Day Thirty-three: St. Cyril of Jerusalem: Catechetical Lectures: Lecture XXII
Who: Bishop of Jerusalem and Doctor of the Church, born about 315; died probably 18 March, 386. Little is known of his life, except from his younger contemporaries, Epiphanius, Jerome, and Rufinus, as well as from the fifth-century historians, Socrates, Sozomen and Theodoret.
What: Each of the lectures deal with a different topic to teach converts the mysteries of the Church, particularly: rites of the renunciation of Satan and his works, of anointing with oil, of baptism, of anointing with the holy chrism, and of partaking of the body and blood of Christ.
Why: Cyril delivered to new converts five lectures "On the Mysteries," in which he explains the rites by which they have been admitted to fellowship in the church, after they had been baptised.
When: Around 348-350 AD
You can find today’s reading on page 159 here: lentfatherscomplete.pdf
Today's lecture on the mysteries by Cyril, is on the Body and Blood of Christ and is an exposition based on 1 Cor 11:23-25 —
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
This whole lecture is about the Eucharist and it goes into some details about what happens spiritually during it, which will probably offend certain Protestant ears. Cyril explains how this bread and this wine are no longer merely just bread or wine any longer despite appearances.
It seems as though some doubted this or perhaps were a little sceptical, because Cyril goes on to explain that since Jesus himself declared the bread to be his body, and the wine to be his blood, “who shall dare to doubt any longer … who shall ever hesitate, saying, that it is not His blood?”.
This view was not uncommon amongst early church writers, and even today in certain branches and denominations there exists this belief, either in the form of transubstantiation or of the Real Presence doctrine, diametrically opposed to the view that it is purely symbolic.
Cyril argues against the doubt by referencing the wedding at Cana and how Jesus turned water into wine by asking, “is it incredible that He should have turned wine into blood?”
The Real Presence
So then, with “full assurance” that something miraculous takes place during the Eucharist, let us partake of this most holy meal, “for in the figure of Bread is given to you His Body, and in the figure of Wine His Blood” so that we may also become the “same body and the same blood with Him”, since what we eat is then distributed throughout our own bodies. By this happening, Cyril points to Peter's words, and states that this is a way in which we “become participants of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).
Emphasising the spiritual nature behind the bread and the wine, Cyril then points to the time when Jesus argued with the Jews over his statement that they would need to “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood” (Jn 6:53) if they wanted to have eternal life in them, and how they missed the point of Jesus's words and were offended, not “having heard His saying in a spiritual sense”.
This bread was prefigured in the Old Testament also, called the “show bread”, or “the bread of The Presence” (Exodus 35:13; 39:35), which has now come to an end in Christ who is the Bread of Heaven, broken for us so that we may have true life (Jn 6:33,50-51).
Spiritual Presence, not physical
Quoting from David in Psalm 23:5, when he says that 'the Lord prepares table before him in the presence of his enemies', Cyril interprets this in light of the Eucharist as meaning that before Christ came, the table was one of demons, polluted with idols and defiled by their nature. But since Jesus, that table which God prepared is that “mystical and spiritual Table” which is now contrary and in opposition to the Evil One. Before, you communed with demons, but now, with God.
Now this spiritual table is where we eat and commune with God, and though it may look like simple bread and wine, we take it on faith that it is more.
Consider therefore the Bread and the Wine not as bare elements, for they are, according to the Lord's declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ; for even though sense suggests this to you, yet let faith establish you. Judge not the matter from the taste, but from faith be fully assured without misgiving, that the Body and Blood of Christ have been vouchsafed (given) to you.
Cyril then points to Solomon, saying he hinted at this grace found in the Eucharist in Ecclesiastes 9:7-8. “Go, eat your bread with enjoyment … Let your garments always be white” – receive the joy that Christ gives and press on toward salvation now you have put off the old garment and are clothed with a garment which is always “spiritually white”.
Cyril closes off his lecture by saying that now his new converts have “learned these things”, they should be fully assured that, “the seeming bread is not bread, though sensible to taste, but the Body of Christ; and that the seeming wine is not wine, though the taste will have it so, but the Blood of Christ”.
The more I've looked into this and read the Scriptures, and have read other Church Fathers, it has led me away from the doctrine that Communion is purely symbolic, and more towards the Real Presence idea that Christ is spiritually present in the elements. I think I've always leaned that way, but before I didn't know how to verbalise it, or know what to call it until recently.
To me, this view makes the most sense, especially when you consider the seriousness of eating the Eucharist which Paul writes about to the Corinthians, otherwise, why would there be such dire consequences?
1 Corinthians 11:27-30
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
Let me know your thoughts on this in the comments.