For the next set of posts in this series, I’ve decided to focus on Saint Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical letters. I will begin with the prologue to them, which is lengthy and thus necessary of heavy trimming. I will explain more about these letters in the next post of this series. Here are some selections:
1. Already there is an odour of blessedness upon you, O you who are soon to be enlightened : already you are gathering the spiritual flowers, to weave heavenly crowns: already the fragrance of the Holy Spirit has breathed upon you: already you have gathered round the vestibule of the King’s palace ; may you be led in also by the King! For blossoms now have appeared upon the trees ; may the fruit also be found perfect! Thus far there has been an inscription of your names , and a call to service, and torches of the bridal train, and a longing for heavenly citizenship, and a good purpose, and hope attendant thereon. For he lies not who said, that to them that love God all things work together for good. God is lavish in beneficence, yet He waits for each man’s genuine will: therefore the Apostle added and said, to them that are called according to a purpose. The honesty of purpose makes you called: for if your body be here but not your mind, it profits you nothing.
2. Even Simon Magus once came to the Laver : he was baptized, but was not enlightened; and though he dipped his body in water, he enlightened not his heart with the Spirit: his body went down and came up, but his soul was not buried with Christ, nor raised with Him. Now I mention the statements of (men’s) falls, that you may not fall: for these things happened to them by way of example, and they are written for the admonition of those who to this day draw near. Let none of you be found tempting His grace, lest any root of bitterness spring up and trouble you. Let none of you enter saying, Let us see what the faithful are doing: let me go in and see, that I may learn what is being done. Do you expect to see, and not expect to be seen? And thinkest thou, that whilst you are searching out what is going on, God is not searching your heart?
3. A certain man in the Gospels once pried into the marriage feast , and took an unbecoming garment, and came in, sat down, and ate: for the bridegroom permitted it. But when he saw them all clad in white , he ought to have assumed a garment of the same kind himself: whereas he partook of the like food, but was unlike them in fashion and in purpose. The bridegroom, however, though bountiful, was not undiscerning: and in going round to each of the guests and observing them (for his care was not for their eating, but for their seemly behaviour), he saw a stranger not having on a wedding garment, and said to him, Friend, how did you get in here? In what a colour! With what a conscience! What though the door-keeper forbade you not, because of the bountifulness of the entertainer? What though you were ignorant in what fashion you should come in to the banquet? — you came in, and saw the glittering fashions of the guests: should you not have been taught even by what was before your eyes? Should you not have retired in good season, that you might enter in good season again? But now you have come in unseasonably, to be unseasonably cast out. So he commands the servants, Bind his feet, which daringly intruded: bind his hands, which knew not how to put a bright garment around him: and cast him into the outer darkness; for he is unworthy of the wedding torches. You see what happened to that man: make your own condition safe.
4. For we, the ministers of Christ, have admitted every one, and occupying, as it were, the place of door-keepers we left the door open: and possibly thou entered with your soul bemired with sins, and with a will defiled. You entered, and were allowed: your name was inscribed. Tell me, do you behold this venerable constitution of the Church? Do you view her order and discipline , the reading of Scriptures , the presence of the ordained , the course of instruction ? Be abashed at the place, and be taught by what you see. Go out opportunely now, and enter most opportunely tomorrow.
If the fashion of your soul is avarice, put on another fashion and come in. Put off your former fashion, cloke it not up. Put off, I pray you, fornication and uncleanness, and put on the brightest robe of chastity. This charge I give you, before Jesus the Bridegroom of souls come in and see their fashions. A long notice is allowed you; you have forty days for repentance: you have full opportunity both to put off, and wash, and to put on and enter. But if you persist in an evil purpose, the speaker is blameless, but you must not look for the grace: for the water will receive, but the Spirit will not accept you. If any one is conscious of his wound, let him take the salve; if any has fallen, let him arise. Let there be no Simon among you, no hypocrisy, no idle curiosity about the matter.
5. Possibly too you have come on another pretext. It is possible that a man is wishing to pay court to a woman, and came hither on that account. The remark applies in like manner to women also in their turn. A slave also perhaps wishes to please his master, and a friend his friend. I accept this bait for the hook, and welcome you, though you came with an evil purpose, yet as one to be saved by a good hope. Perhaps you knew not whither you were coming, nor in what kind of net you are taken. You have come within the Church’s nets : be taken alive, flee not: for Jesus is angling for you, not in order to kill, but by killing to make alive: for you must die and rise again. For you have heard the Apostle say, Dead indeed unto sin, but living unto righteousness . Die to your sins, and live to righteousness, live from this very day.
7. We may not receive Baptism twice or thrice; else it might be said, Though I have failed once, I shall set it right a second time: whereas if you fail once, the thing cannot be set right; for there is one Lord, and one faith, and one baptism : for only the heretics are re-baptized , because the former was no baptism.
8. For God seeks nothing else from us, save a good purpose. Say not, How are my sins blotted out? I tell you, By willing, by believing. What can be shorter than this? But if, while your lips declare you willing, your heart be silent, He knows the heart, who judges you. Cease from this day from every evil deed. Let not your tongue speak unseemly words, let your eye abstain from sin, and from roving after things unprofitable.
11. Let me give you this charge also. Study our teachings and keep them for ever. Think not that they are the ordinary homilies ; for though they also are good and trustworthy, yet if we should neglect them today we may study them tomorrow. But if the teaching concerning the laver of regeneration delivered in a consecutive course be neglected today, when shall it be made right? Suppose it is the season for planting trees: if we do not dig, and dig deep, when else can that be planted rightly which has once been planted ill? Suppose, pray, that the Catechising is a kind of building: if we do not bind the house together by regular bonds in the building, lest some gap be found, and the building become unsound, even our former labour is of no use. But stone must follow stone by course, and corner match with corner, and by our smoothing off inequalities the building must thus rise evenly. In like manner we are bringing to you stones, as it were, of knowledge. You must hear concerning the living God, you must hear of Judgment, must hear of Christ, and of the Resurrection. And many things there are to be discussed in succession, which though now dropped one by one are afterwards to be presented in harmonious connection. But unless thou fit them together in the one whole, and remember what is first, and what is second, the builder may build, but you will find the building unsound.
12. When, therefore, the Lecture is delivered, if a Catechumen ask you what the teachers have said, tell nothing to him that is without. For we deliver to you a mystery, and a hope of the life to come. Guard the mystery for Him who gives the reward. Let none ever say to you, What harm to you, if I also know it? So too the sick ask for wine; but if it be given at a wrong time it causes delirium, and two evils arise; the sick man dies, and the physician is blamed. Thus is it also with the Catechumen, if he hear anything from the believer: both the Catechumen becomes delirious (for he understands not what he has heard, and finds fault with the thing, and scoffs at what is said), and the believer is condemned as a traitor. But you are now standing on the border: take heed, pray, to tell nothing out; not that the things spoken are not worthy to be told, but because his ear is unworthy to receive. You were once yourself a Catechumen, and I described not what lay before you. When by experience you have learned how high are the matters of our teaching, then you will know that the Catechumens are not worthy to hear them.
14. And when the Exorcism has been done, until the others who are being exorcised have come , let men be with men, and women with women. For now I need the example of Noah’s ark: in which were Noah and his sons, and his wife and his sons’ wives. For though the ark was one, and the door was shut, yet had things been suitably arranged. If the Church is shut, and you are all inside, yet let there be a separation, men with men, and women with women : lest the pretext of salvation become an occasion of destruction. Even if there be a fair pretext for sitting near each other, let passions be put away. Further, let the men when sitting have a useful book; and let one read, and another listen: and if there be no book, let one pray, and another speak something useful. And again let the party of young women sit together in like manner, either singing or reading quietly, so that their lips speak, but others’ ears catch not the sound: for I suffer not a woman to speak in the Church. And let the married woman also follow the same example, and pray; and let her lips move, but her voice be unheard, that a Samuel may come, and your barren soul give birth to the salvation of God who has heard your prayer; for this is the interpretation of the name Samuel.
17. We for our part as men charge and teach you thus: but make not our building hay and stubble and chaff, lest we suffer loss, from our work being burnt up: but make our work gold, and silver, and precious stones! For it lies in me to speak, but in you to set your mind upon it, and in God to make perfect. Let us nerve our minds, and brace up our souls, and prepare our hearts. The race is for our soul: our hope is of things eternal: and God, who knows your hearts, and observes who is sincere, and who is a hypocrite, is able both to guard the sincere, and to give faith to the hypocrite: for even to the unbeliever, if only he give his heart, God is able to give faith. So may He blot out the handwriting that is against you , and grant you forgiveness of your former trespasses; may He plant you into His Church, and enlist you in His own service, and put on you the armour of righteousness : may He fill you with the heavenly things of the New Covenant, and give you the seal of the Holy Spirit indelible throughout all ages, in Christ Jesus Our Lord: to whom be the glory for ever and ever! Amen.
As always, comments may follow later as time and thought permits.