Eschatology and Politics in Cyril of Jerusalem’s Epistle to Constantius

in Vigiliae Christianae
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Cyril’s letter to Constantius ii on the Jerusalem cross-apparition of 351 has usually been read as a declaration of Cyril’s loyalty during Constantius’ war with Magnentius. However, the letter also includes a discussion that links the cross to the eschatological “sign of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:30). Modern interpreters have either ignored this eschatological section or assumed that it is aimed at a non-imperial audience. This paper advances a unified reading of the letter that shows how Cyril uses explicit verbal cues and his description of the cross’s appearance and position over the sacred landscape of Jerusalem to prepare his imperial reader for the switch from politics to eschatology. Cyril thus reinforces his portrayal of Constantius as a devout Christian emperor and assures Constantius not just of military success but of the truth of the Christian faith, while still maintaining his own episcopal authority.

Eschatology and Politics in Cyril of Jerusalem’s Epistle to Constantius

in Vigiliae Christianae




The date is established by H. Chantraine“Die Kreuzesvision von 351 – Fakten und Probleme,” Byzantinische Zeitschrift 86-87 (1993-1994) 430-441.


EusebiusVita Constantini 128-32; the commentary by Averil Cameron and S.G. Hall Eusebius: Life of Constantine (Oxford 1999) 204-213 provides a succinct overview of other ancient accounts and of the modern scholarly debate concerning Eusebius’ report. For two recent discussions of Constantine’s vision the first on its biographical context the second on the religious and political concerns that shaped the main ancient accounts see H.A. Drake “Solar Power in Late Antiquity” in A. Cain and N. Lenski (eds.) The Power of Religion in Late Antiquity (Farnham 2009) 215-226 and J. Long “How to Read a Halo: Three (or More) Versions of Constantine’s Vision” in Cain and Lenski Power of Religion 227-235. Both Drake and Long assume following Weiss “The Vision of Constantine” that Constantine had a single vision which underlies not only Eusebius’ report but also the dream described in Lactantius De mortibus persecutorum 445 (csel 27223) and the pagan theophany of Panegyrici Latini 6(7)213-7. Constantine however experienced visions frequently (Eusebius Vita Constantini 1473) which puts the validity of this assumption in doubt (cf. O. Nicholson “Constantine’s Vision of the Cross” Vigiliae Christianae 54 (2000) 309 311 n. 9 (309-323)).


Vogt“Berichte” 604.


Irshai“Jerusalem Bishopric” 212; cf. id. “Cyril of Jerusalem” 98 104 and Drijvers “Power of the Cross” 241-245 who incorporates elements of Irshai’s argument into an interpretation focused on imperial politics.


Cf. Chantraine“Kreuzesvision” 441; Philostorgius Historia Ecclesiastica 326.


316; EusebiusVita Constantini 1282 322.


EusebiusVita Constantini 329-43.


Irshai“Jerusalem Bishopric” 212.


Irshai“Cyril of Jerusalem” 98-99.

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