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correction of our evils and the trial of our faith by severe remedies.”
That a deep declension from christian purity had taken place not only in the east, where false philosophy aided its progress as we have seen, but also in the west, where the common influence of prosperity on human depravity alone appears, is now completely evident, and it deserves to be remarked, that the first grand and general declension, since the first out-pouring of the Divine Spirit, should be fixed about the middle of this century. The wisdom and goodness of God is alfo to be observed in first qualifying the bishop of Carthage by a strong perfonal work on his own heart, and then in railing him to the fee of Carthage to superintend the western part of his church in a time of trial like the present, which should operate as a wholesome medicine to revive the declining spirit of chriftianity, and which needed all that fortitude, zeal, and wisdom with which he was so eminently endowed.
In such a situation it is not to be expected that Cyprian's people would in general itand their ground; avarice had taken such deep root among them that vast numbers lapsed into idolatry immediately.
Even before men were accused as christians, many ran to the forum and sacrificed to the gods as they were ordered, and the crowds of them were so large * that the magistrates wished to defer a number of them till the next day, but were importuned by the wretched supplicants to allow them that night to prove themselves heathens.
At Rome the persecution raged with unremitting violence. There Fabian the bishop suffered, and for some time it became impracticable to elect a successor; and yet it does not appear that the
metropolis * Cypri, delaplis.
metropolis suffered more in proportion than some other places, since we find that the flame of perfecution had driven some bishops from distant provinces, who Aed for shelter to Rome* Cyprian, however, having been regularly informed by the Roman clergy of the martyrdom of their bishop, congratulated them on his glorious exit, I and exulted on occasion of his uprightness and integrity. He expresses the pleasure he conceived that his edifying example had so much penetrated their minds, and owns the energy which he felt to imitate the pattern.
Moyfes and Maximus, two Roman presbyters, with other confeffors, were also seized and imprisoned. Attempts were repeatedly made to persuade them to relinquish the faith, but in vain. Cyprian found means to write to them also a letter full of benevolence and breathing the strongest pathos t. He tells them that his heart was with them continually, that he prayed for them in his public ministry, and in private. He comforts them under the pressures of hunger and thirst which they endured, and congratulates them for living now not for this life, but for the next, and particularly because their example would be a means of confirming many who were in a wavering state. But Carthage soon became an unsafe scene to Cyprian himself. By repeated suffrages of the people at the theatre he was demanded to be taken and given to the lions; and it behoved him immediately either to retire into a place of fafety, or to expect the crown of martyrdom.
Cyprian's spirit in interpreting scripture was more simple, and more accommodated to receive its plain and obvious sense, than that of men who had learnt to refine and subtilize. He knew the liberty which his Divine Master had given to his people of fleeing, when they were persecuted in one city, to another, and he embraced it. Nay, he seems scarce to have thought it lawful to do otherwise. Even the lalt state of his martyrdom evinces this. His manner of enduring it when it providentially was brought on him sufficiently clears him of all suspicion of pufillanimity. To unite such seemingly opposite things as discretion and fortitude, each in a very high degree, is a sure characteristic of greatness in a christian, it is grace in its highest exercise. Pontius thinks it was not without a particular divine direction that he was moved to act in this manner for the benefit of the church. Behold hiin now safe, under God, from the arm of persecution, through the love of his people, in some place of retreat, for the space of two years, and let us next see how this time was employed.
liberty * Ep. 31. Pam. Edit. 1 Ep.4. † Ep. 16.
THE HISTORY OF CYPRIAN AND THE WESTERN
CHURCH DURING HIS RETIREMENT OF TWO
YPRIAN was never more active than in his
retreat. Nothing of moment occurred in ecclesiastical affairs either in Africa or in Italy with which he was not acquainted ; and his counsels under God were of the greatest influence in both countries. I shall endeavour to abbreviate the account from his own letters which were written in this period.
The presbyters of Carthage sent Clementius, a Tub-deacon, to Rome, from whom the Roman clergy learnt the retreat of the bishop. They, in return, express to the Africans their perfect agreement in opinion concerning the fact, because he was an eminent character, and a life extremely valuable to the church. They represent the conflict as very important, which God had now permitted, to try his servants, willing to manifeft both to angels and to men, that the conqueror shall be crowned, and the conquered be self-condemned. They express the deep sense which they had both of their own situation and that of the clergy of Carthage, whose duty it was to take care not to incur the censure passed on faithless shepherds in the prophet, but rather to imitate their Lord the good shepherd who laid down his life for the Theep I, and who so earnestly and repeatedly charges Simon Peter, as a proof of his love to his Master, to feed his sheept.
. We would not wish, dear brethren,” say they,“ to find you mere mercenaries, but good shepherds, since you know it must be highly sinful in you not to exhort the brethren to stand iinmoveable in the faith, left the brethren be totally subyerted by idolatry. Nor do we only in words thus exhort you, but, as you may learn from many who come from us to you, we have done, and still do, with the help of God, all these things with all solicitude and at the hazard of our lives, having before our eyes the fear of God and perpetual punishment, rather than the fear of men and a temporary calamity; not deserting the brethren, and exhorting them to stand in the faith, and to be ready to follow their Lord when called; we have also done our utmost to recover those who had gone up to facrifice to save their lives. Our church stands firm in the faith in general, though some overcome by terror, either because they were persons in high life, or were moved by the fear of man, have lapsed; yet these, though separated from us, we do not give up as loft altogether, but we exhort them to repent, if they may find mercy with him who is able to fave; left, by relinquishing them, we make them ftill more incurable.
their # Ezek. xxxiv. 3, 4. Joho x. t John xxi.
Thus, brethren, we would wish you also to do, as much as in you lies, exhorting the lapsed, should they be seized a second time, to confess their Sa. viour. And we suggest to you to receive again into communion any of these, if they heartily defire it, and give proofs of sound repentance. And certainly officers should be appointed to minister to the widows, the fick, those in prison, and those who are in a state of banishment. A special care should be exercifed over the catechumens, to preserve them from apostacy; and those whose duty it is to inter the dead ought to consider the interment of the martyrs as matter of indispensable obligation,
Certain we are, that those servants who shall be found to have been thus faithful in that which is least will have authority over ten cities *May God, who does all things for those who hope in him, grant that we may all be found thus diligently einployed! The brethren in bonds, the clergy, and the whole church salute you, all of us with earnest solicitude watching for all who call on the name of the Lord. And we beseech
in return, to be mindful of us also in your prayers.
Several observations offer themselves on this occasion. 1. It appears both at Rome and Carthage that the reduced mode of episcopacy was the form
of * Luke xix, 19.