Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Religion in the Fifth Century - Plots and Power

An actress, possibly Mary Anderson, in the title role
of the play 
Hypatia, circa 1900. Wikimedia
A cruel and fanatical patriarch, a founder of a great religious sect, the plotting of cunning bishops - in the fifth century, religion was power.    
The end of the Western Empire and the death of St. Augustine in 430 preceded destruction and disaster as well as set the scene for the development of Europe. Central to church issues at this time was the complicated problem of the Incarnation. 

St. Cyril was patriarch of Alexandra from 412 till his death in 444 while Nestorius was patriarch of Constantinople. The two could not agree on whether Christ was one or two persons, ie. one human and one divine. Nestorius was convinced that Christ contained both divinity and humanity - and that he had, therefore, two natures. Cyril took the opposite view, that Christ was one and one only.

Mary - Not the Mother of God? 

The clash between the two patriarchs was furious and passionate. It was claimed, as quoted in A History of Western Philosophy: 

"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."

This brought about further difficulties. Nestorius could not see how Mary the Virgin could be called the "Mother of God" when she was only the mother of the human element of Christ. As far as Nestorius could see, the divine part of Christ could have no mother.The bishops east of Alexandria agreed with Nestorius while those from the west thought that Cyril was correct. Cyril was enraged that Nestorius continued to lead Constantinople astray with his notion about the relationship between Christ's humanity and his divinity.

The Bishops Hatch a Cunning Plot 

The Council decided to meet to discuss the matter at Ephesus in 431. But the bishops from the west of Suez had a cunning plan. They arrived early, then they barred all the doors to prevent "latecomers" from entering. Having eliminated the opposition, they decided for St. Cyril, who was presiding over the proceedings, asserting that Christ had only one nature and was only one person.

Nestorius, whose sect had a large following in Syria and throughout the East, was condemned by the council as a heretic but he refused to recant. It is said his tongue was finally eaten by worms for its eloquent seduction of others. 

His religion continued to flourish in China centuries later, and adherents were discovered by missionaries in India in the sixteenth century. Sometime around 450, Ephesus began to favour the Monophysite heresy, maintaining that Christ has only one nature. In A History of Western Philosopy, Bertrand Russell says: 

"If St. Cyril had been alive, he would certainly have supported this view and have become heretical.

"Hypatia - Tragic Victim of St. Cyril

St. Cyril's claim to notoriety, apart from his clash with Nestorius, was the brutal murder of a young female Platonic philosopher, Hypatia, who was dragged from her chariot, to be butchered and lynched. She had been falsely accused of preventing a reconciliation between Cyril and his friend Orestes, by influencing Orestes against him. Cyril was also know for his pogroms against Alexandrian Jews.

·      History of Western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell, Routledge Classics, London, 2004.
·      Feminine Singular, Roxane Arnold & Olive Chandler, Femina Boks Ltd. London, 1974.

No comments:

Post a Comment