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 3:7-15

Posted by Dim Bulb on April 14, 2012

7, 8 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

It is the excellence of a teacher, to be able manifoldly to manage the mind of the hearers, and to go through many considerations, heaping up proofs where the argument appears hard. He takes then the figure of the mystery from examples, and says, This spirit belonging to the world and |170 of the air, blows throughout the whole earth, and running where it listeth, is shewn to be present by sound only, and escapeth the eye of all, yet, communicating itself to bodies by the subtlest breaths, it infuseth some perception of its natural efficacy. So do thou, saith He, conceive of the new birth also through the Spirit, led on by little examples to what is greater, and by the reasoning brought forward as it were in an image, conceiving of what is above the senses.

9, 10 Nicodemus answered and said unto Him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said unto him,

Long discourse nothing profits him who understandeth not a whit. Wise then is the saying in the book of Proverbs, Well is he that speaketh in the ears of them that will hear. And this the Saviour shewed by trial to be true, giving Himself an ensample to us in this too. For the teacher will be wholly free from the charge of not being able to persuade, saying what himself thinks good, though he profit nothing by reason of the dulness of the hearers. Besides we learn by this, that hardness in part is happened to Israel. For hearing they hear and understand not.

Art thou a master of Israel and knowest not these things?

By one Christ convicts all, that adorned with the name of teachers, and clothed with the mere repute of being learned in the law, they bear a mind full of ignorance, and unable to understand one of those things, which they ought not only to know, but also to be able to teach others. But if he that instructeth be in this condition, in what is he that is instructed, seeing that the disciple exceedeth not the measure of his master, according to the word of the Saviour? For the disciple, saith He, is not above his master. But since they were thus uninstructed, true is Christ in likening them to whited sepulchres. Most excellently doth Paul too say to the ruler of the Jews, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall. |171

11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know and testify that we have seen.

He finds the man careless of learning and exceedingly uninstructed and, by reason of his great grossness of mind, utterly unable to be led unto the comprehension of Divine doctrines, albeit many words had been expended with manifold examples. Whence letting alone, as was fitting, accurate explanation, He at length advises him to accept in simple faith, what he cannot understand. He testifies that Himself knows clearly what He saith, by the illustriousness of His Person shewing that yet to gainsay is most dangerous. For it was not likely that Nicodemus would forget, who had affirmed that he knew it of our Saviour Christ, that He was a Teacher come from God. But to resist one who is from God and God, how would it not be fraught with peril? for the thing is clearly a fighting with God. But hence we ought to know, who have authority to teach, that for those just come to the faith, faith in simple arguments is better than any deep reasoning, and more elaborate explanation. And Paul also used to feed with milk some, not yet able to bear stronger meats. And the most wise Solomon again somewhere says to us, Thou shalt wisely know the souls of thy flock, meaning that we should not set before those who come to us the word of doctrine indiscriminately, but fitly adapted to the measure of each.

And ye receive not our witness.

As having in Himself the Father and the Spirit Naturally, the Saviour set forth the person of the Witnesses in the plural number, that, as in the law of Moses, by the mouth of two or three witnesses, what is said may be established. For He shews that the Jews in no wise will to be saved, but with unbridled and heedless impetus are they being borne unto the deep pit of perdition. For if they can neither from their great unlearning understand what is proclaimed to them, nor yet receive it in faith, what other means of salvation may be devised for them? Well then and very justly did the Saviour say that Jerusalem would be without excuse, as |172 snatching upon herself self-called destruction. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, saith He, that killest the prophets and stonest them, which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold your house is left unto you.

12, 13 If I have told you earthly things and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, the Son of man Which is in heaven.

A doctrine, saith He, not exceeding the understanding befitting man, ye from your extreme folly received not, and how shall I explain to you things more Divine? For they who in their own matters are most foolish, how shall they be wise in matters above them? And they who are powerless as to the less, how shall they not find the greater intolerable? And if, says He, ye believe not Me being Alone in speaking, but seek many witnesses for every thing, whom shall I bring to you as a witness of the heavenly Mysteries? For no man hath ascended up to heaven but He That came down from heaven the Son of man. For since the Word of God came down from heaven, He says that the son of man came down, refusing after the Incarnation to be divided into two persons, and not suffering certain to say that the Temple taken by reason of need of the Virgin is one Son, the Word again which appeared from God the Father another: save only as regards the distinction which belongs to each by nature. For as He is the Word of God, so Man too of a woman, but One Christ of both, Undivided in regard of Sonship and God-befitting Glory. For how does He clothe as its own the Temple of the Virgin, with what befitteth the bare Word Alone: and again appropriateth to Himself what befitteth the Flesh only? For now He saith that the Son of man hath come down from heaven: but at the time of His Passion, He feareth, and is sore afraid, and very heavy, and is recorded as Himself suffering the Sufferings which befitted His Human Nature only. |173

14, 15 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in

Him should not perish but have eternal life. Having explained sufficiently, and set before him the reason, why His Word of teaching does not run forth into the boundless and supernatural, but descends again to those things that were typically done by Moses of old, knowing that he could by leadings by means of figures scarce arrive at knowledge of the truth, rather than by the exactitude of spiritual inspirations, He saith He must surely be lifted up, as the serpent was by Moses, shewing that search of history is most necessary, and all but saying to this man of no understanding, Search the Scriptures, for they are they which testify of Me. For serpents were springing upon them of Israel in the wilderness, and they, falling like ears of corn, and not a little distressed at this danger unexpectedly visiting them, with most piteous cry called for salvation from above and from God. But He, since He was Good and full of compassion, as God, commands Moses to set up a brazen serpent; and commands them therein to have a forethoughtof the salvation by faith. For the remedy to one bitten, was to look at the serpent put before him, and faith along with the sight wrought deliverance at the last extremity to the beholders. So much for the history. But it represents in act as it were in a type, the whole Mystery of the Incarnation. For the serpent signifies bitter and manslaying sin, which was devouring the whole race upon the earth, manifoldly biting the soul of man, and infusing the varied poison of wickedness. And no otherwise could we escape it thus conquering us, save by the succour alone which is from heaven. The Word of God then was made in the likeness oj sinful flesh, that He might condemn sin in the flesh, as it is written, and to those who gaze on Him with more steadfast faith, or by search into the Divine doctrines, might become the Giver of unending salvation. But the serpent being fixed upon a lofty base, signifies that Christ was altogether clear and manifest, so as to be unknown to none, or His being lifted up from the earth, as Himself says, by His Passion on the Cross. |174 (source).

2 Responses to “St Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on John 3:7-15”

  1. […] St Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on Today’s Gospel (John 3:7b-15). […]

  2. […] St Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on Today’s Gospel (John 3:7b-15). […]

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