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CHURCH FATHERS (29) – Saint Cyril of Jerusalem

– Anastasios

Cyril was born in Palestine in 315 and was ordained priest in 345. In 351 he was consecrated as Bishop of Jerusalem. For most of his life he will have to face the Arian heresy. He will die in 386.

His Catechesis are a work of fundamental importance even today. In them Cyril will teach about the truth of faith but with a kind and docile spirit. PG Franceschini would observe in his book about the Church Fathers that he will not be like the heretics who try to convince use a forceful attitude in their writings.

The first 18 of his Catechesis are for the catechumens, the other 5 are for the neophytes. Pope Benedict XVI in audience of 27 June 2007 has said about him:

“Taken as a whole, Cyril’s homilies form a systematic catechesis on the Christian’s rebirth through Baptism. He tells the catechumen: ‘You have been caught in the nets of the Church (cf Mt 13: 47). Be taken alive, therefore; do not escape for it is Jesus who is fishing for you, not in order to kill you but to resurrect you after death. Indeed, you must die and rise again (cf Rom 6: 11, 14)…. Die to your sins and live to righteousness from this very day’ (Procatechesis, 5). From the doctrinal viewpoint, Cyril commented on the Jerusalem Creed with recourse to the typology of the Scriptures in a ‘symphonic’ relationship between the two Testaments, arriving at Christ, the centre of the universe. The typology was to be described decisively by Augustine of Hippo: ‘In the Old Testament there is a veiling of the New, and in the New Testament there is a revealing of the Old’ (De catechizandis rudibus 4, 8). As for the moral catechesis, it is anchored in deep unity to the doctrinal catechesis: the dogma progressively descends in souls who are thus urged to transform their pagan behaviour on the basis of new life in Christ, a gift of Baptism. The ‘mystagogical’ catechesis, lastly, marked the summit of the instruction that Cyril imparted, no longer to catechumens but to the newly baptized or neophytes during Easter week. He led them to discover the mysteries still hidden in the baptismal rites of the Easter Vigil. Enlightened by the light of a deeper faith by virtue of Baptism, the neophytes were at last able to understand these mysteries better, having celebrated their rites. Especially with neophytes of Greek origin, Cyril made use of the faculty of sight which they found congenial. It was the passage from the rite to the mystery that made the most of the psychological effect of amazement, as well as the experience of Easter night.”

Let us look some examples, as this one from the first catechesis: “If any here is a slave of sin, let him promptly prepare himself through faith for the new birth into freedom and adoption; and having put off the miserable bondage of his sins, and taken on him the most blessed bondage of the Lord, so may he be counted worthy to inherit the kingdom of heaven. Put off, by confession, the old man, which waxes corrupt after the lusts of deceit, that you may put on the new man, which is renewed according to knowledge of Him that created him. Get you the earnest of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:22) through faith, that you may be able to be received into the everlasting habitations  (Luke 16:9) Come for the mystical Seal, that you may be easily recognised by the Master; be numbered among the holy and spiritual flock of Christ, to be set apart on His right hand, and inherit the life prepared for you. For they to whom the rough garment of their sins still clings are found on the left hand, because they came not to the grace of God which is given through Christ.”

Or from the tenth catechesis, when he speaks about the titles of Jesus Christ: “He is called Christ, not as having been anointed by men’s hands, but eternally anointed by the Father to His High-Priesthood on behalf of men. He is called Dead, not as having abode among the dead, as all in Hades, but as being alone free among the dead. He is called Son of Man, not as having had His generation from earth, as each of us, but as coming upon the clouds To Judge Both Quick and Dead. He is called Lord, not improperly as those who are so called among men, but as having a natural and eternal Lordship. He is called Jesus by a fitting name, as having the appellation from His salutary healing. He is called Son, not as advanced by adoption, but as naturally begotten. And many are the titles of our Saviour; lest, therefore, His manifold appellations should make you think of many sons, and because of the errors of the heretics, who say that Christ is one, and Jesus another, and the Door another, and so on , the Faith secures you beforehand, saying well, In One Lord Jesus Christ: for though the titles are many, yet their subject is one.”

The Catechesis by Cyril are a good example of Christian instruction that is gentle in manner, but unflinching in doctrine.


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