Lent: Day 27 of 40 - Cyril of Alexandria

I hear you, but I’m not listening

Cyril, a face of the ‘west’ in the 400’s, opens the century as sidekick to his boss’ trial of John Chrysostom, then runs his own prosecution of Nestorius. Between times, he permits if he does not initiate the lynch mobs that disciplined lots of other heretics and pagans, including expulsion of the Jews from Alexandria, where he was based as patriarch when he wasn’t presiding in Constantinople.

Cyril is shrewd and politically astute, less of a dogmatic genius than a politician and disciplinarian. He calls a council at Ephesus in Greece, and when Romans and Alexandrians show up first, condemns Nestorius before allies from Antioch in the east arrive to join the councils. He is Cheney to his pope’s Bush, pushing the ‘Deliberation and Deception’ theme of the last century to a new level of ‘Education and Elaboration’.

Cyril is effective in imposing orthopraxy, without much subtle intellectual orthodoxy, in an activist politics that will characterize the ‘western’ church and alienate the ‘eastern’ orthodox. The cost is our loss of eastern spirituality of ‘being, not doing’, and vulnerability of a split church in later centuries as Islam rises in the east. Reread Sunday’s affirmations about Jesus’ humanity and divinity, and how that shapes our hope of ‘salvation’.

Power says: ‘we hear you, but won’t listen’, and ‘might makes right’. If we are too busy fighting among ourselves, for the power to make or resist change, control choices, and distribute benefits and burdens, what good are we to others or against outside options? If we win the skirmishes of a generation, and lose the battle of the age, what gain is that? If we survive, or thrive, institutionally, but morally bankrupt ourselves, what have we achieved in the longer run?

Cyril is a guy carrying moral authority, political capital built up by generations of Alexandria’s traditions of open speculation and intellectual sophistication, and spending that authority and capital and legitimacy in policing actions.

Can you recognize that pattern anywhere around you in our world or our century? I do, as leaders of ‘free world’ nations champion individual consumer culture and defend our privilege and wealth in the name of ‘Judeo-Christian values’. Those leaders in religion, business and politics, over-schooled and under-educated products of the multiversity, with no memory deeper than the last annual report, and no hope beyond the next quarter, destroy us.

Our leaders and pollsters and pundits say it still:

‘I hear you’ –

but their actions speak louder,


‘but I’m not listening’!