§ 1. The Year. The incidental notes of time in the Catechetical Lectures are sufficient to determine with considerable probability the exact year in which they were delivered.
In Cat. xiv.14, Cyril speaks in the Plural of the Emperors then reigning (hoi nun basileis) as having completed the building (exeirgasanto) and embellishment of the great Church of the Resurrection. This can only apply to the sons of Constantine, Constans and Constantius, and as Constans died early in 350, the Lectures must have been delivered before that year.
In Cat. xv. § 6, Cyril asks, |Is there at this time war between Persians and Romans, or no?| The time thus indicated was apparently that of the campaign which ended in the disastrous defeat of Constantius at Singara, 348, the battle being soon followed by a suspension of hostilities .
The Benedictine Editor tries to find another proof of the date of the Lectures in Cyril's description of the state of the Church in Cat. xv. §7: |If thou hear that Bishops advance against Bishops, and clergy against clergy, and laity against laity, even unto blood, be not troubled.| Touttée refers this account to the fierce dissensions which followed the Synod of Sardica, where Athanasius and Marcellus were declared innocent and received into communion, while the Encyclical of the dissentient Bishops, who had withdrawn to Philippopolis, condemned them both. But it is now ascertained that the Synod of Sardica was held not in 347, as Touttée supposed, but in 344 : and Cyril's description may unhappily be applied to the state of the Church at almost any time from the Council of Tyre, by which Athanasius had been deposed in 335, until long after any date which can possibly be assigned to Cyril's Lectures.
There is a much more definite note of time in Cat. vi. § 20, where speaking of Manes Cyril says: |The delusion began full seventy years ago.| If we may assume that the outbreak of this heresy is to be dated from the famous disputation between Archelaus and Manes in 277 , it follows that Cyril must have made this statement in 347 or 348. And further, if Dr. Routh is correct in fixing the date of the Disputation between July and December 277, the Lent in which the Lectures were delivered must have been, as Touttée decides, that of 348, not of 347, as Tillemont had supposed.
§ 2. The days. It is expressly stated by Sozomen that |the interval called Quadragesima| was made to consist of six weeks in Palestine, |whereas it comprised seven weeks in Constantinople and the neighbouring provinces.|
It is certain the Catechetical Lectures i.-xviii. were all delivered in these six weeks, being preceded by the Procatechesis, which was addressed to the candidates before the whole congregation at the public Service on Sunday (§ 4). In the same context Cyril says, |Thou hast forty days for repentance,| and again in Cat i. § 5, |Hast thou not forty days to be free for thine own soul's sake?| It thus appears probable that the first of the eighteen (Catechetical Lectures was delivered on the Monday of the first week of the Fast, the forty days being completed on the night preceding the Great Sabbath, that is to say, the night of Good Friday, when the fast was brought to an end at a late hour.
With regard to the date of Cat. iv., which contains a brief preliminary statement of all the articles of the Creed, we may obtain some evidence from an incident recorded in a letter of Jerome to Pammachius. John, who had then succeeded Cyril as Bishop of Jerusalem, had on a certain occasion discoursed on the Creed and all the doctrines of the Church in the presence of Epiphanius and the whole congregation. Jerome, being ignorant of the peculiar custom of the Church of Jerusalem, rebukes the supposed presumption of the Bishop, |that a man deficient in eloquence should in one discourse in Church discuss all the doctrines concerning the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the descent into hell, the nature of angels, the state of departed souls, the Resurrection of Christ, and of ourselves, and other subjects.| The rebuke calls out a statement from John: |The custom among us is that for forty days we publicly deliver the doctrine of the Holy and Adorable Trinity to those who are to be baptized.| This being the custom at Jerusalem in Cyril's time, we may conjecture that Cat. iv., which corresponds closely to the description of John's discourse, was delivered, like that, on a Sunday before the whole congregation: and this is in fact suggested by Cyril's own words in § 3: |Let those here present, whose habit of mind is mature, and who have their senses already exercised to discern good and evil, endure patiently to listen to things fitted rather for children.| That this could not have been later than the Sunday following that on which the Procatechesis was delivered, is shewn by the mention in the same section of |the long interval of the days of all this holy Quadragesima,| an expression which could not well have been used later than the second Sunday in Lent.
In Cat. iv. § 32, Cyril speaks of having discoursed on Baptism |the day before yesterday,| that is, on the Friday.
In Cat. v. we have first a discourse on the nature of faith, and then towards the end, between § 12 and § 13, the actual words of the Creed are for the first time recited by Cyril to the candidates alone. In the next four Lectures there are no marks of time, except that vi., vii., viii., were delivered on successive days, as is proved by the word |yesterday|(te chthes hemera) in vii. § 1, and viii. § 1. It thus appears probable that the five Lectures, v.-ix., belong to the five days, Monday to Friday inclusive, of the second or third week.
In Cat. x. § 14 Cyril reminds his hearers that he had preached on the words after the order of Melchizedek at the public Service on the Lord's day. As he does not here employ his usual phrase |yesterday,| we may infer that Cat. x. was delivered not earlier than the Tuesday following the 4th Sunday in Lent, the Epistle for that Sunday in the Eastern Church being Heb. vi.13-20, which ends with the words on which Cyril had preached. The next two Lectures followed Cat. x. immediately on successive days, Wednesday and Thursday, the word |yesterday| recurring in xi. § 1, and xii. § 4.
Cat. xiii., which is occupied with the Crucifixion and Burial, seems to have followed them immediately on the Friday: it certainly came a few days only before Cat. xiv. § 1. For speaking there of the preceding Lecture, Cyril says, |I know the sorrow of Christ's friends in these past days; because, as our discourse stopped short at the Death and the Burial, and did not tell the good tidings of the Resurrection, your mind was in suspense to hear what you were longing for.| Now we know that Cat. xiv. was delivered on the Monday after Passion Sunday: for the Epistle for that 5th Sunday in Lent was Heb. vi.11-14, referring to the Ascension : and in § 24 Cyril says, |The grace of God so ordered it, that thou heardest most fully concerning it, so far as our weakness allowed, yesterday on the Lord's day, since by the providence of divine grace the course of the Readings (anagnosmaton) in Church included the account of our Saviour's going up into the heavens.|
In Cat. xv. there is no note of time to determine on what day it was spoken; but in § 33 Cyril speaks as if his course of teaching was to be interrupted for a little while: |If the grace of God should permit us, the remaining Articles also of the Faith shall be in good time (kata kairon) declared to you.| We may therefore assign Cat. xv. to the early part of Passion week, and the three remaining Catechetical Lectures to the week before Easter. This arrangement seems to be confirmed by Cat. xvii.34, where Cyril speaks of the two Lectures on the Holy Spirit, xvi. and xvii., as |these present Lectures,| distinguishing them from |our previous discourses.| In the same section he refers to |the fewness of the days,| and in § 20 speaks of |the holy festival of the Passover| as being close at hand. We may therefore probably assign xvi. and xvii. to two consecutive days in the earlier part of the week before Easter.
Cat. xviii. contains many indications from which we may conclude with certainty that it was delivered either on the night of Good Friday, or in the early hours of the morning of the |Great Sabbath.| Thus in § 17 he speaks of |the weariness caused by the prolongation (hupertheseos) of the fast of the Preparation (Friday), and the watching.| In § 21 he calls upon the Candidates to recite the Creed, which he had dictated to them, and which they would be required to repeat more publicly immediately before their Baptism, as we learn from § 32: |Concerning the holy Apostolic Faith which has been delivered to you to profess (eis epangelian), we have spoken through the grace of the Lord as many Lectures as was possible in these past days of Lent....But now the holy day of the Passover is at hand, and ye, beloved in Christ, are to be enlightened by the washing of regeneration. Ye shall therefore again be taught what is requisite if God so will; with how great devotion and order you must enter in when summoned, for what purpose each of the holy mysteries of Baptism is performed, and with what reverence and order you must go from Baptism to the holy altar of God, and enjoy its spiritual and heavenly mysteries.| The additional instructions here promised were to be given on the same day as the last Lecture, Cat. xviii, that is on Easter Eve immediately before Baptism. For it was forbidden to reveal the mysteries of Baptism, Chrism, and the Holy Eucharist to the uninitiated, and yet it was necessary that the Candidates should not come wholly unprepared to perform what would be required of them. The full explanation of the various ceremonies and of the doctrines implied in them was reserved for the Mystagogic Lectures, which were to be delivered on Easter Monday and the four following days, after the public Service, not in the great Basilica, but in the Holy Sepulchre itself.
§ 3. Arrangement. The Lectures of S. Cyril have a peculiar value as being the first and only complete example of the course of instruction given in the early centuries to Candidates seeking admission to the full privileges of the Christian Church. |The Great Catechetical Oration| of Gregory of Nyssa is addressed not to the learner but to the teacher, in accordance with the opening statement of the Prologue, that |The presiding ministers of the mystery of godliness have need of a system in their instructions, in order that the Church may be replenished by the accession of such as should be saved, through the teaching of the word of Faith being brought home to the hearing of unbelievers.| As an instruction to the Catechist how he should refute the opponents of Christianity, it is an apologetic work rather than a Catechism. S. Augustine's treatise De catechizandis rudibus is also addressed to the teacher, being an answer to Deogratias, a Deacon of Carthage, who on being appointed Catechist had written to Augustine for advice as to the best method of discharging the office. S. Augustine's Sermons De traditione Symboli, and De redditione Symboli, are not a connected series, but single addresses to Catechumens consisting of brief comments on a few chief articles of the Creed. Cyril's Lectures thus remain unique in character.
After the Procatechesis, which is simply an introductory exhortation to the newly admitted Candidates, he devotes three Lectures to the need of a sincere purpose of mind, the efficacy of repentance, and the general nature and importance of Baptism. The fourth Lecture gives |a short summary of necessary doctrines,| stating with admirable clearness and brevity ten chief points of the Faith, and the arguments on each point, which are to be developed in the remaining Catechetical Lectures v.-xviii. He thus traverses the whole ground of Theology as expressed in the Creed of Jerusalem, of which the exact language is given in the titles of the successive Lectures. These instructions to the Illuminandi' (photizomenon) were followed on Easter-day by the administration of Baptism, Chrism, and Holy Communion: and on the following days of Easter-week the ceremonies and doctrines proper to each of these Sacraments were explained in the five Lectures on the Mysteries (Mustagogiai) to the newly-baptized (pros tous Neophotistous). These Mystagogic Lectures thus form a most important record of the Sacramental Rites and Doctrines of the Eastern Church in the fourth Century, the most critical period of Ecclesiastical History.