Fathers of the Church
Epistle XV: to Moyses and Maximus, and the Rest of the Confessors
by Cyprian of Carthage in Circa 250 A.D. | translated by Unknown
[Argument.—The burden of this letter is given in epistle XXXI. Below, where the Roman clergy say: "On which subject we owe you, and give you our deepest and abundant thanks, that you threw light into the gloom of their prison by your letters."]
1. Cyprian to Moyses and Maximus, the presbyters and the other confessors, his brethren, greeting. Celerinus, a companion both of your faith and virtue, and God's soldier in glorious engagements, has come to me, beloved brethren, and represented all of you, as well as each individual, forcibly to my affection. I beheld in him, when he came, the whole of you; and when he spoke sweetly and often of your love to me, in his words I heard you. I rejoice very greatly when such things are brought to me from you by such men as he. In a certain manner I am also there with you in prison. I think that I who am thus bound to your hearts, enjoy with you the delights of the divine approval. Your individual love associates me with your honour; the Spirit does not allow our love to be separated. Confession shuts you up in prison; affection shuts me up there. And I indeed, remembering you day and night, both when in the sacrifices I offer prayer with many, and when in retirement I pray with private petition, beseech of the Lord a full acknowledgment to your crowns and your praises. But my poor ability is too weak to recompense you; you give more when you remember me in prayer, since, already breathing only celestial things, and meditating only divine things, you ascend to loftier heights, even by the delay of your suffering; and by the long lapse of time, are not wasting, but increasing your glory. A first and single confession makes blessed; you confess as often as, when asked to retire from prison, you prefer the prison with faith and virtue; your praises are as numerous as the days; as the months roll onward, ever your merits increase. He conquers once who suffers at once; but he who continues always battling with punishments, and is not overcome with suffering, is daily crowned.
2. Now, therefore, let magistrates and consuls or proconsuls go by; let them glory in the ensigns of their yearly dignity, and in their twelve fusees. Behold, the heavenly dignity in you is sealed by the brightness of a year's honour, and already, in the continuance of its victorious glory, has passed over the rolling circle of the returning year. The rising sun and the waning moon enlightened the world; but to you, He who made the sun and moon was a greater light in your dungeon, and the brightness of Christ glowing in your hearts and minds, irradiated with that eternal and brilliant light the gloom of the place of punishment, which to others was so horrible and deadly. The winter has passed through the vicissitudes of the months; but you, shut up in prison, were undergoing, instead of the inclemencies of winter, the winter of persecution. To the winter succeeded the mildness of spring, rejoicing with roses and crowned with flowers; but to you were present roses and flowers from the delights of paradise, and celestial garlands wreathed your brows. Behold, the summer is fruitful with the fertility of the harvest, and the threshing-floor is filled with grain; but you who have sown glory, reap the fruit of glory, and, placed in the Lord's threshing-floor, behold the chaff burnt up with unquenchable fire; yon yourselves as grains of wheat, winnowed and precious corn, now purged and garnered, regard the dwelling-place of a prison as your granary. Nor is there wanting to the autumn spiritual grace for discharging the duties of the season. The vintage is pressed out of doors, and the grape which shall hereafter flow into the cups is trodden in the presses. You, rich bunches out of the Lord's vineyard, and branches with fruit already ripe, trodden by the tribulation of worldly pressure, fill your wine-press in the torturing prison, and shed your blood instead of wine; brave to bear suffering, you willingly drink the cup of martyrdom. Thus the year rolls on with the Lord's servants,—thus is celebrated the vicissitude of the seasons with spiritual deserts, and with celestial rewards.
3. Abundantly blessed are they who, from your number, passing through these footprints of glory, have already departed from the world; and, having finished their journey of virtue and faith, have attained to the embrace and the kiss of the Lord, to the joy of the Lord Himself. But yet your glory is not less, who are still engaged in contest, and, about to follow the glories of your comrades, are long waging the battle, and with an unmoved and unshaken faith standing fast, are daily exhibiting in your virtues a spectacle in the sight of God. The longer is your strife, the loftier will be your crown. The struggle is one, but it is crowded with a manifold multitude of contests; you conquer hunger, and despise thirst, and tread under foot the squalor of the dungeon, and the horror of the very abode of punishment, by the vigour of your courage. Punishment is there subdued; torture is worn out; death is not feared but desired, being overcome by the reward of immortality, so that he who has conquered is crowned with eternity of life. What now must be the mind in you, how elevated, how large the heart, when such and so great things are resolved, when nothing but the precepts of God and the rewards of Christ are considered! The will is then only God's will; and although you are still placed in the flesh, it is the life not of the present world, but of the future, that you now live.
4. It now remains, beloved brethren, that you should be mindful of me; that, among your great and divine considerations, you should also think of me in your mind and spirit; and that I should be in your prayers and supplications, when that voice, which is illustrious by the purification of confession, and praiseworthy for the continual tenor of its honour, penetrates to God's ears, and heaven being open to it, passes from these regions of the world subdued, to the realms above, and obtains from the Lord's goodness even what it asks. For what do you ask from the Lord's mercy which you do not deserve to obtain?—you who have thus observed the Lord's commands, who have maintained the Gospel discipline with the simple vigour of your faith, who, with the glory of your virtue uncorrupted, have stood bravely by the Lord's commands, and by His apostles, and have confirmed the wavering faith of many by the truth of your martyrdom? Truly, Gospel witnesses, and truly, Christ's martyrs, resting upon His roots, founded with strong foundation upon the Rock, you have joined discipline with virtue, you have brought others to the fear of God, you have made your martyrdoms, examples. I bid you, brethren, very brave and beloved, ever heartily farewell; and remember me.
Taken from "The Early Church Fathers and Other Works" originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. in English in Edinburgh, Scotland beginning in 1867. (ANF 5, Roberts and Donaldson). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.