Well, today we remember Irenaeus of Lyons (c.125-202).  And while I was looking that up in Kathleen Jones’ “The Saints of the Anglican Calendar,” I noticed I’d underlined a lot about Cyril of Alexandria (376-444).  I checked, and Cyril (unlike Irenaeus) is not in the calendar of the Episcopal Church – not even in the expansion (by about 100 names) that came out of our last General Convention.  In my mind, this may well be a good thing.

About the only good thing in the book about Cyril is that he was “a champion of orthodoxy.”  But he also refused to consider any doctrine not found in the early church fathers.  And that denies God’s continuing revelation.  I have a problem with that.

He was also an unscrupulous ecclesiastical tactician, involved in the removal of two patriarchs from Constantinople.  The first was John Chrysostom, who is quite rightly in our calendar of saints, and who may have been the greatest preacher of all time.  The second was Nestorius.  This one did involve real issues of doctrine.  But Jones notes that the situation might have been resolved peaceably.

Instead, Cyril convened a council at Ephesus.  Nestorius refused to appear before a council convened by his enemy.  But before either the papal legates or the Archbishop of Antioch and 41 other bishops prepared to support Nestorius arrived, the council condemned Nestorius.  This resulted in (possibly unnecessary) schism.

Under his episcopacy, the Jews were driven out of Alexandria.  The (schismatic) Novationists had their churches shut, their sacred vessels seized and their bishop stripped of his property.  And Hypatia, a neo-Platonist woman philosopher who advised the Imperial prefect, was brutally murdered in the street by Cyril’s supporters.

Jones concludes, “Cyril is respected for safeguarding the purity of Christian doctrine; but the manner in which he did so has long been open to criticism.”  I’d say so.  I know it’s unfair to judge how people behaved after the fact from the standpoint of another time and/or place.  But it’s hard to imagine how Cyril made it into anybody’s list of people who set a good example for how to live your life.

Irenaeus, in contrast, had been sent from Lyon to Rome on church business when persecution broke out.  So he survived, and was sent back as a bishop to rebuild the church.  Jones notes that he “habitually spoke the language of Gaul rather than Latin or his native Greek, which suggests that he was a good pastor with a sympathy for his people.”

Irenaeus also was concerned with defending the faith (against the Gnostics).  He wrote a book, “Against Heresies.”  In it he suggests that receiving communion, the flesh and blood of our Lord received in the bread and the wine, is not consistent with Gnostic theology.  And, though I have not seen this myself, Sam Portaro says (in “Brightest and Best”):

Irenaeus chafed not simply at the idea of heresy, but its tyranny.  The sin of heresy is not just what it says,  but the vehement insistence of how it says it.  Orthodoxy, at its best, accepts a kind of blessed ambiguity, forfeits hard claims to truth, needs no armed defense to sustain it.  And both faith and truth welcome the challenge of open conversation, even of the lighthearted variety … That is what we remember of Irenaeus – not just his theology, but his sparkle.  One can see it in the humor with which he refutes and deflates the deadly damper of heresy …

So, there we have it:  two ways of dealing with teachings which may be contrary to the Christian faith (and people who disagree with you).  Given the choice, I know which one I would want to take as my example.

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