Thoughts from the Early Church

Cyril of Alexandria

Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.

“When he saw Jesus coming toward him John said: 'Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.'” (Jn 1:29)
No longer does he say: Prepare. That would be out of place now that at last he who was prepared for is seen, is before our very eyes. The nature of the case now calls for a different type of homily. An explanation is needed of who is present, and why he has come down to us from heaven.

So John says: “Behold the Lamb of God,” of whom the prophet Isaiah told us in the words: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and like a lamb before his shearer he opened not his mouth.”(Is 53:7)

In past ages he was typified by the law of Moses, but because the law was merely a figure and a foreshadowing its salvation was only partial; its mercy did not reach out to embrace the whole world.

But now the true lamb, the victim without blemish obscurely prefigured in former times, is led to the slaughter for all to banish sin from the world, to overthrow the world’s destroyer, to abolish death by dying for the entire human race, and to release us from the curse: “Dust you are and to dust you shall return.” (Gen 3:19)

He will become the second Adam who is not of earth but of heaven, and will be for us the source of every blessing. He will deliver us from the corruptibility foreign to our nature; he will secure eternal life for us, reconcile us with God, teach us to revere God and to live upright lives, and be our way to the kingdom of heaven.

One Lamb died for all to restore the whole flock on earth to God the Father; one died for all to make all subject to God; one died for all to gain all so that all “might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised to life for them.”

Because our many sins had made us subject to death and corruption, the Father gave his son as our redemption, one for all, since all were in him and he was greater than all. One died for all so that all of us might live in him.

Death swallowed the Lamb who was sacrificed for all, and then disgorging him disgorged all of us in him and with him; for we were all in Christ who died and rose again for us.

Once sin had been destroyed how could death, which was caused by sin, fail to be wholly annihilated? With the root dead how could the branch survive? What power will death have over us now that sin has been blotted out?

And so, rejoicing in the sacrifice of the Lamb let us cry out: “O death, where is your victory? O grave, where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55) “All wickedness shall hold its tongue,” as the Psalmist sings somewhere.

Henceforth it will be unable to denounce sinners for their weakness, for God is the one who acquits us. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for our sake,” (Gal 3:13) so that we might escape the curse brought down on us by sin.

(Commentary on Saint John’s Gospel 2: PG 73, 191-194)

Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444) succeeded his uncle Theophilus as patriarch in 412. Until 428 the pen of this brilliant theologian was employed in exegesis and polemics against the Arians; after that date it was devoted almost entirely to refuting the Nestorian heresy. The teaching of Nestorius was condemned in 431 by the Council of Ephesus at which Cyril presided, and Mary’s title, Mother of God, was solemnly recognized.

The incarnation is central to Cyril’s theology. Only if Christ is consubstantial with the Father and with us can he save us, for the meeting ground between God and ourselves is the flesh of Christ. Through our kinship with Christ, the Word made flesh, we become children of God, and share in the filial relation of the Son with the Father.

 

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson