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ON THE UNITY OF THE CHURCH.
Upon occasion of the schism begun by Novatian, who thought himself a fitter person than Cornelius to be Bishop of Rome, and therefore procured himself to be clandestinely ordained by three Italian Bishops; Cyprian, having thoroughly examined the rival pretensions of Cornelius and Novatian, determined to send his letters of communion to the former.—The custom of those times for preserving a communication and communion between distant churches, was by letters of communion sent to and from the Bishops of those churches. He who was newly elected Bishop notified his election to the other Bishops of the Christian Church; who, if the election were disputed (as it was in this case between Cornelius and Novatian), examined the pretensions of both sides, and then directed their letters to the Bishop, whose election and ordination they judged most regular.—Now Cornelius had the choice of the people, and the approbation of the clergy, and a regular ordination confirming both the one and the other; so that he was regular Bishop of the Church of Rome, and therefore Novatian's opposition to him afterwards was in every part of it schismatical. After this matter had been long debated in the African Church, and at last determined in favour of Cornelius, and after many endeavours used by Novatian to procure friends to his cause, Cyprian, towards the latter end of the year 251, wrote this tract on the Unity of the Church, to prevent any ill impressions which Novatian's attempts might fix on the minds of the people in favour of his schism.
1. Christ our Lord having admonished, and told us, saying, "Ye are the salt of the earth;" and having directed us moreover to be plain and harmless, but withal to arm ourselves with wisdom and prudence; what is there, my beloved brethren, so properly incumbent upon us, as a care to find out, and caution to avoid the snare which is laid for us by our subtle adversary ; lest we who profess to have put on Christ, the wisdom of God the Father, be found at length deficient in a prudential care of our own salvation? We mistake, if we imagine that the only danger we have to fear, arises from that open persecution* which strikes directly at the servants of the true God, and professedly seeks their ruin and destruction. In so plain a case 'tis natural for us to take the alarm, and to be upon our guard. When the enemy shews himself, and advances to attack us in the open light, we prepare and fortify our minds for the encounter, and so he finds us in readiness to receive him: but the danger is then indeed more truly formidable when he creeps slily towards us,
• The Decian persecution was just now either much abated, or quite finished; so that our author here alludes to a case fresh in memory.
and we do not observe his motions; when under the notion of peace and security he steals upon us unawares, and makes good the propriety of his name* by the manner of his proceeding with us. This hath ever been his guise and craft in imposing upon mankind. In the infancy of the world, with soft and enticing suggestions, he ensnared our first parents. In the same way he made his attempts upon our blessed Lord, under the cover of a disguise, with soft and delusive insinuations; but there he was presently found out and rebuffed, and rebuffed the more easily for being known and discovered. Wherefore we have hence a caution to avoid the snare wherein the first man Adam was taken, and encouragement at the same time given us to tread in the footsteps of our second representative, who came off conqueror; so that we may not fall back again through our heedlessness and neglect into the jaws of death, from which we are just delivered; but being warned of our danger, and upon the guard against it, may obtain that immortal life which Christ hath purchased and procured for us. But how will it be possible we ever should obtain it, except we will attend to those commands of our Saviour, through
• Our author's words will not admit the turn in our language, which he had given them in his; because there is no such room for deriving serpent from creeping in English, as there is for deriving serpens from serpo in Latin; his words are, cum per pacis imaginem fallens, occultis accessibus serpit, unde & nomen serpentis accepit.
which we may conquer sin and death? Since lie hath plainly laid the conditions before us, where he saith, "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." And again : "Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you." Surely, these are the persons whom he pronounces firm and trusty, these are they who are founded on an immoveable rock; these will stand unshaken against all the storms and tempests of a boisterous world: "Whosever (saith he) heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock; and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house, and it fell not; for it was founded upon a rock." But now with what consistency can any man pretend that he believes in Christ, who will not do what Christ hath commanded him? Or how can he expect to receive the recompence of his faith who is not true to those engagements under which his faith hath laid him? He must needs be wavering and uncertain in his motions, and be tossed up and down by a spirit of error and delusion; nor can he ever propound continuing his progress to a happy end, who keeps not steady to that way and that truth which lead to life.
2. Nor is our caution, my beloved brethren, to be confined to those dangers only which are plain and obvious, but it must be extended also to such as are less apparent and observable, and are therefore the more apt to ensnare, because they surprise us, and rather creep upon us by stratagem than attack us by open force. Now since light hath sprung up to lighten the Gentiles, and to save mankind; since the deaf have heard the voice of God propounding to them the terms of salvation; since the blind have begun to open their eyes, and to look upwards to him; since the weak and the sickly have felt his saving health, enlivening and adding new vigour to them; since the lame are enabled to run into his church, and find a refuge in it; and since the dumb every where perceive their mouths opened, and their tongues loosed to supplicate and praise him; since, I say, our adversary finds his affairs in this posture, and that the coming of Christ hath discovered his stratagems, and weakened his power; what on his part could be a more cunning after-game, than, upon observing his idols and his temples deserted, through the multitude of such as believe in Christ, to think of a new device for retrieving his losses, viz. by gaining those over to his interest, under the name and shelter of the christian faith, whom he could not prevail upon directly to abandon it? The invention, in short, was this; to sow amongst us heresies and schisms; with these to subvert the faith, to corrupt the truth, and to divide us from one another. Those therefore whom he can no longer keep in their former state of darkness, he fain would confound and entangle in the progress