Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saints Cyril and Methodius, Confessors

[Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius]Article

Constantine, who was afterwards called Cyril, was born at Thessalonica, of an illustrious senatorial Roman family. He had his education at Constantinople, and by his great progress in learning deserved to be surnamed The Philosopher; but piety was the most shining part of his character. He was promoted to the priesthood, and served the church with great zeal. Saint Ignatius being advanced to the patriarchal dignity in 846, Photius set himself to decry his virtues, and disputed that every man has two souls. Saint Cyril reproved him for this error. Photius answered him, that he meant not to hurt any one, but to try the abilities and logic of Ignatius. To which wretched excuse Cyril replied: “You have thrown your darts into the midst of the crowd, yet pretend no one will be hurt. How great soever the eyes of your wisdom may be, they are blinded by the smoke of avarice and envy. Your passion against Ignatius deprived you of your sight.” This is related by Anastasius the bibliothecarian, and the aforesaid error was condemned in the eighth general council. The Chazari at that time desired baptism. These were a tribe of Turci, the most numerous and powerful nation of the Huns in European Scythia. In the sixth century they were divided into seven, sometimes into ten tribes, governed by so many independent chagans, that is, chams or kings. They drove the Abares, and other nations of the Huns, from the banks of the Ethel, since called Volga, towards the Danube, in the reigns of the Emperors Mauricius and Tiberius, who both honoured them with their alliance, and two pompous embassies, described at large by the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenetta, and by Theophylactus Simocatta. The chazari, who descended from the Turci, had possessed themselves of a territory near Germany, upon the banks of the Danube, which Porphyrogenetta describes in his time to have had the Bulgarians on the east, the Patzinacitæ (who came also from the Volga) on the north, Moravia on the west, and on the south the Scrobati, a tribe of Bulgarians settled in the mountains. This nation, by a solemn embassy, addressed themselves to the Emperor Michael III and his pious mother Theodora, begging that some priests might be sent to instruct them in the faith, the empress sent for Saint Ignatius, the patriarch, and by his advice and authority Saint Cyril was charged with this important mission. This happened in the year 848, as Henschenius and Jos. Assemani prove; not in 843, as Cohlius writes. The language of the Chazari was not the Sclavonian, as Henschenius thinks, but that of the Huns or Turci, which was entirely different, says Assemani. That Cyril understood the Sclavonian, Greek, and Latin languages, is clear from the two histories of his life. That for this mission he learned also the Turcic, which was spoken by the Huns, Chazari, and Tartars, we cannot doubt. In a short time he instructed and baptized the cham, and his whole nation, and having settled his church under the care of able pastors, returned to Constantinople, absolutely refusing to accept any part of the great presents with which the prince would have honoured him.

The saint’s second mission was to the Bulgarians, in which his devout brother, Methodius, a monk, was his chief assistant. The Bulgari were a Scythian nation, not of the Huns, but of the Sclavi, whose language was quite different from that of the Turci and all the Huns. They seem to have been originally planted near the Volga, and to have retired at the same time with the Abaras upon the coming of the numerous swarm of the Turci from the coasts of the Caspian sea, under their cham Turaathus, as Evagrius, Theophanes, and Simocatta relate. The Bulgari are first mentioned near the Danube, about the year 634, when Cobratus their king, made an alliance with the emperor Heraclius against the Abares, as Theophanes and the patriarch Nicephorus inform us. The Servii were another nation of the Sclavi, who accompanied the Bulgari, and founded the kingdom of Servia. The Bulgari possessed themselves of the ancient Mysia and Dacia, on both sides of the Danube, now Wallachia, Moldavia, and part of Hungary. They came from the banks of the Volga, in the reign of Anastasius, and erected here a mighty kingdom.

The first seeds of the conversion of this barbarous nation were sown by certain Grecian captives taken at Adrianople, in the reign of the emperor Basil the Macedonian: but this great work was completed many years after by the following means. Boigoris, king of the Bulgarians, was inclined to the faith by the assiduous long persuasions of his sister, who had zealously embraced it at Constantinople, having been taken captive, and detained a long time in the court of the pious empress Theodora. But human motives hardened his heart till God was pleased to awaken him by a more powerful call. The prince, who was passionately fond of hunting, desired the emperor to procure him a picture which should be a curious hunting piece. Methodius, according to the custom of many devout monks of that age, employed himself in drawing pious pictures, and excelled in that art. He was, therefore, sent to the court of the king, who, having built a new palace, was desirous to adorn it with paintings. He gave the good monk an order to draw him some piece, which, by the very sight would strike terror into those that beheld it. Methodius, thinking nothing more awful than the general judgment, represented in the most lively colours, and with exquisite art, that awful scene, with kings, princes, and people standing promiscuously before the throne of the great Judge, who appeared armed with all the terrors of infinite majesty and justice, attended by angels: some were placed on the right hand, and others on the left. The moving sight, and still much more the explication of every part of this dreadful scene, strongly affected the mind of the king, who, from that moment, resolved to banish all other suggestions, and to be instructed in the faith: in which Methodius was ready to assist him. He was baptized by Greek priests, not at Constantinople, as some mistake, but in Bulgaria: for all our historians add, that upon the news that the king had been baptized in the night, the people took arms the next morning, and marched in open rebellion towards the palace. But the king, taking a little cross which he carried in his breast, put himself at the head of his guards, and easily defeated the rebels. At his baptism he took the name of Michael. In a short time his people imitated his example, and embraced the faith. 6 Pagi places the baptism of this king in 861. Baronius and Henschenius in 845. Joseph Assemani in 865. The newly converted king sent ambassadors to Pope Nicholas I., with letters and presents, begging instructions what more he ought to do. The pope, with letters, sent legates to congratulate with him, in 867. The legates, being bishops, gave the sacrament of confirmation to those who had been baptized by the Greek priests, though these had before, according to the rite of their church, anointed them with chrism: which the Latins indeed have always done, but on the head, in baptism, not on the forehead. The same legates also taught the Bulgarians to fast on Saturdays: which points gave offence to Photius, who, in 866, had schismatically usurped the patriarchal see, and banished Saint Ignatius. Some Bulgarians had been baptized in cases of necessity by laymen, and even by infidels. Pope Nicholas I. declared this baptism to be good and valid, and answered several other difficulties in the beginning of the year 867. 8 Saints Cyril and Methodius had laboured in the conversion of the Bulgarians, though jointly with several other priests, not only Greeks, but also Armenians: concerning whose different rites of discipline the Bulgarians consulted Pope Nicholas I. as he testifies in his answer. Our two saints passed from this country into Moravia, so called from a river of that name.

The first mention of the Moravians we find made in 825, by Pope Eugenius II in an epistle to the bishop of Faviana, now called Vienna, anciently Vindobona, in which he appoints the archbishop of Lorc (which see was since removed to Saltzburg) vicar of the apostolic see in that nation. The Moravians and Carinthians were Sclavonian nations which had seized on these countries. The latter were governed by dukes, the former by kings, having first chosen Samo, a Frenchman from Senogagus, a country near Brussels, who had valiantly defended them against the Avares or Huns of Pannonia, in 622. The most powerful of these kings was Swetopelech, whose kingdom extended to Pomerania, in the end of the seventh age, according to Assemani. Two contending dukes, Moymar and Priwina, or Prinnina, ruled in Moravia, in 850, though this country had been certainly subject to Charlemagne, no less than Bavaria and Pannonia, as Eginhard relates. Moymar being slain, Rastices, his nephew, received the crown of Moravia from Lewis, king of Germany, in 846. He is by Henschenius called also Suadopluch, but falsely, as Assemani proves from the annals of Fulda. This pious prince invited the two missionaries into Moravia, and was baptized by them, with a considerable part of his subjects, who had been inclined to think favourably of Christianity by the example of the Bavarians, whom Saint Robert, bishop of Worms, and founder of the archbishopric of Saltzburg, had begun to convert to the faith. Rastices dying, his nephew and successor Swadopluch persecuted the church. Augustine, in his catalogue of the bishops of Olmutz 10 and Dubravius, 11 says Saint Cyril was ordained first archbishop of the Moravians. This latter relates that Boriway or Borivorius, duke of Bohemia, was converted by hearing Cyril and Methodius preach the faith, and, being baptized by the latter, he called him into Bohemia, where his wife Ludmilla, his children, and a great part of his people received the sacrament of regeneration, which, according to Cosmas of Prague, in his chronicle, happened in 894. Saint Methodius founded at Prague the church of our Lady; another of Saints Peter and Paul, and many others over the kingdom. The two brothers Cyril and Methodius are styled bishops of the Moravians in Muscovite calendars, and in the Roman Martyrology. But in the Polish Breviary and other monuments it is said that Cyril died a monk, and that only Methodius was consecrated archbishop after his brother’s death. And their second life, published by Henschenius, says expressly that the two brothers, being called by Pope Nicholas to Rome, upon their arrival found him dead, and Adrian II. pope: that Cyril put on the monastic habit, and died soon after in that city, before he received the episcopal consecration. And Pope John VIII in 879, wrote as follows to the Moravians: “Methodius, your archbishop, ordained by our predecessor Adrian, and sent to you,” etc. Whereas he calls Cyril only the philosopher, of whom he writes to Count Sfentopulk, “The Sclavonian letters or alphabet invented by Constantine the philosopher, that the praises of God may be sung, we justly commend.”

From this testimony of John VIII and the ancient lives of Saint Cyril, it is evident that the Sclavonian alphabet was invented, not by Saint Jerom, but by those two apostles of that nation: which is also related by an ancient author, who wrote in 878, published by Freher. Cyril and Methodius translated the liturgy into the Sclavonian tongue, and instituted mass to be said in the same. The archbishop of Saltzburg and the archbishop of Mentz, jointly with their suffragans, wrote two letters, still extant, to pope John VIII to complain of this novelty introduced by the archbishop Methodius. Hereupon the pope, in 878, by two letters, one addressed to Tuvantarus, count of Moravia, and the other to Methodius, whom he styles archbishop of Pannonia, cited the latter to come to Rome, forbidding him in the mean time to say mass in a barbarous tongue. Methodius obeyed, and, repairing to Rome, gave ample satisfaction to the pope, who confirmed to him the privileges of the archiepiscopal see of the Moravians, declared him exempt from all dependence on the archbishop of Saltzburg, and approved for the Sclavonians the use of the liturgy and breviary in their own tongue, as he testifies in his letter to Count Sfendopulk, still extant. It is clear from the letters of Pope John, and from the two lives of this saint, that this affair had never been discussed either by Pope Nicholas or Pope Adrian, as Bona and some others have mistaken. The Sclavonian tongue is to this day used in the liturgy in that church. The Sclavonian missal was revised by an order of Urban VIII in 1631, and his brief and approbation are prefixed to this missal printed at Rome, in 1745, at the expense of the Congregation De Propaganda Fide. By the same Congregation, in 1688, was printed at Rome, by order of Innocent XI the Sclavonian breviary, with the brief of Innocent X. prefixed, by which it is approved and enjoined. 18 The Sclavonians celebrate the liturgy in this tongue at Leghorn, Aquileia, and in other parts of Italy.

When Saint Methodius was returned from Rome he had much to suffer from the invective and opposition of some neighbouring bishop, perhaps of Passau or Saltzburg, in Bavaria. For Saint Rodbert or Rupert, bishop of Worms, in 699, had converted the Boij or Baivarij, and having established the archbishopric of Juva, or Saltzburg, returned to Worms, and there Saint Rupert’s successors, especially Saint Virgilius, converted the Carinthians, who were also Sclavonians, and their successors complained of the erection of the archbishopric of Moravia as a curtailing of their ancient jurisdiction. But Pope John VIII. supported the exemption of the archbishopric of Moravia, and justified the conduct of Saint Methodius. Hearing of the persecution he met with from the neighbouring bishops, he wrote to him in 881, congratulating with him upon the success of his labours and the purity of his faith, tenderly exhorting him to patience, and to overcome evil with good, and promising to support him in his dignity, and in all his undertakings for the honour of God. Saint Methodius planted the faith with such success, that the nations which he cultivated with his labours became models of fervour and zeal. Boigoris or Michael, the first Christian king of Bulgaria, renounced his crown about the year 880, and putting on the monastic habit, led an angelical life on earth. Stredowski, in his Sacra Moraviæ Historia, styles Saints Cyril and Methodius the apostles of Moravia, Upper Bohemia, Silesia, Cazria, Croatia, Circassia, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Russia, Dalmatia, Pannonia, Dacia, Carinthia, Carniola, and of almost all the Sclavonian nations. Saint Methodius lived to an advanced old age, though the year of his death is not certain. The Greeks and Muscovites honour Saint Cyril on the 14th of February; and Saint Methodius on the 11th of May. The Roman Martyrology joins them both together on the 9th of March. Dubravius and others attribute to them many miracles; which Baronius also mentions in his notes on the Roman Martyrology. He adds, that the relics of these two brothers were lately found under the altar of a very ancient chapel in the church of Saint Clement in Rome, and are still honourably preserved in that church. Octavius Panciroli, in Thesauris absconditis Almæ Urbis, and Henschenius say the same; but the latter shows that some small portions have been translated into Moravia, and are enshrined in the collegiate church at Brune. See the two lives of Saints Cyril and Methodius, published by Henschenius ad diem 9 Martij. See also Kohlius in Historia Codicis sacri Sclavonici, and in his Introductio in Historiam et Rem literariam Sclavorum. Altonaviæ, 1729. Also at length Stredowski, in Sacra Moraviæ Historia, Kulcynzki, Specimen Eccl. Ruthenicæ, 1733.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saints Cyril and Methodius, Confessors”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 17 December 2013. Web. 24 April 2014. <>