St. Cyprian was a bishop of Carthage. He died a martyr’s death in 258. His skill in Latin was so impressive that he was considered the Church’s best Latin writer until Augustine and Jerome. Cyprian was key to resolving the Novatianist schism. As such, he had quite a lot to say about the evils of schism.
If you doubt whether this man has something to teach you about faithfulness, just look at his final conversation before execution:
Galerius Maximus: “Are you Thascius Cyprianus?”
Cyprian: “I am.”
Galerius: “The most sacred Emperors have commanded you to conform to the Roman rites.”
Cyprian: “I refuse.”
Galerius: “Take heed for yourself.”
Cyprian: “Do as you are bid; in so clear a case I may not take heed.”
Galerius, after briefly conferring with his judicial council, with much reluctance pronounced the following sentence: “You have long lived an irreligious life, and have drawn together a number of men bound by an unlawful association, and professed yourself an open enemy to the gods and the religion of Rome; and the pious, most sacred and august Emperors . . . have endeavoured in vain to bring you back to conformity with their religious observances; whereas therefore you have been apprehended as principal and ringleader in these infamous crimes, you shall be made an example to those whom you have wickedly associated with you; the authority of law shall be ratified in your blood.” He then read the sentence of the court from a written tablet: “It is the sentence of this court that Thascius Cyprianus be executed with the sword.”
Cyprian: “Thanks be to God.”
Immediately after this, the court cut off Cyprian’s head. Here is a preeminent example among early Church Fathers of unwavering piety and fidelity.
God love you and Cyprian pray for you.
I recommend the following selection from Cyprian’s De Ecclesiae Catholicae Unitate as a reflection for any who are tempted to rebel against the Church for whatever righteous reasons. If you hear him out, this great confessor can heal your soul. It’s never too late to repent. (Emphasis mine):
How can anyone think he keeps the faith, if he breaks the unity of the Church? The blessed Apostle Paul teaches the same sacrament of unity: “There is one body and one spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God? ” [Eph. 4:4] Do they who fight and resist the Church believe that they are in the Church?
We should all firmly believe in and maintain this unity, but especially those of us that are bishops, so that we may prove the episcopate to be one and undivided.
. . .
The spouse of Christ cannot commit adultery. She is uncorrupted and pure. She knows one home, she guards with chaste modesty the sanctity of one bed. She keeps us for God. She appoints the sons whom she has born for the kingdom. Whoever is separated from the Church and unites with an adulteress, is separated from the promises of the Church.
No one who forsakes the Church of Christ can receive the rewards of Christ. He is a stranger; he is profane; he is an enemy. No one can have God for his Father, who does not have the Church for his mother. It was as possible escape outside Noah’s Ark as it is to escape outside of the Church. The Lord warns us, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” [Matt. 12:30] He who breaks the peace and the unity of Christ, is an opponent of Christ.
. . .
Does anyone believe that such unity which comes from the strength of God and is held together by the sacraments of heaven, can be divided by the falling out of opposing wills? Anyone who does not keep this unity does not keep God’s law, does not keep the faith of the Father and the Son, does not keep hold of life and salvation.
. . .
Who, then, is so wicked and faithless, who is so insane with the madness of discord, as to believe that the unity of God can be divided . . . . He himself warns us in his Gospel, “There shall be one flock and one shepherd.” [John 10:16] Does anyone believe that there can be many shepherds in one place, or many flocks?
The Apostle Paul urges this same unity: “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to agree with each other and avoid schisms. Be united in the same mind and in the same judgment.” [1 Cor. 1:10.] And again, he says, “Bearing with one another in love, labor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” [Eph. 4:3] Do you think that you can stand and live if you leave the Church, building other homes for yourself?
. . .
Do not think that good people can depart from the Church. The wind does not carry away the wheat, nor does the hurricane uproot a tree based on a solid root. It is only light straws that are tossed about by the tempest and feeble trees that are blown down by the whirlwind. The Apostle John condemns people like this: “They went out from among us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would surely have continued with us.” [1 John 2:19]
This is why heresies have often been started, and still continue to arise, because twisted faithless minds refuse to live in peace and unity. . . .The Holy Spirit in the Psalms points to them sitting in the seat of pestilence and plagues, deceiving with serpent’s tongue, skillful in corrupting the truth, vomiting deadly poisons. Their speech creeps like a cancer, their talk is a deadly poison in every heart and breast. . . .
People are not washed by them, they are made filthy. Their sins are not purged away, but are piled high. Such a birth does not give sons to God, but to the devil. They are born by falsehood, and they do not receive the promises of truth. They are conceived through sin, and lose the grace of faith. They cannot receive the reward of peace, because they have broken the Lord’s peace with the madness of discord. . . .
How can two or three be assembled together in Christ’s name, when they are clearly separated from Christ and from his Gospel? For we have not withdrawn from them, but they from us. Their success in building many places of worship from which to spawn further heresies and schisms has emboldened them in forsaking the source of the truth.
. . .
Even if people like this become martyrs for the name of Christ, their stain is not washed away. The unforgivable grievous sin of discord is not purged by suffering. You cannot be a martyr outside the Church. You cannot enter the kingdom when you shun those that will reign there. . . . He who does not have love does not have God. The blessed Apostle John says, “God is love, and whoever lives in love lives in God, and God lives in him.” [1 John 4:16]
No one can live with God who is not of one mind with God’s Church. They may be burned, or lay down their lives, or be thrown to the wild beasts. This will not prove to be the crown of faith, but the punishment of sin. It is not the glorious ending of religious valor, but the destruction of despair. Such people may be slain, they cannot be crowned.
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Joe Dantona is a convert living in eastern Ohio. He studied political science, history, and theology. He divides his free time between entertaining his wife and kids with dad jokes and getting distracted while reading good books.