Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume V/Cyprian/The Epistles of Cyprian/Part 59
To the Numidian Bishops, on the Redemption of Their Brethren from Captivity Among the Barbarians.
Argument.—Cyprian Begins by Deploring the Captivity of the Brethren, of Which He Had Heard from the Numidian Bishops, and Says that He is Sending Them a Hundred Thousand Sesterces, Contributed by Brethren and Sisters and Colleagues.
1. Cyprian to Januarius, Maximus, Proculus, Victor, Modianus, Nemesianus, Nampulus, and Honoratus, his brethren, greeting. With excessive grief of mind, and not without tears, dearest brethren, I have read your letter which you wrote to me from the solicitude of your love, concerning the captivity of our brethren and sisters. For who would not grieve at misfortunes of that kind, or who would not consider his brother’s grief his own, since the Apostle Paul speaks, saying, “Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member rejoice, all the members rejoice with it;” and in another place he says, “Who is weak, and I am not weak?” Wherefore now also the captivity of our brethren must be reckoned as our captivity, and the grief of those who are endangered is to be esteemed as our grief, since indeed there is one body of our union; and not love only, but also religion, ought to instigate and strengthen us to redeem the members of the brethren.
2. For inasmuch as the Apostle Paul says again, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?”—even although love urged us less to bring help to the brethren, yet in this place we must have considered that it was the temples of God which were taken captive, and that we ought not by long inactivity and neglect of their suffering to allow the temples of God to be long captive, but to strive with what powers we can, and to act quickly by our obedience, to deserve well of Christ our Judge and Lord and God. For as the Apostle Paul says, “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ,” Christ is to be contemplated in our captive brethren, and He is to be redeemed from the peril of captivity who redeemed us from the peril of death; so that He who took us out of the jaws of the devil, who abides and dwells in us, may now Himself be rescued and redeemed from the hands of barbarians by a sum of money—who redeemed us by His cross and blood—who suffers these things to happen for this reason, that our faith may be tried, whether each one of us will do for another what he would wish to be done for himself, if he himself were held captive among barbarians. For who that is mindful of humanity, and reminded of mutual love, if he be a father, will not now consider that his sons are there; if he be a husband, will not think that his wife is there kept captive, with as much grief as shame for the marriage tie? But how great is the general grief among all of us, and suffering concerning the peril of virgins who are kept there, on whose behalf we must bewail not only the loss of liberty, but of modesty; and must lament the bonds of barbarians less than the violence of seducers and abominable places, lest the members dedicated to Christ, and devoted for ever in honour of continence by modest. virtue, should be sullied by the lust and contagion of the insulter.
3. Our brotherhood, considering all these things according to your letter, and sorrowfully examining, have all promptly and willingly and liberally gathered together supplies of money for the brethren, being always indeed, according to the strength of their faith, prone to the work of God, but now even more stimulated to salutary works by the consideration of so great a suffering. For since the Lord in His Gospel says, “I was sick, and ye visited me,” with how much greater reward for our work will He say now, “I was captive, and ye redeemed me!” And since again He says, “I was in prison, and ye came unto me,” how much more will it be when He begins to say, “I was in the dungeon of captivity, and I lay shut up and bound among barbarians, and from that prison of slavery you delivered me,” being about to receive a reward from the Lord when the day of judgment shall come! Finally, we give you the warmest thanks that you have wished us to be sharers in your anxiety, and in so great and necessary a work—that you have offered us fruitful fields in which we might cast the seeds of our hope, with the expectation of a harvest of the most abundant fruits which will proceed from this heavenly and saving operation. We have then sent you a sum of one hundred thousand sesterces, which have been collected here in the Church over which by the Lord’s mercy we preside, by the contributions of the clergy and people established with us, which you will there dispense with what diligence you may.
4. And we wish, indeed, that nothing of such a kind may happen again, and that our brethren, protected by the majesty of the Lord, may be preserved safe from perils of this kind. If, however, for the searching out of the love of our mind, and for the testing of the faith of our heart, any such thing should happen, do not delay to tell us of it in your letters, counting it for certain that our church and the whole fraternity here beseech by their prayers that these things may not happen again; but if they happen, that they will willingly and liberally render help. But that you may have in mind in your prayers our brethren and sisters who have laboured so promptly and liberally for this needful work, that they may always labour; and that in return for their good work you may present them in your sacrifices and prayers, I have subjoined the names of each one; and moreover also I have added the names of my colleagues and fellow-priests, who themselves also, as they were present, contributed some little according to their power, in their own names and the name of their people. And besides our own amount, I have intimated and sent their small sums, all of whom, in conformity with the claims of faith and charity, you ought to remember in your supplications and prayers. We bid you, dearest brethren, ever heartily farewell, and remember us.
- Oxford ed.: Ep. lxii. a.d. 253.
- It is probable that this captivity was the work of those barbarians against whom Decius went to war and was killed.
- 1 Cor. xii. 26.
- 2 Cor. xi. 29.
- 1 Cor. iii. 16.
- Gal. iii. 27.
- Matt. xxv. 36.
- [Primitive Christians were grateful for opportunities to distribute gifts. Rom. xii. 13.]
- [An immense contribution, for the times. In our money reckoned (for temp. Decii) at $3,757. For the Augustan age it would be $4,294. The text (sestertia) dubious. Ed. Paris.
- [The diptychs are here referred to; that is, lists (read at the Eucharist) in which benefactors, living or dead, were gratefully remembered. Anglice, “beadroll.”]