I was first introduced to Cyril’s Catechetical Lectures by Hugh Nibley in his phenomenal work The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri. Cyril of Jerusalem is a prominent early Christian theologian, and is considered a saint by many. His most famous writings are set of twenty-three catechetical lectures which he delivered around 347 or 348 A.D. while still a presbyter or priest before he became the Bishop or See (Seer?) of Jerusalem. Most of these lectures were given as instruction to candidates before baptism and initiation. One of the appendices of Dr. Nibley’s book contains snippets from Cyril’s lectures on the “mysteries” (ordinances) or advanced instruction given to the newly baptized or initiated, having already performed these rites. These are contained in the last five of the twenty-three lectures, or lectures 19-23, often called the lectures on the mysteries. All the lectures can be read in full online at New Advent or at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, albeit the translation is different than Nibley’s which he takes directly from the Patrologia Graeca by J.P. Migne (Vol. 33, cols. 1065-1105).
These last five lectures are entitled Mystagogikai Katecheseis, literally Mystagogic Cathechisms, or as Nibley gives the translation, “Five Explanatory Lectures to the Newly Enlightened,” or “Instructions to Initiates into the Mysteries” or “Lessons on the Initiatory Ordinances” ((Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, 1st ed., 279)). As we have discussed previously, the word mystery was used by the early church to mean ordinances. Nibley explains that these lectures were delivered at a time of much temple activity in the church, and that these lectures give the most detailed record of the ordinances of the church at that time ((ibid.)). These lectures all give much insight into the ordinances that were being practiced at the time.
The portions of the lectures that we’ll look at today are those pertaining to washing and anointing ordinances. Lecture 2 of the mysteries, or 20 of the set of twenty-three, begins to speak about anointings. This translation will be from Nibley’s notes unless otherwise noted:
You were true imitators of Adam, the first man to be created, who was naked in the Garden and was not ashamed. ((ibid., 281))
Then, when you were stripped, you were anointed with exorcised oil [Nibley’s says olive oil], from the very hairs of your head to your feet, and were made partakers of the good olive-tree, Jesus Christ. (New Advent)
A “baptism” takes place where the initiate is taken into and out of the water three times, in symbolism of the three days Christ was in the tomb. Nibley notes that this was a washing rather than a baptism, because there was no immersion ((Hugh Nibley, “Meaning and Functions of Temples,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1461)). Lecture 3 continues:
Having therefore become partakers of Christ, you are properly called Christs, and of you God said, Touch not My Christs, or anointed. Now you have been made Christs, by receiving the antitype of the Holy Ghost; and all things have been wrought in you by imitation, because you are images of Christ. He washed in the river Jordan, and having imparted of the fragrance of His Godhead to the waters, He came up from them; and the Holy Ghost in the fulness of His being lighted on Him, like resting upon like. And to you in like manner, after you had come up from the pool of the sacred streams, there was given an Unction [anointing], the anti-type of that wherewith Christ was anointed; and this is the Holy Ghost; of whom also the blessed Esaias, in his prophecy respecting Him, said in the person of the Lord, The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me: He has sent Me to preach glad tidings to the poor… (New Advent)
He was anointed with … what is called the olive oil of exaltation (agalliaseos elaio—a coronation figure) … while you were anointed with myrrh (scented oil), making you companions and copartners (koinonoi kai metochoi) with Christ.
You were anointed on your brow and your other sense-organs, and so while the body is anointed in outward appearance with myrrh, the soul (psyche) is sanctified by the life-bestowing Holy Spirit.
First of all you were anointed on the brow (metopon, forehead and eyes, lit. “space between the eyes”) to free you from the shame which completely involved the First Man when he fell, and that you might clearly perceive (or reflect, katoptrizisthe), the glory of the Lord with wide-open mind (lit. with uncovered face). Then your ears that you might receive the hearing ears of the mysteries of God…. Next come the nostrils, that upon receiving the holy ordinance you may say: “We are the sweet odor of Christ to God among the saved.” After that (you were anointed) on the breast (tastethe, “the seat of feeling, passion and thought,” Liddell and Scott), that, clothed with the breastplate of righteousness, you may stand against the wiles of the Devil—(countering his evil thoughts with good ones).
As Christ after his baptism … went forth to confront the Adversary, so you after your holy baptism and mystic anointing, were clothed in the armor of the Holy Ghost to stand against the opposing … power.
It is because you are worthy of this holy anointing (chrism) that you are called Christians…. it is by following this road that you have advanced to the point of earning that title.
When Moses received the order to make his brother a High Priest, after washing him with water he anointed him, and he was called a Christ, because of the anointing which was the type. Thus also Solomon, being called to the Kingship, was anointed after a bath in Gihon by the High Priest. For them it was a type (making them kings and priests), but for us it is not symbolical but real, since you really have been anointed by the Holy Ghost. The King (arche) of your salvation is Christ, for he is the true first-fruits and you are the unleavened bread. If the first-fruits (i.e., the priestly office) is holy, that holiness will be transferred to the unleavened bread (i.e., you too will become kings and priests). ((Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, 1st ed., 280-281))
Nibley jumps around a bit in the lectures to piece together the end of the purification rites as given by Cyril:
Having put off the old man’s garment of sorrow, you now celebrate as you put on the garment of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Lecture 1)
Having been baptized in Christ and having put on Christ like a garment, you come to resemble (symmorphoi gegonate) the Son of God. (Lecture 3)
After you put off the old garments and put on those of spiritual white, you should keep them always thus spotless white. That is not to say that you must always go around in white clothes, but rather that you should be always clothed in what is really white and glorious, that you may say with the blessed Isaiah (61:10), “Let my soul exult in the Lord, for he hath clothed me in a robe of salvation and clothing of rejoicing.” (The word here used for “clothe” is endy, to place a garment on one, and is the ultimate source of our word “endowment,” derived in the Oxford English Dictionary from both induere, to invest with a garment, and inducere, to lead into or initiate.) (Lecture 4) ((ibid.))
You can see that the early Christian Church, even several centuries after Christ, still had a strong understanding of particular purification ordinances, namely washings and anointings, within the gospel, and their symbolic meaning in taking upon oneself the name, and thus the sufferings and atonement, of Christ.
The Encyclopedia of Mormonism tells us about “Washings and Anointings”:
Washings and anointings are preparatory or initiatory ordinances in the temple. They signify the cleansing and sanctifying power of Jesus christ applied to the attributes of the person and to the hallowing of all life. They have biblical precedents (see Oil; Temples Through the Ages; Washing and Anointing). Women are set apart to administer the ordinances to women, and men are set apart to administer the ordinances to men. Latter-day Saints look forward to receiving these inspired and inspiring promises with the same fervent anticipation they bring to baptism. They come in the spirit of a scriptural command: “Cleanse your hands and your feet before me” (D&C 88:74; cf. 1 John 2:27). A commemorative garment is given with these ordinances and is worn thereafter by the participant (see Garments). ((Allen Claire Rozsa, “Temple Ordinances,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1444))
Nibley also adds his commentary in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:
According to Cyril, this is followed by an anointing, making every candidate, as it were, a messiah. The anointing of the brow, face, ears, nose, breast, etc., represents “the clothing of the candidate in the protective panoply of the Holy Spirit,” which however does not hinder the initiate from receiving a real garment on the occasion (CWHN 4:364). Furthermore, according to Cyril, the candidate was reminded that the whole ordinance is “in imitation of the sufferings of Christ,” in which “we suffer without pain by mere imitation his receiving of the nails in his hands and feet: the antitype of Christ’s sufferings” (Patrologiae Graecae 33:1081). The Jews once taught that Michael and Gabriel will lead all the sinners up out of the lower world: “they will wash and anoint them, healing them of their wounds of hell, and clothe them with beautiful pure garments and bring them into the presence of God” (R. Akiba, cited in CWHN 4:364). ((Hugh Nibley, “Meaning and Functions of Temples,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1461))