This post is the next chapter in the series on St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures. Our post today features the first half of his thirteenth lecture:
Isaiah 53:1, 7
Who has believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?…He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, etc.
1. Every deed of Christ is a cause of glorying to the Catholic Church, but her greatest of all glorying is in the Cross; and knowing this, Paul says, But God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of Christ. Galatians 6:14 For wondrous indeed it was, that one who was blind from his birth should receive sight in Siloam ; but what is this compared with the blind of the whole world? A great thing it was, and passing nature, for Lazarus to rise again on the fourth day; but the grace extended to him alone, and what was it compared with the dead in sins throughout the world? Marvellous it was, that five loaves should pour forth food for the five thousand; but what is that to those who are famishing in ignorance through all the world? It was marvellous that she should have been loosed who had been bound by Satan eighteen years: yet what is this to all of us, who were fast bound in the chains of our sins? But the glory of the Cross led those who were blind through ignorance into light, loosed all who were held fast by sin, and ransomed the whole world of mankind.
2. And wonder not that the whole world was ransomed; for it was no mere man, but the only-begotten Son of God, who died on its behalf. Moreover one man’s sin, even Adam’s, had power to bring death to the world; but if by the trespass of the one death reigned over the world, how shall not life much rather reign by the righteousness of the One Romans 5:17-18? And if because of the tree of food they were then cast out of paradise, shall not believers now more easily enter into paradise because of the Tree of Jesus? If the first man formed out of the earth brought in universal death, shall not He who formed him out of the earth bring in eternal life, being Himself the Life? If Phinees, when he waxed zealous and slew the evil-doer, staved the wrath of God, shall not Jesus, who slew not another, but gave up Himself for a ransom 1 Timothy 2:6, put away the wrath which is against mankind?
3. Let us then not be ashamed of the Cross of our Saviour, but rather glory in it. For the word of the Cross is unto Jews a stumbling-block, and unto Gentiles foolishness, but to us salvation: and to them that are perishing it is foolishness, but unto us which are being saved it is the power of God. For it was not a mere man who died for us, as I said before, but the Son of God, God made man. Further; if the lamb under Moses drove the destroyer Exodus 12:23 far away, did not much rather the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world John 1:29, deliver us from our sins? The blood of a silly sheep gave salvation; and shall not the Blood of the Only-begotten much rather save? If any disbelieve the power of the Crucified, let him ask the devils; if any believe not words, let him believe what he sees. Many have been crucified throughout the world, but by none of these are the devils scared; but when they see even the Sign of the Cross of Christ, who was crucified for us, they shudder. For those men died for their own sins, but Christ for the sins of others; for He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth. It is not Peter who says this, for then we might suspect that he was partial to his Teacher; but it is Esaias who says it, who was not indeed present with Him in the flesh, but in the Spirit foresaw His coming in the flesh. Yet why now bring the Prophet only as a witness? Take for a witness Pilate himself, who gave sentence upon Him, saying, I find no fault in this Man Luke 23:14: and when he gave Him up, and had washed his hands, he said, I am innocent of the blood of this just person. Matthew 27:24 There is yet another witness of the sinlessness of Jesus—the robber, the first man admitted into Paradise; who rebuked his fellow, and said,
We receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing amiss ; for we were present, both you and I, at His judgment.
4. Jesus then really suffered for all men; for the Cross was no illusion , otherwise our redemption is an illusion also. His death was not a mere show , for then is our salvation also fabulous. If His death was but a show, they were true who said, We remember that that deceiver said, while He was yet alive, After three days I rise again. Matthew 27:63 His Passion then was real: for He was really crucified, and we are not ashamed thereat; He was crucified, and we deny it not, nay, I rather glory to speak of it. For though I should now deny it, here is Golgotha to confute me, near which we are now assembled; the wood of the Cross confutes me, which was afterwards distributed piecemeal from hence to all the world. I confess the Cross, because I know of the Resurrection; for if, after being crucified, He had remained as He was, I had not perchance confessed it, for I might have concealed both it and my Master; but now that the Resurrection has followed the Cross, I am not ashamed to declare it.
5. Being then in the flesh like others, He was crucified, but not for the like sins. For He was not led to death for covetousness, since He was a Teacher of poverty; nor was He condemned for concupiscence, for He Himself says plainly, Whosoever shall look upon a woman to lust after her, has committed adultery with her already Matthew 5:28; not for smiting or striking hastily, for He turned the other cheek also to the smiter; not for despising the Law, for He was the fulfiller of the Law; not for reviling a prophet, for it was Himself who was proclaimed by the Prophets; not for defrauding any of their hire, for He ministered without reward and freely; not for sinning in words, or deeds, or thoughts, He who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth; who when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, threatened not 1 Peter 2:22-23; who came to His passion, not unwillingly, but willing; yea, if any dissuading Him say even now, Be it far from You, Lord, He will say again, Get behind Me, Satan Matthew 16:22-23 .
6. And would you be persuaded that He came to His passion willingly? Others, who foreknow it not, die unwillingly; but He spoke before of His passion: Behold, the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified. But do you know wherefore this Friend of man shunned not death? It was lest the whole world should perish in its sins. Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man shall be betrayed, and shall be crucified ; and again, He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem. Luke 9:5 And would you know certainly, that the Cross is a glory to Jesus? Hear His own words, not mine. Judas had become ungrateful to the Master of the house, and was about to betray Him. Having but just now gone forth from the table, and drunk His cup of blessing, in return for that drought of salvation he sought to shed righteous blood. He who did eat of His bread, was lifting up his heel against Him ; his hands were but lately receiving the blessed gifts , and presently for the wages of betrayal he was plotting His death. And being reproved, and having heard that word, You have said Matthew 26:25, he again went out: then said Jesus, The hour has come, that the Son of man should be glorified. John 12:23 Do you see how He knew the Cross to be His proper glory? What then, is Esaias not ashamed of being sawn asunder , and shall Christ be ashamed of dying for the world? Now is the Son of man glorified. John 13:31 Not that He was without glory before: for He was glorified with the glory which was before the foundation of the world. He was ever glorified as God; but now He was to be glorified in wearing the Crown of His patience. He gave not up His life by compulsion, nor was He put to death by murderous violence, but of His own accord. Hear what He says: I have power to lay down My life, and I have power to take it again : I yield it of My own choice to My enemies; for unless I chose, this could not be. He came therefore of His own set purpose to His passion, rejoicing in His noble deed, smiling at the crown, cheered by the salvation of mankind; not ashamed of the Cross, for it was to save the world. For it was no common man who suffered, but God in man’s nature, striving for the prize of His patience.
7. But the Jews contradict this , ever ready, as they are, to cavil, and backward to believe; so that for this cause the Prophet just now read says, Lord, who has believed our report Isaiah 52:15? Persians believe , and Hebrews believe not; they shall see, to whom He was not spoken of, and they that have not heard shall understand , while they who study these things shall set at nought what they study. They speak against us, and say,
Does the Lord then suffer? What? Had men’s hands power over His sovereignty? Read the Lamentations; for in those Lamentations, Jeremias, lamenting you, wrote what is worthy of lamentations. He saw your destruction, he beheld your downfall, he bewailed Jerusalem which then was; for that which now is Galatians 4:25 shall not be bewailed; for that Jerusalem crucified the Christ, but that which now is worships Him. Lamenting then he says, The breath of our countenance, Christ the Lord was taken in our corruptions. Am I then stating views of my own? Behold he testifies of the Lord Christ seized by men. And what is to follow from this? Tell me, O Prophet. He says, Of whom we said, Under His shadow we shall live among the nations. Ibid For he signifies that the grace of life is no longer to dwell in Israel, but among the Gentiles.
8. But since there has been much gainsaying by them, come, let me, with the help of your prayers, (as the shortness of the time may allow,) set forth by the grace of the Lord some few testimonies concerning the Passion. For the things concerning Christ are all put into writing, and nothing is doubtful, for nothing is without a text. All are inscribed on the monuments of the Prophets; clearly written, not on tablets of stone, but by the Holy Ghost. Since then you have heard the Gospel speaking concerning Judas, ought you not to receive the testimony to it? You have heard that He was pierced in the side by a spear; ought you not to see whether this also is written? You have heard that He was crucified in a garden; ought you not to see whether this also is written? You have heard that He was sold for thirty pieces of silver; ought you not to learn what prophet spoke this? You have heard that He was given vinegar to drink; learn where this also is written. You have heard that His body was laid in a rock, and that a stone was set over it; ought you not to receive this testimony also from the prophet? You have heard that He was crucified with robbers; ought you not to see whether this also is written? You have heard that He was buried; ought you not to see whether the circumstances of His burial are anywhere accurately written? You have heard that He rose again; ought you not to see whether we mock you in teaching these things? For our speech and our preaching is not in persuasive words of man’s wisdom. We stir now no sophistical contrivances; for these become exposed; we do not conquer words with words , for these come to an end; but we preach Christ Crucified 1 Corinthians 1:23, who has already been preached aforetime by the Prophets. But do thou, I pray, receive the testimonies, and seal them in your heart. And, since they are many, and the rest of our time is narrowed into a short space, listen now to a few of the more important as time permits; and having received these beginnings, be diligent and seek out the remainder. Let not your hand be only stretched out to receive, but let it be also ready to work. God gives all things freely. For if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God who gives James 1:5, and he shall receive. May He through your prayer grant utterance to us who speak, and faith to you who hear.
9. Let us then seek the testimonies to the Passion of Christ: for we are met together, not now to make a speculative exposition of the Scriptures, but rather to be certified of the things which we already believe. Now you have received from me first the testimonies concerning the coming of Jesus; and concerning His walking on the sea, for it is written, Your way is in the sea. Also concerning various cures you have on another occasion received testimony. Now therefore I begin from whence the Passion began. Judas was the traitor, and he came against Him, and stood, speaking words of peace, but plotting war. Concerning him, therefore, the Psalmist says, My friends and My neighbours drew near against Me, and stood. And again, Their words were softer than oil, yet be they spears. Hail, Master Matthew 26:49; yet he was betraying his Master to death; he was not abashed at His warning, when He said, Judas, betrayest than the Son of Man with a kiss Luke 22:48? For what He said to him was just this, Recollect your own name; Judas means confession ; you have covenanted, you have received the money, make confession quickly. O God, pass not over My praise in silence; for the mouth of the wicked, and the mouth of the deceitful, are opened against Me; they have spoken against Me with a treacherous tongue, they have compassed Me about also with words of hatred. But that some of the chief-priests also were present, and that He was put in bonds before the gates of the city, you have heard before, if you remember the exposition of the Psalm, which has told the time and the place; how they returned at evening, and hungered like dogs, and encompassed the city.
10. Listen also for the thirty pieces of silver. And I will say to them, If it be good in your sight, give me my price, or refuse Zechariah 11:12, and the rest. One price is owing to Me from you for My healing the blind and lame, and I receive another; for thanksgiving, dishonour, and for worship, insult. Do you see how the Scripture foresaw these things? And they weighed for My price thirty pieces of silver. Ib How exact the prophecy! How great and unerring the wisdom of the Holy Ghost! For he said, not ten, nor twenty, but thirty, exactly as many as there were. Tell also what becomes of this price, O Prophet! Does he who received it keep it? Or does he give it back? And after he has given it back, what becomes of it? The Prophet says then, And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them into the house of the Lord, into the foundry. Compare the Gospel with the Prophecy: Judas, it says, repented himself, and cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed.
11. But now I have to seek the exact solution of this seeming discrepancy. For they who make light of the prophets, allege that the Prophet says on the one hand, And I cast them into the house of the Lord, into the foundry, but the Gospel on the other hand, And they gave them for the potter’s field. Hear then how they are both true. For those conscientious Jews forsooth, the high-priests of that time, when they saw that Judas repented and said, I have sinned, in that I have betrayed innocent blood, reply, What is that to us, see thou to that. Is it then nothing to you, the crucifiers? But shall he who received and restored the price of murder see to it, and shall you the murderers not see to it? Then they say among themselves, It is not lawful to cast them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood. Out of your own mouths is your condemnation; if the price is polluted, the deed is polluted also: but if you are fulfilling righteousness in crucifying Christ, why do you not receive the price of it? But the point of iniquity is this: how is there no disagreement, if the Gospel says, the potter’s field, and the Prophet, the foundry? Nay, but not only people who are goldsmiths, or brass-founders, have a foundry, but potters also have foundries for their clay. For they sift off the fine and rich and useful earth from the gravel, and separate from it the mass of the refuse matter, and temper the clay first with water, that they may work it with ease into the forms intended. Why then do you wonder that the Gospel says plainly the potter’s field, whereas the Prophet spoke his prophecy like an enigma, since prophecy is in many places enigmatical?
12. They bound Jesus, and brought Him into the hall of the High-priest. And would you learn and know that this also is written? Esaias says, Woe unto their soul, for they have taken evil counsel against themselves, saying, Let us bind the Just, for He is troublesome to us. And truly, Woe unto their soul! Let us see how Esaias was sawn asunder, yet after this the people was restored. Jeremias was cast into the mire of the cistern, yet was the wound of the Jews healed; for the sin was less, since it was against man. But when the Jews sinned, not against man, but against God in man’s nature, Woe unto their soul!— Let us bind the Just; could He not then set Himself free, some one will say; He, who freed Lazarus from the bonds of death on the fourth day, and loosed Peter from the iron bands of a prison? Angels stood ready at hand, saying, Let us burst their bands in sunder ; but they hold back, because their Lord willed to undergo it. Again, He was led to the judgment-seat before the Elders; you have already the testimony to this, The Lord Himself will come into judgment with the ancients of His people, and with the princes thereof Isaiah 3:14 .
13. But the High-priest having questioned Him, and heard the truth, is angry; and the wicked officer of wicked men smites Him; and the countenance, which had shone as the sun, endured to be smitten by lawless hands. Others also come and spit on the face of Him, who by spittle had healed the man who was blind from his birth. Do ye thus requite the Lord? This people is foolish and unwise. Deuteronomy 32:6 And the Prophet greatly wondering, says, Lord, who has believed our report Isaiah 53:1? For the thing is incredible, that God, the Son of God, and the Arm of the Lord Ibid, should suffer such things. But that they who are being saved may not disbelieve, the Holy Ghost writes before, in the person of Christ, who says, (for He who then spoke these things, was afterward Himself an actor in them,) I gave My back to the scourges; (for Pilate, when he had scourged Him, delivered Him to be crucified 😉 and My cheeks to smitings; and My face I turned not away from the shame of spittings; saying, as it were,
Though knowing before that they will smite Me, I did not even turn My cheek aside; for how should I have nerved My disciples against death for truth’s sake, had I Myself dreaded this? I said. He that loves his life shall lose it John 12:25: if I had loved My life, how was I to teach without practising what I taught? First then, being Himself God, He endured to suffer these things at the hands of men; that after this, we men, when we suffer such things at the hands of men for His sake, might not be ashamed. You see that of these things also the prophets have clearly written beforehand. Many, however, of the Scripture testimonies I pass by for want of time, as I said before; for if one should exactly search out all, not one of the things concerning Christ would be left without witness.
14. Having been bound, He came from Caiaphas to Pilate—is this too written? yes; And having bound Him, they led Him away as a present to the king of Jarim. But here some sharp hearer will object,
Pilate was not a king, (to leave for a while the main parts of the question,)
how then having bound Him, led they Him as a present to the king? But read the Gospel; When Pilate heard that He was of Galilee, he sent Him to Herod Luke 23:6-7; for Herod was then king, and was present at Jerusalem. And now observe the exactness of the Prophet; for he says, that He was sent as a present; for the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together, for before they were at enmity. For it became Him who was on the eve of making peace between earth and heaven, to make the very men who condemned Him the first to be at peace; for the Lord Himself was there present, who reconciles the hearts of the princes of the earth. Mark the exactness of the Prophets, and their true testimony.
15. Look with awe then at the Lord who was judged. He suffered Himself to be led and carried by soldiers. Pilate sat in judgment, and He who sits on the right hand of the Father, stood and was judged. The people whom He had redeemed from the land of Egypt, and oftimes from other places, shouted against Him, Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him. Joshua 19:15 Wherefore, O you Jews? Because He healed your blind? Or because He made your lame to walk, and bestowed His other benefits? So that the Prophet in amazement speaks of this too, Against whom have you opened your mouth, and against whom have you let loose your tongue Isaiah 57:4? And the Lord Himself says in the Prophets, Mine heritage became unto Me as a lion in the forest; it gave its voice against Me; therefore have I hated it. Jeremiah 12:8 I have not refused them, but they have refused Me; in consequence thereof I say, I have forsaken My house.
16. When He was judged, He held His peace; so that Pilate was moved for Him, and said, Hearest Thou not what these witness against You Matthew 27:13? Not that He knew Him who was judged, but he feared his own wife’s dream which had been reported to him. And Jesus held His peace. The Psalmist says, And I became as a man that hears not; and in whose mouth are no reproofs ; and again, But I was as a deaf man and heard not; and as a dumb man that opens not his mouth. Thou hast before heard concerning this , if you remember.
17. But the soldiers who crowd around mock Him, and their Lord becomes a sport to them, and upon their Master they make jests. When they looked on Me, they shaked their heads. Yet the figure of kingly state appears; for though in mockery, yet they bend the knee. And the soldiers before they crucify Him, put on Him a purple robe, and set a crown on His head; for what though it be of thorns? Every king is proclaimed by soldiers; and Jesus also must in a figure be crowned by soldiers; so that for this cause the Scripture says in the Canticles, Go forth, O you daughters of Jerusalem, and look upon King Solomon in the crown wherewith His mother crowned Him. Song of Songs 3:11 And the crown itself was a mystery; for it was a remission of sins, a release from the curse.
18. Adam received the sentence, Cursed is the ground in your labours; thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you. For this cause Jesus assumes the thorns, that He may cancel the sentence; for this cause also was He buried in the earth, that the earth which had been cursed might receive the blessing instead of a curse. At the time of the sin, they clothed themselves with fig-leaves; for this cause Jesus also made the fig-tree the last of His signs. For when about to go to His passion, He curses the fig-tree, not every fig-tree, but that one alone, for the sake of the figure; saying, No more let any man eat fruit of you Mark 11:1; let the doom be cancelled. And because they aforetime clothed themselves with fig-leaves, He came at a season when food was not wont to be found on the fig-tree. Who knows not that in winter-time the fig-tree bears no fruit, but is clothed with leaves only? Was Jesus ignorant of this, which all knew? No, but though He knew, yet He came as if seeking; not ignorant that He should not find, but showing that the emblematical curse extended to the leaves only.
19. And since we have touched on things connected with Paradise, I am truly astonished at the truth of the types. In Paradise was the Fall, and in a Garden was our Salvation. From the Tree came sin, and until the Tree sin lasted. In the evening, when the Lord walked in the Garden, they hid themselves Genesis 3:8; and in the evening the robber is brought by the Lord into Paradise. But some one will say to me, You are inventing subtleties; show me from some prophet the Wood of the Cross; unless you give me a testimony from a prophet, I will not be persuaded. Hear then from Jeremias, and assure yourself; I was like a harmless lamb led to be slaughtered; did I not know it ? (for in this manner read it as a question, as I have read it; for He who said, You know that after two days comes the passover, and the Son of Man is betrayed to be crucified Matthew 26:2, did He not know?) I was like a harmless lamb led to be slaughtered; did I not know it? (but what sort of lamb? Let John the Baptist interpret it, when he says, Behold the Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the world John 1:29.) They devised against Me a wicked device, saying Jeremiah 11:19 — (He who knows the devices, knew He not the result of them? And what said they?)— Come, and let us place a beam upon His bread — (and if the Lord reckon you worthy, you shall hereafter learn, that His body according to the Gospel bore the figure of bread;)— Come then, and let us place a beam upon His bread, and cut Him off out of the land of the living;— (life is not cut off, why do you labour for nought?)— And His name shall be remembered no more. Vain is your counsel; for before the sun His Name abides in the Church. And that it was Life, which hung on the Cross, Moses says, weeping, And your life shall be hanging before your eyes; and you shall be afraid day and night, and you shall not trust your life. Deuteronomy 28:66 And so too, what was just now read as the text, Lord, who has believed our report?
20. This was the figure which Moses completed by fixing the serpent to a cross, that whoso had been bitten by the living serpent, and looked to the brasen serpent, might be saved by believing. Does then the brazen serpent save when crucified, and shall not the Son of God incarnate save when crucified also? On each occasion life comes by means of wood. For in the time of Noe the preservation of life was by an ark of wood. In the time of Moses the sea, on beholding the emblematical rod, was abashed at him who smote it; is then Moses’ rod mighty, and is the Cross of the Saviour powerless? But I pass by the greater part of the types, to keep within measure. The wood in Moses’ case sweetened the water; and from the side of Jesus the water flowed upon the wood.