From Softness to Strength

Christian Manliness in the Words of Cyril of Alexandria

“Some have fallen into carnal desires, letting go of all reins to passion, weak and unmanly, throwing their mind to the pleasures of licentiousness.”

Manliness in the Christian tradition embodies virtue, strength, and moral integrity. Throughout Worship and Adoration in Spirit and Truth, Cyril of Alexandria provides a discourse on the virtues of Christian manliness. These dispositions are discussed throughout a series of sixteen dialogues of patristic exegesis on the Old Testament centered on sin, redemption, courage, love of the brethren, purity, holy feasts, Temple, priesthood, and sacrifices. This essay delves into Cyril’s teachings on manliness across these dialogues, examining the dispositions that demonstrate true manhood, including strength, overcoming softness and effeminacy, and a hospitality that is resistant to the age. 

Cyril highlights the spiritual dangers of effeminacy, advocating for a life of courage and virtue. Effeminacy, marked by indulgence in pleasure and a lack of striving, leads to spiritual and moral decay. Conversely, courage, supported by divine strength, paves the way for true greatness and salvation. By embracing the virtues of strength, courage, and perseverance, Christian men can find excellence in Christ and live a life that is both honorable and pleasing to God.

The Call to Love Manliness and Virtue

Those called by God to righteousness must renounce vileness and live earnestly, hastening to live righteously. Cyril considers it dangerous and repulsive for a man to love vileness and sin instead of manliness and virtue. According to Cyril, effeminate weaknesses and unnatural pleasures corrupt the mind. Instead, through Christ, it is possible to be strengthened in good labor.

Cyril states, “It is indeed dangerous, as it seems, O Palladios, and I would say even most abominable, entering into all manner of absurdity, not to love manliness but rather mediocrity and error; being softened like those who indulge in strange pleasures, and who introduce effeminate weaknesses into their mind, to abandon the courage that leads to virtue.” He continues, “And yet, through Christ, it is very possible to be strengthened in anything praiseworthy, and in addition to this, he, the most holy Paul, exhorts us, saying: ‘Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might.'”

Strength in Christ and Overcoming Passions

Manly strength in Christ is essential for combating youthful passions and fortifying the mind against them. Cyril acknowledges that achieving excellence in matters of virtue requires effort and toil. The biblical admonition, “A man in toil labors for himself, and drives his own destruction,” underscores the necessity of enduring hardship to attain spiritual maturity and manliness. He recognizes the importance of bravery and perseverance in the face of challenges, drawing from the example of David, who declared, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”

Cyril argues, “For we will find strength in Christ; however, I do not believe that anyone could achieve mastery over passions without effort and succeed in strengthening their own mind for this purpose.” He further emphasizes, “Therefore, it is a thing both transparent and easily understood, and while it is not easily captured by those who are idle, it is readily attainable by those who value hard work. It is written, ‘A man labors in his toils for himself, and brings about his own destruction.’ To think that one can achieve the most excellent things with little effort is, I believe, ignorant and foolish. Or is it not the most valuable of all things for us to preserve our soul and to strive for our own life?”

The Dangers of Indulgence and the Pursuit of Glory

Cyril contrasts those who indulge in luxuries and an easy life with those who compete rightly and with discipline. He asserts that victory and glory belong to the diligent and hardworking, not to the weak and indulgent. This principle is illustrated through the Israelites’ experience in Egypt, where harsh treatment under Pharaoh ultimately strengthened them rather than breaking their spirit. Cyril points out that afflictions, while imposed by Satan, can be turned into opportunities for growth and strengthening in virtue through God’s providence.

He explains, “For as they were humbled, they became more numerous and stronger. Satan brings afflictions, grinding his teeth against the saints, and what God would use for good, he always jumps upon with a hiss.” He continues, “But those who are lovers of virtue and goodness, and who aspire to the glory from above, striving to partake in eternal life, bravely and boldly confront the assaults of their own passions, putting to death the flesh and resisting the movements arising within it and from it.”

Softness and Effeminacy: Hindrances to Virtue

Effeminacy and softness are described as an inclination towards comfort and luxury that weakens moral resolve and leads to sin. Effeminacy, according to Cyril, involves a lack of courage and strength, resulting in a failure to strive for virtue. He believes that these traits are contrary to the divine call to righteousness and undermine the moral and spiritual integrity necessary for true manliness. Effeminate weaknesses, as Cyril describes, are mental and spiritual vulnerabilities that prevent individuals from embracing the fortitude required to live virtuously.

He warns, “the one who is called to righteousness by God and redeemed must follow Him, must renounce the weakness that leads to vice, and strive instead to live earnestly and vigorously in accordance with reason.” He further elaborates, “It is indeed dangerous, as it seems, O Palladios, and I would say even most abominable, having fallen into all manner of absurdity, not to love becoming manly but rather mediocrity and sin; being softened as if by strange pleasures, and introducing effeminate weaknesses into the mind, abandoning the courage that leads to virtue.”

He admonishes us to, “reject the softness found in baseness, and [to] shake off the love for pleasures found in enmity, and the actions under the control of our enemies, who are said to rule this age.” What is this softness? It is “one not accustomed to being brave, with a kind of inactive and unwarlike nature, who loves to nurture within himself a feminine and soft mindset, like one who is still immature and lacking in strength, and still boyish.” In another place in this book, he says of these that “They themselves are effeminate (Γυναικοειδεῖς) and emasculated (ἐκτεθηλυμμένοι), being conformed to the sin ruling over them.”

Hospitality as a Practice of Christian Manliness

Cyril argues that hospitality is a demonstration of the moral strength and virtuous character that defines true manliness. Christian men must “think and act eagerly in divine matters, which lie at our feet, without any hindrance or anything drawing us to an unworthy mind.” This is what it means to be ready to walk with God. This readiness reflects a manly disposition, showing that hospitality, when practiced from strength and conviction, is a true reflection of godliness and virtue​​.

He exposits hospitality and manly virtue at length in the First Discourse:

“The inhabitants of Sodom, vehemently driven to unnatural pleasures, despised the law of union meant for the procreation of children, as determined by nature, and indulged in relations with men, committing extremely abnormal acts, stirring up wrath, and seemingly hastening the punishment that was to come upon them, despite the benevolent nature of the Creator. When the time for them to suffer was imminent, with tolerance for them seemingly exhausted, those who were to execute this punishment arrived in Sodom.

It is written as follows: “In the evening, two angels arrived in Sodom. Lot was sitting at the gate of Sodom. Seeing them, Lot stood up to meet them, bowed with his face to the ground, and said: ‘Look, my lords, turn into your servant’s house and stay, wash your feet, and in the morning you can go on your way.’ They replied: ‘No, we will spend the night in the square.’ But he pressed them strongly, and they turned aside to him and entered his house. He made them a feast and baked unleavened bread, and they ate before going to bed.”

Lot, indeed, being of the blood of Abraham and educated in the laws of righteousness, not lightly considering his devotion to God, dwelt in Sodom. He was a foreigner and stranger there, both by tribe and by way of life. For what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever, as it is written? Distressed by the local evils and following a different way of life, he engaged in holy pursuits and honored the law of hospitality, welcoming those who entered the city with hospitality, recognizing it as pleasing to God.

When the angels, bringing judgment to those unrestrained in debauchery, arrived (and there were two of them), he quickly met them, clearly showing his kindness by his greeting. He prostrated himself to the ground and urged them to enter his house, according to the laws of love. They said, ‘No, we will spend the night in the street.’ This indicated that they were strangers and without a home, provoking, I believe, a more intense eagerness in the one dedicated to hospitality, subtly hinting that it would not be proper to leave them alone in empty houses and at crossroads. The righteous man, understanding this, urged them more strongly, not treating their refusal as coming from indifference or a weaker spirit. Therefore, he housed them, offered unleavened bread, and made a drink.

But this was the action of the righteous man. The Sodomites, indulging in naked and disgraceful pleasure, shamelessly surrounded the house of the just man, falling into the utmost indecency, demanding to be allowed to continue their usual deeds, and then, when they should have chosen hospitality, they wanted to harm them with unnatural lewdness. Lot tried to prevent them from such savage and most foul deeds, and he himself might have suffered, had not the rescuers been present. For the men stretched forth their hands, and pulled Lot into the house to themselves, and shut the door. And they smote the men that were at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great, so that they wearied themselves to find the door.

They struck with blindness the men who were at the door of the house, both young and old, who wearied themselves to find the door.’ God’s help to him was not limited to these acts alone. It is written again: “When dawn came, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Get up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, and leave, lest you be destroyed along with the city’s sins.’ They were agitated, and the angels grasped his hand, and the hand of his wife, and his two daughters, because of the Lord’s mercy on them.”

This is a very clear example that we should not only be guided by words and mental encouragements to avoid sin, but also by the gentleness of God towards us, the savior of all, making His help effective, as it is said, ‘You have grasped my right hand, and guided me by your counsel.’ Since human nature is not very strong or adequately capable of resisting evil, God in some way competes with it towards this end. And He appears to bestow a double grace: persuading with admonitions and receiving help, and putting us in a better position than the pressing and tyrannical evil.

You would see that this is true, that there are few who truly care for righteousness, and a scarcity of good men in life; for it is written, ‘to find a faithful man is a task.’ However, such a person is chosen, and not considered secondary in the concerns from above. For if he is mixed with others in the world, no harm remains from it, as a lily is plucked from thorns, and a righteous man would not perish with the ungodly, according to the voices of the saints.”

Hospitality clearly intersects with manly virtue and integrity. There is no other way for the saints to care for strangers unstained in a negative and hostile world. Lot was able to exercise Christian freedom in the care of strangers because he was “as a lily” being plucked from thorns. No harm remains for the Christian man if he pursues moral excellence in this world.

The Importance of Manly Virtue and Courage

Manliness, for Cyril, involves not only physical strength but also moral and spiritual courage. He urges believers to aim for moral excellence and diligently pursue courage in virtue, as exemplified by biblical figures such as David and the Apostles. The divine call to “Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness” enforces the need for spiritual preparedness and the pursuit of righteousness.

He exhorts, “But those who are lovers of virtue and goodness, and who aspire to the glory from above, striving to partake in the eternal life, bravely and boldly confront the assaults of their own passions, putting to death the flesh and resisting the movements arising within it and from it.” He adds, “Therefore, it is clear and noteworthy, and not impossible for those who have esteemed toil, but for those who do not, it is insurmountable. To achieve the excellence of matters with little effort seems to me naive and shortsighted. Is it not the most honorable of all things to save one’s soul and to triumph over one’s life?”

He contrasts effeminacy with the virtue of courage, highlighting how the latter is essential for achieving spiritual excellence. He emphasizes that true strength and success come through effort and struggle: “For we will not find nobility in indulging in ease; but if one were to sweat, then he will indeed be bright and most renowned.” This comparison underscores the importance of rejecting effeminacy to cultivate a life of virtue.

He further teaches that trials and afflictions are integral to developing true Christian manliness. He uses the example of the Hebrews under Pharaoh’s oppression to demonstrate that endurance in the face of suffering leads to greater strength and virtue. This process of enduring hardship and resisting temptations is essential for achieving a sacred and unblemished life. The analogy of spiritual armor, including the shield of faith and the breastplate of righteousness, symbolizes the protection and strength derived from a steadfast commitment to God’s will.

He notes, “Satan brings afflictions, grinding his teeth against the saints, and what God would use for good, he always jumps upon with a hiss.” He further elaborates, “But those who are lovers of virtue and goodness, and who aspire to the glory from above, striving to partake in the eternal life, bravely and boldly confront the assaults of their own passions, putting to death the flesh and resisting the movements arising within it and from it.”

The Census of Manliness and Divine Recognition

Cyril makes a clear distinction between earnest manliness and immaturity. He emphasizes that only those who have reached spiritual maturity and the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ are counted as truly manly. This maturity involves surpassing the mind of youth and embodying the virtues of wisdom, strength, and courage. The divine law, according to Cyril, recognizes and values this maturity, and it is reflected in the spiritual census and the book of the living.

He observes, “For each tribe puts forth its most noble and warlike leader, and defender, and chief of counsel, and the one who is to propose what is to be done, whom the angels appointed to those chosen and written in the book of life are standing by.” He further explains, “The male is most warlike, and having reached manhood, that is, having attained spiritual maturity and the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ, it is clear and well demonstrated through these things.”

Drawing from the biblical census in the book of Numbers, Cyril explains that God commands the counting of every male who is able to go forth to war, symbolizing those who have attained spiritual maturity and strength. This divine recognition extends to those who have demonstrated manliness through their actions and virtues. The spiritual census includes those who have excelled in virtue and have been recorded in divine books, highlighting the importance of living a life worthy of God’s recognition. The divine requirement for true manliness is the nurture of a warlike nature, able to stand and be counted in the census of spiritually able-bodied men.


Christian manliness, as expounded by Cyril of Alexandria, encompasses a holistic approach to virtue, strength, and moral integrity. It involves a steadfast commitment to righteousness, the courage to endure trials, and the continuous pursuit of spiritual maturity. Cyril’s teachings remind contemporary saints of the importance of living a life marked by virtue and strength, grounded in faith in Christ. By embodying these principles, Christian men can attain true manliness and recognition by God in the spiritual census.

Cyril draws clear distinctions between the virtues of manliness and the vices of effeminacy, offering a profound commentary on the expectations of Christian character. Cyril equates the effeminate with those who, possessing the nature of a man, falsify manliness by softening both mind and body and willingly inclining towards what is unmanly and womanish. With Scripture, he insists, “For neither fornicators nor the effeminate shall inherit the kingdom of God.” These have “completely thrown away” their manliness, failing to uphold the robust and vigorous qualities expected of them. This abandonment of manliness, according to Cyril, is not just a physical but a moral and spiritual failing.

Effeminacy, according to Cyril, leads individuals away from the path of virtue. He argues that this vice is characterized by a surrender to unnatural pleasures and a weakening of the mind. Cyril laments that those who indulge in effeminacy abandon the bravery necessary for pursuing virtue. The consequences of giving in to effeminacy are severe. Cyril contends that such individuals fail to achieve excellence in life because they avoid the necessary labor. This lack of effort leads to a failure in attaining both spiritual and moral excellence.

Overcoming effeminacy requires a conscious effort to cultivate courage and virtue. Building strength in Christ is the key to combating this vice: “We shall find strength in Christ; yet, I think no one can rightly and effectively combat the passions of youth, and fortify their own mind against them, without effort.” This underscores the necessity of divine grace and human labor in overcoming effeminacy.

Cyril exhorts the saints to manliness by advocating for moral strength, self-control, and the rejection of effeminacy and softness. He calls for men to embody the virtues of Christ, to live robustly and vigorously, and to maintain their moral and spiritual integrity against the temptations of carnal desires. This appeal to manliness is deeply rooted in a commitment to spiritual and moral excellence, as prescribed by Christian doctrine and the teachings of the Scriptures. 

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Jonathan Tomes

Jonathan Tomes is a research librarian and enhanced translator. His work regularly appears at Greystone Theological Institute (Texts & Studies). He has several translation projects pending publication.

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