From Softness to Strength

From Softness to Strength

Cyril makes a clear distinction between earnest manliness and immaturity. He emphasizes that only those who have reached spiritual maturity and the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ are counted as truly manly. This maturity involves surpassing the mind of youth and embodying the virtues of wisdom, strength, and courage. The divine law, according to Cyril, recognizes and values this maturity, and it is reflected in the spiritual census and the book of the living.

“Some have fallen into carnal desires, letting go of all reins to passion, weak and unmanly, throwing their mind to the pleasures of licentiousness.”

Manliness in the Christian tradition embodies virtue, strength, and moral integrity. Throughout Worship and Adoration in Spirit and Truth, Cyril of Alexandria provides a discourse on the virtues of Christian manliness. These dispositions are discussed throughout a series of sixteen dialogues of patristic exegesis on the Old Testament centered on sin, redemption, courage, love of the brethren, purity, holy feasts, Temple, priesthood, and sacrifices. This essay delves into Cyril’s teachings on manliness across these dialogues, examining the dispositions that demonstrate true manhood, including strength, overcoming softness and effeminacy, and a hospitality that is resistant to the age. 

Cyril highlights the spiritual dangers of effeminacy, advocating for a life of courage and virtue. Effeminacy, marked by indulgence in pleasure and a lack of striving, leads to spiritual and moral decay. Conversely, courage, supported by divine strength, paves the way for true greatness and salvation. By embracing the virtues of strength, courage, and perseverance, Christian men can find excellence in Christ and live a life that is both honorable and pleasing to God.

The Call to Love Manliness and Virtue

Those called by God to righteousness must renounce vileness and live earnestly, hastening to live righteously. Cyril considers it dangerous and repulsive for a man to love vileness and sin instead of manliness and virtue. According to Cyril, effeminate weaknesses and unnatural pleasures corrupt the mind. Instead, through Christ, it is possible to be strengthened in good labor.

Cyril states, “It is indeed dangerous, as it seems, O Palladios, and I would say even most abominable, entering into all manner of absurdity, not to love manliness but rather mediocrity and error; being softened like those who indulge in strange pleasures, and who introduce effeminate weaknesses into their mind, to abandon the courage that leads to virtue.” He continues, “And yet, through Christ, it is very possible to be strengthened in anything praiseworthy, and in addition to this, he, the most holy Paul, exhorts us, saying: ‘Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might.’”

Strength in Christ and Overcoming Passions

Manly strength in Christ is essential for combating youthful passions and fortifying the mind against them. Cyril acknowledges that achieving excellence in matters of virtue requires effort and toil. The biblical admonition, “A man in toil labors for himself, and drives his own destruction,” underscores the necessity of enduring hardship to attain spiritual maturity and manliness. He recognizes the importance of bravery and perseverance in the face of challenges, drawing from the example of David, who declared, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”

Cyril argues, “For we will find strength in Christ; however, I do not believe that anyone could achieve mastery over passions without effort and succeed in strengthening their own mind for this purpose.” He further emphasizes, “Therefore, it is a thing both transparent and easily understood, and while it is not easily captured by those who are idle, it is readily attainable by those who value hard work. It is written, ‘A man labors in his toils for himself, and brings about his own destruction.’ To think that one can achieve the most excellent things with little effort is, I believe, ignorant and foolish. Or is it not the most valuable of all things for us to preserve our soul and to strive for our own life?”

The Dangers of Indulgence and the Pursuit of Glory

Cyril contrasts those who indulge in luxuries and an easy life with those who compete rightly and with discipline. He asserts that victory and glory belong to the diligent and hardworking, not to the weak and indulgent. This principle is illustrated through the Israelites’ experience in Egypt, where harsh treatment under Pharaoh ultimately strengthened them rather than breaking their spirit. Cyril points out that afflictions, while imposed by Satan, can be turned into opportunities for growth and strengthening in virtue through God’s providence.

He explains, “For as they were humbled, they became more numerous and stronger. Satan brings afflictions, grinding his teeth against the saints, and what God would use for good, he always jumps upon with a hiss.” He continues, “But those who are lovers of virtue and goodness, and who aspire to the glory from above, striving to partake in eternal life, bravely and boldly confront the assaults of their own passions, putting to death the flesh and resisting the movements arising within it and from it.”

Softness and Effeminacy: Hindrances to Virtue

Effeminacy and softness are described as an inclination towards comfort and luxury that weakens moral resolve and leads to sin. Effeminacy, according to Cyril, involves a lack of courage and strength, resulting in a failure to strive for virtue. He believes that these traits are contrary to the divine call to righteousness and undermine the moral and spiritual integrity necessary for true manliness. Effeminate weaknesses, as Cyril describes, are mental and spiritual vulnerabilities that prevent individuals from embracing the fortitude required to live virtuously.

He warns, “the one who is called to righteousness by God and redeemed must follow Him, must renounce the weakness that leads to vice, and strive instead to live earnestly and vigorously in accordance with reason.” He further elaborates, “It is indeed dangerous, as it seems, O Palladios, and I would say even most abominable, having fallen into all manner of absurdity, not to love becoming manly but rather mediocrity and sin; being softened as if by strange pleasures, and introducing effeminate weaknesses into the mind, abandoning the courage that leads to virtue.”

He admonishes us to, “reject the softness found in baseness, and [to] shake off the love for pleasures found in enmity, and the actions under the control of our enemies, who are said to rule this age.” What is this softness? It is “one not accustomed to being brave, with a kind of inactive and unwarlike nature, who loves to nurture within himself a feminine and soft mindset, like one who is still immature and lacking in strength, and still boyish.” In another place in this book, he says of these that “They themselves are effeminate (Γυναικοειδεῖς) and emasculated (ἐκτεθηλυμμένοι), being conformed to the sin ruling over them.”

Hospitality as a Practice of Christian Manliness

Cyril argues that hospitality is a demonstration of the moral strength and virtuous character that defines true manliness. Christian men must “think and act eagerly in divine matters, which lie at our feet, without any hindrance or anything drawing us to an unworthy mind.” This is what it means to be ready to walk with God. This readiness reflects a manly disposition, showing that hospitality, when practiced from strength and conviction, is a true reflection of godliness and virtue​​.

He exposits hospitality and manly virtue at length in the First Discourse:

“The inhabitants of Sodom, vehemently driven to unnatural pleasures, despised the law of union meant for the procreation of children, as determined by nature, and indulged in relations with men, committing extremely abnormal acts, stirring up wrath, and seemingly hastening the punishment that was to come upon them, despite the benevolent nature of the Creator. When the time for them to suffer was imminent, with tolerance for them seemingly exhausted, those who were to execute this punishment arrived in Sodom.

It is written as follows: “In the evening, two angels arrived in Sodom. Lot was sitting at the gate of Sodom.

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