Dom Guéranger on the Lay Faithful Resisting Heterodox Prelates (Like Nestorius)

Reading the Liturgical Year for the Feast of Saint Cyril of Alexandria today (February 9), I came across some very timely words I would like to share with our readers. These noble thoughts of the intrepid Dom Prosper Guéranger are a balm to our souls amid today’s trials:

Arius was the first of these teachers of the doctrines of hell — a worthy first in his pride. He carried his questionings into the very depths of the divine essence, and rejected consubstantiality on the evidence of texts which he misunderstood. Upheld principally by the powers of this world, Arianism fell at the end of a century, having no root but in recently converted nations who had not had to shed their blood for the divinity of the Son of God.

It was then that Satan produced Nestorius crowned with a fictitious halo of sanctity and knowledge. This man, who was to give the clearest expression to the hatred of the serpent for the woman, was enthroned in the Chair of Constantinople amid the applause of the whole East, which hoped to see in him a second Chrysostom. The joy of the good was of short duration. In the very year of his exaltation, on Christmas Day 428, Nestorius, taking advantage of the immense concourse which had assembled in honour of the Virgin Mother and her Child, pronounced from the episcopal pulpit the blasphemous words: ‘Mary did not bring forth God; her Son was only a man, the instrument of the Divinity.’ The multitude shuddered with horror. Eusebius, a simple layman, rose to give expression to the general indignation, and protested against this impiety. Soon a more explicit protest was drawn up and disseminated in the name of the members of this grief-stricken Church, launching an anathema against anyone who should dare to say: ‘The Only-begotten Son of the Father and the Son of Mary are different persons.’ This generous attitude was the safeguard of Byzantium, and won the praise of Popes and Councils. When the shepherd becomes a wolf, the first duty of the flock is to defend itself. It is usual and regular, no doubt, for doctrine to descend from the bishops to the faithful, and those who are subject in the faith are not to judge their superiors. But in the treasure of revelation there are essential doctrines which all Christians, by the very fact of their title as such, are bound to know and defend. The principle is the same whether it be a question of belief or conduct, dogma or morals. Treachery like that of Nestorius is rare in the Church, but it may happen that some pastors keep silence for one reason or another in circumstances when religion itself is at stake. The true children of Holy Church at such times are those who walk by the light of their baptism, not the cowardly souls who, under the specious pretext of submission to the powers that be, delay their opposition to the enemy in the hope of receiving instructions which are neither necessary nor desirable.” [Bold emphasis added.]

For some additional edification to our readers, here are some passages Dom Guéranger gives us from the saint he is lauding, Saint Cyril of Alexandria:

  • “If the fear of some disturbance is stronger than our zeal for God’s glory and prevents us from speaking the truth, how shall we dare in the presence of the Christian people to celebrate the holy martyrs, whose glory lies in the very fact that they carried out in their lives the words: ‘Even unto death fight for justice’?” (Ecclus. iv. 33)
  • “I have resolved to labour without truce for the faith of Christ and to suffer all torments, yea death itself, which in such a cause would be sweet to me.”
  • “We hail thee, O Mary, Mother of God, as the bright gem of the whole creation; the lamp whose light shall never be put out, the crown of virginity, the sceptre of orthodox faith, the indestructible temple and shrine of the Infinite, through whom we have received Him whom the Gospels call Blessed, Him who comes in the name of the Lord. Hail Mary, whose spotless and virginal womb bore that Infinite One, by whom the Trinity is glorified and the precious Cross honoured and adored throughout the earth. Hail Mary, joy of heaven, peace of angels and archangels, terror of demons. Through thee the tempter fell from heaven, through thee the fallen are raised up to heaven. The world was held captive in idolatrous folly, and thou hast opened its eyes to the truth. To thee the faithful owe their baptism, to thee they owe the oil of gladness. Throughout all the earth thou foundest churches and leadest the nations to penance What shall I say more? It was through thee that the only-begotten Son of God shone forth as the light of those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death; through thee that the prophets foretold things to come; through thee that he Apostles preached salvation to the nations; through thee that the dead rise again; through thee that kings reign by the grace of the Holy Trinity. What man could ever adequately praise Mary, who is worthy of all praise?”