Book Reviews

Day Thirty-one: St. Cyril of Jerusalem: Catechetical Lectures: Lecture XX

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.

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When: Around 348-350 AD

You can find today’s reading on page 153 here: lentfatherscomplete.pdf

 

Today's lecture on the mysteries by Cyril, is on baptism and is an exposition based on Romans 6:3-14

Romans 6:3,14

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? … since you are not under law but under grace.

Now, these people that Cyril was teaching had already gone through the act of baptism, so now he was going over the symbolism and realities of what that meant to them personally.

In describing the baptism rite to make one of his points, Cyril gives us a small insight into how the Church in the fourth century performed this, which I always find interesting to see how things have changed or stayed the same over the centuries.

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Before entering the waters, the one being baptised would strip of their tunic, symbolising “putting off the old man with his deeds” (Col 3:9) and would then be naked as Christ was naked on the cross. In doing this they may no longer pick up the old garment now, meaning to old self not the physical tunic, “which waxes corrupt in the lusts of deceit” (Eph 4:22).

O wondrous thing! You were naked in the sight of all, and were not ashamed ; for truly ye bore the likeness of the first-formed Adam, who was naked in the garden, and was not ashamed.

After this, they were anointed with oil from head to toe, to symbolise being “cut off from the wild olive-tree, and grafted into the good one” Jesus Christ. During this time of anointing they are cleansed “by the invocation of God and by prayer, as not only to burn and cleanse away the traces of sins, but also to chase away all the invisible powers of the evil one”.

Next, being led to the baptismal pool as Christ was carried from the cross to the tomb, they make their declaration of faith and are baptised three times in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three times in the water as Christ was three days in the grave. Though we don't really die, nor get buried, nor get resurrected in that moment physically, “our imitation was in a figure, and our salvation in reality”.

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Like many other early church writers, Cyril views baptism as a way in which our sins are washed away, probably due to passages like Acts 2:38 (“...so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”) and 2 Peter 3:21 (“And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience…).

So Cyril writes that baptism “purges our sins, and ministers to us the gift of the Holy Ghost” and is our part in the sufferings of Christ, recalling what Paul says in Romans 6:3 that we are “baptised into his death”.

But he makes a point of emphasis that whilst these are symbols and figures of what happens to us during baptism, that Christ actually was crucified, died, was buried and rose again in reality; “in your case there was only a likeness of death and sufferings, whereas of salvation there was not a likeness but a reality”.

Remember these things, he says, and keep them at the forefront of your mind because it is God who has presented you as alive from the dead (Rom 6:13).

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After reading all of this, it just reinforces my own view on how important baptism is but also how misunderstood it can be, or how flippant it can sometimes be presented in certain churches today.

Maybe some type of catechism/teaching course on what baptism means should still be taught beforehand in churches other than by Anglicans and Roman Catholics (and possibly other more traditional denominations). What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

 

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