The series on St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures continues onward. Today’s post features a bit more than half of his 18th lecture. Its focus is the resurrection of the dead:
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones.
1. The root of all good works is the hope of the Resurrection; for the expectation of the recompense nerves the soul to good works. For every labourer is ready to endure the toils, if he sees their reward in prospect; but when men weary themselves for nought, their heart soon sinks as well as their body. A soldier who expects a prize is ready for war, but no one is forward to die for a king who is indifferent about those who serve under him, and bestows no honours on their toils. In like manner every soul believing in a Resurrection is naturally careful of itself; but, disbelieving it, abandons itself to perdition. He who believes that his body shall remain to rise again, is careful of his robe, and defiles it not with fornication; but he who disbelieves the Resurrection, gives himself to fornication, and misuses his own body, as though it were not his own. Faith therefore in the Resurrection of the dead, is a great commandment and doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church; great and most necessary, though gainsaid by many, yet surely warranted by the truth. Greeks contradict it , Samaritans disbelieve it, heretics mutilate it; the contradiction is manifold, but the truth is uniform.
2. Now Greeks and Samaritans together argue against us thus. The dead man has fallen, and mouldered away, and is all turned into worms; and the worms have died also; such is the decay and destruction which has overtaken the body; how then is it to be raised? The shipwrecked have been devoured by fishes, which are themselves devoured. Of them who fight with wild beasts the very bones are ground to powder, and consumed by bears and lions. Vultures and ravens feed on the flesh of the unburied dead, and then fly away over all the world; whence then is the body to be collected? For of the fowls who have devoured it some may chance to die in India, some in Persia, some in the land of the Goths. Other men again are consumed by fire, and their very ashes scattered by rain or wind; whence is the body to be brought together again ?
3. To you, poor little feeble man, India is far from the land of the Goths, and Spain from Persia; but to God, who holds the whole earth in the hollow of His hand Isaiah 40:12, all things are near at hand. Impute not then weakness to God, from a comparison of your feebleness, but rather dwell on His power. Does then the sun, a small work of God, by one glance of his beams give warmth to the whole world; does the atmosphere, which God has made, encompass all things in the world; and is God, who is the Creator both of the sun, and of the atmosphere, far off from the world? Imagine a mixture of seeds of different plants (for as you are weak concerning the faith, the examples which I allege are weak also), and that these different seeds are contained in your single hand; is it then to you, who art a man, a difficult or an easy matter to separate what is in your hand, and to collect each seed according to its nature, and restore it to its own kind? Can you then separate the things in your hand, and cannot God separate the things contained in His hand, and restore them to their proper place? Consider what I say, whether it is not impious to deny it?
4. But further, attend, I pray, to the very principle of justice, and come to your own case. You have different sorts of servants: and some are good and some bad; you honour therefore the good, and smitest the bad. And if you are a judge, to the good you award praise, and to the transgressors, punishment. Is then justice observed by you a mortal man; and with God, the ever changeless King of all, is there no retributive justice ? Nay, to deny it is impious. For consider what I say. Many murderers have died in their beds unpunished; where then is the righteousness of God? Yea, ofttimes a murderer guilty of fifty murders is beheaded once; where then shall he suffer punishment for the forty and nine? Unless there is a judgment and a retribution after this world, you charge God with unrighteousness. Marvel not, however, because of the delay of the judgment; no combatant is crowned or disgraced, till the contest is over; and no president of the games ever crowns men while yet striving, but he waits till all the combatants are finished, that then deciding between them he may dispense the prizes and the chaplets. Even thus God also, so long as the strife in this world lasts, succours the just but partially, but afterwards He renders to them their rewards fully.
5. But if according to you there is no resurrection of the dead, wherefore do you condemn the robbers of graves? For if the body perishes, and there is no resurrection to be hoped for, why does the violator of the tomb undergo punishment? You see that though you deny it with your lips, there yet abides with you an indestructible instinct of the resurrection.
6. Further, does a tree after it has been cut down blossom again, and shall man after being cut down blossom no more? And does the grain sown and reaped remain for the threshing floor, and shall man when reaped from this world not remain for the threshing? And do shoots of vine or other trees, when clean cut off and transplanted, come to life and bear fruit; and shall man, for whose sake all these exist, fall into the earth and not rise again? Comparing efforts, which is greater, to mould from the beginning a statue which did not exist, or to recast in the same shape that which had fallen? Is God then, who created us out of nothing, unable to raise again those who exist and are fallen ? But you believe not what is written of the resurrection, being a Greek: then from the analogy of nature consider these matters, and understand them from what is seen to this day. Wheat, it may be, or some other kind of grain, is sown; and when the seed has fallen, it dies and rots, and is henceforth useless for food. But that which has rotted, springs up in verdure; and though small when sown, springs up most beautiful. Now wheat was made for us; for wheat and all seeds were created not for themselves, but for our use; are then the things which were made for us quickened when they die, and do we for whom they were made, not rise again after our death ?
7. The season is winter , as you see, the trees now stand as if they were dead: for where are the leaves of the fig-tree? Where are the clusters of the vine? These in winter time are dead, but green in spring; and when the season has come, there is restored to them a quickening as it were from a state of death. For God, knowing your unbelief, works a resurrection year by year in these visible things; that, beholding what happens to things inanimate, you may believe concerning things animate and rational. Further, flies and bees are often drowned in water, yet after a while revive ; and species of dormice , after remaining motionless during the winter, are restored in the summer (for to your slight thoughts like examples are offered); and shall He who to irrational and despised creatures grants life supernaturally, not bestow it upon us, for whose sake He made them?
8. But the Greeks ask for a resurrection of the dead still manifest; and say that, even if these creatures are raised, yet they had not utterly mouldered away; and they require to see distinctly some creature rise again after complete decay. God knew men’s unbelief, and provided for this purpose a bird, called a Phoenix. This bird, as Clement writes, and as many more relate, being the only one of its kind , arrives in the land of the Egyptians at periods of five hundred years, showing forth the resurrection, not in desert places, lest the occurrence of the mystery should remain unknown, but appearing in a notable city , that men might even handle what would otherwise be disbelieved. For it makes itself a coffin of frankincense and myrrh and other spices, and entering into this when its years are fulfilled, it evidently dies and moulders away. Then from the decayed flesh of the dead bird a worm is engendered, and this worm when grown large is transformed into a bird—and do not disbelieve this, for you see the offspring of bees also fashioned thus out of worms , and from eggs which are quite fluid you have seen wings and bones and sinews of birds issue. Afterwards the aforesaid Phoenix, becoming fledged and a full-grown Phoenix, like the former one, soars up into the air such as it had died, showing forth to men a most evident resurrection of the dead. The Phoenix indeed is a wondrous bird, yet it is irrational, nor ever sang praise to God; it flies abroad through the sky, but it knows not who is the Only-begotten Son of God. Has then a resurrection from the dead been given to this irrational creature which knows not its Maker, and to us who ascribe glory to God and keep His commandments, shall there no resurrection be granted?
9. But since the sign of the Phoenix is remote and uncommon, and men still disbelieve our resurrection, take again the proof of this from what you see every day. A hundred or two hundred years ago, we all, speakers and hearers, where were we? Know we not the groundwork of the substance of our bodies? Do you not know how from weak and shapeless and simple elements we are engendered, and out of what is simple and weak a living man is formed? And how that weak element being made flesh is changed into strong sinews, and bright eyes, and sensitive nose, and hearing ears, and speaking tongue, and beating heart, and busy hands, and swift feet, and into members of all kinds ? And how that once weak element becomes a shipwright, and a builder, and an architect, and a craftsman of various arts, and a soldier, and a ruler, and a lawgiver, and a king? Cannot God then, who has made us out of imperfect materials, raise us up when we have fallen into decay? He who thus flames a body out of what is vile, cannot He raise the fallen body again? And He who fashions that which is not, shall He not raise up that which is and is fallen?
10. Take further a manifest proof of the resurrection of the dead, witnessed month by month in the sky and its luminaries. The body of the moon vanishes completely, so that no part of it is any more seen, yet it fills again, and is restored to its former state ; and for the perfect demonstration of the matter, the moon at certain revolutions of years suffering eclipse and becoming manifestly changed into blood, yet recovers its luminous body: God having provided this, that you also, the man who art formed of blood, might not refuse credence to the resurrection of the dead, but might believe concerning yourself also what you see in respect of the moon. These therefore use thou as arguments against the Greeks; for with them who receive not what is written fight thou with unwritten weapons, by reasonings only and demonstrations; for these men know not who Moses is, nor Esaias, nor the Gospels, nor Paul.
11. Turn now to the Samaritans, who, receiving the Law only, allow not the Prophets. To them the text just now read from Ezekiel appears of no force, for, as I said, they admit no Prophets; whence then shall we persuade the Samaritans also? Let us go to the writings of the Law. Now God says to Moses, I am the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob ; this must mean of those who have being and subsistence. For if Abraham has come to an end, and Isaac and Jacob, then He is the God of those who have no being. When did a king ever say, I am the king of soldiers, whom he had not? When did any display wealth which he possessed not? Therefore Abraham and Isaac and Jacob must subsist, that God may be the God of those who have being; for He said not,
I was their God, but I am. And that there is a judgment, Abraham shows in saying to the Lord, He who judges all the earth, shall He not execute judgment Genesis 18:25?
12. But to this the foolish Samaritans object again, and say that the souls possibly of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob continue, but that their bodies cannot possibly rise again. Was it then possible that the rod of righteous Moses should become a serpent, and is it impossible that the bodies of the righteous should live and rise again? And was that done contrary to nature, and shall they not be restored according to nature? Again, the rod of Aaron, though cut off and dead, budded, without the scent of waters Job 14:9, and though under a roof, sprouted forth into blossoms as in the fields; and though set in dry places, yielded in one night the flowers and fruit of plants watered for many years. Did Aaron’s rod rise, as it were, from the dead, and shall not Aaron himself be raised? And did God work wonders in wood, to secure to him the high-priesthood, and will He not vouchsafe a resurrection to Aaron himself? A woman also was made salt contrary to nature; and flesh was turned into salt; and shall not flesh be restored to flesh? Was Lot’s wife made a pillar of salt, and shall not Abraham’s wife be raised again? By what power was Moses’ hand changed, which even within one hour became as snow, and was restored again? Certainly by God’s command. Was then His command of force then, and has it no force now?
13. And whence in the beginning came man into being at all, O you Samaritans, most senseless of all men? Go to the first book of the Scripture, which even you receive; And God formed man of the dust of the ground. Genesis 2:7 Is dust transformed into flesh, and shall not flesh be again restored to flesh? You must be asked too, whence the heavens had their being, and earth, and seas? Whence sun, and moon, and stars? How from the waters were made the things which fly and swim? And how from earth all its living things? Were so many myriads brought from nothing into being, and shall we men, who bear God’s image, not be raised up? Truly this course is full of unbelief, and the unbelievers are much to be condemned; when Abraham addresses the Lord as the Judge of all the earth, and the learners of the Law disbelieve; when it is written that man is of the earth, and the readers disbelieve it.
14. These questions, therefore, are for them, the unbelievers: but the words of the Prophets are for us who believe. But since some who have also used the Prophets believe not what is written, and allege against us that passage, The ungodly shall not rise up in judgment , and, For if man go down to the grave he shall come up no more Job 7:9, and, The dead shall not praise You, O Lord —for of what is well written, they have made ill use— it will be well in a cursory manner, and as far as is now possible, to meet them. For if it is said, that the ungodly shall not rise up in judgment, this shows that they shall rise, not in judgment, but in condemnation; for God needs not long scrutiny, but close on the resurrection of the ungodly follows also their punishment. And if it is said, The dead shall not praise You, O Lord, this shows, that since in this life only is the appointed time for repentance and pardon, for which they who enjoy it shall praise the Lord, it remains not after death for them who have died in sins to give praise as the receivers of a blessing, but to bewail themselves; for praise belongs to them who give thanks, but to them who are under the scourge, lamentation. Therefore the just then offer praise; but they who have died in sins have no further season for confession.
15. And respecting that passage, If a man go down to the grave, he shall come up no more, observe what follows, for it is written, He shall come up no more, neither shall he return to his own house. For since the whole world shall pass away, and every house shall be destroyed, how shall he return to his own house, there being henceforth a new and different earth? But they ought to have heard Job, saying, For there is hope of a tree; for if it be cut down, it will sprout again, and the tender branch thereof will not cease. For though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the rocky ground; yet from the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth a crop like a new plant. But man when he dies, is gone; and when mortal man falls, is he no more Job 14:7-10? As it were remonstrating and reproving (for thus ought we to read the words is no more with an interrogation ); he says since a tree falls and revives, shall not man, for whom all trees were made, himself revive? And that you may not suppose that I am forcing the words, read what follows; for after saying by way of question, When mortal man falls, is he no more? he says, For if a man die, he shall live again ; and immediately he adds, I will wait till I be made again ; and again elsewhere, Who shall raise up on the earth my skin, which endures these things. And Esaias the Prophet says, The dead men shall rise again, and they that are in the tombs shall awake. Isaiah 26:19 And the Prophet Ezekiel now before us, says most plainly, Behold I will open your graves, and bring you up out of your graves. Ezekiel 37:12 And Daniel says, Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall arise, some to everlasting life, and some to everlasting shame Daniel 12:2 .
16. And many Scriptures there are which testify of the Resurrection of the dead; for there are many other sayings on this matter. But now, by way of remembrance only, we will make a passing mention of the raising of Lazarus on the fourth day; and just allude, because of the shortness of the time, to the widow’s son also who was raised, and merely for the sake of reminding you, let me mention the ruler of the synagogue’s daughter, and the rending of the rocks, and how there arose many bodies of the saints which slept Matthew 27:52, their graves having been opened. But specially be it remembered that Christ has been raised from the dead. 1 Corinthians 15:20 I speak but in passing of Elias, and the widow’s son whom he raised; of Elisseus also, who raised the dead twice; once in his lifetime, and once after his death. For when alive he wrought the resurrection by means of his own soul 2 Kings 4:34; but that not the souls only of the just might be honoured, but that it might be believed that in the bodies also of the just there lies a power, the corpse which was cast into the sepulchre of Elisseus, when it touched the dead body of the prophet, was quickened, and the dead body of the prophet did the work of the soul, and that which was dead and buried gave life to the dead, and though it gave life, yet continued itself among the dead. Wherefore? Lest if Elisseus should rise again, the work should be ascribed to his soul alone; and to show, that even though the soul is not present, a virtue resides in the body of the saints, because of the righteous soul which has for so many years dwelt in it, and used it as its minister. And let us not foolishly disbelieve, as though this thing had not happened: for if handkerchiefs and aprons, which are from without, touching the bodies of the diseased, raised up the sick, how much more should the very body of the Prophet raise the dead?
17. And with respect to these instances we might say much, rehearsing in detail the marvellous circumstances of each event: but as you have been already wearied both by the superposed fast of the Preparation , and by the watchings , let what has been cursorily spoken concerning them suffice for a while; these words having been as it were sown thinly, that you, receiving the seed like richest ground, may in bearing fruit increase them. But be it remembered, that the Apostles also raised the dead; Peter raised Tabitha in Joppa, and Paul raised Eutychus in Troas; and thus did all the other Apostles, even though the wonders wrought by each have not all been written. Further, remember all the sayings in the first Epistle to the Corinthians, which Paul wrote against them who said, How are the dead raised, and with what manner of body do they come 1 Corinthians 15:35? And how he says, For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised ; and how he called them fools , who believed not; and remember the whole of his teaching there concerning the resurrection of the dead, and how he wrote to the Thessalonians, But we would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that you sorrow not, even as the rest which have no hope 1 Thessalonians 4:13, and all that follows: but chiefly that, And the dead in Christ shall rise first.
18. But especially mark this, how very pointedly Paul says, For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 1 Corinthians 15:53 For this body shall be raised not remaining weak as now; but raised the very same body, though by putting on incorruption it shall be fashioned anew —as iron blending with fire becomes fire, or rather as He knows how, the Lord who raises us. This body therefore shall be raised, but it shall abide not such as it now is, but an eternal body; no longer needing for its life such nourishment as now, nor stairs for its ascent, for it shall be made spiritual, a marvellous thing, such as we cannot worthily speak of. Then, it is said, shall the righteous shine forth as the sun Matthew 13:43, and the moon, and as the brightness of the firmament. Daniel 12:3 And God, fore-knowing men’s unbelief, has given to little worms in the summer to dart beams of light from their body , that from what is seen, that which is looked for might be believed; for He who gives in part is able to give the whole also, and He who made the worm radiant with light, will much more illuminate a righteous man.
19. We shall be raised therefore, all with our bodies eternal, but not all with bodies alike: for if a man is righteous, he will receive a heavenly body, that he may be able worthily to hold converse with Angels; but if a man is a sinner, he shall receive an eternal body, fitted to endure the penalties of sins, that he may burn eternally in fire, nor ever be consumed. And righteously will God assign this portion to either company; for we do nothing without the body. We blaspheme with the mouth, and with the mouth we pray. With the body we commit fornication, and with the body we keep chastity. With the hand we rob, and by the hand we bestow alms; and the rest in like manner. Since then the body has been our minister in all things, it shall also share with us in the future the fruits of the past.
20. Therefore, brethren, let us be careful of our bodies, nor misuse them as though not our own. Let us not say like the heretics, that this vesture of the body belongs not to us, but let us be careful of it as our own; for we must give account to the Lord of all things done through the body. Say not, none sees me; think not, that there is no witness of the deed. Human witness oftentimes there is not; but He who fashioned us, an unerring witness, abides faithful in heaven , and beholds what you do. And the stains of sin also remain in the body; for as when a wound has gone deep into the body, even if there has been a healing, the scar remains, so sin wounds soul and body, and the marks of its scars remain in all; and they are removed only from those who receive the washing of Baptism. The past wounds therefore of soul and body God heals by Baptism; against future ones let us one and all jointly guard ourselves, that we may keep this vestment of the body pure, and may not for practising fornication and sensual indulgence or any other sin for a short season, lose the salvation of heaven, but may inherit the eternal kingdom of God; of which may God, of His own grace, deem all of you worthy.
21. Thus much in proof of the Resurrection of the dead; and now, let me again recite to you the profession of the faith, and do you with all diligence pronounce it while I speak , and remember it.