Catechetical Lectures: A Call to Repentance, A Call to Learn

St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures (Part I)

In my continued efforts to work through the writings of the Church Fathers in relatively chronological order, I find myself providentially reading St. Cyril of Jerusalem (AD 313–386). Through my studies, I have come to the point where I am almost certain I wish to join the Orthodox Church which would mean I would become a catechumen. As such, I am quite happy to read the lectures that one of the earliest of Church Fathers delivered to those who did decide to join the Church. I do pray that through these lectures I learn. Having read through a few lectures, I already know that I want to break up St. Cyril’s writings into multiple parts, so I figured I’d do a shorter version of my usual write-ups, but in greater quantity. At this rate, I’m thinking one short article per lecture.

Here are my thoughts on lecture 1.

Introduction

St. Cyril’s introductory comments already sound like a lively sermon:

Disciples of the New Testament and partakers of the mysteries of Christ, as yet by calling only, but ere long by grace also, make you a new heart and a new spirit, that there may be gladness among the inhabitants of heaven: for if over one sinner that repents there is joy , according to the Gospel, how much more shall the salvation of so many souls move the inhabitants of heaven to gladness. As you have entered upon a good and most glorious path, run with reverence the race of godliness. For the Only-begotten Son of God is present here most ready to redeem you, saying, Come unto Me all that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest . You that are clothed with the rough garment of your offenses, who are holden with the cords of your own sins , hear the voice of the Prophet saying, Wash you, make you clean, put away your iniquities from before My eyes: that the choir of Angels may chant over you, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
— St. Cyril, Catechetical Lectures 1:1

Immediately, St. Cyril connects the Old and New Testaments with a reference to the imagery in Ezekiel of a new heart, as well as the celebration in heaven when sinners repent (Ezekiel 18:31; Luke 15:7). This is followed by an exhortation and encouragement from Matthew 11:28.

Peculiarly, the reading for this lecture is Isaiah 1:16 (Wash you, make you clean…), and the topic is specifically the instruction of those to be baptized. St. Cyril uses this command to be washed, following up with the commentary that the “Angels may chant over you”, and concluding with remarks regarding the remission of sins. Of all the Church Fathers I’ve read thus far, this is the most explicit, exegetical case being made for Baptismal Regeneration yet.

St. Cyril again exhorts his audience with an application of Matthew 11:28:

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.
— St. Cyril, Catechetical Lectures 1:2

And just as I believed I had seen the most explicit case for baptismal regeneration yet, St. Cyril adds layers to his case:

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 at the new birth of Baptism: new birth I mean not of bodies, but the spiritual new birth of the soul.
 — St. Cyril, Catechetical Lectures 1:2, emphasis added

So not only is the washing of baptism — according to St. Cyril — the removal of the “rough garment” of sins, but that removal is considered the difference between those who are on Christ’s right (the sheep, saved), and those on His left (the goats, damned). Additionally, he calls baptism a new birth.

But wait! There’s more:

[T]he Lord in enlisting souls examines their purpose: and if any has a secret hypocrisy, He rejects the man as unfit for His true service; but if He finds one worthy, to him He readily gives His grace. He gives not holy things to the dogs; but where He discerns the good conscience, there He gives the Seal of salvation, that wondrous Seal, which devils tremble at, and Angels recognise; that the one may be driven to flight, and the others may watch around it as kindred to themselves. Those therefore who receive this spiritual and saving Seal, have need also of the disposition akin to it. For as a writing-reed or a dart has need of one to use it, so grace also has need of believing minds.
— St. Cyril, Catechetical Lectures 1:3, emphasis added

There can be no denying at this point what St. Cyril is teaching regarding baptism and it’s regenerative effects. However, he quickly shifts from the doctrinal underpinnings of baptism to the practical advice he has for the catechumens:

The present is the season of confession: confess what you have done in word or in deed, by night or by day; confess in an acceptable time, and in the day of salvation receive the heavenly treasure. Devote your time to the Exorcisms: be assiduous at the Catechisings, and remember the things that shall be spoken, for they are spoken not for your ears only, but that by faith you may seal them up in the memory. Blot out from your mind all earthly care: for you are running for your soul. You are utterly forsaking the things of the world: little are the things which you are forsaking, great what the Lord is giving. Forsake things present, and put your trust in things to come. Have you run so many circles of the years busied in vain about the world, and have you not forty days to be free (for prayer ), for your own soul’s sake? Be still , and know that I am God , says the Scripture.
 — St. Cyril, Catechetical Lectures 1:5

It seems as though St. Cyril is expecting the catechumens to go through a prayerful period of 40 days prior to baptism (I’m guessing this is a fasting period). I know of similar practices being prescribed in the Didache, but not to that extent. He also calls for a number of other practical disciples during this time:

  • Confession
  • Exorcisms
  • Study
  • Forsaking earthly cares
  • Forsaking the present
  • Trusting in the things to come
  • Purposeful speech
  • Asceticism
  • Cleanliness
  • Forgiving others
  • Church attendance

When done prescribing these practices, St. Cyril concludes:

May He keep you all well-pleasing in His sight! To whom be the glory, and the power unto the endless ages of eternity. Amen.
 — St. Cyril, Catechetical Lectures 1:6

Amen, indeed.

I enjoyed reading through this lecture. It felt like a good introduction: it gave me information, but not an overload, and it left me with a desire to read more. I definitely look forward to the next lecture, and I will write my thoughts soon.

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