Feast Day: March 18th| Bishop, Confessor, Father and Doctor of the Church| Imagery: Hand raised in Teaching and Blessing, Three Fingers together for the Trinity, Two for the Two Natures of Christ; Holding Book of Gospels or Scroll of His Preaching; Wearing Vestments and Pallium St. Cyril may have been a heretic.
His life encompasses the most intense arguments throughout the Church about the Arian heresy, with many claiming that Christ was not fully God. Heresy is always popular, for it usually involves making the demands of the faith a bit easier and more comfortable. Now, Cyril was exiled from his see multiple times by the most stringent of those heretics. (The emperor Valens, who found political power by allying with the heresy, was happy to get him out of his hair). BUT, for the ways that he gained back his episcopacy, sliding towards a middle ground that wasn’t quite heresy, but wasn’t quite the truth of the faith, he was asked at the Ecumenical Council of Constance (in 381) to formally accept the homoousion (the “consubstantiality” of Christ with the Father.) Praise God that this shepherd of the Church had the humility to allow his own life and heart and conscience to be formed by the truth of Christ there articulated by the Church!
St. Cyril may have been a heretic, BUT he repented, and so is a Father and Doctor and Saint of the Church!
This week, we join his catechumens as he preaches to them for the final time after their entrance into the Church at Easter. Throughout Lent, he had personally taught them the foundational truths of the faith in 18 instructions: 1. An exhortation. 2. On sin, and confidence in God’s pardon. 3. On baptism, how water, by the power of the Holy Spirit, sanctifies and seals the soul. 4. An abridged account of the Faith. 5. On the nature of faith. 6. On the monarchy of God (and the various heresies which deny it). 7. On the Father. 8. His omnipotence. 9. The Creator. 10. On the Lord Jesus Christ. 11. His Eternal Sonship. 12. His virgin birth. 13. His Passion. 14. His Resurrection & Ascension. 15. His second coming. 16-17. On the Holy Ghost. 18. On the resurrection of the body and the Catholic Church. Only once the catechumens had understood and accepted all of this, did Bp. Cyril – after their baptism – welcome them to their period of “mystagogy”, letting God carry them into the heart of the “mysteries” of the faith. In five more sessions, he explained: 1. The renunciations of Satan which preceded baptism. 2. The effects of baptism. 3. Confirmation. 4. Holy Communion. 5. The Holy Mass for the living and the dead.
I think we could all use the reminder that he goes through all those many other truths of the faith before getting to the Blessed Sacrament! It is the source and summit of our faith; not a sacrament we should take lightly, for it presupposes our acceptance and understanding of everything else! Here’s a few words from that final of his mystagogical conferences; you can read the rest by following the QR code!:
“the Priest cries aloud, Lift up your hearts. For truly ought we in that most awful hour to have our heart on high with God, and not below, thinking of earth and earthly things. In effect therefore the Priest bids all in that hour to dismiss all cares of this life, or household anxieties, and to have their heart in heaven with the merciful God. Then ye answer, We lift them up unto the Lord: assenting to it, by your avowal. But let no one come here, who could say with his mouth, We lift up our hearts unto the Lord, but in his thoughts have his mind concerned with the cares of this life. At all times, rather, God should be in our memory but if this is impossible by reason of human infirmity, in that hour above all this should be our earnest endeavour.” [Cyril of Jerusalem, “Catechetical Lecture”, Number 23, Paragraph 4]
– Fr. Dominic Rankin has to mention another emperor who went on the attack against the faith, and the faithful bishop. Julian, who had apostatized from the Christian faith, tried to disprove Christ’s prophecy of the destruction of the Temple [Luke 21:6:] by rebuilding the Jerusalem Temple while Cyril was bishop there. (Cyril, it would seem, took Exodus 14:14 to heart: “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”) Ammianus Marcellinus, a contemporary, pro-Julian, secular historian reports what happened next: “though this Alypius [Julian’s delegated architect] pushed the work on with vigor, aided by the governor of the province, terrifying balls of flame kept bursting forth near the foundations of the temple, and made the place inaccessible to the workmen, some of whom were burned to death; and since in this way the element persistently repelled them, the enterprise halted.” [Ammianus Marcellinus, “Roman Antiquities”, XXIII.1.] St. Gregory of Nazianzus reports the same: “they began to debate about rebuilding the Temple, and in large number and with great zeal set about the work. … when they were forcing their way and struggling about the entrance a flame issued forth from the sacred place [church] and stopped them, and some it burnt up and consumed so that a fate befell them similar to the disaster of the people of Sodom, or to the miracle about Nadab and Abiud, who offered incense and perished so strangely…” [St. Gregory Nazianzen, “Oration 5: Second Invective Against Julian.” #4]