Thoughts from the Early Church
Commentary by Cyril of Alexandria
I give you a new commandment: love one another.
“I give you a new commandment, said Jesus: love one another.” But how, we might ask, could he call this commandment new?
Through Moses, he had said to the people of old: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
Notice what follows. He was not content simply to say, “I give you a new commandment: love one another.”
He showed the novelty of his command and how far the love he enjoined surpassed the old conception of mutual love by going on immediately to add: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
To understand the full force of these words, we have to consider how Christ loved us. Then it will be easy to see what is new and different in the commandment we are now given.
Speaking of Christ, Paul tells us that “although his nature was divine, he did not cling to his equality with God, but stripped himself of all privilege to assume the condition of a slave. He became as we are, and appearing in human form humbled himself by being obedient even to the extent of dying, dying on a cross.” And elsewhere Paul writes: “Though he was rich, he became poor.”
Do you not see what is new in Christ's love for us? The law commanded people to love their brothers and sisters as they love themselves, but our Lord Jesus Christ loved us more than himself.
He who was one in nature with God the Father and his equal would not have descended to our lowly estate, nor endured in his flesh such a better death for us, not submitted to the blows given him by his enemies, to the shame, the derision, and all the other sufferings that could not possibly be enumerated; nor, being rich, would he have become poor, had he not loved us far more than himself.
It was indeed something new for love to go as far as that!
Christ commands us to love as he did, putting neither reputation, nor wealth, not anything whatever before love of our brothers and sisters. If need be we must even be prepared to face death for our neighbor's salvation as did our Savior's blessed disciples and those who followed in their footsteps.
To them the salvation of others mattered more than their own lives and they were ready to do anything or to suffer anything to save souls that were perishing. I die daily, said Paul. “Who suffers weakness without my suffering too? Who is made to stumble without my heart blazing with indignation?”
The Savior urged us to practice this love that transcends the law as the foundation of true devotion to God. He knew that only in this way could we become pleasing in God's eyes, and that it was by seeking the beauty of the love implanted in us by himself that we should attain to the highest blessings.
(On John's Gospel 9: p. 74, 161-164)
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