This volume presents several treatises of St. Cyprian in translation. To Donatus (Ad Donatum) is a monologue written shortly after Cyprian’s baptism in 246 in which he extols his spiritual rebirth in the sacrament of baptism. Literary criticism has come to view this treatise as a model for St. Augustine’s Confessions. The Dress of Virgins (De habitu virginum) written in 249 is addressed to women (“flowers in the Church’s garden”) who have dedicated their lives to God’s service. In this treatise on virginity Cyprian warns these women against seeking finery and the pitfalls of worldliness.
The Fallen (De lapsis), written in 251, deals with the problems encountered in reconciling with the Church those who had defected during the time of persecution. These problems were acute especially after the Decian persecution. The Unity of the Catholic Church (De unitate ecclesiae), written very likely in 251, is directed in the first place against the Novatian schism. This treatise contains the famous words: “He cannot have God for his father who does not have the Church for his mother.”
The Lord’s Prayer (De oratione dominica) is as the title indicates a commentary on the Our Father. Many of its words and phrases remind one of Tertullian whom Cyprian admired greatly. To Demetrian (As Demetrianum) is a vigorous defense of Christianity against pagan calumnies. Mortality (De mortalitate) written perhaps in 252 or later has often been described as being a pastoral letter of a bishop to comfort and console his flock during a time of trial and tribulation.
Work and Alms (De opere et eleemosynis) is a treatise that may have been written in 252 or even later. It is a warm and heartfelt exhortation of a bishop to his flock encouraging them to do good works. The Blessing of Patience (De bono patientiae), written sometime during the year 256, has frequently been described as a sermon delivered during the controversy over the validity of heretical baptism in northern Africa.
Jealousy and Envy (De zelo et livore) like the preceding treatise greatly resembles a sermon delivered on the topic in the title. It was probably written between 251 and 257. To Fortunatus (Ad Fortunatum), a work replete with quotations from Scripture to encourage a Christian in time of persecution, was probably written between 253 and 257. In its original Latin this treatise is an important witness to the text of the Bible before St. Jerome’s revisions. That Idols are not Gods (Quod idola dii non sint) is a relatively unimportant work when judged on the basis of its content. Modern patristic scholars seriously doubt its authenticity.
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For more of the church fathers, check out the Fathers of the Church: Greek Fathers of the Ante—Nicene Era (23 vols.).
“He is an old adversary and an ancient enemy with whom we wage battle. Almost six thousand years are now being fulfilled since the devil first attacked man. All kinds of tempting and arts and plots for his overthrow has he learned by the very practice of a long time. If he finds a soldier of Christ unprepared, if untrained, if he does not find him vigilant with a solicitous and whole heart, he besets him in ignorance, he deceives him incautious, he entraps him inexperienced. But if anyone guards the precepts of the Lord, and bravely adhering to Christ stands against the devil, he must be conquered, since Christ whom we confess is invincible.” (Page 314)
“Whoever is separated from the Church and is joined with an adulteress is separated from the promises of the Church, nor will he who has abandoned the Church arrive at the rewards of Christ. He is a stranger; he is profane; he is an enemy. He cannot have God as a father who does not have the Church as a mother. If whoever was outside the ark of Noe was able to escape, he too who is outside the Church escapes.” (Page 100)
“Does anyone believe that this unity which comes from divine strength, which is closely connected with the divine sacraments, can be broken asunder in the Church and be separated by the divisions of colliding wills? He who does not hold this unity, does not hold the law of God, does not hold the faith of the Father and the Son, does not hold life and salvation.” (Page 101)
“But afterwards, when the stain of my past life had been washed away by the aid of the water of regeneration, a light from above poured itself upon my chastened and pure heart; afterwards when I had drunk of the Spirit from heaven a second birth restored me into a new man; immediately in a marvelous manner doubtful matters clarified themselves, the closed opened, the shadowy shone with light, what seemed impossible was able to be accomplished, so that it was possible to acknowledge that what formerly was born of the flesh and lived submissive to sins was earthly, and what the Holy Spirit already was animating began to be of God.” (Pages 9–10)