c. 315- 386
Optional Memorial; Liturgical Color: White
It is the Christ given obligation of every Catholic bishop, and the priests and deacons who share in his ministry, to teach, sanctify, and govern all people under their spiritual care. Regarding teaching, the letters of St. Paul, as well as the writings of early Christian theologians, abundantly attest to the duty of the Apostles and their appointed successors to ensure that false doctrine never infects their flocks. The episcopal duty to teach was not a charism or gift of the Holy Spirit such as speaking in tongues, performing miracles, or healing the infirm. Teaching correct doctrine might be aided by the Holy Spirit, but it was first a mandate from the Lord Himself. To not teach, to teach incompletely, or to teach falsely, was for the shepherd to ignore, neglect, or scatter the sheep entrusted to his care and protection.
Today’s saint, Cyril, the Bishop of Jerusalem in the late fourth century, was a model teacher of right doctrine. He did not just teach teachers what to teach. He did not deputize or delegate others to do his teaching for him. He was the local Father, and concerned for Christian formation in the household of faith, he personally taught. How do we know this? Two reasons: First, because a holy woman named Egeria went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the 380’s. She documented her travels in a journal which identifies Cyril, by name, as the catechist in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Second, we know of Bishop Cyril’s talks because many of them were dutifully recorded and preserved, presumably because of their high caliber. The talks are rich, early testimony to the perennial, consistent, doctrines of the Catholic Church.
Egeria states that Cyril catechized about the significance of Lent and Easter to catechumens and neophytes (the newly baptized) by teaching from the entire Bible and the Creed, article by article. He taught for three hours each day, every one of the forty days of Lent and during Easter week. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul wrote, “But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?” (Romans 10:14) Bishop Cyril admirably fulfilled his apostolic duty to teach.
Among the profound teachings of St. Cyril on the Mass, Baptism, and the Sacraments are his extended reflections on the nature of the Holy Eucharist. He is explicit, “Since He Himself has declared and said of the bread: This is My Body, who shall dare to doubt any more? And when He asserts and says: This is My Blood, who shall ever hesitate and say it is not His Blood?…Do not think it mere bread and wine, for it is the Body and Blood of Christ, according to the Lord’s declaration”. (St. Cyril Catechetical Lecture XXII.) Cyril notes that if Christ could change water into wine, why could He not change wine into His own Blood? Reading these words of Cyril, it is perplexing that any modern Christian could doubt the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. As Blessed Cardinal Newman wrote: “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.”(An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Introduction, chpt. 5.)
Bishop Cyril was deeply involved in various consequential theological controversies of his day, was banished from Jerusalem, and participated in the First Council of Constantinople. He lived a long, complicated, and impactful life in the heart of the Church. He is in many ways a model to all bishops for his zealous yet tender care of souls, especially those preparing to be washed in the saving waters of baptism at Easter. St. Cyril fortified the content of the Church’s teaching with his personal presence, and by extension, the presence of the Sacrament of Holy Orders in his very person. He is a Bishop remote in time, yet near in doctrine. Far removed from us historically, he is still close at our side when we stand to recite the same Creed he recited at every Sunday Mass.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem, through your powerful and generous dedication to teaching the truths of our faith, come to the assistance of all catechists, ordained and lay, to be equally committed to teaching those under their care, in season and out of season, in acceptance and rejection, knowing that fidelity to the Lord and His Church is what counts the most.
From Butler’s Lives of the Saints:
CYRIL was born at or near the city of Jerusalem, about the year 315. He was ordained priest by St. Maximus, who gave him the important charge of instructing and preparing the candidates for Baptism. This charge he held for several years, and we still have one series of his instructions, given in the year 347 or 318. They are of singular interest as being the earliest record of the systematic teaching of the Church on the creed and sacraments, and as having been given in the church built by Constantine on Mount Calvary. They are solid, simple, profound; saturated with Holy Scripture; exact, precise, and terse; and, as a witness and exposition of the Catholic faith, invaluable. On the death of St. Maximus, Cyril was chosen Bishop of Jerusalem. At the beginning of his episcopate a cross was seen in the air reaching from Mount Calvary to Mount Olivet, and so bright that it shone at noonday. St. Cyril gave an account of it to the emperor; and the faithful regarded it as a presage of victory over the Arian heretics. While Cyril was bishop, the apostate Julian resolved to falsify the words of Our Lord by rebuilding the Temple at Jerusalem. He employed the power and resources of a Roman emperor; the Jews thronged enthusiastically to him and gave munificently. But Cyril was unmoved. ” The word of God abides,” he said; “one stone shall not be laid on another.” When the attempt was made, a heathen writer tells us that horrible flames came forth from the earth, rendering the place inaccessible to the scorched and scared workmen. The attempt was made again and again, and then abandoned in despair. Soon after, the emperor perished miserably in a war against the Persians, and the Church had rest. Like the other great bishops of his time, Cyril was persecuted, and driven once and again from his see; but on the death of the Arian Emperor Valens he returned to Jerusalem. He was present at the second General Council at Constantinople, and died in peace in 386, after a troubled episcopate of thirty-five years.
Reflection.—”As a stout staff,” says St. John Chrysostom, “supports the trembling limbs of a feeble old man, so does faith sustain our vacillating mind, lest it be tossed about by sinful hesitation and perplexity.”
Lives of the Saints, by Alban Butler, Benziger Bros. ed.