Born in 370 AD, Cyril was a native of Alexandria in Egypt, that great city on the Nile. He was trained in the ascetical life through spending his early years with monks in the Egyptian desert. When the patriarch of Alexandria, his uncle Theophilus died, it was Cyril, then a young priest of 36, who was named to succeed him.
Cyril’s moment of glory was his defence of the true faith against the Nestorian heresy.
Nestorius was the learned patriarch of Antioch in Syria, and in 428 became patriarch of Constantinople. Nestorius believed and taught that Mary was the mother of the human Jesus, but not the mother of God. Cyril countered this argument with his use of the term Theotokos, “God-bearer”, and brought Nestorius’s doctrine to the attention of Pope Celestine. The Council of Ephesus which assembled in 431 condemned Nestorius and his followers, and deposed him. Our Lady’s title “Mother of God” was proclaimed to the world, and Cyril’s position was vindicated.
We remember Cyril today for his writings on the dignity of Mary, and for his reflections on the union between the human and divine nature in Jesus. He was famous for saying, “as two pieces of wax when fused together make one, so too he who receives Holy Communion is so united with Christ, that Christ is in him and he is in Christ.”