We resume our regularly scheduled
broadcast series on St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical letters with today’s post. Today’s post features the second part of his third lecture:
This man was baptizing in Jordan, and there went out unto him all Jerusalem Matthew 3:5, to enjoy the first-fruits of baptisms: for in Jerusalem is the prerogative of all things good. But learn, O you inhabitants of Jerusalem, how they that came out were baptized by him: confessing their sins, it is said. Matthew 3:6 First they showed their wounds, then he applied the remedies, and to them that believed gave redemption from eternal fire. And if you will be convinced of this very point, that the baptism of John is a redemption from the threat of the fire, hear how he says, O generation of vipers, who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Be not then henceforth a viper, but as you have been formerly a viper’s brood, put off, says he, the slough of your former sinful life. For every serpent creeps into a hole and casts its old slough, and having rubbed off the old skin, grows young again in body. In like manner enter thou also through the strait and narrow gate Matthew 7:13-14: rub off your former self by fasting, and drive out that which is destroying you. Put off the old man with his doings Colossians 3:9, and quote that saying in the Canticles, I have put off my coat, how shall I put it on ?
But there is perhaps among you some hypocrite, a man-pleaser, and one who makes a pretence of piety, but believes not from the heart; having the hypocrisy of Simon Magus; one who has come hither not in order to receive of the grace, but to spy out what is given: let him also learn from John: And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees, Every tree therefore that brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Matthew 3:10 The Judge is inexorable; put away your hypocrisy.
8. What then must you do? And what are the fruits of repentance? Let him that has two coats give to him that has none Luke 3:11: the teacher was worthy of credit, since he was also the first to practise what he taught: he was not ashamed to speak, for conscience hindered not his tongue: and he that has meat, let him do likewise. Would you enjoy the grace of the Holy Spirit, yet judgest the poor not worthy of bodily food? Seekest thou the great gifts, and impartest not of the small? Though you be a publican, or a fornicator, have hope of salvation: the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. Matthew 21:31Paul also is witness, saying, Neither fornicators, nor adulterers, nor the rest, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but you were washed, but you were sanctified. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 He said not, such are some of you, but such were some of you. Sin committed in the state of ignorance is pardoned, but persistent wickedness is condemned.
9. You have as the glory of Baptism the Son Himself, the Only-begotten of God. For why should I speak any more of man? John was great, but what is he to the Lord? His was a loud-sounding voice, but what in comparison with the Word? Very noble was the herald, but what in comparison with the King? Noble was he that baptized with water, but what to Him that baptizes with the Holy Ghost and with fire Matthew 3:11? The Saviour baptized the Apostles with the Holy Ghost and with fire, when suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire: and it sat upon each one of them, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost Acts 2:2 .
10. If any man receive not Baptism, he has not salvation; except only Martyrs, who even without the water receive the kingdom. For when the Saviour, in redeeming the world by His Cross, was pierced in the side, He shed forth blood and water; that men, living in times of peace, might be baptized in water, and, in times of persecution, in their own blood. For martyrdom also the Saviour is wont to call a baptism, saying, Can you drink the cup which I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with Mark 10:38? And the Martyrs confess, by being made a spectacle unto the world, and to Angels, and to men1 Corinthians 4:9; and you will soon confess:— but it is not yet the time for you to hear of this.
11. Jesus sanctified Baptism by being Himself baptized. If the Son of God was baptized, what godly man is he that despises Baptism? But He was baptized not that He might receive remission of sins, for He was sinless; but being sinless, He was baptized, that He might give to them that are baptized a divine and excellent grace. For since the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise partook of the same Hebrews 2:14, that having been made partakers of His presence in the flesh we might be made partakers also of His Divine grace: thus Jesus was baptized, that thereby we again by our participation might receive both salvation and honour. According to Job, there was in the waters the dragon that draws up Jordan into his mouth. Job 40:23 Since, therefore, it was necessary to break the heads of the dragon in pieces , He went down and bound the strong one in the waters, that we might receive power to tread upon serpents and scorpions. Luke 10:19 The beast was great and terrible. No fishing-vessel was able to carry one scale of his tail : destruction ran before him , ravaging all that met him. The Life encountered him, that the mouth of Death might henceforth be stopped, and all we that are saved might say, O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory1 Corinthians 15:55? The sting of death is drawn by Baptism.
12. For you go down into the water, bearing your sins, but the invocation of grace , having sealed your soul, suffers you not afterwards to be swallowed up by the terrible dragon. Having gone down dead in sins, you come up quickened in righteousness. For if you have been united with the likeness of the Saviour’s death Romans 6:5, you shall also be deemed worthy of His Resurrection. For as Jesus took upon Him the sins of the world, and died, that by putting sin to death He might rise again in righteousness; so thou by going down into the water, and being in a manner buried in the waters, as He was in the rock, art raised again walking in newness of life.
13. Moreover, when you have been deemed worthy of the grace, He then gives you strength to wrestle against the adverse powers. For as after His Baptism He was tempted forty days (not that He was unable to gain the victory before, but because He wished to do all things in due order and succession), so thou likewise, though not daring before your baptism to wrestle with the adversaries, yet after you have received the grace and art henceforth confident in the armour of righteousness2 Corinthians 6:7, must then do battle, and preach the Gospel, if you will.
14. Jesus Christ was the Son of God, yet He preached not the Gospel before His Baptism. If the Master Himself followed the right time in due order, ought we, His servants, to venture out of order? From that time Jesus began to preach Matthew 4:17 , when the Holy Spirit had descended upon Him in a bodily shape, like a dove Luke 3:22; not that Jesus might see Him first, for He knew Him even before He came in a bodily shape, but that John, who was baptizing Him, might behold Him. For I, says he, knew Him not: but He that sent me to baptize with water, He said unto me, Upon whomsoever you shall see the Spirit descending and abiding on Him, that is He. John 1:33 If you too hast unfeigned piety, the Holy Ghost comes down on you also, and a Father’s voice sounds over you from on high— not,This is My Son,but,This has now been made My son;for theisbelongs to Him alone, because In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. To Him belongs theis,since He is always the Son of God: but to youhas now been made:since you have not the sonship by nature, but receive it by adoption. He eternallyis;but you receive the grace by advancement.
15. Make ready then the vessel of your soul, that you may become a son of God, and an heir of God, and joint-heir with ChristRomans 8:17; if, indeed, you are preparing yourself that you may receive; if you are drawing near in faith that you may be made faithful; if of set purpose you are putting off the old man. For all things whatsoever you have done shall be forgiven you, whether it be fornication, or adultery, or any other such form of licentiousness. What can be a greater sin than to crucify Christ? Yet even of this Baptism can purify. For so spoke Peter to the three thousand who came to him, to those who had crucified the Lord, when they asked him, saying, Men and brethren, what shall we do Acts 2:37? For the wound is great. You have made us think of our fall, O Peter, by saying, You killed the Prince of Life. What salve is there for so great a wound? What cleansing for such foulness? What is the salvation for such perdition? Repent, says he, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. O unspeakable loving-kindness of God! They have no hope of being saved, and yet they are thought worthy of the Holy Ghost. You see the power of Baptism! If any of you has crucified the Christ by blasphemous words; if any of you in ignorance has denied Him before men; if any by wicked works has caused the doctrine to be blasphemed; let him repent and be of good hope, for the same grace is present even now.
16. Be of good courage, O Jerusalem; the Lord will take away all your iniquities. The Lord will wash away the filth of His sons and of His daughters by the Spirit of judgment, and by the Spirit of burning Isaiah 4:4 . He will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be cleansed from all your sin. Ezekiel 36:25 Angels shall dance around you, and say, Who is this that comes up in white array, leaning upon her beloved ? For the soul that was formerly a slave has now adopted her Master Himself as her kinsman: and He accepting the unfeigned purpose will answer: Behold, you are fair, my love; behold, you are fair: your teeth are like flocks of sheep new shorn, (because of the confession of a good conscience: and further) which have all of them twins ; because of the twofold grace, I mean that which is perfected of water and of the Spirit , or that which is announced by the Old and by the New Testament. And God grant that all of you when you have finished the course of the fast, may remember what I say, and bringing forth fruit in good works, may stand blameless beside the Spiritual Bridegroom, and obtain the remission of your sins from God; to whom with the Son and Holy Spirit be the glory for ever. Amen.