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St. Cyril of Jerusalem (March 18)

March 18, 2005

No doubt about it. In the 300’s, Arianism was definitely “in”.
Catholicism might be alright for the unwashed masses, but it just wasn’t “cool” enough
for anybody who was somebody, if you know what I mean.
Let the bishops quarrel about what its beliefs really are.
As long as it’s not Catholicism and doesn’t demand too much, who really cares?

The Church cared a great deal.
In undermining the divinity of Christ (by denying that He and the Father are One),
Arianism undermined all of Christian doctrine.
If Jesus isn’t God, then there is no such thing as the Incarnation or the Trinity.
The Eucharist is not the Real Presence of God.
Mary is not the Mother of God.

These things may sound esoteric, but they have very practical application.
If Jesus was not God,
then the Jewish leaders were justified in having Him crucified for claiming to be God,
and His death had no power to save us.
If the Eucharist is not God, it’s blasphemous to worship It.
The Sacraments all lose their power because God did not institute them.
The authority of the Church breaks down
because only God can delegate His authority to the Church.

This and more was at stake.
The Church could not afford to sit idly by while this heresy spread
–and spread it did, like wildfire,
especially within the army, among the nobility and within the clergy.
Arius was corrected by his bishop,
and when he persisted, excommunicated together with his followers.
When he continued to spread his heresy,
the first ecumenical council of the Church was called at Nicaea (the origin of the Nicene Creed)
in 325 to define what the Church actually did believe about the divinity of Christ.
The Arians, however, refused to leave the (formerly Catholic) churches in which they worshipped,
and continued to propagate their errors through letters, leaflets and popular songs.
To make things more confusing, they would use the use the same words the Catholics used,
but agreed among themselves that the words meant something quite different,
in keeping with their heretical beliefs.
It didn’t help that the emperors, who just wanted an end to the conflict,
couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about
and thought the Catholics were being unreasonably picky.

It was with this alarming threat to the Church that St. Cyril of Jerusalem, another Doctor of the Church,
grew up.
He was born around the year 315,
shortly after Constantine made Christianity the religion of the empire in 313,
and shortly before Arius began to spread his new heresy (roughly 318).
He is thought to have grown up in or near Jerusalem.
Certainly, that is where he became a priest, and later bishop (around 349).

Cyril is best known for his Catechetical lectures,
a series of lessons presented to converts before (and a few after) Baptism
to prepare them for the mysteries they were about to experience
and to protect them from being led astray by heresy.
These lectures are a wealth of spiritual insight,
most of which is as applicable today as it was in 347 (or so), when the lectures were first delivered:

“Pray more frequently,
that God may make you worthy of the heavenly and immortal mysteries.
Cease not day nor night:
but when sleep is banished from your eyes,
then let your mind be free for prayer.
And if you find any shameful thought rise up in your mind,
turn to meditation upon Judgment
to remind you of Salvation.”
~Catechetical Lectures, 16

Wise advice!
Sleepless nights are a great time for prayer.
Either the prayer will put you to sleep, or it will gain you spiritual treasure.
Either way, you win!
And picturing looking God in the eye at the Last Judgement is an effective deterrent to temptation.

Because these lectures were delivered in Jerusalem,
in the church that had been built on Calvary,
there is a sense of immediacy as Cyril calls on local landmarks
as witnesses to the mysteries he describes:

“Deny not the Crucified;
for, if you deny Him, you have many to arraign you…
From among the stars there will cry out upon you,
the darkened Sun…the veil of the temple then rent asunder;
the hall of Pilate, now laid waste
by the power of Him who was then crucified;
this holy Golgotha, which stands high above us,
and shows itself to this day,
and displays even yet how because of Christ
the rocks were then riven (Matthew 27:51);
the sepulchre nigh at hand where He was laid;
and the stone which was laid on the door,
which lies to this day by the tomb”
~Catechetical Lectures, 38. 39

Cyril goes to great pains to explain what the Faith is and is not, waxing eloquent at times
and at other times acknowledging that his listeners may be getting tired of listening to him
(the lectures are all very interesting, but some are rather long!).
While he does not mention the Arian heresy by name, he does provide the antidote:

Believe also in the Son of God, One and Only, our Lord Jesus Christ,
Who was begotten God of God, begotten Life of Life, begotten Light of Light
(Nicene Creed),
Who is in all things like to Him that begat,
Who received not His being in time,
but was before all ages eternally and incomprehensibly begotten of the Father:
The Wisdom and the Power of God,
and His Righteousness personally subsisting (I Corinthians 1:24):
Who sits on the right hand of the Father
before all ages.
~Catechetical Lectures, 7

Cyril not only quotes Scripture every few lines, he also brings out many foreshadowings (types),
demonstrating that the New Testament is prefigured in the Old:

And Joshua [Joshua and Jesus are two forms of the same name] the son of Nun
was in many things a type of Him [Jesus Christ].
For when he began to rule over the people, he began from Jordan (Joshua 1:2),
whence Christ also, after He was baptized, began to preach the gospel
(Matthew 3:13).
And the son of Nun appoints twelve to divide the inheritance (Joshua 4:4-9?);
and twelve Apostles Jesus sends forth, as heralds of the truth, into all the world (Mark 3:14).
The typical Jesus [Joshua] saved Rahab the harlot when she believed (Joshua 6:25):
and the true Jesus says, Behold, the publicans and the harlots go before you
into the kingdom of God (Matthew 21:31).
With only a shout the walls of Jericho fell down in the time of the type (Joshua 6:20):
and because Jesus said, There shall not be left here one stone upon another
(Luke 21:6),
the Temple of the Jews opposite to us is fallen,
the cause of its fall not being the denunciation
but the sin of the transgressors.
~Catechetical Lectures, 11

He also uses a good deal of common sense:

Tell me not that the body is a cause of sin.
For if the body is a cause of sin,
why does not a dead body sin?
Put a sword in the right hand of one just dead,
and no murder takes place.
Let beauties of every kind pass before a youth just dead,
and no impure desire arises.
Why? Because the body sins not of itself,
but the soul through the body.
The body is an instrument,
and, as it were, a garment and robe of the soul:
and if by this latter it be given over to fornication,
it becomes defiled:
but if it dwell with a holy soul,
it becomes a temple of the Holy Ghost.
~Catechetical Lectures, 23

The very fact that Cyril was Catholic brought him into conflict with neighboring Arian bishops.
Because the emperors waffled between supporting the Arians and backing the Church,
Cyril was exiled three times, for a total of sixteen years (more than half of his 35 years as bishop!),
returning each time to a Jerusalem racked with heresy and lawlessness.
St. Gregory of Nyssa, sent to help him restore order,
found the city in such chaos that he threw up his hands in despair and went back home.
Cyril remained, and finally died in Jerusalem on this day in 386, at about 70 years of age.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, great teacher of the sacred order, please pray for us,
that we might seek, study, and live the Truth you proclaimed so well.


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