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.

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


Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

It's good that we look at what the Church fathers said and did, what they taught, how they lived, and how they died. They were people like us, living in a culture not really too unlike our own, facing very similar social and ethical challenges. To their glory they laid down the foundations of our common orthodox faith, to their shame they quibbled and sometimes nit-picked each other to death over trifles, or over speculations on divine things for which there was never any warrant in scripture.

The contemporary Orthodox Church sometimes idolizes them, even seems to put them above scripture, while quietly shuffling their misdeeds under the rug, but the fact is they were humans just like us, their squabbling no different than modern denominational disagreements, and yet, underneath it all, they had a common faith that they could have practiced in peace and love, had they put away the works of the flesh.

Yes, faith in God and in His Christ is one thing, and faith as a body of doctrine quite another, yet we use the same word for both. This has been largely responsible for the decline of Christianity throughout the ages, and especially now, when we are living not in a post-Christian age, but deservedly in a post-church one.

Church is people in Christ. We can institutionalise "church" just as church has institutionalised "faith." We think we do this to preserve both, yet we do exactly the opposite.

Christianity is not and never was perpetuated by institutions, only by what C. S. Lewis so aptly called "good infection." In our studies of the Bible and the Church fathers, we should never forget that it is only God and His Christ, Jesus, and what He has won for us, that matters.

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

By the way, the Cyril who is the topic of this post was indeed a great early Church father, as the article relates. Don't get him confused with Cyril of Alexandria, who was a vindictive, power-hungry denominational dogmatist, responsible for harassing Nestorius practically to death.

Andrew Kenny said...

Thanks Romanos.I do love reading about the Church Fathers despite some of there faults they were generally men of Iron. However during times of peace i'm sure some were tempted to take things easy and enjoy the power.

I had heard Cyril of Alexandria but didn't know too much about him ( I'm more familiar with the famous Clement of Alexandria). On reading about Cyril of Alex. I agree with you: what a terrible Church leader- was there worse?