CHURCH FATHERS (25): Bishop and catechist

Rev. José Mario O. Mandía

In the early Church, there were five important patriarchates. “Originally, these patriarchates were located in important Roman cities that were significant for Christians for several reasons. First, the Christian community in each city was founded by one of the Twelve Apostles [with the exception of Alexandria]. Second, the cities contained large Christian communities led by a prominent bishop. The five patriarchates and their founders are: Rome, founded by Peter; Constantinople, founded by Andrew; Alexandria, founded by Mark; Antioch, founded by Peter; and Jerusalem, founded by James.

“Although all five patriarchates still exist, several factors contributed to their decreasing role in Christianity….In the seventh century, Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria fell to Arab Muslim armies…. And in May 1453, Constantinople, which had assumed dominance over the remaining Eastern patriarchates, fell to the Ottoman Turks, leaving Rome as the only patriarchate in the hands of Christians” (Elias D. Mallon, “Pentarchy.”

We have seen Fathers from Rome, Antioch and Alexandria. We will turn our attention now to fourth-century Jerusalem, where we find Cyril, the bishop who was known for his Catechetical Lectures

Pope Benedict points out that Saint Cyril’s “life is woven of two dimensions: on the one hand, pastoral care, and on the other, his involvement, in spite of himself, in the heated controversies that were then tormenting the Church of the East” (General Audience, 27 June 2007).

Born in 315 AD at or near Jerusalem, Cyril’s learning was based on an excellent literary education which focused on the study of Sacred Scripture.

He was ordained bishop by Acacius, bishop of Caesarea in Palestine and supporter of Arianism. This is why Cyril was suspected of espousing Arianism himself, but his writings would prove otherwise. In fact, conflict arose between Cyril and Acacius, leading to Cyril’s exile. 

Pope Benedict confirmed that “Cyril was exiled three times within the course of approximately 20 years: the first time was in 357, after being deposed by a Synod of Jerusalem; followed by a second exile in 360, instigated by Acacius; and finally, in 367, by a third exile – his longest, which lasted 11 years – by the philo-Arian Emperor Valens” (General Audience, 27 June 2007).

At last, Cyril was able to resume possession of his See in 378, bringing peace and unity to the faithful. 

As mentioned earlier, Saint Cyril of Jerusalem was known for his Catechetical Lectures, delivered in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre (or Basilica of the Resurrection) in Jerusalem around 350 AD.

The lectures can be divided into two groups: the first group was delivered during Lent and addressed to the candidates for baptism, and the second group of lectures were delivered during Easter Week and addressed to the newly-baptized.

The first group had a Prologue or Procatechesis followed by eighteen Catecheses or lectures with the following themes: (1) Introductory lecture; (2) On sin and repentance; (3) On Baptism; (4) On the ten points of doctrine, a short account of the faith; (5) On Faith; (6) The I Believe in One God; (7) The Father; (8) Almighty; (9) Maker of Heaven and Earth, and of All Things Visible and Invisible; (10) And in One Lord Jesus Christ; (11) The Only-Begotten Son of God, Begotten of the Father Very God Before All Ages, by Whom All Things Were Made; (12) Incarnate, and Made Man; (13) Crucified and Buried; (14) And Rose Again from the Dead on the Third Day, and Ascended into the Heavens, and Sat on the Right Hand of the Father; (15) And Shall Come in Glory to Judge the Quick and the Dead; Of Whose Kingdom There Shall Be No End; (16) And in One Holy Spirit, the Comforter, Who Spoke in the Prophets; (17)  On the Holy Ghost; (18) And in One Holy Catholic Church, and in the Resurrection of the Flesh, and the Life Everlasting. 

The second group, called Mystagogical Catecheses (or Catecheses on the Mysteries) were composed of the following lectures: (19) Renunciation of Satan; (20) On Baptism; (21) On Chrism; (22) On the Body and Blood of Christ; (23) On the Sacred Liturgy and Communion. Here an explanation of the Lord’s Prayer was also included.

Saint Cyril’s teachings on the Eucharist marks a development in doctrine, particularly his clear exposition of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and the sacrificial character of the Holy Mass. Regarding the Real Presence, Saint Cyril says that just as Jesus turned the water into wine at Cana, He also has power to turn wine into His own Blood. He thus teaches that a change in substance or transubstantiation (Greek: μεταβάλλεσθαι – metaballesthai) is carried out by Christ Himself during the Sacrifice of the Mass.