The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

St Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on John 6:51-58

Posted by Dim Bulb on June 22, 2011

48, 49, 50 I am the Bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and died: This is the Bread Which came down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof and not die.

Full clearly may one herein behold that which was spoken afore by the Prophet Isaiah, I was made manifest to them that seek Me not, I was found of them that asked not for Me, I said, Behold Me, unto a nation that was not called by My Name: all the day spread I out My Hands unto a rebellious and gainsaying people. For, removing the whole casefrom His speech, and having taken away (so to say) all that cloaked it. He at length reveals Himself unveiled to them of Israel, saying, I am the Bread of life, that they may now learn that if they would be superior to corruption, and would put off the death which from the transgression fell upon us, they must needs approach to the participation of Him who is mighty to quicken, and destroyeth corruption, and bringeth to nought death: for this verily is a work proper and most fit for that which is by Nature Life. But since they, affirming that the manna was given to their fathers in the wilderness, received not the Bread which of a truth came down from heaven, that is, the Son, He maketh a necessary comparison between the type and the truth, that so they might know that not that is the Bread which is from heaven, but He Whom the trial shews to be so by Nature. For your fathers (saith He) and ancestors by eating the manna, gave to the bodily nature its need, gaining thereby life for a season, and imparting to the flesh its daily sustenance therefrom, with difficulty effected that it should not die at once. But it will be (He says) the clearest proof of its not being the Bread which is from heaven in a truer sense, that they who partook were no way benefited thereby unto incorruption: a token again in like way that the Son is properly and truly the Bread of Life, that they who have once partaken, and been in some way immingled with Him through the communion with Him have been shewn superior to the very bonds of death. For that the manna again is taken rather as an image or shadow of Christ, and was typifying the Bread of Life, but was not itself the Bread of Life, has been often said by us: and the Psalmist supporteth us, crying out in the Spirit, He gave them bread of Heaven, man did eat angels’ bread. For it seems to have been said to them of Israel by the Spirit-clad, but in truth it is not so, but to us rather is the aim of the words directed. For is it not foolish and utterly senseless to suppose that the holy angels which are in heaven, albeit they have an incorporeal nature, should partake grosser food, and need such aid in order to prevail unto life, as this body of earth desires? But I think it nothing hard to conceive, that, since they are spirits, they should need like food, spiritual (I mean) and of wisdom. How then is angels’ bread said to have been given to the ancestors of the Jews, if the Prophet speaks truly in so crying? But it is manifest, that since the typical manna was an image of Christ, Which containeth and upholdeth all things in being, nourishing the angels and quickening the things on earth, the Prophet was calling that which is signified by shadows by the name of the truth,—-from the fact that the holy angels could not partake of the more earthly food, drawing off his hearers even against their will from any gross conception as to the manna, and bringing them up to the spiritual meaning, that of Christ, Who is the Food of the holy Angels themselves also.

They then who ate the manna (He says) are dead, not having received any participation of life therefrom (for it was not truly lifegiving, but rather taken as an aid against carnal hunger and in type of the true); but they who receive in themselves the Bread of Life, will have immortality as their prize, wholly setting at nought corruption and its consequent evils, and will mount up unto boundless and unending length of Life in Christ. Nor will it at all damage our words on this subject that they who have been made partakers of Christ, need to taste bodily death on account of what is due to nature; for even though they falling into this end undergo the lot of humanity, yet, as Paul saith, they that shall live, live to God.

51 I am the Living Bread Which came down from heaven; if any man eat of this Bread he shall live for ever.

To say the same things unto you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe, writes the Divine Paul to certain, in this too (I suppose) instructed by these very words of the Saviour. For as those who are diseased with wounds, need not the application of a single plaister, but manifold tending, and that not once applied, but by its continuance of application expelling the pain: so (I ween) for the soul most rugged, and withered mind, should many aids of teaching be contrived and come one after the other: for one will avail to soften it not by one and the first leading, but through its successive coming to it, even if it come in the same words. Oftentimes then does the Saviour bringing round the same manner of speech to the Jews set it before them manifoldly, sometimes darkly, and clad in much obscurity, at other times freed delivered and let loose from all double meaning, that they still disbelieving, might lack nothing yet unto their condemnation, but being evil evilly might be destroyed, themselves against their own soul thrusting the sword of perdition.

Christ therefore no longer concealing anything says, I am the Living Bread Which came down from heaven. That was (He says) a type and a shadow and an image. Hear Him now openly and no more veiled, I am the Living Bread, if any man eat of this Bread, he shall live for ever. They who ate of that died, for it was not lifegiving: he that eateth of This Bread, that is Me, or My Flesh, shall live for ever. We must then beware of and reject alike hardening ourselves to the words of piety, since Christ not once only, but oftentimes persuadeth us. For there is no doubt, that they will full surely be open to the severest charges, who turn aside to the uttermost folly, and through boundless unbelief, refuse not to rage against the Author of the most excellent things. Therefore says He of the Jews, If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin, but now they have no cloke for their sin. For they who have never by hearing received the word of salvation into their heart, will haply find the Judge milder, while they plead that they heard not at all, even though they shall specially give account for not having sought to learn: but they who often instructed by the same admonitions and words to the seeking after what is profitable, senselessly imagine that they ought to deprive themselves of the most excellent good things, shall undergo most bitter punishment, and shall meet with an offended judge, not able to find an excuse for their folly which may shame Him.

And the Bread which I will give is My Flesh for the life of the world.

I die (He says) for all, that I may quicken all by Myself, and I made My Flesh a Ransom for the flesh of all. For death shall die in My Death, and with Me shall rise again (He says) the fallen nature of man. For for this became I like to you, Man (that is) and of the seed of Abraham, that I might be made like in all things unto My brethren. The blessed Paul himself also, well understanding what Christ just now said to us says, Forasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same, that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil. For no otherwise was it possible that he that hath the power of death should be destroyed, and death itself also, had not Christ given Himself for us, a Ransom, One for all, for He was in behalf of all. Wherefore He says in the Psalms too, offering Himself as a spotless Sacrifice to God the Father, Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not, but a Body preparedst Thou Me. In whole burnt-offerings and offerings for sin Thou tookedst no pleasure: then said I, Lo I come (in the chapter of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O God, was My choice. For since the blood of bulls and of goats and the ashes of an heifer sufficed not unto the purging away of sin, nor yet would the slaughter of brute beasts ever have destroyed the power of death, Christ Himself came in in some way to undergo punishment for all. For with His stripes WE were healed, as saith the Prophet, and His Own Self bare our sins in His Own Body on the tree; and He was crucified for all and on account of all, that if One died for all, all we might live in Him. For it was not possible that He should be holden by death, neither could corruption over-master that Which is by Nature Life. But that Christ gave His Own Flesh for the Life of the world, we shall know by His words also, for He saith, Holy Father keep them; and again, For their sakes I sanctify Myself. He here says that He sanctifies Himself, not aiding Himself unto sanctification for the purification of the soul or spirit (as it is understood of us), nor yet for the participation of the Holy Ghost, for the Spirit was in Him by Nature, and He was and is Holy always, and will be so ever. He here says, I sanctify Myself, for, I offer Myself and present Myself as a spotless Sacrifice for an odour of a sweet smell. For that which is brought to the Divine Altar was sanctified, or called holy according to the law.

Christ therefore gave His Own Body for the life of all, and again through It He maketh Life to dwell in us; and how, I will say as I am able. For since the life-giving Word of God indwelt in the Flesh, He transformed it into His Own proper good, that is life, and by the unspeakable character of this union, coming wholly together with It, rendered It life-giving, as Himself is by Nature. Wherefore the Body of Christ giveth life to all who partake of It. For it expels death, when It cometh to be in dying men, and removeth corruption, full in Itself perfectly of the Word which abolisheth corruption.

But a man will haply say, fixing the eye of his understanding upon the resurrection of them that have slept: They who received not the faith in Christ, and were not partakers of Him, will not live again at the time of the resurrection. What? shall not every created thing that has fallen into death return again to life?

To these things we say, Yes, all flesh shall live again: for Prophecy foretells that the dead shall be raised. For we consider that the Mystery through the resurrection of Christ extendeth over the whole nature of man, and in Him first we believe that our whole nature has been released from corruption. For all shall rise, after the likeness of Him That was raised for our sakes, and hath all in Himself, in that He is Man. And as in the first-formed we fell down into death, so in the First-born again, who was so for our sakes, all shall rise again from the dead: but they that did good, unto the resurrection of life (as it is written), and they that wrought evil, unto the resurrection of doom. And I will grant, that in no passing degree bitterer than death is the resurrection unto punishment, and the receiving life again unto disgrace alone. In the stricter sense then wo must understand the Life that is really so, the life in Christ, in holiness and bliss and unfailing delight. For that this is truly life the wise John too knows, saying, He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God shall abide on him. For lo, lo, he says that he which is in unbelief shall not see life: although every creature looks to return again to life, and to rise again. It is then manifest, that the Saviour with reason called that the life which is prepared for the Saints, I mean that in glory and in holiness, which that we ought to pursue after by coming to the participation of the Life-giving Flesh, no right-minded person will doubt.

But since the Saviour called Himself Bread in many of the passages that have already been before us, let us see whether He would not hereby too bring to our mind any one of the things fore-announced and is reminding us of the things in Holy Writ, wherein He was long ago signified under the form of bread. It is written then in Numbers, And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and thou shalt say unto them., When ye come into the land whither I bring you, then it shall be, that when YE eat of the bread of the land, ye shall offer up an heave-offering a separation unto the Lord: a cake the first-fruit of your dough shall ye offer for an heave-offering: as an heave offering of the threshingfloor, so shall ye heave it, a first fruit of your dough, and ye shall give unto the Lord, an heave offering unto your generations. Obscurely then, and bearing a gross covering as of the letter, did the law typify these things: yet did it proclaim afore the true Very Bread That cometh down from heaven, i. e., Christ, and giveth life unto the world. For observe how He made Man like us by reason of His Likeness to us, a certain First-fruits of our dough and heave offering, as it is written, was offered up to God the Father, set forth the First-Begotten of the dead, and the First-fruits of the resurrection of all ascending into heaven itself. For He was taken of us, He took hold of the seed of Abraham, as Paul saith, He was offered up, as of all, and in behalf of all, that He might quicken all, and might be offered to God the Father, as it were the first handful of the floor. But as He being in truth Light, put that grace upon His disciples; for He says, YE are the light of the world: so too He being the Living Bread, and That quickeneth all things and keepeth them in being, by a likeness and through the shadow of the Law, was typifying in the twelve loaves the holy choir of the Apostles. For thus He says in Leviticus, And the Lord spalce unto Moses, saying, Command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee oil olive pure beaten for the light, to cause the lamp to burn continually without the vail in the tabernacle of the testimony. And then He proceeds, And ye shall take fine flour, and make twelve cakes thereof: two tenth deals shall be in one cake. And ye shall set them in two rows, six in a row, upon the pure table before the Lord, and shall put pure frankincense upon each row, and salt, and it shall be on the loaves for a memorial unto the Lord.

The lamp then in the holy tabernacle, and giving light without the vail, we said in the foregoing was the blessed John, nourished with the purest oil, that is, the illumination through the Spirit: outside the vail, because his doctrine was catechetic: for he says, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of our God. But the things within the vail, that is, the hidden Mystery of Christ, he sheweth not much. For I (he saith) baptize you with water unto repentance, but He That cometh after me is mightier than I, Whose shoes I am not worthy to bear, He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire. Seest thou then how he shines, as in simpler speech calling unto repentance; but the things within the vail he commits to Him That baptizeth with fire and the Spirit, to lay open? And these things we have set forth more at large, on the words, at the beginning of the book, He was the burning and the shining light: yet we touched on them now cursorily, since it was necessary, on John’s passing away, to shew that the preaching of the holy Apostles was near and straightway present.

For for this reason, I suppose, the Scripture, having first signified him by the lamp puts before us the consideration of the twelve loaves. Ye shall make (it says) twelve cakes: two tenth deals shall be in one cake. It is the custom of the Divine Scripture, to receive ever the number ten as perfect, and to acknowledge it as the fullest, since the series and order of the consecutive numbers, receiving a kind of revolution and mutiplication of the same into the same, advances and is extended to whatsoever one will. He commands then that each cake be of two tenth deals, that you may see perfection in the disciples, in the even pair, I mean both active virtue, and that of contemplation. He bids two rows to be made (and profitably so) well nigh indicating the very position, which it was (as is like) their custom to take, ever receiving the Lord in the midst of them, and accustomed ever to surround Him as their Master. And that we may know that, as Paul saith, they are unto God the Father a sweet savour of Christ, He bids frankincense to be put on the cakes, and that they be sprinkled also with salt. For it is said to them, YE are the salt of the earth.  Yea and with reason does He bid it be offered upon the Sabbath day, for they were made manifest in the last times of the world: and the last day of the week is the Sabbath. And not only so, but because at the time of our Saviour’s coming we held a Sabbath spiritually: for we rested from sin. And then were the holy Apostles also made manifest unto us, by whose Divine writings also we nourished attain unto the life in holiness. Therefore on the Sabbath day specially doth He bid the cakes to be set out upon the holy table, that is, in the Church. For the whole is often signified by a part. But what is holier than the holy Table of Christ? Therefore the Saviour was pre-typified as bread by the Law: the Apostles again as cakes by their likeness to Him. For all things were in verity in Christ, but by likeness to Him, they belong to us too through His grace.

52, 53 The Jews therefore were striving among themselves saying, How can This Man give us His Flesh to eat? Jesus therefore said unto them,

All things are plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge, as it is written, but darksome to the foolish is even that which is exceeding easy. For the truly wise hearer shuts up the more obvious teaching in the treasury of his understanding, not admitting any delay in respect of this: but as to the things the meaning whereof is hard, he goes about with his enquiries, and does not cease asking about them; and he seems to me profitably to press on to do much the same as they say that the fleetest dogs of the chase do, who having from nature great quickness of scent, keep running round the haunts of their game. And does not the wise and prophetic oracle call to some similar habit, Seeking seek and dwell with Me? For the seeker must seek, that is, must bring a most unflinching zeal thereto, and not go astray after empty speculations, but in proportion as anything is more rugged in its difficulty, with so much the more vigorous mind must he apply himself and carry by storm with more resolute onset of his thoughts that which is concealed. But the unpractised and unteachable mind, whatever starts up before it, rages at it with its unbelief, rejects the word ‘conquering’ as spurious, from undisciplined daring mounting up to the last degree of arrogance. For that which will give way to none, nor think that ought is greater than it, how will it not at last be, what we have just said?

And we shall find by looking into the nature of the thing that the Jews too fell into this disorder. For when they ought to have accepted unhesitatingly the words of the Saviour, having already through many things marvelled at His God-befitting Power and His incontestable Authority over all, and to have enquired what was hard of attainment, and to have besought instruction wherein they were perplexed: they senseless repeat How to God, as though they knew not that it is a word replete with all blasphemy. For the Power of accomplishing all things without toil belongs to God, but they, being natural men, as the blessed Paul saith, received not the things of the Spirit of God, but the so dread Mystery seems folly to them.

We then ought, to derive benefit herefrom, and reestablishing our own life by others’ falls, to hold without question our faith in the teaching of the Divine Mysteries and not to apply How to ought that is told us (for it is a Jewish word, and therefore deserving of extremest punishment). And when the ruler of the synagogue of the Jews, Nicodemus by name, on hearing the Divine words, said, How can these things be? with justice was he ridiculed hearing, Art THOU a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? Let us then, found more skilful in the search after what is profitable, even by others’ folly, beware of saying How, to what God works, but rather study to attribute to Him the knowledge of the mode of His Own Works. For as no one will know what God is by Nature, but he is justified who believeth that He is and that He is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him: so again will one be ignorant of the mode of His several acts, but by committing the issue to faith, and by confessing the Almighty Power of God Who is over all, will he receive the not contemptible reward of so good a decision. For the Lord of all Himself willing us so to be affected saith by the Prophet Isaiah, For My Counsels are not as your counsels, neither as your ways are My Ways, saith the Lord, but as the heaven is far from the earth, so are My Ways far from your ways, and your thoughts from My Mind. But He That so greatly surpasseth us in wisdom and might, how shall He not also work wonderfully, and overpass our understanding?

I would fain introduce yet an argument besides, no mean one, as I think. For they who in this life take up the knowledge of mechanics (as it is called) often engage to perform some great thing, and the way of doing it is hidden from the mind of hearers, till they have seen it done; but they looking at the skill that is in them, even before the trial itself, accept it on faith, not venturing to gainsay. How then (may one say) will not they with reason be open to heavy charges, for daring to dishonour with their unbelief God the Chiefest Worker of all things, who refuse not to say how to those things which He worketh, albeit they acknowledge Him to be the Giver of all wisdom, and are taught by the whole Divine Scripture that He can do all things? But if thou persistest, O Jew, saying How! I too will imitate for thy sake thine ignorance, and say to thee, how earnest thou out of Egypt? how (tell me) was the rod of Moses changed into a serpent? how became the hand leprous, and was again restored, as it is written? how passed the water into the nature of blood? how passedst thou through the Red Sea, as through dry land? how by means of a tree was the bitter water of Mara changed into sweet? how too was water supplied to thee from the breasts of the rocks? how was the manna brought down to thee? how again stood the Jordan in his place? or how through a shout alone was the impregnable wall of Jericho shattered? And will that how never fail thee? For thou wilt be detected, already amazed at many mighty works, to which if thou appliest the how, thou wilt wholly disbelieve all Divine Scripture, and wilt overthrow all the words of the holy Prophets, and, above all, the holy writings of thine own Moses himself. It were therefore meeter far, that, believing in Christ and assenting unhesitatingly to His words, ye should be zealous to learn the mode of the blessing, and not be inconsiderately intoxicate saying, How can this Man give us His Flesh to eat? for the word this Man too they say in disdain. For some such meaning again does their arrogant speech hint at.

53 Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, ye have not life in you.

Long-suffering truly and of great mercy is Christ, as one may see from the words now before us. For in no wise reproaching the littleness of soul of the unbelievers, He again richly gives them the life-giving knowledge of the Mystery, and having overcome, as God, the arrogance of them that grieve Him, He tells them those things whereby they shall (He says) mount up to endless life. And how He will give them His Flesh to eat, He tells them not as yet, for He knew that they were in darkness, and could never avail to understand the ineffable: but how great good will result from the eating He shews to their profit, that haply inciting them to a desire of living in greater preparation for unfading pleasures, He may teach them faith. For to them that have now believed there follows suitably the power too of learning. For so saith the prophet Isaiah, If ye will not believe neither yet shall ye understand. It was therefore right, that faith having been first rooted in them, there should next be brought in understanding of those things whereof they are ignorant, and that the investigation should not precede faith.

For this cause (I suppose) did the Lord with reason refrain from telling them how He would give them His Flesh to eat, and calls them to the duty of believing before seeking. For to them that had at length believed He brake bread, and gave to them, saying, Take, eat, This is My Body. Likewise handing round the Cup to them all, He saith, Drink of it all of you, for this is My Blood of the New Testament, which is being shed for many for the remission of sins. Seest thou how to those who were yet senseless and thrust from them faith without investigation. He explaineth not the mode of the Mystery, but to those who had now believed, He is found to declare it most clearly? Let them then, who of their folly have not yet admitted the faith in Christ, hear, Except ye eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, ye have no life in you. For wholly destitute of all share and taste of that life which is in sanctification and bliss, do they abide who do not through the mystical Blessing receive Jesus. For He is Life by Nature, inasmuch as He was begotten of a Living Father: no less quickening is His Holy Body also, being in a manner gathered and ineffably united with the all-quickening Word. Wherefore It is accounted His, and is conceived of as One with Him. For, since the Incarnation, it is inseparable; except as regards the knowledge that the Word Which came from God the Father, and the temple from the Virgin, are not indeed the same in nature (for the Body is not consubstantial with the Word from God), yet are they One by that coming-together and ineffable concurrence. And since the Flesh of the Saviour hath become life-giving (as being united to That which is by Nature Life, the Word from God), when we taste It, then have we life in ourselves, we too united to It, as It to the indwelling Word. For this cause also, when He raised the dead, the Saviour is found to have operated, not by word only, or God-befitting commands, but He laid a stress on employing His Holy Flesh as a sort of co-operator unto this, that He might shew that It had the power to give life, and was already made one with Him. For it was in truth His Own Body, and not another’s. And verily when He was raising the little daughter of the chief of the Synagogue saying, Maid, arise, He laid hold of her hand, as it is written, giving life, as God, by His All-Powerful command, and again, giving life through the touch of His Holy Flesh, He shews that there was one kindred operation through both. Yea and when He went into the city called Nain, and one was being carried out dead, the only son of his mother, again He touched the bier, saying, Young man, to thee I say, Arise. And not only to His Word gives He power to give life to the dead, but that He might shew that His Own Body was life-giving (as I have said already), He touches the dead, thereby also infusing life into those already decayed. And if by the touch alone of His Holy Flesh, He giveth life to that which is decayed, how shall we not profit yet more richly by the life-giving Blessing when we also taste It? For It will surely transform into Its own good, i. e., immortality, those who partake of It.

And wonder not hereat, nor ask thyself in Jewish manner, How? but rather consider that water is cold by nature, but when it is poured into a kettle and brought to the fire, then it all but forgets its own nature, and goes away unto the operation of that which has mastered it. We too then in the same way, even though we be corruptible through the nature of our flesh, yet forsaking our own infirmity by the immingling of life, are trans-elemented to Its property, that is, life. For it needed, it needed that not only should the soul be re-created through the Holy Ghost into newness of life, but also that this gross and earthly body should by the grosser and kindred participation be sanctified and called to incorruption. But let not the Jew sluggish of understanding ever suppose that a mode of some new mysteries has been discovered by us. For he will see it in the older books, I mean those of Moses, already fore-shadowed out and bearing the force of the truth, for that it was accomplished in outward forms too. For what (tell me) shamed the destroyer? what provided that their forefathers also should not perish along with the Egyptians, when death, the conqueror of all, was arming himself against the firstborn? is it not manifest to all, that when they, in obedience to the Divine Law sacrificed the lamb, and having tasted of its flesh anointed the doorposts with the blood, death was compelled to pass them by, |420 as sanctified? For the destroyer, that is, the death of the body, was arrayed against the whole nature of man, by reason of the transgression of the first-formed man. For then first did we hear, Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. But since Christ was about to overthrow the so dire tyrant, by existing in us as Life through His Holy Flesh, the Mystery was fore-typified to them of old, and they tasted of the flesh of the lamb, and were sanctified and preserved by its blood, he that was appointed to destroy passing by, by the appointment of God, those who were partakers of the lamb. Why then art thou angry, O Jew, at being now called from the types to the truth, when Christ says, Except ye eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, ye have not life in you? albeit thou oughtest to come with more confidence to the comprehending of the Mystery, pre-instructed by the books of Moses, and by most ancient figures led most undoubtingly to the duty of faith.

54 Whoso eateth My Flesh and drinketh My Blood hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

Herein too ought we specially to admire the holy Evangelist openly crying, And the Word was made Flesh. For he shrank not from saying, not that He was made in Flesh, but that He was made Flesh, that he might shew the Union. And we do not say either that God the Word, of the Father, was transformed into the nature of the Flesh, or that the flesh passed into the Word (for Each remaineth that which it is by nature, and One Christ of Both); but in a manner unspeakable and passing human understanding, the Word united to His Own Flesh, and having, as it were, transformed It all into Himself (according to the operation which lieth in His power of quickening things lacking life) drave forth of our nature the corruption, and dislodged too death which of old prevailed by means of sin. He therefore that eateth the Holy Flesh of Christ, hath eternal life: for the Flesh hath in Itself the Word Which is by Nature Life. Wherefore He saith, I will raise him up at the last day. Instead of saying, My Body shall raise him up, i. e., him that eateth It, He hath put I: not as though He were other than His Own Flesh (and not wholly so by nature), for after the Union He cannot at all be severed into a pair of sons. I therefore (He saith) Who am become in him, through Mine Own Flesh, that is, will raise up him who eateth thereof, in the last day. For it were indeed even impossible that He Which is by Nature Life, should not surely overcome decay, and master death. Wherefore even though death which by the transgression sprang on us compel the human body to the debt of decay, yet since Christ is in us through His Own Flesh, we shall surely rise. For it were incredible, yea rather impossible, that Life should not make alive those in whom It is. For as if one took a spark and buried it amid much stubble, in order that the seed of fire preserved might lay hold on it, so in us too our Lord Jesus Christ hideth life through His Own Flesh, and inserts it as a seed of immortality, abolishing the whole corruption that is in us.

55 For My Flesh is True Meat and My Blood True Drink.

Again does He contrast the Mystic Blessing with the supply of manna, and the savour of the cup with the founts from rocky beds. And what He said afore in other words, this He again says here, manifoldly fashioning the same discourse. For He does not advise them to marvel overmuch at the manna, but rather to receive Him, as Bread from Heaven, and the Giver of eternal life. For Your fathers (He says) ate the manna in the wilderness and died: this is the Bread Which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof and not die. For the food of manna (says He) having for a very little time sported with the need of the body, and driven away the hurt of want, was again powerless, and did not engraft eternal life in them that had eaten thereof. That then was not the true Food, and Bread from heaven, that is; but the Holy Body of Christ, Which nourishes to immortality and life everlasting, is verily the true Food. ‘Yea and they drank water also from the rock.’ ‘And what then’ (He says) ‘or what the profit to them who drank? for they have died.’ That too then was not true drink; but true Drink in truth is found to be the Precious Blood of Christ, Which uproots from the foundation all corruption, and dislodges death which dwelt in the flesh of man. For it is not the Blood of any chance man, but of the Very Life that is by Nature. Wherefore we are entitled both the Body and the members of Christ, as receiving through the Blessing the Son Himself in ourselves.

56 He that eateth My Flesh and drinketh My Blood dwelleth in Me and I in him.

Manifoldly does Christ initiate us by these words, and since His Discourse is hard of attainment by the more unlearned, asking for itself rather the understanding of faith than investigation, He revolving again and again over the same ground makes it easy in divers ways, and from all parts illumines what is useful therein, fixing as a kind of foundation and groundwork the most excellent desire for it. For he that eateth My Flesh (saith He) and drinketh My Blood abideth in Me and I in him. For as if one should join wax with other wax, he will surely see (I suppose) the one in the other; in like manner (I deem) he who receiveth the Flesh of our Saviour Christ and drinketh His Precious Blood, as He saith, is found one with Him, commingled as it were and immingled with Him through the participation, so that he is found in Christ, Christ again in him. Thus was Christ teaching us in the Gospel too according to Matthew, saying, The Kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened. Who then the woman is, what the three measures of meal, or what the measure at all, shall be spoken of in its proper place: for the present we will speak only of the leaven. As then Paul saith that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump, so the least portion of the Blessing blendeth our whole body with itself, and filleth it with its own mighty working, and so Christ cometh to be in us, and we again in Him. For one may truly say that the leaven is in the whole lump, and the lump by like reasoning is in the whole leaven: you have in brief the sense of the words. And if we long for eternal life, if we pray to have the Giver of immortality in ourselves, let us not like some of the more heedless refuse to be blessed nor let the Devil deep in wickedness, lay for us a trap and snare a perilous reverence.

Yea (says he) for it is written, He that eateth of the Bread, and drinketh of the Cup unworthily, eateth and drinketh doom unto himself: and I, having examined myself, see that I am not worthy.

When then wilt thou be worthy (will he who thus speaks hear from us) when wilt thou present thyself to Christ? for if thou art always going to be scared away by thy stumblings, thou wilt never cease from stumbling (for who can understand his errors? as saith the holy Psalmist) and wilt be found wholly without participation of that wholly-preserving sanctification. Decide then to lead a holier life, in harmony with the law, and so receive the Blessing, believing that it hath power to expel, not death only, but the diseases in us. For Christ thus coming to be in us lulleth the law which rageth in the members of the flesh, and kindleth piety to God-ward, and deadeneth our passions, not imputing to us the transgressions in which we are, but rather, healing us, as sick. For He bindeth up that which was crushed, He raiseth what had fallen, as a Good Shepherd and One that hath laid down His Life for His sheep.

57 As the Living Father sent Me, and I live by the Father, so he that eateth Me, he too shall live by Me.

Obscure is the meaning of this passage, and enveloped in no passing difficulty: but it will not entirely attain to impenetrability: for it will be apprehended and got at by those who choose to think aright. When then the Son saith that He was sent, He signifieth His Incarnation, and nothing else. And when we speak of His Incarnation, we mean that He was made Man complete. As then the Father (He saith) hath made Me Man, and since I God the Word, was begotten Life of That which is by Nature Life, and, made Man, have filled My Temple, that is, My Body, with Mine Own Nature; in like manner shall he also who eateth My Flesh live because of Me. For I took mortal Flesh: but, having dwelt in it, being by Nature Life, because I am of the Living Father, I re-elemented it wholly into Mine Own Life, I have not been overcome of the corruption of the flesh but have rather overcome it, as God. As then (for again I will say it shrinking not for profits sake) although I was made (He says) Flesh (for this the being sent meaneth), I live again because of the Living Father, that is, retaining in Myself the natural excellence of Him That begat Me, so he too who, by the participation of My Flesh, receiveth Me in himself shall live, wholly trans-elemented entire into Me, Who am able to give life, because I am (as it were) of life-giving Root, that is God the Father. But He says that He was Incarnate by the Father, although Solomon says, Wisdom builded her an house: and the blessed Gabriel attributeth the creation of the Divine Body to the Operation of the Spirit, when he was speaking with the holy Virgin (for The Holy Ghost, he says, shall come upon thee, and the Power of the Highest shall overshadow thee) that thou mayest again understand, that the Godhead being by Nature One, conceived of both in the Father and the Son and in the Holy Ghost,—-not severally will Each in-work as to ought of things that are, but whatever is said to be done by One, this is wholly the work of the whole Divine Nature. For since the Holy Trinity is One in respect of consubstantiality, one full surely will be also Its Power in respect to every thing. For all things are of the Father through the Son in the Spirit. But what we have often said, this we will again say. For to say the same things, though it be burdensome, yet it is safe. It was the habit of our Saviour Christ for our profit to attribute those things which surpass the power suitable to man, to the Operation of the Father. For He hath humbled Himself being made Man: and since He accepted the Form of a servant, He spurneth not the measure of servants, yet will He not be excluded from doing all things with the Father. And He That begat Him worketh all things through Him, according to the Word of the Saviour Himself, The Father (He says) That dwelleth in Me, Himself doeth the works. Having then given to the dispensation of the Flesh what befits it, He attributeth to God the Father what is above man’s power. For the building a Temple in the Virgin surpasseth man’s power.

But our opponent will again reply: ‘And in what other mode did the Son reveal what He is by Nature, or how did He shew clearly that the Father is greater, save by saying, I live because of the Father? For if the Father is the Giver of Life to the Son, who will rush on to so great stupidity as not full surely to conceive that that which partakes of life, will not be the same by nature as life or that which is mighty to quicken?’

To such things we too will array in turn the word of the truth, and opportunely say, The fool will speak folly, and his heart will conceive vain things, to practise transgression, and to utter error against the Lord. For what can be more wicked than such a conception of the heretics? How is not the deepest error uttered by them against Christ who quickeneth all things, since those most foolish ones blush not to say, that He lives by partaking of life from another, just like His creatures? Will then the Son at last be a creature too, inasmuch as it is a partaker of life, but is not very life by nature? for the creature must needs be wholly other than that which is the life in it. But if they suppose that they may be the same, let them call every creature life. But I do not suppose that any one in his senses would do that. Therefore neither is the Only-Begotten a creature, but will be conceived of as by Nature Life: for how would He be true in saying, I am the Resurrection and the Life? for life is that which gives life, not that which needs to receive it from another, just as wisdom too is understood to be that which can make wise, not that which receives wisdom. Therefore according to you the Truth will be false, and Christ will not be true, Who says, I am the Life. Yea and the brilliant choir of saints again will speak falsely, uttering words through the Spirit, and calling the Only-Begotten Life. For the Divine Psalmist is found saying to the Father, With Thee is the Fountain of Life. And the wondrous Evangelist John in his epistles thus says, That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we beheld, and our hands handled, of the Word of Life: and the Word was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and declare unto you the Eternal Life, Which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us. Seest thou that the Psalmist speaks true, even by the testimony of John, when he says to God the Father of all, With Thee is the Fountain of Life? For the Son was and is with Him the Fountain of Life. For that the Spirit-clad says these things of Him, he will again prove by his words: for he thus writes, And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know Him That is True, and we are in  His True Son Jesus Christ. This is the True God and Eternal Life. Then who (tell me) will any longer endure the trifling of the heretics? or who will not justly cry out against their impiety, in daring to say that the Son is partaker of life from another, albeit the holy and God-inspired Scripture says no such thing of Him; but rather openly cries aloud, that He is both God by Nature, and Very, and the Fountain of Life, and again Life Eternal. For how will He be conceived of as Very God, who needs life from another, and is not rather Himself Life by Nature? or how will He any more be called Fountain of Life, if He is holpen by another’s gifts to be able to live?

But yea (says the opponent) we grant that the Son is so far Life, that He too can quicken, as having in Himself the Living Father.

Yet this will not suffice, most noble sirs, to exempt you from blasphemy against the Only-Begotten: but in this too shall your argument be proved untutored and every way falling to pieces. For to have to say that the Son is called Life, because He can quicken things recipient of life, by reason He has in Himself the Father, how is it not replete with unmeasured folly? For ye know not (it seems) what by nature means, or what ‘being of any thing by nature means as compared with so being by circumstances. As fire is hot by nature, and other things too are hot, by partaking of its operation, as iron or wood: but not because they are heated, are they said to be fire: for they have an external and not a physical operation in them. But our argument will proceed by means of illustrations in regard to ourselves too. Grammar for instance, or Geometry, are held to be species of reasoning science, but when any one becomes skilled in grammar or the other, he is not himself conceived of as Grammar or Geometry, but from the Grammar that is in him, he is called a Grammarian, and similarly with regard to the other: so too that which is by nature life, is something altogether different from the things wherein it is, transfashioning to itself what is not so by nature. When therefore ye say that the Father is in the Son, as He might be in matter (for instance), in order that, since He is Life by Nature, He too may be able to quicken, ye foolishly grant still that He is Life, and not rather participant of it from another, yet by relation, and not by Essence called to the dignity of a dispenser thereof. And as one would not reasonably call the heated iron fire, albeit it has the operation of the fire, in that it is heated from it: or again a man skilful in grammar is not called grammar, because he can lead others also unto the science, so I do not imagine that any man of sense would call the Son Life because He can quicken others also, though He have not by Nature, according to them, the being Life, but as from the engrafted Operation of the Father, or by reason of the indwelling Father. For what (tell me) is to hinder us at last from conceiving of the Son as one of us, that is, of corruptible nature, if He live because of the Father, that is, having received the gift of life from the Father, as they understand it? For He would perish, according to the analogy of their notions, if He had not the living Father in Himself. And if we confess that He speaks truly, I am in the Father and the Father in Me; He indeed has in Himself the Father Who is Life by Nature, and is Himself in the Father though not Life by Nature. I pass over the blasphemy, though one must utter it to convict the fighters against God of their impiety: for the Father will be found to have in Himself that which is destitute of Life, that is, decay, or a decaying nature. For since the nature of the matter in hand compels us so to conceive of the Son, we must investigate further, and go through various considerations, since our aim is by due precision to refine the question. You say that God the Father is by Nature Life. Well, so He is, but He is in the Son also. For this your argument too allows. I would now with reason ask you, desiring to learn it, ‘What will He work in respect of His Son, being in Him? Will He impart of His Own Life to His Offspring, as though He needed it and had not Life of Himself? how then must we not suppose the Son to be void of Life? That which is void of Life, what is it, but subject to decay? But He will not impart of His Own Life to His Offspring: for He is Life, even though He receive it not from Him.

How then do certain unguardedly babbling still accuse Him, and say that the Son therefore lives, because He hath in Himself the Father who is by Nature Life? For if He live also apart from the Father, as being Essentially Life’s Very self, He will never live because of the Father, that is, because of participation of the Father. But if He have the Father the giver of His Own Life, manifestly He has no Life of His Own. For He borrows it of another, and is (as we said at first) a creature rather than Life, and of a nature subject to decay. How then does He call Himself Life? For either we too may safely say, I am the Life, or if this be no safe word (for it is not lawful for the creature to mount up to God-befitting dignities), the Son knows that He is by Nature Life: since how will He be the Impress of the Person of Him That begat Him, how the Image and accurate Likeness? or how was not Philip right in saying, Shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us? For in truth one ought to consider, that he that had seen the Son, had not yet seen the Father, since the One is by Nature Life, the Other participant of life from Him. For one will never see that which quickeneth in that which is quickened, Him That lacketh not in him that lacketh. Hence in another way too will He be untrue in saying, He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.

But he who loveth the pious doctrines of the Church sees what great absurdities will follow their pratings. Let him then turn from them, and pass away, as it is written, and let him make straight paths, and direct his ways, and look to the simple beauty of the truth, believing that God the Father is by Nature Life, the Son Begotten of Him Life too. For as He is said to be Light of Light, so too Life of Life: and as God the Father lighteneth things lacking Light by His Own Light, His Son, and gives wisdom to things recipient thereof, through His Own Wisdom, and strengthened things needing strength, through again His Own Strength, so too He quickeneth things whatever lack the Life from Him, by His Own Life which floweth forth from Him, His Son. When then He says, I live because of the Father, do not suppose that He confesses that He lives because He receives Life from the Father, but asserted that because He was begotten of a Living Father, that therefore He also lives. For it were impossible that He who is of a Living Father, should not live. As though any of us were to say, I am a reasonable man on account of my father, for I was born the child of a reasonable man: so do thou conceive in respect of the Only-Begotten also. I live (He says) because of the Father. For since the Father who begat Me is Life by Nature, and I am His Natural and Proper Offspring, I gain by Nature what is His, i. e., being Life: for this the Father too is. For since He is conceived to be and is One of One (for the Son is from the Father, even though He were with Him eternally); He with reason glories in the Natural Attributes of Him That begat Him, as His Own.

58 This is the Bread Which came down from heaven, not as your fathers ate the manna and died; he that eateth of This My Bread shall live for ever.

Great (saith He) ought to be the effects of great things, and the gifts of the Grace from above, should appear God-befitting and worthy of the Divine Munificence. For if thou have wholly received in faith that the Bread came, down from heaven, let it produce continous life in them that long after it, and have the unceasing Operation of immortality. For this will be a clear proof of its being the Bread from heaven, that is from God: since we say that it befits the Eternal to give what is eternal, and not the enjoyment of temporary food, which is barely able to last for just the least moment. For one will no longer wisely suppose that that was the bread from God and from above, which our forefathers eating, were overcome by death, and repelled not the evil of corruption, and no wonder; for that was not the Bread which availeth to render immortal. Hence neither will it be rightly conceived and said by any to be from heaven. For it was a work befitting that which came down thence, to render the partakers of It superior to death and decay. By undoubted proof again will it be confirmed, that this was the Bread from Heaven, that to wit through Christ, i. e., His Body. For It makes him that tastes thereof to live for ever. Herein too is seen a great pledge of the Divine Nature, Which vouchsafes not to give a little thing, but everything wonderful, even surpassing our understanding, so as for the greatness of the Grace, to be even disbelieved by the more simple. For with so wealthy a Hand how should not the Will to give largely be present? Wherefore Paul too says in amazement, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God prepared for them that love Him. By little examples was the Law typifying great ones, having the shadow of the good things to come, not the very image of the things, as it is written: as in the food of manna is seen the Blessing that is through Christ. For the shadow of the good things to come was prefigured to them of old. (source)

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One Response to “St Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on John 6:51-58”

  1. […] Top Posts Resources for Sunday Mass, June 19: Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms)This Weeks Posts: Sunday, June 19–Saturday, June 25Sunday, June 19: Father's Nolan's And Brown's Commentary on John 3:16-18 for Sunday Mass, Solemnity of the Most Holy TrinitySunday, June 19: Cornelius a Lapide's Commentary on John 3:16-18 for Sunday Mass, Solemnity of the Most Holy TrinityWednesday, June 22: Cornelius a Lapide's Commentary on Today's Gospel (Matt 7:15-20)Notes on MatthewTuesday, June 21: Juan de Maldonado's Commentary on Today's Gospel (Matt 7:6, 12-14)St John Fisher on the Fourth Penitential Psalm (51) Part 1A Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 2The Office for Corpus Christi by St Thomas Aquinas « Sunday, June 26: St Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on John 6:51-58 for the Solemnity of the … […]

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