“Our Lord Jesus Christ is, to be sure, the only begotten Son of God, his Word made man and made flesh, not to be divided into two sons, but that he was ineffably begotten from God before all time and in recent periods of time he was according to the flesh from a woman, so that his person is one also. In this way we know that the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God, because he is God and man at the same time, that he who is without change and without confusion is the only-begotten, is incarnate and made man, and moreover that he was able to suffer according to the nature of his humanity. We know that it is impossible for him to suffer according to the nature of his divinity, and that he did suffer in his own flesh according the Scriptures. …
… Accordingly we confess that the only-begotten Son of God is perfect God, consubstantial to the Father according to divinity, and that the same Son is consubstantial to us according to humanity. For there was a union of two natures. Wherefore, we confess one Christ, one Son, one Lord”
[Cyril of Alexandria, Letters 51-110, letters 59, 97]
This was St Cyril’s answer to the question: ‘Who is Jesus?’
Apollinarius had tried to solve the problem of how Jesus could have been human and divine by positing the idea that the Logos had effectively been the soul of the human called Jesus. But, if Christ had not assumed human flesh, how could He have redeemed it? That was why Cyril could not accept the Appollinarian answer; but in turn he had to explain how a human and a divine nature could co-exist; did that mean there were in effect ‘two Sons’ – one consubstantial with God, the other of whom was man?
Cyril’s enemies would accuse him of ‘Appolinarianism’ because he accepted the view that the flesh and the Logos formed ‘one natural reality’ (Mia Physis), but as he himself once commented: ‘Not everything a heretic says is necessarily heretical’. Appolinarius had not invented the idea that there was a single subject in the Incarnate Lord, that was part of the Alexandrian inheritance. The Word enfleshed divinized our flesh: as Athanasius had famously remarked: ‘He became man so that man might become God‘. For Cyril, as for Athanasius, this was central. Why had it been necessary for the Word to become man at all? The only answer was that it was necessary for the ontological reconstruction of our human nature which had fallen into existential decay as a result of its alienation from God. What had not been assumed could not have been healed.
In the case of the Incarnation, the Logos appropriates human nature, which thereby becomes the human nature of the one who is God, and is thereby raised to glory; it becomes the primary way in which the Logos has chosen to effect the regeneration of the human race; it becomes an instrument of the Divine energy. The power of the Logos heals and transforms the fallibility of our human nature which He has assumed – and we see the signs of this in the miraculous healings which Jesus performed.
There is only one personal reality in the Incarnate Lord; that is the Divine Logos who has made a human nature His own. He is now the Logos Incarnate, and whilst enfleshed subject to all the limitations of the human conditions – like unto us in all things save sin. What Christ has deified in His own flesh, he deifies in the rest of us by Grace. This restores to mankind the union with God lost at the Fall. What Christ was and did naturally, he transfers to us as an inheritance.
This, for Cyril. is why the elements of the Eucharist, which are undoubtedly material – bread and wine – become divine and and worthy of adoration during the Liturgy. The physical interchange that occurs when the communicant receives the Lord under the species of bread and wine is part of the metamorphosis, the theosis – healing and salvation are given at the eucharistic Feast.
St Cyril saw no need to try to set this out with semantic clarity and logic; quite the opposite. To attempt to do that would be to reduce the ineffable mystery of our salvation and our God to something merely human; it would be to negate the Incarnation and its purpose. For Cyril. John 1:14 is the key text – and for him the whole of Scripture is the Word speaking to us: first through the prophets and the psalms, and through the patriarchs from Abraham onwards; and then finally through the self-revelation of the Incarnation and the writings of the Apostles.
This is who Jesus is, the Enfleshed Word of God. In all of that there is a mystery, not in the sense of something obscure, but in the sense of something far beyond us. That is why the Liturgy matters, for it is in it, and in praise and worship and prayer, and above all at the Eucharistic feast that we encounter the Risen Lord.