My series on the Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem continues. We are now on the twelfth lecture, which examines the incarnation. As before, it is length, so only the first half will be featured.
And the Lord spoke again unto Ahaz, saying, Ask you a sign, etc.:andBehold! A virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Emmanuel, etc.
1. Nurslings of purity and disciples of chastity, raise we our hymn to the Virgin-born God with lips full of purity. Deemed worthy to partake of the flesh of the Spiritual Lamb , let us take the head together with the feet , the Deity being understood as the head, and the Manhood taken as the feet. Hearers of the Holy Gospels, let us listen to John the Divine. For he who said, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God John 1:1, went on to say, and the Word was made flesh. For neither is it holy to worship the mere man, nor religious to say that He is God only without the Manhood. For if Christ is God, as indeed He is, but took not human nature upon Him, we are strangers to salvation. Let us then worship Him as God, but believe that He also was made Man. For neither is there any profit in calling Him man without Godhead nor any salvation in refusing to confess the Manhood together with the Godhead. Let us confess the presence of Him who is both King and Physician. For Jesus the King when about to become our Physician, girded Himself with the linen of humanity , and healed that which was sick. The perfect Teacher of babes Romans 2:20 became a babe among babes, that He might give wisdom to the foolish. The Bread of heaven came down on earth that He might feed the hungry.
2. But the sons of the Jews by setting at nought Him that came, and looking for him who comes in wickedness, rejected the true Messiah, and wait for the deceiver, themselves deceived; herein also the Saviour being found true, who said, I have come in My Father’s name, and you receive Me not: but if another shall come in his own name, him you will receive. It is well also to put a question to the Jews. Is the Prophet Esaias, who says that Emmanuel shall be born of a virgin, true or false Isaiah 7:14? For if they charge him with falsehood, no wonder: for their custom is not only to charge with falsehood, but also to stone the Prophets. But if the Prophet is true, point to the Emmanuel, and say, Whether is He who is to come, for whom you are looking, to be born of a virgin or not? For if He is not to be born of a virgin, you accuse the Prophet of falsehood: but if in Him that is to come you expect this, why do you reject that which has come to pass already?
3. Let the Jews, then, be led astray, since they so will: but let the Church of God be glorified. For we receive God the Word made Man in truth, not, as heretics say , of the will of man and woman, but of The Virgin and the Holy Ghost according to the Gospel, Made Man , not in seeming but in truth. And that He was truly Man made of the Virgin, wait for the proper time of instruction in this Lecture, and you shall receive the proofs : for the error of the heretics is manifold. And some have said that He has not been born at all of a virgin : others that He has been born, not of a virgin, but of a wife dwelling with a husband. Others say that the Christ is not God made Man, but a man made God. For they dared to say that not He— the pre-existent Word— was made Man; but a certain man was by advancement crowned.
4. But remember thou what was said yesterday concerning His Godhead. Believe that He the Only-begotten Son of God— He Himself was again begotten of a Virgin. Believe the Evangelist John when he says, And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. John 1:14 For the Word is eternal, Begotten of the Father Before All Worlds: but the flesh He took on Him recently for our sake. Many contradict this, and say:What cause was there so great, for God to come down into humanity? And, is it at all God’s nature to hold intercourse with men? And, is it possible for a virgin to bear, without man?Since then there is much controversy, and the battle has many forms, come, let us by the grace of Christ, and the prayers of those who are present, resolve each question.
5. And first let us inquire for what cause Jesus came down. Now mind not my argumentations, for perhaps you may be misled but unless thou receive testimony of the Prophets on each matter, believe not what I say: unless thou learn from the Holy Scriptures concerning the Virgin, and the place, the time, and the manner, receive not testimony from man. John 5:34 For one who at present thus teaches may possibly be suspected: but what man of sense will suspect one that prophesied a thousand and more years beforehand? If then you seek the cause of Christ’s coming, go back to the first book of the Scriptures. In six days God made the world: but the world was for man. The sun however resplendent with bright beams, yet was made to give light to man, yea, and all living creatures were formed to serve us: herbs and trees were created for our enjoyment. All the works of creation were good, but none of these was an image of God, save man only. The sun was formed by a mere command, but man by God’s hands: Let us make man after our image, and after our likeness. Genesis 1:26 A wooden image of an earthly king is held in honour; how much more a rational image of God?
But when this the greatest of the works of creation was disporting himself in Paradise, the envy of the Devil cast him out. The enemy was rejoicing over the fall of him whom he had envied: would you have had the enemy continue to rejoice? Not daring to accost the man because of his strength, he accosted as being weaker the woman, still a virgin: for it was after the expulsion from Paradise that Adam knew his wife.
6. Cain and Abel succeeded in the second generation of mankind: and Cain was the first murderer. Afterwards a deluge was poured abroad because of the great wickedness of men: fire came down from heaven upon the people of Sodom because of their transgression. After a time God chose out Israel: but Israel also turned aside, and the chosen race was wounded. For while Moses stood before God in the mount, the people were worshipping a calf instead of God. In the lifetime of Moses, the law-giver who had said, You shall not commit adultery, a man dared to enter a place of harlotry and transgress. Numbers 25:6 After Moses, Prophets were sent to cure Israel: but in their healing office they lamented that they were not able to overcome the disease, so that one of them says, Woe is me! For the godly man is perished out of the earth, and there is none that does right among men Micah 7:2: and again, They are all gone out of the way, they are together became unprofitable; there is none that does good, no, not one : and again, Cursing and stealing, and adultery, and murder are poured out upon the land. Hosea 4:2 Their sons and their daughters they sacrificed unto devils. They used auguries, and enchantments, and divinations. 2 Chronicles 33:6 And again, they fastened their garments with cords, and made hangings attached to the altar.
7. Very great was the wound of man’s nature; from the feet to the head there was no soundness in it; none could apply mollifying ointment, neither oil, nor bandages. Isaiah 1:6 Then bewailing and wearying themselves, the Prophets said, Who shall give salvation out of Sion ? And again, Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand, and upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself: so will not we go back from You. And another of the Prophets entreated, saying, Bow the heavens, O Lord and come down. The wounds of man’s nature pass our healing. They slew Your Prophets, and cast down Your altars. 1 Kings 19:10 The evil is irretrievable by us, and needs you to retrieve it.
8. The Lord heard the prayer of the Prophets. The Father disregarded not the perishing of our race; He sent forth His Son, the Lord from heaven, as healer: and one of the Prophets says, The Lord whom you seek, comes, and shall suddenly come. Malachi 3:1 Whither? The Lord shall come to His own temple, where you stoned Him. Then another of the Prophets, on hearing this, says to him: In speaking of the salvation of God, do you speak quietly? In preaching the good tidings of God’s coming for salvation, do you speak in secret? O thou that bringest good tidings to Zion, get you up into the high mountain. Speak to the cities of Judah. What am I to speak? Behold our God! Behold! The Lord comes with strength Isaiah 40:9-10! Again the Lord Himself says, Behold! I come, and I will dwell in the midst of you, says the Lord. And many nations shall flee unto the Lord. Zechariah 2:10-11 The Israelites rejected salvation through Me: I come to gather all nations and tongues. Isaiah 66:18 For He came to His own and His own received Him not. John 1:11 You come and what dost Thou bestow on the nations? I come to gather all nations, and I will leave on them a sign. For from My conflict upon the Cross I give to each of My soldiers a royal seal to bear upon his forehead. Another also of the Prophets said, He bowed the heavens also, and came down; and darkness was under His feet. For His coming down from heaven was not known by men.
9. Afterwards Solomon hearing his father David speak these things, built a wondrous house, and foreseeing Him who was to come into it, said in astonishment, Will God in very deed dwell with men on the earth ? Yea, says David by anticipation in the Psalm inscribed For Solomon, wherein is this, He shall come down like rain into a fleece : rain, because of His heavenly nature, and into a fleece, because of His humanity. For rain, coming down into a fleece, comes down noiselessly: so that the Magi, not knowing the mystery of the Nativity, say, Where is He that is born King of the Jews Matthew 2:2? And Herod being troubled inquired concerning Him who was born, and said, Where is the Christ to be born ?
10. But who is this that comes down? He says in what follows, And with the sun He endures, and before the moon generations of generations. And again another of the Prophets says, Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion, shout, O daughter of Jerusalem. Behold! Your King comes unto you, just and having salvation. Zechariah 9:9 Kings are many; of which do you speak, O Prophet? Give us a sign which other Kings have not. If you say, A king clad in purple, the dignity of the apparel has been anticipated. If you say, Guarded by spear-men, and sitting in a golden chariot, this also has been anticipated by others. Give us a sign peculiar to the King whose coming you announce. And the Prophet makes answer and says, Behold! Your King comes unto you, just, and having salvation: He is meek, and riding upon an ass and a young foal, not on a chariot. You have a unique sign of the King who came. Jesus alone of kings sat upon an unyoked foal, entering into Jerusalem with acclamations as a king. And when this King has come, what does He? Thou also by the blood of the covenant hast sent forth your prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water Zechariah 9:11 .
11. But He might perchance even sit upon a foal: give us rather a sign, where the King that enters shall stand. And give the sign not far from the city, that it may not be unknown to us: and give us the sign plain before our eyes, that even when in the city we may behold the place. And the Prophet again makes answer, saying: And His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives which is before Jerusalem on the east. Does any one standing within the city fail to behold the place?
12. We have two signs, and we desire to learn a third. Tell us what the Lord does when He has come. Another Prophet says, Behold! Our God, and afterwards, He will come and save us. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall hear: then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the stammerers shall be distinct. Isaiah 35:4-6 But let yet another testimony be told us. You say, O Prophet, that the Lord comes, and does signs such as never were: what other clear sign tellest thou? The Lord Himself enters into judgment with the elders of His people, and with the princes thereof. A notable sign! The Master judged by His servants, the elders, and submitting to it.
13. These things the Jews read, but hear not: for they have stopped the ears of their heart, that they may not hear. But let us believe in Jesus Christ, as having come in the flesh and been made Man, because we could not receive Him otherwise. For since we could not look upon or enjoy Him as He was, He became what we are, that so we might be permitted to enjoy Him. For if we cannot look full on the sun, which was made on the fourth day, could we behold God its Creator ? The Lord came down in fire on Mount Sinai, and the people could not bear it, but said to Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear; and let not God speak to us, lest we die Exodus 20:19: and again, For who is there of all flesh that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire, and shall live Deuteronomy 5:26? If to hear the voice of God speaking is a cause of death, how shall not the sight of God Himself bring death? And what wonder? Even Moses himself says, I exceedingly fear and quake Hebrews 12:21 .
14. What would you then? That He who came for our salvation should become a minister of destruction because men could not bear Him? Or that He should suit His grace to our measure? Daniel could not bear the vision of an Angel, and were thou capable of the sight of the Lord of Angels? Gabriel appeared, and Daniel fell down: and of what nature or in what guise was he that appeared? His countenance was like lightning Daniel 10:6; not like the sun: and his eyes as lamps of fire, not as a furnace of fire: and the voice of his words as the voice of a multitude, not as the voice of twelve legions of angels; nevertheless the Prophet fell down. And the Angel comes unto him, saying, Fear not, Daniel, stand upright: be of good courage, your words are heard. Daniel 10:12 And Daniel says, I stood up trembling : and not even so did he make answer, until the likeness of a man’s hand touched him. And when he that appeared was changed into the appearance of a man, then Daniel spoke: and what says he? O my Lord, at the vision of You my inward parts were turned within me, and no strength remains in me, neither is there breath left in me. If an Angel appearing took away the Prophet’s voice and strength, would the appearance of God have allowed him to breathe? And until there touched me as it were a vision of a man , says the Scripture, Daniel took not courage. So then after trial shown of our weakness, the Lord assumed that which man required: for since man required to hear from one of like countenance, the Saviour took on Him the nature of like affections, that men might be the more easily instructed.
15. Learn also another cause. Christ came that He might be baptized, and might sanctify Baptism: He came that He might work wonders, walking upon the waters of the sea. Since then before His appearance in flesh, the sea saw Him and fled, and Jordan was turned back , the Lord took to Himself His body, that the sea might endure the sight, and Jordan receive Him without fear. This then is one cause; but there is also a second. Through Eve yet virgin came death; through a virgin, or rather from a virgin, must the Life appear: that as the serpent beguiled the one, so to the other Gabriel might bring good tidings. Men forsook God, and made carved images of men. Since therefore an image of man was falsely worshipped as God, God became truly Man, that the falsehood might be done away. The Devil had used the flesh as an instrument against us; and Paul knowing this, says, But I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity Romans 7:23, and the rest. By the very same weapons, therefore, wherewith the Devil used to vanquish us, have we been saved. The Lord took on Him from us our likeness, that He might save man’s nature: He took our likeness, that He might give greater grace to that which lacked; that sinful humanity might become partaker of God. For where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. It behooved the Lord to suffer for us; but if the Devil had known Him, he would not have dared to approach Him. For had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory. 1 Corinthians 2:8 His body therefore was made a bait to death that the dragon , hoping to devour it, might disgorge those also who had been already devoured. For Death prevailed and devoured; and again, God wiped away every tear from off every face.
16. Was it without reason that Christ was made Man? Are our teachings ingenious phrases and human subtleties? Are not the Holy Scriptures our salvation? Are not the predictions of the Prophets? Keep then, I pray you, this deposit undisturbed, and let none remove you: believe that God became Man. But though it has been proved possible for Him to be made Man, yet if the Jews still disbelieve, let us hold this forth to them: What strange thing do we announce in saying that God was made Man, when yourselves say that Abraham received the Lord as a guest ? What strange thing do we announce, when Jacob says, For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved ? The Lord, who ate with Abraham, ate also with us. What strange thing then do we announce? Nay more, we produce two witnesses, those who stood before Lord on Mount Sinai: Moses was in a cleft of the rock Exodus 33:22, and Elias was once in a cleft of the rock 1 Kings 19:8: they being present with Him at His Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, spoke to the Disciples of His decease which fire should accomplish at Jerusalem. But, as I said before, it has been proved possible for Him to be made man: and the rest of the proofs may be left for the studious to collect.
17. My statement, however, promised to declare also the time of the Saviour’s and the place: and I must not go away convicted of falsehood, but rather send away the Church’s novices well assured. Let us therefore inquire the time when our Lord came: because His coming is recent, and is disputed: and because Christ Jesus is the same yesterday, and today, and for ever. Moses then, the prophet, says, A Prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like me : but let thatlike mebe reserved awhile to be examined in its proper place. But when comes this Prophet that is expected? Recur, he says, to what has been written by me: examine carefully Jacob’s prophecy addressed to Judah: Judah, may your brethren praise you, and afterwards, not to quote the whole, A prince shall not fail out of Judah, nor a ruler from his loins, until He come, for whom it is reserved; and He is the expectation, not of the Jews but of the Gentiles. Genesis 49:8, 10 He gave, therefore, as a sign of Christ’s advent the cessation of the Jewish rule. If they are not now under the Romans, the Christ is not yet come: if they still have a prince of the race of Judah and of David , he is not yet come that was expected. For I am ashamed to tell of their recent doings concerning those who are now called Patriarchs among them, and what their descent is, and who their mother: but I leave it to those who know. But He that comes as the expectation of the Gentiles, what further sign then has He? He says next, Binding his foal unto the vine. Genesis 49:11 You see that foal which was clearly announced by Zachariah.