Cyprian: Epistle I, To Donatus
Cyprian begins with a wonderful overview of how and when theological reflection ought to occur (it ought to be like sitting in a pleasant garden on a nice day). He tells us a bit about his own conversion, which, like Augustine's, came by surprise after conviction of sin:
'How,' said I, 'is such a conversion [regeneration] possible, that there should be a sudden and rapid divestment of all which, either innate in us has hardened in the corruption of our material nature, or acquired by us has become inveterate by long accustomed use?'He goes on to ask why anyone who has enjoyed the pleasures of sin and this world would ever give them up--it would be like voluntarily going from being rich to being poor. "It is inevitable, as it ever has been, that the love of win should entice, pride inflate, anger inflame, covetousness disquiet, cruelty stimulate, ambition delight, lust hasten to ruin, with allurements that will not let go their hold."
And yet, there is grace. Grace changed his nature and brought him new life that put off this old sinful man and put on Jesus Christ. "All our power is of God; I say, of God. From Him we have life, from Him we have strength, by power derived and conceived from Him we do."
Now we are to live new and holy lives, led by the Spirit and going where He leads. The problem is that wherever in this world we look, we see sin. Rural and urban makes no difference, everything is bathed in the blood of rebellion against God. Worldly religion involves murder, adultery, and incest. And worldly practice--should we imagine we can see what goes on behind closed doors--is absolutely no better. Even those who know what is right and who are charged with prosecuting evil, judges, statesmen, lawyers, etc, are guilty of the very things they seek out in others. This is the reality at every level of society and in every corner of the world. Every man without something lives to take it from others, and every man with something lives in fear that it will be taken from him, and so there is no peace for anyone anywhere. What, having taken us on this imaginary tour of the world, Clement asks are we to do?
Hence, then, the one peaceful and trustworthy tranquillity, the one solid and firm and constant security, is this, for a man to withdraw from these eddies of a distracting world, and, anchored on the ground of the harbour of salvation, to life his eyes from the earth to heaven; and having been admitted to the gift of God, and being already very near to his God in mind, he may boast, that whatever in human affairs others esteem lofty and grand, lies altogether beneath his consciousness. He who is actually greater than the world can crave nothing, can desire nothing, from the world.And so we ought to pursue fellowship with God--and this in prayer and Scripture ("now speak with God, now let God speak with you, let Him instruct you in His precepts, let Him direct you"). This no one can take from you, and we need never fear poverty for God has made us rich by our relationship with Him.
This is, as hopefully is clear, a must-read.