Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume V/Cyprian/The Epistles of Cyprian/Part 64
To Rogatianus, Concerning the Deacon Who Contended Against the Bishop.
Argument.—Cyprian Warns the Bishop Rogatianus to Restrain the Pride of the Deacon Who Had Provoked Him with His Insults, and to Compel Him to Repent of His Boldness; Taking Occasion to Repeat Once More Whatever He Has Said in the Previous Letter, About the Sacerdotal or Episcopal Power.
1. Cyprian to his brother Rogatianus, greeting. I and my colleagues who were present with me were deeply and grievously distressed, dearest brother, on reading your letter in which you complained of your deacon, that, forgetful of your priestly station, and unmindful of his own office and ministry, he had provoked you by his insults and injuries. And you indeed have acted worthily, and with your accustomed humility towards us, in rather complaining of him to us; although you have power, according to the vigour of the episcopate and the authority of your See, whereby you might be justified on him at once, assured that all we your colleagues would regard it as a matter of satisfaction, whatever you should do by your priestly power in respect of an insolent deacon, as you have in respect of men of this kind divine commands. Inasmuch as the Lord God says in Deuteronomy, “And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest or the judge, whoever he shall be in those days, that man shall die; and all the people, when they hear, shall fear, and shall no more do impiously.” And that we may know that this voice of God came forth with His true and highest majesty to honour and avenge His priests; when three of the ministers—Korah, Dathan, and Abiram—dared to deal proudly, and to exalt their neck against Aaron the priest, and to equal themselves with the priest set over them; they were swallowed up and devoured by the opening of the earth, and so immediately suffered the penalty of their sacrilegious audacity. Nor they alone, but also two hundred and fifty others, who were their companions in boldness, were consumed by a fire breaking forth from the Lord, that it might be proved that God’s priests are avenged by Him who makes priests. In the book of Kings also, when Samuel the priest was despised by the Jewish people on account of his age, as you are now, the Lord in wrath exclaimed, and said, “They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me.” And that He might avenge this, He set over them Saul as a king, who afflicted them with grievous injuries, and trod on the people, and pressed down their pride with all insults and penalties, that the despised priest might be avenged by divine vengeance on a proud people.
2. Moreover also Solomon, established in the Holy Spirit, testifies and teaches what is the priestly authority and power, saying, “Fear the Lord with all thy soul, and reverence His priests;” and again, “Honour God with all thy soul, and honour His priests.” Mindful of which precepts, the blessed Apostle Paul, according to what we read in the Acts of the Apostles, when it was said to him, “Revilest thou thus God’s high priest?” answered and said, “I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.” Moreover, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, our King, and Judge, and God, even to the very day of His passion observed the honour to priests and high priests, although they observed neither the fear of God nor the acknowledgment of Christ. For when He had cleansed the leper, He said to him, “Go, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift.” With that humility which taught us also to be humble, He still called him a priest whom He knew to be sacrilegious; also under the very sting of His passion, when He had received a blow, and it was said to Him, “Answerest thou the high priest so?” He said nothing reproachfully against the person of the high priest, but rather maintained His own innocence saying, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou me?” All which things were therefore done by Him humbly and patiently, that we might have an example of humility and patience; for He taught that true priests were lawfully and fully to be honoured, in showing Himself such as He was in respect of false priests.
3. But deacons ought to remember that the Lord chose apostles, that is, bishops and overseers; while apostles appointed for themselves deacons after the ascent of the Lord into heaven, as ministers of their episcopacy and of the Church. But if we may dare anything against God who makes bishops, deacons may also dare against us by whom they are made; and therefore it behoves the deacon of whom you write to repent of his audacity, and to acknowledge the honour of the priest, and to satisfy the bishop set over him with full humility. For these things are the beginnings of heretics, and the origins and endeavours of evil-minded schismatics;—to please themselves, and with swelling haughtiness to despise him who is set over them. Thus they depart from the Church—thus a profane altar is set up outside—thus they rebel against the peace of Christ, and the appointment and the unity of God. But if, further, he shall harass and provoke you with his insults, you must exercise against him the power of your dignity, by either deposing him or excommunicating him. For if the Apostle Paul, writing to Timothy, said, “Let no man despise thy youth,” how much rather must it be said by your colleagues to you, “Let no man despise thy age? And since you have written, that one has associated himself with that same deacon of yours, and is a partaker of his pride and boldness, you may either restrain or excommunicate him also, and any others that may appear of a like disposition, and act against God’s priest. Unless, as we exhort and advise, they should rather perceive that they have sinned and make satisfaction, and suffer us to keep our own purpose; for we rather ask and desire to overcome the reproaches and injuries of individuals by clemency and patience, than to punish them by our priestly power. I bid you, dearest brother, ever heartily farewell.
- Oxford ed.: Ep. iii.
- At what time this letter was written is uncertain, unless we may gather from the similar commencement in both letters, that it was written at the same synod with the following one. Perhaps a.d. 249.
- Deut. xvii. 12, 13.
- [i.e., Levites—deacons. But Korah and the Levites (Num. xvi. 9, 10) must be regarded apart from the Reubenites (laics) who sinned with them. Jude 11.]
- 1 Sam. viii. 7.
- Ecclus. vii. 29.
- Ecclus. vii. 31.
- Acts xxiii. 4, 5.
- Matt. viii. 4.
- John xviii. 23.
- [This is the Cyprianic theory.]
- 1 Tim. iv. 12.
- [See letter liv. sec. 16, p. 345, supra.]