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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. VII:
The Catechetical Lectures of S. Cyril.: Catechetical Instruction.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter II.—Catechetical Instruction.

§ 1.  Catechesis.  The term “Catechesis” in its widest sense includes instruction by word of mouth on any subject sacred or profane 73 , but is especially applied to Christian teaching, p. xx whether of an elementary kind appropriate to new converts, or, as in the famous Catechetical School of Alexandria, extending to the higher interpretation of Holy Scripture, and the exposition of Christian philosophy.

The earliest known example of a Catechetical work is the “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” which Athanasius names among the “books not included in the Canon, but appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who are just recently coming to us, and wish to be instructed in the word of godliness (κατηχεῖσθαι τὸν τῆς εὐσεβείας λόγον74 .”  The use of the Didache for the instruction of recent converts from Paganism agrees with its original purpose as stated in the longer title, “Teaching of the Lord through the Twelve Apostles for the Gentiles.”  The first six chapters are evidently adapted for those who need elementary instruction, more particularly for Catechumens of Gentile descent, as distinct from Jewish candidates for Baptism 75 .  The remaining chapters of the Didache relate chiefly to the administration of Baptism, to Prayer, Fasting, and the services of the Lord’s Day, and to the celebration of the Agape and Eucharist 76 .  This same division of subjects is observed in the two classes of S. Cyril’s Catechetical Lectures:  the first class, including the Procatechesis, consists of XIX Lectures addressed to candidates for Baptism, and these are followed by five “Mystagogic” Lectures, so called as being explanations of the Sacramental Mysteries to the newly-baptized.

The Didaché was taken as the basis of other manuals of instruction, as is evident from the fact that the greater part of the first six chapters is imbedded in “ The Apostolical Church Order,” supposed to date from Egypt in the third century.  The Greek text, with an English translation, of the part corresponding with the Didaché, is given in “ The oldest Church Manual “ as Document V.

A further development of the Didaché, “adapted to the state of the Eastern Church in the first half of the fourth century,” is contained in the Seventh Book of the Apostolical Constitutions of Pseudo-Clement of Rome, chs. i.–xxxii.  “Here the Didaché is embodied almost word for word, but with significant omissions, alterations, and additions, which betray a later age.…The Didaché was thus superseded by a more complete and timely Church Manual, and disappeared.”  Dr. Schaff has appended this document also to his edition of the Didaché, noting the borrowed passages on the margin, and distinguishing them by spaced type in the Greek text, and by italics in the English translation.

In this work the directions concerning the instruction of Catechumens and their Baptism are addressed to the Catechist and the Minister of Baptism.  They contain only a short outline (c. xxxix.) of the subjects in which the Catechumens are to be instructed, most if not all of which are explained at large in Cyril’s Lectures:  and in the directions concerning Baptism, Chrism, and the Eucharist, the similarity is so close, that in many passages of the Constitutions the author seems to be referring especially to the use of the Church of Jerusalem.

From this close affinity with earlier works we may be assured that in the Catecheses of Cyril we have trustworthy evidence of the great care which the Church had from the beginning bestowed on the instruction and training of converts, before admitting them to the privilege of Baptism; but beyond this, Cyril’s own work has a peculiar value as the earliest extant example of a full, systematic, and continuous course of such instruction.

§ 2.  Catechist.  The duty of catechizing was not limited to a class of persons permanently set apart for that purpose, but all orders of the Clergy were accustomed to take part in the work.  Even laymen were encouraged to teach children or new converts the first elements of religion, as we learn from Cyril’s exhortation:  “If thou hast a child according to the flesh, admonish him of this now; and if thou hast begotten one through catechizing, put him also on p. xxi his guard 77 .”  That this remark was addressed not to the Catechumens, but to such of the Faithful as happened to be present among his audience, appears from what he says elsewhere, “So thou likewise, though not daring before thy Baptism to wrestle with the adversaries, yet after thou hast received the grace, and art henceforth confident in the armour of righteousness, must then do battle, and preach the Gospel, if thou wilt 78 .”

The more systematic instruction of those who had been already admitted to the order of Catechumens was entrusted to persons appointed to this special duty.  Thus Origen “was in his eighteenth year when he took charge of the Catechetical School at Alexandria,” which “was entrusted to him alone by Demetrius, who presided over the Church 79 :”  and S. Augustine’s Treatise, De Catechizandis Rudibus, was addressed to Deogratias, who being a Deacon at Carthage, and highly esteemed for his skill and success as a Catechist, felt so strongly the importance of the work and his own insufficiency, that he wrote to Augustine for advice as to the best method of instructing those who were brought to him to be taught the first elements of the Christian Faith.

The final training of the φωτιζόμενοι, or candidates for Baptism, was undertaken in part by the Bishop himself, but chiefly by a Priest specially appointed by him.  Of the part taken by the Bishop mention is made by S. Ambrose in a letter to his sister Marcellina (Ep. xx.):  “On the following day, which was the Lord’s day, after the Lessons and Sermon, the Catechumens had been dismissed, and I was delivering the Creed to some candidates (Competentes) in the Baptistery of the Basilica.”

Of this “delivery of the Creed,” which was usually done by a Presbyter, we have examples in S. Augustine’s Sermons In traditione Symboli, ccxii.–ccxiv., each of which contains a brief recapitulation and explanation of the several articles of belief.  In Serm. ccxiv., after a short introduction, we find the following note inserted by the preacher himself.  [“After this preface the whole Creed is to be recited, without interposing any discussion.  ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty,’ and the rest that follows.  Which Creed, thou knowest, is not wont to be written:  after it has been said, the following discussion (disputatio) is to be added.”]

From the opening words of Sermon ccxiv., and of ccxvi., “ad Competentes,” it is evident that these were delivered by S. Augustine as the first-fruits of his ministry very soon after he had been reluctantly ordained Priest (a.d. 391).  Two other examples of addresses to Candidates for Baptism are the Catecheses I., II., πρὸς τοὺς μέλλοντας φωτίζεσθαι, delivered at Antioch by S. Chrysostom while a Presbyter.

Another duty often undertaken by the Bishop was to hear each Candidate separately recite the Creed, and then to expound to them all the Lord’s Prayer 80 .

§ 3.  Catechumens.  The term Catechumen denoted a person who was receiving instruction in the Christian religion with a view to being in due time baptized.  Such persons were either converts from Paganism and Judaism, or children of Christian parents whose Baptism had been deferred.  For though the practice of Infant-Baptism was certainly common in the Early Church 81 , it was not compulsory nor invariable.  “In many cases Christian parents may have shared and acted on the opinion expressed by Tertullian in the second century, and by Gregory Nazianzen in the fourth, and thought it well to defer the Baptism of children, cases of grave sickness excepted, till they were able to make answer in their own name to the interrogations of the baptismal rite 82 .”

p. xxii It is stated by Bingham 83 , but without any reference to ancient authors, that “the child of believing parents, as they were baptized in infancy, were admitted Catechumens as soon as they were capable of learning.”  Though the title “Catechumen” was not usually applied to those who had been already baptized, it is probable that such children were admitted to the Lectures addressed to Catechumens both in the earlier and later stage of their preparation:  for it seems to be implied in the passage quoted above from Cat. xv. 18, that admission was not limited to the candidates for Baptism.

To believe and to be baptized are the two essential conditions of membership in Christ’s Church 84 :  but for the admission of new converts to the class of Catechumens nothing more could be required than evidence of a sincere desire to understand, to believe, and ultimately to be baptized.

We know that unbelievers, Jews, and Heathens were allowed in the Apostolic age to be present at times in the Christian assemblies 85 ; and in Cyril’s days they stood in the lower part of the Church (νάρθηξ) to hear the Psalms, Lessons, and Sermon 86 .

Any persons who by thus hearing the word, or by other means, were brought to believe the truth of Christianity, and to wish for further instruction, were strictly examined as to their character, belief, and sincerity of purpose.  The care with which such examinations were conducted is thus described by Origen:  “The Christians, however, having previously, so far as possible, tested the souls of those who wish to become their hearers, and having previously admonished them in private, when they seem, before entering the community, to have made sufficient progress in the desire to lead a virtuous life, they then introduce them, having privately formed one class of those who are just beginners, and are being introduced, and have not yet received the mark of complete purification; and another of those who have manifested to the best of their ability the purpose of desiring no other things than are approved by Christians 87 .”  Such as were thus found worthy of admission were brought to the Bishop Presbyter, and received by the sign of the Cross 88 , with prayer and imposition of hands, to the status of Catechumens.

We have a description by Eusebius 89 of some of these ceremonies in the case of Constantine:  When the Emperor felt his life to be drawing to a close, “he poured forth his supplications and confessions to God, kneeling on the pavement in the Church itself, in which he also now for the first time received the imposition of hands with prayer.”  Soon after this the Bishops whom he had summoned to Nicomedia to give him Baptism, “performed the sacred ceremonies in the usual manner, and having given him the necessary instructions made him a partaker of the mystic ordinances.”

Another ceremony used in the admission of Catechumens, at least in some Churches, mentioned by S. Augustine 90 :  “Sanctification is not of one kind only:  for I suppose that Catechumens also are sanctified in a certain way of their own by the sign of Christ’s Cross, and the Prayer of the Imposition of Hands; and that which they receive, though it be not the Body of Christ, is yet an holy thing, and more holy than the common food which sustains us, because it is a sacrament.”  From this passage it has been inferred that consecrated bread p. xxiii (εὐλογίαι, panis benedictus), taken out of the oblations provided for the Eucharist, was given to the Catechumens,—an opinion which seemed to have some support in the comparison between “that which the Catechumens receive,” and “the food which sustains us.”  But Bingham maintains 91 that S. Augustine here refers only to the symbolical use of salt, of which he says in his Confessions, I. xi., that while yet a boy he “used to be marked with the sign of His Cross, and seasoned with His salt.”  The meaning of this so-called “Sacrament of the Catechumens” was that by the symbol of salt “they might learn to purge and cleanse their souls from sin.”

In the African Church in the time of S. Augustine it was customary to anoint the new convert with exorcised oil at the time of his admission, but in the Eastern Church there seems to have been no such anointing until immediately before Baptism.

Persons who had been thus admitted to the class of Catechumens were usually regarded as Christians, but only in a lower degree, being still clearly distinguished from the Faithful.  “Ask a man, Art thou a Christian?  If he is a Pagan or a Jew, he answers, I am not.  But if he say, I am, you ask him further, Catechumen or Faithful?  If he answer, Catechumen, he has been anointed, but not yet baptized 92 .”  Augustine, like Tertullian, complains that among heretics there was no sure distinction between the Catechumen and the Faithful 93 :  and according to the second General Council, Canon 7, converts from certain heresies to the orthodox Faith were to be received only as heathen:  “On the first day we make them Christians, on the second Catechumens, on the third we exorcise them by three times breathing on them on the face and on the ears; and so we instruct them (κατηχοῦμεν), and make them frequent the Church for a long time, and listen to the Holy Scriptures, and then we baptize them.”

Whether Cyril calls his hearers Christians before they had been baptized is not very clear:  in Cat. x. § 16, he seems to include them among those who are called by the “new name;” but in § 20 of the same Lecture he assumes that there may be present some one who “was before a believer (πιστός),” and to him he says “Thou wert called a Christian; be tender of the name,” and in Lect. xxi. i, speaking to those who had now been baptized, he says, “Having therefore become partakers of Christ, ye are properly called Christs.  Now ye have been made Christs by receiving the antitype of the Holy Ghost,” that is, Chrism.

§ 4.  Candidates for Baptism.  Bingham, who himself makes four classes or degrees of Catechumens, acknowledges that “the Greek expositors of the ancient Canons,” and other writers, “usually make but two sorts 94 .”  These were (1) the imperfect (τελέστεροι), called also hearers (κροώμενοι , audientes), because in Church they were only allowed to remain till the Holy Scriptures had been read, the Sermon preached, the special prayers of the Catechumens said, and the blessing given to each by the Bishop in the words of the “prayer of the imposition of hands 95 .”  After this the Deacon says, “Go out, ye catechumens, in peace.”  (2)  After the Energumens also have been dismissed, the more perfect (τελειότεροι, φωτιζόμενοι) remain on their knees in prayer (γονυκλίνοντες, εὐχόμενοι).  Then the Deacon is to cry aloud, “Ye that are to be illuminated, pray.  Let us the faithful all pray for them.  And being sealed to God through His Christ, let them bow down their heads, and receive the blessing from the Bishop.”  The “Prayer of the Imposition of hands” is then pronounced over them by the Bishop.

The period of probation and instruction varied at different times and places:  according to Canon 42 of the Synod of Elvira, 305, it was to be two years:  “He who has a good name, p. xxiv and wishes to become a Christian, must be a Catechumen two years:  then he maybe baptized 96 .”  After this probation had been satisfactorily passed, the Catechumens invited to give in their names as Candidates for Baptism.  This invitation, described by Cyril as a call to military service (κλῆσις στρατείας97 , appears to have been often repeated on the approach of Lent.  Thus S. Ambrose, in his Commentary on S. Luke, v. 5; We have toiled all night and have taken nothing, complains, “I too, Lord, know that for me it is night, when I have not Thy command.  No one yet has given his name:  with my voice I have cast the net throughout Epiphany, and as yet I have taken nothing.”

This preliminary “call to service” must be distinguished from the actual enlistment in the Christian army at Baptism, in anticipation of which Cyril prays for his hearers that God “may enlist them in His service, and put on them the armour of righteousness 98 .”  The same metaphorical language in reference to the Christian warfare recurs in many passages 99 .

The next step for those who responded to the call was the registration of names (νοματογραφία100 .  It appears from passages of Dionysius Pseudo-Areopagites, quoted by Bingham 101 , that the Bishop, after laying his hand on each Catechumen’s head, commanded his Presbyters and Deacons to register his name, together with that of his sponsor (νάδοχος) in the Diptychs of the living.  This ceremony took place at Jerusalem at the beginning of Lent, as we learn from Procat. § 1:  “Thou hast entered, been approved; thy name inscribed.…A long notice is allowed thee; thou hast forty days for repentance.”  Those who had been admitted as candidates for Baptism were in most Churches still reckoned among the Catechumens, being distinguished as συναιτοῦντες , “competentes.”  But from Cyril’s language in several passages it appears that in the Church of Jerusalem they ceased to be regarded as Catechumens, and were reckoned among the Faithful.  “Thou wert called a Catechumen, while the word echoed round thee from without.  Think not that thou receivest a small thing:  though a miserable man, thou receivest one of God’s titles.  Hear S. Paul saying, God is faithful.  But beware, lest thou have the title of ‘faithful,’ but the will of the faithless 102 .”  “Thou receivest a new name which thou hadst not before.  Heretofore thou wast a Catechumen, but now thou wilt be called a Believer (Πιστός103 .”

Again, “How great a dignity the Lord bestows on you in transferring you from the order of Catechumens to that of the Faithful, the Apostle Paul shews, when he affirms, God is faithful 104 .”

Two passages in S. Cyril have been thought to imply that the newly-admitted Candidates for Baptism carried lighted torches in procession, perhaps on the first Sunday after the registration.  He speaks of their having received “torches of the bridal procession 105 ;” and on this expression the Benedictine Editor observes that “Wax tapers” were perhaps given to the Illuminandi to carry, a custom which may also be indicated in the words, “Ye who have lately lighted the torches of faith, guard them carefully in your hands unquenched 106 .”

Others are of opinion that the custom of carrying torches or tapers was observed only in the procession of the newly-baptized from the Baptistery to the Church 107 , and that here Cyril means by the “bridal lamps,” those motions of the Holy Ghost, and spiritual instructions, which had lighted their way to Christ, and to the entrance to His Kingdom 108 .  This latter interpretation is rather vague and far-fetched, and it is evident that the words, “Ye who have lately lighted the torches of faith,” gain much in clearness and force, if suggested by the visible symbolism of a ceremony in which the Illuminandi had just borne their part.  The p. xxv lighted torches would be a significant symbol both of the marriage of the soul with Christ, and of its enlightenment by faith.

§ 5.  φωτιζόμενοι.  In the first words of his Introductory Lecture Cyril addresses his hearers as οἱ φωτιζόμενοι, “Ye who are being enlightened,” and from the Titles of the Catechetical Lectures i.–xviii., we see that this name was constantly used to distinguish the candidates preparing for immediate Baptism.

The Verb φωτίζω is frequently used by the LXX., both in a physical and in a spiritual sense.  In the New Testament it is found but rarely in the physical sense 109 , being generally applied to the light of spiritual truth, and to Christ as its source 110 .

In two passages of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Aorist (φωτισθέντας ) marks “the decisive moment when the light was apprehended in its glory 111 ,” from which the thought easily passes on to the public profession of the truth thus received, that is, to Baptism.

That the word began very early to be used in this new sense, is evident from Justin Martyr’s explanation of it in his First Apology, c. 61; where, after speaking of instruction in Christian doctrine, of the profession of faith, and the promise of repentance and holy living, as the necessary preparations for Baptism, he thus proceeds:  “And this washing is called Illumination (σωτισμός), because they who learn these things are illuminated in their understanding. 112 ”  The same transition of the meaning from instruction to Baptism is clearly implied by Clement of Alexandria:  “Among the barbarian philosophers also to instruct and to enlighten is called to regenerate 113 ,” and again:  “For this reason the teaching, which made manifest the hidden things, has been called illumination (φωτισμός114 .”

That this is the sense in which Cyril uses the word is placed beyond doubt by a passage of the Lecture delivered immediately before the administration of Baptism:  “that your soul being previously illuminated (προφωτιζομένης ) by the word of doctrine, ye may in each particular discover the greatness of the gifts bestowed on you by God 115 .”

We thus see that the Present Participle (φωτιζόμενοι) describes a process of gradual illumination during the course of instruction, to be completed in Baptism, a sense which is well expressed in the Latin Gerundive “Illuminandi.”  And as we have seen that the candidates are addressed as οἱ φωτιζόμενοι even before the course of instruction has commenced, the quasi-Future sense “follows necessarily from the context 116 .”

The spiritual “Illumination,” of which Baptism was to be the completion and the seal, thus became by a natural development one of the recognised names of Baptism itself.  On the contrary, the inverse process assumed by the Benedictine Editor is entirely unnatural.  Starting from the later ecclesiastical use of φωτίζω and φωτισμός as connoting Baptism, he supposes that this was the first application of those terms, and that they were transferred to the previous illumination acquired by instruction in Christian truth, only because this was a necessary preparation for Baptism.  He therefore maintains that φωτιζόμενοι throughout the Catechetical Lectures is another term for βαπτιζόμενοι:  and as a decisive proof of this he refers to Cat. xvi. 26:  μέλλει δὲ καὶ ἐπὶ σὲ τὸν βαπτιζόμενον φθάνειν ἡ χάρις, not observing that the grace is to come upon “the person being baptized” at a time still future.  This meaning of the passage is made absolutely certain by the words which immediately follow,—“But in what manner I say not, for I will not anticipate the proper season.”  We may conclude, therefore, that in Cyril’s Lectures the term οἱ φωτιζόμενοι refers to the preparatory course of enlightenment rather than to Baptism.  At the same time we must remember that in Cyril’s day, and long before, φωτίζω, φωτισμός, and φώτισμα were constantly used to denote Baptism p. xxvi itself, as being the time of special illumination by the grace of the Holy Spirit then given.  Thus Clement of Alexandria writes:  “In Baptism we are illuminated.…This work is variously called grace, and illumination (φώτισμα), and perfection, and washing:…illumination, by which that holy light of salvation is beheld, that is, by which we see God clearly 117 .”  Gregory Nazianzen speaks in the same way:  “We call it gift, grace, baptism, chrism, illumination, garment of incorruption, washing of regeneration, seal, all that is precious 118 .”



Acts 18:25, Acts 21:21, 24, Rom. 2:18, Gal. 6:6.  Cf. Clem. Alex. Fragm. § 28:  οὐκ ἔστι πιστεῦσαι ἄνευ κατηχήσεως.


Festal Epist. 39.  Compare Clem. Alex. Strom. V. c. x. § 67.  Γάλα μὲν ἡ κατήχησις οἱονεὶ πρώτη ψυχῆς τροφὴ νοηθήσεται.


Schaff, Oldest Church Manual, p. 15.


Ib. p. 26.


Cat. xv. 18.


Cat. iii. 13.


Euseb. H. E. vi. 3.


S. August. Serm. lviii. et. ccxv.


Cf. Iren. II. c. xxii. § 4:  “Omnes enim venit per semet ipsum salvare; omnes, inquam, qui per eum renascuntur in Deum, infantes, et parvulos, et pueros, et juvenes, et seniores.  Cf. Concil. Carthag. iii. Epist. Synod. (Cypriani Ep. lix. vel lxiv. Routh. R. S. iii. p. 98.)


Dict. Chr. Antiq. “Baptism,” § 101.  Tertull. De Baptismo, c. xviii.  “And so, according to the circumstances, and disposition, and even age of each individual, the delay of Baptism is preferable; principally, however, in the case of little children.”  Cf. Gregor. Naz. Orat. 40 De Baptismo, quoted by Bingham, xi. c. 4, § 13.


Antiq. X. i. § 4.


Mark 16:16, Acts 18:8.


1 Cor. xiv. 23.


Apostolic Constitutions, VIII. i. § 5:  “And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, and our Epistles, and Acts, and Gospels, let him that is ordained…speak to the people the word of exhortation, and when he has ended his discourse of doctrine, all standing up, let the Deacon ascend upon some high seat, and proclaim, Let none of the hearers, let none of the unbelievers stay:  and silence being made, let him say, Ye Catechumens, pray, and let all the Faithful pray for them.”


Contra Celsum, iii. c. 51.  Cf. Const. Apost. viii. 32:  “Let them be examined as to the causes wherefore they come to the word of the Lord, and let those who bring them inquire exactly about their character, and give them their testimony.  Let their manners and their life be inquired into, and whether they be slaves or free,” &c.


S. Aug. De Symbolo, Serm. ad Catechumenos, § 1:  “Ye have not yet been born again by holy Baptism, but by the sign of the Cross ye have been already conceived in the womb of your mother the Church.”


Vita Const. iv. c. 60.


De Peccatorum meritis, ii. 42.


Antiq. X. ii. § 16.


S. August. In Joh. Evang. Tract. xliv. § 2.


Serm. xlvi. de Pastoribus, c. 13:  Tertull. de Præscriptione Hæret. c. 41:  “Imprimis quis Catechumenus, quis Fidelis, in certum est.”


Ant. X. ii. 1–5.  The Council of Nicæa, Canon xiv., seems to speak only of two classes.


Const. Apost. viii. § 6.


Hefele, Councils, i. p. 155.  Const. Apost. viii. 32:  “Let him that is to be instructed be a catechumen three years.”


Procat. § 1.


Ib. § 17.


See Cat. i. 3; iii. 3, 13; iv. 36, xvii. 36; xxi. 4.


Procat. § 1.


Antiq. X. ii. § 6.


Procat. § 6.


Cat. i. 4.


Ib. v. 1.


λαμπάδες νυμφαγωγίας, Procat. § 1.


Cat. i. § 1.


Bingham, Ant. X. ii. § 15.


Dict. Chr. Antiq. Vol. ii. p. 995, note.


Luke 11:36, Rev. 18:1.


John 1:9, 1 Cor. 4:5, 2 Cor. 4:4, 6, Eph. 1:18, Eph. 3:9, 2 Tim. 1:10, Rev. 21:23, Rev. 22:5.


Westcott, “Hebrews,” vi. 4; x. 32.


ςφωτιζομένων τὴν διάνοιαν τῶν ταῦτα μανθανόντων.


Strom. V. c. 2, § 15.


Strom. V. c. x. § 65.  Cf. V. c. viii. § 49.


Cat. xviii. § 32.


Cf. Winer, Grammar of N.T. Greek, Sect. xl. 22, note 3.


Pædag. I. vi. § 25.  (Syllb. 41).


Orat. xl. § 4.

Next: Special Preparation for Baptism.

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