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power, so also was he the first to put forth without relief or disguise these sacerdotal assumptions; and so uncompromising was the tone in which he asserted them, that nothing was left to his successors but to enforce his principles, and reiterate his language.”
St. Cyprian treatise “on the Lapsed,” i.e., those who in the persecution had denied the Lord will furnish illustrations of many perilous exaggerations or half-truths, which were afterward developed into serious and mischievous corruptions, both of doctrine and discipline. “ Think you,” he says, " that He will easily have mercy upon you whom you have declared not to be your God? You must pray more eagerly and entreat; you must spend whole days in grief; wear out whole nights in watchings and weepings; occupy all your time in wailful lamentations; lying stretched on the ground yon must cling close to the ashes, be surrounded with sackcloth and filth; after losing the raiment of Christ, you must be willing now to have no clothing; after the devil's meat you must prefer fasting; be earnest in righteous works, whereby sins may be purged; frequently apply yourselves to almsgiving, whereby souls are freed from death." And again: “We believe, indeed, that the merits of martyrs and the works of the righteous are of great avail with the Judge; but that will be when the day of judgment shall come—when, after the conclusion of this life and the world, His people shall stand before the tribunal of God." ?
And, again, we find a curious illustration of the feeling of the Church, its high wrought faith, its realization of supernatural power by which it was encompassed on every side, in the following stories, which furnish also illustrations of the current belief, tending too closely to materialism, as to the real change that had been produced in the elements of the Holy Eucharist by their consecration to that solemn use. An infant child had been given up by the wet-nurse, in the terror of the persecution, to the magistrates, and a morsel of bread mingled with wine from an idol's sacrifice, had been placed in its month. When after the persecution the girl was recovered by her parents and brought by them to the meeting of the Church. “When we were sacrificing,” (Cyprian says—by which of conrse he means celebrating the Holy Eucharist) when the deacon offered her in her turn, the cup”—for the Eucharist was in that age, admininistered to little children-“she turned away her face; and when the deacon persisted and forced on her some of the sacrament of the cup, then followed sobbing and vomiting. In a profaned body and mouth the Eucharist could not remain; the draught sanctified in the Blood of the Lord burst forth from the polluted stomach.” Again, a woman who had lapsed, having received the Eucharist,
Lightfoot, “ Philippians," pp. 256-257.
as if taking some deadly poison into her jaws and body, began presently to be tortured, and to become stiffened with frenzy.” And another woman, when she tried with unworthy hands to open her box, in which was the holy Body of the Lord, was deterred by fire rising from it from daring to touch it. And when one, who himself was defiled, dared with the rest to receive secretly a part of the sacrifice celebrated by the priest, he could not eat or handle the Body of the Lord, but found in bis hands when opened, that he had a cinder.” One of these miracles, Cyprian assures us, occurred when he himself was present.
But though we know too well, by the sure verdict of history, to what utter perversion of the gospel and corruption of life not a few of St. Cyprian's incautious doctrines might too easily grow, we must not hold him accountable for more than he did actually himself believe. When we read his letters to the Confessors and his Treatise on the Lapsed, we can understand the need of a godly rigor of discipline; and we may recognize thankfully that it was the piety and courage of such men as Cyprian that saved the Church in her extremest peril.
And at any rate, he laid no burden on others that he was unwilling to bear himself. He knew full well that if the Bishop's place in the Church was first in honor, it was first also in danger. In the first persecution under Valerian, Cyprian was banished. It seemed to be the object of the Emperor to repress Christianity, if it might be possible, without bloodshed—and he hoped especially to accomplish his purpose by the complete separation of the Bishops from their flocks. But spiritual ties could by no earthly power be sundered, and sterner measures became necessary if Christianity was indeed to be destroyed. Bishop and clergy, even women and children, were scourged, and condemned to imprisonment or to labor in the mines. Cyprian was active from bis place of banishment, in ministering both to their bodily and spiritual wants. He sent them large sums of money taken both from his own income, and from the treasury of the Church. In his letters to the sufferers we tind the simple utterance of an affectionate piety in the light of which we may judge most truly both his doctrine and the rigour of his ecclesiastical discipline. “In the mines,” he says, “the body is refreshed, not by beds and pillows, but by the comforts and joys of Christ. Your limbs, wearied with labor, recline upon the earth; but with Christ it is no punishment to lie there. If the onter man is defiled the inner man is but the more purified by the spirit that is from above. Your bread is scanty, but man lives not by bread alone, but by every word of God. You are in want of clothing to defend you from the cold; but he who has put on Christ is provided with clothing and ornament enongh. Even in the fact, my beloved brethren, that you cannot now celebrate the Communion of the Lord's Supper, your faith may still be conscious of no want. You celebrate the most glorious communion; you present God the costliest offering, since the Holy Scriptures declare that to God, the most acceptable sacrifice is a broken and a contrite heart. You present yourselves to God as a pure and holy offering."
To the clergy he writes: “Your example has been followed by a large portion of the Church, who have confessed and been crowned with you. United to you by ties of the strongest love, they would not be separated from their shepherds by dungeons and mines. Even young maidens and boys are with you. What power do you now possess of a victorious conscience; what triumph in your hearts; when you can walk through the mines with imprisoned body, but a heart conscious of the mastery over itself; when you know that Christ is with you, rejoicing over the patience of his servants, who, in His own footsteps and by His own way, are entering into the kingdom of eternity.”
At last the edict appeared that “ Bishops, Presbyters and Deacons, were to be put to death immediately by the sword.” On the fourteenth of September, A.D., 258, when the fatal sentence was pronounced upon him, the last words of Cyprian were, “ God be thanked!”
I have given here not even an adequate sketch of the life, and writings, and work of this illustrious Bishop and Martyr ; but I shall have accomplished some part of my pur. pose, if I have enabled the reader more clearly to realize what in the middle of the third century, the Church of Christ really was. Cyprian neither claims for himself nor does anybody else claim for him, either infallibility or supreme authority. His private opinions deserve, indeed, the highest respect and the most careful consideration. As private opinions, however, they were all liable to revision, and not a few of them have been set aside. As an interpreter of Scripture, he is often eccentric and extravagant, and his conclusions both practical and theoretical, are not seldom of much greater value than the arguments by which he supposed them to be proved, as they are, in fact, often independent of them. But whatever we may think of him as a doctor, he is siinply invaluable as a witness. He cerlainly must have known, and unquestionably did know what the Church of his day actually was ; what was its organization, its mode of government, its doctrines, its discipline, its traditions, its ritual and ceremonial. He was in constant communication with the Catholic Bishops of the whole world ; and he knew perfectly well that he agreed with them in all essentials both of truth and order. He lived and labored in the first half of the third century; and it is incredible that the Church, as St. Cyprian knew her, should have been altogether different from the Church which had been founded and organized by the Apostles. If they had received from our Lord the necessary instruction and the necessary authority for building up the Church, then the Church as we find her in the letters and treatises of St. Cyprian, was possessed of a divine wisdom and a divine authority. And hence, it must follow that we can only satisfy ourselves that we belong to that same Church, Catholic and eternal, if we also have the same order, the same creed, the same sacraments as those of which St. Cyprian tells us. “ For Christianity,” to borrow the words of Dr. Newman, “has been long enough in the world to justify us in dealing with it as a fact in the world's history. Its genius and character, its doctrines, precepts and objects cannot be treated as matters of private opinion or deduction, unless we may reasonably so regard the Spartan institutions or the religion of Mahomet. indeed, legitimately be made the subject matter of theories; what is its inoral and political excellence, what its due location in the range of ideas or of facts which we possess ; whether it be divine or human, whether original or eclectic, or both at once ; how far favorable to civilization or to literature ; whether a religion for all ages or for a particular state of society; these are questions upon the fact, or professed solution of the fact, and belong to the province of opinion; but to a fact do they relate, on an admitted fact do they turn, which must be ascertained as other facts, and surely has on the whole been so ascertained, unless the testimony of so many centuries is to go for nothing. Christianity is no dream of the study or the cloister.