Today I will quoting from St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Second Catechetical Letter. As it is longer than previous entries, only certain selections from the first part will be provided. I will quote from the second part in the next post in this series.
The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. But if the wicked will turn from all his sins, etc.
1. A fearful thing is sin, and the sorest disease of the soul is transgression, secretly cutting its sinews, and becoming also the cause of eternal fire; an evil of a man’s own choosing, an offspring of the will. For that we sin of our own free will the Prophet says plainly in a certain place: Yet I planted you a fruitful vine, wholly true: how are you turned to bitterness, (and become) the strange vine Jeremiah 2:21? The planting was good, the fruit coming from the will is evil; and therefore the planter is blameless, but the vine shall be burnt with fire since it was planted for good, and bore fruit unto evil of its own will. For God, according to the Preacher, made man upright, and they have themselves sought out many inventions. Ecclesiastes 7:29For we are His workmanship, says the Apostle, created unto good works, which God afore prepared, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10 So then the Creator, being good, created for good works; but the creature turned of its own free will to wickedness. Sin then is, as we have said, a fearful evil, but not incurable; fearful for him who clings to it, but easy of cure for him who by repentance puts it from him. For suppose that a man is holding fire in his hand; as long as he holds fast the live coal he is sure to be burned, but should he put away the coal, he would have cast away the flame also with it. If however any one thinks that he is not being burned when sinning, to him the Scripture says, Shall a man wrap up fire in his bosom, and not burn his clothes Proverbs 6:27? For sin burns the sinews of the soul, [and breaks the spiritual bones of the mind, and darkens the light of the heart ].
2. But some one will say, What can sin be? Is it a living thing? Is it an angel? Is it a demon? What is this which works within us? It is not an enemy, O man, that assails you from without, but an evil shoot growing up out of yourself. Look right on with your eyes Proverbs 4:25, and there is no lust. [Keep your own, and ] seize not the things of others, and robbery has ceased. Remember the Judgment, and neither fornication, nor adultery, nor murder, nor any transgression of the law shall prevail with you. But whenever you forget God, immediately you begin to devise wickedness and to commit iniquity.
3. Yet you are not the sole author of the evil, but there is also another most wicked prompter, the devil. He indeed suggests, but does not get the mastery by force over those who do not consent. Therefore says the Preacher, If the spirit of him that has power rise up against you, quit not your place. Shut your door, and put him far from you, and he shall not hurt you. But if you indifferently admit the thought of lust, it strikes root in you by its suggestions, and enthrals your mind, and drags you down into a pit of evils.
But perhaps you say, I am a believer, and lust does not gain the ascendant over me, even if I think upon it frequently. Do you not know that a root breaks even a rock by long persistence? Admit not the seed, since it will rend your faith asunder: tear out the evil by the root before it blossom, lest from being careless at the beginning thou have afterwards to seek for axes and fire. When your eyes begin to be diseased, get them cured in good time, lest you become blind, and then have to seek the physician.
4. The devil then is the first author of sin, and the father of the wicked: and this is the Lord’s saying, not mine, that the devil sins from the beginning : none sinned before him. But he sinned, not as having received necessarily from nature the propensity to sin, since then the cause of sin is traced back again to Him that made him so; but having been created good, he has of his own free will become a devil, and received that name from his action. For being an Archangel he was afterwards called a devil from his slandering: from being a good servant of God he has become rightly named Satan; forSatanis interpreted the adversary. And this is not my teaching, but that of the inspired prophet Ezekiel: for he takes up a lamentation over him and says, You were a seal of likeness, and a crown of beauty; in the Paradise of God were you born : and soon after, You were born blameless in your days, from the day in which you were created, until your iniquities were found in you. Very rightly has he said, were found in you; for they were not brought in from without, but you yourself begot the evil. The cause also he mentions immediately: Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty: for the multitude of your sins were you wounded, and I did cast you to the ground. In agreement with this the Lord says again in the Gospels: I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Luke 10:18 You see the harmony of the Old Testament with the New. He when cast out drew many away with him. It is he that puts lusts into them that listen to him: from him come adultery, fornication, and every kind of evil. Through him our forefather Adam was cast out for disobedience, and exchanged a Paradise bringing forth wondrous fruits of its own accord for the ground which brings forth thorns.
6. God is loving to man, and loving in no small measure. For say not, I have committed fornication and adultery: I have done dreadful things, and not once only, but often: will He forgive? Will He grant pardon? Hear what the Psalmist says: How great is the multitude of Your goodness, O Lord! Your accumulated offenses surpass not the multitude of God’s mercies: your wounds surpass not the great Physician’s skill. Only give yourself up in faith: tell the Physician your ailment: say thou also, like David: I said, I will confess me my sin unto the Lord: and the same shall be done in your case, which he says immediately: And you forgave the wickedness of my heart.
9. Come with me now to the other class, those who were saved by repentance. But perhaps even among women some one will say, I have committed fornication, and adultery, I have defiled my body by excesses of all kinds: is there salvation for me? Turn your eyes, O woman, upon Rahab, and look thou also for salvation; for if she who had been openly and publicly a harlot was saved by repentance, is not she who on some one occasion before receiving grace committed fornication to be saved by repentance and fasting? For inquire how she was saved: this only she said: For your God is God in heaven and upon earth. Joshua 2:11Your God; for her own she did not dare to say, because of her wanton life. And if you wish to receive Scriptural testimony of her having been saved, you have it written in the Psalms: I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon among them that know me . O the greatness of God’s loving-kindness, making mention even of harlots in the Scriptures: nay, not simply I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon, but with the addition, among them that know me. There is then in the case both of men and of women alike the salvation which is ushered in by repentance.
10. Nay more, if a whole people sin, this surpasses not the loving-kindness of God. The people made a calf, yet God ceased not from His loving-kindness. Men denied God, but God denied not Himself. 2 Timothy 2:13 These be your gods, O Israel Exodus 32:4, they said: yet again, as He was wont, the God of Israel became their Saviour. And not only the people sinned, but also Aaron the High Priest. For it is Moses that says: And the anger of the Lord came upon Aaron: and I prayed for him, says he, and God forgave him. Deuteronomy 9:20 What then, did Moses praying for a High Priest that sinned prevail with God, and shall not Jesus, His Only-begotten, prevail with God when He prays for us? And if He did not hinder Aaron, because of his offense, from entering upon the High Priesthood, will He hinder you, who has come out from the Gentiles, from entering into salvation? Only, O man, repent thou also in like manner, and grace is not forbidden you. Render your way of life henceforth unblameable; for God is truly loving unto man, nor can all time worthily tell out His loving kindness; nay, not if all the tongues of men unite together will they be able even so to declare any considerable part of His loving-kindness. For we tell some part of what is written concerning His loving-kindness to men, but how much He forgave the Angels we know not: for them also He forgives, since One alone is without sin, even Jesus who purges our sins. And of them we have said enough.
11. But if concerning us men you will have other examples also set before you , come on to the blessed David, and take him for an example of repentance. Great as he was, he fell: after his sleep, walking in the eventide on the housetop, he cast a careless look, and felt a human passion. His sin was completed, but there died not with it his candour concerning the confession of his fault. Nathan the Prophet came, a swift accuser, and a healer of the wound. The Lord is angry, he says, and you have sinned. 2 Samuel 12 So spoke the subject to the reigning king. But David the king was not indignant, for he regarded not the speaker, but God who had sent him. He was not puffed up by the array of soldiers standing round: for he had seen in thought the angel-host of the Lord, and he trembled as seeing Him who is invisibleHebrews 11:27; and to the messenger, or rather by him in answer to God who sent him, he said, I have sinned against the Lord. 2 Samuel 12:13 Do you see the humility of the king? Do you see his confession? For had he been convicted by any one? Were many privy to the matter? The deed was quickly done, and straightway the Prophet appeared as accuser, and the offender confesses the fault. And because he candidly confessed, he received a most speedy cure. For Nathan the Prophet who had uttered the threat, said immediately, The Lord also has put away your sin. You see the swift relenting of a merciful God. He says, however, You have greatly provoked the enemies of theLord. Though you had many enemies because of your righteousness, your self-control protected you; but now that you have surrendered your strongest armour, your enemies are risen up, and stand ready against you.
12. Thus then did the Prophet comfort him, but the blessed David, for all he heard it said, The Lord has put away your sin, did not cease from repentance, king though he was, but put on sackcloth instead of purple, and instead of a golden throne, he sat, a king, in ashes on the ground; nay, not only sat in ashes, but also had ashes for his food, even as he says himself, I have eaten ashes as it were bread. His lustful eye he wasted away with tears saying, Every night will I wash my couch, and water my bed with my tears. When his officers besought him to eat bread he would not listen. He prolonged his fast unto seven whole days. If a king thus made confession ought not thou, a private person, to confess? Again, after Absalom’s insurrection, though there were many roads for him to escape, he chose to flee by the Mount of Olives, in thought, as it were, invoking the Redeemer who was to go up thence into the heavens. 2 Samuel 16:10-11 And when Shimei cursed him bitterly, he said, Let him alone, for he knew thatto him that forgives it shall be forgiven.
I found this a highly edifying letter. The discourse on sin, the devil and the extent of forgiveness are all illuminating. Moreover, I didn’t, upon my first read or two, notice any difference between what is found here and present day teaching of the Catholic or Orthodox Church. If anyone knows otherwise, please indicate so in the comments. I would be curious to see the differences and development of doctrine and theology since St. Cyril’s time.