Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume V/Cyprian/The Epistles of Cyprian/Part 14
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.
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, according 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, my 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; 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. 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.
- Oxford ed.: Ep. xx. a.d. 250.
- Comp. Ep, xiii. to the Roman clergy.
- [Another instance of this usage (κατ᾽ ἐξοχὴν), of which see p. 291, supra.]
- [Note the moderation of our author. 1 Pet. v. 5.]