Doctors of the Church: St. Cyril of Jerusalem

cyril-of-jerusalem-1For our next Doctor of the Church, we head back east. St. Cyril of Jerusalem was born around 315 near (you guessed it) Jerusalem. Not much is known about the personal details of his life, but like many of the Doctors, he was very well-read, familiar with the Greek philosophers, early Church Fathers, and Scriptures.

St. Cyril succeeded another saint, St. Maximus, as bishop of Jerusalem around the year 348. It’s fair to say there was an air of uncertainty and distrust surrounding Cyril. The Church in Jerusalem was heavily divided between the Arian Christians and the Nicene Christians (those who professed the Church’s teaching from the Council of Nicaea), and nobody knew what side Cyril was on. He was ordained by Acacius, an Arian sympathizer, who probably thought he was getting Cyril as a new ally. Others thought he had sold out to the Arians in order to obtain his post. Throughout his episcopacy, people doubted his orthodoxy and fidelity.

Probably the greatest proof of this comes from his being exiled three times – once by the priests of Jerusalem, once by Acacius, and once by the Emperor Valens. I’m starting to wonder if exile is a requirement to become a Doctor of the Church! He was finally able to return to Jerusalem in 378, and he participated in the 2nd Council of Constantinople (382), where he was finally heralded as a hero of orthodoxy after helping to confirm the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, which we now pray every Sunday at Mass.

While certainly important in the battle against Arianism, Cyril is perhaps best known for his desire to teach the faith, especially to those becoming new Christians. Of his many teachings, we have 24 well-preserved catechetical homilies, letters, and lectures. The first few are a “protocatechesis” to welcome the “candidates for illumination,” those catechumens preparing for baptism. He continues with an ongoing catechesis explaining the faith of the Church and why we should watch out for those pesky Arians.

The final and greatest part of his catechetical lectures were his “mystagogical catecheses,” a beautiful explanation of the sacraments to the recently baptized, explaining the mysteries they had just experienced. Included in these lectures are a commentary on the rites of baptism (which gives us a neat view into what the liturgy of the 4th century looked like!), a teaching on the oil of Sacred Chrism, an explanation of the Our Father, and a beautiful catechesis on the Eucharist. The last of these is very clear and articulate, showing us that the Church’s teaching on the Body and Blood of the Lord was held even in the earliest days of the Church!

As we conclude, I invite you to reflect on these words of St. Cyril on baptism, that first and foundational sacrament that gives birth to our Christian lives: “At the self-same moment [your baptism], you were both dying and being born; and that water of salvation was at once your grave and your mother…For you…the time to die goes hand in hand with the time to be born.” Let us ask God for the grace to continue to live out our baptism by dying to ourselves and being reborn in the Father’s love!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s