Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Zoobie Review: St. Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy by John Anthony McGuckin

St. Cyril of Alexandria: The Christological Controversy: Its History, Theology, and Texts by J.A. McGuckin [orig. publ. by E.J. Brill in the series Supplement to Vigiliae Christianae, v. 23, 1994; republished by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2004; ISBN#0881412597]

Modestly described by Baptist patristics scholar Steven A. McKinion in 2000 as "the most recent major work on the christology of Cyril" (Words, Imagery, and the Mystery of Christ: A Reconstruction of Cyril of Alexandria's Christology, p. 157), J.A. McGuckin's seminal work on Cyrillene Christology remains a force to be reckoned with for those who would impugn the coherence of Cyril's Christological position. Through careful attention to the relevant texts, McGuckin systematically rebukes the notion of Harnack, Seeberg, and other liberal Protestant historians that Cyril was a crypto-Apollinarian throughout his career. Moreover, he criticizes the idea that the Council of Chalcedon represented a vindication of Antiochene logos-man Christology against Alexandrian logos-sarx Christology. The latter concept appears to have been inspired by the distinction between Alexandrian and Antiochene views drawn by Grillmeier, even though Grillmeier himself admitted that this was hardly a perfect categorization and specifically denied that the later Cyril was Apollinarian. Subsequent scholars (e.g., R.A. Norris) had sharply questioned whether the Antioch/Alexandria paradigm was meaningfully applicable at all. But no scholar before McGuckin had paid such careful attention to the theological content of Cyril's writings in addressing these two problems. This is where McGuckin's genius at extracting theological concepts behind words becomes plain.

McGuckin is concerned also to defend Cyril's character against the tendency to portray him as a conniving political manipulator. In that respect, McGuckin's efforts are somewhat uneven; Norman Russell, for example, rejects McGuckin's notion that Cyril was not complicit in some of the brutality inherited from his uncle. McGuckin also tends to excuse Cyril's behavior in the sense that we should not apply anachronisitic standards to practices like political bribery, but a realistic assessment must surely admit the relevance of these practices to the acceptance of Cyril's dogma (although perhaps not to the extreme of Susan Wessel in neglecting the idea of theological coherence altogether as a factor in dogma). But even as gritty a theological realist as Wessel must concede both that there is a viable argument that Cyril was theologically consistent throughout his career (S. Wessel, Cyril of Alexandria and the Nestorian Controversy: The Making of a Saint and of a Heretic, p. 270) and that there is no longer any serious scholarly basis for seeing Chalcedon as a vindication of Antiochene Christology as against Cyril himself (p. 290, citing Patrick T.R. Gray's argument to that effect). So it is fair to say that McGuckin's argument represents the consensus of scholars in viewing Chalcedon as being thoroughly Cyrillene, as against the various apologists for Nestorius and detractors of Cyril (such as Harnack).

Perhaps the best evidence of the lasting impression of McGuckin's work has been the inspiration of later works of Cyrillene scholarship. At least two subsequent authors have argued that McGuckin did not even go far enough in examining the rich depth of Cyrillene Christology. McKinion's work (supra), for example, notes that the Scriptural depth of Cyril's argument and the sublime consistency of his Christology can only be appreciated through his use of imagery, although he favorably cites the efforts of both Norris and McGuckin in his treatment. Daniel A. Keating in The Appropriation of Divine Life in Cyril of Alexandria (2004) argues that previous scholarly efforts at plumbing the depths of Cyril's Christology have been admirable (citing Bernard Meunier, Marie-Odile Boulnois, Norman Russell, and McGuckin), but that even those have failed to take into account the voluminous Scriptural commentaries left behind by St. Cyril, which paint an even clearer picture of the wealth of Cyril's Christology. The fact that even skeptics of the notion of theological consistency in church councils, such as Susan Wessel, have been forced to take notice is surely a sign of the weighty influence that McGuckin exerts in the area. Clearly, McGuckin's work is a pathbreaking foray into Cyrillene scholarship and, in any case, a definitive rebuttal to those who would view Chalcedon as anything other than a thoroughly Cyrillene council. For the price, you will not find a higher quality survey of Cyrillene Christology anywhere.

On a metaphysical rigor scale from -5 to +5, I give it an unqualified 5 Zoobs.