In a previous article, I exegeted John 10 and quoted some Church Fathers in defense of the doctrine of Limited Atonement.
Note: This article was written before the author’s conversion to Orthodoxy.
This morning, I was reading Cyril of Alexandria’s commentary on the Gospel of John and was taken in by how thoroughly monergistic he was. In the same commentary, he speaks of Penal Substitution and has some less than choice words for Saint Mary, because of how she acted in the Wedding Feast in Cana.
In the following, we shall see he also appears to believe that Christ specifically died for his own sheep:
“Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” These words apply to the sheep tended by Christ: but let us now consider the state of the flocks of those others. Surely, by him who looks carefully and fairly into their condition, those others will be detected as nothing else than hirelings and false shepherds and wretches and betrayers and cowards, who have never taken any thought for the benefit of the sheep, but eagerly grasp on every side at whatever seems pleasing in any way to themselves individually. For they were hirelings, according to the Saviour’s words, whose own the sheep were not. No: the sheep were Christ’s (Commentary on John, Book VI, John 10:12-13).
On one hand, Cyril appears to differentiate between the sheep that Christ laid His life down for, and the sheep of others. However, this is not what he is getting at here. Rather, he is speaking of Christ’s disciples versus the Jewish people, who are essentially under the thumb of the Pharisees for the moment. According to Cyril, Jesus is in effect saying that they are illegitimate shepherds and that their sheep belong to Him. As we know from Acts of the Apostles, there were to be many sheep under the Pharisees’ care that were to leave their flock for Christ’s.
For He did not say: “Mine know Me and I know Mine,” but He introduces in the first place Himself as knowing His own sheep, then afterwards He says that He shall be known by them. And if knowledge be taken in the sense of acquaintance, as we were saying at the beginning it might be, thou wilt understand something like this: “We did not first know Him, but He first knew us.”…Therefore, as a matter of course, He says that He first knew us, then afterwards that we knew Him.
“And I lay down My life for the sheep.”
Thus He was prepared on behalf of those who were now His friends and relations to afford protection in every way, and He promises even willingly to incur peril, giving a proof in fact by taking this upon Himself that He really is the Good Shepherd (Commentary on John, Book VI, John 10:14-15).
Here, Cyril makes the point that just as those who know Christ can only do so because they were known first (which implicitly excludes all that do not know Him), Christ died specifically for “His friends.”
Accordingly, when the unholy Jews mocked at His words, especially because He promised that He would struggle on behalf of His own sheep to such a degree and so very earnestly that He was actually ready even to die for them, thinking that He now talked foolishly and deeming Him mad; forcibly now at length He shows those who were mockers, because of the ignorance and at the same time the unbounded impiety that was in them, that they are guilty both in words and in deeds of dishonouring that which God the Father recognises as worthy of great honour…For it is a work of love to have chosen even to suffer, and to suffer ignominiously, for the salvation of some; and not to die only, but also to take again the life that was laid down, in order to destroy death and to take away sorrow from [the thought of] corruption (Commentary on John, Book VI, John 10:17).
Cyril makes the point that Christ only died for the salvation of some, specifically His own sheep.