Page images

charity and love ought to exist. A difference afterwards arose between Stephen, bishop of Rome, and St. Cyprian, in which the latter evinced the utmost firmness in maintaining the custom of the African and Asiatic Churches against that of the Roman. This difference related to the mode of receiving converts from heresies, who had been baptised in their own sects; and the African Churches, considering that the grace of God could not accompany any acts performed in a state of separation from Jesus Christ and his Church, were in the habit of baptising converts from heresy, as if they had not received any Christian baptism before: on the other hand, the Roman Churches had been accustomed to admit heretics to communion by the imposition of hands ; thus, as it were, completing what had been deficient in their former state. Stephen, a proud and violent man, endeavoured to intimidate the African bishops into submission by excommunicating them ; but they resisted this irregular proceeding with Christian firmness; and Firmilian, bishop of Cæsarea, in Cappadocia, observed that such unjust excommunications could only separate their authors from the Catholic Church.

A most terrible pestilence at one time raged in Carthage, and so great a terror had seized the people, that the sick were left unaided in their extremity; all the natural affections seemed to be extinguished, and multitudes of dead bodies were cast into the streets, and lay neglected there. St. Cyprian assembled the believers, and exhorted them to works of piety by the examples set forth in holy Scripture. He then allotted to each person his share in the holy work of charity; the poor contributed their labour, and the rich their wealth, and thus an abundant relief was afforded, not only to the Christians, but to the heathen. St. Cyprian at

this time wrote a book, encouraging his people, and exhorting them to remember, that death ought to be to the true believer rather a subject of joy and triumph, than of despondency and fear.

“ The kingdom of God, most beloved brethren," said he, “is at hand. The reward of life, the joy of everlasting salvation, perpetual happiness, the possession of paradise once lost, are now drawing near, while the world is passing away. Great and heavenly things are now succeeding to earthly things; small and perishing concerns are giving way to Eternity. What room is there here for anxiety and care? Who, under such circumstances, is sad and trembling, but that man who is devoid of faith and hope? It is only for that man to fear death who is unwilling to depart to Christ. It is for him to be reluctant to go to Christ, who does not believe that he shall reign with him. It is written that the just shall • live by faith.' If thou art just, and livest by faith, why, when thou art to be with Christ, and art secure by the promise of God—why dost thou not embrace that call unto Christ, and rejoice to be delivered from the devil? When it was revealed from heaven unto Simeon, that truly just man, who by faith kept all the commands of God, that he should not depart before he beheld Christ, and when the child Christ had come with his mother into the temple, he felt in his spirit that Christ, who had been foretold to him, was now born, and when he had seen him, he knew that he should quickly die; and yet, rejoicing at his death so near at hand, and secure that he should soon be called away, he took the child in his hands, and blessing the Lord, he exclaimed and said, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.'

“ The servants of God possess peace and tranquil

rest, when, delivered from the storms of this world, we arrive at the haven of eternal rest and safety; when, after this death is no more, we attain to immortality. That indeed is true peace; that is real tranquillity; that is lasting and perpetual joy.

But what is there in the world save daily contest against the devil, warfare and continual conflict against his arms and weapons? We have to contend with avarice, with immodesty, with anger, with ambition. We have continual and grievous wrestling with the vices of the flesh and the allurements of the world. The mind of man, besieged and encompassed by the assaults of Satan, can scarcely meet, scarcely resist them all. If avarice be overthrown, evil desire arises : if that be subdued, ambition succeeds. If ambition be contemned, wrath exasperates us, pride inflates, excess invites, envy breaketh concord, and jealousy destroyeth friendship. Such are the persecutions which thy mind each day endures—such the dangers by which thy heart is assailed: and is it then thy pleasure to remain long here, exposed as thou art to all the weapons of the devil, when thou oughtest rather to wish and desire, by the speedy assistance of death, to hasten away unto Christ; who himself teaches us, saying, “Verily, verily, I say unto you,



shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice; ye shall be sorrowfu but your sorrow shall be turned into joy ?' Who would not wish to lose sorrow? Who would not hasten to attain joy? Now the Lord himself declares when our sorrow shall be turned into joy, saying, "I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from


“Since, then, it is joy to see Christ, nor can our joy exist except when we see him ; what blindness or madness is it, to love the burdens, the punishments, the terrors of the world ; and not rather to

away ?”

hasten unto that joy which can never be taken

“ The reason of this is, my beloved brethren, a want of faith, because no one believes in the truth of the promises of that God who is TRUE, whose word is firm and eternal to them that believe. If a grave and worthy man should promise thee any thing, thou wouldst rely on his promise, nor believe that one whom thou knewest to be constant in his words and actions, would fail or deceive thee. Now God speaks with thee, and dost thou waver in unbelief? God promises to thee, departing from this world, immortality and eternity, and dost thou doubt? This is not to know God; this is, to offend Christ with the sin of unbelief, who is the master of believers only; this is, to have in the Church, in the house of faith, no settled faith.

“ Let us consider, most beloved brethren, and continually reflect, that we have renounced the world, and that we only abide here as strangers and pilgrims. Let us embrace that time which gives to each one his home, which, delivering us from this world, and loosing us from worldly snares, restores us to paradise and the kingdom. Who that is placed in a foreign land would not hasten to return to his own country? Who that saileth towards his own, would not eagerly desire a prosperous wind, to bring him swiftly to the embrace of those he loves ? Our country we believe to be paradise: the patriarchs we esteem our parents. Why then do we not speed and run, that we may behold our country, and salute our parents ? There a great multitude of those who are dear to us await us; a numerous and abundant crowd of parents, brethren, children, already secure of their own salvation, yet still anxious for ours, desire us. How great a joy for them and us in common, to behold and embrace theni! What pleasure of celestial kingdoms is there, without fear

of death, and with eternal life what great and perpetual happiness! There is the glorious choir of the apostles; there the number of the rejoicing prophets; there an innumerable people of martyrs, crowned for the victory of their contest and sufferings; triumphant virgins, who have subdued the desires of the flesh and body by the strength of continence; the merciful rewarded, who have performed works of righteousness in nourishing and bestowing alms on the poor, who, observing the commandments of the Lord, have transferred their earthly possessions to the treasury of heaven. To these, beloved brethren, let us with eager desire hasten ; and let us wish that we may quickly be with them, quickly come to Christ. May God behold this thought in us. May the Lord Christ observe this purpose of mind and faith in us, Who shall give his greatest rewards of glory to those whose desires are greatest towards himself.”

Such were the exhortations of the holy Cyprian. He was a few years afterwards called to bear witness to the faith of Jesus Christ in the face of torment and death, and he did not shrink from the path which he had so often pointed out to his brethren, but laid down his life for the Gospel, A.D. 258.




A.D. 30-320.

O precept is more frequently inculcated in sacred Scripture than that of mutual love and charity between all Christians.

By this,” said our Lord, “shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye

[ocr errors]
« EelmineJätka »