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divine admonitions which, as he declares himself, he frequently : received in visions and ecstacies, were the reasons alleged in his justification.” But his best apology may be found in the cheerful resolution with which, about eight years afterwards, he suffered death in the cause of religion. The authentic history : of his martyrdom has been recorded with unusual candour and impartiality. A short abstract, therefore, of its most important circumstances will convey the clearest information of the spirit, and of the forms, of the Roman persecutions.” o When Valerian was consul for the third, and Gallienus for . the fourth, time, Paternus, proconsul of Africa, summoned Cyprian to appear in his private council-chamber. He there : acquainted him with the Imperial mandate which he had just received,” that those who had abandoned the Roman religion should immediately return to the practice of the ceremonies of their ancestors. Cyprian replied without hesitation that he was a Christian and a bishop, devoted to the worship of the true and only Deity, to whom he offered up his daily supplications for the safety and prosperity of the two emperors, his lawful sovereigns. 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 Zeugitana, 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
(Col. Julia; now Kurba)
*See Cyprian, Epist. 16, and his life by Pontius. [Cp. Epp. 7, 12, 14, 43.]
*We have an original life of Cyprian by the deacon Pontius, the companion of his exile, and the spectator of his death; and we likewise possess the ancient proconsular acts of his martyrdom. These two relations are consistent with each other and with probability; and, what is somewhat remarkable, they are both unsullied by any miraculous circumstances.
81 It should seem that these were circular orders, sent at the same time to all the governors. Dionysius (ap. Euseb. 1. vii. c. 11) relates the history of his own banishment from Alexandria almost in the same manner. But, as he escaped and ë. the persecution, we must account him either more or less fortunate than
*See Plin. Hist. Natur. v. 3. Cellarius, Geograph, Antiq. part iii. p. 96. Shaw's Travels, p. 9o; 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 [Kurba; Korbes is Col. Iulia Karpis]; and Dr. Shaw read an inscription [C.I.L. 8, 98o], which styles that city Colonia Fulvia [not Fulvia, but Iulia). 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".
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 first appre-His gonden
hended, Galerius Maximus, proconsul of Africa, received the top. Imperial warrant for the execution of the Christian teachers. The bishop of Carthage 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,
*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.
*[But cp. Ep. 83.]
87 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.
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 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. As soon as the sentence was proclaimed, a general 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 five-and-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 of Africa Cyprian was the first who was esteemed worthy to obtain the crown of martyrdom.”
88See the original sentence in the Acts, c. 4, and in Pontius, c. 17. The latter expresses it in a more rhetorical manner.
* Pontius, c. 19. M. de Tillemont (Mémoires, tom. iv. part i. p. 450, note 5o) is not pleased with so positive an exclusion of any former martyrs of the episcopal rank.
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 instrument of his avarice or ambition, it was still incumbent on him to support the character which he had assumed; * 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, the apostles, and the prophets, they reigned with 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 readily censure than admire, but can more easily admire than imitate, the fervour of the first Christians; who, according to the lively expression of Sulpicius Severus, desired martyrdom with more eagerness than his own contemporaries solicited a bishopric.” The epistles which Ignatius composed as he was carried in chains through the cities of Asia breathe sentiments the most repugnant to the ordinary feelings of human nature. He earnestly beseeches the Romans that, when he should be exposed in the amphitheatre, they would not, by their kind but unseasonable intercession, deprive him of the crown of glory; and he declares his resolution to provoke and irritate the wild beasts which might be employed as the instruments of his death.” Some stories are related of the courage of martyrs
99 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.
91See, 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. [In the Decian persecution, many Christians had lapsed or denied their faith , cp. Cyprian Epp. 11, 34, 59, &c. Afterwards the question arose as to their being received back into the church. Some were ready to receive them by indulgences from confessors and martyrs; but there was another party (strong at Rome) which strenuously opposed this policy. Cyprian took a moderate view, and the First Council of Carthage decided that the church could remit all such offences, but that the indulgences of martyrs were ineffectual. The leading representative of the rigorous view was Novatian. The controversy was a precursor of the great Donatist schism, which turned on the same question of church discipline, see c. xxi. Cp. below, n. IoI and n. 104.]
Various incitements to martyrdom
ardour of the first Christians
* 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.
* Certatim gloriosa in certamina ruebatur; multoque avidius tum inartyria gloriosis mortibus quaerebantur, quam nunc Episcopatus pravis ambitionibus appetuntur. Sulpicius Severus, l. ii. He might have omitted the word nunc.
*See Epist. ad Roman. c. 4, 5, ap. Patres Apostol, tom. ii. p. 27. It suited the purpose of Bishop Pearson (see Vindiciae Ignatianae, part il. c. 9) to justify, by a profusion of examples and authorities, the sentinents of Ignatius.