March 18, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Wisdom of the saints: St. Cyril of Jerusalem

John F. FinkSt. Cyril of Jerusalem, whose feast is celebrated on March 18, was driven into exile three times while he was the bishop of Jerusalem, but triumphed eventually and was named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII.

He lived in the turbulent fourth century when the Church was trying to answer the question, “Who was Jesus Christ?”

The Church thought it had answered that question during the Council of Nicaea in 325. However, Arians, who taught that God the Son was created by God the Father and thus not equal to him, got the upper hand and the Arian bishop of Caesarea forced Cyril into exile the first time in 357.

The Emperor Julian the Apostate did it a second time in 361, and the Arian Emperor Valens the third time in 367. In all, Cyril was in exile for 16 of the 35 years that he was the bishop of Jerusalem.

Cyril attended the Council of Constantinople in 381 when the Nicene Creed that we profess today was promulgated.

He is known mainly for his Catecheses, 18 instructions addressed to baptismal candidates during Lent, and five for the recently baptized after Easter. I will quote from an instruction that he gave just before they were baptized. It seems appropriate for catechumens and candidates, who will be received into the Church on Holy Saturday.

“Let the heavenly angels rejoice!” he exclaimed. “Let those who are to be wedded to a spiritual spouse prepare themselves.”

He encouraged them to remove all obstacles and stumbling blocks so they will be able to go straight along the road to eternal life. “Through your penance,” he said, “begin to wash your garments; then, summoned to the spouse’s bedchamber, you will be found spotless.”

He used the parable of a wedding feast to which all mankind is summoned. “Once the crowd has assembled, the bridegroom decides who will enter the wedding feast,” he said. “This is a figure for baptism.”

Up to this point in the history of salvation, he said, the catechumens have stood outside the gate, but that will change as they receive the sacrament of baptism. It is not that their souls will be found without stain or wrinkle, he said. Indeed, before they receive the grace of the sacrament, he asked, “How could this happen to you who are called to receive forgiveness of sin?”

However, once they have received this grace, he asked them to do nothing to deserve damnation, but rather “to hasten toward the fulfillment of his grace.”

Baptism was a great occasion, he said, but he urged them to approach it with caution. “You are standing in front of God and in the presence of the hosts of angels. The Holy Spirit is about to impress his seal on each of your souls. You are about to be pressed into the service of a great king.

“And so prepare yourselves to receive the sacrament. The gleaming white garments you are about to put on are not the preparation I am speaking of, but rather the devotion of a clean conscience.” †

Local site Links: