Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences
St. Cyril of Jerusalem
"His Catechesis Spans God's Entire Plan of Salvation"
H.H. Benedict XVI
June 27, 2007
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our attention today will be focused on St. Cyril of Jerusalem. His life
represents the coming together of two dimensions: on one side, pastoral
care and, on the other, involvement in the controversies that weighed
upon the Church of the East at that time.
Born in 315 in Jerusalem, or in the surrounding areas, Cyril received a
fine literary formation that became the basis of his ecclesiastical
knowledge through the study of the Bible.
He was ordained a priest by Bishop Maximus. When Maximus died and was
buried, in 348, Cyril was ordained a bishop by Acacius, the influential
metropolitan of Caesarea in Palestine, a follower of Arius who was
convinced he had an ally in Cyril. Hence, Cyril was suspected to have
received the episcopal nomination through concessions given to Arianism.
Cyril soon found himself at odds with Acacius for doctrinal as well as
juridical reasons, because Cyril reinstated the autonomy of his own see,
separating it from that of the metropolitan of Caesarea. During 20 years
or so, Cyril suffered three exiles: the first in 357, by decree of a
synod of Jerusalem; a second in 360 by Acacius; and a third in 367 --
the longest, lasting 11 years -- by Emperor Valens, a follower of
Arianism. Not until 378, after the death of the emperor, was Cyril able
to resume possession of his see, bringing back unity and peace to the
Despite certain writings from his day that call into question his
orthodoxy, others of the same epoch defend it. Among the most
authoritative is the synodal letter of 382, after the ecumenical council
of Constantinople in 381, in which Cyril had a significant role. In that
letter, sent to the Roman Pontiff, the Eastern bishops officially
recognize the absolute authority of Cyril, the legitimacy of his
episcopal ordination and the merits of his pastoral service, which death
brought to an end in 387.
We have 24 of his celebrated catecheses, which he wrote as a bishop
around the year 350. Introduced by a "Procatechesis" of welcome, the
first 18 are addressed to catechumens or illuminandi (in Greek "photizomenoi")
and were kept in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher.
The first five deal with the dispositions required to receive baptism,
conversion from pagan customs, the sacrament of baptism and the ten
dogmatic truths contained in the creed or symbol of faith.
The following catecheses, Nos. 6-18, make up a "continual catechesis" of
the Symbol of Jerusalem, which is anti-Arian. Of the last five, Nos.
19-23, the so-called mystagogical ones, the first two develop a
commentary on the rites of baptism, the last three deal with
confirmation, the Body and Blood of Christ and the Eucharistic liturgy.
There is also an explanation of the Our Father ("Oratio Dominica"),
which establishes a path of initiation to prayer that develops parallel
to the initiation with the three sacraments of baptism, confirmation and
The foundation of instruction in the Christian faith developed, although
amid controversy against the pagans, Judeo-Christians and followers of
Manichaeism. The development of the instruction was based on the
fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament, with a language rich
with images. Catechesis was an important moment, inserted into the broad
context of the entire life, and especially the liturgical life, of the
Christian community. Within this maternal womb, the gestation of the
future Christian took place, accompanied by the prayer and witness of
Taken together, Cyril's homilies make up a systematic catechesis on the
rebirth of the Christian through baptism. To the catechumen, Cyril says:
"You have fallen into the nets of the Church (cfr. Matthew 13:47). Let
yourself be taken alive: Do not run away, because it is Jesus who takes
you to his love, not to give you death but the resurrection after death.
You must die and rise again (cfr. Romans 6:11-14). … Die to sin, and
live for justice, starting today" (Pro-Catechesis, No. 5).
From a "doctrinal" point of view, Cyril comments on the symbol of
Jerusalem with recourse to the use of typology in the Scriptures, in a
"symphonic" relationship between the two Testaments, pointing to Christ,
the center of the universe. Typology will later be wisely described by
Augustine of Hippo with these words: "The New Testament lies hidden in
the Old and the Old Testament is revealed in the New" ("De Catechizandis
His catechesis on morality is anchored in profound unity to the
doctrinal one: Dogma slowly descends into souls, which are asked to
change their pagan ways to adopt new life in Christ, the gift of
baptism. The "mystagogical" catechesis, was the height of instruction
that Cyril imparted, no longer to catechumens, but to the newly baptized
and neophytes during Easter week. He led them to discover the mysteries
still hidden in the baptismal rites of the Easter vigil. Enlightened by
the light of a faith, deepened in the strength of baptism, the neophytes
were finally able to better understand the mysteries, having just
celebrated the rites.
In particular, with the neophytes of Greek origin, Cyril focused on
visual aspects, most suited to them. It was the passage from rite to
mystery, which availed of the psychological effect of surprise and the
experience lived in the Easter vigil. Here is a text explaining the
mystery of baptism: "You were immersed in water three times and from
each of the three you re-emerged, to symbolize the three days that
Christ was in the tomb, imitating, that is, with this rite, our savior,
who spent three days and three nights in the womb of the earth (cfr.
"With the first emersion from the water you celebrated the memory of the
first day that Christ spent in the tomb, with the first immersion you
witnessed to the first night spent in the tomb: As he who in the night
is unable to see, and he who in the day enjoys the light, you too
experience the same thing. While at first you were immersed in the night
and unable to see anything, reemerging, you found the fullness of day.
Mystery of death and of birth, this water of salvation was for you a
tomb and mother. … For you … the time to die coincides with the time to
be born: One is the moment that achieved both events" ("Second
Mystagogical Catechesis," No. 4).
The mystery to behold is God's design; this is achieved through the
salvific actions of Christ in the Church. The mystagogical dimension
complements that of symbols, expressing the lived spiritual experience
that they cause to "explode." From St. Cyril's catechesis, based on the
three components described previously -- doctrinal, moral and
mystagogical -- there results a global catechesis in the Spirit. The
mystagogical dimension brings about the synthesis of the first two,
directing them to the sacramental celebration, in which the salvation of
the entire person is realized.
It is an integral catechesis, which -- involving the body, soul and
spirit -- remains emblematic of the catechetical formation of today's
[Translation by ZENIT]
[The Holy Father then greeted the people in several languages. In
English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Continuing our catechesis on the great teachers of the early Church, we
now turn to Saint Cyril of Jerusalem. Cyril is best known for his
Catecheses, which reveal his orthodox doctrine and his pastoral wisdom.
The Catecheses prepared the catechumens of the Church of Jerusalem first
to receive the sacraments of Christian initiation, and then, after their
Baptism, to understand more deeply the Church's faith as expressed in
the sacred mysteries. Based on the "symphonic" harmony of the Old and
the New Testaments, and centered on the fulfillment of the ancient
prophecies of the coming of Christ, the Catecheses explained the
articles of the Creed and the Lord's Prayer, the reality of Baptism as
an event of spiritual rebirth, and the importance of the sacramental
life and personal prayer for every Christian. Cyril's catechesis spans
God's entire plan of salvation, accomplished through the work of Christ
in the Church. With their rich doctrinal, moral and mystagogical
teaching, the Catecheses remain a model for instruction today, leading
the whole person -- body, soul and spirit -- to a living experience of
Christ's gift of salvation.
I extend a special welcome to the English-speaking visitors here today,
including pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Kampala in Uganda, led by
Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga. I also greet the group of supporters of the
Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, and participants in
the Jewish-Christian dialogue symposium organized by the Focolari
Movement, as well as various groups from Wales, Norway, Malawi
Australia, India and the United States. Upon you all and your families
at home, I invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.
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