Natural Consequences (7): Cyril of Alexandria on Divine Speech and Punishment

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Commenting on John 10:48-50, St. Cyril of Alexandria gives us insight into the patristic understanding of final judgment:

48 The word that I spake, the same shall judge him in the last day.

They will be self-condemned therefore, He says, who refuse to hear Him and do not accept the saving faith. For He that came to illumine, came not in order to judge, but to save. He therefore that disobeys and thereby subjects himself to the greatest miseries, let him blame himself as justly punished.” For I am not the cause thereof, Who desire to save those that are going to fall into judgment, and Who came for this end. For he that makes a law punishing the disobedient, makes it not for the sake of punishing them that transgress it, but in order that they that hear may take heed of it and be safe. I therefore, having come to save, charge you to believe, and not to despise My words; inasmuch as the present is a time of salvation, not of judgment. For in the day of judgment, the word that called you to salvation will bring the penalties of disobedience upon you. And of what nature was the word that I spake?

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John 12:48

A number of things are interesting in this section of Cyril’s exegesis.  There is a constant emphasis on self-condemnation (“self-condemned”, “subjects himself to the greatest miseries”, “blame himself as justly punished”).  The language used to describe the judgment is passive, in a certain sense (“fall into judgment”, “came not in order to judge”).  Christ is described as coming into the world not to judge it, but to illumine it.  Notice the explicit denial that the motivation for instituting a punishment would be retributive.  Instead, laws imposing punishment bring safety; they are geared toward salvation.  It is also noteworthy that the punishment of eschatological judgment is inflicted by the word that Christ spoke.  This word is said to “bring the penalties of disobedience upon you.”  What word is this?  The word that called us to salvation.  The same divine power by which humanity is vivified and called to life from the dead (the word of the Gospel, the word which contains the power of Christ’s incarnate economy) is the word that brings the penalties of disobedience upon us.  St. Cyril goes on to explain the further nature of this wor as follows:

S. John xii. 49, 50. For I spake not from Myself; but the Father Which sent Me, He hath given Me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that His commandment is life eternal: the things therefore which I speak, even as the Father hath said unto Me, so I speak.

He reminds the people of the Jews of the things that had been aforetime proclaimed concerning Him by Moses, and by this means skilfully rebukes them; and, exposing the impiety that was in them, He clearly proves that they were caring nothing for having insolently outraged even the Law itself, although it was believed to have been given from God. For what God said concerning Christ by Moses is well known to all men, but still I will quote it because of the necessity of perceiving the exact idea; I will raise them up a Prophet from the midst of His brethren, like unto thee; that is to say, a lawgiver, and a mediator between God and men: and I will put My word in His mouth, and He shall speak unto them according as I may command Him; and the man who will not hearken to whatsoever the Prophet may speak in My Name, I will take vengeance on him. At one and the same time therefore our Lord Jesus the Christ censures the boastful temper of the Jewish people, displayed in their fighting even against God the Father; and, by saying that He has received a commandment from the Father and speaks not of Himself, clearly proves that He Himself is the Prophet fore-announced by the Law and heralded by the voice of God the Father from ages long before. And in a way He calls to their remembrance, although their minds were sluggish in comprehending it, that if they refused to be persuaded by the words that came from Him, they would certainly fall a prey to inevitable punishment, and would endure all that God had said. For they who transgress the Divine commandment of God the Father, and thrust away from themselves the life-giving word of God our Saviour Christ, shall surely be cast down into most utter misery, and shall remain without any part in the life that comes from Him; with good reason hearing that which was spoken by the voice of the prophet: O earth, earth, hear, O hear the word of the Lord. Behold, I bring evils upon this people, as the fruit of their turning away, because they obeyed not My Law, and ye rejected My word. For we shall find that the Jews were liable to a twofold accusation: for they failed to honour the Law itself, although it was generally held dear and accounted an object of reverence, in that they refused to believe on Him Whom the Law proclaimed; and they turned a deaf ear to the words of our Saviour Christ, although He announced openly that He was certainly the Prophet spoken of in the oracles of the Law, when He declared that it was from God the Father that He was supplied with His words.

We see here that judgment comes from thrusting away the “life-giving word of God our Saviour Christ”.  The result of this thrusting-away is being “cast down into utter misery” and remaining without any participation in the life that comes from Christ.

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One Response to “Natural Consequences (7): Cyril of Alexandria on Divine Speech and Punishment”

  1. Natural Consequences (8): The Fathers on Merciful Justice « The Well of Questions Says:

    […] already doing and as a natural consequence of God’s presence.  This is, I have argued, how St. Cyril of Alexandria and St. Isaac the Syrian viewed eschatological punishment–the deprivation of blessing based […]

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