St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical letters continue to be the focus of the Tradition series of posts. Today’s post features the first part of his 4th letter. Its focus is core doctrines of the faith:
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, etc.
1. Vice mimics virtue, and the tares strive to be thought wheat, growing like the wheat in appearance, but being detected by good judges from the taste. The devil also transfigures himself into an angel of light 2 Corinthians 11:14; not that he may reascend to where he was, for having made his heart hard as an anvil , he has henceforth a will that cannot repent; but in order that he may envelope those who are living an Angelic life in a mist of blindness, and a pestilent condition of unbelief. Many wolves are going about in sheeps’ clothing , their clothing being that of sheep, not so their claws and teeth: but clad in their soft skin, and deceiving the innocent by their appearance, they shed upon them from their fangs the destructive poison of ungodliness. We have need therefore of divine grace, and of a sober mind, and of eyes that see, lest from eating tares as wheat we suffer harm from ignorance, and lest from taking the wolf to be a sheep we become his prey, and from supposing the destroying Devil to be a beneficent Angel we be devoured: for, as the Scripture says, he goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 1 Peter 5:8 This is the cause of the Church’s admonitions, the cause of the present instructions, and of the lessons which are read.
2. For the method of godliness consists of these two things, pious doctrines, and virtuous practice: and neither are the doctrines acceptable to God apart from good works, nor does God accept the works which are not perfected with pious doctrines. For what profit is it, to know well the doctrines concerning God, and yet to be a vile fornicator? And again, what profit is it, to be nobly temperate, and an impious blasphemer? A most precious possession therefore is the knowledge of doctrines: also there is need of a wakeful soul, since there are many that make spoil through philosophy and vain deceit. Colossians 2:8 The Greeks on the one hand draw men away by their smooth tongue, for honey drops from a harlot’s lips Proverbs 5:3: whereas they of the Circumcision deceive those who come to them by means of the Divine Scriptures, which they miserably misinterpret though studying them from childhood to old age , and growing old in ignorance. But the children of heretics, by their good words and smooth tongue, deceive the hearts of the innocent , disguising with the name of Christ as it were with honey the poisoned arrows of their impious doctrines: concerning all of whom together the Lord says, Take heed lest any man mislead you. Matthew 24:4 This is the reason for the teaching of the Creed and for expositions upon it.
3. But before delivering you over to the Creed , I think it is well to make use at present of a short summary of necessary doctrines; that the multitude of things to be spoken, and the long interval of the days of all this holy Lent, may not cause forgetfulness in the mind of the more simple among you; but that, having strewn some seeds now in a summary way, we may not forget the same when afterwards more widely tilled. But let those here present whose habit of mind is mature, and who have their senses already exercised to discern good and evil Hebrews 5:14, endure patiently to listen to things fitted rather for children, and to an introductory course, as it were, of milk: that at the same time both those who have need of the instruction may be benefited, and those who have the knowledge may rekindle the remembrance of things which they already know.
I. Of God.
4. First then let there be laid as a foundation in your soul the doctrine concerning God; that God is One, alone unbegotten, without beginning, change, or variation ; neither begotten of another, nor having another to succeed Him in His life; who neither began to live in time, nor ends ever: and that He is both good and just; that if ever thou hear a heretic say, that there is one God who is just, and another who is good , you may immediately remember, and discern the poisoned arrow of heresy. For some have impiously dared to divide the One God in their teaching: and some have said that one is the Creator and Lord of the soul, and another of the body ; a doctrine at once absurd and impious. For how can a man become the one servant of two masters, when our Lord says in the Gospels, No man can serve two masters ? There is then One Only God, the Maker both of souls and bodies: One the Creator of heaven and earth, the Maker of Angels and Archangels: of many the Creator, but of One only the Father before all ages—of One only, His Only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom He made all things visible and invisible.
5. This Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is not circumscribed in any place , nor is He less than the heaven; but the heavens are the works of His fingers , and the whole earth is held in His grasp Isaiah 40:12: He is in all things and around all. Think not that the sun is brighter than He , or equal to Him: for He who at first formed the sun must needs be incomparably greater and brighter. He foreknows the things that shall be, and is mightier than all, knowing all things and doing as He will; not being subject to any necessary sequence of events, nor to nativity, nor chance, nor fate; in all things perfect, and equally possessing every absolute form of virtue, neither diminishing nor increasing, but in mode and conditions ever the same; who has prepared punishment for sinners, and a crown for the righteous.
6. Seeing then that many have gone astray in various ways from the One God, some having deified the sun, that when the sun sets they may abide in the night season without God; others the moon, to have no God by day ; others the other parts of the world ; others the arts ; others their various kinds of food ; others their pleasures ; while some, mad after women, have set up on high an image of a naked woman, and called it Aphrodite , and worshipped their own lust in a visible form; and others dazzled by the brightness of gold have deified it and the other kinds of matter;— whereas if one lay as a first foundation in his heart the doctrine of the unity of God, and trust to Him, he roots out at once the whole crop of the evils of idolatry, and of the error of the heretics: lay thou, therefore, this first doctrine of religion as a foundation in your soul by faith.
7. Believe also in the Son of God, One and Only, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who was begotten God of God, begotten Life of Life, begotten Light of Light , Who is in all things like to Him that begot, Who received not His being in time, but was before all ages eternally and incomprehensibly begotten of the Father: The Wisdom and the Power of God, and His Righteousness personally subsisting : Who sits on the right hand of the Father before all ages.
For the throne at God’s right hand He received not, as some have thought, because of His patient endurance, being crowned as it were by God after His Passion; but throughout His being—a being by eternal generation —He holds His royal dignity, and shares the Father’s seat, being God and Wisdom and Power, as has been said; reigning together with the Father, and creating all things for the Father, yet lacking nothing in the dignity of Godhead, and knowing Him that has begotten Him, even as He is known of Him that has begotten; and to speak briefly, remember thou what is written in the Gospels, that none knows the Son but the Father, neither knows any the Father save the Son.
8. Further, do thou neither separate the Son from the Father, nor by making a confusion believe in a Son-Fatherhood ; but believe that of One God there is One Only-begotten Son, who is before all ages God the Word; not the uttered word diffused into the air, nor to be likened to impersonal words ; but the Word the Son, Maker of all who partake of reason, the Word who hears the Father, and Himself speaks. And on these points, should God permit, we will speak more at large in due season; for we do not forget our present purpose to give a summary introduction to the Faith.
Concerning His Birth of the Virgin.
9. Believe then that this Only-begotten Son of God for our sins came down from heaven upon earth, and took upon Him this human nature of like passions with us, and was begotten of the Holy Virgin and of the Holy Ghost, and was made Man, not in seeming and mere show , but in truth; nor yet by passing through the Virgin as through a channel ; but was of her made truly flesh, [and truly nourished with milk ], and did truly eat as we do, and truly drink as we do. For if the Incarnation was a phantom, salvation is a phantom also. The Christ was of two natures, Man in what was seen, but God in what was not seen; as Man truly eating like us, for He had the like feeling of the flesh with us; but as God feeding the five thousand from five loaves; as Man truly dying, but as God raising him that had been dead four days; truly sleeping in the ship as Man, and walking upon the waters as God.
Of the Cross.
10. He was truly crucified for our sins. For if you would deny it, the place refutes you visibly, this blessed Golgotha , in which we are now assembled for the sake of Him who was here crucified; and the whole world has since been filled with pieces of the wood of the Cross. But He was crucified not for sins of His own, but that we might be delivered from our sins. And though as Man He was at that time despised of men, and was buffeted, yet He was acknowledged by the Creation as God: for when the sun saw his Lord dishonoured, he grew dim and trembled, not enduring the sight.
Of His Burial.
11. He was truly laid as Man in a tomb of rock; but rocks were rent asunder by terror because of Him. He went down into the regions beneath the earth, that thence also He might redeem the righteous. For, tell me, could thou wish the living only to enjoy His grace, and that, though most of them are unholy; and not wish those who from Adam had for a long while been imprisoned to have now gained their liberty? Esaias the Prophet proclaimed with loud voice so many things concerning Him; would you not wish that the King should go down and redeem His herald? David was there, and Samuel, and all the Prophets , John himself also, who by his messengers said, Are you He that should come, or look we for another Matthew 11:3? Would you not wish that He should descend and redeem such as these?
Of the Resurrection.
12. But He who descended into the regions beneath the earth came up again; and Jesus, who was buried, truly rose again the third day. And if the Jews ever worry you, meet them at once by asking thus: Did Jonah come forth from the whale on the third day, and has not Christ then risen from the earth on the third day? Is a dead man raised to life on touching the bones of Elisha, and is it not much easier for the Maker of mankind to be raised by the power of the Father? Well then, He truly rose, and after He had risen was seen again of the disciples: and twelve disciples were witnesses of His Resurrection, who bore witness not in pleasing words, but contended even unto torture and death for the truth of the Resurrection. What then, shall every word be established at the mouth of two of three witnesses Deuteronomy 19:15, according to the Scripture, and, though twelve bear witness to the Resurrection of Christ, are you still incredulous in regard to His Resurrection?
Concerning the Ascension.
13. But when Jesus had finished His course of patient endurance, and had redeemed mankind from their sins, He ascended again into the heavens, a cloud receiving Him up: and as He went up Angels were beside Him, and Apostles were beholding. But if any man disbelieves the words which I speak, let him believe the actual power of the things now seen. All kings when they die have their power extinguished with their life: but Christ crucified is worshipped by the whole world. We proclaim The Crucified, and the devils tremble now. Many have been crucified at various times; but of what other who was crucified did the invocation ever drive the devils away?
14. Let us, therefore, not be ashamed of the Cross of Christ; but though another hide it, do thou openly seal it upon your forehead, that the devils may behold the royal sign and flee trembling far away. Make then this sign at eating and drinking, at sitting, at lying down, at rising up, at speaking, at walking: in a word, at every act. For He who was here crucified is in heaven above. If after being crucified and buried He had remained in the tomb, we should have had cause to be ashamed; but, in fact, He who was crucified on Golgotha here, has ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives on the East. For after having gone down hence into Hades, and come up again to us, He ascended again from us into heaven, His Father addressing Him, and saying, Sit on My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool.
Of Judgment to Come.
15. This Jesus Christ who is gone up shall come again, not from earth but from heaven: and I say,not from earth,because there are many Antichrists to come at this time from earth. For already, as you have seen, many have begun to say, I am the Christ Matthew 24:5: and the abomination of desolation is yet to come, assuming to himself the false title of Christ. But look thou for the true Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God, coming henceforth no more from earth, but from heaven, appearing to all more bright than any lightning and brilliancy of light, with angel guards attended, that He may judge both quick and dead, and reign in a heavenly, eternal kingdom, which shall have no end. For on this point also, I pray you, make yourself sure, since there are many who say that Christ’s Kingdom has an end.
Of the Holy Ghost.
16. Believe thou also in the Holy Ghost, and hold the same opinion concerning Him, which you have received to hold concerning the Father and the Son, and follow not those who teach blasphemous things of Him. But learn thou that this Holy Spirit is One, indivisible, of manifold power; having many operations, yet not Himself divided; Who knows the mysteries, Who searches all things, even the deep things of God 1 Corinthians 2:10: Who descended upon the Lord Jesus Christ in form of a dove; Who wrought in the Law and in the Prophets; Who now also at the season of Baptism seals your soul; of Whose holiness also every intellectual nature has need: against Whom if any dare to blaspheme, he has no forgiveness, neither in this world, nor in that which is to come Matthew 12:32:Who with the Father and the Son togetheris honoured with the glory of the Godhead: of Whom also thrones, and dominions, principalities, and powers have need. Colossians 1:16 For there is One God, the Father of Christ; and One Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of the Only God; and One Holy Ghost, the sanctifier and deifier of all , Who spoke in the Law and in the Prophets, in the Old and in the New Testament.
17. Have thou ever in your mind this seal , which for the present has been lightly touched in my discourse, by way of summary, but shall be stated, should the Lord permit, to the best of my power with the proof from the Scriptures. For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell you these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning , but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures.