Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume V/Cyprian/The Epistles of Cyprian/Part 65
To the Clergy and People Abiding at Furni, About Victor, Who Had Made the Presbyter Faustinus a Guardian.
Argument.—Since, Against the Decision of a Council of Bishops, Geminius Victor Had Named in His Will Geminius Faustinus the Presbyter as His Guardian or Curator, He Forbids that Offering Should Be Made for Him, or that the Sacrifice Should Be Celebrated for His Repose, Inferring by the Way, from the Example of the Levitical Tribe, that Clerics Ought Not to Mix Themselves Up in Secular Cares.
1. Cyprian to the presbyters, and deacons, and people abiding at Furni, greeting. I and my colleagues who were present with me were greatly disturbed, dearest brethren, as were also our fellow-presbyters who sate with us, when we were made aware that Geminius Victor, our brother, when departing this life, had named Geminius Faustinus the presbyter executor to his will, although long since it was decreed, in a council of the bishops, that no one should appoint any of the clergy and the ministers of God executor or guardian by his will, since every one honoured by the divine priesthood, and ordained in the clerical service, ought to serve only the altar and sacrifices, and to have leisure for prayers and supplications. For it is written: “No man that warreth for God entangleth himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please Him to whom he has pledged himself.” As this is said of all men, how much rather ought those not to be bound by worldly anxieties and involvements, who, being busied with divine and spiritual things, are not able to withdraw from the Church, and to have leisure for earthly and secular doings! The form of which ordination and engagement the Levites formerly observed under the law, so that when the eleven tribes divided the land and shared the possessions, the Levitical tribe, which was left free for the temple and the altar, and for the divine ministries, received nothing from that portion of the division; but while others cultivated the soil, that portion only cultivated the favour of God, and received the tithes from the eleven tribes, for their food and maintenance, from the fruits which grew. All which was done by divine authority and arrangement, so that they who waited on divine services might in no respect be called away, nor be compelled to consider or to transact secular business. Which plan and rule is now maintained in respect of the clergy, that they who are promoted by clerical ordination in the Church of the Lord may be called off in no respect from the divine administration, nor be tied down by worldly anxieties and matters; but in the honour of the brethren who contribute, receiving as it were tenths of the fruits, they may not withdraw from the altars and sacrifices, but may serve day and night in heavenly and spiritual things.
2. The bishops our predecessors religiously considering this, and wholesomely providing for it, decided that no brother departing should name a cleric for executor or guardian; and if any one should do this, no offering should be made for him, nor any sacrifice be celebrated for his repose. For he does not deserve to be named at the altar of God in the prayer of the priests, who has wished to call away the priests and ministers from the altar. And therefore, since Victor, contrary to the rule lately made in council by the priests, has dared to appoint Geminius Faustinus, a presbyter, his executor, it is not allowed that any offering be made by you for his repose, nor any prayer be made in the church in his name, that so the decree of the priests, religiously and needfully made, may be kept by us; and, at the same time, an example be given to the rest of the brethren, that no one should call away to secular anxieties the priests and ministers of God who are occupied with the service of His altar and Church. For care will probably be taken in time to come that this happen not with respect to the person of clerics any more, if what has now been done has been punished. I bid you, dearest brethren, ever heartily farewell.
- Oxford ed.: Ep. i. a.d. 249.
- The Oxford translator notes here that the Roman law did not permit this office be declined.
- 2 Tim. ii. 4. [Are not these primitive ideas a needed admonition to our times?]
- “Pro dormitione ejus.” Goldhorn observes here, rather needlessly, that it was unlucky among the ancient Christians to speak of death. [They counted death as a falling asleep, and the grave as a cœmeterium; and this prayer for the repose of the righteous was strictly such, that they might “rest from their labours,” till, in the resurrection and not before, they should receive their consummation and reward.]