Monday, March 16, 2015

ANF V: Cyprian Treatise VII On the Mortality

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Cyprian: Treatise VII On the Mortality

Why do bad things happen to God's people? Specifically in this treatise, Cyprian tackles the question of why a particularly nasty plague seems to be killing Christians just as much as pagans. After all, disease and natural disaster are from God, shouldn't God's people be protected?

But these questions, Cyprian tells us, misunderstand the Bible and what Christianity is all about. Christianity is not about living the best life you could ever live in this world and then being gently and painlessly translated into heaven. Christianity is being justified by faith and living in the hope that this life will pass away and the next life will be established. In that sense, we do not fear death whether at the hands of persecutors or disease, but rather understand both in terms of moving from this world of sin to the heaven earned for us by Christ on the cross. Until then, we fight against our own sin and the assaults of the devil in the world. Our faith is constantly and unrelentingly opposed to the temptations of sin and the promise of comfort and ease:
"Our warfare is with avarice, with immodesty, with anger, with ambition; our diligent and toilsome wrestle with carnal vices, with enticements of the world. The mind of man besieged, and in every quarter invested with the onsets of the devil, scarcely in each point meets the attack, scarcely resists it. If avarice is prostrated, lust springs up. if lust is overcome, ambition takes its place. If ambition is despised, anger exasperates, pride puffs up, wine-bibbing entices, envy breaks concord, jealousy cuts friendship..." etc.
Why, then, would we ever cling to the world? Instead, we must see that all trials in the world are there not as a sign that we do not have faith, but as a buttress for it. We suffer so that we might believe more, "struggle in adversity is the trial of the truth."
"This, in short, is the difference between us and others who know not God, that in misfortune they complain and murmur, while adversity does not call us away from the truth of virtue and faith, but strengthens us by its suffering."
We do not mourn death in the same way that pagans do, but rather see that its sting has been removed and that it becomes a door through which we live forever with our Lord. What's more, it's a door that God is completely and totally sovereign over.

This treatise is absolutely fantastic and certainly ought to be read and enjoyed in full.

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