St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures: Part V
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report.
Having read through a few of St. Cyril’s lectures now, I half-expected the one on faith to be his Magnum Opus, a towering lecture of the faith once and for all delivered to the Saints. This has always been my expectation, of course, coming from a Protestant background. For the longest time I believed that all the Early Church Fathers believed in sola fide and while they may have talked about works, faith was always primary and much ink was spilled over it.
Then I came to what has been thus far St. Cyril’s shortest and most concise lecture: On Faith. While it is short, it still packs a punch. There’s much that St. Cyril discusses regarding faith. The following is a brief account of what stood out to me.
The Importance of Faith
From my comments above, one may get the impression that St. Cyril has a low view of faith, far from it! He begins by saying:
For since God is called Faithful, thou also in receiving this title receive a great dignity. For as God is called Good, and Just, and Almighty, and Maker of the Universe, so is He also called Faithful. Consider therefore to what a dignity you are rising, seeing you are to become partaker of a title of God.
—St. Cyril, Catechetical Lectures 5:1
So being given the title of “Faithful”—as one is transferred from the order of Catechumen to that of Faithful—is no small thing. However, St. Cyril emphasizes that this faith requires much of us:
…that each of you be found faithful in his conscience: for a faithful man it is hard to find: not that you should show your conscience to me, for you are not to be judged of man’s judgment; but that thou show the sincerity of your faith to God, who tries the reins and hearts, and knows the thoughts of men.
—St. Cyril, Catechetical Lectures 5:2
With the Divine Title of “Faithful”, a faithful conscience is required; the judge of this conscience is God Himself, and it is to Him we must show our faithful conscience.
St. Cyril contrasts the requirement of a faithful conscience with the expectation of a faithful reward:
For when will a man resolve to serve God, unless he believes that He is a giver of reward? When will a young woman choose a virgin life, or a young man live soberly, if they believe not that for chastity there is a crown that fades not away?
—St. Cyril, Catechetical Lectures 5:4
So these realities are put forth together: God brings us into the fold of the Faithful, demands a clean conscience, and rewards us with “a crown that fades not away” (1 Peter 5:4). It seems strange to me that St. Cyril doesn’t bother to temper this expectation. I have seen it so often stated that if we shouldn’t expect things from God because He is not obligated to give us anything justice for our sins. This, of course, comes from a very Western mindset, even more so a Calvinistic one. Given that is in my background, I find it odd that St. Cyril simply states plainly by a rhetorical question that one of the reasons we are faithful is because we expect a reward from God. There’s no caveat to this, either, which I was expecting as I read. This is not to say that St. Cyril’s only reason given for being faithful is because of a future reward—it is one of many—but it stands in stark contrast to the teaching I’m used to, namely that God is to be given obedience because He demands it and because we as sinful creatures aren’t in the place to question His demands.
Faith and Works
Now, imagine my shock when St. Cyril immediately proceeds to discuss the relationship between faith and works:
There is much to tell of faith, and the whole day would not be time sufficient for us to describe it fully. At present let us be content with Abraham only, as one of the examples from the Old Testament, seeing that we have been made his sons through faith. He was justified not only by works, but also by faith: for though he did many things well, yet he was never called the friend of God, except when he believed. Moreover, his every work was performed in faith.
—St. Cyril, Catechetical Lectures 5:5
The formulation of faith and works is usually stated as “not faith alone, but also works…” yet St. Cyril states it the opposite, “not works alone, but also faith.” I wonder if this may have been with regards to his audience: Jerusalem catechumens. There was likely a number of Jewish converts receiving these lectures, so perhaps the concept of faith and works in tandem required the addition of faith to works rather than the other way around. Either way, St. Cyril is firm in pointing out that faith and works together are responsible for one’s justification. In the same way, he is firm that faith is central, but works are pivotal. To separate the two would be to teach something entirely different from what St. Cyril is instructing his students here.
By the likeness therefore of our faith we are adopted into the sonship of Abraham. And then, following upon our faith, we receive like him the spiritual seal, being circumcised by the Holy Spirit through Baptism, not in the foreskin of the body, but in the heart, according to Jeremiah, saying, And you shall be circumcised unto God in the foreskin of your heart: and according to the Apostle, in the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, and the rest.
—St. Cyril, Catechetical Lectures 5:6
St. Cyril ties in baptism here. Initially, I thought this matched a pattern that credo-baptists (those who only baptize upon a credible profession of faith) would admire. Though, even paedobaptist traditions do not dissuade baptism of converts, so to see instruction given to those who profess faith is not proof of one teaching credobaptism. Also, in the Early Church, rapid expansion meant that there was a large number of converts continually adding to the Church.
Additionally, if one were to look ahead to St. Cyril’s catechetical lecture on baptism, he is speaking explicitly to his catechumens, and thus only to those who are converts. Interestingly enough, though, the process which he describes in detail (and which I will cover in detail when I get there) is a picture-perfect match for only the way the Orthodox Church does baptism.
Two Kinds of Faith
For the name of Faith is in the form of speech one, but has two distinct senses. For there is one kind of faith, the dogmatic, involving an assent of the soul on some particular point: and it is profitable to the soul, as the Lord says: He that hears My words, and believes Him that sent Me, has everlasting life, and comes not into judgment: and again, He that believes in the Son is not judged, but has passed from death unto life.
—St. Cyril, Catechetical Lectures 5:10
So faith manifests itself in belief. This is the more intellectual side of faith, as it pertains to that to which a believer ascents.
But there is a second kind of faith, which is bestowed by Christ as a gift of grace. For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit: to another faith, by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing. This faith then which is given of grace from the Spirit is not merely doctrinal, but also works things above man’s power.
—St. Cyril, Catechetical Lectures 5:11
The second kind of faith manifests itself through grace. This is the more mystical side of faith, as it pertains to the Spirit working in us.
These two kinds of faith, one the Spirit’s work, the other our acknowledgment of His work, together form the faith which St. Cyril has so boldly preached here. Dare I say it, it almost sounds like he’s talking about synergistic faith. A boogyman word to these former Calvinist ears if there ever was one.
Finally, St. Cyril addresses his catechumens with very stern words. He entreats them to believe what he has taught, and goes so far as to apply St. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 11:4 and Galatians 1:8-9 to his own teachings. This implies that what St. Cyril is teaching in this lecture—and all his catechetical lectures—is apostolic teaching. He follows:
So for the present listen while I simply say the Creed , and commit it to memory; but at the proper season expect the confirmation out of Holy Scripture of each part of the contents. For the articles of the Faith were not composed as seemed good to men; but the most important points collected out of all the Scripture make up one complete teaching of the Faith. And just as the mustard seed in one small grain contains many branches, so also this Faith has embraced in few words all the knowledge of godliness in the Old and New Testaments. Take heed then, brethren, and hold fast the traditions which you now receive, and write them on the table of your heart.
—St. Cyril, Catechetical Lectures 5:12
Interestingly enough, the rest of St. Cyril’s catechetical lectures are going through the Creed, line by line, and instructing his students.
Given that the rest of his lectures are an exposition of the Creed, I will simply end here, looking forward to reading the next lecture.