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Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Nicene Way toward Spiritual Formation - Cyril of Jerusalem

Our Lord directed His Church to make disciples of all nations baptizing and teaching. Cyril of Jerusalem considers the moment of Baptism a sharp line of demarcation. Baptism is a liturgical[1], sacramental, pedagogical, and apologetic “line in the sand” for His catechumens.[2] The central sacrament of the Christian initiation into the mysteries of Christian faith is also bound to the central Christian narrative in Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and the Feast of the Resurrection. The act of baptism, while surrounded by mystery within Cyril’s ministry, is still public enough that the newly baptized will face overt challenges to their new life in Christ.[3]

Challenges to reject their new confession, by false teaching or by immoral living, will come from within and without. The challenges from within are construed primarily as moral temptations; special reference is given to violence and sexual immorality.[4] Moral temptations can initiate from the flesh, but significant weight is given the Devil as tempter and so to the benefit of spiritual warfare conducted through the exorcisms awaiting the enrollees during the baptismal liturgy.[5]

Challenges from without will emerge once they enroll themselves for Baptism including heresies from others in the church, Jews[6], and pagans, each posing different arguments against the revelation of salvation by God from sin and death in Christ Jesus incarnation[7], sacrificial death on the cross[8], and resurrection.

Cyril is working to equip lay people with faithful answers to contemporary questions about the nature of biblical faith.[9] His primary concern in these writings is not polemical, but pastoral; though, he cannot completely leave aside warning his hearers of errors they are likely to encounter.[10] He argues forcefully for the truth through some reasoned arguments and many rounds of typological proof texts.[11] While he warns his hearers that these concerns are often simply deceptions and arguments about words, he still provides them basic language for both identifying errors and professing the truth.[12]

Cyril is able to employ philosophical argumentation[13], but when there is a need to elaborate on a teaching, he regularly employs a wide range of analogies.[14]  By means of these analogies, His teaching encourages his hearers to appreciate that their new faith can be illuminated in popular ways, while its truth is affirmed by Scripture.[15] Apologetically and experientially, Cyril gives his hearers scripts which they can effectively use to confirm their faith.



[1] Mystagogic Catechesis #2 interprets all the baptized’s actions in the baptism liturgy in light of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. Cyril wants each Christian to identify with Christ drawing direct lines of teaching between the Passion Narrative and their Baptismal experience concluding that Jesus’ purpose in becoming man was “for us and for our salvation” p. 175
[2] p. 95, no. 15 “For all your misdeeds will be forgiven, even fornication, adultery or any other form of licentiousness. What sin is greater than crucifying Christ? Yet even this can be washed away by baptism.” Cyril goes on to prove this assertion with the Biblical example from Acts 2 as Peter offers forgiveness of sins through Baptism into Christ Jesus to those who had crucified Him.
Mystagogic Catechesis #1 equates the ritual actions with the Biblical narrative
[3] p. 82, no. 10 “You are being given weapons to use against the powers ranged against you, weapons against heresies, against Jews and Samaritans and pagans. You have many enemies…You must learn how to shoot down the Greek, how to fight against the heretic, the Jew and the Samaritan.”
[4] P. 147, no. 34 Cyril concludes catechesis 12 on the virgin birth with an exhortation to chastity.
[5] p. 82, no. 9, after describing the process to purify gold by fire, Cyril relates that purification process to liturgical exorcisms in the Baptismal rite.
p. 170-172, Mystogogic Chatechesis #1 details the right of Exorcism making plain that the baptized is removed from the kingdom Satan and into the Kingdom of God just as certainly as the people of Israel under Moses departed Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, and arrived at Mt. Sinai in order to focus the biblical narrative through Christ and to the newly baptized.
[6] P. 122, citations from Exodus 33-34 and Psalm 110 are united to Luke 2:10-11 by common use of the term “Lord”
p. 125, no. 14, “The Jews accept that he is Jesus, but do not yet accept that He is Lord…” yet, he then goes on to cite Hebrew Prophets and Jewish New Testament believers as evidence that Jewish unbelief is not cast in stone.
[7] Catechesis 12 sets the purpose for the incarnation squarely on the foundation of God’s mercy, and the forgiveness of sins. Cyril recounts sections of the OT which testify to sin and prophetic words anticipating God’s mercy and immanent presence with His people.
[8] In Catechesis 13 the cross provides an open door to several OT/NT prophetic moves: First Adam/Second Adam, Tree of the Garden/Tree of the Cross, Day of Atonement lamb, and Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The cross also provides Cyril an opportunity to connect with his audience regarding his hometown; he is able to recount the passion narrative and Jesus’ way of sorrows as though he was an eye witness.
[9] p. 141, no. 5, “So because of the strength of this opposition [questioning the virgin birth] and the many forms the resistance takes, listen, and by Christ’s grace and with the help of your prayers I shall answer each of these difficulties.”
p. 161, no. 37 “If you ever get into a controversy and have no arguments to put forward, let your faith remain unshaken.”
[10] p. 131-134, nos. 7-13
p. 136, no. 18, “To make the point more precisely, we must not separate, we must not make a compound [of God]. Nor should you say that the Son was ever alien to the Father, or listen to those who say that the Father is at one time Father, at another Son. These teachings are outlandish and blasphemous, and not the teachings of the Church.”
[11] p. 91, Cyril identifies instances of water in the OT narrative typologically with Baptism to elucidate various baptismal motifs and promises: Regeneration, New Creation, defeating spiritual enemies, death and resurrection, crossing from earth to heaven, uncleanness to purification – implying prospective admission into the presence of God. John the Baptizer, the transitional figure, prophesies to the distinct Spirit-giving work which Jesus’ Baptism initiates for the Church at Pentecost. All of these are narrative biblical arguments which rely on the Scriptural text for Baptism’s theological significance.
p. 123-4 Jesus is typologically compared with Aaron as High Priest, Melchizedek the priest of God Most High, and Joshua the son of Nun
[12] In Catechesis 11, Cyril incorporates the philosophical/disputed terms into a running commentary on biblical texts distinguishing between Jesus’ Sonship by nature and the believer’s sonship by adoption. This distinction between nature and adoption is easy to grasp, affirms the truth, and gives hearers a script that they can use outside the church to explain their faith. Distinguishing between nature and adoption translates the technical terms into popular, yet biblical, terminology.
[13] p. 130, no. 4, “begotten”, “inscrutable”, “incomprehensible”
[14] p. 138, no. 22, the illustration of the King and the King’s son who exercises authority in the name of the King
[15] For an example of Cyril’s flexibility in moving from one mode of argumentation to another, p. 121, nos. 5-7 shows Cyril relating the biblical titles of Christ to pastoral concerns including analogies between Christ and various other human helpers; Biblical evidence for the divinity of Christ from Genesis 1:26 and Genesis 19; followed by citing Paul’s analogous use of the Wilderness Wandering Rock that was Christ, 1 Corinthians 10.