARILY POWERFUL, POPULAR MEN (advisors to emperors, holding some of the highest offices in the ecclesiastical empire) – Cyril in the 2nd City of the Empire, Alexandria Egypt, and Nestorius in the 1st – Constantinople. BOTH WERE PERSECUTORS, who zealously and without pause nor pity caused the deaths of persons who disagreed with them religiously.

THE AMAZING THING IS THAT BOTH MEN (and Gibbon KNEW this when he took so much time to tell their stories) WERE EVENTUALLY DECLARED HERETICS THEMSELVES and DISGRACED. AND THEN RE-INSTATED, THEN DISGRACED, THEN RE-INSTATED, THEN DISGRACED. There is a consensus of opinion about them now – actually Nestorius ended up “heretical” per the Catholics, but today is considered mainstream – Cyril is “heretical” as a monotheist but numerous churches cherish his memory.

It’s all a game of Musical Chairs – whoever’s sitting at the end is a “Father”, the ones left standing are the “Heretics.” And it was all mostly a regional Imperial political game. The Patriarchs (Bishops of very large cities) had been taking over a great many of what we would think was civil government – ie dispensing justice, managing food,water,hospitals, even arranging for defense of the city if besieged, managing diplomacy – you were a very rich and powerful man if you were bishop (patriarch) of the one of the large cities. And you got the adulation of the masses like a mini-emperor, and lived like a mini-emperor.

So, when looking at these men, it’s better NOT to think of them as saintly bishop-priests, but a type of religious-Late-Antique Roman pseudo-governor of a province, with bishop’s duties. Remember, it was also the duty of civil officials (emperor, governors, etc) to uphold RELIGIOUS faith – by imprisonment, exile, death – so its all very confusing who’s responsible for what in the Late Roman world.

Everybody was concerned about religion, because if you got it wrong, God would cut the empire off in a New York (or Alexandrian) minute, and you’d find yourself in chains marching back to Persia with your city in flames and rubble behind you. Orthodoxy was just as important as the water supply, maybe more, to a Late Roman.

So, on to Cyril and Nestorius Day…

The Story
Cyril – Patriarch of Egypt (10-18-412 -> 4-27-444)
  • started as monk in Egypt at Nitria (Egpyt=mother of all monasteries – literally)
  • Hated Origen (Syrian school of theology), loved Clemens, Dionysius, Athanasius, Basil
  • at 39 = Patr of Alexandria – a very imp pos in the Church
  • Even tho he is considered a saint now, historically he is something of a monster, with a kind of black shirt following among the monks, and the parabalanai (supp. “nurses” and “bath attendants” to the sick hired/paid out by the church from alms – but actually a kind of wild gang of Egyptian Christians who weren’t afraid to maim and kill for their faith)
  • 1) Suppressed the Novations Sect as heretical – a very gentle sect of Christianity at the time, confiscated all their church wealth
  • 2) Starts persecution of the Alex. Jews – plunders their houses, burns their synagogues, drives them out of Alexandria (where they’d been for many many hundreds of years)
  • 3) When the civil governor Orestes complains, Cyril’s fanatical monks attack Orestes, the leader is killed, Cyril has him nearly made into a saint, with an elab. funeral and a martyrs tomb
  • 4) Cyril hears of Hypatia – the famous Egyptian/ALexandrian Greek Philosopher WOMAN – thinks she’s influencing Orestes the governor against him, his parabalanai take her and rip her to pieces

    Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople (4-10-428)
  • Monk of Antioch, Syria (just the place the Alexandrians hated – Antioch was another great Patriarchate)
  • Famous for burning churches full of Arians – called incendarius – the fire-setter, or arsonist afterwards
  • Nestorius – believes in a DUAL NATURE of Christ – you can discriminate between the humanity of Christ and the divinity of the Lord Jesus
  • Nestorius unfortunately takes great issue with the phrase MOTHER OF GOD – referring to Mary
  • He says the body was like a set of clothes that the divinity wore, so Mary only bore the body – the set of clothes – naturally the wildly fanatical Mary-worshippers of the East (esp Egypt) went bananas upon hearing this
  • Cyril convenes a council at Ephesus – supp. neutral ground 1/2 way between Constantinople and Alexandria, PACKED WITH EGYPTIANS and MONKS and PARABALANAI – he in fact marches his myriads of minions off the ships and about the city in MILITARY ORDER
  • He hurries the council to take a vote, before the bishops from up north have arrived (ie CONST, ie those who disagree with Cyril, but like Nestorius – their Patr. of Const) – Guess What Happens – stay tuned same bat time, same bat channel…


    The lovely and very learned Hypatia

    Cyril was partially responsible for the death of Hypatia at the hands of an angry mob, torn to shreds (literally)Hypatia - Detail of the School of Athens (1509-1510)by Raphael - fresco in the Apostolic Palace


    The Famous Story of Hypatia – as Told by Gibbon


    From Gibbon’s own mouth:

    Such honors might incite the faithful to combat and die under the banners of the saint; and he soon prompted, or accepted, the sacrifice of a virgin, who professed the religion of the Greeks, and cultivated the friendship of Orestes.

    Hypatia, the daughter of Theon the mathematician, was initiated in her father's studies; her learned comments have elucidated the geometry of Apollonius and Diophantus, and she publicly taught, both at Athens and Alexandria, the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle. In the bloom of beauty, and in the maturity of wisdom, the modest maid refused her lovers and instructed her disciples; the persons most illustrious for their rank or merit were impatient to visit the female philosopher; and Cyril beheld, with a jealous eye, the gorgeous train of horses and slaves who crowded the door of her academy.

    A rumor was spread among the Christians, that the daughter of Theon was the only obstacle to the reconciliation of the praefect and the archbishop; and that obstacle was speedily removed. On a fatal day, in the holy season of Lent, Hypatia was torn from her chariot, stripped naked, dragged to the church, and inhumanly butchered by the hands of Peter the reader, and a troop of savage and merciless fanatics: her flesh was scraped from her bones with sharp cyster shells, and her quivering limbs were delivered to the flames.

    The just progress of inquiry and punishment was stopped by seasonable gifts; but the murder of Hypatia has imprinted an indelible stain on the character and religion of Cyril of Alexandria.

    You have to admit, he knows how to tell a story…


    Quotable Gibbon – The Old Gibbonian One Two, Uppercut to the Jaw

    Just a few of the more memorable phrasing from today’s gem-filled reading:

    All the following are from DEF II, Vol.4, Ch.47, pp.940-950)

    The name of CYRIL of Alexandria is famous in controversial story, and the title of saint is a mark that his opinions and his party have finally prevailed.

    The winners write history (and heresy, and orthodoxy, and the difference between them)…a point well taken.

    In the polemic microscope, an atom is enlarged to a monster, and each party was skilful to exaggerate the absurd or impious conclusions that might be extorted from the principles of their adversaries.

    I love that – the polemic microscope – pithy, eye-catching, AND insulting – all at once – very GIBBONIAN

    …that in the course of one sleepless night, he (Cyril) has perused the four Gospels, the Catholic Epistles, and the Epistle to the Romans. Origen he detested; but the writings of Clemens and Dionysius, of Athanasius and Basil, were continually in his hands: by the theory and practice of dispute, his faith was confirmed and his wit was sharpened; he extended round his cell the cobwebs of scholastic theology, and meditated the works of allegory and metaphysics, whose remains, in seven verbose folios, now peaceably slumber by the side of their rivals

    “cobwebs of scholastic philosophy”, and “now peacably slumber by the side of their rivals” – masterful!

    But the patriarch of Alexandria (Cyril), while he darted the thunders of a god, exposed the errors and passions of a mortal; and his twelve anathemas still torture the orthodox slaves, who adore the memory of a saint, without forfeiting their allegiance to the synod of Chalcedon.

    A palpable hit!,


    His (Cyril’s) comely person adorned the pulpit; the harmony of his voice resounded in the cathedral; his friends were stationed to lead or second the applause of the congregation; and the hasty notes of the scribes preserved his discourses, which in their effect, though not in their composition, might be compared with those of the Athenian orators.

    classic Gibbonian ZINGS!


    Last Word…


    Sir Winston Churchill

    Sir Winston Churchill, in his own histories, used the prose of Gibbon's Decline and Fall to give his own history a polished, dramatic quality

    And More Quotable Gibbon

    This is Gibbon, giving an introduction to his heroic chapter of heresies. It IS truly a heroic, even operatic piece of prose in terms of its quality and scope – I could easily see this sung as a duet between a Coloratura Soprano (perhaps the divine – to use an appropriate metaphor – Kathleen Battle) and a tenor (maybe Luciano Pavarotti) and a full chorus – well, you’ll see – Gibbon does nothing if not write well – Winston Churchill used to read Gibbon to inculcate into his subconscious Gibbon’s inimitable rolling periods and sharp assonance (see here), as did Isaac Asimov.

    Anyways… here’s the introduction to the 5th Section of Heresies, straight from the horse’s mouth:

    Orthodox consent and verbal disputes.

    V. The grovelling Ebionite, and the fantastic Docetes, were rejected and forgotten: the recent zeal against the errors of Apollinaris reduced the Catholics to a seeming agreement with the double nature of Cerinthus. But instead of a temporary and occasional alliance, they established, and we still embrace, the substantial, indissoluble, and everlasting union of a perfect God with a perfect man, of the second person of the trinity with a reasonable soul and human flesh. In the beginning of the fifth century, the unity of the two natures was the prevailing doctrine of the church.

    On all sides, it was confessed, that the mode of their coexistence could neither be represented by our ideas, nor expressed by our language. Yet a secret and incurable discord was cherished, between those who were most apprehensive of confounding, and those who were most fearful of separating, the divinity, and the humanity, of Christ. Impelled by religious frenzy, they fled with adverse haste from the error which they mutually deemed most destructive of truth and salvation. On either hand they were anxious to guard, they were jealous to defend, the union and the distinction of the two natures, and to invent such forms of speech, such symbols of doctrine, as were least susceptible of doubt or ambiguity. The poverty of ideas and language tempted them to ransack art and nature for every possible comparison, and each comparison mislead their fancy in the explanation of an incomparable mystery.

    In the polemic microscope, an atom is enlarged to a monster, and each party was skilful to exaggerate the absurd or impious conclusions that might be extorted from the principles of their adversaries. To escape from each other, they wandered through many a dark and devious thicket, till they were astonished by the horrid phantoms of Cerinthus and Apollinaris, who guarded the opposite issues of the theological labyrinth. As soon as they beheld the twilight of sense and heresy, they started, measured back their steps, and were again involved in the gloom of impenetrable orthodoxy.

    To purge themselves from the guilt or reproach of damnable error, they disavowed their consequences, explained their principles, excused their indiscretions, and unanimously pronounced the sounds of concord and faith. Yet a latent and almost invisible spark still lurked among the embers of controversy: by the breath of prejudice and passion, it was quickly kindled to a mighty flame, and the verbal disputes of the Oriental sects have shaken the pillars of the church and state.

    (DEF II, Vol.4, Ch.47, pp.942-943)

    How better to say it?

    What more is there to say?

    Gibbonian Prose

    Gibbonian Prose

    Leave a Reply

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

    You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

    Google photo

    You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

    Connecting to %s


    %d bloggers like this: