St. Cyril and the Eucharist

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St. Cyril of Alexandria lived between c. 378-444 AD and was the Patriarch (Archbishop) of Alexandria during a very turbulent time in the Church. At this time a man named Nestorius was spreading a teaching that Jesus’ humanity and divinity were not united in one person, but in one appearance, in Greek prosopon. St. Cyril combatted this teaching by asserting that Jesus’ humanity and divinity were united in one person, not one appearance.

There is an interesting section from the third letter of St. Cyril of Alexandria addressed to the heretic Nestorius:

“We proclaim the fleshly death of God’s only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, we confess his return to life from the dead and his ascension into heaven when we perform in church the unbloody service, when we approach the sacramental gifts and are hallowed participants in the holy flesh and precious blood of Christ, saviour of us all, by receiving not mere flesh (God forbid!) or flesh of a man hallowed by connection with the Word in some unity of dignity or possessing some divine indwelling, but the personal, truly vitalizing flesh of God the Word himself (Third Letter to Nestorius 7).”

This is one argument of many St. Cyril gives in support of the unity of Christ. This quote is especially interesting, however, because of how he argues for Christ’s unity. His argument goes something like this: if Jesus’ humanity and divinity are not united in one person, then his flesh is not united to his divinity. If the flesh were not united to the divinity, we would eat mere human flesh at Mass, and this would be absurd. Therefore, Jesus’ humanity and his divinity must be united in one person rather than one appearance as Nestorius taught.

It is quite common for people first to argue the truth of who Christ is and then move to argue for the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but how often do we argue the other way around? Cyril’s line of reasoning tells us something incredibly important. The Eucharist, in some way, teaches us who Jesus is.

It was not enough for the disciples, during Jesus’ earthly pilgrimage, simply to learn from him. They also needed to be in his presence. That is why Jesus constantly beseeched his disciples to “follow” him (Mt 16:24, Mk 10:21, Lk 5:27, Jn 8:12) – and even remain in him (Jn 6:56, 15:4) – and not just to “learn” from him. Jesus’ presence itself teaches us about who he is and ultimately who God is.

We too have this same privilege of Jesus’ presence. We not only have the opportunity to learn from Christ through the Scriptures and converse with him in prayer, but we also have the privilege to be in his presence in the Eucharist. Let us not squander this great gift which God has given us. Let us abide in the presence of Christ so we can learn from him. St. Jerome once said: “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Should we not also say that “ignorance of the Eucharist is ignorance of Christ?”

Br. Nathaniel Maria Mayne, O.P. | Meet the Student Brothers in Formation HERE