Epistle VII.42 – To the Clergy, Concerning Prayer to God.
Argument. – The Argument of the Present Epistle Is Nearly the Same as That of the Two Preceding, Except That He Exhorts in This to Diligent Prayer.
1. Cyprian to the presbyters and deacons, his brethren, greeting. Although I know, brethren beloved, that from the fear which we all of us owe to God, you also are instantly urgent in continual petitions and earnest prayers to Him, still I myself remind your religious anxiety, that in order to appease and entreat the Lord, we must lament not only in words, but also with fastings and with tears, and with every kind of urgency. For we must perceive and confess that the so disordered ruin arising from that affliction, which has in a great measure laid waste, and is even still laying waste, our flock, has visited us according to our sins, in that we do not keep the way of the Lord, nor observe the heavenly commandments given to us for our salvation. Our Lord did the will of His Father, and we do not do the will of our Lord; eager about our patrimony and our gain, seeking to satisfy our pride, yielding ourselves wholly to emulation and to strife, careless of simplicity and faith, renouncing the world in words only, and not in deeds, every one of us pleasing himself, and displeasing all others,43 – therefore we are smitten as we deserve, since it is written: “And that servant, which knoweth his master’s will, and has not obeyed his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.” (Luk_12:47) But what stripes, what blows, do we not deserve, when even confessors, who ought to be an example of virtuous life to others, do not maintain discipline? Therefore, while an inflated and immodest boastfulness about their own confession excessively elates some, tortures come upon them, and tortures without any cessation of the tormentor, without any end of condetonation, without any comfort of death, – tortures which do not easily let them pass to the crown, but wrench them on the rack until they cause them to abandon their faith, unless some one taken away by the divine compassion should depart in the very midst of the torments, gaining glory not by the cessation of his torture, but by the quickness of his death.
2. These things we suffer by our own fault and our own deserving, even as the divine judgment has forewarned us, saying, “If they forsake my law and walk not in my judgments, if they profane my statutes and keep not my commandments, then will I visit their transgressions with the rod, and their iniquities with stripes.” (Psa_89:30-32) It is for this reason that we feel the rods and the stripes, because we neither please God with good deeds nor atone44 for our sins. Let us of our inmost heart and of our entire mind ask for God’s mercy, because He Himself also adds, saying, “Nevertheless my loving-kindness will I not scatter away from them.” (Psa_89:33) Let us ask, and we shall receive; and if there be delay and tardiness in our receiving, since we have grievously offended, let us knock, because “to him that knocketh also it shall be opened,” (Luk_11:10) if only our prayers, our groanings, and our tears, knock at the door; and with these we must be urgent and persevering, even although prayer be offered with one mind.45
3. For, – which the more induced and constrained me to write this letter to you, – you ought to know (since the Lord has condescended to show and to reveal it) that it was said in a vision, “Ask, and ye shall obtain.” Then, afterwards, that the attending people were bidden to pray for certain persons pointed out to them, but that in their petitions there were dissonant voices, and wills disagreeing, and that this excessively displeased Him who had said, “Ask, and ye shall obtain,” because the disagreement of the people was out of harmony, and there was not a consent of the brethren one and simple, and a united concord; since it is written, “God who maketh men to be of one mind in a house;” (Psa_68:6) [Vulgate and Anglican Psalter version.] and we read in the Acts of the Apostles, “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul.” (Act_4:32) And the Lord has bidden us with His own voice, saying, “This is my command, that ye love one another.” (Joh_15:12) And again, “I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that you shall ask, it shall be done for you of my Father which is in heaven.” (Mat_18:19) But if two of one mind can do so much, what might be effected if the unanimity prevailed among all? But if, according to the peace which our Lord gave us, there were agreement among all brethren, we should before this have obtained from the divine mercy what we seek; nor should we be wavering so long in this peril of our salvation and our faith. Yes, truly, and these evils would not have come upon the brethren, if the brotherhood had been animated with one spirit.
4. For there also was shown that there sate the father of a family, a young man also being seated at his right hand, who, anxious and somewhat sad with a kind of indignation, holding his chin in his right hand, occupied his place with a sorrowful look. But another standing on the left hand, bore a net, which he threatened to throw, in order to catch the people standing round.46 And when he who saw marvelled what this could be, it was told him that the youth who was thus sitting on the right hand was saddened and grieved because his commandments were not observed; but that he on the left was exultant because an opportunity was afforded him of receiving from the father of the family the power of destroying. This was shown long before the tempest of this devastation arose. And we have seen that which had been shown fulfilled; that while we despise the commandments of the Lord, while we do not keep the salutary ordinances of the law that He has given, the enemy was receiving a power of doing mischief, and was overwhelming, by the cast of his net, those who were imperfectly armed and too careless to resist.
5. Let us urgently pray and groan with continual petitions. For know, beloved brethren, that I was not long ago reproached with this also in a vision, that we were sleepy in our prayers, and did not pray with watchfulness; and undoubtedly God, who “rebukes whom He loves, (Heb_12:6) when He rebukes, rebukes that He may amend, amends that He may preserve. Let us therefore strike off and break away from the bonds of sleep, and pray with urgency and watchfulness, as the Apostle Paul bids us, saying, “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same.” (Col_4:2) For the apostles also ceased not to pray day and night; and the Lord also Himself, the teacher of our discipline, and the way of our example, frequently and watch-fully prayed, as we read in the Gospel: “He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.” (Luk_6:12) And assuredly what He prayed for, He prayed for on our behalf, since He was not a sinner, but bore the sins of others. But He so prayed for us, that in another place we read, “And the Lord said to Peter, Behold, Satan has desired to sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.” (Luk_22:31, Luk_22:32) But if for us and for our sins He both laboured and watched and prayed, how much more ought we to be instant in prayers; and, first of all, to pray and to entreat the Lord Himself, and then through Him, to make satisfaction to God the Father! We have an advocate and an intercessor for our sins, Jesus Christ the Lord and our God, if only we repent of our sins past, and confess and acknowledge our sins, whereby we now offend the Lord, and for the time to come engage to walk in His ways, and to fear His commandments. The Father corrects and protects us, if we still stand fast in the faith both in afflictions and perplexities, that is to say, cling closely to His Christ; as it is written, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (Rom_8:35) None of these things can separate believers, nothing can tear away those who are clinging to His body and blood. Persecution of that kind is an examination and searching out of the heart. God wills us to be sifted and proved, as He has always proved His people; and yet in His trials help has never at any time been wanting to believers.
6. Finally, to the very least of His servants although placed among very many sins, and unworthy of His condescension, yet He has condescended of His goodness towards us to command:47 “Tell him,” said He, “to be safe, because peace is coming; but that, in the meantime, there is a little delay, that some who still remain may be proved.” But we are admonished by these divine condescensions both concerning a spare diet and a temperate use of drink; to wit, lest worldly enticement should enervate the breast now elevated with celestial vigour, or lest the mind, weighed down by too abundant feasting, should be less watchful unto prayers and supplication.
7. It was my duty not to conceal these special matters, nor to hide them alone in my own consciousness, – matters by which each one of us may be both instructed and guided. And do not you for your part keep this letter concealed among yourselves, but let the brethren have it to mad. For it is the part of one who desires that his brother should not be warned and instructed, to intercept those words with which the Lord condescends to admonish and instruct us. Let them know that we are proved by our Lord, and let them never fail of that faith whereby we have once believed in Him, under the conflict of this present affliction. Let each one, acknowledging his own sins, even now put off the conversation of the old man. “For no man who looks back as he putteth his hand to the plough is fit for the kingdom of God.”(Luk_9:62) And, finally, Lot’s wife, who, when she was delivered, looked back in defiance of the commandment, lost the benefit of her escape. (Gen_19:26) Let us look not to things which are behind, whither the devil calls us back, but to things which are before, whither Christ calls us. Let us lift up our eyes to heaven, lest the earth with its delights and enticements deceive us. Let each one of us pray God not for himself only, but for all the brethren, even as the Lord has taught us to pray, when He bids to each one, not private prayer, but enjoined them, when they prayed, to pray for all in common prayer and concordant supplication.48 If the Lord shall behold us humble and peaceable; if He shall see us joined one with another; if He shall see us fearful concerning His anger; if corrected and amended by the present tribulation, He will maintain us safe from the disturbances of the enemy. Discipline hath preceded; pardon also shall follow.
8. Let us only, without ceasing to ask, and with full faith that we shall receive, in simplicity and unanimity beseech the Lord, entreating not only with groaning but with tears, as it behoves those to entreat who are situated between the ruins of those who wail, and the remnants of those who fear; between the manifold slaughter of the yielding, and the little firmness of those who still stand. Let us ask that peace may be soon restored; that we may be quickly helped in our concealments and our dangers; that those things may be fulfilled which the Lord deigns to show to his servants, – the restoration of the Church, the security of our salvation; after the rains, serenity; after the darkness, light; after the storms and whirlwinds, a peaceful calm; the affectionate aids of paternal love, the accustomed grandeurs of the divine majesty whereby both the blasphemy of persecutors may be restrained, the repentance of the lapsed renewed, and the stedfast faith of the persevering may glory. I bid you, beloved brethren, ever heartily farewell; and have me in remembrance. Salute the brotherhood in my name; and remind them to remember me. Farewell.
Epistle VIII.49 – To the Martyrs and Confessors.
Argument. – Cyprian, Commending the African Martyrs Marvellously for Their Constancy, Urges Them to Perseverance by the Example of Their Colleague Mappalicus.
Cyprian to the martyrs and confessors in Christ our Lord and in God the Father, everlasting salvation. I gladly rejoice and am thankful, most brave and blessed brethren, at hearing of your faith and virtue, wherein the Church, our Mother, glories. Lately, indeed, she gloried, when, in consequence of an enduring confession, that punishment was undergone which drove the confessors of Christ into exile; yet the present confession is so much the more illustrious and greater in honour as it is braver in suffering. The combat has increased, and the glory of the combatants has increased also. Nor were you kept back from the struggle by fear of tortures, but by the very tortures themselves you were more and more stimulated to the conflict; bravely and firmly you have returned with ready devotion, to contend in the extremest contest. Of you I find that some are already crowned, while some are even now within reach of the crown of victory; but all whom the danger has shut up in a glorious company are animated to carry on the struggle with an equal and common warmth of virtue, as it behoves the soldiers of Christ in the divine camp: that no allurements may deceive the incorruptible stedfastness of your faith, no threats terrify you, no sufferings or tortures overcome you, because “greater is He that is in us, than he that is in the world;” (Joh_4:4) nor is the earthly punishment able to do more towards casting down, than is the divine protection towards lifting up. This truth is proved by the glorious struggle of the brethren, who, having become leaders to the rest in overcoming their tortures, afforded an example of virtue and faith, contending in the strife, until the strife yielded, being overcome. With what praises can I commend you, most courageous brethren? With what vocal proclamation can I extol the strength of your heart and the perseverance of your faith? You have borne the sharpest examination by torture, even unto the glorious consummation, and have not yielded to sufferings, but rather the sufferings have given way to you. The end of torments, which the tortures themselves did not give, the crown has given. The examination by torture waxing severer, continued for a long time to this result, not to overthrow the stedfast faith, but to send the men of God more quickly to the Lord. The multitude of those who were present saw with admiration the heavenly contest, – the contest of God, the spiritual contest, the battle of Christ, – saw that His servants stood with free voice, with unyielding mind, with divine virtue – bare, indeed, of weapons of this world, but believing and armed with the weapons of faith. The tortured stood more brave than the torturers; and the limbs, beaten and torn as they were, overcame the hooks that bent and tore them. The scourge, often repeated with all its rage, could not conquer invincible faith, even although the membrane which enclosed the entrails were broken, and it was no longer the limbs but the wounds of the servants of God that were tortured. Blood was flowing which might quench the blaze of persecution, which might subdue the flames of Gehenna with its glorious gore.50 Oh, what a spectacle was that to the Lord, – how sublime, how great, how acceptable to the eyes of God in the allegiance and devotion of His soldiers! As it is written in the Psalms, when the Holy Spirit at once speaks to us and warns us: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” (Psa_116:15) Precious is the death which has bought immortality at the cost of its blood, which has received the crown from the consummation of its virtues. How did Christ rejoice therein! How willingly did He both fight and conquer in such servants of His, as the protector of their faith, and giving to believers as much as he who taketh believes that he receives! He was present at His own contest; He lifted up, strengthened, animated the champions and assertors of His name. And He who once conquered death on our behalf, always conquers it in us. “When they,” says He, “deliver you up, take no thought what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.” (Mat_10:19-20) The present struggle has afforded a proof of this saying. A voice filled with the Holy Spirit broke forth from the martyr’s mouth when the most blessed Mappalicus said to the proconsul in the midst of his torments, “You shall see a contest to-morrow.” And that which he said with the testimony of virtue and faith, the Lord fulfilled. A heavenly contest was exhibited, and the servant of God was crowned in the struggle of the promised fight. This is the contest which the prophet Isaiah of old predicted, saying, “It shall be no light contest for you with men, since God appoints the struggle.” (Isa_7:13; vide Lam_3:26) And in order to show what this struggle would be, he added the words, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and ye shall call His name Emmanuel.” (Isa_7:14) This is the struggle of our faith in which we engage, in which we conquer, in which we are crowned. This is the struggle which the blessed Apostle Paul has shown to us, in which it behoves us to run and to attain the crown of glory. “Do ye not know,” says he, “that they which run in a race, run all indeed, but one receiveth the prize? So run that ye may obtain.” “Now they do it that they may receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible.” (1Co_9:24, 1Co_9:25) Moreover, setting forth his own struggle, and declaring that he himself should soon be a sacrifice for the Lord’s sake, he says, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my assumption is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.” (2Ti_4:6-8) This fight, therefore, predicted of old by the prophets, begun by the Lord, waged by the apostles, Mappalicus promised again to the proconsul in his own name and that of his colleagues. Nor did the faithful voice deceive in his promise; he exhibited the fight to which he had pledged himself, and he received the reward which he deserved. I not only beseech but exhort the rest of you, that you all should follow that martyr now most blessed, and the other partners of that engagement, – soldiers and comrades, stedfast in faith, patient in suffering, victors in tortures, – that those who are united at once by the bond of confession, and the entertainment of a dungeon, may also be united in the consummation of their virtue and a celestial crown; that you by your joy may dry the tears of our Mother, the Church, who mourns over the wreck and death of very many; and that you may confirm, by the provocation of your example, the stedfastness of others who stand also. If the battle shall call you out, if the day of your contest shall come engage bravely, fight with constancy, as knowing that you are fighting under the eyes of a present Lord, that you are attaining by the confession of His name to His own glory; who is not such a one as that He only looks on His servants, but He Himself also wrestles in us, Himself is engaged, – Himself also in the struggles of our conflict not only crowns, but is crowned. But if before the day of your contest, of the mercy of God, peace shall supervene, let there still remain to you the sound will and the glorious conscience.51 Nor let any one of you be saddened as if he were inferior to those who before you have suffered tortures, have overcome the world and trodden it under foot, and so have come to the Lord by a glorious road. For the Lord is the “searcher out of the reins and the hearts.” (Rev_2:23) He looks through secret things, and beholds that which is concealed. In order to merit the crown from Him, His own testimony alone is sufficient, who will judge us. Therefore, beloved brethren, either case is equally lofty and illustrious, – the former more secure, to wit, to hasten to the Lord with the consummation of our victory, – the latter more joyous; a leave of absence, after glory, being received to flourish in the praises of the Church. O blessed Church of ours, which the honour of the divine condescension illuminates, Which in our own times the glorious blood of martyrs renders illustrious! She was white before in the works of the brethren; now she has become purple in the blood of the martyrs. Among her flowers are wanting neither roses nor lilies. Now let each one strive for the largest dignity of either honour. Let them receive crowns, either white, as of labours, or of purple, as of suffering. In the heavenly camp both peace and strife have their own flowers, with which the soldier of Christ may be crowned for glory. I bid you, most brave and beloved brethren, always heartily farewell in the Lord; and have me in remembrance. Fare ye well.
Epistle IX.52 – To the Clergy, Concerning Certain Presbyters Who Had Rashly Granted Peace to the Lapsed Before the Persecution Had Been Appeased, and Without the Privity of the Bishops.
Argument. – The Argument of This Epistle Is Contained in the Following Words of the XIVth Epistle: – ”To the Presbyters and Deacons,” He Says, “Was Not Wanting the Vigour of the Priesthood, so That Some, Too Little Mindful of Discipline, and Hasty with a Rash Precipitation, Who Had Already Begun to Communicate with the Lapsed, Were Checked.”
1. Cyprian to the presbyters and deacons, his brethren, greeting. I have long been patient, beloved brethren, hoping that my forbearing silence would avail to quietness. But since the unreasonable and reckless presumption of some is seeking by its boldness to disturb both the honour of the martyrs, and the modesty of the confessors, and the tranquility of the whole people, it behoves me no longer to keep silence, lest too much reticence should issue in danger both to the people and to ourselves. For what danger ought we not to fear from the Lord’s displeasure, when some of the presbyters, remembering neither the Gospel nor their own place, and, moreover, considering neither the Lord’s future judgment nor the bishop now placed over them, claim to themselves entire authority,53 – a thing which was never in any wise done under our predecessors, – with discredit and contempt of the bishop?
2. And I wish, if it could be so without the sacrifice of our brethren’s safety, that they could make good their claim to all things; I could dissemble and bear the discredit of my episcopal authority, as I always have dissembled and borne it. But it is not now the occasion for dissimulating when our brotherhood is deceived by some of you, who, while without the means of restoring salvation they desire to please, become a still greater stumbling-block to the lapsed, For that it is a very great crime which persecution has compelled to be committed, they themselves know who have committed it; since our Lord and Judge has said, “Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father which is in heaven; but whosoever shall deny me, him will I also deny.” (Mat_10:32, Mat_10:33) And again He has said, “All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies; but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost shall not have forgiveness, but is guilty of eternal sin.” (Mar_3:28, Mar_3:29) Also the blessed apostle has said, “Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils; ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table and of the table of devils.” (1Co_10:21) He who withholds these words from our brethren deceives them, wretched that they are; so that they who truly repenting might satisfy God, both as the Father and as merciful, with their prayers and works, are seduced more deeply to perish; and they who might raise themselves up fall the more deeply. For although in smaller sins sinners may do penance for a set time, and according to the rules of discipline come to public confession,54 and by imposition of the hand of the bishop and clergy receive the right of communion: now with their time still unfulfilled, while persecution is still raging, while the peace of the Church itself is not yet restored, they are admitted to communion, and their name is presented; and while the penitence is not yet performed, confession is not yet made, the hands Of the bishop and clergy are not yet laid upon them, the eucharist is given to them; although it is written, “Whosoever shall eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” (1Co_11:27)
3. But now they are not guilty who so little observe the law of Scripture; but they will be guilty who are in office and do not suggest these things to brethren, so that, being instructed by those placed above them, they may do all things with the fear of God, and with the observance given and prescribed by Him. Then, moreover, they lay the blessed martyrs open to ill-will, and involve the glorious servants of God with the priest of God; so that although they, mindful of my place, have directed letters to me, and have asked that their wishes should theft be examined, and peace granted them, – when our Mother, the Church herself, should first have received peace for the Lord’s mercy, and the divine protection, have brought me back to His Church, – yet these, disregarding the honour which the blessed martyrs with the confessors maintain for me, despising the Lord’s law and that observance, which the same martyrs and confessors bid to be maintained, before the fear of persecution is quenched, before my return, almost even before the departure of the martyrs, communicate with the lapsed, and offer and give them the eucharist: when even if the martyrs, in the heat of their glory, were to consider less carefully the Scriptures, and to desire anything more, they should be admonished by the presbyters’ and deacons’ suggestions, as was always done in time past. [Compare Tertullian, Ad Martyras, vol. 3. p. 693.]
4. For this reason the divine rebuke does not cease to chastise us night nor day. For besides the visions of the night, by day also, the innocent age of boys is among us filled with the Holy Spirit, seeing in an ecstasy with their eyes, and hearing and speaking those things whereby the Lord condescends to warn and instruct us.55 And you shall hear all things when the Lord, who bade me withdraw, shall bring me back again to you. In the meanwhile, let those certain ones among you who are rash and incautious and boastful, and who do not regard man, at least fear God, knowing that, if they shall persevere still in the same course, I shall use that power of admonition which the Lord bids me use; so that they may meanwhile be withheld from offering,56 and have to plead their cause both before me and before the confessors themselves and before the whole people, when, with God’s permission, we begin to be gathered together once more into the bosom of the Church, our Mother. Concerning this matter, I have written to the martyrs and confessors, and to the people, letters; both of which I have bidden to be read to you. I wish you, dearly beloved brethren and earnestly longed-for, ever heartily farewell in the Lord; and have me in remembrance. Fare ye well.
Epistle X.57 – To the Martyrs and Confessors Who Sought That Peace Should Be Granted to the Lapsed.
Argument. – The Occasion of This Letter Is Given Below in Epistle Xiv. As Follows: “When I Found That Those Who Had Polluted Their Hands and Mouths with Sacrilegious Contact, or Had No Less Infected Their Conscience with Wicked Certificates,” Etc.58
1. Cyprian to the martyrs and confessors, his beloved brethren, greeting. The anxiety of my situation and the fear of the Lord constrain me, my brave and beloved brethren, to admonish you in my letters, that those who so devotedly and bravely maintain the faith of the Lord should also maintain the law and discipline of the Lord. For while it behoves all Christ’s soldiers to keep the precepts of their commander; to you it is more especially fitting that you should obey His precepts, inasmuch as you have been made an example to others, both of valour and of the fear of God. And I had indeed believed that the presbyters and deacons who are there present with you would admonish and instruct you more fully concerning the law of the Gospel, as was the case always in time past under my predecessors; so that the deacons passing in and out of the prison controlled the wishes of the martyrs by their counsels, and by the Scripture precepts. But now, with great sorrow of mind, I gather that not only the divine precepts are not suggested to you by them, but that they are even rather restrained, so that those things which are done by you yourselves, both in respect of God with caution, and in respect of God’s priest59 with honour, are relaxed by certain presbyters, who consider neither the fear of God nor the honour of the bishop. Although you sent letters to me in which you ask that your wishes should be examined, and that peace should be granted to certain of the lapsed as soon as with the end of the persecution we should have begun to meet with our clergy, and to be gathered together once more; those presbyters, contrary to the Gospel law, contrary also to your respectful petition, before penitence was fulfilled, before confession even of the gravest and most heinous sin was made, before hands were placed upon the repentant by the bishops and clergy, dare to offer on their behalf, and to give them the eucharist, that is, to profane the sacred body of the Lord, although it is written, “Whosoever shall eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” (1Co_11:27)
2. And to the lasped indeed pardon may be granted in respect of this thing. For what dead person would not hasten to be made alive? Who would not be eager to attain to his own salvation? But it is the duty of those placed over them to keep the ordinance, and to instruct those that are either hurrying or ignorant, that those who ought to be shepherds of the sheep may not become their butchers. For to concede those things which tend to destruction is to deceive. Nor is the lapsed raised in this manner, but, by offending God, he is more urged on to ruin. Let them learn, therefore, even from you, what they ought to have taught; let them reserve your petitions and wishes for the bishops,60 and let them wait for ripe and peaceable times to give peace at your requests. The first thing is, that the Mother should first receive peace from the Lord, and then, in accordance with your wishes, that the peace of her children should be considered.
3. And since I hear, most brave and beloved brethren, that you are pressed by the shamelessness of some, and that your modesty suffers violence; I beg you with what entreaties I may, that, as mindful of the Gospel, and considering what and what sort of things in past time your predecessors the martyrs conceded, how careful they were in all respects, you also should anxiously and cautiously weigh the wishes of those who petition you, since, as friends of the Lord, and hereafter to exercise judgment with Him, you must inspect both the conduct and the doings and the deserts of each one. You must consider also the kinds and qualities of their sins, lest, in the event of anything being abruptly and unworthily either promised by you or done by me, our Church61 should begin to blush, even before the very Gentiles. For we are visited and chastened frequently, and we are admonished, that the commandments of the Lord may be kept without corruption or violation, which I find does not cease to be the case there among you so as to prevent the divine judgment from instructing very many of you also in the discipline of the Church. Now this can all be done, if you will regulate those things that are asked of you with a careful consideration of religion, perceiving and restraining those who, by accepting persons, either make favours in distributing your benefits, or seek to make a profit of an unlawful trade.
4. Concerning this I have written both to the clergy and to the people, both of which letters I have directed to be read to you. But you ought also to bring back and amend that matter according to your diligence, in such a way as to designate those by name to whom you desire that peace should be granted. For I hear that certificates are so given to some as that it is said, “Let such a one be received to communion along with his friends,” which was never in any case done by the martyrs so that a vague and blind petition should by and by heap reproach upon us. For it opens a wide door to say, “Such a one with his friends;” and twenty or thirty or more, may be presented to us, who may be asserted to be neighbours and connections, and freedmen and servants, of the man who receives the certificate. And for this reason I beg you that you will designate by name in the certificate those whom you yourselves see, whom you have known, whose penitence you see to be very near to full satisfaction, and so direct to us letters in conformity with faith and discipline. I bid you, very brave and beloved brethren, ever heartily in the Lord farewell; and have me in remembrance. Fare ye well.
Epistle XI.62 – To the People.
Argument. – The Substance of This Letter Is also Suggested in Epistle XIV, “Among the People Also,” He Says, “I Have Done What I Could to Quiet Their Minds, and Have Instructed Them to Be Retained in Ecclesiastical Discipline.”
1. Cyprian to his brethren among the people who stand fast,63 greeting. That you bewail and grieve over the downfall of our brethren I know from myself, beloved brethren, who also bewail with you and grieve for each one, and suffer and feel what the blessed apostle said: “Who is weak,” said he, “and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?” (2Co_11:29) And again he has laid it down in his epistle, saying, “Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member rejoice, all the members rejoice with it.” (1Co_12:26) I sympathize with you in your suffering and grief, therefore, for our brethren, who, having lapsed and fallen prostrate under the severity of the persecution, have inflicted a like pain on us by their wounds, inasmuch as they tear away part of our bowels with them, – to these the divine mercy is able to bring healing. Yet I do not think that there must be any haste, nor that anything must be done incautiously and immaturely, lest, while peace is grasped at, the divine indignation be more seriously incurred. The blessed martyrs have written to me about certain persons, requesting that their wishes may be examined into. When, as soon as peace is given to us all by the Lord, we shall begin to return to the Church, then the wishes of each one shall be looked into in your presence, and with your judgment.64
2. Yet I hear that certain of the presbyters, neither mindful of the Gospel nor considering what the martyrs have written to me, nor reserving to the bishop the honour of his priesthood and of his dignity, have already begun to communicate with the lapsed, and to offer on their behalf, and to give them the eucharist, when it was fitting that they should attain to these things in due course. For, as in smaller sins which are not committed against God, penitence may be fulfilled in a set time, and confession may be made with investigation of the life of him who fulfils the penitence, and no one can come to communion unless the hands of the bishop and clergy be first imposed upon him; how much more ought all such matters as these to be observed with caution and moderation, according to the discipline of the Lord, in these gravest and extremest sins! This warning, indeed, our presbyters and deacons ought to have given you, that they might cherish the sheep committed to their care, and by the divine authority might instruct them in the way of obtaining salvation by prayer. I am aware of the peacefulness as well as the fear of our people, who would be watchful in the satisfaction and the deprecation of God’s anger, unless some of the presbyters, by way of gratifying them, had deceived them.
3. Even you, therefore, yourselves, guide them each one, and control the minds of the lapsed by counsel and by your own moderation, according to the divine precepts. Let no one pluck the unripe fruit at a time as yet premature. Let no one commit his ship, shattered and broken with the waves, anew to the deep, before he has carefully repaired it. Let none be in haste to accept and to put on a rent tunic, unless he has seen it mended by a skilful workman, and has received it arranged by the fuller. Let them bear with patience my advice, I beg. Let them look for my return, that when by God’s mercy I come to you, I, with many of my co-bishops, being called together according to the Lord’s discipline, [Elucidation III.; also Ignatius, vol. 1. p. 69.] and in the presence of the confessors, and with your opinion also, may be able to examine the letters and the wishes of the blessed martyrs. Concerning this matter I have written both to the clergy and to the martyrs and confessors, both of which letters I have directed to be read to you. I bid you, brethren beloved and most longed-for, ever heartily farewell in the Lord; and have me in remembrance. Fare ye well.
Epistle XII.65 – To the Clergy, Concerning the Lapsed and Catechumens, That They Should Not Be Left Without Superintendence.
Argument. – The Burden of This Letter, as of the Succeeding One, Is Found Below in the XIVth Epistle. “But Afterwards,” He Says, “When Some of the Lapsed, Whether of Their Own Accord, or by the Suggestion of Any Other, Broke Forth with a Daring Demand, as Though They Would Endeavour, by a Violent Effort, to Extort the Peace That Had Been Promised to Them by the Martyrs and Confessors,” Etc.66
1. Cyprian to the presbyters and deacons, his brethren, greeting. I marvel, beloved brethren, that you have answered nothing to me in reply to my many letters which I have frequently written to you, although as well the advantage as the need of our brotherhood would certainly be best provided for if, receiving information from you, I could accurately investigate and advise upon the management of affairs. Since, however, I see that there is not yet any Opportunity of coming to you, and that the summer has already begun – a season that is disturbed with continual and heavy sicknesses, – I think that our brethren must be dealt with; – that they who have received certificates from the martyrs, and may be assisted by their privilege with God, if they should be seized with any misfortune and peril of sickness, should, without waiting for my presence, before any presbyter who might be present, or if a presbyter should not be found and death begins to be imminent, before even a deacon, be able to make confession of their sin, that, with the imposition of hands upon them for repentance, they should come to the Lord with the peace which the martyrs have desired, by their letters to us, to be granted to them. [2Co_2:10]
2. Cherish also by your presence the rest of the people who are lapsed, and cheer them by your consolation, that they may not fail of the faith and of God’s mercy. For those shall not be forsaken by the aid and assistance of the Lord, who meekly, humbly, and with true penitence have persevered in good works; but the divine remedy will be granted to them also. To the hearers67 also, if there are any overtaken by danger, and placed near to death, let your vigilance not be wanting; let not the mercy of the Lord be denied to those that are imploring the divine favour. [See Hermas, vol. 2. p. 15, note 73.] I bid you, beloved brethren, ever heartily farewell; and remember me. Greet the whole brotherhood in my name, and remind them and ask them to be mindful of me. Fare ye well.
Epistle XIII.68 – To the Clergy, Concerning Those Who Are in Haste to Receive Peace. a.d. 250.
Argument. – Peace Must Be Attained Through Penitence, and Penitence Is Realized by Keeping the Commandments. They Who Are Oppressed with Sickness, if They Are Relieved by the Suffrages of the Martyrs, May Be Admitted to Peace; but Others Are to Be Kept Back Until the Peace of the Church Is Secured.
1. Cyprian to the presbyters and deacons, his brethren, greeting. I have read your letter, beloved brethren, wherein you wrote that your wholesome counsel was not wanting to our brethren, that, laying aside all rash haste, they should manifest a religious patience to God, so that when by His mercy we come together, we may debate upon all kinds of things, according to the discipline of the Church, especially since it is written, “Remember from whence thou hast fallen, and repent.” (Rev_2:5) Now he repents, who, remembering the divine precept, with meekness and patience, and obeying the priests of God, deserves well of the Lord by his obedience and his righteous works.
2. Since, however, you intimate that some are petulant, and eagerly urge their being received to communion, and have desired in this matter that some rule should be given by me to you, I think I have sufficiently written on this subject in the last letter that was sent to you, that they who have received a certificate from the martyrs, and can be assisted by their help with the Lord in respect of their sins, if they begin to be oppressed with any sickness or risk; when they have made confession, and have received the imposition of hands on them by you in acknowledgment of their penitence, should be remitted to the Lord with the peace promised to them by the martyrs. But others who, without having received any certificate from the martyrs, are envious69 (since this is the cause not of a few, nor of one church, nor of one province, but of the whole world), must wait, in dependence on the protection of the Lord, for the public peace of the Church itself. For this is suitable to the modesty and the discipline, and even the life of all of us, that the chief officers meeting together with the clergy in the presence also of the people who stand fast, to whom themselves, moreover, honour is to be shown for their faith and fear, we may be able to order all things with the religiousness of a common consultation. [Elucidation IV.] But how irreligious is it, and mischievous, even to those themselves who are eager, that while such as are exiles, and driven from their country, and spoiled of all their property, have not yet returned to the Church, some of the lapsed should be hasty to anticipate even confessors themselves, and to enter into the Church before them! If they are so over-anxious, they have what they require in their own power, the times themselves offering them freely more than they ask. The struggle is still going forward, and the strife is daily celebrated. If they truly and with constancy repent of what they have done, and the fervour of their faith prevails, he who cannot be delayed may be crowned.70 I bid you, beloved brethren, ever heartily farewell; and have me in remembrance. Greet all the brotherhood in my name, and tell them to be mindful of me. Fare ye well.
Epistle XIV.71 – To the Presbyters and Deacons Assembled at Rome.
Argument. – He Gives an Account of His Withdrawal and of the Things Which He Did Therein, Having Sent to Rome for His Justification, Copies of the Letters Which He Had Written to His People; Nay, He Makes Use of the Same Words Which He Had Employed in Them.72
1. Cyprian to his brethren the presbyters and deacons assembled at Rome, greeting. Having ascertained, beloved brethren, that what I have done and am doing has been told to you in a somewhat garbled and untruthful manner, I have thought it necessary to write this letter to you, wherein I might give an account to you of my doings, my discipline, and my diligence; for, as the Lord’s commands teach, immediately the first burst of the disturbance arose, and the people with violent clamour repeatedly demanded me, I, taking into consideration not so much my own safety as the public peace of the brethren, withdrew for a while, lest, by my over-bold presence, the tumult which had begun might be still further provoked. Nevertheless, although absent in body, I was not wanting either in spirit, or in act, or in my advice, so as to fail in any benefit that I could afford my brethren by my counsel, acccording to the Lord’s precepts, in anything that my poor abilities enabled me.
2. And what I did, these thirteen letters sent forth at various times declare to you, which I have transmitted to you; in which neither counsel to the clergy, nor exhortation to the confessors, nor rebuke, when it was necessary, to the exiles, nor my appeals and persuasions to the whole brotherhood, that they should entreat the mercy of God, were wanting to the full extent that, according to the law of faith and the fear of God, with the Lord’s help, nay poor abilities could endeavour. But afterwards, when tortures came, my words reached both to our tortured brethren and to those who as yet were only imprisoned with a view to torture, to strengthen and console them. Moreover, when I found that those who had polluted their hands and mouths with sacrilegious contact, or had no less infected their consciences with wicked certificates, were everywhere soliciting the martyrs, and were also corrupting the confessors with importunate and excessive entreaties, so that, without any discrimination or examination of the individuals themselves, thousands of certificates were daily given, contrary to the law of the Gospel, I wrote letters in which I recalled by my advice, as much as possible, the martyrs and confessors to the Lord’s commands. To the presbyters and deacons also was not wanting the vigour of the priesthood;73 so that some, too little mindful of discipline, and hasty, with a rash precipitation, who had already begun to communicate with the lapsed, were restrained by my interposition. Among the people, moreover, I have done what I could to quiet their minds, and have instructed them to maintain ecclesiastical discipline.
3. But afterwards, when some of the lapsed, whether of their own accord, or by the suggestion of any other, broke forth with a daring demand, as though they would endeavour by a violent effort to extort the peace that had been promised to them by the martyrs and confessors; concerning this also I wrote twice to the clergy, and commanded it to be read to them; that for the mitigation of their violence in any manner for the meantime, if any who had received a certificate from the martyrs were departing from this life, having made confession, and received the imposition of hands on them for repentance, they should be remitted to the Lord with the peace promised them by the martyrs. Nor in this did I give them a law, or rashly constitute myself the author of the direction; but as it seemed fit both that honour should be paid to the martyrs, and that the vehemence of those who were anxious to disturb everything should be restrained; and when, besides, I had read your letter which you lately wrote hither to my clergy by Crementius the sub-deacon, to the effect that assistance should be given to those who might, after their lapse, be seized with sickness, and might penitently desire communion; I judged it well to stand by your judgment, lest our proceedings, which ought to be united and to agree in all things, should in any respect be different.74 The cases of the rest, even although they might have received certificates from the martyrs, I ordered altogether to be put off, and to be reserved till I should be present, that so, when the Lord has given to us peace, and several bishops shall have begun to assemble into one place, we may be able to arrange and reform everything, having the advantage also of your counsel. I bid you, beloved brethren, ever heartily farewell.
Epistle XV.75 – To Moyses and Maximus, and the Rest of the Confessors.
Argument. – The Burden of This Letter Is Given in Epistle XXXI. Below, Where the Roman Clergy Say: “On Which Subject We Owe You, and Give You Our Deepest and Abundant Thanks, That You Threw Light into the Gloom of Their Prison by Your Letters.”76
1. Cyprian to Moyses and Maximus, the presbyters and the other confessors, his brethren, greeting. Celerinus, a companion both of your faith and virtue, and God’s soldier in glorious engagements, has come to me, beloved brethren, and represented all of you, as well as each individual, forcibly to my affection. I beheld in him, when he came, the whole of you; and when he spoke sweetly and often of your love to me, in his words I heard you. I rejoice very greatly when such things are brought to me from you by such men as he. In a certain manner I am also there with you in prison. I think that I who am thus bound to your hearts, enjoy with you the delights of the divine approval. Your individual love associates me with your honour; the Spirit does not allow our love to be separated. Confession77 shuts you up in prison; affection shuts me up there. And I indeed, remembering you day and night, both when in the sacrifices I offer prayer with many, and when in retirement I pray with private petition, beseech of the Lord a full acknowledgment to your crowns and your praises. But my poor ability is too weak to recompense you; you give more when you remember me in prayer, since, already breathing only celestial things, and meditating only divine things, you ascend to loftier heights, even by the delay of your suffering; and by the long lapse of time, are not wasting, but increasing your glory. A first and single confession makes blessed; you confess as often as, when asked to retire from prison, you prefer the prison with faith and virtue; your praises are as numerous as the days; as the months roll onward, ever your merits increase. He conquers once who suffers at once; but he who continues always battling with punishments, and is not overcome with suffering, is daily crowned.
2. Now, therefore, let magistrates and consuls or proconsuls go by; let them glory in the ensigns of their yearly dignity, and in their twelve fusees. Behold, the heavenly dignity in you is sealed by the brightness of a year’s honour, and already, in the continuance of its victorious glory, has passed over the rolling circle of the returning year. The rising sun and the waning moon enlightened the world; but to you, He who made the sun and moon was a greater light in your dungeon, and the brightness of Christ glowing in your hearts and minds, irradiated with that eternal and brilliant light the gloom of the place of punishment, which to others was so horrible and deadly. The winter has passed through the vicissitudes of the months; but you, shut up in prison, were undergoing, instead of the inclemencies of winter, the winter of persecution. To the winter succeeded the mildness of spring, rejoicing with roses and crowned with flowers; but to you were present roses and flowers from the delights of paradise, and celestial garlands wreathed your brows. Behold, the summer is fruitful with the fertility of the harvest, and the threshing-floor is filled with grain; but you who have sown glory, reap the fruit of glory, and, placed in the Lord’s threshing-floor, behold the chaff burnt up with unquenchable fire; you yourselves as grains of wheat, winnowed and precious corn, now purged and garnered, regard the dwelling-place of a prison as your granary. Nor is there wanting to the autumn spiritual grace for discharging the duties of the season. The vintage is pressed out of doors, and the grape which shall hereafter flow into the cups is trodden in the presses. You, rich bunches out of the Lord’s vineyard, and branches with fruit already ripe, trodden by the tribulation of worldly pressure, fill your wine-press in the torturing prison, and shed your blood instead of wine; brave to bear suffering, you willingly drink the cup of martyrdom. Thus the year rolls on with the Lord’s servants, – thus is celebrated the vicissitude of the seasons with spiritual deserts, and with celestial rewards.
3. Abundantly blessed are they who, from your number, passing through these footprints of glory, have already departed from the world; and, having finished their journey of virtue and faith, have attained to the embrace and the kiss of the Lord, to the joy of the Lord Himself. But yet your glory is not less, who are still engaged in contest, and, about to follow the glories of your comrades, are long waging the battle, and with an unmoved and unshaken faith standing fast, are daily exhibiting in your virtues a spectacle in the sight of God. The longer is your strife, the loftier will be your crown. The struggle is one, but it is crowded with a manifold multitude of contests; you conquer hunger, and despise thirst, and tread under foot the squalor of the dungeon, and the horror of the very abode of punishment, by the vigour of your courage. Punishment is there subdued; torture is worn out; death is not feared but desired, being overcome by the reward of immortality, so that he who has conquered is crowned with eternity of life. What now must be the mind in you, how elevated, how large the heart, when such and so great things are resolved, when nothing but the precepts of God and the rewards of Christ are considered! The will is then only God’s will; and although you are still placed in the flesh, it is the life not of the present world, but of the future, that you now live.
4. It now remains, beloved brethren, that you should be mindful of me; that, among your great and divine considerations, you should also think of me in your mind and spirit; and that I should be in your prayers and supplications, when that voice, which is illustrious by the purification of confession, and praiseworthy for the continual tenor of its honour, penetrates to God’s ears, and heaven being open to it, passes from these regions of the world subdued, to the realms above, and obtains from the Lord’s goodness even what it asks. For what do you ask from the Lord’s mercy which you do not deserve to obtain? – you who have thus observed the Lord’s commands, who have maintained the Gospel discipline with the simple vigour of your faith, who, with the glory of your virtue uncorrupted, have stood bravely by the Lord’s commands, and by His apostles, and have confirmed the wavering faith of many by the truth of your martyrdom? Truly, Gospel witnesses, and truly, Christ’s martyrs, resting upon His roots, founded with strong foundation upon the Rock, you have joined discipline with virtue, you have brought others to the fear of God, you have made your martyrdoms, examples. I bid you, brethren, very brave and beloved, ever heartily farewell; and remember me.
42 Oxford ed.: Ep. xi. A.D. 250.
43 [Compare, in former letters, similar complaints, to which brief notes are subjoined. And mark the honest simplicity of these confessions. 2Pe_2:13, 2Pe_2:14, 2Pe_2:15.]
45 [A comment on Luk_18:3, compared with Mat_18:19. Importunity necessary, even in the latter case.]
46 [After the manner of Hermas. Vol. 2. p. 24, note 145.]
47 [A vision granted to the pastor in behalf of his flock. See Vulgate version of Psa_89:19, which Cyprian’s, doubtless, anticipated.] This prediction of settled times was published in unsettled ones; and it was fulfilled by the sudden and unexpected death of Decius, in his expedition against the Goths.
48 [Saying, “our father,” not “my Father.” Vol. i. p. 62.]
49 Oxford ed.: Ep. x. A.D. 250.
50 [There is in the church of S. Stefano Rotondo at Rome a series of delineations of the sufferings of the early martyrs, poorly executed, and too horrible to contemplate; but it all answers to these words of our author. See Ep. xxxiv. infra,]
51 [He contemplates the peace promised in Ep. viii. supra. But note the indomitable spirit with which, for successive ages, the Church supplied her martyrs. Heb_11:36, Heb_11:37.]
52 Oxford ed.: Ep. xvi. A.D. 250.
53 [In letter ii. we have noted a limited exercise of jurisdiction: the canons seem not to have allowed them the full powers these presbyters has used.]
55 [Note this persuasion of Cyprian, and compare St. Mat_21:15, Mat_21:16; Luk_19:40.]
56 [Celebrating the Lord’s Supper; Rom_15:16 (Greek) compared with Mal_1:11, texts which seem greatly to have influenced the language of the early Church.]
57 Oxford ed.: Ep. xv. A.D. 250.
58 That these were everywhere soliciting the martyrs, and were also corrupting the confessors with importunate and excessive entreaty, so that, without any distinction or examination of the individuals, thousands of certificates were given, against the Gospel law, I wrote letters in which I recalled by my advice as much as possible the martyrs and confessors to the Lord’s commands.
59 [Another instance of this word as applied to the bishop, κατ ̓ ἐξοχην. So in St. Chrysostom, De Sacerdotio = episcopatu.]
60 [He refers to his comprovincials, not arrogating all authority to himself. See Hippolytus, p. 125, note 2, supra.]
61 [The African Church.]
62 Oxford ed.: Ep. xvii. A.D. 250.
63 [The faithful laity. A technical expression, in the original.]
64 [Here is a recognition of the laity as contributing to the decisive action. 1Co_5:4.]
65 Oxford ed.: Ep. xviii. A.D. 250.
66 “Concerning this also I wrote twice to the clergy, and commanded it to be read to them, that for the mitigation of their violence in any manner for the meantime, if any who had received a certificate from the martyrs were departing from this life, having made confession and received the hands imposed upon them for repentance, they should be remitted to the Lord with the peace promised them by the martyrs,” etc.
67 “Audientibus,” scil. catechumens.
68 Oxford ed.: Ep. xix. [See letter xxvii. infra.]
69 Faciunt invidiam: “are producing ill-will to us.” Those who were eager to be received into the Church without certificates would produce ill-will to those who refused to receive them, as if they were too strict. Thus Rigaltius explains the passage. “These,” Cyprian says, “should wait until the Church in its usual way gives them peace publicly.”
70 [i.e., they can become martyrs, if they will.]
71 Oxford ed.: Ep. xx. A.D. 250.
72 Compare Ep. xxii. to the Roman clergy.
73 [Another instance of this usage (κατ ̓ ἐξοχὴν), of which see p. 291, supra.
74 [Note the moderation of our author. 1Pe_5:5.]
75 Oxford ed.: Ep. xxxvii. In the autumn of A.D. 250.
76 “Further, that you come to them in such a way that you could enter: That you refreshed their minds, robust in their own faith and confession, by your appeals and your letters: that, accompanying their happiness with deserved praises, you inflamed them to a much more ardent desire for heavenly glory; that you urged them onward in the course; that you animated, as we believe and hope, future victors by the power of your address, so that, although this may seem to come from the faith of the confessors and the divine indulgence, yet in their martyrdom they may seem in some manner to have become debtors to you.”
77 [i.e., confessorship. As to the time, see Treatise ii., infra.]