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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 епету. 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 getyrdom. neral cry of We will die with him, arose at once
* Pontius (c. 15.) acknowledges that Cyprian, with whom he supped, passed the night custodia delicata. The bishop exercised a last and very proper act of jurisdiction, by directing that the younger females, who watched in the streets, should be removed from the dangers and temptations of a nocturnal crowd. Act. Proconsularia, c. 2.
• See the original sentence in the Acts. C. 4, and in Pontius, c. 17. The latter expresses it in a more rhetorical manner.
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 splended 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.
It was in the choice of Cyprian, either to die
a martyr, or to live an apostate; but on that tyrdom. 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
Pontius, c. 19. M. de Tillemont (Memoires, tom. 4. part 1. p. 450, note 50.) is not pleased with so positive an exclusion of any former martyrs of the episcopal
Various incitements to mar
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 wbich 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
u 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 Lyttleton's History of Henry JI. vol. 2. p. 592, &c.
* See in particular the treatise of Cyprian de Lapsis, p. 87-98. edit. Fell. The learning of Dodwell,(Dissertat. Cyprianic. 12, 13.) and the ingenuity of Middleton, (Free Inquiry, p. 162, &c.) have left scarcely any thing to add concerning the merit, the honours, and the motives, of the martyrs.
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 preeminence which their zeal and intrepidity had acquired.' Distinctions like these, whilst they displayed the exalted merit, betrayed 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 Sulpicious 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 ampitheatre, 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
5 Cyprian. Epistol. 5-7. 22. 24. and de Unitat. Ecclesiæ. The number of pretended martyrs has been very much multiplied, by the custom which was introduced of bestowing that honourable name on confessors.
2 Certatim gloriosa in certamina ruebatur ; multoque avidius tum martyria gloriosis mortibus quærebantur, quam nunc episcopatus pravis ambitionibus appetuntur. Sulpicius Saverus, lib. 2. He might have omitted the word nunc.
Ardour of the first Christians.
death. Some stories are related of the courage of martyrs, who actually performed what Ignatius had intended; who exasperated the fury of the lions, pressed the executioner to hasten his office, cheerfully leaped into the fires which were kindled to consume them, and discovered a sensation of joy and pleasure in the midst of the most exquisite tortures. Several examples have been preserved of a zeal impatient of those restraints which the emperors had provided for the security of the church. The Christians sometimes supplied by their voluntary declaration the want of an accuser, rudely disturbed the public service of Paganism, and, rushing in crowds round the tribunal of the magistrates, called upon to pronounce and to inflict the sentence of the law. The behaviour of the Christians was too remarkable to escape the notice of the ancient philosophers; but they seem to have considered it with much less admiration than astonishment. Incapable of conceiving the motives which sometimes transported the fortitude of believers beyond the bounds of prudence or reason, they treated such an eagerness to die as the strange result of obstinate despair, of stupid insensibility, or of superstitious frenzy." Unhappy men! (exclaimed the procunsul Antoninus to the Christians of Asia) unhappy men! if you are thus weary of your lives, is it so difficult for you to find ropes and precipices?' He was extremely cautious (as it is observed by a learned and pious historian) of punishing men who had found no accusers but them
a See Epis. ad Roman. c. 4, 5. ap. Patres Apostol, tom. 2. p. 27. It suited the purpose of bishop Pearson (See Vindiciæ Ignatianæ, part 2. c. 9.) to justify, by a profusion of examples and authorities, the sentiments of Ignatius.
• The story of Polyeuctes, on which Corneille has founded a very beautiful tragedy, is one of the most celebrated, though not perhaps the most authentic, instances of this excessive zeal. We should observe, that the sixteenth canon of the council of Illiberis refuses the title of martyrs to those who exposed themselves to death, by publicly destroying the idols.
• See Epictetus, lib. 4. c. 7. (though there is some doubt whether he alludes to the Christians.) Marcus Antoninus de Rebus suis, lib. 11. c. 3. Lucian in Peregrin.
& Tertullian ad Scapul. c. 5. The leamed are divided between three persons of the same name, who were all proconsuls of Asia. I am inclined to ascribe this story to Antoninus Pius, who was afterward emperor, and who may have governed Asia under the reign of Trajan.