Monthly Archives: January 2015

A Protestant and a Catholic Walk into a Bar . . .


My final paper for my Transitional Moments class was to do a talk/sermon for Reformation Day October 31.  I decided to approach this as a talk for an adult formation class.  A few areas to correct, but I’m pretty happy with how this came out not only for the work itself but also for the grade it received.  

A Protestant and a Catholic Walk into a Bar. Are We Invited?
Where Anglicans fit in the religious landscape of the 16th Century

The via media is one of the crowning principles of Anglicanism; the cornerstone of who we are as Episcopalians. Via media means “middle way,” and that is the best definition of what it means to be an Anglican. We are neither Protestant nor Catholic, while at the same time we are both Protestant and Catholic – or as I like to say, we are the best of both worlds. This is best exemplified in the beginnings of the Church of England in the 16th century. As a matter of fact, the first three Books of Common Prayer – 1549, 1552, and 1559 – serve as a particular witness to the development of the via media, but unfortunately that is a story for another time. In order to grasp a fuller understanding of what it means to be Anglican, it is important to look back at our reformation counterparts. It seems to me that this day, Reformation Day, is a great time to look back on the birth of our particular flavor of Christianity.

Before I say anything else, let me give a brief word about Reformation Day. On 31 October 1517, Martin Luther published his letter, Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum, to Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz containing his grievances against the sale of indulgences. Luther was furious that people could buy their way, or someone else’s way, out of purgatory and into the Kingdom of Heaven – into eternal life with God. As the story goes, Luther took his letter – commonly known as his Ninety-Five Theses – and nailed them to the Church door in Wittenberg. Many, and I believe rightly so, refer to this event as the genesis of the Protestant Reformation, and thus this day is kept, mainly by Protestants, as a remembrance of this historic event.

This morning I want to look back at several questions from the reformation era of the 16th century. What does it mean to be saved? What does it mean to be a person of faith? How do we participate in the Sacraments? And ultimately, what does this mean for us as Anglicans?

In 1511, Martin Luther arrived in Wittenberg a small town with a great deal of power. At that time, Wittenberg was the home to a new, well-endowed university as well as the seat of the Elector of Saxony. This elector was one of seven electors who voted on the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. This would be like Smithfield having 77 members, or one-seventh, of the Electoral College for the President of the United States. Upon his arrival, Luther took a position at the university as a professor of Bible. In this role, he would begin to lecture on various books of Scripture including Galatians, which we will look at shortly. This new academic endeavor would lead Luther to study and teach in a new way. As R. Ward Holder writes of this new methodology:

Though one can find instances of Luther’s commenting [on Scripture] in very traditional fashions in these early lectures, he was also investigating issues of belief and of theological education. Both of these contributed to his foundational insights, which latter shattered the sense of unity Christian Europe enjoyed.

As a result of this process, Luther discovered Holy Scripture in a brand new way. By his own account, he felt that for the first time he had truly discovered the Gospel. This discovery forced Luther to disagree with the Roman Catholic idea of the state of grace – by being forgiven of sins after Baptism – and ultimately lead him to articulate his understanding of the righteousness of God – his understanding of the doctrine of justification.

There is a fabulous story of Luther and his theological development, of the interplay of politics and religion that takes Luther’s academic exercise and translates it into an international reform that I unfortunately, for the sake of time, have to skip over. But, if you are at all interested in learning more about Luther, I would be happy to continue the conversation and I can provide you with a variety of resources for you to peruse.

The righteousness of God, as Luther articulated, represents the pinnacle of ethical goodness. This new articulation created even more questions for Luther. Can a person achieve this ideal standard? Is this level earned or is it a gift? Ultimately it led to serious questions of salvation. These were not new questions for medieval theologians, however Luther’s understandings would ultimately put him at odds with the powers that be – the Roman Catholic Church. Above all else, there is one incredibly important revelation Luther made during his time as lecturer at Wittenberg. Through studying Romans 1:17, “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (KJV), Luther realized that the righteous person is the person who lives by faith and complete dependence on God. Through this single verse, Luther established the heart of his theological method that forever changed Christianity in Europe.

To get a better understanding of Luther’s understanding of salvation, I want to take a few moments to look at how he expresses the doctrine of justification the preface to his Commentary on Galatians.

Each piece of this preface builds upon a previous statement. The very foundation of this argument is the nature of our justification. So Luther begins by stating the following:

I consider the infinite and horrible profanation and abomination that has always raged in the church of God, and still today continues to rage against this one sure foundation, our justification (that is to say, that it is not ourselves, nor by our works, which are less than ourselves, but by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, that we are redeemed from sin, death, the devil and are made to share eternal life), and I am compelled to throw away all shame and be bold above measure.

Despite what has been argued by the Church, our salvation is by Jesus and only Jesus. Luther has no problem saying that the Church can be wrong, and this is an example of him challenging the commonly held theological understandings. As far as Luther is concerned, there is absolutely nothing we can do to earn our salvation, as it is a gift freely given by the grace of God.

Luther goes on to explain what this means in regards to our life of faith. So he explains three different types of righteousness: political or civil righteousness, ceremonial righteousness, and righteousness of the law. Yet above all these there is still another type of righteousness – righteousness of faith, also known as Christian righteousness. Here is how Luther describes this important type of righteousness:

But this most excellent righteousness – that of faith, I mean – which God imputes to us through Christ, without works – is neither political nor ceremonial, nor is it the righteousness of God’s law, nor does it consist in works. It is quite the opposite; that is to say, it is passive whereas the others are active. We do nothing in this matter; we give nothing to God but simply receive and allow someone else to work in us – that is, God (emphasis added).

From this he adds the term passive righteousness. This is something that God grants, and nothing – absolutely nothing – we do can obtain, earn, or change this.

Luther recognizes that, as humans, we cannot help but try to fix things. When a person realizes that they are a sinner, they try to fix it – by repentance and change of action – to make sure that they do not sin and thus, as the Catholic Church teachers, remain in a state of grace. For Luther, this means that a person does not trust in the grace of God that redeems us from sin with no action required on our part. Recognizing this short coming, and having to wrestle with the role of the law in all this, Luther advocates for an active righteousness for the benefit of the earthly world and the flesh. He is clear to distinguish it from the spirit and passive righteousness, but this gives humans something to do to avoid the temptation of trying to earn their way into heaven. The doctrine of justification, according to Luther, is that we are saved by the grace of God and nothing we do can change or alter that, for “we shall never be able to attain it unless God himself bestows it on us.” On this Luther is clear.

Luther’s understanding of the doctrine of justification strayed from the accepted teaching of the Catholic Church. In fact, when the Council of Trent in 1547 (one year after Luther’s death) issues its decree on justification, it begins by targeting those who do not fall inline with acceptable doctrine, “Whereas there is, at this time, not without the shipwreck of many souls, and grievous detriment to the unity of the Church, a certain erroneous doctrine disseminated touching Justification.” They might as well have written, “Luther is wrong and has put the fate of your soul at risk!”

What the Catholic Church teaches, as expressed in this decree, is that our salvation comes through the redeeming work of Christ and that we accept that gift through the sacrament of Baptism. Once baptized, a person is to live by the commandments of God and when he sins, to repent and receive penance. This continual pardon allows for the baptized to show their acceptance of the salvation of God by the manner in which they live their life. To quote Chapter VI – The manner of Preparation:

God justifies the impious by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; and when, understanding themselves to be sinners, they, by turning themselves, from the fear of divine justice whereby they are profitably agitated, to consider the mercy of God, are raised unto hope, confiding that God will be propitious to them for Christ’s sake; and they begin to love Him as the fountain of all justice; and are therefore moved against sins by a certain hatred and detestation, to wit, by that penitence which must be preformed before baptism: lastly, when they purpose to receive baptism, to begin a new life, and to keep the commandments of God.

This in many ways sums up the entirety of this decree on justification, but the document provides additional summations in the canons by a series of statements, “If any one saith . . . let him be anathema.” For example, “If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema,” or again:

If any one saith, that he, who has fallen after baptism, is not able by the grace of God to rise again; or, that he is able indeed to recover the justice which he has lost, but by faith alone without the sacrament of Penance, contrary to what the holy Roman and universal Church-instructed by Christ and his Apostles-has hitherto professed, observed, and taught; let him be anathema.

Having outlined both Luther and the Catholic Church’s position on justification, I wonder which sounds closest to our Anglican understanding of justification?

If you do not already know this, the back of the Book of Common Prayer contains a section titled “Historical Documents of the Church.” The “Articles of Religion,” are one of the documents contained in this section. Article XI, Of the Justification of Man, reads, “We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.” This sounds very much in line with Luther’s doctrine of justification. But, if we read on to Article XXVII, Of Baptism, we find a slightly different message:

Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of Regeneration or New-Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed; Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God.

This seems to be clear that it is through Baptism that we gain access to the forgiveness of sins. It seems to me that, in regards to justification, the Anglican understanding is inline with that of the Roman Catholic Church. Our salvation comes from God alone, a gift freely offered by the grace and love of God. We in turn need to accept this grace; which is exhibited through the sacrament of Baptism, and a life lived in accordance with the commandments of God. This understanding of justification being rooted in God’s grace and accepted through the sacrament of Baptism, transitions us nicely into the next area of the reformation that sheds light on our Anglican identity – the nature of the Sacraments.

Through the Middle Ages until the 13th Century, the word sacramentum was meant to describe a plethora of liturgical acts. This is the height of the classic definition of a sacrament – an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. In the 13th Century the sacrament becomes more defined in number. At this point, the Church limits the number of sacraments to seven: Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Marriage, Ordination, and Unction. At the time of the 16th Century Reformation, this number would once again come into question. The Roman Catholic Church upheld the 13th Century understanding of seven sacraments. But, for Luther—and the other reforms with a sola scriptura understanding – this number was incorrect and unbiblical. According to the Protestant reformers, the only sacraments that should be practiced are those that are explicitly mentioned in Holy Scripture. At first the Reformed Churches have three sacraments: Baptism, Eucharist, and Confession, but this is eventually narrowed to two sacraments instituted by Christ in the Gospels, Baptism and Eucharist. So what about Anglicans? Do we have seven, three, two, or some other number of sacraments? Yes. Here is a great example of Anglicanism living into the via media. The Anglican Church recognizes two dominical sacraments, Baptism and Eucharist, and five other sacramental rites, Confirmation, Ordination, Marriage, Reconciliation of a Penitent, and Unction. In the words of the Articles of Religion:

There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord. Those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures; but yet have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, for they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.

What this article is expressing is that those five commonly called Sacraments are referenced in Scripture but there is no prescription for how they are to be exercised, as is the case with Baptism and Eucharist. As Anglicans, we have the Sacraments of the Protestant and Catholic Churches, with a unique definition and understanding of them.

Sacraments are an important part of the Christian faith. Even Luther, while condemning the liturgical practices of the Roman Catholic Church, did not deny the fundamental importance of Christian worship and sacrament. As a final case study in the place of Anglicanism in the 16th Century reformations let’s turn our attention to the Eucharist to see what Luther, the Council of Trent, and Cranmer have to say in regarding this fundamental expression of faith.

In The Small Catechism Luther wrote the following about the sacrament of the altar, “What is the Sacrament of the Altar? It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.” Luther viewed what happened at the Altar not as a sacrifice, but as a call to faith and obedience in the Word epitomized by the Gospels’ command to take and eat, and to take and drink.

For Luther, and for Thomas Cranmer for that matter, there were several important liturgical reforms that impacted the celebration of the Eucharist. Vernacular language was to be used as opposed to Latin; there was a restoration of the word (Holy Scripture) to public worship; and evangelical preaching. This comes as a reaction to the fact that the Medieval Church was too reliant on ritual, and that the laity was not educated in said ritual. The Eucharist was to be a clear summary of the Gospel, and the communion of the people in both kinds was – and still is today – absolutely integral to the Eucharist as is consonant with the Apostolic Tradition.

The Council of Trent – as was true with the doctrine of justification – responds to the Protestant reforms of Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli by upholding the traditional teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. It should be noted that Cranmer’s major theological work the 1549 Book of Common Prayer would be published just after the Council of Trent. In regards to the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the council upheld the doctrine of transubstantiation in which the accidents of bread and wine remain the same with the essence, or ousia, are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. The Council also upheld the Mass as sacrifice. While never fully lived into, the Council of Trent also articulated that the laity should be instructed in the Mass, to understand what is going on, as they could not understand the language used for the Scriptures and the liturgy.

Luther and the Council of Trent express two different understandings of the Eucharist, but what about Thomas Cranmer? Is Cranmer, and thus the foundations of Anglicanism, in line with Luther? Cranmer’s theology of the Eucharist is best expressed in the words of administration found in the 1552 Book of Common Prayer, “Take and eate this, in remembrance that Christ dyed for thee, and feede on him in thy hearte by faythe, with thankesgeuing. Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s bloude was shed for thee, and be thankful.” For Cranmer the only sacrifice a Christian can offer is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. What happens in the Eucharist cannot change or alter what God has done through Christ: What matters is the reception of the elements of bread and wine which are the real and true Body and Blood of Christ. The Eucharist is a sacrifice, but one of praise and thanksgiving not repetition. The Body and Blood of Christ are consumed in the real presence not by transubstantiation. Once again we see in Anglicanism the both/and of Protestant and Catholic.

My hope is that this brief look into the Reformation gave you a glimpse of the foundations of Anglicanism in relation to our Protestant and Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ. We are a tradition of both/and. The idea of Anglicanism as both, despite how much I joke, is not about proving that Anglicans are the best but rather it is about living into our identity the best way we know how. I hope this showed that we are not so different from our Protestant and Catholic counterparts. I wonder what the Church and world would look like if we focused more on our similarities and less on are differences? A Protestant and a Catholic walk into a bar, where they are joined by an Anglican. They all order a beverage, share in fellowship, and rejoice in the desire to serve Christ in this broken and hurting world.

Leave a comment

Filed under Seminary

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: A Reflection on the Sacramental Theology of Cyril of Jerusalem

cyril J This post was originally submitted on 16 December 2014 as my final paper for my Patristic Theology class at Yale Divinity School taught by Dr. Christopher Beeley during the Fall Semester 2014. This paper is based on a close reading of the text. In this class we did not cover Cyril of Jerusalem so I set out to, in a way, reclaim Cyril’s place among the patristic theologians.  While not perfect it did receive an HP+ (one point shy of an H-).  Instead of footnotes, this post has end notes and also includes my bibliography.  I welcome and encourage comments on the post! 

Lex orandi, lex credendi means the “law of prayer is the law of belief” or, as it is commonly translated, “as we pray, so we believe.” While this phrase was not in use during the time of Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, the principle behind it outlines perfectly Cyril’s teaching on the Sacraments. Before a catechumen could learn about the Sacraments, they had to be baptized. What they prayed and what they experienced led to what they believed about Christ, the Trinity and the nature of the Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist. In his Mystagogical Catecheses, Cyril addresses five key teachings on the sacraments for the newly baptized: “on the Rites before Baptism,” “on the Rites of Baptism,” “on the Holy Chrism,” “on the Eucharistic Food,” and “on the Eucharistic Rite.” It was only after receiving the Sacrament of Baptism that the catechumens were instructed on what they experienced and why it mattered.

In this text, Cyril never expressed his explicit Christology or his Trinitarian theology. Cyril, it seems, had no real use for the Christological debates of his day. F. L. Cross posits that, “Cyril’s bent of mind was too practical to be really interested in such questions.”[1] While he never expressed a Christology, his theological point of view is expressed in his interpretation of the Sacraments. In each of the five lectures of the Mystagogical Catecheses Cyril describes what is happening and how it relates to the new life in Christ of the Baptized. Through his practical lectures on the Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, Cyril is presenting a Sacramental theology that gives witness to his understanding of Christianity, the person of Christ, and the Triune Godhead – although he does not use these words.

Before looking at the five lectures of the Mystagogical Catecheses, it is worth noting that the authorship of these lectures has been, and continues to be, debated. F. L. Cross, in his introduction to Lectures on the Christian Sacraments discusses the problem with the authorship of these texts, particularly with the Mystagogical Catecheses. Cross describes three main points in this debate regarding authorship. First, he references seventeenth century questions on the basic validity of Cyril’s Catechetical Lectures. Were these lectures real or were they a later creation that was only attributed to Cyril to support a particular sacramental understanding? This critique was written off as mere Protestant disdain for Cyril’s high sacramental theology. Second, Cross sites W. J. Swaans’s serious argument regarding conflation of the traditional author with the real author by noting the speculation that these lectures were actually written by Cyril’s successor, John. Swaans also cites the external references to these texts, which do not occur until the sixth-seventh century when Eustratius in Life of Eutychius refers to the text as Cyrilline. Finally, Cross looks to cross-referenced material that demonstrates stylistic differences in the first eighteen lectures of the Catecheses versus the final five composing the Mystagogical Catecheses. However, there are other passages that clearly reference a singular author such as Cyril’s outline of what the catechumens will hear during Easter Week and then said lectures are indeed covered. F. L. Cross does state at the end of this section that the case for these critiques that support multiple authors has not, as of his time, been proved.[2] E.J. Yarnold, SJ in his essay “Baptismal Catechesis” found in the 1992 publication The Study of Liturgy writes strongly about the doubt in Cyril’s authorship. After referencing many different scholars and theories Yarnold comes to a similar conclusion as Cross, the “attributions are too inconsistent to prove anything.”[3]

Clearly there is great debate regarding the authorship of this text. However, there is no conclusive evidence supporting a conclusion one-way or the other. It seems that the exact authorship of this text, while important for the historical significance, is irrelevant to the theological significance of the text. What is important about this text, in addition to understandings of language and the development of the liturgical calendar, is the historical record of the rituals of Baptism and Eucharist in the fourth century as well as the practical sacramental theology that emerged and has been maintained from these lectures. This paper will assume Cyril’s authorship for the purpose of clarity and simplicity.

The first of the five lectures comprising the Mystagogical Catecheses is titled “on the Rites before baptism.” From the very beginning of these Easter Week lectures (the Mystagogical Catecheses are a series of lectures given to the newly baptized immediately follow Easter – when they were baptized), Cyril recognizes that these individuals are different having been baptized, “especially as ye have been made fit to receive the more sacred Mysteries, having been counted worthy of divine and life-giving Baptism” (Mystagogical Catechesis 1.1). From the very first section of the first Mystagogical Catechesis, Cyril articulates that something is different in these new Christians. This is the foundation for his sacramental theology, as everything else he argues is based on the reality that something very specific happens to a person once baptized. Baptism is believed to be a once in a lifetime experience that can never be repeated, except if a person becomes a heretic: “none but heretics are re-baptized, since their former baptism was not baptism” (Procatechesis 1.7).

In baptism, “thou renouncest Satan, utterly breaking all covenant with him” (Mystagogical Catechesis 1.9), and, “thou hast put off the old man [Satan]” (Mystagogical Catechesis 1.10). Throughout this first Mystagogical Catechesis, and throughout the second and third lectures as well, Cyril proclaims that once a person is baptized they cannot go back to the old way of life or else things will be even worse for them for, “thou shalt find the tyrant more bitter” (Mystagogical Catechesis 1.8). This hints to Cyril’s acceptance of re-baptism for heretics, because no person who is truly baptized would ever abandon the faith or betray the Church.

The Rites before Baptism represent this drastic change in life with a physical turning around. In this rite of preparation, the catechumens face west to renounce Satan, “since the West is the region of sensible darkness, and he [Satan] being darkness, has his dominion also in darkness, ye therefore, looking with a symbolic meaning towards the West, renounce that dark and gloomy potentate” (Mystagogical Catechesis 1.4). In order to renounce Satan, he must be faced directly, at least in the symbolical sense. At the end of the preparatory rite, the catechumens turn around and face east. East is the direction of light and is associated with God, “when therefore thou renouncest Satan . . . there is opened to thee the paradise of God, which He planted towards the east” (Mystagogical Catechesis 1.8). This physical metanoia, this turning from west to east, represents the change in life that is anticipated after baptism. Again, after experiencing this metanioa, no person would ever turn again towards Satan or become a heretic – potentially one in the same action. In baptism, not only is there metanoia, there is also an ontological change in a person as they become Christ. This will be explained further in the discussion on the third Mystagogical Catechesis “on the Holy Chrism.”

The foundation of Cyril’s theology, as expressed through the Sacraments, begins with this foundation. The catechumen must be intentional, honestly desire to be forgiven of sins, share in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and be committed to changing their ways and being transformed.

“On the Rites of Baptism” is the second lecture the newly baptized would hear during Easter Week. In this lecture, Cyril walks step-by-step through the baptismal liturgy that the catechumens experienced just a few days prior. Each action in the liturgy is carried out thoughtfully and intentionally, containing theological underpinnings that root them in the context of the ritual as a whole and the theology behind the sacrament.

The baptismal rite contains three actions: the stripping of the candidates for baptism, the anointing of their naked bodies, and the actual act of baptism with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

“As soon, therefore, as ye entered in, ye put off your garment; and this was an image of putting off the old man [Satan] with his deeds” (Mystagogical Catechesis 2.2). This stripping was a symbolic representation of two things: the stripping away of sin and the old way of life, and its connection to the crucifixion. Cyril cites Colossians 3:9 for the imagery of taking off garments, “seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds” (KJV). This, as is true with the entirety of these catechetical lectures, roots Cyril’s teaching in Holy Scripture. As to the imagery of the crucifixion, Cyril writes, “having stripped yourselves . . . in this also imitating Christ, who hung naked on the Cross, and by His nakedness spoiled principalities and powers, and openly triumphed over them on the tree” (Mystagogical Catechesis 2.2). The illusion to the crucifixion is a profound statement to the power of baptism and the resulting call of Christian life and ministry. The call of the Christian, as Cyril attests to later in the Mystagogical Catecheses, is to work toward the vanquishing of the enemy and to stand against the wiles of the devil[4], and this call is established in baptism. It is embodied when the baptized share in the spoiling of principalities and powers.

Once stripped, the catechumens had the entirety of their bodies “from the very hairs of [their] head[s], to [their] feet” (Mystagogical Catechesis 2.3) anointed with exorcized oil. By this action they were “made partakers of the good olive-tree, Jesus Christ” (Mystagogical Catechesis 2.3). It is through the anointing that the catechumens are grafted into the person of Christ, and protected from the powers of evil that will target the new Christians more strongly than ever before.

Finally, the catechumens are baptized with water using the Trinitarian formula. Each catechumen was required to make a profession of faith – they had to affirm that they believed in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In that very moment, the newly baptized both dies and is born as Cyril writes, “and that Water of salvation was at once your grave and your mother” (Mystagogical Catechesis 2.4).

According to Cyril, the Sacrament of Baptism not only washes away the stain of sin and cleanses those receiving the sacrament but it also “conveys the gift of the Holy Ghost, so also it is the counterpart of Christ’s sufferings” (Mystagogical Catechesis 2.6). Cyril has a strong emphasis on the workings of the Holy Spirit in the reception of the sacraments. This reference to the conveying of the gift of the Holy Spirit is the first example of his emphasis on the entire Godhead, not just Christ, at work in the Sacraments. This is a way in which Cyril steps forward with a Trinitarian theology of the sacraments that distinguishes him from his contemporaries.

In the arguments against the Donatists, Augustine writes about the power of Christ in the sacraments not the power of the priest. The moral and sinful nature of the priest, as Augustine argued, is irrelevant to the validity of the sacrament. The sacrament is valid no matter who administers it because of the power of Christ. In like manner, Cyril of Alexandria uses the sacrament of the Eucharist to demonstrate the divinity and physicality of the incarnation. In both examples, there is a clear emphasis on Christ as the sole power in the sacramental action. Cyril of Jerusalem recognizes that Christ does not act alone, but the entirety of the Triune Godhead is at work in sacramental acts. This is another touchstone of Cyril’s theology emerging from the practical instruction of the Sacraments.

Cyril spent an entire lecture discussing the oil used for anointing; that act alone demonstrates that holy chrism is incredibly important. It seems that in the third Mystagogcal Catechesis, Cyril claims that it is in the moment of anointing that a person becomes a Christian, which leads to the conclusion that the water baptism is foremost about a cleansing of sin and rebirth in Christ as they have already been anointed. “Now ye were made Christs, by receiving the emblem of the Holy Ghost” (Mystagogical Catechesis 3.1). But, what is the emblem of the Holy Ghost? Cyril describes: “In the same manner to you also . . . w[ere] given the Unction, the emblem of that wherewith Christ was anointed” (Mystagogical Catechesis 3.1). In the next section, Cyril makes the connection more clearly, “As He [Jesus] was anointed with the spiritual oil of gladness, the Holy Ghost, who is so called, because He [the Holy Ghost] is the author of spiritual gladness, so ye were anointed with ointment, having been made partakers and fellows of Christ” (Mystagogical Catechesis 3.2).

Just as in Christ’s baptism, when the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, so too does the Holy Spirit descend upon the newly baptized claiming them, as God’s own forever. This act of becoming Christ’s, becoming God’s own, is the moment of metanoia that happens in baptism. This is the action that causes the newly baptized to turn from west to east – from darkness to light. Through the Holy Spirit, “this holy thing [chrismation] is a spiritual preservative of the body, and safeguard of the soul” (Mystagogical Catechesis 3. 7). It is what allows Christians to persist against the temptations of Satan and the forced of wickedness.

Cyril ends this lecture with an exhortation that encompasses the call to live into this new life – this life where a person’s very being is changed:

“Having been anointed, therefore, with this holy ointment, keep it unspotted and unblemished in you, pressing forward by good works, and becoming well-pleasing to the Captain of your salvation, Christ Jesus, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Mystagogical Catechesis 3.7).

Cyril’s theology of baptism is one of repentance, forgiveness, and sharing in Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. It is one of drastic change in the life of the newly baptized, a change so drastic it changes the very being of the new Christian. Cyril speaks of baptism in very practical terms – he is instructing the newly baptized in what they experienced. By leading this practical liturgical instruction, Cyril is actually imparting on these new Christians a deeply rooted sacramental theology rooted in Scripture, the person of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

Having completed the lectures on baptism, Cyril turns his attention in the final two lectures to the Eucharist. The fourth lecture is “on the Eucharistic Food,” and the fifth is “on the Eucharistic Rite.”

Cyril begins the lecture “on the Eucharistic Food” by declaring that the bread and wine are in fact the Body and Blood of Jesus because Jesus declared them so. When we partake of the bread and wine, which is in fact the Body and Blood of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ the communicant is then made into the same. Cyril writes of the benefit of participation in the Eucharist, “that thou mightest be made of the same body and the same blood with Him. For thus we come to bear Christ in us, because His Body and Blood are diffused through our members; thus it is that, according to the blessed Peter, we become partakers of the divine nature” (Mystagogical Catechesis 4.3). This is a major theological statement of the nature of Eucharist and the transformative power it contains.

Cyril is not just teaching that participants in the Eucharist become Christ like, but they in fact become partakers of the divine nature. This is not unlike the process of divination that Origen, Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, and others discuss in their writings. This is a major Christological statement – the divinity of Christ is so powerful that it transforms ordinary people into participants of the divine. It is a statement about the incarnation that has profound implications for humanity. That the divine becomes human so the human becomes divine. Cyril may not explicitly state any particular doctrine of Christ, but there is no other way to describe his teaching on the Eucharistic elements.

In his final lecture, Cyril goes into what today might be called an instructed Eucharist. Just as he did with baptismal rite, the fifth Mystagogical Catechesis “on the Eucharistic Rite” describes in great detail the structure of the Eucharist. This lecture serves as the conclusion of “spiritual edification” (Mystagogical Catechesis 5.1).

The actions Cyril describes are: the deacon giving the priest water to wash his hands, the deacon inviting the kiss of peace, the Sursum Corda, the Sanctus, the epiclesis over the gifts of bread and wine, the prayers of the people which include prayers for the sick and those who have died, praying the Lord’s Prayer (which Cyril addresses line by line), the presentation of the gifts, the invitation to receive the sacrament, how to receive the sacrament, and finally what to do once the sacrament has been consumed. This is, for good reason, the longest of the five lectures that compose the Mystagogical Catecheses.

The Eucharistic action contains within itself the majority of the theology expressed in the previous four lectures. The first action in which the deacon gives the priest water to wash his hands represents that he must be “pure from all sinful and unlawful deeds” (Mystagogical Catechesis 5. 2). This harkens back to the cleansing nature of the washing at baptism. The second action, the kiss of peace, is not about greeting the fellow members of the community, but rather about reconciliation. It is a time to come together as a community and recognize the hurt that is inherent in community life. This action comes directly from the Gospel of St. Matthew, “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (NRSV, 5:23).

The Sursum Corda, the third action, gives the instruction of how Christians are to think and behave. “Lift up your hearts” (Mystagogical Catechesis 5.4) is a call to be focused on things heavenly not things earthly. “Let us give thanks to the Lord” (Mystagogical Catechesis 5.5) recalls to mind, “for in good sooth are we bound to give thanks, that He has called us, unworthy as we are, to so great grace” (Mystagogical Catechesis 5.5).

Following the Sursum Corda, the whole assembly cries out, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth” (Mystagogical Catechesis 5.6). This is the rehearsal of the confession of God “delivered down to us from the Seraphim, that we may join in Hymns with the hosts of the world above” (Mystagogical Catechesis 5.6). In the epiclesis over the gifts, the fifth action, “we call upon the merciful God to send forth His Holy Spirit upon the gifts lying before Him; that He may make the Bread the Body of Christ, and the Wine the Blood of Christ; for whatsoever the Holy Ghost has touched, is sanctified and changed” (Mystagogical Catechesis 5.7). Just as was true in the Sacrament of Baptism, in this sacrament there is clear action of the entire Godhead, not solely the power of Christ. God the Father calls down God the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of God the Son.

This, the epicelsis over the gifts, is followed by the sixth and seventh actions: the prayers of the people and the Lord’s Prayer, in which there is a deeply embedded theology that what is prayed for speaks volumes to what a community believes. The presentation of the gifts is done with the following words, “holy things to holy men” (Mystagogical Catechesis 5.19). This harkens back to both the divination of humanity as well as the change being brought about by baptism. Ordinary people in the incarnation through baptism are made holy.

The community is then invited to receive communion with a verse from the Psalter that is a reminder that there is goodness and joy in what happens when the community is gathered at the altar. “After ye hear the chanter, with a sacred melody inviting you to the communion of the Holy Mysteries, and saying O taste and see that the Lord is good” (Mystagogical Catechesis 5.20). Cyril gets so detailed in his instruction that he even directs the newly baptized in how to hold their hands when receiving the Holy Mysteries, “come not with they wrists extended, or thy fingers open; but make thy left hand as if a throne for thy right” (Mystagogical Catechesis 5.21). This allows for one to prevent the dropping of any crumbs to the floor that all of the bread may be consumed. This is part of the high sacramental theology that the seventeenth century Protestant objected to, as discussed in the authorship debates at the beginning of this paper.

Finally, the eleventh action described by Cyril, is what to do once the sacrament has been consumed: “And while moisture is still upon thy lips, touching it with thine hands, hallow both thine eyes and brow and the other sense. Then wait for the prayer, and give thanks unto God, who hath accounted thee worthy of so great mysteries” (Mystagogical Catechesis 5.22). The Eucharist action ends with a physical manifestation of the spiritual spreading of the Body and Blood of Christ throughout the recipient’s body – throughout the communicant’s entire being. This process is very important and Cyril goes to great lengths to instruct the newly baptized in the meaning and structure of the ritual. His attention to detail and care in instruction gives witness to his belief in the centrality of this practice to the Christian faith. Embedded in these instructions is the foundational theology that emerges from practical teaching of the Christian life.

In all of these lectures, Cyril takes practical instruction and, without expressly saying so, gives the newly baptized not only a sacramental theology but a theology of Christology, the Holy Sprit, and the Trinity – he gives them an embodied theology of the theological debates of the fourth century. It seems to me that F. L. Cross and other scholars have shortchanged this Bishop is claiming that, “Cyril’s bent of mind was too practical to be really interested in such questions [of orthodoxy].”[5] He was very much concerned with question of orthodoxy, but only as far as they had practical implications for the life of the Church and of the baptized.

Cyril’s Mystagogical Catecheses is the benchmark for catechetical preparation for initiation into the Christian Church. This work has left an indelible mark on the Church in regards to the liturgical life of the Church of the fourth century and the Church of the modern era. The fact that – despite the debates of its originality – this work is still in existence today speaks volumes to its importance. Ultimately the Mystagogical Catecheses of Cyril of Jerusalem or John of Jerusalem or whomever, has taken the esoteric theological debates of the early Church and transformed them into the practical reality and embodied theology of Christian life then, today, and always. Cyril reminds Christians throughout the centuries that before a person can understand the sacred mysteries they must experience them. For as we pray, so we believe: Lex orandi, lex credendi.


[1] Cyril and F.L. Cross, St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Lectures on the Christian Sacraments: The Procatechesis and the Five Mystagogical Catechese, vol. 2, Popular Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1951), xxx.

[2] Ibid., xxxvii-xxxix.

[3] Cheslyn Jones et al., ends., The Study of Liturgy, Revised Edition, (London: SPCK, 1992), 92.

[4] Cyril and Cross Lectures on Christian Sacraments, 65-66.

[5] Cyril and Cross Lectures on Christian Sacraments, xxx.


Cyril, and F. L. Cross. St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Lectures on the Christian Sacraments: The Procatechesis and the Five Mystagogical Catecheses. Vol. 2. Popular Patristics Series. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1951.

Jones, Cheslyn, Geoffrey Wainwright, Edward Yarnold, SJ, and Paul Bradshaw, eds. The Study of Liturgy. Revised Edition London: SPCK, 1992.

Leave a comment

Filed under Seminary