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Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John, LFC 43, 48 (1874/1885) Praefatio. pp. 1-5.




[Translated by P. E. Pusey]


THE LORD will give utterance to them who evangelize with much power, declareth exceeding well the Psalmist. But I deem that they who ought to approach this, are, not mere chance persons, but those who have been illumined with the grace that is from above, seeing that both All wisdom is from the Lord, as it is written, and Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and cometh down from the Father of lights. For a thing unsure and not unfraught with peril to the many, is the speaking concerning the Essence that is above all, and the Mysteries belonging thereunto, and silence on these subjects is free from danger. Us nevertheless albeit deeming that we have much need of silence, God Who is over all excludes from this, saying to one of the Saints (this was Paul), Speak and hold not thy peace. And no less does the ordinance of the Law shew this, indicating things spiritual in the grosser type. For it enjoins those who have been called to the Divine Priesthood, to declare to the people by the sound of trumpets, about those things which they ought to learn. For God, when He willed to set forth in His laws most excellent things, did not I deem intend that the leaders of the people should lay their hand on their mouth, as it is written, and, in fear of appearing rashly to attempt things above the mind of man, hold back from the doctrine that is so necessary for those who are being instructed in piety and the knowledge of God, and choose a silence perilous to those who are their disciples. But the Disciple of Christ again terrifies us, saying Be not many masters, and moreover the |2 most wise Preacher too, darkly shewing the peril that exists in the teaching of such things. For, says he, he that cleaveth wood, shall be endangered thereby; if the iron head fall, both himself hath troubled his face and he shall strengthen powers. For he likens the keenness of the mind to the iron-head, in that it is of a nature to pierce through, and sinks in to the innermost parts, even though it be resisted by the thickness and close texture of the wood. Wood again he in a figure calls the thoughts that are in Holy Scripture, which render the Books wherein they are a kind of Spiritual Paradise, and yet more than this, full with the fruitfulness that comes of the Holy Ghost. He that endeavours therefore to unfold the spiritual wood, that is the Divine and Mystic thoughts of Divinely-inspired Scripture by means of insearch, and most accurate grasp and keenness of mind, will run very deep risk, saith he, when the iron-head slippeth, that is when the mind not carried to a true understanding of the things which are written, misses the right perception, and having left, as it were, the straight path, is borne on some other way of thought turned aside from what is fitting. Whereupon he will place in jeopardy the face of his soul, that is, his heart, and will invigorate against himself the bad opposing powers, who with their bitter perverse words sophisticate the mind of those who have gone astray; not suffering it to behold the beauty of truth, but manifoldly perverting it and persuading it to go astray after mad thoughts. For no one calleth Jesus Anathema save in Beelzebub.

And let no one deem, himself astray, that the exposition of the above is astray, or otherwise of false reasoning. For Divine Scripture does sometimes, as we said before, call the thoughts of Holy Scripture wood. And indeed the God Who is over all says something on this sort through the all-wise Moses to those at that time: When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by forcing an axe against them, for thou mayest eat of them and thou shalt not cut them down: (is the tree of the forest a man, to go before thee unto the palisade?) Only the trees which thou knowest that they be |3 not trees for meat, thou shalt destroy and cut them down, But that the God of all would not have deemed it worth to prescribe to us such things, if it were to be understood only of trees of the earth, is I suppose clear to every one, yet I think one ought to shew from another command also that He is very unsparing of these, and takes not account of them. For what I pray does He enjoin should be done to the false-called gods? Ye shall destroy their altars, saith He, and break down their images, and cut down their groves. And by His own altar He no way suffers any tree to be cultivated. For He plainly declares: Thou shalt not plant thee a grove of any trees near unto the altar of the Lord thy God. And if one must add anything to this, I will speak after the manner of most wise Paul. Both God take care for trees? or saith He it altogether for our sakes? by grosser examples leading us by the hand to the idea of spiritual things.

Let us now say that the writings of the unholy heretics may be considered as cities, and fortified, haply not without skill, by the wisdom of the world, and the intricate deceits of their cogitations. There comes to storm them, and in some sort environs and sits round them taking the shield of the faith and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, every one who agonizes for the holy dogmas of the Church, and sets himself in array with all his strength against their false-speaking, studying to cast down imaginations, as Paul saith, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. When then, He says, such a soldier of Christ compasses, as a land of aliens, the bitter writings of heresies, and lights upon the best cultivated trees, that is, if he find words from the Divinely-inspired Scripture, or things spoken by the Prophets or even testimonies from the New Testament, wrested unto their own purpose, let him not apply his mental acumen, like a sort of tool, to destroy and cut them down. For not because taken hold of by those who know not to interpret it aright, is therefore that which proceeds of the Mouth of God to be wholly rejected too: but since it is fruit-bearing, it shall be to thee rather as a help |4 and for food. For turning round unto the right argument of the faith that which is sometimes foolishly taken by them, not only shall we not be caught unstrung, but rather are we nerved into words against heresy. But he subjoins forthwith an argument persuading the hearers, that the onslaught of the advocate for the truth should be made, not for the overthrow of the Divine oracles, but for the destruction of what is non-rightly said by the opponents. For is, it says, the tree of the forest a man, to go before thee unto the palisade? For do you suppose, he says, that the utterance of the holy writings, will of its own self rise up against thee to battle, like one of the arch-heretics, and is not rather wronged by their madness? Do not then cut it down, says it, but let it be to thee as food also; only the trees which thou knowest that they be not trees for meat, thou shalt destroy and cut them down. For uneatable by them who would think aright, is the fruit of those men's writings: against them let every tool come: there let the might of the spiritual wood-men be shewn, upon them let the axe of strength in advocacy glitter. For the uselessness and unprofitableness of the babbling of the heterodox the Prophet Hosea also most excellently interprets to us saying: A stalk having no strength to yield meal; if so be it yield, the strangers shall swallow it up. For they that are diligent to estrange themselves from friendship with God, shall feast themselves on the weak and old-wife tale of those people's unlearning. As then I was saying at the beginning (for I think we must go back to that), most exceeding hard is the exposition of the Divine mysteries, and better perchance were silence, but since thy much speech persuadeth us, O most labour-loving brother, to offer the work, as a sort of fruit of our lips, and spiritual sacrifice, this too will I not shrink from doing, encouraging myself in God who maketh wise the blind, and seeketh at our hands not surely that which is above us, but accepteth equally the offerings of poor men. For him that would offer a gift for a burnt-sacrifice to the Lord, as is put in the beginning of Leviticus, the lawgiver having enjoined an offering of the herd and having moreover herein set down |5 the measure of the honour of the type, he again lowers it, saying that they who cannot attain to this, should sacrifice of the flock. And well did he know that sad and inexorable poverty will render some powerless even to this: therefore he says, he shall bring his offering of turtledoves or of young pigeons. But him that comes yet short of these too, and approaches with the most insignificant offerings, he honours. For says he, his offering shall be fine flour, defining an offering easily procurable I suppose by every one and not too oppressive to the deepest poverty. For the lawgiver well knew (I think) that better and more excellent is it to bear fruit even a little, than to be wholly bereft of it and through shame of seeming to come short of others' gifts, to rush forward to the conclusion that it needs not to honour the Lord of all.

Persuaded then with reason by all these things, and having dismissed from my mind unreadiness, the ally of silence, I will deem it my duty to honour my Lord with what I have, discourse wholesome and joyous to the readers, like fine flour bedewed with oil: and we will begin the Book of John, taking in hand an exceeding great work, yet by reason of faith, not unstrung. And that we shall say and think less than is meet, we must unhesitatingly confess. But the great difficulty of the book, or to speak more truly, the weakness of our understanding, will persuade us to ask meet pardon for this.

Turning about on every hand our discourse to the more dogmatical exposition, we will set it in array, according to our power, against the false doctrines of them that teach otherwise, not stretching it forth to its full extent, but even retrenching superfluity, and studying to render it not lacking fitness. The subjoined subscription of the chapters, will shew the subjects over which our discourse extends, to which we have also annexed numbers, that what is sought may be readily found by the readers.

[Page running titles]

2 Danger of speaking of sacred things, uncalled.
Books of heretics, like cities of aliens.
God accepts the offerings
of poor men.

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This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, Ipswich, UK, 2005. All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.

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