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Argument.—The Argument of This Epistle is Contained in the Following Words of the XIVth Epistle:—“To the Presbyters and Deacons,” He Says, “Was Not Wanting the Vigour of the Priesthood, So that Some, Too Little Mindful of Discipline, and Hasty with a Rash Precipitation, Who Had Already Begun to Communicate with the Lapsed, Were Checked.”
1. Cyprian to the presbyters and deacons, his brethren, greeting. I have long been patient, beloved brethren, hoping that my forbearing silence would avail to quietness. But since the unreasonable and reckless presumption of some is seeking by its boldness to disturb both the honour of the martyrs, and the modesty of the confessors, and the tranquility of the whole people, it behoves me no longer to keep silence, lest too much reticence should issue in danger both to the people and to ourselves. For what danger ought we not to fear from the Lord’s displeasure, when some of the presbyters, remembering neither the Gospel nor their own place, and, moreover, considering neither the Lord’s future judgment nor the bishop now placed over them, claim to themselves entire authority,2209
2. And I wish, if it could be so without the sacrifice of our brethren’s safety, that they could make good their claim to all things; I could dissemble and bear the discredit of my episcopal authority, as I always have dissembled and borne it. But it is not now the occasion for dissimulating when our brotherhood is deceived by some of you, who, while without the means of restoring salvation they desire to please, become a still greater stumbling-block to the lapsed. For that it is a very great crime which persecution has compelled to be committed, they themselves know who have committed it; since our Lord and Judge has said, “Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father which is in heaven; but whosoever shall deny me, him will I also deny.”2210
3. But now they are not guilty who so little observe the law of Scripture; but they will be guilty who are in office and do not suggest these things to brethren, so that, being instructed by those placed above them, they may do all things with the fear of God, and with the observance given and prescribed by Him. Then, moreover, they lay the blessed martyrs open to ill-will, and involve the glorious servants of God with the priest of God; so that although they, mindful of my place, have directed letters to me, and have asked that their wishes should then be examined, and peace granted them,—when our Mother, the Church herself, should first have received peace for the Lord’s mercy, and the divine protection, have brought me back to His Church,—yet these, disregarding the honour which the blessed martyrs with the confessors maintain for me, despising the Lord’s law and that observance, which the same martyrs and confessors bid to be maintained, before the fear of persecution is quenched, before my return, almost even before the departure of the martyrs, communicate with the lapsed, and offer and give them the eucharist: when even if the martyrs, in the heat of their glory, were to consider less carefully the Scriptures, and to desire anything more, they should be admonished by the presbyters’ and deacons’ suggestions, as was always done in time past.2215
4. For this reason the divine rebuke does not cease to chastise us night nor day. For besides the visions of the night, by day also, the innocent age of boys is among us filled with the Holy Spirit, seeing in an ecstasy with their eyes, and hearing and speaking those things whereby the Lord condescends to warn and instruct us.2216