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Memorials of Christian life in the early and middle ages. Including his Light in dark places. online

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vou from worshipping this god, if he be really a god, together
with your country's gods ? The emperor only commands you
to worship the gods, that is, the gods acknowledged by all
men."' The goyeruor wished to impress upon him that he
need not deny his religion, and yet might acknowledge the
state-religion, the only point of importance ; but the bishop
would not allow his conscience to accept this eyasion. He
answered briefly, " We can worship no other."' Dionysius
was forthwith sentenced to banishment ; his place of exile
was Kcphi'o, a remote district in Lybia, whither the gospel
had not yet penetrated. To whateyer spot they were
banished, the bishops sought to propagate Christianity; they
won the love of the inhabitants ; they were frequently yisited
by members of their churches, Avith whom, though separated
from them in body, they maintained a Hying union in spirit.
Bishop Dionysius gives the following account of his banish-
ment. '* But they could not deprive us even of visible com-
munion with tlie faithful in the Lord. I led the brethren in
Alexandria so much more zealously to communion with one
another ; separated from them in body, but in spirit I was still
with them, and a large congregation assembled at Kephro,
whither many brethren followed me from the city, and mam'
came from Egypt. Also in Kephro itself the Lord opened
the door of the word. The first seed of the gospel was scat-
tered by us there. And as if God had led us on that account
to them in banishment, after we had fulfilled this call, he
brought us away from that place." As Dionysius had good
reason for saying, that though separated in body from his
flock, he %vas with them in spirit, he gave proofs of it by
sending letters to the church on the occasion of the festivals.
by which he promoted their celebration, and bestowed his
blessing upon them.

To the same period probably relates the pastoral epistle of
one of the African bishops, when separated from his church,
which is to be found in Cyprian's works, and begins thus :
" What can be more salutary in the church of the Lord, what
more suitable to the vocation of the bishop, than that believers
should be led by his instructions in the divine doctrine to the
kingdom of heaven ? I wish even during my absence to dis-



' charge this daily business of my calling, and by letter to make
myself present among you. I endeavour by my M'onted
addresses to confirm you in the faith, in order that, being
grounded in the gospel, you may always be armed against the
attacks of Satan. I shall not believe that I am absent from
you if I am safe in your recollection. And not only do we
declare to you what we draw from the fountain of the Holy
Scriptures, but we join with our word of instruction our
prayer to the Lord, that he would open to us as well as to you
the treasures of his holy truth, and give us strength to prac-
tise what we know."

When the emperor saw that he could not put the light
under a bushel, so that it could not shine, he resolved to sup-
press it by force. All the bishops and teachers of Christian
churches were sentenced to death. On the arrival at Car-
thage of the new proconsul sent from Rome, at the beginning
of the following year 258, Cyprian was recalled, in order to
receive ihe decision of his fate. He quietly awaited what-
ever might be the will of his heavenly Father at his country
residence, which, in the ardour of his first love, he had sold
in order to assist the poor with the money, but which the
attachment of his church had restored to him. In the former
persecution he had withdrawn because the interests of his
church required it, and because he had hopes, that after the
first fury of the persecution had subsided, his church might
be preserved ; but now, on the contrary, the entreaties of
many friends, and even of men of note among the heathen,
who ofiered him a retreat, could not induce him to decline
that public confession which he believed the Lord had called
him to make. But when he heard that he was to be taken
to Utica, where the proconsul Mas then staying, that he
might be executed there, he resolved to yield for a while to
the advice of his friends, '• since," as he said, " it was fitting
that the bishop should confess the Lord before the church
over which the Lord has placed him, in order by his confes-
sion to honour the whole church ; for what the bishop utters
at such a juncture by the inspiration of God, he utters as
with the mouth of all."

Suddenly Cyprian was taken away by a guard dispatched
by the proconsul; but as long as the proconsul remained in
the country lor relaxation, Cyprian was not examined nor


sentenced. He remained for the night in custody, and was
treated kindlv. A great part of the church, who had heard
that their spiritual father was about to be executed, hastened
to the spot, and passed the whole night around the house
which contained their beloved pastor, so that nothing could
happen to him without their knowledge. With the daily
expectation of death before his eyes, he had no other anxiety
than the welfare of his flock. As among the multitude there
were many young females belonging to his church, he gave
special charge that they should be taken care of, and that no
injury should be done to their morals. The next morning,
accompanied by a multitude of Christians and pagans, he was
led to judgment. The place was at some distance, and as
the proconsul had not yet arrived, he was allowed to retire to
a solitary spot. Wearied with exertion, he lay down on a
bench that happened to be there. A soldier who had apos-
tatized from Christianity, offered out of love and reverence,
and in ordei to ertain a sacred memorial of the martyr, dry
clothes instead of his own, which were dripping with sweat.
But Cyprian answered him, " Shall I be concerned to be free
from discomfort, when perhaps to-morrow I shall feel nothing
at all?" When at last he appeared before the proconsul, the
latter said : " The majesty of the emperor requires thee to
perform the ceremonies of our state-religion." Cyprian re-
plied: "That I cannot do." The proconsul said: "Be
careful of thy life." Cyprian answered: " Do what is pre-
scribed to you. In so plain an affair, no further con-
sideration is needed." When he received the sentence of
death, he said : " God be praised." These were his last

In a violent persecution against the Christians in the year
202, under the emperor Septimius Severus, amongst several
others, a young woman, only two-and-twenty years old, Per-
petua, was arrested. Her aged father, a heathen, imme-
diately came to her, and with the tenderest affection, en-
treated her to renounce Christianity in order to save her life.
After he had talked to her for a long time, she said to him,
with child-like simplicity, " Dost thou see that pitcher lying
on the ground?" "Yes," said he. "Now," she asked him,
"can I call that vessel by any other name than vrhat it is?"
"No." "Neither can I call myself anything but Avhat I


am — a Christian." When the report reached her father that
her trial was coming on, he hastened, full of sorrow, to the
prison, and said : "• Dear daughter, have pity on my grey
hairs. Have pity on thy flither, if thou thinkest I deserve to
be called thv father : if with these hands I have brougrht thee
lip to this bloommg age ; if I have preferred thee to all thy
brothers, do not bring disgrace and shame upon me among
men. Look at thy brothers, thy mother, and thy aunt; thy
son, too (an infant at the breast, whom to nourish in prison
was her greatest solace), who M'hen thou diest cannot long
survive. Lay aside that high spirit, and do not plunge us all
in ruin ; for none of us will be able to speak freely if thou
sutforest." With these words he kissed his hands, and
threw, himself M-eeping at her feet. " My father's grey
hairs," said Perpetua, " pained me when I thought that he
alone of all my family M'ould not rejoice at my sufferings,
and I sought to strengthen him by saying, ' When I appear
before the tribunal, what will happen to me will be what God
wills ; for be assured we stand not in our own but in God's
power.' " When she was brought with the other Christian
prisoners to the judicial examination, and her turn was come,
suddenly the father entered with the infant in his arms,
showed it imploringly to the mother, and said : " Have pity
on the child." The judge supported the father's prayer, and
said : " Spare thy father's grey hairs ; spare the tender age
of thy child. Sacrifice for the welfare of the emperor."
She answered, " I cannot do that." "Art thou a Christian r"
said the judge ; and she answered, '• I am a Christian."
^^^len the father wished to urge her still more, the judge
ordered him to be taken away by force. The soldiers struck
him. "lam pained," said Perpetua, "his unfortunate old
age pains me, as if I myself had been struck." Per-
petua and her companions, three youths and another young
married woman, were condemned to be thrown to the wild
beasts, for the gi-atification of a cruel people in a fight of wild
beasts, Avhich was to be given on the birthday of the young
prince Geta. The conduct of the Christian prisoners made a
deep impression on Pudens, the soldier who guarded them
(as in other instances the soldiers or jailers who attended the
Christians to martyrdom had their minds powerfully drawn
to Christianity as a supernatural power), and he felt him-


self compelled to acknowledge that here there was something
divine. In consequence, he showed fiivour to the Christians,
and allowed many of their brethren free access to them in
the prison, who must otherwise have paid for the privilege of
checrin"- each other by such intercourse. Shortly before the
public spectacle the aged father came for the last time to his
dau^'htcr, tore the hair of his beard, threw himself on the
ground, and uttered, as his daughter expressed it, "words
which must move any creature." But, however deeply
affected, although so full of sympathy and pain, yet faith and
love to the lledeemer gained the victory.

Perpetua's companion in suffering, Felicitas, was near her
confinement, and had much to endure. A heathen slave said
to her, "' If now you suflPer such pain, how will you feel
Avhen you are exposed to the wild beasts, which you made so
light of when you refused to sacrifice?" She answ^ered,
"What I now suffer, I endure myself alone; but then another
will be with me, who will suffer for me, because I also wiU
suffer for Him."

A custom was still retained, belonging to that ancient form
of idolatry which caused the blood of human victims to flow
at its altars, that the persons condemned to die at these bar-
barous shows were devoted as an offering to Saturn, It was
thought that if these Christians were thus devoted, it would
be a greater triumph of the gods over Christianity, since
their enemies would be made to do homage to them. It was,
therefore, proposed to dress the men as priests of Saturn,
and the women as priestesses of Ceres. But they firmly
resisted this proposal, saying, " We are come here voluntarily,
in order that our freedom may not be taken from us. We
have given up our lives that we may not do anything of this
kind; we have made these terms with you." The officers
who had the charge of the execution, admitted the justice
of this appeal and yielded to it. When Perpetua was already
wounded, she called to her brother and a catechumen, who,
in the time of suffering had performed many offices of
Christian love for her, and said to them, " Stand Itist in the
faith and love one another, and indulge in no feelings of
animosity on account of our sufferings." When one of the
young men, Saturninus, had been mortally wounded by
the bite of a leopard, he called to him the soldier above


mentioned, Pudcns, and took farewell of him, sayinj:^, " Fare-
well ! meditate on my fiiith, and let not this unsettle you,
but rather confirm you in the faith;" at the same time he
took a ring oft" his finger, dipped it in the blood that flowed
from his wound, and gave it as a memento. Before the
martyrs received the customary coup de grace, they gave one
another in the article of death the Idss of charity.

Under the Valerian persecution, the martyrs in Numidia
wrote as follows, during a severe imprisonment, in which
they suffered much from hunger and thirst: " The dark prison
soon shone with the illumination of the Holy Spirit ; we
ascend to the place of punishment as if we were ascending to
lieaven. We cannot describe what days and nights we have
spent there. We are not afraid to describe the horrors of
that place, for the greater the trial so much greater must lie
be who has overcome it in us. And, indeed, it is not our
conflict, for by the help of the Lord we have gained the
victory: for to be put to death is easy for the servants of God,
and death is nothing, because the Lord has taken away its
sting and power ; He triumphed over it on the cross."

We find examples of husbands exhorting their wives, wives
their husbands, mothers their sons, and sons their fathers, to
stedfastness in the faith, and gaining the victory over the
natural human feelings. In the reign of the emperor Sej)-
timius Severus, when Leonides, father of the great doctor of
the church, Origen, was thrown into prison at Alexandria,
as a confessor of Christ, his son, tlien a youth of sixteen,
was inflamed with the desire to confess his Redeemer before
the heathen. The mother knew not how to keep him back,
except by hiding his clothes, and thus obliging him to stay
at home. He then wrote a letter to his father in prison, in
which, among other things, he said : " Take care not to change
your resolution on our account." Thus Origen, who already
in his youth was distinguished by his zeal and pov>er in the
])ublicatiün of the gospel, drew on himself the hatred of the
fanatical populace. He was obliged to flee from one house
to another, to escape the crowds of embittered heathen by
whom he was waylaid. On one occasion they succeeded in
laying hold of him, and dragged him to the temple of Se-
rapis : having placed him on the steps, they put a pahn-
branch in his hands that he might present it, according to the


custom of the worshippers of that idol ; but returning it into
their hands, he said : " Receive not the palm of idols, but the
palm of Christ."

In the Decian persecution a Christian, named Numidius,
had animated many persons to martyrdom by his exhorta-
tions: he cheerfully beheld his wife burnt to death by his
side; he himself, after being half burnt, was covered with
stones and left for dead. His daughter searched for his body
in order to buiy it, and to her inexpressible joy was surprised
to find some signs of life remaining in him. By her care he
was restored, and afterwards laboured as a preacher of the
gospel and the pastor of a church.

Certainly a confession given while under torture, or in
sight of death, does not make a true Christian, if this con-
fession does not proceed from the spirit of love, and is not in
harmony with the whole life as a witness of the faith ; for the
Apostle Paul says : " If I give my body to be bm*ned, and
have not love, it profiteth me nothing." "Where watchful-
ness and sobermindedness are wanting, what woiüd have
been a victory of faith becomes a defeat. Thus it has some-
times happened, that those who had received power to
despise death and torture for the Lord's sake, afterwards for-
got that it was not their own power by which they had been
victorious ; through self- exaltation they were led away from
the straight path of new obedience, and overpowered by
temptations for which they were not prepared. Those who
had been able to overcome the natural weakness of the flesh,
and the natural fear of death, sometimes gave way to the
movements of a secret and refined, but so much the more
dangerous, self-love. But the teachers of the Church always
remind Christians, that only when the testimony of the lips
corresponds with the testimony of the life, the former can be
of any value in God's sight. It was from a lively sense of
the danger to which those persons were exposed who had
gained such a victoiy of faith, that intelligent clergjTnen
visited the confessors in their prisons, read the Holy Scrip-
tures to them, imparted to them not only words of consola-
tion but of warning, and came to their aid by administering
suitable and scriptural advice.

" May they learn of you," so writes Cyprian to his clergy,
"to be humble and peaceable, that they may preserve the

Cyprian's advice to his clergy. 95

honour of their name ; and may those wlio have glorified the
Lord by their words, glorify himself also by their conduct.
There remains something more than they have yet fulfilled,
for it is written, ' Praise no man before his decease ; ' and
our Lord says : ' He that endureth to the cud shall be saved.'
May they imitate the Lord who, in the time of his sufferings,-
appeared not more high-minded- but more humble, for at that
juncture he washed the feet of his disciples, and said : ' If I
then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also
ought to wash one another's feet.' May they also follow the
example of the Apostle Paul, who, after often suffering im-
prisonment and scourging, continued to be on all occasions
gentle and humble, and even after being caught up to the
third heaven and Paradise, indulged in no arrogance. And
since only he that humbles himself will be exalted, so ought
they now especially to fear the plots of their adversary, who,
because he is conquered, is so much the more exasperated,
and seeks to conquer the conquerors." To the confessors
themselves he thus writes : " Still we are in the world ; still we
are on the battle-field ; we fight for our daily life. Hence
you must strive that, after such a beginning, you may make
progress ; that what you have so happily begun, may be
brought to perfection. It is but little, if a man has been
able only to obtain ; it is something more to be able to keep
what he has obtained, as even faith and regeneration cannot
bring to eternal life, merely by being once received; they
must be kept. Our Lord himself taught this when he said :
' Behold, thou art made whole ; sin no more, lest a worse
thing come unto thee.' (John v. 14.) In short, Solomon
and Saul, and many others, could keep the grace vouchsafed
to them as long as they walked in the ways of the Lord, but
as soon as their obedience failed, grace failed. We must per-
sist in the straight and narrow path of honour ; gentleness
and humility, a quiet and moral course of conduct, become
all Christians, according to the words of the Lord, who regards
none but the humble and meek, who receive his word with
fear and trembling ; and you, the confessors, are more than
all bound to observe and fulfil all this, since you are examples
for the rest of your brethren. Our Lord was ' led as a lamb
to the slaughter; as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so
he opened not his mouth.' And can any one now who lives



through Him and in Him, be high-minded and boastful, un-
mindful of what he did, and of what he taught by his
apostles ? But if the servant is not greater than his lord,
then must those who follow the Lord, be humble and peaceful,
and tread in his footsteps quietly: for the more lowly any one
is, the higher will he become, since the Lord says, ' Who-
ever is least among you all. he shall be great.' "

The genuine evangelical confessors manifested this dis-
position. The above-mentioned Numidian martyrs closed the
account of their sufferings with these words : " Dear brethren,
let us, with all our might, hold fast concord, peace, and union
of heart. Let us strive to be now what w^e are to be in
another world. If we wish to be and to reign with Christ,
then we must act in the way which will lead to Christ and
his kingdom."' When afterwards they were led amidst a
great concourse of Christians and Pagans to the place of
execution, and the former cried out, " Think of us when you
go to the Lord," one of the martyrs answered, humbly,
*•' Rather may you think of me before the Lord."

A confessor at Rome during the Decian persecution, writing
to a confessor at Carthage, in order to solicit the intercessory
prayer of the African martyrs for his fallen sister, thus ex-
presses himself: "I believe, if we do not see one another
again in this world, we shall embrace one another in the
futvu-e world before Christ. Pray for me, that I may be
worthy to receive the martyr's crown in your kingdom.
But be assured I have much to suffer, and I think as if you
were with me, of your ancient love, by night and day.
God alone knows it. Wherefore I pray you to fulfil my wish,
and to mourn with me for the death of my sister, who in this
desolation has fallen away from Christ ; for she has sacrificed
and offended the Lord, as appears evidently to us. On ac-
count of her transgression, I spend this joyful time of Easter
in tears, both day and night."




While Christians took a lively interest in all tlioir brethren,
this was especially the case in reference to the confessors.
•"Contributions were sent from remote districts for the relief of
those who were in prison or labouring in the mines ; delegates
also came to visit them. A generous emulation was excited
in aftbrding them relief both for body and mind. The prison
soon became converted into a church, owing to the numbers
who assembled there to assist the sufferers by their prayers ;
and the bishops, as we have already observed, were under the
necessity of trying to moderate the ill-regulated zeal of their
people. Tertullian composed a small treatise for the encourage-
ment of the confessors Avho suffered at Carthage under
Septimius Severus, which begins thus : " Besides the means
of bodily nourishment which your mother the church, from
her stores, and individual brethren from their private re-
sources, send to you in prison, receive from me something
which may serve for the sustcntation of your souls ; for it is
not good that the flesh should be replenished while the spirit
is famished. If what is weak be cared for, surely the stronger
ought not to be neglected. Yet I own I am not one vrho is
worthy to address you. Nevertheless the most accomplished
fencers are not only encouraged by their teachers, but also
are animated by the cheers of the people.'' He then pro-
ceeds : " Especially do not grieve the Tloly Sjiirit, who has
entered the prison with you. For if He had not entered with
you, you would not be here to-day. Hence, strive that He
may abide with you here, and lead you hence to the Lord.
The ])rison is also an abode of the Evil Spirit, where he ns-
semblcs those who belong to him ; but you are come to the
prison for the veiy purpose of treading him underfoot in his
own abode, Avhich you have already done outside the prison.
Might he not, therefore, say, Yc are in my kingdom ; I will
tem[)t you by low passions and dissensions. Let him flee
your countenance, and retire to his own abyss, like a serpent


98 cnmsTiAN life of the first centuries.

rendered harmless by enchantraent. Nor let him succeed so
well in his kingdom as to involve you in strife, but may he
find you fortified against his attacks by concord ; for to main-
tain peace among yourselves is to make war on him. The
prison is darkness." he says, " but ye are light ; it has

fetters, but ye are free in God's sight Compare life

in the world and life in the prison, and see whether the spirit
does not gain more in the prison than the flesh loses. But
verily the flesh loses nothing that it absolutely needs, thanks
to the care of the church and the love of the brethren ; and
over and above that, the spirit gains what is always useful
for the faith. Thou secst no strange gods ; thou dost not meet
their images ; thou partakest not of the festivals of the
heathen by living among them ; thou art not touched by the
foul steam of their sacrifices ; thou art not dinned by the
shouts of the theatre, nor shocked by the cruelty and licentious
passions of those who frequent it ; thy eyes do not settle on
the abodes of public voluptuousness. Thou art free from

Online LibraryAugust NeanderMemorials of Christian life in the early and middle ages. Including his Light in dark places. → online text (page 10 of 54)