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Fathers of the Church

Epistle LVII: to Lucius the Bishop of Rome, Returned from Banishment


[Argument.—Cyprian, with his colleagues, congratulates Lucius on his return from exile, reminding him that martyrdom deferred does not make the glory less. Then, pointing out that the martyrdom of Cornelius and the banishment of Lucius had happened by divine direction, for the confusion of the Novatians, he foretells to him his own impending martyrdom, God so ordaining it that it should be consummated not away from home, but among his own people.]


Pope Cornelius died soon after his exile to Centumcellae under the persecution of Gallus and Volusianus. He was succeeded by Lucius, who was immediately exiled to the same place after his election, but was soon allowed to return to Rome. In this epistle, Cyprian mentions the Novatians, a schismatic group under the antipope Novatian. During the recent Decian persecution, they issued general indulgences to allow lapsed Christians to return to communion with the Church in disobedience to Cyprian's request that they wait until a council could be held. Even after the end of that persecution, the Novatians continued to spread confusion throughout different Christian communities, setting up their own clergy and teaching false ideas.

by Cyprian of Carthage in 254 A.D. | translated by Unknown

1. Cyprian, with his colleagues, to Lucius his brother, greeting. We had lately also congratulated you indeed, dearest brother, when the divine condescension, by a double honour, appointed you in the administration of God's Church; as well a confessor as a priest. But now also we no less congratulate you and your companions, and the whole fraternity, that the benignant and liberal protection of the Lord has brought. you back again to His own with the same glory, and with praises to you; that so the shepherd might be restored to feed his flock, and the pilot to manage the ship, and the ruler to govern the people; and that it might appear that your banishment was so divinely arranged, not that the bishop banished and driven away should be wanting to the Church, but that he should return to the Church greater than he had left it.

2. For the dignity of martyrdom was not the less in the case of the three youths, because, their death being frustrated, they came forth safe from the fiery furnace; nor did Daniel stand forth uncompleted in the praise he deserved, because, when he had been sent to the lions for a prey, he was protected by the Lord, and lived to glory. Among confessors of Christ, martyrdoms deferred do not diminish the merits of confession, but show forth the greatness of divine protection. We see represented in you what the brave and illustrious youths announced before the king that they indeed were prepared to be burnt in the flames, that they might not serve his gods, nor worship the image which he had made; but that the God whom they worshipped, and whom we also worship, was able even to rescue them from the fiery furnace, and to deliver them from the hands of the king, and from imminent sufferings. This we now find carried out in the faith of your confession, and in the Lord's protection over you; so that while you were prepared and ready to undergo all punishment, yet the Lord withdrew you from punishment, and preserved you for the Church. In your return the dignity of his confession has not been abridged in the bishop, but the priestly authority has rather increased; so that a priest is assisting at the altar of God, who exhorts the people to take up the arms of confession, and to submit to martyrdom not by his words, but by his deeds; and, now that Antichrist is near, prepares the soldiers for the battle, not only by the urgency of his speech and his words, but by the example of his faith and courage.

3. We understand, dearest brother, and we perceive with the whole light of our heart, the salutary and holy plans of the divine majesty, whence the sudden persecution lately arose there—whence the secular power suddenly broke forth against the Church of Christ and the bishop Cornelius, the blessed martyr, and all of you; so that, for the confusion and beating down of heretics, the Lord might show which was the Church —which is its one bishop chosen by divine appointment—which presbyters are associated with the bishop in priestly honour—which is the united and true people of Christ, linked together in the love of the Lord's flock—who they were whom the enemy would harass; whom, on the other hand, the devil would spare as being his own. For Christ's adversary does not persecute and attack any except Christ's camp and soldiers; heretics, once prostrated and made his own, he despises and passes by. He seeks to cast down those whom he sees to stand.

4. And I wish, dearest brother, that the power were now given us to be with you there on your return, that we ourselves, who love you with mutual love, might, being present with the rest, also receive the very joyous fruit of your coming. What exultation among all the brethren there; what running together and embracing of each one as they arrive! Scarcely can you be satisfied with the kisses of those who cling to you; scarcely can the very faces and eyes of the people be satiated with seeing. At the joy of your coming the brotherhood there has begun to recognise what and how great a joy will follow when Christ shall come. For because His advent will quickly approach, a kind of representation has now gone before in you; that just as John, His forerunner and preparer of His way, came and preached that Christ had come, so, now that a bishop returns as a confessor of the Lord, and His priest, it appears that the Lord also is now returning. But I and my colleagues, and all the brotherhood, send this letter to you in the stead of us, dearest brother; and setting forth to you by our letter our joy, we express the faithful inclination of our love here also in our sacrifices and our prayers, not ceasing to give thanks to God the Father, and to Christ His Son our Lord; and as well to pray as to entreat, that He who is perfect, and makes perfect, will keep and perfect in you the glorious crown of your confession, who perchance has called you back for this purpose, that your glory should not be hidden, if the martyrdom of your confession should be consummated away from home. For the victim which affords an example to the brotherhood both of courage and of faith, ought to be offered up when the brethren are present. We bid you, dearest brother, ever heartily farewell.

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.

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