24 March 2014

Cyril of Jerusalem on Espousal to Christ

I have written a few times now on the fact that the vocation lived under canon 604, consecrated virginity of women living in the world, is a specification of a universal vocation to espousal that every Christian receives in baptism. I have tried to deal with misguided arguments which make this vocation elitist, which posit for instance, that Religious do not have the right to call themselves Brides of Christ unless they also receive this specific consecration in conjunction with solemn vows and that CV's have a right to ask them to stop doing so! I have argued that marriage and religious life as well as the life form of CV's serve to remind us all of our own baptismal espousal to Christ -- though they do so in different ways. I have argued that consecrated virginity serves as an icon of the eschatological fulfillment of this espousal and its secularity makes it clear that heaven and earth will interpenetrate one another. In saying all of this in the main I have merely been repeating a theology which has been present since the earliest years of the Church's life.

Much of this was underscored in the Office of Readings (Vigils) last week. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem (d. 386) speaks in a way which should be instructive to every CV who desires or attempts to make of their own consecration something elitist and completely unique.  The text is included below. Please attend to whom Cyril is addressing  ("My brothers"!); the wedding language or imagery is emphatic and unequivocal without exclusive gender reference. Neither is espousal in this matter linked to sinlessness or physical purity prior to baptism. Cyril says just the opposite. It is linked instead to the recreation by the Holy Spirit and new relationship with God that occurs in Baptism.

I will be writing more about some questions I recently received re canon 604 and what constitutes virginity or precludes one from receiving the consecration just as soon as I can (perhaps a week or so). However, after rereading what I have already written, I have decided that for the moment there is little I can add to either my own posts or to Cyril's instruction here regarding the universality of the call to espousal:

[[From the Instructions to Catechumens by St Cyril of Jerusalem
Prepare for the Holy Spirit

Let the heavens sing for joy and the earth exult! For these people who are about to be sprinkled with hyssop will be cleansed spiritually. His power will purify them, for during his passion the hyssop touched his lips. Let the heavenly angels rejoice! Let those who are to be wedded to a spiritual spouse prepare themselves. [N.B., as noted, Cyril is speaking of those who are preparing for Baptism, not for another consecration.] A voice cries in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord And so, children of justice, follow John’s exhortation: Make straight the way of the Lord. Remove all obstacles and stumbling blocks so that you will be able to go straight along the road to eternal life. Through a sincere faith prepare yourselves so that you may be free to receive the Holy Spirit. Through your penance begin to wash your garments; then, summoned to the spouse’s bedchamber, you will be found spotless.

Heralds proclaim the bridegroom’s invitation. All mankind is called to the wedding feast, for he is a generous lover. Once the crowd has assembled, the bridegroom decides who will enter the wedding feast. This is a figure for baptism. Give your name at his gate and enter. I hope that none of you will later hear the words: Friend, how did you enter without a wedding garment? Rather may all of you hear the words: Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in small things, I shall put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.

Up to this point in the history of salvation you have stood outside the gate. Now I hope you will all hear the words: The king has brought me into his chambers. My soul rejoices in my God. He has clothed me in the garment of salvation and in the cloak of joy. He has made me a bridegroom by placing a crown on my head. He has made me a bride by adorning me with jewels and golden ornaments. I do not say these things so that your souls will be found without stain or wrinkle or any other defect. Indeed, before you have received this grace, how could this happen to you who are called to receive forgiveness of sin? Rather, I ask that once you have received his grace you do nothing to deserve damnation. Even more, I ask you to hasten toward the fulfillment of his grace.

My brothers, this is a truly great occasion. Approach it with caution. You are standing in front of God and in the presence of the hosts of angels. The Holy Spirit is about to impress his seal on each of your souls. [It is important to remember he is speaking here of a sacramental seal.] You are about to be pressed into the service of a great king. And so prepare yourselves to receive the sacrament. The gleaming white garments you are about to put on are not the preparation I am speaking of, but rather the devotion of a clean conscience.]]