St. Cyril of Jerusalem Discussion

Friday, March 31, 2006

Lecture XIII and XVI

XIII.4. "Jesus then really suffered for all men; for the Cross was no illusion, otherwise our redemption is an illusion also." I believe that I oftentimes have forgotten that Jesus genuinely suffered on the behalf and betterment of mankind. Perhaps this error occurs in our thought because we have a hard time balancing the Cross in light of an all-powerful God. It is all too easy to assume that just because God is all-powerful that means something is "easy" and that nothing is "challenging" for God; in one sense this is true but in another sense it is false. Another reason I think we have found it difficult to identify Jesus' suffering is due in part to our taboo regarding suffering. Our current characterization of suffering is that it is evil, evil, evil, and that it ought to be avoided at all costs. For some reason we are entirely antagonistic of suffering; we avoid it like our grandmother's fruitcake during holidays.

XVI.2. "Let us then speak concerning the Holy Ghost nothing but what is written; and whatsoever is not written, let us not busy ourselves about it." I shudder to think how often I have spoken loosed lipped when dealing with knowledge of the Holy; it is frightening and convicting to think about.

XVI.10. "Let us hate them who are worthy of hatred; let us turn away from them from whom God turns away; let us also ourselves say unto God with all boldness concering all heretics, Do not I hate them, O Lord, Thine enemies? For there is also an enmity which is right, according as it is written, I will put enmity between thee and her seed; for friendship with the serpent works enmity with God, and death." I could be mistake, but the first part sure is fierce; he uses some serious language. I am not entirely sure how to take that; hate is something I have a very difficult time wrapping my brain and soul around. That God has enemies, it is tragic to think about such things. It breaks my heart to think about anyone at enmity with God; as Charles Spurgeon once said, "Spit on me, but, oh, repent! Laugh at me, but, oh, believe in my Master! Make my body as the dirt of the streets, but damn not your own souls!"

Friday, March 24, 2006

Lecture IX

1) ". . . according to the saying, No man shall see My face and live (Exod. xxxiii. 20). For this cause God of His great loving-kindness spread out the ehaven as a veil of His proper Godhead, that we should not perish." I thought this was not only a wonderful insight but a great argument against religous camps who belive the temporal is evil. Not does Scripture affirm that the created order is good (Genesis creation story), but Cyril seems to be arguing here that it is good in that it acts as a veil. What a blessing indeed. If man trembles merely at the sight of the likeness of His glory, as Cyril points out, how more so if confronted with God; surely we would die. However, we do have a mediator-Jesus Christ (divine/human).
2) I belive it is important to remember, as prompted by Cyril, that To scrutinise then the nature of God is impossible: but it is in our power to send up praises of His glory for His works that are seen. We see God's glory. The challenge for us is this--are we actually sending up praises to God? or are we complaining? or . . .?
3) Lexture IX.15--The members then are not the cause of sin, but they who use their members amiss: and the Maker thereof is wise. It was wise that God create man with freedom of choice. In light of that, if it is wise for man to choose, we really ought to begin to choose wisely. The members are not the cause the sin--it is the indivdiual who is using amiss what was wisely crafted. This reminds me of what I talked about last week-how we hold dinginty, for we too are called faithful. Why do we go amiss? It would seem that our minds and hearts have not been renewed and transformed. Pray, pray, pray for such things; remember to praise God too.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Lecture VI

In this lecture, one thing that stood out came in section 10. “O monstrous blindness, that from majesty so great came down so low!” This statement in its context of showing how vast the gap is between God and anything that we can put forth to attempt to take His place is, hit me. I think it is in part this massive separation that can give problems. From section 2, “but even if all the nurslings of the whole Church throughout the world, both that which now is and that which shall be, should meet together, they would not be able worthily to sing the praises of their Shepherd.” Since God’s greatness is so incomprehensible, the mind has not anything to compare it to and so in some sense, it does not recognize it. God is then in a way, put into this category of being too great to attempt and begin to imagine. This then presents a void in the mind and allows earthly things to fill into this place of power that is only deserved by God. Money, lust, and other such things are easier to give authority over us because we can grasp their power in our minds much more readily. I like how Cyril addresses this in section 4 saying “count these which are visible, and then describe Him who is invisible.” And the pictures presented in section 5 are good, my favorite one being “Or again, because I have entered into a great garden, and cannot eat all the supply of fruits, wouldst thou have me go away altogether hungry?” I have been somewhat hesitant to use my earthly things and ideas to describe God for fear of bringing Him lower than His place. But in being so, I have actually done worse by removing much meditation upon God and His character and replaced it with other things. This balance of trying to understand God and knowing that He his ultimately outside of my ability to know, is something I find difficult to hold, and so have tended to avoid it, thus erring towards the ‘God is unknowable so why bother’ side. I love how Cyril points out both aspects and encourages believers to “Learn then thine own weakness; learn from this instance the mightiness of God.” I hope I am making sense, it is pretty late at the moment. But this lecture, I find to be a real encouragement.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Lecture V

Hello classmates. I was entirely taken back by the opening paragraph of Lecture V.
Cyril says, “For since God is called Faithful, thou also in receiving this title receivest a great dignity. For as God is called Good, and Just, and Almighty, and Maker of the Universe, so is He also called Faithful. Consider therefore to what a dignity thou art rising, seeing thou art to become partaker of a title of God.”
This Maker of the Universe is called Faithful in 1Corinthians 1:9—God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
I read this earlier in the week to some of my other classmates, but I find it appropriate here—“Lord, how great is our dilemma! In Thy Presence silence best becomes us, but love inflames our hearts and constrains us to speak. Were we to hold our peace the stones would cry out; yet if we speak, what shall we say?” That comes from A.W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy.
What shall we say about God?
If we agree with Cyril, we shall call Him this—Faithful.
We derive the language of the Incomprehensible from the Holy Bible. We also derive our language from a community that repeats and passes to the next generation a language believed to be divinely self-disclosed.
Cyril hits the mark. It is true that we are receiving a great dignity. We truly are becoming partakers of a title of God!
What a mysterious blessing.
Look back to the Procatechesis—Cyril comments On Faith there also; “But beware lest thou have the title of faithful, but the will of the faithless. Thou hast entered into a contest, toil on through the race: another such opportunity thou canst not have. Were it thy wedding-day before thee, wouldest thou not have disregarded all else, and set about the preparation of the feast?”
In light of Cyril comments, which I find so convicting, have we truly grasped the dignity that is associated with our salvation? Have we even an inkling of this?—“How great a dignity Jesus bestows on thee.
Also, we all know that we ought to take up the shield of faith, in order to quench the fiery darts of the wicked (Ephesians 6:16), but it wasn’t until this week that I realized “shield” had been equated with “faith” long before Paul sent this letter to Ephesus.
Proverbs 30:5—Every word of God is pure: He is a shield unto them that put their trust in Him.
Our shield is faith. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. We put our trust/faith in Him. We are called faithful. It might seem trivial, but I really cannot stop thinking about sharing in a title with God, for it forces me to realize the seriousness of faithfulness (disregarding all else in preparation of the feast).

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

ekphrasis, the Holy Sepulchre, and Cyril's Catechumenate

As was briefly mentioned in our last meeting, Cyril's main church was the church of the Holy Sepulchre. In light of this, some have contended that Cyril used the locale and important contents of the church (i.e. Golgotha and a relic of the wood of Christ's cross) to articulate to his catechumens the truthful witness and power of the crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus. As mentioned by Kalleres in "Cultivating True Sight at the Center of the Word: Cyril of Jerusalem and the Lenten Catechumenate", Cyril's Christology emphasized the soteriological implications of cross and crucifixion over the implications of the Resurrection. We see evidence of Cyril's emphasis on the reality of the suffering and death of the fully human Christ in a way typical to histime period. Ekphrasis is a method of conveying information in a persuasive manner by seeking to create a mental image of an event (in Cyril's case: the death of Christ) in order to build a truth-claim from this visualized event. Ekphrasis is much more than merely the informal fallacy of appeal to emotion. A good example of this might be the emotional effect that remembering a past traumatic experience might have on a person, so that even though the event is no longer happening it still can have effects on the disposition of both the person remembering the event and those who may be empathizing with the person (possibly in a cathartic sense???). Cyril seemed to utilize the ethos of the interior of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to his advantage inasmuch as he uses the reality of the wood of the cross as well as the hole on Golgotha where it was believed that Christ was crucified to paint a mental picture in the imagination of the Catechumens in order to lead them to some emotional and/or spiritual response.

So what does this mean for us who are reading and “unpacking” Cyril’s Catechetical Lecture? It may shed some light on the historical/geographical/theological/political context behind Cyril’s Lectures in regard to various literary devices he uses, the meaning of certain expositions as being a nuance between Christ and the atmosphere of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as being reliquary-in-itself. Anyway, I’ll try to write some more in regard to this. I figured I’d write something to get some discussion going. Questions, comments, and critiques are certainly welcome.

By the way, read Lectures 1-4 for our discussion on Friday. We will meet at 4:30 in the CM building lobby, if you show up late then look for us in some classroom most likely on the first floor.
Grace and peace to you on the commencement of the Lenten season, Erick