“Christ is a human being like ourselves, and this has made us one body with him, the body being the bond that unites us”

As the firstfruits of our renewed humanity, Christ escaped the curse of the law precisely by becoming accursed for our sake. He overcame the forces of corruption by himself becoming once more “free among the dead.” He trampled death under foot and came to life again, and then he ascended to the Father as an offering, the firstfruits, as it were, of the human race. “He ascended,” as Scripture says, “not to a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the real one, but into heaven itself to appear in God’s presence on our behalf.” Christ is the life-giving bread that came down from heaven, and by offering himself to God the Father as a fragrant sacrifice for our sake, he also delivers us from our sins and frees us from the faults that we commit through ignorance. We can understand this best if we think of him as symbolized by the calf that used to be slain as a holocaust and by the goat that was sacrificed for our sins committed through ignorance. For our sake, to blot out the sins of the world, he laid down his life. Recognized then in bread as life and the giver of life, in the calf as a holocaust offered by himself to God the Father as an appeasing fragrance, in the goat as one who became sin for our sake and was slain for our transgressions, Christ is also symbolized in another way by a sheaf of grain, as a brief explanation will show.

The human race may be compared to spikes of wheat in a field, rising, as it were, from the earth, awaiting their full growth and development, and then in time being cut down by the reaper, which is death. The comparison is apt, since Christ himself spoke of our race in this way when he said to his holy disciples: “Do you not say, ‘Four months and it will be harvest time?’ Look at the fields I tell you, they are already white and ready for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving his wages and bringing in a crop for eternal life.” Now Christ became like one of us; he sprang from the holy Virgin like a spike of wheat from the ground. Indeed, he spoke of himself as a grain of wheat when he said: “I tell you truly, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains as it was, a single grain; but if it dies its yield is very great.” And so, like a sheaf of grain, the first fruits, as it were, of the earth, he offered himself to the Father for our sake. For we do not think of a spike of wheat in isolation, any more than we do of ourselves. We think of it rather as part of a sheaf, which is a single bundle made up of many spikes. The spikes have to be gathered into a bundle before they can be used, and this is the key to the mystery they represent, the mystery of Christ who, though one, appears in the image of a sheaf to be made up of many, as in fact he is.

Spiritually, he contains in himself all believers. “As we have been raised up with him,” writes Saint Paul, “so we have also been enthroned with him in heaven.” He is a human being like ourselves, and this has made us one body with him, the body being the bond that unites us. We can say, therefore, that in him we are all one, and indeed he himself says to God, his heavenly Father: “It is my desire that as I and you are one, so they also may be one in us.”

St Cyril of Alexandria

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26 Responses to “Christ is a human being like ourselves, and this has made us one body with him, the body being the bond that unites us”

  1. Tom says:

    Cyril and Van Gogh – two of my favorite artists!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jonathan says:

    The curse of the law? Seriously?

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    • Jonathan says:

      Don’t get me wrong: it’s a beautiful passage, and I follow it fine after that bit about the law. But what is he saying about the law? Does he just mean by that mortality? I mean, I get that it’s annoying to not be able licitly to sleep with your neighbor’s wife or beat the living daylights out of people who annoy you — but a curse… So much for Judaism, eh?

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    • FrankF says:

      Galatians 3:13
      “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law…”

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      • Jonathan says:

        Sorry, I haven’t read the epistles in English in forever. So it is death, punishment for a specific crime? As contrasted to the law when Jesus refers to himself as the fulfillment of it… I suppose my surprise at the passage just transfers to to the epistle, as it seems to be a very bizarre way of quoting Deuteronomy. Is there a particularly good explanation of that passage in Galatians that people like, other than the one quoted here?

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        • FrankF says:

          I don’t know whether it’s a particularly satisfying explanation, but St John Chrysostom provides a relatively simple one in his commentary on Galatians 3.

          1. He quotes Deuteronomy 27:26. “Cursed is every one that continues not in all things that are written in the book of the Law, to do them.”

          2. He explains how all have sinned and are under the curse of the Law.

          Notice that he does not identify the “Law” and the “curse” with one another. He simply says that those who have not followed the Law are under its prescribed curse. The curse prescribe for not following the Law is thus “the curse of the Law.”

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          • Jonathan says:

            Thanks for the commentary reference, I’ll look it up.

            I get the distinction in the genitive: the curse is the result of transgression. But the logic at work in the relevant passage in Galatians is busy equating the law with curse, even if that is not what the grammar does directly. The idea is simply that since all sin (transgress the law), the law is effectively a curse. My basic point is just that that is a rhetorical and interpretive choice. So a more productive question would perhaps be, Can one get the Christology that Paul (and thus Cyril) are after without construing the law in this way? And after all, Jesus himself in what are probably his two most famous statements about the law said that the law is not abolished in him but fulfilled, and that the law comes down to love of God above all and of neighbor as oneself. These statements are hard to make sense of if one thinks of the law primarily as curse, that is, as something which really comes into effect in the breach.

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          • Jonathan says:

            But also, if this is too elementary and no interest, that’s fine. The moment in the text jumped out to me, so I thought I’d bother it and see why. I’m not trying to call out Paul for anti-Judaizing just for the sake of doing so. I’m trying to get at what the core issue would be. And I think maybe that’s it, as I see it, that what one wants here is a way to get the Christology Cyril is preaching without the anti-Judaizing of Paul’s text on which Cyril’s is based.

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      • Jonathan says:

        And I do think that it is, rhetorically, an anti-Judaizing move — in Paul, that is.. You see so clearly in that chapter in Galatians the idea of a Christianity distinct from Judaism struggling to be born. Another way of putting it would be to say that Paul is working out how to universalize Judaism, or the ancient Hebraic code and ethic. It is fascinating, but surely an odd move to represent the whole of the law, as he seems to do there, as a curse because it cannot be fulfilled perfectly. Perhaps one might say St Cyril was preaching on the spirit of Paul’s epistle more wisely than attention to its letter would allow.

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      • Jonathan says:

        A last comment: I’m not trying to spark a huge debate. But I will say where I’m coming from with the questions, and that is that for several years now I’ve been interested in where Judaism and Christianity part ways. The impossibility or superhuman and transcendent nature of the Law is an awesome fact which no one, Jew or Christian, can deny. But there is more than one way to deal with that fact, and Judaism as it has evolved in the last couple of millennia — partly by distinguishing itself from Christianity as much as the reverse process has occurred — has taken ways of doing so markedly different from the Christian way that Paul forged. I’m interested in this stuff as one these days about equally involved in Judaism and Christianity, trying to understand in both traditions the ways we may rejoice in and, as it were, beyond the Law.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Jonathan, yes seriously. 😎

      As noted by others, the phrase is found in St Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. St Cyril, therefore, is simply doing what every preacher does–expositing Scripture by Scripture in the light of the saving work of Christ. Two questions immediately come to mind:

      (1) What did Paul mean by the phrase?
      (2) How did Cyril understand Paul’s use of the phrase?

      Once upon a time, when I was engaged in active parochial ministry and preaching, I would have had an opinion about the phrase. Galatians has long been one of my favorite epistles and I preached on it regularly. As I recall, large chunks of it appear in the Episcopal Sunday lectionary every three years. I owned a number of commentaries and tried to keep up on Pauline scholarship. But I’ve been away from that scholarship for 15 years and cannot remember the last time I preached on the epistle. And as far as Cyril’s understanding of the phrase, I haven’t a clue.

      That Cyril employs the phrase within a christological-salvific context is striking. The point is that whatever the “curse of the law” is, Christ has for borne it for us that we might be incorporated into the triune life of God. As the Apostle writes: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree’—that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal 3:13-14). Paul’s concern, of course, is the attempts of the “Judaizers” who are attempting to persuade the Galatian Gentile converts to subject themselves to Torah. That was not problem Cyril had to address, having been “resolved” in the Church centuries earlier.

      Instead of immediately jumping to your contemporary concerns about Judaism today, may I suggest that you try to enter into the spirit of what Cyril is doing in this passage (excerpted from his commentary on Numbers, BTW). Better yet, how would you preach Galatians 3?

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      • Jonathan says:

        Ha! Well, no fear of anyone ever taking me for a preacher — or a rabbi, for that matter. I think what Cyril is doing is wonderful. He’s working out Christology and ecclesiology at once, speaking to the mystery of the Atonement. I love the image of the sheaf and the agricultural language, like something from one of Christ’s own parables. The poetic construction of the passage is quite wonderful and brilliant. And actually, if we’re thinking about curses, this all puts me in mind of Adam’s being cursed to work the ground and eat bread by the sweat of his brow. And by the time I get there, I’m reimagining what a divine curse is all about.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Michael Robbins says:

    I don’t think it’s especially controversial to regard Paul’s epistles as anti-Semitic in many respects.

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    • Jonathan says:

      Indeed it is not. But it’s still sometimes surprising to me where it comes up, especially in a Christological context as here with Cyril.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      May I respectfully suggest that regarding Paul’s epistles as anti-Semitic is anachronistic. His conversion to Christ did not result in him becoming a Jew-hater. But it did result in a radical paradigm shift in his understanding of God’s covenant with his people.

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      • Jonathan says:

        I don’t think he was anti-Semitic. I believe the correct term is the one I’ve used: anti-Judaizing. The development of anti-Judaizing strands into the racial hatred of anti-Semitism is, as I’ve been made to understand it, a much later phenomenon.

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      • Michael Robbins says:

        I didn’t say they were anti-Semitic, I said it was not particularly controversial to regard them thus. Nor is it, regardless of the semantic question of whether to call it that or anti-Judaic. I understand the arguments against regarding, say, 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 or the Epistle to the Hebrews (I’m speaking of the Pauline epistles in general, not only those considered authentically Paul’s) as anti-Judaic. I’m not taking a stand on the question here. But we all know that it is hardly news.

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        • Jonathan says:

          The two terms mean something different. I didn’t feel like arguing with you pointlessly earlier so I let it pass unremarked. But I’d prefer Fr Aidan not be under the impression I think of Paul as anti-Semitic.

          I’m not really sure what your point is, other than something about my not being controversial, which I never claimed I was trying to be. I have picked out a passage that caught my attention and was trying to get at what might be interesting for some people about it. If you’re not one of those people, fine.

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          • Michael Robbins says:

            The two terms are often held to mean something different, and sometimes that distinction is challenged. I do not believe the distinction holds in Paul’s case, and it is certainly not anachronistic, though I realize it is fashionable to contend otherwise. But that’s beside the point. Your strange hostility is simply a holdover from our past and out of place here. In fact my point was directed against those who were pushing back against yr earlier assertions about Paul’s anti-Judaism. I was saying, to them, Jon’s point is hardly as outrageous as you seem to be suggesting. But since the tone has weirdly turned, I will bow out.

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          • Michael Robbins says:

            P.S. Perhaps you don’t realize that my reply was to Father Kimel, not to you? In which case WordPress is to blame. I hadn’t even read yr reply to him when I posted.

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          • Michael Robbins says:

            P.S. Perhaps you don’t realize that my reply was to Fr Kimel, not to you? WordPress is to blame for that. I hadn’t even read yr reply to him when I posted.

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          • Jonathan says:

            Who’s hostile? This is a blog that lionized DBH after all. And who said anything implying I was controversial? I don’t know what you mean about the past, but if you have insight into how to grapple with the passages in question regarding the problematic element I’ve identified, I’m genuinely interested to hear it — whether you want to call it anti-Judaizing or anything else.

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          • Michael Robbins says:

            No, no, I just meant to say, when you said “Really?”, like, yeah, don’t be surprised, you know this about Paul. But now I see that you hadn’t yet identified “the curse of the law” as Paul (I wouldn’t have either, I don’t have Galatians memorized). So never mind. Anyway, yes, I think Paul is often anti-Judaic, but I will say no more. I quite like many of the epistles. I wish someone would delete my blundering repetitions, though.

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  4. Michael Robbins says:

    P.S. My reply that upset you is a reply to Fr. Kimel, not to you. I hadn’t even read yr reply to him when I posted. WordPress stacks replies in a confusing fashion.

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    • Michael Robbins says:

      Obviously I am having my own issues with WordPress, i.e. these replies kept vanishing and now they are all appearing at once. So I’m truly bowing out, in shame.

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    • Jonathan says:

      This is growing comically confusing!

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