Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

he offered up his daily supplications for the safety CHAP. and prosperity of the two emperors, his lawful sove- XVI. reigns. With modest confidence he pleaded the privilege of a citizen, in refusing to give any answer to some invidious and indeed illegal questions which the proconsul had proposed. A sentence of banishment was pronounced as the penalty of Cyprian's disobedience; and he was conducted without delay to Curubis, a free and maritime city of Zeugitania, in a pleasant situation, a fertile territory, and at the distance of about forty miles from Carthage." The exiled bishop enjoyed the conveniencies of life and the consciousness of virtue. His reputation was diffused over Africa and Italy; an account of his behaviour was published for the edification of the Christian world;" and his solitude was frequently interrupted by the letters, the visits, and the congratulations, of the faithful. On the arrival of a new proconsul in the province, the fortune of Cyprian appeared for some time to wear a still more favourable aspect. He was recalled from banishment; and though not yet permitted to return to Carthage, his own gardens in the neighbourhood of the capital were assigned for the place of his residence." At length, exactly one year" after Cyprian was His con

[ocr errors]

first apprehended, Galerius Maximus, proconsul of .

* See Plin. Hist. Natur. v. 3. Cellarius, Geograph. Antiq. part iii. p. 96. Shaw's Travels, p. 90; and for the adjacent country (which is terminated by Cape Bona, or the promontory of Mercury), l'Afrique de Marmol. tom. ii. p. 494. There are the remains of an aqueduct near Curubis, or Curbis, at present altered into Gurbes; and Dr. Shaw read an inscription, which styles that city Colonia Fulvia. The deacon Pontius (in Vit. Cyprian. c. 12) calls it “Apricum et competentem locum, hospitium pro voluntate secretum, et quicquid apponi eis ante promissum est, qui regnum et justitiam Dei quaerunt.” * See Cyprian. Epistol. 77. Edit. Fell. * Upon his conversion, he had sold those gardens for the benefit of the poor. The indulgence of God (most probably the liberality of some Christian friend) restored them to Cyprian. See Pontius, c. 15. * When Cyprian, a twelvemonth before, was sent into exile, he dreamt that he should be put to death the next day. The event made it necessary to explain that word as signifying a year. Pontius, c. 12.

O Q

CHAP. Africa, received the imperial warrant for the execu

XVI.

tion of the Christian teachers. The bishop of Car

thage was sensible that he should be singled out for one of the first victims; and the frailty of nature tempted him to withdraw himself by a secret flight, from the danger and the honour of martyrdom: but soon recovering that fortitude which his character required, he returned to his gardens, and patiently expected the ministers of death. Two officers of rank, who were intrusted with that commission, placed Cyprian between them in a chariot; and as the proconsul was not then at leisure, they conducted him, not to a prison, but to a private house in Carthage, which belonged to one of them. An elegant supper was provided for the entertainment of the bishop, and his Christian friends were permitted for the last time to enjoy his society, whilst the streets were filled with a multitude of the faithful, anxious and alarmed at the approaching fate of their spiritual father." In the morning he appeared before the tribunal of the proconsul, who, after, informing himself of the name and situation of Cyprian, commanded him to offer sacrifice, and pressed him to reflect on the consequences of his disobedience. The refusal of Cyprian was firm and decisive; and the magistrate, when he had taken the opinion of his council, pronounced with some reluctance the sentence of death. It was conceived in the following terms: “That Thascius Cyprianus should be immediately beheaded, as the enemy of the gods of Rome, and as the chief and ringleader of a criminal association, which he had seduced into an impious resistance against the laws of the most holy emperors, Valerian and Gallienus.” The manner of his execution was the chAP.

* Pontius (c. 15) acknowledges that Cyprian, with whom he supped, passed the night custodia delicatā. The bishop exercised a last and very proper act of jurisdiction, by directing that the younger females, who watched in the street,

should be removed from the dangers and temptations of a nocturnal crowd. Act. Proconsularia, c. 2.

mildest and least painful that could be inflicted on a person convicted of any capital offence; nor was the use of torture admitted to obtain from the bishop of Carthage either the recantation of his principles, or the discovery of his accomplices.

XVI.

As soon as the sentence was proclaimed, a general His mar

cry of “We will die with him,” arose at once among the listening multitude of Christians who waited before the palace gates. The generous effusions of their zeal and affection were neither serviceable to Cyprian nor dangerous to themselves. He was led away under a guard of tribunes and centurions, without resistance and without insult, to the place of his execution, a spacious and level plain near the city, which was already filled with great numbers of spectators. His faithful presbyters and deacons were permitted to accompany their holy bishop. They assisted him in laying aside his upper garment, spread linen on the ground to catch the precious relics of his blood, and received his orders to bestow fiveand-twenty pieces of gold on the executioner. The martyr then covered his face with his hands, and at one blow his head was separated from his body. His corpse remained during some hours exposed to the curiosity of the Gentiles: but in the night it was removed, and transported in a triumphal procession, and with a splendid illumination, to the burial-place of the Christians. The funeral of Cyprian was publicly celebrated without receiving any interruption from the Roman magistrates; and those among the faithful, who had performed the last offices to his person and his memory, were secure from the danger of inquiry or of punishment. It is remarkable, that

of so great a multitude of bishops in the province

i See the original sentence in the Acts, c. 4, and in Pontius, c. 17. The latter expresses it in a more rhetorical manner.

[ocr errors]

CHAP.

XVI.

Various incitements to martyrdom.

of Africa, Cyprian was the first who was esteemed
worthy to obtain the crown of martyrdom.'
It was in the choice of Cyprian, either to die a
martyr, or to live an apostate: but on that choice
depended the alternative of honour or infamy. Could
we suppose that the bishop of Carthage had employed
the profession of the Christian faith only as the instru-
ment of his avarice or ambition, it was still incumbent

on him to support the character which he had as

sumed;" and, if he possessed the smallest degree of manly fortitude, rather to expose himself to the most cruel tortures, than by a single act to exchange the reputation of a whole life, for the abhorrence of his Christian brethren, and the contempt of the Gentile world. But if the zeal of Cyprian was supported by the sincere conviction of the truth of those doctrines which he preached, the crown of martyrdom must have appeared to him as an object of desire rather than of terror. It is not easy to extract any distinct

ideas from the vague though eloquent declamations

of the fathers, or to ascertain the degree of immortal glory and happiness which they confidently promised to those who were so fortunate as to shed their blood in the cause of religion.' They inculcated with becoming diligence, that the fire of martyrdom supplied every defect and expiated every sin; that while the souls of ordinary Christians were obliged to pass through a slow and painful purification, the triumphant sufferers entered into the immediate fruition of eternal bliss, where, in the society of the patriarchs, CHAP. - - - XVI. the apostles, and the prophets, they reigned with " ' "

j Pontius, c. 19. M. de Tillemont (Memoires, tom. iv. part. i. p. 450, note 50) is not pleased with so positive an exclusion of any former martyrs of the episcopal rank.

* Whatever opinion we may entertain of the character or principles of Thomas Becket, we must acknowledge that he suffered death with a constancy not unworthy of the primitive martyrs. See Lord Lyttelton's History of Henry II. vol. ii. p. 592, &c.

* See in particular the treatise of Cyprian de Lapsis, p. 87–98. Edit. Fell. The learning of Dodwell (Dissertat. Cyprianic. xii. xiii.) and the ingenuity of Middleton (Free Inquiry, p. 162, &c.) have left scarcely anything to add concerning the merit, the honours, and the motives of the martyrs.

Christ, and acted as his assessors in the universal judgment of mankind. The assurance of a lasting reputation upon earth, a motive so congenial to the vanity of human nature, often served to animate the courage of the martyrs. The honours which Rome or Athens bestowed on those citizens who had fallen in the cause of their country were cold and unmeaning demonstrations of respect, when compared with the ardent gratitude and devotion which the primitive church expressed towards the victorious champions of the faith. The annual commemoration of their virtues and sufferings was observed as a sacred ceremony, and at length terminated in religious worship. Among the Christians who had publicly confessed their religious principles, those, who (as it very frequently happened) had been dismissed from the tribunal or the prisons of the Pagan magistrates, obtained such honours as were justly due to their imperfect martyrdom, and their generous resolution. The most pious females courted the permission of imprinting kisses on the fetters which they had worn, and on the wounds which they had received. Their persons were esteemed holy, their decisions were admitted with deference, and they too often abused, by their spiritual pride and licentious manners, the pre-eminence which their zeal and intrepidity had acquired." Distinctions like these, whilst they display the exalted merit, betray the inconsiderable number of those who suffered, and of those who died, for the profession of Christianity.

The sober discretion of the present age will more Ardour of

- - ... the first readily censure than admire, but can more easily .

* Cyprian. Epistol. 5, 6, 7. 22. 24. and de Unitat. Ecclesiae. The number of pretended martyrs has been very much multiplied, by the custom which was introduced of bestowing that honourable name on confessors.

allS.

« ForrigeFortsett »