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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V:
A Treatise Against Two Letters of the...: Chapter 28

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 28.—Cyprian’s Orthodoxy Undoubted.

Let the Pelagians say, if they dare, that this man of God was perverted by the error of the Manicheans, in so praising the saints as yet to confess that no one in this life had attained to such a perfection of righteousness as to have no sin at all, confirming his judgment by the clear truth and divine authority of the canonical testimonies. For does he deny that in baptism all sins are forgiven, because he confesses that there remain frailty and infirmity, whence he says that we sin after baptism and even to the end of this life, having unceasing conflict with the vices of the flesh? Or did he not remember what the apostle said about the Church without spot, that he prescribed that no one ought so to flatter himself in respect of a pure and spotless heart as to trust in his own innocence, and think that no medicine needed to be applied to his wounds? I think that these new heretics may concede to this catholic man that he knew “that the Holy Spirit even in the old times aided good dispositions;” nay, even, what they themselves will not allow, that they could not have possessed good dispositions except through the Holy Spirit. I think that Cyprian knew that all the prophets and apostles or saints of any kind soever who pleased the Lord at any time were righteous—“not in comparison with the wicked,” as they falsely assert that we say, “but by the rule of virtue,” as they boast that they say; although Cyprian says, nevertheless, no one can be without sin, and whoever should assert that he is blameless is either proud or a fool. Nor is it with reference to anything else that he understands the Scripture, “Who shall boast that he has a pure heart? or who shall boast that he is pure from sins?” 2877 I think that Cyprian would not have needed to be taught by such as these, what he very well knew, “that, in the time to come, there would be a reward of good works and a punishment of evil works, but that no one could then perform the commands which here he might have despised;” and yet he does not understand and assert the Apostle Paul, who was assuredly not a contemner of the divine commands, to have said, “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,”  2878 on any other account, except that he reckoned it the greatest gain after this life no longer to be held in worldly entanglements, no longer to be obnoxious to the sins and vices of the flesh. Therefore the most blessed Cyprian felt, and in the truth of the divine Scriptures saw, that even the life of the apostles themselves, however good, holy, and righteous, suffered some involvements of worldly entanglements, was obnoxious to some sins and vices of the flesh; and that they desired death that they might be free from those evils, and that they might attain to that perfect righteousness which would not suffer such things, and which would no more have to be achieved in the way of command merely, but to be received in the way of reward. For not even when that shall have come for which we pray when we say, “Thy kingdom come,” will there be in that kingdom of God no righteousness; since the apostle says, “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” 2879 Certainly these three things are commanded among other divine precepts. Here righteousness is prescribed to us when it is said, “Do righteousness;” 2880 peace is prescribed when it is said, “Have peace among yourselves;” 2881 joy is prescribed when it is said, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” 2882 Let, then, the Pelagians deny that these things shall be in the kingdom of God, where we shall live without end; or let them be so mad, if it appears good, as to contend that righteousness, peace, and joy, will be such there as they are here to the righteous. But if they both shall be, and yet shall not be the same, assuredly here, in respect of the commandment of them, the doing is to be cared for,—there the perfection is to be hoped for in the way of reward; when, not being withheld by any earthly entanglements, and being liable to no sins and vices of the flesh (on account of which the apostle, as Cyprian received this testimony, said that to die would be to him gain), we may perfectly love God, the contemplation of whom will be face to face; we may also perfectly love our neighbour, since, when the thoughts of the heart are made manifest, no suspicion of any evil can disturb any one concerning any one.



Prov. xx. 9.


Phil. ii. 21.


Rom. xiv. 17.


Isa. lvi. 1.


Mark ix. 49.


Phil. iv. 4.

Next: Chapter 29