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Cyril took care to ensure that his theology was firmly situated within the tradition of the Church, by which he sees the guarantee of continuity with the Apostles and with Christ himself.
Venerated as a saint in both the East and the West, in 1882 St. Cyril was proclaimed a doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII, who at that time also gave the same title to another important representative of Greek patristics, St. Cyril of Jerusalem. This shows that Pope’s attention and love for the Eastern Christian traditions; he would later proclaim St. John Damascene a doctor of the Church, showing how the Eastern and Western traditions express the doctrine of the one Church of Christ.
Information on the life of Cyril before his election to the important See of Alexandria is scarce. A nephew of Theophilus — who, as bishop from 385, upheld the Diocese of Alexandria with resolve and prestige — Cyril was most likely born in that same Egyptian city sometime between 370-380. He soon embraced the ecclesiastical life and received a good education, both in culture and theology. In 403, he was in Constantinople following his powerful uncle and, here, he participated in the so-called Synod of the Oak, which deposed the city’s bishop — John, later called Chrysostom. This indicated the triumph of the Alexandrian See over its traditional rival, the See of Constantinople, where the emperor resided.
Upon the death of his uncle Theophilus, though still young, Cyril was elected bishop of the influential Church of Alexandria in 412, which he governed with great energy for 32 years, working tirelessly to affirm its primacy in the East, strengthened by its traditional bonds with Rome.
Two or three years later, in 417 or 418, the bishop of Alexandria showed himself to be a realist and healed the rift in the communion with Constantinople, which had been going on since 406, in the wake of Chrysostom’s removal from office.
But the old conflict with the See of Constantinople was rekindled some 10 years later, when Nestorius was elected in 428, a prestigious but severe monk, educated in Antioch. The new bishop of Constantinople quickly brought much opposition because he preferred the title “Mother of Christ” (Christotòkos) for Mary, in place of “Mother of God” (Theotòkos), which was already beloved in popular devotion.
The reason for Bishop Nestorius’ choice was his adhesion to the Christology of the Antiochean tradition, which, to safeguard the importance of Christ’s humanity, ended up affirming its separation from his divinity. Thus, there was no longer an authentic union between God and the man Christ, and therefore, one could no longer speak of a “Mother of God.”
Cyril — the leading exponent of Alexandrian Christology at the time, one who emphatically underlined the unity of Christ’s person — reacted almost immediately, using every means possible beginning in 429, even writing letters to Nestorius himself.
In the second letter (PG 77, 44-49) which Cyril sent to him, in February 430, we read a clear affirmation of the pastor’s task to preserve the faith of God’s people. This was his criterion, which is still valid today: The faith of God’s people is an expression of tradition, a guarantee of sound doctrine. He wrote to Nestorius: “It is necessary to explain the teaching and interpretation of the faith to the people in an irreproachable way, and recall that he who scandalizes even one of these little ones who believes in Christ will suffer an intolerable punishment.”
In the same letter to Nestorius — which later, in 451, would be approved by the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon — Cyril describes his Christological faith with clarity: “The natures that have united in a true unity are different, but from both resulted one Christ and Son, not because, due to the unity, the differences of the human and divine natures have been eliminated, but rather because humanity and divinity united in an ineffable way have produced the one Lord, Christ, the Son of God.”
And this is important: The true humanity and the true divinity are really united in one person, our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, continues the bishop of Alexandria, “we profess only one Christ and Lord, not in the sense that we adore the man together with the Logos, so as not to insinuate the idea of separation by saying ‘together,’ but rather in the sense that we adore only one; his body is not something detached from the Logos, who sits at the Father’s side. There are not two sons sitting at his side, but one alone united with his own flesh.”
Soon the bishop of Alexandria, thanks to shrewd alliances, saw to it that Nestorius was repeatedly condemned: by the Roman See with a series of 12 anathemas Cyril himself composed and, in the end, by the council held in Ephesus in 431, the Third Ecumenical Council.
The assembly, which took place amid tumultuous and alternating incidents, concluded with the great triumph of devotion to Mary and with the exile of the bishop of Constantinople, who refused to recognize Mary under the title of “Mother of God,” because of a mistaken Christology, which claimed that Christ was divided in himself.
After prevailing in such a definitive way over his rival and his doctrine, Cyril was able to reach, as soon as 433, a theological formula of compromise and reconciliation with the people of Antioch. And this is also significant: On one hand there is clarity about the doctrine of faith, but on the other, there is the intense search for unity and reconciliation. In the years that followed, he dedicated himself in every way to defend and clarify his theological position until his death on June 27, 444.
Cyril’s writings — numerous and widespread in various Latin and Eastern traditions even during his life, which is a testament to their immediate success — are of the utmost importance for the history of Christianity. His commentaries on many of the books of the Old and New Testaments, including the Pentateuch, Isaiah, the Psalms and the Gospels of John and Luke, are important. Many of his doctrinal works are also greatly important, in which he continually defends the Trinitarian faith against the Arian theses and Nestorius.
The basis of Cyril’s teaching is the ecclesiastical tradition, and in particular, as I mentioned, the writings of Athanasius, his great predecessor in the Alexandrian See. Among Cyril’s other writings, we must recall the books “Against Julian,” the last great answer to anti-Christian polemics, dictated by the bishop of Alexandria most likely during the last years of his life as a response to “Against the Galileans,” written many years before, in 363, by the emperor who was called an apostate for having abandoned the Christianity in which he had been educated.
The Christian faith is above all a meeting with Jesus, “a person who gives life a new horizon” (encyclical “Deus Caritas Est,” No. 1). St. Cyril of Alexandria was an untiring and firm witness of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, emphasizing his unity above all, as he repeats in his first letter in 433 to Bishop Succens: “One alone is the Son, one alone is the Lord Jesus Christ, before the incarnation and after the incarnation. In fact, it is not a question of a Son, the Logos, born of God the Father, and another, born of the holy Virgin; but we believe that he who is before all time was born according to the flesh of a woman.”
This affirmation, beyond its doctrinal significance, shows that faith in Jesus, the “Logos,” born of the Father, is also deeply rooted in history because, as St. Cyril says, this same Jesus came in time by being born of Mary, the “Theotòkos,” and will be, according to his promise, with us always. And this is important: God is eternal, he was born of a woman and remains with us every day. We live in this trust, in this trust we find the path of our life.
A film about the life of the 12th Century Saint who challenged his culture, helped rebuild a corrupt and crumbling church, cared for creation and built bridges with militant Islam.
Anne-Eugénie Milleret was born in 1817 in Metz after Napoleon’s complete defeat and the restoration of the monarchy. She belonged to a nonbelieving and financially comfortable family and it seemed unlikely that she would trace a new spiritual path across the Church of France.
Her father, a follower of Voltaire and a liberal, was making his fortune in the banking world and in politics. Anne-Eugénie’s mother provided the sensitive daughter with an education, which strengthened her character and gave her a strong sense of duty. Family life developed her intellectual curiosity and a romantic spirit, an interest in social questions and a broad worldview.
Like her contemporary, George Sand, Anne-Eugénie went to Mass on feast days and received the sacraments of initiation, as was the custom, but without any real commitment. However, her first Communion was a great mystical experience that foretold the secret of her future. She did not grasp its prophetic meaning until much later, when she recognized it as her path toward total belonging to Jesus Christ and the Church.
Her youth was happy but not without suffering. She was affected when still a child by the death of an elder brother and a baby sister. Her health was delicate and a fall from a horse left serious consequences. Anne-Eugénie was mature for her age and learned how to hide her feelings and to face up to events.
Later, after a prosperous period for her father, she experienced the failure of his banks, the misunderstanding and eventual separation of her parents and the loss of all security. She had to leave her family home and go to Paris while Louis, closest to her in age and faithful companion, went to live with their father. Anne-Eugénie went to Paris with the mother she adored, only to see her die from cholera after a few hours of illness, leaving her alone at the age of 15 in a society that was worldly and superficial. Searching in anguish and almost desperate for the truth, she arrived at her conversion thirsty for the Absolute and open to the Transcendent.
Lacordaire was a former disciple of Lamennais — haunted by the vision of a renewed Church with a special place in the world. He understood his time and wanted to change it. He understood young people, their questions and their desires, their idealism and their ignorance of both Christ and the Church.
His words touched Anne-Eugénie’s heart, answered her many questions, and aroused her generosity. Anne-Eugénie envisaged Christ as the universal liberator and his kingdom on earth established as a peaceful and just society.
“I was truly converted,” she wrote, “and I was seized by a longing to devote all my strength or rather all my weakness to the Church which, from that moment, I saw as alone holding the key to the knowledge and achievement of all that is good.”
Just at this time, another preacher, also a former disciple of Lamennais, appeared on the scene. In the confessional, Father Combalot recognized that he had encountered a chosen soul who was designated to be the foundress of the congregation he had dreamed of for a long time. He persuaded Anne-Eugénie to undertake his work by insisting that this congregation was willed by God who had chosen her to establish it. He convinced her that only by education could she evangelize minds, make families truly Christian, and thus transform the society of her time. Anne-Eugénie accepted the project as God’s will for her and allowed herself to be guided by the Abbé Combalot.
At 22, Marie Anne-Eugénie became foundress of the Religious of the Assumption, dedicated to consecrate their whole life and strength to extending the Kingdom of Christ in themselves and in the world. In 1839, Anne-Eugénie, with two other young women, began a life of prayer and study in a flat at rue Ferou near the church of St. Sulpice in Paris. In 1841, under the patronage of Madame de Chateaubriand, Lacordaire, Montalembert and their friends, the sisters opened their first school. In a relatively short time there were 16 sisters of four nationalities in the community.
Marie Anne-Eugénie and the first sisters wanted to link the ancient and the new — to unite the past treasures of the Church’s spirituality and wisdom with a type of religious life and education able to satisfy the demands of modern minds. It was a matter of respecting the values of the period and at the same time, making the Gospel values penetrate the rising culture of a new industrial and scientific era. The spirituality of the congregation, centered on Christ and the incarnation, was both deeply contemplative and dedicated to apostolic action. It was a life given to the search for God and the love and service of others.
Marie Anne-Eugénie’s long life covered almost the whole of the 19th century. She loved her times passionately and took an active part in their history. Progressively, she channeled all her energy and gifts in tending and extending the congregation, which became her life work.
God gave her sisters and many friends. One of the first sisters was Irish, a mystic and her intimate friend whom she called at the end of her life, “half of myself.” Kate O’Neill, called Mother Thérèse Emmanuel in religion, is considered as a co-foundress.
Father Emmanuel d’Alzon, who became Marie Anne-Eugénie’s spiritual director soon after the foundation, was a father, brother or friend according to the seasons. In 1845, he founded the Augustinians of the Assumption and the two founders helped each other in a multitude of ways over a period of 40 years. Both had a gift for friendship and they inspired many lay people to work with them and the Church. Together, as they followed Christ and labored with him, the religious and laity traced the path of the Assumption and took their place in the great cloud of witnesses.
In the last years of her life, Mother Marie Anne-Eugénie experienced a progressive physical weakening, which she lived in silence and humility — a life totally centered on Christ. She received the Eucharist for the last time on March 9, 1898, and on March 10, she passed over to the Lord. She was beatified by Pope Paul VI on Feb. 9, 1975, in Rome.
Today, the Religious of the Assumption are present in 34 countries — eight in Europe, five in Asia, 10 in America and 11 in Africa. Almost 1,200 sisters form 170 communities throughout the world.
The Lay Assumption — Assumption Together — made up of Friends of the Assumption and Communities or Fraternities of the Assumption, are numerous: Thousands of Friends and hundreds of Lay Assumption are committed to live according to the Way of Life.