The “Glaphyra” of Cyril of Alexandria and Matthew 27:25 (part 2)

Yesterday I gave the first of the four passages in the Glaphyra in which Cyril quotes Matt.27:25, “His blood be upon us and our descendants.”  Today I continue with the second.  The TLG entry is as follows:

  • PG 69 col. 349 line 29: Ἕτερον γὰρ, οἶμαι, παρὰ τοῦτό ἐστιν οὐδὲν τὸ ἀσυνέτως εἰπεῖν ἐπὶ Χριστῷ· «Τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς, καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν.»

This is found in book 7 of the Glaphyra which starts at col. 336, and begins as follows:

On the blessings of the twelve patriarchs.

The scope and principle of the present book is to narrate the things which Jacob predicted for the sons descended from himself.  But first it is obvious that the meaning of the text is very intractable, and not easy for ordinary people, but contains an abstruse and obscure significance within itself.  But the blessed method [of interpretation] is not confused, and will not have it so, and that so far was more difficult than this.   Indeed the divine Jacob undertook to predict to his sons what the final outcome would be.  Indeed he made mention of the past, and measured sin, indeed firstly of Reuben himself, and after this for Simeon and Levi.  Who indeed would dare to say that a  legitimate commemoration of past things and of sin was a road by which blessings would come?  Would he not be considered a liar, and a stranger from the true faith?  And so it is very awkward to take up this passage with these feelings.   What then shall we say, inviting full approval from them to our design?  Because the explanation of our prophecy or prediction will introduce completely a type of the synagogue of the Jews, or, to speak briefly, of the whole race, and of exactly those who are of one tribe, of what sort they were in their day, whether they should be condemned or on the other hand approved: likewise in what way, if he was in them, or ???  For look at the way in which he describes another covenant to come, from those which had already been made, and truly sets forth the event of the future for others from the declaration or interpretation of their very names.  Therefore it was written so, “But Jacob called his sons and said, ‘Gather together, and I will make known to you what will happen to you in the last days.  Gather together, and listen, sons of Jacob: listen to your father Israel.”[1]

With these words Cyril gives us fair warning that he is going to discuss the future of the Jews, as seen in the words of Genesis 49.  We need to understand the context, of course.

He then moves into a section headed “Concerning Reuben”.  But almost immediately he mentions the actions of Reuben in sleeping with his father’s wife, and says that “the rest of what is given here, I believe nobody will consider as relating to what will happen in the last days.  It would be absurd to think so.”  Instead he suggests that the story relates to the unfaithfulness of the “synagogue” – i.e. the doctrinal adultery of Israel – to God.  Quotations from Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Christ himself are used to point up their willingness to transgress the law of God. “The fornicating woman is, therefore, the synagogue of the Jews.  But the chaste and blameless virgin, ‘free from any spot or wrinkle’, is the church…”  “For old and wrinkled is the synagogue of the Jews, and on the other hand the new and faithful people flourish.”  … “For it is right to understand the people of Israel as impure and full of wrinkles, who would not accept the purification of Christ.” … “And Christ himself asks, ‘Which of the prophets did your fathers not kill?  And you have filled up the measure of your fathers.”  He continues by quoting the “vehement attacks” of Christ on “the leaders of the Jews”.

The next section is headed “Concerning Simeon and Levi”, and starts by quoting Genesis 49:5-7, on the wickedness of the brothers Simeon and Levi.  He then discusses the shedding of blood for redemption, illustrated by various episodes in the Old Testament, and the section ends as follows, before moving on to “Concerning Judah”:

Although each of these may be said to be complete in its own time, nevertheless we now remind and repeat this.  You understand that some were freed by their own covenant from the accusation of shedding blood through the [sacrifice of a] calf, which represents Emmanuel.  For it is right, I think, that they, when they justify themselves, speak thus: “Our hands have not shed this blood.”  Of course you will discover that the people of the Jews never said this, but in fact instead, after sacrificing the calf, they dared to say further, “Our hands have shed this blood.”  This is the same as what they ignorantly said concerning Christ, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.”[2]

It’s interesting to see the sacrifices of the OT linked so definitely to Christ.  But one can’t help feeling that the listener would not be induced to regard the Jew with esteem by any of this; rather the reverse.

Two more passages to go.

  1. [1]Latin translation as given in the PG, from which I have translated this: Scopus quidem atque institutum praesentis sermonis est narrare ea quae Jacob filiis ex se natis creatura praedixit. Sed prius quasi contestatur, difficilem admodum esse dictorum sensum, neque vulgo obvium, sed abstrusam obscuramque significationem in se habere. Immistum vero est benedictionis modo, id quod non ita se habet, et quod adhuc his difficilius est. Promittit quidem divinus Jacob praedicere filiis quae novissimo eventura sint; facit vero praeteritorum mentionem, et peccatum metitur, primum quidem ipsius Ruben, ac post hoc Simeonis et Levi. Quis vero dicere audeat esse legitimum benedicendi modum praeteritorum peccatorum commemorationem? Annon is mendax et a recta ratione alienus habeatur? Obscurus itaque admodum est capere volentibus hac de re sermo. Quid ergo dicemus, adhibentes probationem hisce a nobis propositis commodam? Quia explicatio ipsius prophetiae sive praedictionis omnino nobis introducet typum Synagogae Judaeorum, aut, ut summatim dicam, totius generis, atque adeo eorum quae uniuscujusque tribus sunt, qualisnam illa futura sit suo tempore, an damnanda, an e diverso approbanda: item quomodo, aut in quibus fuerit, et quo illa quae secundum ipsa sunt evadant. Vide autem quo pacto aliis quidem, ex iis quae jam facta sunt, futura describit, aliis vero ex ipsa nominum declaratione sive interpretatione futurorum eventum declarat. Scriptura est igitur sic: “Vocavit autem Jacob filios suos, et dixit: Congregamini, ut annuntiem vobis quid accidet vobis in novissimis diebus. Congregamini, et audite, filii Jacob; audite lsraelem patrem vestrum.»
  2. [2]Verum etsi de hisce singulis suo tempore dicendum sit accurate, illud tamen nunc admonemus, et dicimus. Intelligis quo pacto seipsos liberent nonnulli ab accusatione fusi sanguinis per vitulam, quae adumbrat Emmanuelem. Oportet enim eos, ut arbitror, quando se excusant, ita dicere: “Manus nostra non effuderunt hunc sanguinem.” Verum enimvero populum Judaeorum nunquam hoc exclamasse reperies, quin potius, postquam taurum enervarunt, ausi sunt insuper dicere : “Nostra manus effuderunt hanc sanguinem.” Nihil enim aliud quam hoc est, quod imperite de Christo dixerant: “Sanguis ejus super nos, et super filios nostros.”

6 thoughts on “The “Glaphyra” of Cyril of Alexandria and Matthew 27:25 (part 2)

  1. Not much into eucatastrophe, no. (So far, anyway.) Probably a good thing Cyril never read Lord of the Rings.

  2. Well, obviously Frodo and Gollum squabbling for the Ring and both trying to become Dark Lord was not a good act, and obviously it would have been better if Frodo had held out and not sinned. But Tolkien spends a lot of time foreshadowing how “oft evil can evil mar” and so forth, and then he uses that for the ending. (Which is still one of the few times when the protagonist of a story really does evil at the climax, and gets punished for it.)

    OTOH, with all the crazy Alexandrians trying to say that it wasn’t Judas’ fault that he betrayed the Lord, it was just destiny or maybe Jesus told him to do it, blah blah blah Gnosticism — you could see why Cyril would probably not want to talk about “And this is how Israel continued its serial pattern of righteousness followed by sinfulness, but God made it turn out okay, so let’s not say anything bad ever about any Jew who was involved.”

    But obviously, the man’s a Church Father, and he could have dialed back the hyperbole a bit and drawn some distinctions between “Caiaphas bad, specific Jews in crowd haranguing Pilate bad” and “that Jewish guy down the street who has never been to Jerusalem and whose relatives left Israel 200 years before the birth of Christ – he didn’t ask for any blood to be on him or his children, so don’t be nasty to him.” You would think so, anyway.

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