[DG: This post was supposed to have gone live last night. Not sure why it didn’t. Anyways, uploading it now. ]
We continue the series on St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures. This post features the second half of his twelfth lecture:
18. But again you ask yet another testimony of the time. The Lord said unto Me, You are My Son; this day have I begotten You: and a few words further on, You shall rule them with a rod of iron. I have said before that the kingdom of the Romans is clearly called a rod of iron; but what is wanting concerning this let us further call to mind out of Daniel. For in relating and interpreting to Nebuchadnezzar the image of the statue, he tells also his whole vision concerning it: and that a stone cut out of a mountain without hands, that is, not set up by human contrivance, should overpower the whole world: and he speaks most clearly thus; And in the days of those kingdoms the God of heaven shall set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed, and His kingdom shall not be left to another people Daniel 2:44 .
19. But we seek still more clearly the proof of the time of His coming. For man being hard to persuade, unless he gets the very years for a clear calculation, does not believe what is stated. What then is the season, and what the manner of the time? It is when, on the failure of the kings descended from Judah, Herod a foreigner succeeds to the kingdom? The Angel, therefore, who converses with Daniel says, and do thou now mark the words, And you shall know and understand: From the going forth of the word for making answer , and for the building of Jerusalem, until Messiah the Prince are seven weeks and three score and two weeks. Daniel 9:25 Now three score and nine weeks of years contain four hundred and eighty-three years. He said, therefore, that after the building of Jerusalem, four hundred and eighty-three years having passed, and the rulers having failed, then comes a certain king of another race, in whose time the Christ is to be born. Now Darius the Mede built the city in the sixth year of his own reign, and first year of the 66th Olympiad according to the Greeks. Olympiad is the name among the Greeks of the games celebrated after four years, because of the day which in every four years of the sun’s courses is made up of the three (supernumerary) hours in each year. And Herod is king in the 186th Olympiad, in the 4th year thereof. Now from the 66th to the 186th Olympiad there are 120 Olympiads intervening, and a little over. So then the 120 Olympiads make up 480 years: for the other three years remaining are perhaps taken up in the interval between the first and fourth years. And there you have the proof according to the Scripture which says, From the going forth of the word that Jerusalem be restored and built until Messiah the Prince are seven weeks and sixty-two weeks. Of the times, therefore, you have for the present this proof, although there are also other different interpretations concerning the aforesaid weeks of years in Daniel.
20. But now hear the place of the promise, as Micah says, And thou, Bethlehem, house of Ephrathah, are you little to be among the thousands of Judah? For out of you shall come forth unto Me a ruler, to be governor in Israel: and His goings forth are front the beginning, from the days of eternity. But assuredly as to the places, thou being an inhabitant of Jerusalem, know also beforehand what is written in the hundred and thirty-first psalm. Lo! We heard of it at Ephrathah, we found it in the plains of the wood . For a few years ago the place was woody. Again you have heard Habakkuk say to the Lord, When the years draw near, you shall be made known, when the time has come, you shall be shown. And what is the sign, O Prophet, of the Lord’s coming? And presently he says, In the midst of two lives shall you be known , plainly saying this to the Lord,Having come in the flesh you live and diest, and after rising from the dead you live again.Further, from what part of the region round Jerusalem comes He? From east, or west, or north, or south? Tell us exactly. And he makes answer most plainly and says, God shall come from Teman (now Teman is by interpretation ‘south’) and the Holy One from Mount Paran , shady, woody: what the Psalmist spoke in like words, We found it in the plains of the wood.
21. We ask further, of whom comes He and how? And this Esaias tells us: Behold! The virgin shall conceive in her womb, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel. This the Jews contradict, for of old it is their wont wickedly to oppose the truth: and they say that it is not writtenthe virgin,butthe damsel.But though I assent to what they say, even so I find the truth. For we must ask them, If a virgin be forced, when does she cry out and call for helpers, after or before the outrage? If, therefore, the Scripture elsewhere says, The betrothed damsel cried, and there was none to save her Deuteronomy 22:27, does it not speak of a virgin?
But that you may learn more plainly that even a virgin is called in Holy Scripture adamsel,hear the Book of the Kings, speaking of Abishag the Shunamite, And the damsel was very fair : for that as a virgin she was chosen and brought to David is admitted.
22. But the Jews say again, This was said to Ahaz in reference to Hezekiah. Well, then, let us read the Scripture: Ask you a sign of the Lord your God, in the depth or in the height. Isaiah 7:11 And the sign certainly must be something astonishing. For the water from the rock was a sign, the sea divided, the sun turning back, and the like. But in what I am going to mention there is still more manifest refutation of the Jews. (I know that I am speaking at much length, and that my hearers are wearied: but bear with the fullness of my statements, because it is for Christ’s sake these questions are moved, and they concern no ordinary matters.) Now as Isaiah spoke this in the reign of Ahaz, and Ahaz reigned only sixteen years, and the prophecy was spoken to him within these years, the objection of the Jews is refuted by the fact that the succeeding king, Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, was twenty-five years old when he began to reign: for as the prophecy is confined within sixteen years, he must have been begotten of Ahaz full nine years before the prophecy. What need then was there to utter the prophecy concerning one who had been already begotten even before the reign of father Ahaz ? For he said not, has conceived, butthe virgin shall conceive,speaking as with foreknowledge.
23. We know then for certain that the Lord was to be born of a Virgin, but we have to show of what family the Virgin was. The Lord swore in truth unto David, and will not set it aside. Of the fruit of body will I set upon your throne : and again, seed will I establish for ever, and his throne as the days of heaven. And afterwards, Once have I sworn by My holiness that I will not lie unto David. His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before Me, and as the moon established for ever. You see that the discourse is of Christ, not of Solomon. For Solomon’s throne endured not as the sun. But if any deny this, because Christ sat not on David’s throne of wood, we will bring forward that saying, The Scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat Matthew 23:2: for it signifies not his wooden seat, but the authority of his teaching. In like manner then I would have you seek for David’s throne not the throne of wood, but the kingdom itself. Take, too, as my witnesses the children who cried aloud, Hosanna to the Son of David , blessed is the King of Israel. John 12:13 And the blind men also say, Son of David, have mercy on us. Matthew 20:30 Gabriel too testifies plainly to Mary, saying, And the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David. Luke 1:32 Paul also says, Remember Jesus Christ raised from the dead, of the seed of David, according to my Gospel 2 Timothy 2:8: and in the beginning of the Epistle to the Romans he says, Which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh. Romans 1:3 Receive thou therefore Him that was born of David, believing the prophecy which says, And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, and He that shall rise to rule over the Gentiles: in Him shall the Gentiles trust.
24. But the Jews are much troubled at these things. This also Isaiah foreknew, saying, And they shall wish that they had been burnt with fire: for unto us a child is born (not unto them), unto us a Son is given. Isaiah 9:5 Mark thou that at first He was the Son of God, then was given to us. And a little after he says, And of His peace there is no bound. The Romans have bounds: of the kingdom of the Son of God there is no bound. The Persians and the Medes have bounds, but the Son has no bound. Then next, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom to order it. The Holy Virgin, therefore, is from David.
25. For it became Him who is most pure, and a teacher of purity, to have come forth from a pure bride-chamber. For if he who well fulfils the office of a priest of Jesus abstains from a wife, how should Jesus Himself be born of man and woman? For thou, says He in the Psalms, art He that took Me out of the womb. Mark that carefully, He that took Me out of the womb, signifying that He was begotten without man, being taken from a virgin’s womb and flesh. For the manner is different with those who are begotten according to the course of marriage.
26. And from such members He is not ashamed to assume flesh, who is the framer of those very members. But then who tells us this? The Lord says unto Jeremiah: Before I formed you in the belly, I knew you: and before you came forth out of the womb, I sanctified you. Jeremiah 1:5 If, then, in fashioning man He was not ashamed of the contact, was He ashamed in fashioning for His own sake the holy Flesh, the veil of His Godhead? It is God who even now creates the children in the womb, as it is written in Job, Have you not poured me out as milk, and curdled me like cheese? You have clothed me with skin and flesh, and hast knit me together with bones and sinews. Job 10:10-11 There is nothing polluted in the human frame except a man defile this with fornication and adultery. He who formed Adam formed Eve also, and male and female were formed by God’s hands. None of the members of the body as formed from the beginning is polluted. Let the mouths of all heretics be stopped who slander their bodies, or rather Him who formed them. But let us remember Paul’s saying, Do you not know that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost which is in you 1 Corinthians 6:19? And again the Prophet has spoken before in the person of Jesus, My flesh is from them : and in another place it is written, Therefore will He give them up, until the time that she brings forth. Micah 5:3 And what is the sign? He tells us in what follows, She shall bring forth, and the remnant of their brethren shall return. And what are the nuptial pledges of the Virgin, the holy bride? And I will betroth you unto Me in faithfulness. Hosea 2:20 And Elizabeth, talking with Mary, speaks in like manner: And blessed is she that believed; for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord Luke 1:45 .
27. But both Greeks and Jews harass us and say that it was impossible for the Christ to be born of a virgin. As for the Greeks we will stop their mouths from their own fables. For you who say that stones being thrown were changed into men , how do you say that it is impossible for a virgin to bring forth? You who fable that a daughter was born from the brain , how do you say that it is impossible for a son to have been born from a virgin’s womb? You who falsely say that Dionysus was born from the thigh of your Zeus , how set ye at nought our truth? I know that I am speaking of things unworthy of the present audience: but in order that you in due season may rebuke the Greeks, we have brought these things forward answering them from their own fables.
28. But those of the circumcision meet thou with this question: Whether is harder, for an aged woman, barren and past age, to bear, or for a virgin in the prime of youth to conceive? Sarah was barren, and though it had ceased to be with her after the manner of women, yet, contrary to nature, she bore a child. If, then, it is against nature for a barren woman to conceive, and also for a virgin, either, therefore, reject both, or accept both. For it is the same God who both wrought the one and appointed the other. For you will not dare to say that it was possible for God in that former case, and impossible in this latter. And again: how is it natural for a man’s hand to be changed in a single hour into a different appearance and restored again? How then was the hand of Moses made white as snow, and at once restored again? But you say that God’s will made the change. In that case God’s will has the power, and has it then no power in this case? That moreover was a sign concerning the Egyptians only, but this was a sign given to the whole world. But whether is the more difficult, O you Jews? For a virgin to bear, or for a rod to be quickened into a living creature? You confess that in the case of Moses a perfectly straight rod became like a serpent, and was terrible to him who cast it down, and he who before held the rod fast, fled from it as from a serpent; for a serpent in truth it was: but he fled not because he feared that which he held, but because he dreaded Him that had changed it. A rod had teeth and eyes like a serpent: do then seeing eyes grow out of a rod, and cannot a child be born of a virgin’s womb, if God wills? For I say nothing of the fact that Aaron’s rod also produced in a single night what other trees produce in several years. For who knows not that a rod, after losing its bark, will never sprout, not even if it be planted in the midst of rivers? But since God is not dependent on the nature of trees, but is the Creator of their natures, the unfruitful, and dry, and barkless rod budded, and blossomed, and bare almonds. He, then, who for the sake of the typical high-priest gave fruit supernaturally to the rod, would He not for the sake of the true High-Priest grant to the Virgin to bear a child?
29. These are excellent suggestions of the narratives: but the Jews still contradict, and do not yield to the statements concerning the rod, unless they may be persuaded by similar strange and supernatural births. Question them, therefore, in this way: of whom in the beginning was Eve begotten? What mother conceived her the motherless? But the Scripture says that she was born out of Adam’s side. Is Eve then born out of a man’s side without a mother, and is a child not to be born without a father, of a virgin’s womb? This debt of gratitude was due to men from womankind: for Eve was begotten of Adam, and not conceived of a mother, but as it were brought forth of man alone. Mary, therefore, paid the debt, of gratitude, when not by man but of herself alone in an immaculate way she conceived of the Holy Ghost by the power of God.
30. But let us take what is yet a greater wonder than this. For that of bodies bodies should be conceived, even if wonderful, is nevertheless possible: but that the dust of the earth should become a man, this is more wonderful. That clay moulded together should assume the coats and splendours of the eyes, this is more wonderful. That out of dust of uniform appearance should be produced both the firmness of bones, and the softness of lungs, and other different kinds of members, this is wonderful. That clay should be animated and travel round the world self moved, and should build houses, this is wonderful. That clay should teach, and talk, and act as carpenter, and as king, this is wonderful. Whence, then, O you most ignorant Jews, was Adam made? Did not God take dust from the earth, and fashion this wonderful frame? Is then clay changed into an eye, and cannot a virgin bear a son. Does that which for men is more impossible take place, and is that which is possible never to occur?
31. Let us remember these things, brethren: let us use these weapons in our defence. Let us not endure those heretics who teach Christ’s coming as a phantom. Let us abhor those also who say that the Saviour’s birth was of husband and wife; who have dared to say that He was the child of Joseph and Mary, because it is written, And he took unto him his wife. Matthew 1:24 For let us remember Jacob who before he received Rachel, said to Laban, Give me my wife. Genesis 29:21 For as she before the wedded state, merely because there was a promise, was called the wife of Jacob, so also Mary, because she had been betrothed, was called the wife of Joseph. Mark also the accuracy of the Gospel, saying, And in the sixth month the Angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph Luke 1:26-27, and so forth. And again when the census took place, and Joseph went up to enrol himself, what says the Scripture? And Joseph also went up from Galilee, to enrol himself with Mary who was espoused to him, being great with child. For though she was with child, yet it said notwith his wife,but with her who was espoused to him. For God sent forth His Son, says Paul, not made of a man and a woman, but made of a woman Galatians 4:4 only, that is of a virgin. For that the virgin also is called a woman, we showed before. For He who makes souls virgin, was born of a Virgin.
32. But you wonder at the event: even she herself who bare him wondered at this. For she says to Gabriel, How shall this be to me, since I know not a man? But he says, The Holy Ghost shall came upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you: wherefore also the holy thing which is to be born shall be called the Son of God. Luke 1:34-35 Immaculate and undefiled was His generation: for where the Holy Spirit breathes, there all pollution is taken away: undefiled from the Virgin was the incarnate generation of the Only-begotten. And if the heretics gainsay the truth, the Holy Ghost shall convict them: that overshadowing power of the Highest shall wax angry: Gabriel shall stand face to face against them in the day of judgment: the place of the manger, which received the Lord, shall put them to shame. The shepherds, who then received the good tidings, shall bear witness; and the host of the Angels who sang praises and hymns, and said, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men of His good pleasure Luke 2:14: the Temple into which He was then carried up on the fortieth day: the pairs of turtle-doves, which were offered on His behalf : and Symeon who then took Him up in his arms, and Anna the prophetess who was present.
33. Since God then bears witness, and the Holy Ghost joins in the witness, and Christ says, Why do you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth ? Let the heretics be silenced who speak against His humanity, for they speak against Him, who says, Handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones, as you see me have. Luke 24:39 Adored be the Lord the Virgin-born, and let Virgins acknowledge the crown of their own state: let the order also of Solitaries acknowledge the glory of chastity for we men are not deprived of the dignity of chastity. In the Virgin’s womb the Saviour’s period of nine months was passed: but the Lord was for thirty and three years a man: so that if a virgin glories because of the nine months, much more we because of the many years.
34. But let us all by God’s grace run the race of chastity, young men and maidens, old men and children ; not going after wantonness, but praising the name of Christ. Let us not be ignorant of the glory of chastity: for its crown is angelic, and its excellence above man. Let us be chary of our bodies which are to shine as the sun: let us not for short pleasure defile so great, so noble a body: for short and momentary is the sin, but the shame for many years and for ever. Angels walking upon earth are they who practise chastity: the Virgins have their portion with Mary the Virgin. Let all vain ornament be banished, and every hurtful glance, and all wanton gait, and every flowing robe, and perfume enticing to pleasure. But in all for perfume let there be the prayer of sweet odour, and the practice of good works, and the sanctification of our bodies: that the Virgin-born Lord may say even of us, both men who live in chastity and women who wear the crown, I will dwell in them; and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 2 Corinthians 6:16 To whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.