Cyprian: Treatise V An Address to Demetrianus
Technically this is an apologetic work written by Cyprian to the governor of his North African province who had been persecuting Christians. I don't know how much apologetic value it has (that's not really my area of expertise), but I know it has a definite value for Christian encouragement.
Specifically, Cyprian argues apologetically that the disasters Rome is facing are not a result of the abandonment of the pagan gods by the Christians, but rather the failure of the pagans to worship the one true God. What's more, the pagans are inconsistent in their approach to Christianity. If it is immoral, then people convicted of being Christians should be executed outright, rather than tortured until they abandon the faith or die. "To be a Christian is either a crime or it is not. If it be a crime, why do you not put the man that confesses it to death? If it be not a crime, why do you persecute an innocent man?" Even worse than that, the pagans are going after the physical body of Christians rather than trying to intellectually argue against it, which shows the weakness of their own position.
I don't know that those arguments would have convinced anyone now or then, but I do know that this should encourage modern Christians. First, we see that there is a long history of blaming us for the ills of the world. When something goes wrong, it's those hateful Christians who must be to blame. If only they could be made to see the error of their ways, then all would be well with the world! What's more, there is likewise a long tradition of not merely believing Christians are wrong but demanding that they conform to the societal standards of the day. Nothing less than utter spiritual surrender will satisfy those who oppose the faith.
Finally, and above all the reason to read this treatise, Cyprian reminds us that as Christians we can endure whatever the world can throw at us. Even when the same disasters strike us that strike the world (famine hits us too, of course!), we respond differently:
Among you there is always a clamorous and complaining impatience; with us there is a strong and religious patience, always quiet and always grateful to God. Nor does it claim for itself anything joyous or prosperous in this world, but, meek and gentle and stable against all the gusts of this tossing world, it waits for the time of the divine promise....This, not because of any good in us, but because of the work Christ has done in reconciling us to God. This reconciliation is offered to all who will accept it:
There flourishes with us the strength of hope and the firmness of faith. Among these very ruins of a decaying world our soul is lifted up and our courage unshaken: our patience is never anything but joyous; and the mind is always secure of its God, even as the Holy Spirit speaks through the prophet, and exhorts us, strengthening with a heavenly word the firmness of our hope and faith.
We offer you the wholesome help of our mind and advice. And because we may not hate, and we please God more by rendering no return for wrong, we exhort you while you have the power, while there yet remains to you something of life, to make satisfaction to God, and to emerge from the abyss of darkling superstition into the bright light of true religion.
We do not envy your comforts, nor do we conceal the divine benefits. We repay kindness for your hatred; and for the torments and penalties which are inflicted on us, we point out to you the ways of salvation. Believe and live, and do ye who persecute us in time rejoice with us for eternity.
When you have once departed thither, there is no longer any place for repentance, and no possibility of making satisfaction. Here life is either lost or saved; here eternal safety is provided for by the worship of God and the fruits of faith. Nor let any one be restrained either by his sins or by his years from coming to obtain salvation. To him who still remains in this world no repentance is too late. The approach to God’s mercy is open, and the access is easy to those who seek and apprehend the truth. Do you entreat for your sins, although it be in the very end of life, and at the setting of the sun of time; and implore God, who is the one and true God, in confession and faith of acknowledgment of Him, and pardon is granted to the man who confesses, and saving mercy is given from the divine goodness to the believer, and a passage is opened to immortality even in death itself.
This grace Christ bestows; this gift of His mercy He confers upon us, by overcoming death in the trophy of the cross, by redeeming the believer with the price of His blood, by reconciling man to God the Father, by quickening our mortal nature with a heavenly regeneration. If it be possible, let us all follow Him; let us be registered in His sacrament and sign. He opens to us the way of life; He brings us back to paradise; He leads us on to the kingdom of heaven. Made by Him the children of God, with Him we shall ever live; with Him we shall always rejoice, restored by His own blood. We Christians shall be glorious together with Christ, blessed of God the Father, always rejoicing with perpetual pleasures in the sight of God, and ever giving thanks to God. For none can be other than always glad and grateful, who, having been once subject to death, has been made secure in the possession of immortality.