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The treatises of S. Caecilius Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, and martyr online

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V. 5:j






MOST rk\j:hkni) fatiikk in (J0I>






OF Christ's holy catholic church,

AVITII HIS GRACK's permission





GUATMUDK for his episcopal KINDNESS.



















The Treatises of St. Cyprian may suitably be preceded by
the short Memoir of his life written by his Deacon Pontius,
and the Proconsular Acts of his Martyrdom.

The Memoir is recommended to our attention, not so much
by any special excellence in itself, as by the circumstance
tliat it is written by one who was about the Bishop's person,
who attended him in exile, and who was a witness of his
death". The reader need scarcely be reminded, that the
Deacon in St. Cyprian's age, as afterwards, was the personal
attendant and minister of the Bishop ; thus St. Laurence is
celebrated as Deacon or Archdeacon to Sextus or Xystus,
Bishop of Rome and Martyr, the contemporary of St. Cyprian ;
and St. Athanasius as Deacon to Alexander, Bishop of Alex-
andria, in the Council of Nicsea.

The Proconsular Acts are considered to be the substance
of the original, \A-ith the incidental additions of subsequent

» S.Jerome (Script. deVir.Illust. 68.; who says that they and Pontius' life

praises this life as an " egregium volu- " are consistent with each other and

men."AncientMartyrolog"iesrecordthat with probability." The Bollandists

Pontius eventually followed his master consider that the Confession and

in Martyrdom, the Bollandists, how- Martyrdom were " extracted by the

ever, distinguish between him and faithful from the public Acts, and then

the Martyr Pontius, who wa.s a Priest, a few words added in order to form

and suffered in Piedmont. them into a continuous narration. And

b The substantial authenticity of that in like manner some additions
these Acts seems to be generally al- were made at the end concerning the
lowed ; by the Benedictines, by Cave, mode and circumstances of the Martyr-
Lit. Hist. art. Pontius, and by Gibbon, dom, &c."'


What has further to be said of St. Cyprian is reserved for
the second part of the Volume, which will contain his
Letters. It shall only be added here, that he was converted
to the Christian faith about A.D. 246, consecrated A.D. 248,
and martyred A. D. 258.

TJie Life of St. Cyprian, hy Pontius his Deacon.

Cyprian, that religious Priest and glorious Witness of God,
composed many works, whereby may sunave the memory of
so worthy a name; the abundant fecundity of his eloquence,
and of God's grace in him, so widely spread itself in copious-
ness and richness of speech, that perchance even to the end
of the world he will speak on; and yet, forasmuch as his works
and merits claim as a right that they should become an example
to us in writing, it has seemed good to draw up this brief sum-
mary of it; not as if the life of so great a man were unknown
to any of the heathen, but that even to our posterity may be
handed on his singular and high example unto an immortal
memory. Certainly it were hard, when even laymen and
catechumens, who have obtained martyrdom, have been
honoured by our forefathers for their very martyrdom's sake,
with a record of many, nay of all details of their passion, in
order to our acquaintance with it who were yet unborn, hard
were it to pass over Cyprian's passion, so great a Priest and so
great a Martyr, who even over and above his martyrdom had
lessons to teach; and hard again to hide the deeds which he did
in his life. Those in truth were such, so great and wonderful,
as to deter me by the very contemplation of their greatness,
and to urge me to a confession of my incapacity to do justice to
my subject, or to represent his high deeds in correspondent
terms, except that the multitude of his achievements tells its
own tale without heralding from others. It has to be added,
that you too are longing to hear much, or, if possible, the
whole concerning him, having a burning desire at least to
know his deeds, though his word of mouth be silent. In
wliich respect to say that I am deficient in the resources of


eloquence, is to say little. Eloquence itself fails of the
means of fully satisfying your longing. Thus we are sorely
pressed on either side; by the weight of his excellences, by
the importunity of your entreaties.

5^2. From what shall I commence? where enter upon hisA.D.
excellences, but from faith as a first principle, and from^"*^'
his heavenly birth? considering that the deeds of a man
of God should be reckoned from no other point than that of
his being born of God. He might have employments before
it, and a heart engaged and imbued with liberal arts; still I
pass over all this, as up to this date tending merely to
advantage of this life'. But after he had learned sacred
knowledge and had emerged out of the clouds of this world
into the light of spiritual wisdom, whatever 1 was witness to,
whatever I have discovered of his preferable works, I will
relate; with the request that those deficiencies of my narrative,
which I feel will occur, should be charged upon my ignorance
rather than on his fame.

3. While he was yet in the rudiments of his faith, he felt i.e. be-
that nothing was more fitting towards God than the observance °^^ ^^'
of continence; for the breast became what it should be, and
the understanding reached the full capacity of truth, when
the lust of the flesh was trampled on with the healthy and
unimpaired vigour of sanctity. Who has ever recorded such
a marvel? the second birth had not yet given eyes to the new
man in the full radiance of divine light, yet he was now con-
quering the old and previous darkness by the mere outskirts
of that light. Next, what is greater still, when he had gained
from Scripture certain lessons not according to the measure
of his noviciate but with the rapidity of faith, he at once

' S. Gregory Nazianzen, in his vit.) and Tillemont refer it to a Cyprian,

oration in praise of S. Cyprian, (Orat. Bishop of Antioch in Phoenicia, who

18.) states, that before his conversion has a place in both the Roman and

he was addicted to magical arts, which Greek calendars. S. Cyprian was a

he made use of against a Christian teacher of rhetoric, of great reputation;

female, named Justina, of whom he Jerom. de Vir. lUustr. 67. and before

was enamoured ; that she however be- his conversion seems to have plunged

took herself to Christ and St. Mary, into the usual excesses of heathenism,

and the attempt ended in his burning vid. Treatise i. 2, 3. He seems not to

his books, and professing Christianity, have been a native of Carthage, vid.

Fell rejects the account altogether as a Ep. 7. ed. Fell. St. Austin seems to speak

mere fiction, (Monit. in Conf. S. Cypr.) ; of him as a Senator. Serm. 311. c. 7.
Maranus, the Benedictine Editor, (in



appropriated to himself what he there read to be profitable
in meriting of the Lord. Diverting his property to the
maintenance of the indigent, and distributing whole estates in
money, he secured two benefits at once, both renouncing the
pursuit of this world, than which nothing is more pernicious,
and observing mercy ; — mercy, which God has preferred even
to His sacrifices, in which even he failed who said that he had
kept all the commandments of the law, and by which with an
vid.infra anticipating haste of piety, he arrived at perfection almost
*-^- before he had learned how '. Who, let me ask, of the ancients,
has done this? who of the most esteemed elders in the faith,
whose minds and ears have through ever so many years
been assailed bv the words divine, ventured any thing such as
he, this man of an unformed faith and perchance unrecog-
nized profession, did achieve, surpassing the old time by
glorious and admirable works? No one reaps as soon as he
has sowed. None treads out the vintage from a young
plantation. None yet ever sought ripe fruit of bushes freshly
planted. In him all things incredible met together. In him
the threshing anticipated, (if it can be said, for the thing
surpasses belief,) anticipated, I say, the sowing; the vintage
the tendril; the fruit, the firm root.
I Tim. 4. The Epistle of the Apostle says, that novices should be
■^ ■ passed by; lest the drowsiness of heathenism hanging on the
scarcely rallied senses, unlearned freshness might offend in
aught against God. He was the first, and, I suppose, the sole
instance, that greater progress is made by faith than by time.
That Eunuch indeed in the Acts of the Apostles is described as
being baptized at once by Philip, because he believed with
his whole heart; but the parallel does not hold. For the one
was both a Jew, and in his way from the Lord's Temple was
reading the Prophet Isaiah, and had iiope in Christ, though
he thought Him not yet come ; the other, coming of the un-
learned heathen, had as ripe a faith at first, as few perhaps
have at last. In a word, there was no delay in his case as to
i.e. Dap- the grace of God, no postponement. I have said too little:


d S. Cyprian himself attributes his also, " after that lifcgiving water

change of heart and life to his baptism ; suecourcd me, what was dark began to

and while confessing with Pontius " to shine, what seemed impossible, now

sin no more has come of faith," declares could be achieved.'' i. 3.


he forthwith received the Presbyterate and Priesthood. A. D.
Who indeed would not commit all the ranks of honour to ' ' '
such a mind believing? Many are the things he did when yet
a layman, many when a Presbyter, many after the example
of just men of old, with a close imitation, earning of the Lord,
and surrendering himself to all the duties of religion. And
whenever he read of any one who had been mentioned with
praise by God, this was his ordinary advice, that we sliould
inquire on account of what deeds he had pleased God. If
Job, glorious by the testimony of God, is called a true
worshipper of God, one to whom no one might be compared
on earth, he taught that " one ought to do whatever Job had
done before; that, while we too do the same, we may obtain
the same testimony of God upon ourselves. Job, despising the
ruin of his estate, was so strong in practised virtue, as not to
feel even temporal losses of his benevolence. Penury broke him
not, nor grief, neither his wife's prayers, nor his bodily suffer-
ings shook his resolution. Virtue remained fixed in her own
home; and resignation established upon deep foundations, was
moved by no assault of the devil who tempted, from blessing his
Lord with a thankful faith even amid adversity. His house
was open to any one who came. No widow returned with
her lap empty; nor blind, but was guided by him as a com-
panion; nor feeble in step, but was lifted by him as by a carrier;
nor helpless under the hand of the powerful, but had him for
a champion. These things," he used to say, " must they do
who would please GodV And thus running through the
specimens of all good men, while he ever imitated the best,
he set forth himself also for imitation.

5. He had an intimacy with one among us, a just and
memorable man, by name Caecilius'^, a Presbyter both by age
and order, who had converted him from his wanderings in
this world to the acknowledgment of the true divinity : him
he loved with full honour and all observance, looking up to
him with dutiful veneration, not merely as the friend and
brother of his soul, but as though the parent of his new life.

' This passaoje does not occur in any name, the name of one to whom he owed

of S. Cyprian's extant Treatises ; it so much ; vid. Jerom. 1. c. Hence

resemhles them in style. his full names are Thascius Caecilius

' S. Cyprian, adopted as a Christian Cyprianus.



And so it was that Cascilius, comforted by such attentions, was
led, and reasonably, to such a fulness of affection, that, on
departing from this world, when his summons was near, he com-
mended to him his wife and children, and thus, from making
him a member of his communion, in the event made him the
heir of his affection f. It were long to go through details ; it
were a toil to enumerate his holy deeds.
A.D. 6. For evidence of his good works, I suppose this is enough,
that by the judgment of God and the good wnll of the people,
he was chosen for the office of the Priesthood, and the rank
of the Episcopate, while yet a neophyte, and, as was con-
sidered, a novice''. Although still in the first days of his
faith, and in the rudiniental season of his spiritual life, in such
sort did his noble disposition shine out, that, resplendent in
the brightness at least of hope, though not of office, he promised
a full performance of the duties of the priesthood, which was
coming on him. Nor will I pass over that sj>ecial circum-
stance, how, Mhile the whole people, God influencing, poured
itself out in love and honour of him, he on the other hand
humbly withdrew himself, yielding to older men, and deem-
ing himself unworthy of the title of such honour, whereby he
became the more worthy. For he is but made more worthy,
who declines what he deser\'es. With such emotion was
the excited people at that time agitated, longing with
spiritual desire, as the event proves, not a Bishop merely;
but in him who had hid himself, aiid whom it was by a
divine presage so demanding, seeking, not a Priest only,
but a Martyr to come. A numerous brotherhood had beset
the doors of his house; solicitous love poured itself around
all the approaches. What befel the Apostle might then
perhaps have been granted to him, as he wished it, to be
let down through a window; had he already shared with the
Apostle the honour of ordination. One might see all others

8 Cleric«,however," by the Canons of Treatise vi. 4. infra. "NumorousBishops,

the African Church, could not become despisin;? tlieir sacred calling, engaged

trustees to the property of their brethren, themselves in secular vocations, ""divina

on the ground that they were bound procuratione contempta, jn-ocuratwes

io ser\-e nought but ttie altar and rerum secularium fieri."

sacrifice, and to keep their time for h Vid. l,Tim. iii. 6. S. Ambrose,

supplications and prayers." Fell in Cypr. Noctarius, Eusebius of Cse.'sarea in

Epist. 1. vid. Cone. Carthag. A.D. 348. Cappadocia, and others, were made

The same rule may be alluded to in Bishops under the same circumstances.


in anxious suspense waiting for his coming, and receiving
him with excess of joy when he came. I say it unwillingly,
but I must say it. Some resisted him', even that he might
obtain his wish. Whom however, how forbearingly, how
patiently, how kindly he bore with ! how indulgently he
forgave, reckoning them aften^'ards among his most intimate
and familiar friends, to the wonder of many ! for who, but
might count it miraculous that so retentive a memory should
become so oblivious?

7. How henceforth he bore himself, who would suffice to
relate ! how great was his loving-kindness, his strength of
mind ! his mercy, his severity ! Such sanctity and grace
shone forth from his countenance as to confuse the gazer.
His look was grave and glad ; neither a sternness which was
sad, nor overmuch good nature ; but a just mixture of both ;
so that one might doubt whether he claimed more our rever-
ence or our love, except that he claimed both. Nor did his
dress belie his countenance, subdued, as it was, to the
middle course. He was not the man to be inflated with the
pride of the world's fashions ; yet neither to grovel in a
studious penury; in that the latter style of dress is as boastful,
as that so ambitious frugality is ostentatious. How, when a
Bishop, he acted towards the poor, whom he already loved as a
catechumen, let the priests of mercifulness consider ; whether
taught in the office of good works by the discipline of their very
order, or obliged to the duty of love by the general bond of
the Gospel Sacrament. As for Cyprian, what he was, such his
Bishop's seat found him ready made, and did not make him.

8. And so it was that for such merits he forthwith obtained A. D.
also the glory of proscription. Nor was it other than fitting
that one, who within the retreat of conscience so abounded in

the full honours of religion and faith, should also have a public
name among the Gentiles. Indeed he might even then, for
the rapidity with which he developed into all things, have
hastened to the appointed crown of Martyrdom; especially

* Five Priests opposed his eonse- tise v.) and joined the party of Felicis-

cration, one of them being Novatus ; simus. This they did when S. Cyprian

they afterwards fomented the disorders was in concealment during the perse-

of which the Confessors were made the cution. vid. Ep. 43. init. ed. Fell,
instrument, (vid. iafra Introd, to Trea*



\t. i












since the cries were frequent which called him "to the lion'';"

had it not been meet that he should pass through all degrees

of gloiy before he came to the highest, and had not the ruin

of the Church which then threatened needed the aid of

so fertile a mind. For imagine him taken hence at that

time by the high reward of Martyrdom ; who was there to

' shew the gains of grace making progress by faith ? who to

curb the single women as it were with the bridle of the

Lord's lessons into a congruous rule of chastity, and a dress

becoming their holiness ? who to teach penitence to the

Lapsed ? truth to heretics, unity to schismatics ? to the sons

of God peace and the law of Gospel prayer? who to be the

instrument of overthrowing blaspheming Gentiles, by retorting

on them their charges on us? by whom were Chi-istians, grieved

vid. xi. at loss of friends with excess of fondness or (what is worse)

defect of faith, by whom to be comforted with the hope of

vid. x. things to come? from whom should we else learn mercy?

vid. xi. from whom patience? who was there to repress the evil

vid. xii. feeling springing from the malignity of poisonous envy, with

vid. xiii. i\^Q sweetness of a salutary remedy ? who to cheer the host of

Martyrs with the exhortation of a divine discourse, — who

lastly to hasten with a stirring heavenly trumpet those many

confessors, signed with a second inscription on their brow,

and reserved as living examples of Martyrdom ? Well surely

it was ordered then, well and indeed divinely, that a man so

necessary for so many and so good objects, was retarded from

a Martyr's consummation '.

9. You wish to be sure that that retirement of his which
now took place, was not from fear""; not to allege other

^ " Chrlstianos ad Leonem." Tcr- "> On the subject of .flight in perse-

tiillian Apnl. 40. de Spect. 26. cution, vid. infra note jr, on vi. 8. vid.

> S.Jerome relates, that he had seen also Ep. 34. fin. ed. Fell. Tertiilli:m
anoldman,who professed to have seen in in his Montanistic Tract De fiiga in
his youth an am;inucnsisof S.Cyprian's, Perseoitione maintains that flight is
who was in the habit of relating that unlawful. The Roman Clercy (Ep. 8.)
the latter never pa.ssed a day without find fault with S. Cvprian's'tiight : he
reading Tertullian,continuallysayingto defends himself, (Kp. 20.) saying he
him, Da Magistrum ; Hand me my withdrew to hinder a riot. His warrant
Master, vid. Jerom. de Vir. Illustr. for doing so was a divine direction.
5.3. also In trod, to Treatise iv. That vid. Ep. 16. " When a persecution
S. Cyprian however did not follow impended, the Bishops used to assemble
Tertullian implicitly is plain from his the people, and exhort them to con-
retiring from the persecution, not to stancy. Tlien they baptized infants and
mention other points of diflerence. catechumens and' divided the Eucha-


evidence, he did suffer afterwards ; which suffering of course
he would have shrunk from according to his wont, had he
shrunk from it before. But in truth, fear it was, but right
fear ; fear of offending the Lord, fear which had rather be
dutiful to God's precepts, than be crowned together with the
breach of them. A mind surrendered in all things to God,
and a faith enslaved to the divine directions, considered that
it would be sinning in very suffering, unless it had obeyed
the Lord who then ordered that retreat. Something more
must here be said on the advantage of the postponement,
though already I have touched on the subject. By what
seems shortly to have taken place, we may prove, as follows,
that that retirement did not issue from human pusillanimity,
but, as is the case, was really divine. The people of God
had been ravaged with the extraordinan,- and fierce assaults
of a harrassing persecution ; and, whereas the crafty enemy
could not deceive all by one and the same artifice, therefore
raging against them in manifold ways, wherever the incautious
soldier exposed his side, there he worsted each by various
overthrows. Some one was required who, when wounds had
been received, and darts cast by the changeful art of the
torturing enemy, had heavenly remedies at hand according to
the nature of each, now to pierce and now to sooth; and then
was preserved a man of a mind beyond all others divinely tem-
pered, to steer the Church in a steady middle course between
the rebounding waves of colliding schisms. Let me ask then,
is not such design divine ? could it have been without God's
governance ? Let them look to it who think that such things
happen by chance. The Church answers to them with loud
voice, declaring that she does not allow, does not believe, that
these her necessan,- champions are reserved without the pro-
vidence of God.

10. However, let me be allowed to run through the rest. A. D.


A dreadful pestilence broke out afterwards ■■, and the extra-

rist among the faithfal." Vales, in Dionysius of Alexandria (Euseb. Hist

Euseb. Hist. viii. 11. S. Dionysius vii. 22.) and S. Gregory Nyssen's life

was accused of having retired without of Gregory of Neo-Ca!sarea, in fin. In

first attending to these necessary duties, the year 262 it was especially destruc-

if>i'l- tive in Rome and in the cities of

" For a description of the pestilence, Greece, carrying off in Rome as many

vid, infra ix. 9. vid. also the letters of as 5000 persons daily. Half the popu-


ordinary ravages of a hateful sickness entered house after
house of the trembHng populace in succession, carrying off
with sudden violence numberless people daily, each from his
own home. There was a general panic, flight, shrinking from
the infection, unnatural exposure of infected friends; as
though to carry the dying out of doors, were to rid one's self of
death itself. Meanwhile multitudes lay about the whole city,
not bodies, but by this time corpses; and called on the pity of
passers-by from the view of a fortune common to both
parties. No one looked to aught beyond his cruel gain. No
one was alarmed from the recollection of parallel instances.
No one did to another what he wished done to himself. It
were a crime to pass over what in such circumstances was the
conduct of this Pontiff of Christ and God, who had surpassed
the Pontiffs of this world as much in benevolence as in truth
of doctrine. First he assembled the people in one place,
urged on them the excellence of mercifulness, taught them by
instances from holy Scripture how much the offices of bene-
volence avail to merit with God. Then he subjoined that
there was nothing wonderful in cherishing our own with the
fitting dutifulness of charity ; that he became the perfect man,
who did somewhat more than publican or heathen, who, over-

Online LibrarySaint CyprianThe treatises of S. Caecilius Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, and martyr → online text (page 1 of 34)