THE LIFE OF CECIL CYPRIAN
1. Although Cyprian, a devout Bishop and God’s glorious witness, wrote many works to perpetuate the memory of his worthy name, and although the abundant fruitfulness of his eloquence, and God’s grace, is diffused through the copiousness and richness of his words in such a way that even to the end of the world, he probably will never be silent, we have decided to write briefly about him. This privilege is proper to his works and merits, not because such a great man’s life may be unknown to anyone, even to the pagans, but so that his incomparable and noble example may attain immortal remembrance among our posterity and that according to his example they, too, may be guided in learning. Our ancestors, in their reverence for martyrdom itself, honoured laymen and catechumens who had gained martyrdom so highly that they recorded many details of their sufferings, or, as I almost said, practically all of them, for the instruction of us, also, who were not yet born. Certainly, then, it would be unfortunate to pass over the sufferings of such a priest and martyr. Even without his martyrdom he had a lesson to teach, although during life, his accomplishments were not well known. Nevertheless, they are so important, so great, and so admirable that I am frightened by the contemplation of their greatness. Moreover, I confess that I am unequal to the task of using diction in a manner worthy of the honour due to his merits and that I cannot relate such remarkable deeds so that they may seem as great as they really are. However, the prodigious number of his deeds is sufficient in itself and requires no other herald.
The difficulty is increased by the fact that you are anxious to hear much or, if possible, everything about him. With eager and burning desire you wish to know his deeds, even if his actual words have meanwhile become silent. In this regard, if I say that the powers of eloquence fail us, I say too little. Even eloquence is lacking to a degree worthy of him, and which will satisfy your desires with a full spirit. So we are sorely pressed on both sides: He burdens us with his virtues; you importune us with your words.
2. Where, then, shall I begin? From what point shall I enter upon a discussion of his virtues if not from the beginning of his faith and from his heavenly birth, since, truly, a man of God’s deeds should be reckoned from not other point than his birth in God? Although study and the liberal arts had imbued his devout heart, I omit these, for as yet they brought him, no advantage except in the world. After he had learned the Holy Writ and emerged into the light of spiritual wisdom by piercing the cloud of the world, I shall relate whatever I witnessed and whatever I have learned of his former accomplishments. This indulgence, I beg, however, that whatever I minimize (as I must) be ascribed to my ignorance rather than to his lack of glory.
Among the first principles of his faith, Cyprian believed that nothing else that the observance of continence was worthy of God. Then, indeed, that heart and mind could become capable of a full capacity for truth, if by a strong and wholesome life of sanctity he could crush the concupiscence of the flesh. Whoever recalls so marvellous a transformation? His rebirth in faith had not yet enlightened the new man with all the splendour of divine light, but already he was conquering the former old shadows with only preparation for the light. Then, what is even greater, when as a result of reading the Scripture he had already learned certain facts, not for the conditioning of his new state, but for the hastening of his faith, he immediately took advantage of what would be profitable in meriting the Lord. By distributing his goods to maintain the peace of many needy people and thus dispensing almost all his wealth, he combined two virtues: Contempt of worldly ambition, than which nothing is more harmful, and the conferring of mercy. The latter, God preferred even to sacrifices, and he who said that he had observed all the commandments of the Law did not fulfill it. Thus, by the very speedy progress of his piety, Cyprian almost began to be perfect before he had learned how to do so. Who, of the ancients I ask, did this? Who of the most ancient elders in the faith whose minds and ears had been stuck by the divine words for many years, has set forth anything like it? Moreover, although still unskilled in faith and perhaps not yet trusted, he surpassed the accomplishments of his elders by his glorious and marvellous deeds. No one reaps immediately when he has sown; no one presses out vintage from newly made trenches; no one ever sought ripe fruit from slips that were just planted. In Cyprian, everything happened in an incredible fashion. Threshing, I say, preceded sowing (if such a thing can be said, for the reality does not admit it), vintage preceded the vine, and the fruit the root.
3. The Letters of the Apostles say that neophytes should be excluded (from religious discussions), lest in their uninstructed new state they commit some offence against God, should the stupor of paganism still cling to their unconfirmed minds. Cyprian was the first and, I think, the only one to show that more can be accomplished by faith than by time. Even in the Acts of the Apostles, an eunuch is described as immediately baptized by Philip, because he believed with his whole heart, the comparison is not the same. The eunuch was a Jew, and because he came from the Lord’s temple was reading the Prophet Isaiah and hoping in Christ, although he did not believe that He had yet come; Cyprian, coming from ignorant pagans, begins with as mature a faith that with which a few, perhaps, have finished. Finally with regards to God’s grace, there was no delay, no postponement. I have said too little; he immediately received the orders of the presbyterate and the priesthood. Indeed, who would not entrust every degree of honour to such a believing mind? He accomplished much while still a layman, much when already a presbyter, and thus merited God by fulfilling the many obligations of religious observance in close imitation of the examples of the righteous of old. His usual words on this subject were to the effect that, if he should read that a certain person had been singled out for giving praise to God, he would urge an inquiry into the deeds whereby, that man had pleased God. Cyprian taught that if Job, famous by the testimony of some, was called a true worshipper of God and with whom no one on earth can be compared, we should do whatever Job did. Thus, while we perform similar actions, we may call forth a similar testimony of God for ourselves. With little regard for the loss of his property, he had advanced so far in the exercise of virtue that he did not feel the temporary losses of affection. Poverty did not break him, nor pain; his wife’s persuasion did not move him, nor did the dreadful punishment of his own body crush him. Virtue remained fixed in her abode, and devotion, grounded with deep roots, did not because of any attack of a tempting devil cease to bless the Lord with a grateful faith, even in the midst of adversity. His house was open to anyone who came; no widow departed with an empty stomach, no blind person was not guided by him as a companion, no lame one was not carried by him as a support, no one devoid of the help of the very powerful, was not protected by him as a defender. ‘Those who wish to please God should do these things,’ he said. And while he thus goes through the evidence of all good men, he always imitated the better. Likewise, he caused himself to be imitated.
4. Evidently, Cyprian was closely associated with Caecilianus, one of our men of just and laudable memory, who was then a presbyter in age and rank. This man, who had converted Cyprian from worldly error to knowledge of the true divinity, was the object of his entire love, esteem, and respect, for he regarded him with a gracious reverence, not as his soul’s friend of the same age but as the parent of his new life. This man, at first charmed by his attentions, was later greatly moved by the merits of his immense love and, upon from departing from this world, with his summons now at hand, he commended his wife and children to his care and made him who was a common partner in his way of life, the heir of his devotion.
5. It would take too long to mention Cyprian’s deeds individually; to enumerate all of them in burdensome. I think that this fact alone is sufficient proof of his good works, that by God’s judgement and the favour of men he was chosen for the office of the priesthood and the rank of Bishop when still a neophyte and considered a novice. Although he was only in the first days of his faith and the rudimentary stage of his spiritual life, so excellent a character shone forth in him that he gave promise of the complete trustworthiness of his approaching priesthood, even if was not yet resplendent with the brilliance of his future office. I will not omit this extraordinary incident. When under the Lord’s inspiration, all the people eagerly demonstrated their love and esteem for him, Cyprian humbly withdrew and gave place to his elders. Thus thinking himself unworthy and gave to claim such an honour, he actually became all the more worthy of it. Indeed, the person who disclaims what he merits becomes more worthy. Because they were excited by this ardour, the people were restless, longing with a spiritual desire, as the event proved, for more than a Bishop. In this man, whom they were thus demanding with a hidden presage of holiness, they wanted not only a priest, but a future martyr. Large numbers of his brethren then besieged the portals of his home and an anxious loving care was evident at all the doors. Perhaps, that experience of the Apostle might then have happened to him as he desired (namely, to be let down through the window), if then, he had already been like the Apostle in the honour of ordination. It was evident that all the rest awaited his coming with an eager and anxious spirit, and upon his arrival, received him with exceeding joy. I speak unwillingly, but speak, I must. There were some who resisted him in his efforts. These, however, he kindly indulged with tender patience, and to the astonishment of many he later counted them among his closest and most intimate friends. Indeed, to whom the forgetfulness of such a receptive mind is anything but a miracle?
6. Who is qualified to relate how he conducted himself henceforth? What piety and vigour, what great mercy and severity! So much sanctity and grace shone from his face that he confounded the minds of those who looked upon him. His countenance was grave and joyful, neither a gloomy severity nor excessive affability. Here was mingled a just proportion of both, so that one wondered whether he deserved fear or love, except that he merited being both feared and loved. Nor was his dress out of harmony with his countenance, being moderately tempered, like himself. Worldly arrogance did not inflate him, but on the other hand, neither did affected penury spoil him, for this kind of attire which an excessive frugality likewise exhibits arises no less from ostentation. Moreover, what might he have done for the poor, the object of his love as a catechumen? The witnesses of his piety might have seen this, both those whom; the discipline of the office itself trained to the duty of good works, and those whom the common ties of the sacrament, bound to the service of manifesting love. The Bishop’s chair received Cyprian as he was; it did not mould him.
7. Immediately, then, he gained the glory of proscription in return for such graces. Indeed, nothing else was more appropriate than that he who in the secret recesses of his conscience abounded in the full honour of religion and faith should also be named publicly on the renowned list of the pagans. In accordance with the rapidity with which he always obtained everything, the merited crown of martyrdom might have hastened to him, especially since by repeated requests he was often demanded for the lion. However, it was first necessary for him to pass through all the ranks of glory and thus come to the highest. Moreover, the impending troublesome times demanded the assistance of a fruitful mind. Imagine him taken away at that by the honor of martyrdom! Who would have shown the advantage of grace advancing through faith? Who would have held virgins to a becoming life of chastity and a habit worthy of holiness, as though with a bridle of the Lord’s choosing? Who would have taught to the lapsed, truth to the heretics, unity to schismatics, peace and the law of evangelical prayer to the children of God? Who would have overcome the blasphemous pagans by turning against then the charges which they heap upon us? By whom would Christians of rather tender affection or, what is worse, of too little faith be consoled for the loss of their loved once through hope in the future? Where would we have learned mercy and patience as we did? Who would have restrained the malice arising from envy’s envenomed viciousness by the sweetness of the remedy of salvation? Who would have risen up such great martyrs by the exhortation of divine words? Who, finally, with the clarity of a heavenly trumpet, would have spurred on so many confessors to distinguished works, examples of a living martyrdom? Most fortunately, and indeed providentially, it happened at that time that the man who was necessary for so many good purposes was withheld from the crowning glory of martyrdom. Do you wish to know that his withdrawal was not a matter of fear? To offer no other excuses, he himself later underwent sufferings which he certainly would have avoided according to his practice if he had done so before. Fear there was, indeed, but a just one which dreaded to offend the Lord, preferring to obey God’s commands than thus to be crowned. His mind, which was dedicated to God in all things and thus bond by the divine admonitions, believed that, if he had not obeyed the Lord who then ordered retreat, there would be sin even in his suffering.
8. Finally, I think that something should be said about the usefulness of the delay, although we have already touched upon it in brief. While we are satisfied with what seems subsequent to have occurred, it follows that we should prove that the withdrawal was not conceived by man’s faith-heartedness but rather by Divine Providence. The unusual and fierce rioting of a violent persecution was ravaging the people. Since the crafty enemy could ensure everyone by one deceit, wherever a careless soldier exposed his vulnerable side with various forms of madness, Cyprian overthrew them one by one by different kinds of destruction. There was need of some who would do this, who depending upon the nature of the wound, would apply the remedy of heavenly medicine to cut or care for those who were wounded and attacked by the varied skill of assailing enemy. Cyprian was preserved, a man with a nature trained spiritually in addition to other fields. Amid the resounding waves of conflicting schisme he was able to direct the Church on the middle path by means of a steady course. Are not these plans divine, I ask? Could this have happened without God? Let those who think that such things happen by chance look to it. The Church answers them, saying in a clear voice: ‘I do not admit, I do not believe, that without God’s command indispensable men are preserved.’
9. Still, it seems advisable, let us go through the other facts. Later in Cyprian’s life there broke out a dreadful epidemic and the devastation of an abominable disease great beyond measure. Countless people were seized daily in their own homes by a sudden attack: one after another the homes of the trembling crowd invaded. Everyone shuddered, fled to avoid contagion, wickedly exposed their dear ones, as if along with the person who was about to die from the plague one could also shut out death itself. Meanwhile, throughout every district of the city there lay no longer the dead bodies, but many diseased and dying people who asked the pit of the passers-by. No one regarded anything but cruel gains; no one trembled at the remembrance of a similar experience; no one did to another he wished done to him. It would be a crime to pass over the actions of Christ and God’s high priest in these circumstances, one who had surpassed this world’s high priests in piety as well as in the truth of religion. First of all he instructed the assembled people on the blessings of mercy; by example from Holy Writ he taught them how much the offices of charity avail to merit God. He also added that it was not at all remarkable if we cherish only our own brethren with a proper observance of charity. Indeed, a man would only become perfect if he did more than the publican or heathen, by overcoming evil with good and by the exercise of a diving-like clemency, loving even his enemies, and by further praying for the salvation of his persecution, as the Lord advises and encourages. ‘He continually makes His sun rise and imparts sudden rain to nourish the seeds, showing all these kindnesses not merely to His own friends. Should not one who professes to be a son of God intimate the example of his Father? It is proper for us to correspond to our birth, and it does not become those who are not clearly reborn in God to be degenerate, but as a son, the descendant of a good father should rather prove the imitation of his goodness.’
10. There are many other matters, and, indeed important ones, which the limited scope of this volume does not permit us to repeat in lengthy discourse. About these it is enough to have said the much. However, if the pagans could have heard them on their rostrums, they probably would have believed at once. Therefore what might not a Christian do, whose title arises from his faith?
Ministrations were immediately given, then, according to the nature of the men and their rank. Many who were unable to offer wealth for the benefit of the poor manifested more than riches, and by their own labor they made payment dearer than all wealth. Under such a teacher who would not hasten to join in such a service? By it he might please both God the Father and Christ the Judge and, at the moment, the priest. Therefore, through the generosity of superabundant works there was accomplished what is good for all, not merely for those of the household of the faith. Something more was done than has been noted concerning the incomparable devotion of Tobias, who gathered only those of his own race killed or cast out by the king. He would practise forbearance again and again or rightly admit that I have spoken the truth, even if he was before Christ. To His time the fullness of all things in due.
11. These actions of Cyprian, so good and pious, were succeeded by exile. Impiety always gives this return, the restoration of the worse for the better. Moreover, the reply of God’s priest upon questioning by the proconsul is related in the proceeding. Meanwhile, he who had accomplished good for the city was exiled from it–he who had labored that the eyes of the living might not suffer the horror of the infernal dwelling, he, I say, who had been vigilant in the watches of devotion against wickedness. With a goodness that receives no recompense he had seen to it that, when everyone was leaving the desolate sight of the city, the deserted state and destitute country should not perceive its many exiles. However, let the world which considers exile a punishment consider it. To the worldly their own country is exceedingly dear, and they have a common name with their parents; but we abhor even our parents themselves if they persuade us against the Lord. To them it is a server penalty to live outside of their own city; to a Christian this whole world is one home.
Therefore, although he was sent away to a hidden, secret place, he could not regard it as exile, for he was associated with the things of God. Furthermore, when serving God wholeheartedly, he was even a stranger in his own city. While the continence of the Holy Spirit restrains him from carnal desires, pointing out the life of the former man, among his own citizens or, I might almost say, even among his parents, he is foreign to an early life. Although this might otherwise seem a punishment, it happens that in circumstances and sentences of this kind which we endure as trials in proof of virtue there is no punishment because it is a glory. However granted that exile is not a punishment for us let their conscience as a witness ascribe the gravest charge and worst crime to those who can inflict upon the innocent what they think is a punishment.
At present, I do not wish to describe the charm of the place and for the time being I pass over the description of all its pleasures. But let us imagine that place, sordid in location, squalid in appearance, with unhealthy water, no pleasing verdure, no proximity to the shore, but vast wooded cliffs amid the inhospitable jaws of very deserted solitude, far removed in a pathless part of the world. Could such a place the destination of God’s priest, Cyprian, bear the name of exile if human ministration was not lacking, or birds to minister to Elias or angels to Daniel? Far be it from anyone to believe that anything would be wanting to the least of men as long as they are firm in the confession of His name. So far was God’s priest, who always promoted acts of mercy from needing the assistance of all rewards.
12. Now, then, as I had decided to tell in the second place, let us recall with thanksgiving that a fitting, sunny dwelling was divinely provided for the soul of so great a man. In accordance with his wish, he was given a hidden hospice as well as all the comforts promised those as a further reward when seeking the kingdom of God and His justice. Omitting the number of brethren who visited him and the Kindness of the citizens who supplied him with all the things of which he seemed to have been deprived, I will not pass over God’s wonderful visitation. By this means He wished His priest in exile to be so secured in future suffering that with fuller confidence in his imminent martyrdom Curubis possessed not only an exile but also a martyr. ‘Indeed on that day, on which we tarried at the place of banishment’ (for the condescension of his love had chosen me among his household companions as a voluntary exile; would that he had included me in his sufferings, too!) ‘There appeared to me,’ he said, ‘when I was not yet enveloped in the quiet of sleep, a youth taller than man’s measure. When this person led me, as it were, to the praetorian, I seemed to be moving toward the tribunal of the proconsul who was sitting there. As he looked at me, the latter immediately began to note on his tablet a sentence which I did not know, for he asked me nothing in the usual manner of interrogation. Indeed, however, the young man who was standing behind him very carefully read the notation. Then, because he could not express it in words, he showed by an explanatory nod as to what were the contents of the writing on that tablet. With his open hand as flat as a blade he imitated the stroke of the customary punishment, thus expressing as clearly as by speech what he wanted understood. I recognized my future sentence of suffering, and therefore began to ask and to beg continuously that a delay of at least one day be granted me to arrange my affairs according to legal decree. When I had repeated my entreaties many times, he began to record something on his tablet. However, from the serenity of his countenance I perceived that the judge’s mind had been moved by my petition as if it were just. The young man, moreover, who had already indicated my sufferings by gesture rather than by word, hastened to signify repeatedly by a secret sign that the desired delay until the following day had been granted. This he indicated by twisting his fingers behind each other. Although the sentence was not yet read, I very gladly recovered from my joy at the postponement which had been granted. Moreover, so much did I tremble with fear at the uncertainty of the interpretation that the remains of my fear still affect my exultant heart with utter dread?’
13. What could be more evident than this revelation; what more fortunate that this consideration? All the subsequent events were foretold to him first; nothing of God’s words was curtailed, nothing of so sacred a promise was cut short. Finally, recall each detail which I have pointed out. When his sentence of suffering was under deliberation, he asked for a postponement until the morrow, begging that he might arrange his affairs on the day which he had obtained. This one day signified the year he was to live following the vision. To speak more plainly, after the year had expired, he was crowned on the day revealed to him the previous year. Although we do not read of a day of the Lord as a year in Holy Writ, we accept that time as befitting the promise of future things. Therefore, it is of no concern, if now, under the expression of a day, a single year is indicated, because what is greater should be more abundant. Moreover, what was explained by a sign and not by words the utterance of speech reserved for the manifestation of time. A fact is usually revealed in words as soon as what is set forth is fulfilled. Truly, indeed, no one knows why this was indicated, except that he was a crowned on the same day on which he had seen it. In the meantime, however, everyone knew as a certainty of his impending suffering, yet those same people passed over in silence the exact day of it as if, indeed, they were ignorant of it. In the Scriptures, too, I surely find something similar. Because Zachary, the high priest, not believes in the son promised him by an angel, he became speechless. Therefore, he asked by a sign for tablets to write his son’s name rather than so pronounce it. Deservedly, here, too when God’s messenger revealed the impending sufferings of His priest rather by sign, he admonished his faith and strengthened the priest. However, his reason for requesting the delay arose from the arrangement of his affairs and the disposition of his will. Still, what affairs or what will did he have to arrange except those of his ecclesiastical position? The greatest delay was admitted so that he might arrange whatever needed to be disposed of with regard to his final decision concerning the care of the poor. I believe, too, that for no other reason and, indeed, for this reason alone, indulgence was granted to him even by the very individuals who had expelled him and intended to kill him. Their aim was that by his presence he might serve the poor who were present with the final or, to speak more fully, the entire effort of his last ministration. Therefore, when his affairs were conscientiously arranged and his will thus disposed of, the following day drew near.
14. A messenger already had come from the city of Xistus, a good and peaceable priest and therefore a most blessed martyr, saying that the expected executioner was approaching, the man who would strike the faithful neck of his most holy victim. Such were all his days, lived in the daily expectation of death, so that the crown might be granted to each one. In the meantime, many eminent people of highly illustrious rank and family came to him, as well as nobles; of worldly renown, who repeatedly urged his withdrawal on the grounds of an old friendship with him. No empty persuasion was this, for they even offered places to which he might retire. But Cyprian, with his mind eager for heaven, had already disdained the world and refused consent to their tempting persuasions. Perhaps even then he would have complied with the request of the faithful, had he been so ordered by a divine command. However, that sublime honour of such a great man must not be passed over without commendation. Now, when the world was swelling with passion and its leaden were breathing out hatred for his name, that man was instructing God’s servants, as the opportunity was afforded. With exhortations of the Lord he encouraged them to despise the sufferings of time through a contemplation of the glory to come. Indeed, so great was his love of discourse that he wished the prayers of his sufferings might obtain for him the grace to be put to death in the very act of preaching, while speaking of God.
15. Such were the daily acts of a priests destined to be a pleasing sacrifice to God. By the proconsul’s command, behold, an officer with his soldiers suddenly appeared in the gardens, or, to speak more truly, they thought they came upon him unawares. (In the early days of his faith these gardens had been sold and restored by God’s mercy; surely, he would have sold them again for the benefit of the poor, except to avoid ill will from a lawsuit.) How could a mind that was always prepared be taken unawares, as it were, by an unexpected attack? Accordingly, he went forward, certain that what had long been delayed was being accomplished. He proceeded with an eager and resolute mind, showing cheerfulness on his countenance and courage in his heart. However, because of the postponement to the following day, he returned to an officer’s house from the praetorium. Suddenly, a rumour which spread throughout Carthage grew, to the effect that Thascius [Cyprian] had been brought forth. Everyone knew him, not only because of his fame, which was celebrated by glorious renown, but also through the remembrance of his very distinguished deeds. From all sides the people flocked to the scene, a glorious one for us because of devotion to the faith, but lamentable indeed for the pagans. A kind guard, however, had charge of him the one night when he was taken and placed in an officer’s house, so that we, his associates and friends, were in his company as usual. Meanwhile all the people, anxious lest something should happen during the night without their knowledge, kept watch before the officer’s door. Divine goodness then granted to him, so truly worthy, that God’s people should even watch over the sufferings of the priest. Perhaps someone will ask the reason for his return to the officer’s house from the praetorium? Evidently, some wished it, asserting that on his part the proconsul did not want it. Far be it from me to complain about the proconsul’s laziness or aversion in matters divinely affected. Far be it from me to admit this evil within the conscience of a devout mind that the caprice of a man may pass judgment on so blessed a martyr. That morrow, foretold a year before, must truly be the morrow.
16. Finally, another day dawned—that day marked, promised, divine, which he could never have succeeded in deferring, even if the tyrant had been willing. In the mind of the future martyr that was a happy day, radiant with a bright sun, although clouds were scattered over the whole world. He left the officer’s house, but the officer of Christ and God was walled in on all sides by the ranks of a mingled multitude. Thus, moreover, an infinite army kept close to him, as if the band had formed to come and fight death. On the way, the crossing of the stadium caused him some concern. Well constructed it was and, as it were, on purpose, so that Cyprian, upon completion of the contest, when running to the crown of justice, might pass a fitting place of struggle. Still, when he had come to the praetorium, a more secluded place was given him, since the proconsul had not yet appeared. As he sat there after his long journey, bathed in excessive sweat (by chance, the seat was covered with linen, so that even in the moment of suffering he might enjoy the honor of the episcopate), one of the officers, a former Christian, offered him his clothes, as if he might wish to change his garments for drier ones. No doubt, in offering the clothes he sought nothing else than to possess the already bloody sweat of the martyr going his way to God. Cyprian answered him, saying: ‘We apply remedies for annoyances which will no longer exist after today.’ Is it any wonder that he who mentally despised death despised bodily suffering? Why say any more? Suddenly, he was announced to the proconsul. He was brought forth, led forward, questioned concerning his name; he answered that he was the man. So far, then, the words.
17. Thereupon, the judge reads from a tablet the sentence which had not been [manifest] recently in the vision. This spiritual sentence, not to be spoken rashly, was worthy of such a bishop and witness, a glorious sentence in which he was called the standard-bearer of his sect and an enemy of the gods. He would be an example to his followers, and, by his blood discipline would begin to be established. There is nothing more complete or truer than this sentence. Indeed, although everything was said by a pagan, it is divine. Nor is it any wonder, since bishops usually prophesy their sufferings. Cyprian had been a standard bearer who used to teach about carrying Christ’s standard; he was an enemy of the gods and one who commanded the destruction of idols. Moreover, he was an example to his followers, one who, although many were about to follow similarly, was the first in the province to consecrate the first fruits of his martyrdom. By his blood, discipline also began to be established, as well as by that of the martyrs who emulated their teacher, imitating a similar glory. They themselves have established the discipline of example by shedding their own blood.
18. When he had left the doors of the praetorium, a crowd of soldiers accompanied him; moreover, centurions and tribunes guarded his side, lest anything be wanting in his passion. The place where he actually suffered is a valley, such that, thick with trees on all sides, affords a noble view. However, because the size of the rather large space shut off the view and the crowd was greatly confused, his friends had climbed into the branches of trees so that the sight might not be denied them. Like Zacchaeus, he would be seen from the trees. Cyprian, when he had bound his own eyes, tried to bring to an end the executioner’s delay. The latter whose duty it was to wield the sword, clasped the sword with difficulty and with faltering hand. With trembling figures he held it until the proper hour of glorification set free the centurion’s hand, fortified by strength granted at the last and by help from above to effect the great man’s death. O blessed people of the Church, who suffered with their bishop by such sights and feelings, and what is more, by loud prayer; as if they had always listened to his preaching, they were crowned by God their Judge. Although what their common prayers desired could not come to pass, that all the people should suffer a similar glory at once in his company, whoever under the eyes of the gazing Christ and in the priest’s hearing desired with all his heart to suffer, by this fitting testimony of his desire sent a message to God as an ambassador.
19. Thus the consummation of his sufferings resulted so that Cyprian, the exemplar of all good men, likewise was the first to elevate the sacerdotal crown to martyrdom, for he was the first after the Apostles. From the time when the Episcopal rank is reckoned at Carthage, none of the good men, even among the priests, is ever recorded to have come to suffering. Although, among consecrated men, devotion rendered to God is always considered martyrdom, Cyprian attained even to the perfect crown when the Lord commanded it. Thus, in the very city in which he had lived and had been the first to perform many noble deeds, he was also the first to decorate the insignia of the heavenly priesthood with his glorious blood. What shall I do at this point? My mind is torn hi different directions, by joy at his sufferings and grief at remaining here, so that twofold affections burden a heart that is too confined. Shall I grieve because I was not his companion? Still, his victory must be celebrated triumphantly. Shall I celebrate it? I do grieve that I am not his companion. Nevertheless, I must confess to you in simplicity something you already know, my sentiment in this sentence. I rejoice exceedingly in his glory, but I grieve still more because I have been left behind.