Read the Fathers

Join a world-wide community in reading the church fathers daily.

Category: Blog posts (page 2 of 7)

Lectures for Holy Week: The Fourth Mystagogical Catechesis of Cyril of Jerusalem

Cyril of Jerusalem

Cyril is frequently depicted expounding the mysteries of the sacraments through catechism.

Our normal reading calendar does not necessarily align thematically with the liturgical calendar. As we did last year, we would like to offer a set of additional readings for those wishing to reflect on Holy Week with the fathers. This year we will be posting the procatechesis and five catecheses of Cyril of Jerusalem. These lectures were first delivered in the mid-fourth century during Holy Week to catechumens (candidates for baptism), instructing them in the meaning of the sacraments. After this instruction, catechumens would then accept baptism on Easter Sunday. This translation comes from the NPNF series 2. A nice parallel Greek-English edition is available from St. Vladimir’s press, with translation by R.W. Church.

Continue reading

Lectures for Holy Week: The Third Mystagogical Catechesis of Cyril of Jerusalem

Cyril of Jerusalem

Cyril is frequently depicted expounding the mysteries of the sacraments through catechism.

Our normal reading calendar does not necessarily align thematically with the liturgical calendar. As we did last year, we would like to offer a set of additional readings for those wishing to reflect on Holy Week with the fathers. This year we will be posting the procatechesis and five catecheses of Cyril of Jerusalem. These lectures were first delivered in the mid-fourth century during Holy Week to catechumens (candidates for baptism), instructing them in the meaning of the sacraments. After this instruction, catechumens would then accept baptism on Easter Sunday. This translation comes from the NPNF series 2. A nice parallel Greek-English edition is available from St. Vladimir’s press, with translation by R.W. Church.

Continue reading

Lectures for Holy Week: The Second Mystagogical Catechesis of Cyril of Jerusalem

Cyril of Jerusalem

Cyril is frequently depicted expounding the mysteries of the sacraments through catechism.

Our normal reading calendar does not necessarily align thematically with the liturgical calendar. As we did last year, we would like to offer a set of additional readings for those wishing to reflect on Holy Week with the fathers. This year we will be posting the procatechesis and five catecheses of Cyril of Jerusalem. These lectures were first delivered in the mid-fourth century during Holy Week to catechumens (candidates for baptism), instructing them in the meaning of the sacraments. After this instruction, catechumens would then accept baptism on Easter Sunday. This translation comes from the NPNF series 2. A nice parallel Greek-English edition is available from St. Vladimir’s press, with translation by R.W. Church.

Continue reading

Lectures for Holy Week: The First Mystagogical Catechesis of Cyril of Jerusalem

Cyril of Jerusalem

Cyril is frequently depicted expounding the mysteries of the sacraments through catechism.

Our normal reading calendar does not necessarily align thematically with the liturgical calendar. As we did last year, we would like to offer a set of additional readings for those wishing to reflect on Holy Week with the fathers. This year we will be posting the procatechesis and five catecheses of Cyril of Jerusalem. These lectures were first delivered in the mid-fourth century during Holy Week to catechumens (candidates for baptism), instructing them in the meaning of the sacraments. After this instruction, catechumens would then accept baptism on Easter Sunday. This translation comes from the NPNF series 2. A nice parallel Greek-English edition is available from St. Vladimir’s press, with translation by R.W. Church.

First Lecture on the Mysteries

With a Lesson from the First General Epistle of Peter, beginning at Be sober, be vigilant, to the end of the Epistle.

1. I have long been wishing, O true-born and dearly beloved children of the Church, to discourse to you concerning these spiritual and heavenly Mysteries; but since I well knew that seeing is far more persuasive than hearing, I waited for the present season; that finding you more open to the influence of my words from your present experience, I might lead you by the hand into the brighter and more fragrant meadow of the Paradise before us; especially as you have been made fit to receive the more sacred Mysteries, after having been found worthy of divine and life-giving Baptism. Since therefore it remains to set before you a table of the more perfect instructions, let us now teach you these things exactly, that you may know the effect wrought upon you on that evening of your baptism.

2. First ye entered into the vestibule of the Baptistery, and there facing towards the West ye listened to the command to stretch forth your hand, and as in the presence of Satan ye renounced him. Now ye must know that this figure is found in ancient history. For when Pharaoh, that most bitter and cruel tyrant, was oppressing the free and high-born people of the Hebrews, God sent Moses to bring them out of the evil bondage of the Egyptians. Then the door posts were anointed with the blood of a lamb, that the destroyer might flee from the houses which had the sign of the blood; and the Hebrew people was marvellously delivered. The enemy, however, after their rescue, pursued after them, and saw the sea wondrously parted for them; nevertheless he went on, following close in their footsteps, and was all at once overwhelmed and engulphed in the Red Sea.

3. Now turn from the old to the new, from the figure to the reality. There we have Moses sent from God to Egypt; here, Christ, sent forth from His Father into the world: there, that Moses might lead forth an afflicted people out of Egypt; here, that Christ might rescue those who are oppressed in the world under sin: there, the blood of a lamb was the spell against the destroyer; here, the blood of the Lamb without blemish Jesus Christ is made the charm to scare evil spirits: there, the tyrant was pursuing that ancient people even to the sea; and here the daring and shameless spirit, the author of evil, was following you even to the very streams of salvation. The tyrant of old was drowned in the sea; and this present one disappears in the water of salvation.

4. But nevertheless you are bidden to say, with arm outstretched towards him as though he were present, I renounce you, Satan. I wish also to say wherefore ye stand facing to the West; for it is necessary. Since the West is the region of sensible darkness, and he being darkness has his dominion also in darkness, therefore, looking with a symbolic meaning towards the West, you renounce that dark and gloomy potentate. What then did each of you stand up and say? I renounce you, Satan,— you wicked and most cruel tyrant! Meaning, I fear your might no longer; for that Christ has overthrown, having partaken with me of flesh and blood, that through these He might by death destroy death, that I might not be made subject to bondage for ever. I renounce you,— you crafty and most subtle serpent. I renounce you,— plotter as you are, who under the guise of friendship contrived all disobedience, and work apostasy in our first parents. I renounce you, Satan,— the artificer and abettor of all wickedness.

5. Then in a second sentence you are taught to say, and all your works. Now the works of Satan are all sin, which also you must renounce—just as one who has escaped a tyrant has surely escaped his weapons also. All sin therefore, of every kind, is included in the works of the devil. Only know this; that all that you say, especially at that most thrilling hour, is written in God’s books; when therefore you do any thing contrary to these promises, you shall be judged as a transgressor. You renounce therefore the works of Satan; I mean, all deeds and thoughts which are contrary to reason.

6. Then you say, And all his pomp.  Now the pomp of the devil is the madness of theatres, and horse-races, and hunting, and all such vanity: from which that holy man praying to be delivered says unto God, Turn away my eyes from beholding vanity. Be not interested in the madness of the theatre, where you will behold the wanton gestures of the players , carried on with mockeries and all unseemliness, and the frantic dancing of effeminate men —nor in the madness of them who in hunts expose themselves to wild beasts, that they may pamper their miserable appetite; who, to serve their belly with meats, become themselves in reality meat for the belly of untamed beasts; and to speak justly, for the sake of their own god, their belly, they cast away their life headlong in single combats. Shun also horse-races, that frantic and soul-subverting spectacle. For all these are the pomp of the devil.

7. Moreover, the things which are hung up at idol festivals, either meat or bread, or other such things polluted by the invocation of the unclean spirits, are reckoned in the pomp of the devil. For as the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist before the invocation of the Holy and Adorable Trinity were simple bread and wine, while after the invocation the Bread becomes the Body of Christ, and the Wine the Blood of Christ, so in like manner such meats belonging to the pomp of Satan, though in their own nature simple, become profane by the invocation of the evil spirit.

8. After this you say, and all your service.  Now the service of the devil is prayer in idol temples; things done in honour of lifeless idols; the lighting of lamps , or burning of incense by fountains or rivers , as some persons cheated by dreams or by evil spirits do [resort to this ], thinking to find a cure even for their bodily ailments. Go not after such things. The watching of birds, divination, omens, or amulets, or charms written on leaves, sorceries, or other evil arts, and all such things, are services of the devil; therefore shun them. For if after renouncing Satan and associating yourself with Christ , thou fall under their influence, you shall find the tyrant more bitter; perchance, because he treated you of old as his own, and relieved you from his hard bondage, but has now been greatly exasperated by you; so you will be bereaved of Christ, and have experience of the other. Have you not heard the old history which tells us of Lot and his daughters? Was not he himself saved with his daughters, when he had gained the mountain, while his wife became a pillar of salt, set up as a monument for ever, in remembrance of her depraved will and her turning back. Take heed therefore to yourself, and turn not again to what is behind , having put your hand to the plough, and then turning back to the salt savour of this life’s doings; but escape to the mountain, to Jesus Christ, that stone hewn without hands, which has filled the world.

9. When therefore you renounce Satan, utterly breaking all your covenant with him, that ancient league with hell, there is opened to you the paradise of God, which He planted towards the East, whence for his transgression our first father was banished; and a symbol of this was your turning from West to East, the place of light. Then you were told to say, I believe in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Ghost, and in one Baptism of repentance.  Of which things we spoke to you at length in the former Lectures, as God’s grace allowed us.

10. Guarded therefore by these discourses, be sober. For our adversary the devil, as was just now read, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour. But though in former times death was mighty and devoured, at the holy Laver of regeneration God has wiped away every tear from off all faces. For you shall no more mourn, now that you have put off the old man; but you shall keep holy-day, clothed in the garment of salvation Isaiah, even Jesus Christ.

11. And these things were done in the outer chamber. But if God will, when in the succeeding lectures on the Mysteries we have entered into the Holy of Holies, we shall there know the symbolic meaning of the things which are there performed. Now to God the Father, with the Son and the Holy Ghost, be glory, and power, and majesty, forever and ever. Amen.

Lectures for Holy Week: The Procatechesis of Cyril of Jerusalem

Cyril of Jerusalem

Cyril of Jerusalem, frequently depicted expounding the mystery of the sacraments.

Our normal reading calendar does not necessarily align thematically with the liturgical calendar. As we did last year, we would like to offer a set of additional readings for those wishing to reflect on Holy Week with the fathers. This year we will be posting the procatechesis and five catecheses of Cyril of Jerusalem. These lectures were first delivered in the mid-fourth century during Holy Week to catechumens (candidates for baptism), instructing them in the meaning of the sacraments. After this instruction, catechumens would then accept baptism on Easter Sunday. This translation comes from the NPNF series 2. A nice parallel Greek-English edition is available from St. Vladimir’s press, with translation by R.W. Church.

Procatechesis

1. Already there is an odour of blessedness upon you, O you who are soon to be enlightened : already you are gathering the spiritual flowers, to weave heavenly crowns: already the fragrance of the Holy Spirit has breathed upon you: already you have gathered round the vestibule of the King’s palace ; may you be led in also by the King! For blossoms now have appeared upon the trees ; may the fruit also be found perfect! Thus far there has been an inscription of your names , and a call to service, and torches of the bridal train, and a longing for heavenly citizenship, and a good purpose, and hope attendant thereon. For he lies not who said, that to them that love God all things work together for good. God is lavish in beneficence, yet He waits for each man’s genuine will: therefore the Apostle added and said, to them that are called according to a purpose. The honesty of purpose makes you called: for if your body be here but not your mind, it profits you nothing.

2. Even Simon Magus once came to the Laver : he was baptized, but was not enlightened; and though he dipped his body in water, he enlightened not his heart with the Spirit: his body went down and came up, but his soul was not buried with Christ, nor raised with Him. Now I mention the statements of (men’s) falls, that you may not fall: for these things happened to them by way of example, and they are written for the admonition of those who to this day draw near. Let none of you be found tempting His grace, lest any root of bitterness spring up and trouble you. Let none of you enter saying, Let us see what the faithful are doing: let me go in and see, that I may learn what is being done. Do you expect to see, and not expect to be seen? And thinkest thou, that whilst you are searching out what is going on, God is not searching your heart?

3. A certain man in the Gospels once pried into the marriage feast , and took an unbecoming garment, and came in, sat down, and ate: for the bridegroom permitted it. But when he saw them all clad in white , he ought to have assumed a garment of the same kind himself: whereas he partook of the like food, but was unlike them in fashion and in purpose. The bridegroom, however, though bountiful, was not undiscerning: and in going round to each of the guests and observing them (for his care was not for their eating, but for their seemly behaviour), he saw a stranger not having on a wedding garment, and said to him, Friend, how did you get in here? In what a colour! With what a conscience! What though the door-keeper forbade you not, because of the bountifulness of the entertainer? What though you were ignorant in what fashion you should come in to the banquet? — you came in, and saw the glittering fashions of the guests: should you not have been taught even by what was before your eyes? Should you not have retired in good season, that you might enter in good season again? But now you have come in unseasonably, to be unseasonably cast out. So he commands the servants, Bind his feet, which daringly intruded:bind his hands, which knew not how to put a bright garment around him: and cast him into the outer darkness; for he is unworthy of the wedding torches.You see what happened to that man: make your own condition safe.

4. For we, the ministers of Christ, have admitted every one, and occupying, as it were, the place of door-keepers we left the door open: and possibly thou entered with your soul bemired with sins, and with a will defiled. You entered, and were allowed: your name was inscribed. Tell me, do you behold this venerable constitution of the Church? Do you view her order and discipline , the reading of Scriptures , the presence of the ordained , the course of instruction? Be abashed at the place, and be taught by what you see. Go out opportunely now, and enter most opportunely tomorrow. If the fashion of your soul is avarice, put on another fashion and come in. Put off your former fashion, cloke it not up. Put off, I pray you, fornication and uncleanness, and put on the brightest robe of chastity. This charge I give you, before Jesus the Bridegroom of souls come in and see their fashions. A long notice is allowed you; you have forty days for repentance: you have full opportunity both to put off, and wash, and to put on and enter. But if you persist in an evil purpose, the speaker is blameless, but you must not look for the grace: for the water will receive, but the Spirit will not accept you. If any one is conscious of his wound, let him take the salve; if any has fallen, let him arise. Let there be no Simon among you, no hypocrisy, no idle curiosity about the matter.

5. Possibly too you have come on another pretext. It is possible that a man is wishing to pay court to a woman, and came hither on that account. The remark applies in like manner to women also in their turn. A slave also perhaps wishes to please his master, and a friend his friend. I accept this bait for the hook, and welcome you, though you came with an evil purpose, yet as one to be saved by a good hope. Perhaps you knew not whither you were coming, nor in what kind of net you are taken. You have come within the Church’s nets : be taken alive, flee not: for Jesus is angling for you, not in order to kill, but by killing to make alive: for you must die and rise again. For you have heard the Apostle say, Dead indeed unto sin, but living unto righteousness . Die to your sins, and live to righteousness, live from this very day.

6. See, I pray you, how great a dignity Jesus bestows on you. You were called a Catechumen, while the word echoed round you from without; hearing of hope, and knowing it not; hearing mysteries, and not understanding them; hearing Scriptures, and not knowing their depth. The echo is no longer around you, but within you; for the indwelling Spirit henceforth makes your mind a house of God. When you shall have heard what is written concerning the mysteries, then will you understand things which thou knew not. And think not that you receive a small thing: though a miserable man, you receive one of God’s titles. Hear St. Paul saying, God is faithful . Hear another Scripture saying, God is faithful and just . Foreseeing this, the Psalmist, because men are to receive a title of God, spoke thus in the person of God: I said, You are Gods, and are all sons of the Most High. But beware lest thou have the title of faithful, but the will of the faithless. You have entered into a contest, toil on through the race: another such opportunity you cannot have. Were it your wedding day before you, would you not have disregarded all else, and set about the preparation for the feast? And on the eve of consecrating your soul to the heavenly Bridegroom, will you not cease from carnal things, that you may win spiritual?

7. We may not receive Baptism twice or thrice; else it might be said, Though I have failed once, I shall set it right a second time: whereas if you fail once, the thing cannot be set right; for there is one Lord, and one faith, and one baptism : for only the heretics are re-baptized , because the former was no baptism.

8. For God seeks nothing else from us, save a good purpose. Say not, How are my sins blotted out? I tell you, By willing, by believing. What can be shorter than this? But if, while your lips declare you willing, your heart be silent, He knows the heart, who judges you. Cease from this day from every evil deed. Let not your tongue speak unseemly words, let your eye abstain from sin, and from roving after things unprofitable.

9. Let your feet hasten to the catechisings; receive with earnestness the exorcisms : whether thou be breathed upon or exorcised, the act is to you salvation. Suppose you have gold unwrought and alloyed, mixed with various substances, copper, and tin, and iron, and lead: we seek to have the gold alone; can gold be purified from the foreign substances without fire? Even so without exorcisms the soul cannot be purified; and these exorcisms are divine, having been collected out of the divine Scriptures. Your face has been veiled , that your mind may henceforward be free, lest the eye by roving make the heart rove also. But when your eyes are veiled, your ears are not hindered from receiving the means of salvation. For in like manner as those who are skilled in the goldsmith’s craft throw in their breath upon the fire through certain delicate instruments, and blowing up the gold which is hidden in the crucible stir the flame which surrounds it, and so find what they are seeking; even so when the exorcists inspire terror by the Spirit of God, and set the soul, as it were, on fire in the crucible of the body, the hostile demon flees away, and there abide salvation and the hope of eternal life, and the soul henceforth is cleansed from its sins and has salvation. Let us then, brethren, abide in hope, and surrender ourselves, and hope, in order that the God of all may see our purpose, and cleanse us from our sins, and impart to us good hopes of our estate, and grant us repentance that brings salvation. God has called, and His call is to you.

10. Attend closely to the catechisings, and though we should prolong our discourse, let not your mind be wearied out. For you are receiving armour against the adverse power, armour against heresies, against Jews, and Samaritans , and Gentiles. You have many enemies; take to you many darts, for you have many to hurl them at: and you have need to learn how to strike down the Greek, how to contend against heretic, against Jew and Samaritan. And the armour is ready, and most ready the sword of the Spirit : but thou also must stretch forth your right hand with good resolution, that you may war the Lord’s warfare, and overcome adverse powers, and become invincible against every heretical attempt.

11. Let me give you this charge also. Study our teachings and keep them for ever. Think not that they are the ordinary homilies ; for though they also are good and trustworthy, yet if we should neglect them today we may study them tomorrow. But if the teaching concerning the laver of regeneration delivered in a consecutive course be neglected today, when shall it be made right? Suppose it is the season for planting trees: if we do not dig, and dig deep, when else can that be planted rightly which has once been planted ill? Suppose, pray, that the Catechising is a kind of building: if we do not bind the house together by regular bonds in the building, lest some gap be found, and the building become unsound, even our former labour is of no use. But stone must follow stone by course, and corner match with corner, and by our smoothing off inequalities the building must thus rise evenly. In like manner we are bringing to you stones, as it were, of knowledge. You must hear concerning the living God, you must hear of Judgment, must hear of Christ, and of the Resurrection. And many things there are to be discussed in succession, which though now dropped one by one are afterwards to be presented in harmonious connection. But unless thou fit them together in the one whole, and remember what is first, and what is second, the builder may build, but you will find the building unsound.

12. When, therefore, the Lecture is delivered, if a Catechumen ask you what the teachers have said, tell nothing to him that is without. For we deliver to you a mystery, and a hope of the life to come. Guard the mystery for Him who gives the reward. Let none ever say to you, What harm to you, if I also know it? So too the sick ask for wine; but if it be given at a wrong time it causes delirium, and two evils arise; the sick man dies, and the physician is blamed. Thus is it also with the Catechumen, if he hear anything from the believer: both the Catechumen becomes delirious (for he understands not what he has heard, and finds fault with the thing, and scoffs at what is said), and the believer is condemned as a traitor. But you are now standing on the border: take heed, pray, to tell nothing out; not that the things spoken are not worthy to be told, but because his ear is unworthy to receive. You were once yourself a Catechumen, and I described not what lay before you. When by experience you have learned how high are the matters of our teaching, then you will know that the Catechumens are not worthy to hear them.

13. You who have been enrolled have become sons and daughters of one Mother. When you have come in before the hour of the exorcisms, let each one of you speak things tending to godliness: and if any of your number be not present, seek for him. If you were called to a banquet, would you not wait for your fellow guest? If you had a brother, would you not seek your brother’s good? Afterwards busy not yourself about unprofitable matters: neither, what the city has done, nor the village, nor the King , nor the Bishop, nor the Presbyter. Look upward; that is what your present hour needs. Be still , and know that I am God. If you see the believers ministering, and showing no care, they enjoy security, they know what they have received, they are in possession of grace. But you stand just now in the turn of the scale, to be received or not: copy not those who have freedom from anxiety, but cherish fear.

14. And when the Exorcism has been done, until the others who are being exorcised have come , let men be with men, and women with women. For now I need the example of Noah’s ark: in which were Noah and his sons, and his wife and his sons’ wives. For though the ark was one, and the door was shut, yet had things been suitably arranged. If the Church is shut, and you are all inside, yet let there be a separation, men with men, and women with women : lest the pretext of salvation become an occasion of destruction. Even if there be a fair pretext for sitting near each other, let passions be put away. Further, let the men when sitting have a useful book; and let one read, and another listen: and if there be no book, let one pray, and another speak something useful. And again let the party of young women sit together in like manner, either singing or reading quietly, so that their lips speak, but others’ ears catch not the sound: for I suffer not a woman to speak in the Church. And let the married woman also follow the same example, and pray; and let her lips move, but her voice be unheard, that a Samuel may come, and your barren soul give birth to the salvation of God who has heard your prayer; for this is the interpretation of the name Samuel.

15. I shall observe each man’s earnestness, each woman’s reverence. Let your mind be refined as by fire unto reverence; let your soul be forged as metal: let the stubbornness of unbelief be hammered out: let the superfluous scales of the iron drop off, and what is pure remain; let the rust of the iron be rubbed off, and the true metal remain. May God sometime show you that night, the darkness which shines like the day, concerning which it is said, The darkness shall not be hidden from you, and the night shall shine as the day. Then may the gate of Paradise be opened to every man and every woman among you. Then may you enjoy the Christ-bearing waters in their fragrance. Then may you receive the name of Christ , and the power of things divine. Even now, I beseech you, lift up the eye of the mind: even now imagine the choirs of Angels, and God the Lord of all there sitting, and His Only-begotten Son sitting with Him on His right hand, and the Spirit present with them; and Thrones and Dominions doing service, and every man of you and every woman receiving salvation. Even now let your ears ring, as it were, with that glorious sound, when over your salvation the angels shall chant, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered: when like stars of the Church you shall enter in, bright in the body and radiant in the soul.

16. Great is the Baptism that lies before you: a ransom to captives; a remission of offenses; a death of sin; a new-birth of the soul; a garment of light; a holy indissoluble seal; a chariot to heaven; the delight of Paradise; a welcome into the kingdom; the gift of adoption! But there is a serpent by the wayside watching those who pass by: beware lest he bite you with unbelief. He sees so many receiving salvation, and is seeking whom he may devour. You are coming in unto the Father of Spirits, but you are going past that serpent. How then may you pass him? Have your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace ; that even if he bite, he may not hurt you. Have faith in-dwelling, stedfast hope, a strong sandal, that you may pass the enemy, and enter the presence of your Lord. Prepare your own heart for reception of doctrine, for fellowship in holy mysteries. Pray more frequently, that God may make you worthy of the heavenly and immortal mysteries. Cease not day nor night: but when sleep is banished from your eyes, then let your mind be free for prayer. And if you find any shameful thought rise up in your mind, turn to meditation upon Judgment to remind you of Salvation. Give your mind wholly to study, that it may forget base things. If you find any one saying to you, Are you then going in, to descend into the water? Has the city just now no baths? Take notice that it is the dragon of the sea who is laying these plots against you. Attend not to the lips of the talker, but to God who works in you. Guard your own soul, that thou be not ensnared, to the end that abiding in hope you may become an heir of everlasting salvation.

17. We for our part as men charge and teach you thus: but make not our building hay and stubble and chaff, lest we suffer loss, from our work being burnt up: but make our work gold, and silver, and precious stones! For it lies in me to speak, but in you to set your mind upon it, and in God to make perfect. Let us nerve our minds, and brace up our souls, and prepare our hearts. The race is for our soul: our hope is of things eternal: and God, who knows your hearts, and observes who is sincere, and who is a hypocrite, is able both to guard the sincere, and to give faith to the hypocrite: for even to the unbeliever, if only he give his heart, God is able to give faith. So may He blot out the handwriting that is against you , and grant you forgiveness of your former trespasses; may He plant you into His Church, and enlist you in His own service, and put on you the armour of righteousness: may He fill you with the heavenly things of the New Covenant, and give you the seal of the Holy Spirit indelible throughout all ages, in Christ Jesus Our Lord: to whom be the glory for ever and ever! Amen.

(To the Reader. ) These Catechetical Lectures for those who are to be enlightened you may lend to candidates for Baptism, and to believers who are already baptized, to read, but give not at all , neither to Catechumens, nor to any others who are not Christians, as you shall answer to the Lord. And if you make a copy, write this in the beginning, as in the sight of the Lord.

Year Two, Beginning the First Sunday in Advent

Whether you have been reading along from the beginning or have just recently joined (or re-joined) us, we hope you are excited to enter the second year with Read the Fathers. By reading seven pages a day, we are steadily moving through the writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, which we will finish this year. Year Three will commence with the Nicene Fathers in Advent, 2014.

This past year we have read from some of the most significant figures in early Christianity, including Irenaeus, Tertullian, and the Alexandrians, Clement and Origen. This year, with the exception of the highly influential Cyprian of Carthage, we will be reading from lesser known figures, many of whom our readers will no doubt be encountering for the first time.

Not only will we be meeting some new writers, we will also be encountering a much greater variety of writing. To this point we have read mostly apologetic works that have focused (sometimes in great detail) on the same heresies, such as Valentinian Gnosticism, or striven to counter the same types of anti-Christian slander. This year we will be continually jumping from epistles, to sermons and liturgy, to systematic theologies, and to the earliest known harmonies of the gospels.

As always, we invite both casual and disciplined readers to join us at any time. There is, of course, value to reading through the fathers from the beginning, gaining a sense of how patristic teaching develops and how later writers built on the foundations laid by earlier ones. But one need not read from the beginning to start deriving the benefits of learning from other Christians who confessed their faith to a world by ways similar to and disturbingly different from our own.

If you would like to share your experiences of reading through the fathers this past year—whether devotional, academic, or passingly curious—we would love to hear from you. Write to us at info@readthefathers.org and share your story.

Hippolytus

This week we will finish reading Origen and begin reading Hippolytus of Rome (c. 170–236). With Hippolytus we begin the fifth volume of the Ante Nicene Fathers, and as it happens, Hippolytus will take us to the end of the first year of reading down to the day.

Biography

A statue discovered in Rome in 1551 and identified as Hippolytus

A statue discovered in Rome in 1551 and identified as Hippolytus

Hippolytus flourished at the beginning of the third century. Some date his birth to around 170, though this detail like so many others in his life is uncertain. Hippolytus wrote in Greek, not Latin, and he may have been lived for a time in Alexandria or Asia Minor. It is possible that he was a disciple of Irenaeus, with whom he shares a theological affinity. Hippolytus was most likely a presbyter—that is, a priest, but also a leader tasked with the governance of the church under the authority of the bishop—in Rome under Popes Victor I (r. 189–199), Zephyrinus (r. 199–217), and Callixtus I (r. 217–222/23). Some ancient but not contemporary sources refer to Hippolytus as a bishop, variously of Rome, Porta, Bostra, or of an unidentified place.

But it is likely that Hippolytus was not actually a bishop, but an anti-pope. Beginning during the reign of Zephyrinus, Hippolytus become involved in controversies over Christology and church discipline, taking the side against the bishop of Rome and most of the church. He was a particularly bitter opponent of the deacon Callixtus, whom he later described as “a man cunning in wickedness, and subtle where deceit was concerned, (and) who was impelled by restless ambition to mount the episcopal throne” (Refutation of All Heresies, 9.6–7). Hippolytus accused Callistus of bribing, flattering, and manipulating Zephyrinus during his life, then succeeding him as bishop of Rome after his death. It is possible, though uncertain, that Hippolytus allowed himself to be elected as a bishop of the opponents of Callixtus and so set himself up as an anti-pope.

The grounds of the dispute between Callixtus and Hippolytus were many. Callixtus was willing to restore lapsed Christians, even those guilty of grave sins, to clerical office; Hippolytus favored a rigorous church discipline with little room for restoration (in this respect, not unlike the Donatists later). Callixtus was accused of allowing re-married Christians to be priests or deacons; Hippolytus thought this scandalous. Hippolytus writes that during Callixtus’s episcopate, “second baptism was for the first time presumptuously attempted by them,” a charge perhaps related to disputes over who could be readmitted to the church. Callixtus apparently permitted marriages between slaves and free Christians; Hippolytus regarded these unions between social unequals, which did not have the sanction of civil law, as mere concubinage. Of course, since we have only Hippolytus’s side of these accusations, they must be viewed critically and with uncertainty.

By 235, Hippolytus had been exiled to Sardinia by the emperor of Rome, where he died. The legendary account that comes down to us from Prudentius that he died by being drawn between horses is certainly untrue, and is probably based on the mythical Greek figure Hippolytus, about whom Euripedes wrote a play. At some point he must have been reconciled to the bishop of Rome and the Catholic Church, because his body was returned to Rome and buried by the Christians. He was honored as a saint by the Western church, but because his writings were in Greek rather than Latin, he was primarily remembered by the Eastern church.

Theology

The controversy between Hippolytus and Callixtus was highly theological. As the writings of all early Christians attest, heresies and schisms were everywhere in the third century, and one problem that was troubling the church at Rome was the problem of accurately stating the doctrine of the Trinity. Hippolytus accused Zephyrinus of being soft on, and Callixtus of holding outright, the heresy of modalism, which emphasizes the unity of the Godhead to the exclusion of distinguishing between the Father and the Son. For this reason, the heresy is sometimes called patripassianism, since it makes the impassible Father suffer on the cross with Christ. Callixtus in turn accused Hippolytus of being a bi-theist, that is, of making so firm a distinction between the persons of the Trinity as to render the unity of God meaningless.

Hippolytus held to a theology of the Logos, like that of Irenaeus, Justin, and other authors that we have read, though he tended to disdain pagan philosophy. Hippolytus distinguished between the Word as the rational principle in the mind of God, and the Word as the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. Hippolytus thought of the Father and Word as distinct to the point that he thought of the Word as subordinate to the Father. By the standards of clarity possible a century and a half later after the Councils of Nicea (325) and Constantinople (381), his method of distinguishing between the Word and the Father must be regarded as inadequately precise and at various points misguided. But his writings on this topic are chiefly useful for demonstrating how the church over several centuries came to clearly teach the doctrine of the Trinity.

The legendary martyrdom of Hippolytus

The legendary martyrdom of Hippolytus

Works

We will primarily be reading Hippolytus’s book Refutation of All Heresies, with some fragments from his biblical commentaries and other apologetic works. Hippolytus wrote many works, some of which survive only in fragments or in translations into languages other than Greek, and for many of these texts the attribution is contested.

The Refutation of All Heresies is a work in ten books, of which book 1 and books 4–10 survive. The work is a systematic refutation of different heretics, beginning with the Greek and Egyptian philosophers, then continuing through to the Gnostics in the bulk of the book. This book is important to historians of philosophy because Hippolytus preserves fragments of works that would not otherwise be known. The book is important for our purposes as an apologetic text, as one answer to the recurring question of the relationship between the church and philosophy, and also for its positive statement of Christian doctrine in book 10. The central argument of the work is that heretics owe more to pagan philosophy than they do to the revelation that is in Jesus Christ. In taking this position Hippolytus is much closer to Tertullian in his opposition to philosophers than Justin, who was a himself a philosopher, or Clement of Alexandria, who thought the Christian was the true gnostic.

An especially intriguing work—though the authorship is disputed—is The Apostolic Tradition, written around 215 and not re-discovered until the nineteenth-century. This work describes the liturgy as it functioned in Rome, including prayers offered during the sacraments. The work also describes the three-fold offices of the church: bishop, presbyter, and deacon. Because of Hippolytus’s association with this work, other canons of church law have also been attributed to him, often wrongly. We will not be reading The Apostolic Tradition at this juncture, because the document was discovered too late for our nineteenth-century editors, but interested can easily find a copy of the text online.

Further Reading

Hippolytus has been neglected by scholars compared to the other fathers that we have read. Alistair Stewart-Sykes has edited a text with commentary of the Apostolic Tradition for the excellent Popular Patristics Series from St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. The text of a different edition of the Apostolic Tradition is also available online. For the difficult problem of the authorship of Hippolytus, see J. A. Cerrato, Hippolytus Between East and West (Oxford, 2002).

Origen

origen

Icon of Origen

From the Latin West we now return to the Greek-speaking East and begin reading from one of the most influential fathers of Alexandrian school, Origen, who lived from around 185 to 255. Origen was a skilled textual scholar and prolific writer of theology and biblical commentary. Though some of his theological speculations garnered criticism in later ages, Origen’s ideas—and his style of interpreting scripture allegorically—strongly influenced many of the other fathers of the third and fourth centuries.

Biography

Origen was born to Christian parents, and his father was likely killed in the same wave of persecution that led to Clement’s martyrdom. Origen was well-education and well-traveled, and after Clement’s death he established a catechetical school in Alexandria similar to the one Clement had run. Origen’s fame as a teacher attracted the attention of the wealthy courtier Ambrose of Alexandria, who under Origen’s guidance gave up his Valentinian faith and joined the orthodox fold. Ambrose became life-long friends with Origen and financed the copying and distribution of Origen’s works. We thus have Ambrose to thank for many of our readings. After falling out with the bishop of Alexandria, who objected to an irregularity in Origen’s ordination, Origen relocated to Caesarea of Palestine in 232 and re-established his school there. Though Origen persevered unscathed through the major persecutions of Severus (192–203) and Maximus Thrax (235–38), he was caught and tortured during the Decian persecution (249–53) and died a couple years later from his wounds.

Perhaps owing to his notoriety and the theological and ecclesiastical controversies he provoked, a number of colorful stories circulated about Origen during his life. Eusebius, for instance, reports the story that Origen would willingly have gone out to suffer persecution along with his father in 202, but could not leave the house because his mother hid all of his clothes. Eusebius also reports that as part of his rigidly ascetic personal discipline, Origen castrated himself. Scholars are divided on whether the great proponent of allegorical interpretation would have actually taken a passage like Matthew 19:12 so literally, or whether the rumor came from Origen’s detractors in Alexandria.

Works

"Origenes," in Numeros Homilia XXVII, Schäftlarn Monastery (ca. 1160)

“Origenes,” in Numeros Homilia XXVII, Schäftlarn Monastery (ca. 1160)

We will return to some of Origen’s exegetical writings at the end of Year 2. For now we will be reading the dogmatic work On First Principles (De Principiis) and the apologetic work Against Celsus. The De Principiis, written at Alexandria, is an early instance of Christian systematic theology—that is, it aims to lay out the foundation of the Christian faith, not to attack any particular heresy or defend any particular disputed point of orthodoxy. It proceeds in its four books to treat on the doctrine of God, the material world, man and free will, and scripture and methods of interpretation.

Against Celsus, written towards the end of Origen’s life, is—like similar apologetics from Justin, Irenaeus, and Tertullian—a careful, point-by-point refutation of the writings of Celsus, a scornful Platonic philosopher. Whereas the other apologists often combated apostates and heretics, to argue against an unbeliever Origen liberally included references to Greek literature and Platonic thought, which provided a rational grounding to Christian faith.

Theology

Origen’s theology is grounded in a high regard for both scripture and ecclesiastical tradition. Though Origen has been justly criticized for resorting to allegorical interpretation too often in his exegesis, he nevertheless was a skilled grammarian and textual critic, whose regard for the inspiration and authority of scripture made him one of the most brilliant early scholars of scripture. His famous Hexapla replicated Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible side by side for comparison, and Origen’s views on the New Testament canon largely accorded with the list of twenty-seven books that would be established in the fourth century. The De Principiis opens with the affirmation that “as the teaching of the Church, transmitted in orderly succession from the apostles, and remaining in the Churches to the present day, is still preserved, that alone is to be accepted as truth which differs in no respect from ecclesiastical and apostolical tradition. Origen followed this rule closely in his writings, frequently citing scripture or apostolic tradition.

A fragment of Origen's Hexapla

A fragment of Origen’s Hexapla

Three strands of Origen’s thought were gradually enlarged upon by Origen’s closest students and condemned as the Origenist System at the Fifth Ecumenical Council in 554, though Origen himself was not anathematized by the Church. First was the principle of allegorical interpretation. While the rules of interpretation—essentially that scripture must be interpreted in a manner worthy of God—may have been unobjectionable, in the application made by Origen and his later followers, a number of Old Testament passages that offended Greek culture in late antiquity were interpreted beyond recognition.

As Origen was one of the earliest Greek thinkers to tackle the subject of the Trinity in his theological writings, his language was occasionally less precise than what fourth-century orthodoxy would demand. In later years both Athanasius and the Cappodocian Fathers (Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory Nazianzus) would defend Origen’s orthodoxy, but Origen’s terminology was nevertheless employed by some who insisted on an essential difference between the Father and the Son.

The most controversial view—and one clearly entertained by Origen in the De Principiis-–concerns the origin and destiny of rational souls. Origen postulated that though God created everything, he created from eternity. In other words, there was no fixed moment of time at which God began creating. This eternal creation included all rational souls, some of which became angels and some demons, while the rest of the pre-existent souls waited to be born into fleshly bodies. On the other side of eternity, Origen, like Clement before him, affirmed a belief in apokatastasis, a final restoration of all in Christ, including the unregenerate. How strongly Origen held these views is unclear: many of his exegetical writings contradict his musings from the De Principiis, and Origen later flatly denied that he believed the devil would be ultimately restored.

Alternate Editions and Further Reading

Readers hoping to understand Origen without the encumbrances of nineteenth-century translation may wish to consult G. W. Butterworth’s translation of On First Principles and Henry Chadwick’s Contra Celsum. The Paulist Press has produced an anthology translated by Rowan Greer that includes the fourth volume of De Principiis.

Those interested in the details of Origen’s theology may be interested in Han Urs van Balthasar’s systematically anthologized edition of Origen’s writings, Spirit and Fire, translated from Bathasar’s German by Robert J. Daly.

For further reading on Origen’s life and thought, see Joseph Trigg’s study or Ronald Heine’s Scholarship in the Service of the ChurchA particularly nuanced study of Origen’s allegorical method of interpreting scripture is History and Spirit by Henri de Lubac, S.J.

Acknowledging Books Received

photo

From time to time publishers are kind enough to send books to the Read the Fathers home office in hopes that we will review them. While we cannot review them as promptly as I’d like, nevertheless I want to acknowledge receipt of the books and let you know about the titles in case you’re interested. These are the four we’ve received most recently:

A few very general comments. First, I have the great respect for both InterVarsity Press and Paulist Press (and for that matter, for InterVarsity and the Paulists). Papandrea’s book looks like a very helpful introduction to authors and texts, as well as to the general history of the early Patristic era. Goggin and Strobel’s book is a collection of essays about how to read as an evangelical. The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture is a fine series that crafts a commentary on the biblical text from quotations from the Fathers. Many modern biblical commentaries are just more and more of the same: the ACCS is really a commentary of a different source altogether. It is particularly valuable in the Psalms, since many commentaries are more interested in matters of poetic form and Hebrew grammar than in Christological readings of the Psalms.

I hope I’ll have time to give a fuller review of these books over the summer.

Tertullian of Carthage

Tertullian

A woodcut of Tertullian

So far we have read only fathers who wrote in Greek. This is no surprise, given that the apostles and evangelists wrote in Greek, and that in the first several centuries, the language of politics, commerce, and intellect in the Roman Empire was universally Greek and not Latin. Our next father, Tertullian of Carthage, was the first significant Christian author to write in Latin. Thus he earned for himself the appellation “father of Latin Christianity.”

Biography

Little is known for certain about Tertullian’s life. Both Jerome’s Lives of Illustrious Men (ch. 53) and Eusebius’s History of the Church (2.2) give brief biographies of Tertullian, but scholarship that has examined Tertullian’s own writings closely has concluded that these accounts are unreliable.

Tertullian was born in North Africa around 160. North Africa will be important later in our reading as the home of many of the Latin fathers, chief among them Augustine of Hippo. Eusebius writes that he was “a man well versed in the law of the Romans.” Tertullian’s father may have been a centurion. He may have spent some time as a rhetorician or lawyer in Rome, but most of his life was spent in Carthage. In his lifetime Carthaginian Christians experienced persecution, since in his treatise To Scapula, he asks the Roman governor of Carthage to cease persecuting Christians, and since he wrote a treatise On Running Away from Persecution. Several accounts of Carthaginian martyrs contemporary with Tertullian survive.

Map of Carthage in 250

Map of Carthage and other Christian centers in 250

Tertullian mostly likely converted to Christianity from paganism during his adulthood, perhaps between the years 180 and 190. Jerome calls Tertullian a presbyter (or priest) of the church. But when Tertullian compares the clergy and the laity, he seems to include himself with the laity. It is possible that he wrote those works while he was yet a layman. He was probably, though not definitely, married, since he wrote a treatise To His Wife.

Tertullian was a Catholic Christian from the date of his conversion, meaning that he was a member of the orthodox faith and not a part of the numerous breakaway sects. Beginning around the year 206 Tertullian became enamored with Montanism. Montanus was a Christian prophet who was especially ecstatic and extravagant in his prophecies about the Paraclete. He also laid down very strict ascetic guidelines for his followers. Montanus was not at first heretical, but his followers were eventually excommunicated from the Catholic Church. The teachings of the Montanist heresy were greatly exaggerated in the following centuries. Tertullian himself broke with the Catholic Church around 207, and wrote a number of vociferous tracts against the church and its leaders. A very small sect gathered around him; their remnants rejoined the Catholic Church thanks to the reconciliation of Augustine.

Tertullian died in his old age, perhaps around the year 220.

Works

Tertullian wrote in both Latin and Greek, though only his Latin works survive. Altogether some thirty-one of his works survive. We will be reading all of them, starting with his Apology.

Tertullian was a master of prose, with a barbed pen, witty but also humorous. It matters a great deal that Tertullian wrote in Latin. His works originated the distinctive idiom of Western Latin as opposed to Eastern Greek theology. To give but one example: Tertullian was likely the first to translate the Greek word μυστήριον (mysterion) into the Latin sacramentum. If Christianity is essentially a religion of translation, as the missiologist and historian Lamin Sanneh has put it, then to Tertullian we owe the translation of Christianity from its native Greek to Latin, and thus the origination of one of the great linguistic and cultural forms of Christianity.

Chief among his works was the Apology, a statement of Christian beliefs in a genre pioneered by Justin that is by now familiar to us. His other works, To the Nations and On the Witness of the Soul are also primarily apologetic.

Tertullian authored a number of polemical works written primarily against Gnosticism. The chief of these was his five books Against Marcion, which refuted the noted heretic. He takes up such topics as the doctrines of God, of Christ, and of the Trinity, the relationship between reason, tradition, and Scripture, and humans’ resurrection and final judgment in his works Prescription Against Heretics, Against Hermogenes, On the Flesh of Christ, On the Soul, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, and Against Praxeas.

Tertullian was a rigid and ascetic man, as demonstrated by his treatises that describe practices of discipline and morals. These works include On Fasting, On Penitence, and On Modesty. As Tertullian became more and more interested in Montanism, these works became increasingly extreme in the practices that they advocate. These works are useful for as evidences for early Christian practices, especially the practice of penance.

Theology

Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage, according to Jerome, “was accustomed never to pass a day without reading Tertullian, and that he frequently said to [his secretary], ‘Give me the master,’ meaning by this, Tertullian.”

In judging Tertullian’s works, it is crucial to keep in mind that his writing developed over time, and that his later, Montanist works have a different theology than his earlier, catholic works. Yet this difference must not be understood too sharply, as all of Tertullian’s writings were enthusiastic and concerned with the Paraclete. We must also keep in mind that Tertullian wrote for different audiences—sometimes to heretics, sometimes to pagans or Roman officials, sometimes to Catholic Christians, sometimes against Catholics—using different rhetorical strategies and modes of argumentation. The result is that Tertullian’s works must be taken as a whole, rather than in parts.

One of Tertullian’s key theological contributions was his doctrine of the Trinity. In arguing against Marcion, who believed in a cruel god of the Old Testament and a gracious God of the New Testament, Tertullian argued for the unity of God. In arguing against Praxeas, who probably held to the heresy of modalism or patripassianism, 1 Tertullian argued that God was a Trinity (trinitas), a word that he was the first to use. He distinguished between the Father, Son, and Spirit as each being a different person (persona), yet sharing a union of substance (substantia). Tertullian thus contributed some of the key ideas and vocabulary of the orthodox understanding of the Trinity, eventually formalized at the Councils of Nicaea (315) and Constantinople (381). Tertullian also understood the Son to be of two natures, divine and human, a position later defined at the Council of Chalcedon (451). Though Tertullian argued that the Son was derived from the Father, his deviation from Nicene orthodoxy is understandable since a fuller theological statement of the doctrine of the Trinity would not be worked out for well over a century.

Ruins of Carthage

Ruins of Carthage

Tertullian writes frequently on the relationship between Scripture and tradition or the rule of faith (regula fidei), that is, the Christian teaching passed down from the apostles that preceded the written record of the Scriptures. Tertullian argued for and used the Scriptures as authoritative, while holding that what made the Scriptures authoritative was their agreement with the tradition from which they were derived. As Geoffrey Dunn argues, “We find in Tertullian the priority of Tradition over Scripture (to use the language of the sixteenth-century Reformations) because Scripture is a record of Tradition.” Tertullian defended the authority of all the Scriptures against Marcion, who greatly reduced the canon to some of the epistles of Paul and parts of Luke’s Gospel.

Tertullian also deals with a host of other theological questions, among them the doctrine of the soul. His writings are an important witness to practices among early Christians, though as stated earlier, his own proclivities were far more radically ascetic than those of other Christians.

Alternate editions and sources

English translations of Tertullian’s works have been published in the Fathers of the Church series: Rudolph Arbesmann, et al., trans., Tertullian, Apologetical Works (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 1950; reprint, 2008) and Tertullian, Disciplinary, Moral and Ascetical Works (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 1959; reprint, 2008). Those with access to a university library can find the Latin text of Tertullian’s works in the Corpus Christianorum Series Latina, volume 1, Opera Catholica (Brepols, 1954) and volume 2, Opera Montanistica (Brepols, 1954). The Latin texts and English translations of the Apology and On the Spectacles have been published in the Loeb Classical Library edition, edited and translated by T. R. Glover. Tertullian’s treatise On the Lord’s Prayer has been published in Alistair Stewart-Sykes, Tertullian, Cyprian, And Origen On The Lord’s Prayer (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004), part of the excellent Popular Patristics Series. Three of the less studied treatises are translated, with a sixty-page introduction to Tertullian, in Geoffrey D. Dunn, Tertullian (London: Routledge, 2004).

The fullest biography is Timothy David Barnes, Tertullian: A Historical and Literary Study (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985). Barnes doubts most of the details given by Jerome and Eusebius. Tertullian’s theology is treated in Eric Osborn Tertullian, First Theologian of the West (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). See also the Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Tertullian.” The Tertullian Project contains bibliographies and primary texts.

Older posts Newer posts

© 2017 Read the Fathers

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑