St. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem

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St. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem
by Fr, Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877

St. Cyril, Bishop and Patriarch of Jerusalem, is justly honored and esteemed by the Catholic Church as one of the holiest and most learned defenders of the faith against the heretics, both by his sermons and writings. He was born of Catholic parents and piously brought up. In the reign of Constantine the Great, to escape the dangerous occasions of sin, he entered a monastery, where he led a most edifying life. In later years, owing to his great reputation for learning and sanctity, he was chosen patriarch of Jerusalem. In this exalted station he displayed the zeal and courage of an apostle. He took under his special care those whose instruction in the mysteries of the faith was defective. He was vigilant in defending the Catholic doctrine and refuting the errors of the heretics. The Arians were protected by Constantius, the successor of Constantine on the throne, and they therefore oppressed and persecuted the Catholics in every possible manner. The Holy Bishop opposed the impious followers of Arius with all his might, and was not in the least disturbed by their threats. His tenderness towards the poor was that of a kind father. At that time, a famine spread over the land, and fell most severely on the indigent. The compassionate Bishop offered all his revenues for their relief; but this was not sufficient; his kind heart being moved by the sufferings of the famishing people, he sold gold and silver vessels for bread. This act of charity served his enemies later as a subject of accusation.

It was also during his occupation of the episcopal chair, that a wonderful apparition of the Holy Cross took place. On the Feast of Pentecost, a cross, surrounded by great light and of extraordinary size, was seen over Mount Calvary. It was perceived by all the inhabitants, Christians as well as Jews, and it filled all with terror. St. Cyril minutely described the apparition, and sent the report to the Emperor, admonishing him to adhere more sincerely to Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for us, and to desist from his protection and patronage of the enemies of Christ. The holy Bishop, on the feast of the Holy Cross, took that occasion to encourage and strengthen the Catholics in their faith and to refute the errors of the Arians, who, enjoying the favor of the Emperor, everywhere had the upper hand. This, however, served only to embitter the heretics against St. Cyril. They called a council composed entirely of Arian bishops, before whom the Saint was accused of sacrilege, because he had, as we related, sold the sacred vessels and other things belonging to the church. The heretics condemned St. Cyril, deposed him from his See and sent him into banishment, replacing him by Heraclius, an arch heretic. Acacius, a sworn enemy of the Saint, commended this unjust sentence to the Emperor for approval, and the holy Bishop was compelled to go into exile. Some years later, this sentence was revoked by a lawful council of the Church, and Cyril reinstated in his patriarchal chair. But he was again driven away. Finally, the Saint vanquished all his enemies, and governed his diocese in peace and with apostolic zeal.

After the death of Constantius, the imperial sceptre devolved on Julian the Apostate. He was favorable, not only to the heretics but also to the Jews, and was a most deadly foe to the Catholics. It was his intention to cover the Christians with confusion, by proving that Jesus was false in his prediction about the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem. With this object in view, he commanded the Jews to rebuild the temple, offer up the sacrifices of the Old Testament, and observe the other rites and ceremonies of the Law. To defray the expenses, he furnished a large sum of money. The Jews, transported with joy at these orders, earnestly applied themselves to the restoration of the old temple. They had already raised the walls to a considerable height, when St. Cyril,came and, looking at their labors for a while, said: "Not one stone will remain on the other, for Christ has foretold it, and He cannot fail." The Jews laughed at the holy Bishop, but the sequel proved the truth of his words. The following night a destructive earthquake not only threw down the partly raised walls, but also ejected the very foundations and scattered them all over the ground. But this was not the end. As the Jews rushed together, and with grief and terror beheld the ruin of their work, a fire descended from heaven which consumed the tools and all the materials. Others say that a subterranean fire burst forth from the earth and injured many hundreds of the Jews. But a still more remarkable prodigy is recorded. On the following day small luminous crosses could be noticed on the garments of the Jews, which could be washed away neither by water nor by any other means. Such striking wonders brought many of the unbelievers to the true faith, but others were only hardened in their infidelity.

St. Cyril lived for some years after this event, and had the consolation of seeing the throne occupied by the virtuous Theodosius after the decease of the impious Constantius, Julian and Valens. Now he could govern his diocese in peace. In 386 the Lord was pleased to call to his heavenly reward this valiant defender of Catholic truth. All who knew him could not sufficiently admire the heroic patience with which he bore the many tribulations and persecutions suffered for the sake of the true faith. His writings supply the defenders of Catholic doctrine, even at the present day, with the most powerful weapons against the Calvinistic and Lutheran heresies. For these writings prove that there is a vast difference between the doctrine taught and believed in the time of St. Cyril, and those which non-Catholics now-a-days profess; though in their simplicity the latter pretend that there is a perfect agreement between the articles of their faith and those of the first ages of the Church.


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