Thoughts from the Early Church

Commentary by Cyril of Alexandria

The child grew to maturity, and he was filled with wisdom. (Lk 2:52)

We see Emmanuel as a newborn infant lying in a manger. In his human condition he is wrapped in swaddling clothes, but in his divine nature he is hymned by angels. Angels brought the shepherds the good news of his birth, for God the Father had given those who dwell in heaven the special privilege of being his first heralds.

Today we also see him submitting to the law of Moses; or rather, we see God the lawgiver subject as man to his own decrees. The reason for this we learn from the wisdom of Paul. He says: “When we were under age we were slaves of the elemental spirits of the universe, but when the fullness of time had come God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law.”

Christ ransomed from the law’s curse those who were subject to the law but had never kept it. How did he ransom them? By fulfilling the law. Or to put it in another way, to blot out the reproach of Adam’s transgression, he offered himself on our behalf to God the Father, showing him in all things ready obedience and submission.

Scripture says: “As through one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so through one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” And so, Christ submitted to the law together with us, and he did so by becoming man in accordance with the divine dispensation.

It was fitting that Christ should do everything that justice required. He had in all truth assumed the condition of a slave; and so, reckoned among those under the yoke by reason of his humanity, he once paid the half-shekel to those who demanded it, although as the Son he was by nature free and not liable to this tax.

When you see him keeping the law, then, do not misunderstand it, or reduce one who is free to the rank of household slaves, but reflect rather on the depths of God’s plan.

When the eighth day arrived on which it was customary for the flesh to be circumcised as prescribed by the law, he received the name, Jesus, which means “salvation of the people”; for it was the wish of God the Father that his own Son, born of a woman, should be so named.

It was then that he first became the salvation of the people and not of one people only but of many, indeed of all peoples and of the whole world. Christ thus became the light of revelation to the Gentiles, but he is also the glory of Israel. 

The holy disciples were the firstfruits of Israel, and the brightness of their glory illuminates the whole world.

Christ is the glory of Israel in another way too, for in his human nature he came from that people, even though he is God, sovereign ruler of all and blessed for ever.

The wise evangelist helps us, then, by teaching us all the Son of God made flesh endured for our sake and in our name, and that he did not disdain to take upon himself our poverty, so that we might glorify him as Redeemer, as Lord, as Savior, and as God; for to him, and with him to God the Father and the Holy Spirit, belong glory and power for endless ages. Amen.

Homily 12: PG 77, 1042.1046.1047.1050

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