To return to the Council. We left it with St Cyril in the ascendant and the definition of Our Lady as ‘Theotokos’ as agreed. But things were far from over. The Antiochene delegation, led by Bishop John, turned up on 26 June, convoked another synod and announced that Cyril was deposed. That created a deadlock: two Councils, two decisions. The emperor originally agreed with both groups – so all the leading bishops were deposed. Here is where the charge comes that Cyril bribed his way to victory.
It must be said up front that Cyril did indeed send a considerable number of very expensive gifts to Constantinople, but to attribute his victory to this is to ignore two things; that the partisans of Nestorius did likewise, as this was how these things were done; it is also to ignore the theological dimension.
The people of Constantinople were behind the Cyrilline council and there were demonstrations and riots when it became known that Theodosius had deposed him. Theodosius was in even more trouble when, on 10 July, the Roman delegation turned up and supported Cyril. Rome and the population of Constantinople were united with Cyril in defence of the Theotokos, as were the people of Ephesus, who refused to abandon him even when he was placed under house arrest. The ‘gifts’ were part of Cyril’s tactics to secure allies in Constantinople where the partisans of Nestorius still had influence. As McGuckin puts it:
‘Cyril’s payments to court officials undoubtedly smoothed the way for his cause … Nonetheless the key factor which swayed Theodosius was without question the solid determination of the Cyrilline party not to abandon their president whom they identified as synonymous with their cause.’ (p. 106).
Cyril and Memnon were restored, Nestorius deposed; what remained to be done was to reconcile Christendom. Here it helped that the majority of the Antiochenes had accepted the orthodoxy of the declaration that St. Mary was, indeed Theotokos.
It took two more years before Cyril and the church at Antioch could be reconciled, but the former knew how to be magnanimous in victory. John, bishop of Antioch, had no wish to continue to quarrel with the powerful Patriarch. In 433 Cyril marked their reunion with his famous epistle which began “Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad”. It contained the credal statement about Our Lady we hold to this day:
Concerning the Virgin Mother of God, we thus think and speak; and of the manner of the Incarnation of the Only Begotten Son of God, necessarily, not by way of addition but for the sake of certainty, as we have received from the beginning from the divine Scriptures and from the tradition of the holy fathers, we will speak briefly, adding nothing whatever to the Faith set forth by the holy Fathers in Nice. For, as we said before, it suffices for all knowledge of piety and the refutation of all false doctrine of heretics. But we speak, not presuming on the impossible; but with the confession of our own weakness, excluding those who wish us to cling to those things which transcend human consideration.
We confess, therefore, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, perfect God, and perfect Man of a reasonable soul and flesh consisting; begotten before the ages of the Father according to his Divinity, and in the last days, for us and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin according to his humanity, of the same substance with his Father according to his Divinity, and of the same substance with us according to his humanity; for there became a union of two natures. Wherefore we confess one Christ, one Son, one Lord.
According to this understanding of this unmixed union, we confess the holy Virgin to be Mother of God; because God the Word was incarnate and became Man, and from this conception he united the temple taken from her with himself.
Peace was restored. Some of the more partisan Alexandrians criticised Cyril for giving way to some of the phraseology of the Antiochenes, but he had won his point – and the harshness of the Twelve Anathema was to be buried in the love of brothers reunited; some sacrifice is always necessary. The unwisdom of his critics would be shown six years after his death in 444. But what had Cyril won?