This week I have been reading Daniel Keating's latest book The Appropriation of the Divine Life in Cyril of Alexandria. Cyril (5th Century) has been my favorite church father for quite some time now, mostly because of his unique willingness among the Greek fathers to speak of the suffering of God (though he always did this in a nuanced paradoxical way, e.g., that the Word of God suffers impassibly, unlike many modern theologians who throw around sloppy rhetoric about the passibility of God without assessing the consequences). On the other hand, Cyril is well known for his political cunning and sagacity. He is often labeled as the most despicable of early church theologians for his alliances with imperial forces in order to triumph over his theological foes, the most famous of which is Nestorius. His large and fascinating body of work is typically overshadowed by his Machiavellian reputation.
The question on my mind is whether Cyril-fans like me need to apologize for his bad behavior, or defend his politicking as doing Christian orthodoxy a great service. If Cyril was right (and I think he is) about Nestorius jeopardizing the reality of salvation with his Christological formulations, then what was the right thing to do? Just speak and write and hope the church would see the truth? Or get up and team up with the powers that be to ensure the victory of his view within the structures of the institutional church?
I am at a loss because I think so much can be at stake in such a foundational theological controversy, and yet I am not inclined to "play dirty" to ensure the right thing gets done. In today's controversies, I often find that those who are willing to politick are those with whom I disagree. So many in my generation are uncomfortable using institutional structures to do anything about it. So we idealistically sit back in the cool assurance that our ideas will win on their own merit. Maybe this ideal is a must, and I am willing to follow it through if it is a matter of obedient discipleship. But is it a higher calling to give up some of my personal piety for the sake of the church as a whole? That is the question.