The Impact Of Greek Concepts Of God On The Christology Of Cyril Of Alexandria -- By: Roy Kearsley

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 43:2 (NA 1992)
Article: The Impact Of Greek Concepts Of God On The Christology Of Cyril Of Alexandria
Author: Roy Kearsley

The Impact Of Greek Concepts Of God On The Christology Of Cyril Of Alexandria

Roy Kearsley


Cyril transposes Neoplatonism rather than replicates it. Hence, his early struggle with Arianism and his fervour for the homoousios rule out full-blown ontological dualism in the Platonist manner. Rather, immutability and impassability do not mean immobility and impassivity, but active life-giving power and sufficiency to supply strength, powers which prove the co-equality of the Son with the Father. They support Cyril’s resulting Christology: the Son ‘appropriates’ (Norris) human existence to himself in order to communicate life and victory. Immutability and impassability, paradoxically, nurture more a narrative Christology than a union of two static substances.

I. Introduction

Someone once said that all problems in Christian doctrine are an extension of the Christological question. Too simple perhaps, but it is surely true that all Christologies are wedded to a particular doctrine of God. This study is therefore a form of ‘delayed Christology’. Before even reaching the Christology of Cyril of Alexandria we shall have to negotiate our way through three gates: Greek theology, immutability and impassability.

Some of the questions which vexed ancient thinkers like Plato and Plotinus are often viewed, unwisely, as quite irrelevant for Western thought today. However, they still permeate many of the great world religions. Is there a place of tranquillity free from the clashes of diversity and of inner conflict, a simple One, a place of escape from the Many? Can humans in any way approach God in his distant transcendence? Is there a point at which the flux and insecurity of human history come to rest? These questions are very much alive in non-western religious traditions, and moreover are finding a new incarnation in western cloned versions. Commentators have seen in the influential third-century Greek writer Plotinus an

affinity both with Hindu thought and Islamic mysticism,1 and so there are some common roots to apparently very different world views.

Even without this kind of indirect relevance, the work of an ancient Christian writer like Cyril of Alexandria would still assume importance for us today as a paradigm of Christian eclecticism in a pluralistic world and an index of the complications that entails. Through such as Cyril we have an opportunity to let history teach us the art of the theologically possible. He mirrors for us both the pitfalls and the triumphs involved in attempting maximum effectiveness and impact in communication, a task repeatedly tackled by ear...

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