This post continues the series on St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Letters. This is the fifth in that series. Here we have the first part of his third letter, which concerns the Sacrament of Baptism:
Or do you not know that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Were buried therefore with Him by our baptism into death, etc.
1. Rejoice, you heavens, and let the earth be glad , for those who are to be sprinkled with hyssop, and cleansed with the spiritual hyssop, the power of Him to whom at His Passion drink was offered on hyssop and a reed. And while the Heavenly Powers rejoice, let the souls that are to be united to the spiritual Bridegroom make themselves ready. For the voice is heard of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord. Isaiah 40:3 For this is no light matter, no ordinary and indiscriminate union according to the flesh , but the All-searching Spirit’s election according to faith. For the inter-marriages and contracts of the world are not made altogether with judgment: but wherever there is wealth or beauty, there the bridegroom speedily approves: but here it is not beauty of person, but the soul’s clear conscience; not the condemned Mammon, but the wealth of the soul in godliness.
2. Listen then, O you children of righteousness, to John’s exhortation when he says, Make straight the way of the Lord. Take away all obstacles and stumbling-blocks, that you may walk straight onward to eternal life. Make ready the vessels of the soul, cleansed by unfeigned faith, for reception of the Holy Ghost. Begin at once to wash your robes in repentance, that when called to the bride-chamber you may be found clean. For the Bridegroom invites all without distinction, because His grace is bounteous; and the cry of loud-voiced heralds assembles them all: but the same Bridegroom afterwards separates those who have come in to the figurative marriage. O may none of those whose names have now been enrolled hear the words, Friend, how did you come in hither, not having a wedding garment Matthew 22:12? But may you all hear, Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things: enter thou into the joy of your lord Matthew 25:12 .
For now meanwhile you stand outside the door: but God grant that you all may say, The King has brought me into His chamber. Song of Songs 1:4 Let my soul rejoice in the Lord: for He has clothed me with a garment of salvation, and a robe of gladness: He has crowned me with a garland as a bridegroom , and decked me with ornaments as a bride: that the soul of every one of you may be found not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing Ephesians 5:7; I do not mean before you have received the grace, for how could that be? Since it is for remission of sins that you have been called; but that, when the grace is to be given, your conscience being found uncondemned may concur with the grace.
3. This is in truth a serious matter, brethren, and you must approach it with good heed. Each one of you is about to be presented to God before tens of thousands of the Angelic Hosts: the Holy Ghost is about to seal your souls: you are to be enrolled in the army of the Great King. Therefore make you ready, and equip yourselves, by putting on I mean, not bright apparel , but piety of soul with a good conscience. Regard not the Laver as simple water, but rather regard the spiritual grace that is given with the water. For just as the offerings brought to the heathen altars , though simple in their nature, become defiled by the invocation of the idols , so contrariwise the simple water having received the invocation of the Holy Ghost, and of Christ, and of the Father, acquires a new power of holiness.
4. For since man is of twofold nature, soul and body, the purification also is twofold, the one incorporeal for the incorporeal part, and the other bodily for the body: the water cleanses the body, and the Spirit seals the soul; that we may draw near unto God, having our heart sprinkled by the Spirit, and our body washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:22 When going down, therefore, into the water, think not of the bare element, but look for salvation by the power of the Holy Ghost: for without both you can not possibly be made perfect. It is not I that say this, but the Lord Jesus Christ, who has the power in this matter: for He says, Unless a man be born anew (and He adds the words) of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. John 3:3 Neither does he that is baptized with water, but not found worthy of the Spirit, receive the grace in perfection; nor if a man be virtuous in his deeds, but receive not the seal by water, shall he enter into the kingdom of heaven. A bold saying, but not mine, for it is Jesus who has declared it: and here is the proof of the statement from Holy Scripture. Cornelius was a just man, who was honoured with a vision of Angels, and had set up his prayers and almsdeeds as a good memorial before God in heaven. Peter came, and the Spirit was poured out upon them that believed, and they spoke with other tongues, and prophesied: and after the grace of the Spirit the Scripture says that Peter commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ Acts 10:48; in order that, the soul having been born again by faith , the body also might by the water partake of the grace.
5. But if any one wishes to know why the grace is given by water and not by a different element, let him take up the Divine Scriptures and he shall learn. For water is a grand thing, and the noblest of the four visible elements of the world. Heaven is the dwelling-place of Angels, but the heavens are from the waters : the earth is the place of men, but the earth is from the waters: and before the whole six days’ formation of the things that were made, the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the water. Genesis 1:2 The water was the beginning of the world, and Jordan the beginning of the Gospel tidings: for Israel deliverance from Pharaoh was through the sea, and for the world deliverance from sins by the washing of water with the word Ephesians 5:26 of God. Where a covenant is made with any, there is water also. After the flood, a covenant was made with Noah: a covenant for Israel from Mount Sinai, but with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop. Hebrews 9:19 Elias is taken up, but not apart from water: for first he crosses the Jordan, then in a chariot mounts the heaven. The high-priest is first washed, then offers incense; for Aaron first washed, then was made high-priest: for how could one who had not yet been purified by water pray for the rest? Also as a symbol of Baptism there was a laver set apart within the Tabernacle.
6. Baptism is the end of the Old Testament, and beginning of the New. For its author was John, than whom was none greater among them that are born of women. The end he was of the Prophets: for all the Prophets and the law were until John Matthew 11:13: but of the Gospel history he was the first-fruit. For it says, The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, etc.: John came baptising in the wilderness. You may mention Elias the Tishbite who was taken up into heaven, yet he is not greater than John: Enoch was translated, but he is not greater than John: Moses was a very great lawgiver, and all the Prophets were admirable, but not greater than John. It is not I that dare to compare Prophets with Prophets: but their Master and ours, the Lord Jesus, declared it: Among them that are born of women there has not risen a greater than John Matthew 11:11: He says notamong them that are born of virgins,but of women. The comparison is between the great servant and his fellow-servants: but the pre-eminence and the grace of the Son is beyond comparison with servants. Do you see how great a man God chose as the first minister of this grace?— a man possessing nothing, and a lover of the desert, yet no hater of mankind: who ate locusts, and winged his soul for heaven : feeding upon honey, and speaking things both sweeter and more salutary than honey: clothed with a garment of camel’s hair, and showing in himself the pattern of the ascetic life; who also was sanctified by the Holy Ghost while yet he was carried in his mother’s womb. Jeremiah was sanctified, but did not prophesy, in the womb Jeremiah 1:5: John alone while carried in the womb leaped for joy Luke 1:44, and though he saw not with the eyes of flesh, knew his Master by the Spirit: for since the grace of Baptism was great, it required greatness in its founder also.