Tuesday, 3 June 2008
The Catechetical Lectures of Cyril of Jerusalem (c.313–386) reviewed by Lester Ruth
My daughter is currently finishing off her A level in Religious Education and has been looking at the way 'faith' as a personal response to Christ became more and more associated with 'the faith' as a body of Truth that Christians must believe to be part of the Church.
In Paul's writing we notice in his last letters to Timothy and Titus (disputed by some as being non-Pauline) he also speaks of 'the faith' which he had not used previously in his epistles. Nevertheless Paul had always emphasized the importance of 'sound doctrine' and to hold to 'the tradition' and teaching which he proscribed as well as of course, personal faith in Christ- a personal trust in Christ for salvation.
Some of the Church Fathers would appear to have emphasized the belief in the 'body of Christian truth' as opposed to 'personal faith' but I don't think they would have completely neglected one in favour of the other. During the debate over the Trinity it used to be said: 'Try to understand it and you lose your mind: Try to deny it and you lose your soul'! It is also true that some of the Church Fathers would have disagreed with one another, some even, such as Origen appear to have had conflicting teachings- perhaps an early and mature Origen. Some historians even view Origen as being the Father of both Orthodoxy and Heresy!
One thing is we can learn a thing or a hundred from these men who risked life and limb for the sake of the gospel,and often ending up wearing a martyr’s crown.Some Catechetical courses would have lasted up to three years in preparing the disciple for Baptism.This might be seen as parallel with the three years the Lord spent teaching his twelve disciples.
Regarding those interested in the Christian faith we sometimes rush them too much and expect them to walk before they can talk. If three years training or a discipleship course(covering all areas of Christian living) was required of new converts by the end of it they would be more fully equipped to serve the Lord in the world.I think it should come back -though we live in an age of instant coffee, we will never get instant saints. In this article Lester Ruth reviews the the Catechetical Lectures of Cyril of Jerusalem which can be downloaded using the link. AK
Can a theologian be a good pastor or evangelist? Can an effective, church-growing evangelist be theological? Can a caring pastor preach doctrine in a relevant way? Is it possible for one person to be a dynamic evangelist, pastor, and theologian all at once?
I venture to guess that many today would answer “no.” Some literature on effective evangelistic and pastoral ministries takes a swipe at theological reflection to get at the “real” concerns of “what works” today. The attitude is reflected in the opinions of those ministers who feel that they truly learned what’s important for the church once they got out of formal educational institutions. Unfortunately, the approach taken by some academics can reinforce the divorce between theology and ministerial practice. I once asked a student taking a course on a patristic theologian, for instance, whether the class had given any sense that the early church figure being studied was a wonderful pastoral evangelist. The answer was “no.”
And that’s why looking at Cyril, the fourth century bishop of Jerusalem, is so helpful. In his addresses to the baptismal candidates in his church, he does a masterful job of weaving together solid theology, effective evangelism, and nurturing pastoral care. Whatever Cyril’s vestments actually were like (who knows exactly what a fourth century bishop would have worn?), he did wear simultaneously the metaphorical caps of evangelist, pastor, and theologian as he prepared new Christians for their baptism at Easter and preached to them the meaning of the sacraments afterward.
Cyril’s catechetical lectures raise questions that are still important: What do people need to know to be active Christian disciples? What’s the appropriate threshold for baptizing someone? Is “buying into” the commonly held doctrines of the church essential in evangelizing someone? Cyril’s answer is a resounding “yes.”
Cyril had paid a deep personal “cost” in being able to teach theology to his sheep; three times he was exiled by anti-orthodox factions, forced to spend nearly fifteen years away from his pastoral post in Jerusalem. When he was able to exercise his role as bishop, he was rewarded by the enthusiastic response of the people to his preaching. According to one contemporaneous report, his flock shouted exuberantly as he taught them each day leading up to baptism.
As you read, don’t be afraid to get caught up in the excitement, too. Your shout sparked by good theology wouldn’t offend Cyril at all.
Lester Ruth is Lily May Jarvis Professor of Christian Worship at Asbury Theological Seminary.
Read this classic at the CCEL