I hope that this message finds you all well in Christ. As the second Sunday of Pentecost is centered around the theme of Christ as the Bread of Life, I thought it would be fitting to post a commentary written by St. Cyril of Alexandria on the topic. There are a number of issues covered below, including the Eucharistic mystery, the will of Christ, and other similar topics that have recently been asked on the forums. It is a lengthy post, but I believe it is most beneficial for us to read.
I am the Bread of life
It is the custom of our Saviour Christ when explaining the more Divine and already foretold Mysteries, to make His Discourse upon them darksome and not too transparent. For He commits not His so dread word to lie unveiled before the unholy and profane indiscriminately at their pleasure, to be trodden down by them, but having veiled it in the armour of obscurity, He renders it not invisible to the prudent, but when He seeth among His hearers any foolish ones, and who understand no whit of the things spoken, He opens clearly what He wills to make known, and removing as it were all mist from His Discourse, He sets the knowledge of the Mystery before them bare and in full view, hereby rendering their |373 unbelief without defence. That it was His wont (as we have said) to use an obscure and reserved method of speaking, He will Himself teach us, saying in the Book of Psalms, I will open My Mouth in parables. And the blessed prophet Isaiah too no less will confirm our explanation hereof, and shew it in no wise mistaken, proclaiming, Behold a righteous King shall reign, and princes shall rule with judgment, and a man shall veil his words: for he says that He has reigned a righteous King over us who saith. Yet was I appointed King by Him, upon Sion His holy mountain, declaring the commandment of the Lord: and princes living together in judgment, that is, in uprightness in every thing, he calls the holy disciples who came to the Saviour Christ oftentimes veiling His words, saying, Declare unto us the parable. And He once on hearing the question, Why speakest Thou unto the multitudes in parables? is found to have declared most manifestly the cause, Because they seeing (He says) see not, and hearing they hear not, nor understand. For they were no ways worthy (it seems) seeing that God who judgeth justly, decreed this sentence upon them. The Saviour then, having devised many turns in His Discourse, when He saw that His hearers understood nothing, at length says more openly, I am the Bread, of life, and well-nigh makes an attack upon their unmeasured want of reason, saying, O ye who have the mastery over all in your incomparable uninstructedness alone, when God declares that He will give you Bread from Heaven, and has made you so great a promise in feeding you with manna, do ye limit the Divine Liberality, and are ye not ashamed of staying the grace from above at this, not knowing that it is but a little thing both for you to receive such things of God, and for God Himself to give them you? Do not then believe (saith He) that that bread is the Bread from Heaven. For I am the Bread of Life, Who of old was fore-announced to you as in promise, and shewn as in type, but now am present fulfilling My due promise. I am the Bread of Life, not bodily bread, which cutteth off the suffering from hunger only, and freeth the flesh from the destruction |374 therefrom, but remoulding wholly the whole living being to eternal life, and rendering man who was formed to be for ever, superior to death. By these words He points to the life and grace through His Holy Flesh, through which this property of the Only Begotten, i. e., life, is introduced into us.
But we must know (for I think we ought with zealous love of learning to pursue what brings us profit) that for forty whole years was the typical manna supplied to them of Israel by God, while Moses was yet with them, but when he had attained the common termination of life, and Jesus was now appointed the commander and general of the Jewish ranks: he brought them over Jordan, as it is written, and having circumcised them with knives of stone and brought them into the land of promise, he at length arranged that they should be fed with bread, the all-wise God having now stayed His gift of manna. Thus (for the type shall now be transferred to the truer) when Moses was shrouded, that is, when the types of the worship after the Law were brought to nought, and Christ appeared to us, the true Jesus (for He saved His people from their sins), then we crossed the Jordan, then received the spiritual circumcision through the teaching of the twelve stones, that is of the holy disciples, of whom if is written in the Prophets that the holy stones are rolled upon His land. For the holy stones going about and running over the whole earth, are of a surety these, through whom also we were circumcised with the circumcision made without hands in Spirit, i. e., through faith. When then we were called to the kingdom of Heaven by Christ (for this and nought else, I deem, it pointeth to, that some entered into the land of promise), then the typical manna no longer belongeth to us (for not by the letter of Moses are we any longer nourished) but the Bread from Heaven, i. e., Christ, nourishing us unto eternal life, both through the supply of the Holy Ghost, and the participation of His Own Flesh, which infuseth into us the participation of God, and effaceth the deadness that cometh from the ancient curse. |375
He that cometh to Me shall not hunger, and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst.
There is herein again something concealed which we must say. For it is the wont of the Saviour Christ, not to contend with the praises of the saints, but on the contrary to crown them with glorious honours. But when certain of the more ignorant folk, not perceiving how great His excellence over them, offer them a superior glory, then does He to their great profit bring them to a meeter idea, while they consider Who the Only-Begotten is, and that He will full surely surpass by incomparable Excellencies. But not over clear does He make His Discourse to this effect, but somewhat obscure and free from any boast, and yet by consideration of or comparison of the works it forcibly takes hold on the vote of superiority. For instance, He was discoursing one time with the woman of Samaria, to whom He promised to give living water; and the woman understanding nought of the things spoken said, Art THOU greater than our father Jacob who gave us the well? But when the Saviour wished to persuade her that He was both greater than he, and in no slight degree more worthy of belief, He proceeds to the difference between the water, and says, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again, but whosoever drinlceth of the water that I shall give him, it shall be in him a well of water syringing up into everlasting life. And what thence does He give to understand but surely this, that the Giver of more excellent gifts must needs be surely Himself more excellent than he with whom was the comparison? Some such method then of leading and instruction He uses now too. For since the Jews were behaving haughtily towards Him, and durst think big, putting forward on all occasions their Lawgiver Moses, and often asserting that they ought to follow his ordinances rather than Christ's, thinking that the supply of manna and the gushing forth of water from the rock, were most reasonable proof of his superiority over all, and over our Saviour Jesus Christ Himself, needs He did return to His wonted plan, and does not say downright, |376 that He is superior to Moses, by reason of the unbridled daring of His hearers, and their being most exceeding prone to wrath; but He comes to this very thing that is marvelled at, and by comparison of it with the greater, proves that it is small. For he that cometh to Me (He says) shall never hunger and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst. Yea (saith He) I too will agree with you that the manna was given through Moses, but they that did eat thereof hungered. I will grant that out of the womb of the rocks was given forth unto you water, but they who drank thirsted, and the aforesaid gift wrought them some little temporary enjoyment; but he that cometh to Me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst.
What then doth Christ promise? Nothing corruptible, but rather that Blessing in the participation of His Holy Flesh and Blood, which restoreth man wholly to incorruption, so that he should need none of the things which drive off the death of the flesh, food (I mean) and drink. It seems that He here calls water, the Sanctification through the Spirit, or the Divine and Holy Ghost Himself, often so named by the Divine Scriptures. The Holy Body of Christ then giveth life to those in whom It is, and holdeth them together unto incorruption, being commingled with our bodies. For it is conceived of as the Body of none other, but of Him which is by Nature life, having in itself the whole virtue of the united Word, and inqualitied, yea or rather, fulfilled with His effectuating Might, through which all things are quickened and retained in being. But since these things are so, let them who have now been baptized and have tasted the Divine Grace, know, that if they go sluggishly or hardly at all into the Churches, and for a long time keep away from the Eucharistic gift through Christ, and feign a pernicious reverence, in that they will not partake of Him sacramentally, they exclude themselves from eternal life, in that they decline to be quickened; and this their refusal, albeit seeming haply to be the fruit of reverence, is turned into a snare and an offence. |377
For rather ought they urgently to gather up their implanted power and purpose, that so they may be resolute in clearing away sin, and essay to live a life most comely, and so hasten with all boldness to the participation of Life. But since Satan is manifold in his wiles, he never suffers them to think that they ought to be soberminded, but after having denied them with evils, persuades them to shrink from the very grace, whereby it were likely, that they recovering from the pleasure that leads to vice, as from wine and drunkenness, should see and consider what is for their good. Breaking off therefore his bond, and shaking off the yoke cast upon us from his tyranny, let us serve the Lord with fear, as it is written, and through temperance shew ourselves superior to the pleasures of the flesh and approach to that Divine and Heavenly Grace, and mount up unto the holy Participation of Christ; for thus, thus shall we overcome the deceit of the devil, and, having become partakers of the Divine Nature, shall mount up to life and incorruption.
36 But I said unto you that ye have both seen Me and believe not.
By many words doth He struggle with them, and in every way urge them to salvation by faith. But He was not ignorant, as God, that they would run off to unbelief, as their sister or intimate foster sister, and would regard as nought, Him who calleth them to life. In order then that they might know that Jesus was not ignorant what manner of men they would be found, or rather, to speak more fittingly, that they might learn that they were under the Divine wrath, He charges them again, But I said unto you that ye have both seen Me and believe not. I foreknew (says He) and clearly foretold, that ye would surely remain hard, and keeping fast hold of your cherished disobedience, ye would be left without share in My gifts. And when did Christ say any thing of this kind? remember Him saying to the blessed prophet Isaiah, Go and tell this people, Hear ye in hearing and understand not, and looking |378 look and see not, for the heart of this people is waxen fat. Will not the word be shewn to be true by these things also which are before us? for they saw, they saw that the Lord was by Nature God, when He fed a multitude exceeding number which came unto Him with five barley loaves, and two small fishes, which He brake up. But they have seen and believe not, by reason of the blindness which like a mist hath come upon their understandings from the Divine wrath. For they were (I suppose) without doubt worthy to undergo this, for that they, caught in innumerable stumblings, and fast holden in the indissoluble bands of their transgressions, received not when He came Him who had power to loose them. For this cause was the heart of this people made fat.
But that the multitude of the Jews saw by the greatness of the sign that Jesus was by Nature God, you will understand full well by this too. For marvelling at what was done, as the Evangelist says above, they sought to seize Him to make Him a King. No excuse then for their folly is left unto the Jews. For astonished (and with much reason) at the Divine signs, and coming from the works proportionably to the Might of Him Who worketh, they wellnigh, shudder at their readiness to believe, and spring back from good habits, readily making a summerset as it were into the very depths of perdition.
37 All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me,
It did not behove the Lord simply to say, Ye have both seen Me and believe not, but it was necessary that He should bring in besides the reason of their blindness, that they might learn that they had fallen under the Divine displeasure. Therefore as a skilful physician He both shews them their weakness, and reveals the cause of it, not in order that they on learning it may remain quiet in it, but that they may by every means appease the Lord of all, Who is grieved at them, i. e., for just causes. For He would never be grieved unjustly, nor would He Who knows how to give righteous judgment have given any |379 such judgment upon them, were not reason calling Him thereto, from all sides hasting unto the duty of accusal. The Saviour hereby affirmed that everything should come to Him, which God the Father gave Him; not as though He were unable to bring believers to Himself, for this He would have accomplished very easily if He had so willed, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things to Himself, as Paul saith: but since it seemed somehow necessary and more fit, to say that they who were in ignorance were illumined by the Divine Nature, He again as Man attributes to the Father the operation, as to things more God-befitting. For so was His wont to do, as we have often said. But it is probable that when He says that all that He giveth Him shall be brought to Him by God the Father, He points to the people of the Gentiles now about full soon to believe on Him. It is the word of one skilfully threatening, that both they shall fall away from grace, and that in their stead shall come in all who of the Gentiles are brought by the goodness of God the Father, to the Son, as to Him Who is by Nature Saviour and Lifegiving, that they, partaking of the Blessing from Him, may be made partakers of the Divine Nature, and be thus brought back to incorruption and life, and be reformed unto the pristine fashion of our nature. As though one should bring a sick man to a physician, that he might drive away the sickness that has fallen upon him, so we say that God the Father brings to the Son those who are worthy salvation from Him. Bitter then and full of destruction is hardness of heart to them that have it. Therefore doth the word of prophecy chide the Jews, crying aloud, Be ye circumcised to God, and circumcise the hardness of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Yet not for them, but for us rather hath God the Father kept the circumcision in the heart, namely that which is through the Holy Ghost, wrought according to the rites of him who is a Jew inwardly. It is then right to flee from their disobedience, and with all zeal to renounce hardness of heart, and to reform unto a more toward |380 disposition, if we would avert the wrath that was upon them unto destruction.