Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume V/Cyprian/The Epistles of Cyprian/Part 82
To the Clergy and People Concerning His Retirement, a Little Before His Martyrdom.
Argument.—When, Near the End of His Life, Cyprian, on Returning to His Gardens, Was Told that Messengers Were Sent to Take Him for Punishment to Utica, He Withdrew. And Lest It Should Be Thought that He Had Done So from Fear of Death, He Gives the Reason in This Letter, Viz., that He Might Undergo His Martyrdom Nowhere Else Than at Carthage, in the Sight of His Own People. a.d. 258.
1. Cyprian to the presbyters and deacons, and all the people, greeting. When it had been told to us, dearest brethren, that the gaolers had been sent to bring me to Utica, and I had been persuaded by the counsel of those dearest to me to withdraw for a time from my gardens, as a just reason was afforded I consented. For the reason that it is fit for a bishop, in that city in which he presides over the Church of the Lord, there to confess the Lord, and that the whole people should be glorified by the confession of their prelate in their presence. For whatever, in that moment of confession, the confessor-bishop speaks, he speaks in the mouth of all, by inspiration of God. But the honour of our Church, glorious as it is, will be mutilated if I, a bishop placed over another church, receiving my sentence or my confession at Utica, should go thence as a martyr to the Lord, when indeed, both for my own sake and yours, I pray with continual supplications, and with all my desires entreat, that I may confess among you, and there suffer, and thence depart to the Lord even as I ought. Therefore here in a hidden retreat I await the arrival of the proconsul returning to Carthage, that I may hear from him what the emperors have commanded upon the subject of Christian laymen and bishops, and may say what the Lord will wish to be said at that hour.
2. But do you, dearest brethren, according to the discipline which you have ever received from me out of the Lord’s commands, and according to what you have so very often learnt from my discourse, keep peace and tranquillity; nor let any of you stir up any tumult for the brethren, or voluntarily offer himself to the Gentiles. For when apprehended and delivered up, he ought to speak, inasmuch as the Lord abiding in us speaks in that hour, who willed that we should rather confess than profess. But for the rest, what it is fitting that we should observe before the proconsul passes sentence on me for the confession of the name of God, we will with the instruction of the Lord arrange in common. May our Lord make you, dearest brethren, to remain safe in His Church, and condescend to keep you. So be it through His mercy.
- Oxford ed.: Ep. lxxxi. [Cyprian’s contest with Stephen is practically valueless as to the point at issue between them (see supra, p. 396), but it throws a flood of light on the questions raised by papal pretensions. It also illuminates the anti-Nicene doctrine of unity.]
- Or, “commissaries.”
- [Matt. x. 19. There is something sublime in the martyr’s reliance upon this word of Jesus. See sec. 2, infra, and Elucidation XXII.]
- [Recur to the passion of this holy martyr as related by Pontius, his deacon, p. 390. Stephen had broken communion with him (see p. 390 note) and the African provinces, which had no effect upon his Catholic status. (See letter of Firmillian, p. 391 note.) But, on the Roman theory, this glorious martyr died in schism. He is, nevertheless, a canonized saint in the Roman Calendar. Elucidation XXII.]