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E03589: Cyril of Alexandria, in his treatise Against Julian, responds to the criticism of the cult of martyrs expressed by Julian the Apostate in his book Against the Christians, of c. 362. Written in Greek in Alexandria, 433/444.

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posted on 2017-08-22, 00:00 authored by CSLA Admin
Cyril of Alexandria, Against Julian (CPG 5233)


1. Julian’s criticism of Christian devotion to impure tombs.

(col. 1017-8) Cyril responds that Christians do not deny that tombs are impure, but this does not prevent them and indeed anyone from honouring the dead for their virtuous life. Honouring those who lived well in the past provides exemplars for the young. Cyril adduces the examples of honour bestowed by the Athenians to the heroes of the Persian Wars. Christian honour for the martyrs does not differ from that.

(col. 1019-1020) Julian’s reference to Christ’s quote that whitewashed tombs are impure is misleading, because it is just a metaphor for the Pharisees’ moral state, not a commandment instructing us to avoid tombs as impure. Christ raised people from the dead, even Lazarus whose body had started to smell at the moment of its resurrection.

(col. 1019-1022) Cyril questions the pagan superstition of ritual impurity from contact with tombs and dead bodies. Does a virtuous person change into evil from contact with a tomb? If the stench of the tomb causes spiritual harm, then the fragrance of a perfume shop should be the best moral school.

(col. 1022-1024) Quoting Homer (Il. Ο 36, Π 440), Cyril suggests that the pagan gods are afraid of death, because they cannot defeat it. Christ, however, defeated death by allowing it to conquer his flesh. The living and vivifying God cannot be called a dead man, and the same applies to the martyrs who disdained death.

2. Julian’s criticism of Christian incubation.

(col. 1023-1026) Julian lies when he claims that the Apostles taught Christians to seek dreams at tombs, because there is no attestation of that. The Christians do not seek prophetic dreams, because it is forbidden in Deuteronomy (13:1-3). Divination through dreams is a pagan practice, as attested in various sources. Julian’s use of Isaiah’s passage is misleading, because it refers to a period when Israel had fallen into idolatry, and condemns the divinatory visits of Jews to tombs.

(col. 1027-1030) Cyril returns the accusation of necrolatry, claiming that it is in fact that pagan religion that is a worship of tombs and dead figures. He quotes Clement of Alexandria to prove that major pagan shrines contain tombs.

Text: Migne 1863. Summary: E. Rizos.


Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Theological works


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Egypt and Cyrenaica

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Alexandria Hermopolis ϣⲙⲟⲩⲛ Ashmunein Hermopolis

Major author/Major anonymous work

Cyril of Alexandria

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Scepticism/rejection of the cult of saints

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - unspecified


Cyril of Alexandria, bishop of Alexandria (412-444), was one of the dominant figures of the Eastern Church in the early 5th century, and one of the protagonists of the Council of Ephesus in 431, which condemned Nestorius of Constantinople as a heretic. His multi-volume treatise Against Julian is a detailed refutation of Julian the Apostate’s treatise Against the Christians ('Contra Galiaeos'). The extensive quotations from this text by Cyril allow us to reconstruct parts of Julian’s lost work. Cyril probably wrote this work early in his career, but revised it in the last years of his life, and sent it to Patriarch John I of Antioch. The fact that Cyril produced a refutation of the treatise perhaps fifty years after its original publication (in 362) suggests that Julian's polemical work retained some actuality and popularity.


For the passages of Julian refuted by Cyril, see E01986. The emperor indeed accused the Christians of practising a form of necrolatry by venerating the tombs of the martyrs. Cyril's refutation mainly consists of revealing Julian's inaccurate presentation of the Christian views and the biblical quotations. His perhaps most interesting point concerns the pagan ideas about the defiling impact of dead bodies and their smell.


Text: Migne, J.-P., Patrologiae cursus completus (series Graeca) 76 (Paris, 1863), 1015-1030.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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