Introduction to The Catechetical Lectures of Cyril of Jerusalem
Can a theologian be a good pastor or evangelist? Can an effective, church-growing evangelist be theological? Can a caring pastor preach doctrine in a relevant way? Is it possible for one person to be a dynamic evangelist, pastor, and theologian all at once? Looking at Cyril, the fourth century bishop of Jerusalem, is helpful.
Can a theologian be a good pastor or evangelist? Can an effective, church-growing evangelist be theological? Can a caring pastor preach doctrine in a relevant way? Is it possible for one person to be a dynamic evangelist, pastor, and theologian all at once?
I venture to guess that many today would answer “no.” Some literature on effective evangelistic and pastoral ministries takes a swipe at theological reflection to get at the “real” concerns of “what works” today. The attitude is reflected in the opinions of those ministers who feel that they truly learned what’s important for the church once they got out of formal educational institutions. Unfortunately, the approach taken by some academics can reinforce the divorce between theology and ministerial practice. I once asked a student taking a course on a patristic theologian, for instance, whether the class had given any sense that the early church figure being studied was a wonderful pastoral evangelist. The answer was “no.”
And that’s why looking at Cyril, the fourth century bishop of Jerusalem, is so helpful. In his addresses to the baptismal candidates in his church, he does a masterful job of weaving together solid theology, effective evangelism, and nurturing pastoral care. Whatever Cyril’s vestments actually were like (who knows exactly what a fourth century bishop would have worn?), he did wear simultaneously the metaphorical caps of evangelist, pastor, and theologian as he prepared new Christians for their baptism at Easter and preached to them the meaning of the sacraments afterward.
Cyril’s catechetical lectures raise questions that are still important: What do people need to know to be active Christian disciples? What’s the appropriate threshold for baptizing someone? Is “buying into” the commonly held doctrines of the church essential in evangelizing someone? Cyril’s answer is a resounding “yes.”
Cyril had paid a deep personal “cost” in being able to teach theology to his sheep; three times he was exiled by anti-orthodox factions, forced to spend nearly fifteen years away from his pastoral post in Jerusalem. When he was able to exercise his role as bishop, he was rewarded by the enthusiastic response of the people to his preaching. According to one contemporaneous report, his flock shouted exuberantly as he taught them each day leading up to baptism.
As you read, don’t be afraid to get caught up in the excitement, too. Your shout sparked by good theology wouldn’t offend Cyril at all.
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