For Us and for Our Salvation
Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444CE) is most famous for his contributions to Christology, and especially for his role in the Christological controversy that dominated the latter half of his episcopate. Despite a welcome expansion in Cyrilline studies, especially in the last few decades, anthropology remains an under-represented object of scholarly inquiry. Cyril wrote no single work focused on anthropology; nevertheless, the human story permeates his writings. The underlying assumption of the dissertation is that Christology necessarily incorporates anthropology, given the fundamental assertion that the Son of God became a human being. Through close reading of several of Cyril’s Christological works (Commentary on John, his twenty-nine extant Festal Letters, On the Unity of Christ, and Doctrinal Questions and Answers) several themes and patterns emerge, such that it is possible to connect the pieces and discover a coherent anthropology. I argue that Cyril’s anthropology offers a complete account of the human story, from God’s purpose for humanity in creation, through fall, redemption, and judgment, and finally in the attainment of humanity’s telos in the enjoyment of eternal, familial union with God in heaven. This account is best understood generally in terms of divine giving and human receiving, and specifically according to a paradigm of revelation and imitation. In short, the Incarnation is the divine gift that reveals human nature and purpose, while human reception of that gift lies in both active and passive imitation of Christ. What emerges, therefore, is a distinctly Christological anthropology. Cyril’s account possesses several key features that together represent a significant contribution to anthropology: the Imago Dei is a divine gift extrinsic to our nature, which accounts for how it can be lost in the Fall and regained in Christ; the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in humanity and individual believers are marked by a pledge and fulfillment dynamic; human freedom is respected by God such that even participation in the divine life is never imposed upon humanity but depends upon positive consent; the differentiation between human nature as a general category and human beings as particular individuals allows for the work of Christ to be beneficial to all, yet imposed upon none; and finally, the ascension of Christ represents the definitive revelation of God’s purpose for humanity, even as it inaugurates the consummation of the human telos.