Cyril Against Julian: Traditions in Conflict
When the Roman Emperor Flavius Claudius Julianus—better known to many as Julian the Apostate—perished on a Persian battlefield in 363 CE, his efforts to turn back the Christianizing currents of the Roman Empire died with him. In the final decades of the fourth century, subsequent Christian emperors only further solidified the political and social status of Christianity. Julian’s intellectual challenges, however, lingered longer. In the 420s, Cyril, the new bishop of Alexandria, composed a colossal response to one of Julian’s final compositions, the anti-Christian Against the Galileans. My dissertation is a study of Cyril’s little-examined and untranslated text, known as Against Julian, and of the intellectual conflict that he and Julian engaged.Drawing on Alasdair MacIntyre’s analysis of conflict between strong traditions, I argue that the rivalry that obtains between Julian and Cyril is “narrative conflict.” Close reading reveals that Julian and Cyril did not share adequate criteria by which their most central intellectual disagreements could be adjudicated, and as a result their arguments most fundamentally disputed the details of the narrative backdrops to their traditions and rationalities. Neither of their texts are narratives per se, but the implicit framework that makes their arguments intelligible lie in their respective maximal narratives. Through philosophical arguments, historical vignettes, ad hominem insults, and more, Julian and Cyril each attempted to outnarrate their rival—they tried, that is, to reconstrue “episodes” from their rival’s tradition-constitutive narrative as episodes in their own tradition’s narrative. The first chapter opens with an illustrative case study of narrative conflict, focusing on Julian’s and Cyril’s competing and confident interpretations of an exceedingly vague biblical text. It then explains the conceptual apparatus of traditions, rationality, and narrative, before introducing the details of Julian’s and Cyril’s contexts and texts, and the relevant larger questions in scholarship on late antiquity. The second chapter is entirely devoted to a comprehensive, narrative-conflict analysis of Julian’s Against the Galileans, the rhetorical heft of which has regularly been overlooked by Julian’s modern readers. Chapters 3 through 5 focus on Cyril’s arguments in Against Julian, with Chapter 3 tracing key features of the narrative backdrop to Cyril’s arguments, and Chapters 4 and 5 focusing on clusters of renarrated “episodes.” These latter two chapters track how Cyril rebuts Julian’s attempts to subsume Christian episodes within the Hellenic narrative and how he simultaneously dislodges episodes from Julian’s narrative and re-explains them on Christian terms. The concluding chapter introduces Cyril’s Against Nestorius as a point of comparison with Against Julian—the striking formal similarities between Cyril’s two polemical texts provide a backdrop against which the features of his inter-tradition conflict with Julian stand out even more clearly, by contrast to his intra-tradition conflict with his fellow bishop, Nestorius. The comparison further clarifies the dynamics of intellectual conflict between narratives—dynamics which I then enumerate before, finally, concluding with suggestions about the implications of my study for scholarship not just on Julian and Cyril, but on the relationship between their respective traditions, Hellenism and Christianity.
Christianity and Hellenism
Cyril of Alexandria
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