The Mystery of Our Faith
St. James the Elder
25 July 2018
"You have to pick your battles." This is wise advice. Some battles simply are not worth fighting. If the hunter shoots at every deer he sees, he will never get a shot at a 12-point buck. This is also true in theological debates. Some things are not worth the effort it takes to respond to them. Some years ago, a famous theological quibbler wrote a lengthy letter to me objecting to something I said in a paper delivered at a theological symposium. He obviously wanted to pick a fight with me. However, his objections were, in my opinion, not worth the effort it would have taken to respond to them. I sent a polite letter indicating that I had received and considered his objections and that he might be interested in reading an upcoming book of mine. He was quite angry with me. But he was not able to drag me into a public debate about his quibbles. This was beneficial both to me and to the church, even if not for this quibbler. It saved me some time and the church some heart ache and confusion.

Cyril of Alexandria thought that some things were not worth responding to. If a heretical book would simply be lost to posterity by neglect (books were handwritten), then a response would only make the book more famous and cause problems to the church and her children. Sometimes the best response is dead silence. This is especially true in the case where an obscure book (or blog) is especially bad and those who read it will recognize it as such. Resounding silence can be a deafening response. Walking away from a bully, leaving him flailing in the air, makes that bully look ridiculous.

There are things worth responding to of course. Cyril took up cudgels when a book of the sermons by Nestorius began to circulate in the ancient world. It got a wide reading, disturbing the church because it was full of blatant heresies. A response was required, because the book would not go away quietly on its own. Cyril, as a faithful teacher and bishop of the church felt bound by the confusion the book was sowing in the church to respond to its errors. Nor were these confusions about insignificant matters, touching as they did on the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ and the personal union of the two natures in that incarnation. Cyril helps to cement the Christological language used by Christians to describe the ineffable mystery of the incarnation of the two natures, divine and human, in Christ. That language was specifically adopted in the Creed of Chalcedon (A.D. 451).

Interestingly, battles over the personal union in Christ never ended. The terms provided by Cyril and their codification in the Chalcedonian creed did not stop theologians from describing improperly that personal union of the two natures in Christ. The followers of Nestorius battled on. To this very day, many who consider themselves orthodox Christians, are either knowingly or unwittingly disciples of Nestorius, rather than faithful confessors of the Christian truth as confessed by the church. This is why it is well for us to study the writings of Cyril, because they respond to false teachings floating around in the churches of the twenty first century. How grateful we should be for the clarity of Cyril of Alexandria. Let's be clear on who Christ is in the incarnation. This is the mystery of our faith.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Cyril of Alexandria
"I have found a certain book compiled by someone which contains a large collection of homilies [by Nestorius], that is orderly and systematically arranged for easy use by the reader. And if anything has been said by its author which would come to nothing because it passed into forgetfulness, I would have considered it a duty to hold my peace and to counsel others to do the same, so that things which are unseemly and recklessly said would not become known to others, including our posterity. However, since a multitude of blasphemies have been heaped into this book and a great accusation has been made, howling against the doctrines of the truth, it became necessary that we should strip for combat and fight on behalf of those who have read it, so that they might not be harmed by it, but might rather know how bravely to repulse the damage caused by what is wrong in it.

"St. John was called a son of thunder by Christ the Savior of us all, and with good reason because he said something that is extraordinary and deep, which he sounded forth over all things under heaven and thundered out over the earth. John makes fully known the deep and mighty mystery of the incarnation of the Only begotten. For he said, 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made' (Jn 1:1, 3). He pierced through into the mystery and declared that the Only begotten is God and ineffably begotten of God by nature, that He is the maker and creator of all things. Then, and only then at the right time, does He begin the wisest plan that for our sakes and on our behalf was worked. John says, 'And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth' (Jn 1:14). He said that the Word was flesh, showing the force of the true union, that is, understood as one 'of persons' [according to hypostasis] and by saying that He dwelt among us, he does not allow us to conceive that the Word which is out of God by nature passed into flesh, which is earthly. For someone who is inaccurate about what the divine nature is (which is greater than anything that is created), I might suppose could have deemed that that (divine) nature became the recipient of change and could become, regardless of its own essentially accruing goods, change into something other than what it is and be brought down to the level of the creation, subjected in inappropriate ways to changes and variations. However, this is utterly impossible, for the nature of God is established and has continued unchanged in what it is. John testified saying that 'the Word dwelt among us,' by being made flesh. Here St. John both skillfully explained the wisdom of the divine plan and well defended that the nature of the Word should not be accused by any of having become flesh by change or by turning aside." 

Cyril of Alexandria, Five Tomes Against Nestorius, 1.1
Acts 11:27-12:5

Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. (ESV)
Collect for St. James the Elder
O gracious God, Your servant and apostle James was the first among the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the name of Jesus Christ. Pour out upon the leaders of Your Church that spirit of self-denying service that they may forsake all false and passing allurements and follow Christ alone, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

For Bob Schreiner, that the Lord of all blessing would grant him strength and hope

For Ileene Robinson, that our Messiah Jesus would grant her strength and healing as she continues to undergo therapy for Leukemia

For all women with child, and all mothers with infant children, that they would experience increasing happiness in their blessings
Art: DYCK, Sir Anthony van  Pentecost  (1618-20)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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