St. Cyril of Alexandria and Hypatia

Hey all,

After a horrible mock-u-mentery on the history of Alexandria where the climax was the murder of the philosopher Hypatia by the backward, science-hating Christians, I’m looking for some accurate sources on St. Cyril of Alexandria, his involvement in “forcibly” expelling all the Jews from Alexandria and his involvement in the murder of Hypatia by a “mob of Christians”.

This has the feel of another Galileo incident…

God Bless, :signofcross:
PoorKnight of Christ

In his introduction to St. Cyril’s writings in The Faith of the Early Fathers, Fr. William Jurgens points the following (I’m paraphrasing):

St. Cyril was a forthright preacher, whose tone was sometimes a little harsh. To accuse him of direct complicity in the death of the pagan philosopher Hypatia is a canard. But it’s possible that some men lacking understanding and restraint were led astray by a misinterpretation of his words, and they were the ones responsible for the mob attack and murder of Hypatia.

Alexandria suffered from mob violence from Ptolemaic times onwards. Indeed angering the Alexandrian mob was something that not even the Ptolemaic kings did lightly. There were Greeks and Jews who fought each other.

By the end of the 4th century there was a three-way split going; the Jews still existed, but the Greeks were split into “Christian” and pagan groups. I think few of us would feel much identification with any of these. The patriarch of Alexandria, Theophilus, was more or less the head of the “Christian” mob, and in some ways acted like a mobster.

Cyril of Alexandria was his nephew, and inherited both roles. It cannot have been easy to do so, and in fairness he doesn’t seem to have pushed the godfather role in the way his uncle did.

Hypatia got involved in the mob politics. What she was trying to do was to get the prefect to act against the “Christian” mob. Not unnaturally she got lynched. It is quite unlikely that Cyril ordered this, or needed to.

Cyril is not popular in western churches, so he doesn’t get a fair hearing. But the murder of Hypatia (who was friends with bishop Synesius of Cyrene) was a matter of politics, not religion.

All the best,

Roger Pearse

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A great book by top historians of science that deals with jive like this is Ronald L. Numbers, ed., Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion.
In this book David C. Lindberg, General Editor of the Cambridge History of Science, writes on the subject (p. 9): “The story of Hypatia’s murder is one of the most gripping in the entire history of science and religion. However, the traditional interpretation of it * is pure mythology. . . . her death [at the age of 60] had everything to do with local politics and virtually nothing to do with science. . . . Alexandrian science and mathematics prospered for decades to come.”*

How this man got to sainthood in the church is beyond me. While there is no evidence he himself ordered the murder, the group of monks who lead her lynching had been invited into the city to assault the civil ruler of Alexandria, almost killing him resulting in the execution of the monastics leader (or “Martyrdom” to Christians).

Cyril said some pretty nasty stuff, and all this was ultimately a political power play to establish christian dominance over the civil authority in Alexandria. Thats what Cyril was realy, a politician, his abhorrent conduct at the council of Ephesus shows that.

And as a pagan i find his grasping attempts to refute Julian’s masterwork rather entertaining. Even he himself aid he’d probably never be able to cover all of Julian’s 3 books, and he wrote 30 to try and refute them.

Is he not a Doctor of the Church?

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