Day Nineteen: St. Cyprian: On the Unity of the Church: 10-18

Who: Third century bishop of Carthage (in modern Tunisia), and martyr from Africa

What: A letter to encourage the unity of the church against schisms and heresy during massive Roman persecution

Why: A disturbance had happened in the church because of a priest called Novatian — a schismatic of the third century, and founder of the sect of the Novatians. Cyprian wrote to counter this and argues that there can only be one united Church, and the Novatian breakaway was a false church and that Novatian was an antipope.
When: Around 249 AD

Advertisement

You can find today’s reading on page 97 here: lentfatherscomplete.pdf

Continuing on from yesterday's theme about those who depart from the true and unified Church, Cyprian moves into saying that this is the reason heresies are frequently appearing — “while a discordant faithlessness does not maintain unity”.

1 John 2:19

They went forth from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, surely they would have continued with us.

Advertisement

He goes on to say that the “Lord permits and suffers these things to be” so that personal liberty may still exist, but that God will use these for his own glory to show that which is genuine in contrast to the false, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 11:19
Indeed, there have to be factions (Gk. Heresies) among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine.

Of these people, Cyprian makes reference to Psalm 1 as those who sit “in the seat of pestilence”. He has much harsher words about them too, which I just have to quote in full so you can really understand how serious this matter of creating heresy and schism was taken:

[They are] deceiving with serpent's tongue, and artful in corrupting the truth, vomiting forth deadly poisons from pestilential tongues; whose speech does creep like a cancer, whose discourse forms a deadly poison in the heart and breast of every one.

Advertisement

No minced words here, that's for sure! These are also the people Jeremiah prophesied about too, he says, quoting Jer 2:13; 27:15; 23:21-22 as one combined paragraph against the heretics.

Explaining more about how these schismatics operate, Cyprian points to Matthew 18:20 – “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them”, and explains that this verse has been abused and misinterpreted by these heretics for their own ends as a way of saying their church gatherings are just as valid as the rest.

He says that these “false interpreters of the Gospel” only quote the last words, ignoring the previous verses, and so cut off one section of the Lord’s words, just as they cut themselves off from the Church.

Quoting the full statement from Jesus (vv. 19,20), Cyprian goes on to bring quite an in depth interpretation of these verses and explains what they do and don’t mean.

Matthew 18:19-20

Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

There are a few preachers today, mostly within the Prosperity Gospel movement, who would claim this verse means that you can literally ask for anything and have it (and if you don’t get it, then it’s your own lack of faith stopping you). Cyprian interprets this instruction by Jesus as a way of him urging for “unanimity and peace upon His disciples” in the things which they pray for; that they are all of one mind and purpose when they come together and come before God. This is similar then to what Jesus says in John 17:11 where he prays for his disciples to “be one, as we are one”. So that when two or three are gathered in His name, Jesus is “showing that most is given, not to the multitude, but to the unanimity of those that pray”.

When Jesus says “I am with them”, it is meaning that he is “with the simple and peaceable–with those who fear God and keep God's commandments” and goes on to give some examples from Scripture based on this, such as; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being in one accord with their prayers in the fiery furnace, and Christ came among them to deliver them; and again in Acts 5:17-20 (or Acts 16:25-26) when the Apostles were arrested and put in prison, but then were delivered miraculously delivered because they, or the Church, were “simple-minded and of one mind” in what they asked.

Advertisement

This single-minded unity of prayer and purpose is asked of by Jesus because “He is rather with two or three who pray with one mind, than with a great many who differ”. A powerful statement indeed, I think.

But not only this, to ensure full unity within the Church body, Cyprian then says that when Jesus “gave the law of prayer”, he made sure to add a prerequisite, so that everyone who asks of God, may be required to live in unity with one another if they expect to be heard. This is why in Mark 11:25, Jesus says, when “you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone” because then God “calls back from the altar one who comes to the sacrifice in strife, and bids him first agree with his brother, and then return with peace and offer his gift to God”, therefore requiring unity and peace with one another at all times.

Stronger still, Cyprian goes further to say that even if those who have separated from the Church were to be martyred for the name of Jesus, that this wouldn’t ensure they were crowned with righteousness and enter the Kingdom, since “he cannot show himself a martyr who has not maintained brotherly love”. Using 1 Cor 13 to back up his point, Cyprian goes on to say that though they may die or do works, to do it without love and unity of the Church, it is nothing; to not remain in the unified brotherly love of the Church Body is to go against what John wrote in 1 John 4:7-8;12 too.

“For both to prophesy and to cast out devils, and to do great acts upon the earth is certainly a sublime and an admirable thing” – but these things do not guarantee the Kingdom to you, as Jesus made clear in Matthew 7:21-23, “unless he walks in the observance of the right and just way” of Christ and the Church, as outlined by Jesus in Mark 12:29-31, which teaches love and unity in one –

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

But what peace, love and unity can one keep if “with the madness of discord, divides the Church, destroys the faith, disturbs the peace, dissipates charity, [and] profanes the sacrament?”. Quoting from 2 Tim 3:1-9, Cyprian basically says “but what do you expect?” since the Apostle Paul already predicted this would happen through the Holy Spirit.

Despite this, and the schisms and those who would cause them, Cyprian says that this shouldn’t worry the believers “but rather strengthen our faith in the truthfulness”. Referencing Jesus’ words when he says that the “blind lead the blind” (Matthew 15:14), he warns that if any come across these people, to avoid them so as not to be lead astray by blind leaders and thus “fall into the ditch”.

Cyprian closes up this chapter with a recap of various times in the past when God’s people rebelled against his appointed leaders and rules, and how they faced the consequences for their actions, being judged by God; one such example being the rather drastic event in Num 26:9-10 when the earth opened up and swallowed those who rebelled and the fire that consumed 250 others who were party to it!

Advertisement

I think the point is clear: Jesus is the head of the Church, and any who would try to divide his Body takes a grave risk of provoking the anger of the Lord against them, and any who should follow their deception.

Contribute on Patreon

Enjoying this? Consider contributing regular gifts for this content on Patreon.
* Patreon is a way to join your favorite creator's community and pay them for making the stuff you love. You can simply pay a few pounds per month or per post that a creator makes, and in return receive some perks!

Subscribe to Updates
Order my new book today from Amazon or fortydays.co.uk

Subscribe to:

Have something to say? Leave a comment below.

Leave a comment   Like   Back to Top   Seen 160 times   Liked 0 times

Subscribe to Updates

If you enjoyed this, why not subscribe to free email updates ?

Order my new book today from Amazon or fortydays.co.uk

Subscribe to Blog updates

Enter your email address to be notified of new posts:

Subscribe to:

Alternatively, you can subscribe via RSS

‹ Return to Blog

We never share or sell your email address to anyone.

I've already subscribed / don't show me this again

Recent Posts

40 Days with the Fathers: Source Texts Companion Book

| 02nd March 2019 | My Books

Available soon will be a companion book that will include all of the source texts in full, which I had hoped to get out in time for Lent, but it’s unlikely to be ready in time this year. So if you have my book and would like to read along each day with the Church Fathers as well, I’ve compiled a list of online sources where you can read the original texts. If you don’t have the book and would like it, you can order it now from Amazon and still get it in time for Lent by clicking the following link: Amazon.com; or if you would like to pledge some support towards my book writing in return for some nice perks, you can do so on my Patreon page: https://patreon.com/LukeJWilson. If you would like to be notified of the release of the new Companion Book, you can sign up to the mailing list at the top of the homepage at https://fortydays.co.uk.  Day One: The Didache http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0714.htm Day Two & Three: Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0101.htm Day Four: Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0136.htm Day Five: Ignatius, Epistle to the Ephesians http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0104.htm Day Six: Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0105.htm Day Seven: Ignatius, Epistle to the Trallians http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0106.htm Day Eight: Ignatius, Epistle to the Romans http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0107.htm Day Nine: Ignatius, Epistle to the Philadelphians http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0108.htm Day Ten: Ignatius, Epistle to the Smyrnæans http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0109.htm Day Eleven: Epistle to Polycarp http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0110.htm Day Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen, Sixteen, Seventeen: Justin Martyr, First Apology http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0126.htm Day Eighteen, Nineteen, Twenty: Cyprian, On the Unity of the Church http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/050701.htm Day Twenty-one to Twenty-nine: Athanasius, Life of Anthony http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2811.htm Day Thirty: Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures XIX http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/310119.htm Day Thirty-one: Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures XX http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/310120.htm Day Thirty-two: Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures XXI http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/310121.htm Day Thirty-three: Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures XXII http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/310122.htm Day Thirty-four: Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures XXIII http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/310123.htm Day Thirty-five, Thirty-six: Ambrose of Milan, Concerning the Mysteries http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3405.htm Day Thirty-seven: Leo the Great, Letter XXVIII (the Tome) http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3604028.htm Day Thirty-eight: Leo the Great, Sermon XXI http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/360321.htm Day Thirty-nine: Leo the Great, Sermon XLIX http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/360349.htm Day Forty: Leo the Great, Sermon LXXII http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/360372.htm ...

The Reformation: A Sound-Bite History (Book Review)

| 14th February 2019 | Book Review

This short little book on the Reformation and some of the leading men who helped to kick-start it and continue to fan its flames has been very enjoyable to read. It really is a “sound bite history” as the chapters are short and snappy, and really only cover the absolute basics of each of the Reformers lives. The book has seven chapters, with six of them dedicated to an individual who had a pivotal role in the beginnings of the Reformation: Martin Luther, John Wycliffe, John Huss, John Calvin, Hugh Latimer and George Whitefield. The Reformation:A Sound-bite History I found it to be very educational and easy to read and digest; gleaning just enough information to be easily remembered without it feeling like a heavy and dull historical study. Though, it being written by someone who is a Baptist, if you're well read enough in church history you will likely notice some of the Baptist bias towards certain doctrines that are mentioned as being held by some of the Reformers which grate against typical Baptist views. For example, the frequent implication that anyone who still held to some form of “real presence” in the Eucharist hadn't come to the 'pure Gospel truth' yet (despite this being consistent with historical Christianity prior to the Roman Catholic Church’s specific doctrine of transubstantiation). "Widespread ignorance of church history of one reason why the church often falls into errors which it has fallen into before." But aside from those minor issues, the book did well to not feel like it was pushing a certain viewpoint on you and was just trying to give a decent overview of the historical settings and people involved. Well worth a read, whether you are a Protestant OR a Roman Catholic! I gave this book four stars.  Buy the book here....

Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up (Book Review)

| 30th January 2019 | Book Review

Straight off, this book will challenge you in your thinking and quite possibly in your practice and outworking of life as a Christian—especially if you are from an evangelical/Baptist/non-denominational background. Will the Real HereticsPlease Stand Up The book starts of taking you carefully through some of the practices and beliefs of the early church and those who knew the Apostles personally. It all feels very hopeful and like you're being led onward in a journey towards a certain goal, much of which I'm sure you'll find agreeable in what Bercot points out as discrepancies between early Christianity and today. Then we get to a few points about the Reformation. Some of the critique I think was a little harsh and not necessarily accurate, painting a fairly negative picture of Martin Luther. Some of the points raised were a fair statement against some of the doctrine and theology that came out of the Reformation period (such as Luther being heavily influenced by Augustine's theology more than earlier church fathers). After the high of the first few chapters, these chapters came as a bit of a punch in the gut. I would also recommend looking up all of Bercot's claims as there does sometimes seem like there is a strong bias of opinion coming through certain chapters, which takes away from the feel of the book trying to give an objective look at the topic at hand. But that aside, Bercot leads you back on this journey, aiming to uplift you once again with hope as he takes you towards a positive look at the Anabaptists. I knew before reading the book that Bercot is an Anabaptist himself, so I was wary that this book might just end up being advertisement for that denominational group as the new modern answer for getting back to early Christian practices. Whilst there are positive points made for the early Anabaptist movement being as close as possible to the early second century church, Bercot isn't shy to criticise the group in its modern form as having lost their zeal and passion for the Gospel. After trying to re-inspire you with the hope that it is somewhat possible to restore early Christianity, as the Anabaptists did, before the Church “married itself to the world” as Bercot claims (and I agree with), he finishes off by asking the reader the question of “what now?” and whether we restore the Church to its former glory. Bercot seems to believe so if only the Church would return to simplicity of holiness and pick up its cross and revolutionary banners again “from where the early martyrs left them”. This book is definitely a call to arms in the holiest sense; a call for us all to re-examine ourselves and our churches to see if what were living, believing and practicing is still in line with the New Testament church which the early Christmas bore witness to. Well worth the read for anyone who takes their faith seriously. Buy the book here. Bonus: Francis Chan's "Letters to the Church" Letters to the Church I've also just finished reading this book by Francis Chan before starting Real Heretics. Although it's not dealing with the Early Church aspect of looking at the primitive Church, it still looks at similar questions of how can we get back to a simpler, more pure faith that the Apostles and Jesus began. It's definitely a challenging book and had struck me right where I needed it to. It's helped verbalise some of the questions and issues I've had for the last few years myself any the current form and format of "church". Though Chan is primarily speaking to an American Evangelical audience, much of his points and criticisms still speak well to my British/UK Evangelical experience. If you've felt disgruntled or at odds with how we "do" church in some places, this book may well inspire you to see things differently and to maybe even enact some changes yourself in your local community — even more so if you are a local church leader in some capacity. Well worth the read, and works well to read befo...

On the Feast of the Nativity, a sermon by Leo the Great

| 22nd December 2018 | Christmas

In the days leading up to Christmas, I wanted to share a sermon from a man known as Leo the Great (aka Pope Leo I), who was a Pope from 440-61 AD. He was one of the most significant and important men in Christian antiquity, as he tried to combat the heresies which seriously threatened church unity in the West, such as Pelagianism. This sermon of his about the incarnation of Christ and what it means for us has always stuck with me since I first read it last April when writing my own book on the Early Church Fathers. It's not that long, so take the time to read it through and let the words sink in as we prepare for Christmas to remember and celebrate the birth of our Saviour and Lord, Christ Jesus. On the Feast of the Nativity, I. I. All share in the joy of Christmas Our Saviour, dearly-beloved, was born today: let us be glad. For there is no proper place for sadness, when we keep the birthday of the Life, which destroys the fear of mortality and brings to us the joy of promised eternity. No one is kept from sharing in this happiness. There is for all one common measure of joy, because as our Lord the destroyer of sin and death finds none free from charge, so is He come to free us all. Let the saint exult in that he draws near to victory. Let the sinner be glad in that he is invited to pardon. Let the gentile take courage in that he is called to life. For the Son of God in the fullness of time which the inscrutable depth of the Divine counsel has determined, has taken on him the nature of man, thereby to reconcile it to its Author: in order that the inventor of death, the devil, might be conquered through that (nature) which he had conquered. And in this conflict undertaken for us, the fight was fought on great and wondrous principles of fairness; for the Almighty Lord enters the lists with His savage foe not in His own majesty but in our humility, opposing him with the same form and the same nature, which shares indeed our mortality, though it is free from all sin. Truly foreign to this nativity is that which we read of all others, no one is clean from stain, not even the infant who has lived but one day upon earth (Job 19:4). Nothing therefore of the lust of the flesh has passed into that peerless nativity, nothing of the law of sin has entered. A royal Virgin of the stem of David is chosen, to be impregnated with the sacred seed and to conceive the Divinely-human offspring in mind first and then in body. And lest in ignorance of the heavenly counsel she should tremble at so strange a result, she learns from converse with the angel that what is to be wrought in her is of the Holy Ghost. Nor does she believe it loss of honour that she is soon to be the Mother of God. For why should she be in despair over the novelty of such conception, to whom the power of the most High has promised to effect it. Her implicit faith is confirmed also by the attestation of a precursory miracle, and Elizabeth receives unexpected fertility: in order that there might be no doubt that He who had given conception to the barren, would give it even to a virgin. II. The mystery of the Incarnation is a fitting theme for joy both to angels and to men Therefore the Word of God, Himself God, the Son of God who in the beginning was with God, through whom all things were made and without whom was nothing made (John 1:1-3), with the purpose of delivering man from eternal death, became man: so bending Himself to take on Him our humility without decrease in His own majesty, that remaining what He was and assuming what He was not, He might unite the true form of a slave to that form in which He is equal to God the Father, and join both natures together by such a compact that the lower should not be swallowed up in its exaltation nor the higher impaired by its new associate. Without detriment therefore to the properties of either substance which then came together in one person, majesty took on humility, strength weakness, eternity mortality: and for the p...