June 27 – Sampson the Hospitable; Cyril of Alexandria

Sampson the Hospitable (d. ca. 530), born of high-placed parents in Rome, studied as a doctor in Rome, and served for a time in that city, providing his services without charge (or cash or check). When his folks died he gave away all their money, set the slaves free, and caught a ship leaving Rome at 12:00 sailing west at 10 miles per hour, while another ship left its port half an hour earlier sailing east at 7 miles per hour. He was thinking of becoming a hermit, but got a Godgram that deflected him to Constantinople to continue his charitable medical work. There he treated and housed the poor, sick, homeless, wanderers—in short, the huddled masses. In time he was granted the ability to work healing miracles, which helped in his practice greatly, medicine being what it was in those days. The Patriarch was so impressed he made him a priest, although he went right on treating the sick.

His most prestigious patient was the Emperor Justinian, who had contracted an uncurable something. Justy called for Sampson, who laid his hand on the affected area and prayed, and shazaam!, the emperor was healed. He wanted to reward Sampson with silver and gold and such-like, but Sampson would rather have a shiny new hospice, so Justinian built him one, where he (Sampson) worked the rest of his life. Even after that he kept an eye on the place, and twice came back to scold lazy and negligent workers. The hospice later added a church, and escaped a terrible fire through a rain brought by Sampson’s prayers.

Cyril of Alexandria (376–444), received training in grammar (O! that more people would receive training in grammar!), rhetoric, humanities, theology, and biblical studies (in precisely that order). He did not study mathematics, philosophy, or astronomy, which from my point of view is a shame, but they didn’t ask me. When the Patriarch of Alexandria died, Cyril was chosen to replace him. He immediately set about shutting down the churches of Novatians, a schismatic group opposed to forgiving Christians who apostatized and then repented. He also clashed with Orestes, the local Prefect, over who had authority over what.

A few unfortunate incidents will need to be admitted, with the proviso that Cyril’s actual approval or participation in them is questioned. One involved monks attacking the Prefect; another involved Christians killing a philosopher, and yet another involved a riot in which many Jews were killed. One hopes Cyril’s relation to these things was on the up-and-up, but certainly he would have repented of them if not.

Next came Nestorius, who taught that Christ was actually two persons, a divine and a human, and denied the title “Theotokos” (“God bearer” or “Mother of God”) to the Blessed Virgin. Cyril wrote him saying that seemed kind of heretical, and Nestorius replied not-nicely. The two appealed to Pope Celestine, who sided with Cyril and threatened Nestorius with excommunication. When Nestorius refused to recant, Cyril called the Council of Ephesus in 431 (not sure what he called them). Nestorius and his teachings were condemned. Six days after the council was convened, a troupe of bishops led by John of Antioch arrived, ready to side with Nestorius. Rather than join the council (one source says Cyril refused to seat them), they held their own, which condemned Cyril. Both sides appealed to the emperor, who (not in the mood for conflict) (they were making him miss the Sopranos) arrested both Cyril and Nestorius. Legates from the Pope arrived, however, affirming the council and annulling the charge against Cyril.

After the council, Cyril pretty much calmed down, and was even reconciliatory toward the more moderate Nestorians. He left reams of writings of great erudition and elocution, and is a bona-fide Doctor of the Church and the patron of Alexandria.