| Saints and Heroes to the End of the Middle Ages|
|by George Hodges|
| An excellent introduction to the history of the church through portraits of twenty of the most important saints and heroes of the faith from the third century A.D. to the time of the Reformation. Includes Cyprian, Athanasius, Ambrose, Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, Benedict, Greg-ory the Great, Columba, Charlemagne, Hildebrand, Anselm, Bernard, Becket, Langton, Dominic, Francis, Wycliffe, Hus, and Savonarola. Ages 11-14 |
 JUST about the time when Cyprian was born in Carthage,
Perpetua and Felicitas amazed the people. Everybody
was talking about it.
Perpetua was twenty-two years old. Cyprian's father
and mother must have known her very well. The two
families belonged to the same high-born and wealthy
society. They were all pagans together. But Perpetua
had become a Christian. It was as if, in Russia, the
daughter of a noble family should become an anarchist.
She joined the Christians. Then spies broke in upon a
secret meeting. She and her companions were brought
before the court; and they were all sentenced to be
tortured till they changed their minds, or
 died. Felicitas, one of the company, was a slave girl.
Many of the Christians belonged to the slave class.
The new religion was largely recruited from the poorest
fact made Perpetua's association with them
so much the more monstrous. Perpetua's family and
friends implored her to renounce her Christian faith.
They brought her little baby and begged her, for the
child's sake, to sacrifice to the gods, and come home.
But she refused. The young men who were arrested with
her were thrown to the lions. Perpetua and Felicitas
were tossed by a wild cow, and finally killed by the
Amidst such scenes, Cyprian was born in Carthage. In
his childhood, the Christians were still in constant
peril. They were daily liable to insult, hooting, and
stoning in the streets. The emperor Septimius Severus
made it a crime under the law to invite anybody to join
the Christian society. There was even a
 proposition to deny to the Christians the right of
Then the emperors became too busy with other matters to
pay much further attention to the spread of
Christianity. Some of them were occupied with vicious
pleasures, some with civil strife, some with the
increasing dangers of barbarian invasion. There was a
long peace. Maximin, indeed, broke it in 235; but
otherwise it extended from the beginning of the young
manhood of Cyprian till he was of an age of between
fifty-five and sixty years.
When the persecution began again, in 249, in the reign
of Decius, Cyprian himself had become a Christian.
He had first chosen the profession of the law, and
attained a wide reputation for his eloquence, and had
become a senator. He was rich both by his own efforts
and by his family inheritance and lived handsomely in a
great house, in the midst
 of extensive grounds. He had the esteem of his fellow
citizens. He seemed to be in possession of all that
makes life pleasant. He had reached the age of
forty-five, when one is easily contented with a
comfortable estate, and indisposed to change.
About that time he wrote a letter to his friend
Donatus. "Donatus,"—he said, in
effect,—"this is a cheerful world indeed as I see
it from my fair garden, under the shadow of my vines.
But if I could ascend some high mountain, and look out
over the wide lands, you know very well that I should
see: brigands on the highways, pirates on the seas,
armies fighting, cities burning, in the amphitheaters
men murdered to please applauding crowds, selfishness
and cruelty and misery and despair under all roofs. It
is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. But
I have discovered in the midst of it a company of quiet
and holy people who have learned a great secret. They
have found a joy which
 is a thousand times better than any of the pleasures of
our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but
they care not: they are masters of their souls. They
have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are
the Christians,—and I am one of them."
Cyprian was baptized. Within a year, he was ordained.
year, the bishop of Carthage died, and Cyprian was
chosen in his place. The choice was made by the
Christian people. They demanded Cyprian. They
besieged his house, shouting his name. They gave him
no peace till he consented. Thus he became, as the
title ran, the Pope of Carthage.
Then arose the Decian persecution.
The thousandth year of the history of Rome had been
celebrated with triumphal games, and the emperor Decius
was resolved to make the empire great again as it had
been of old. But two things were
 necessary: one was the favor of the gods, the other was
the unity of the people. And both of these were
contradicted by the Christians. They not only refused
to worship the gods, but daily reviled them; and they
were a mysterious society, having their own purposes,
keeping themselves apart from their neighbors. Plainly
the first step toward a renewal of the old strength and
glory of Rome was to put an end to the Christians.
Thus began the first general persecution. For almost
a hundred years the Christians had lived in peril of
their lives. Now in this city and now in that, they
had been chased through the streets by mobs, and flung
to lions and fire in the arena. But, at the command of
Decius, the whole might of the Roman Empire was arrayed
against them. In all places, Christians were thrust
into prisons, scourged, starved, beaten with forks on
iron, driven into the mountains and the deserts. In
Jeru-  salem, in Antioch, the bishop died a martyr.
The persecution made two significant disclosures.
It showed, on the one side, how great a place the
Christian religion had come to hold in the lives of the
people. For the sake of it, they despised death. They
withstood the whole force of the imperial power. They
declared that they were Christians, and no torture
could make them deny their faith. The storm raged for
more than a year, and when, in 251, Decius fell in
battle fighting against the Goths, and the persecution
ceased, the Christians were not defeated. They had
suffered untold distresses, but the endeavor to destroy
them had failed.
On the other side, the persecution disclosed an
unexpected weakness. The long peace which preceded it
had brought into the Church a great number of persons
who had brought their sins along
 with them. That quiet and holy company which Cyprian
had described to Donatus had come to contain men and
women without any real understanding of religion, led
astray by avarice and evil temper and offenses of the
flesh, and ministered to by priests and even by bishops
who were neglectful of their duties, and examples of
evil rather than of good. When the persecution fell,
these bad Christians, and a still greater crowd of weak
ones, appeared immediately. They renounced their
religion. They sacrificed to idols. The pagan altars
were crowded with throngs of Christians in desperate
haste to forsake Christ.
When the persecution was over the Church was confronted
with two serious problems.
The first problem concerned the proper treatment of
those who had denied the faith. A great number of
these weak and frightened people who had deserted their
reli-  gion desired to return. What should be done about
that? Some proposed to meet them with charity, and
welcome such as were really ashamed and sorry, with all
loving kindness. Others proposed to meet them with
severity, and were reluctant to take them back on any
terms whatever. Let them wait for the everlasting
verdict of God.
The second problem arose from the increasing bitterness
with which this debate was carried on. The advocates
of severity refused to yield anything to the advocates
of charity. And when the charitable people won the day
in the decisions of Christian assemblies, the severe
people declared that they would not belong to a church
which could deal with mortal sin so lightly. They went
apart by themselves, and chose their own bishops and
made their own laws. Thus to the question, What shall
we do with those who have denied the faith? was added
the question, What shall
 we do with those who have
separated from the Church?
Cyprian came back from the safe place which had
sheltered him during the storm of persecution and met
these difficult problems. To his clear, legal mind,
trained in the conduct of Roman administration, the
need of the moment was a strong, central authority. As
regarded the lapsed, he was on the side of charity.
How could he be otherwise who, in fear or in prudence,
had concealed himself from the perils of martyrdom?
But as regarded the separatists, he took the position
to which his experience as a Roman lawyer inclined him.
He maintained the authority of the Church. There is
only one church, he said, and outside of it is no
salvation. "Whoever he is and wherever he is, he is
not a Christian who is not in the Church of Christ."
And the Church, he said, consists of those who obey the
regularly appointed bishop. "The bishop
 is in the Church, and the Church is in the bishop, and
if any one is with the bishop, he is not with the
Church." The statements are important, because they
are the first clear utterances of a new era. They mark
the definite beginning of the Church as a factor of
essential importance in the Christian religion.
Then the persecution under Decius was followed by a
persecution under Valerian.
The attack of Decius had been directed against all
Christians; the attack of Valerian was directed mainly
against the clergy. The idea was that if the leaders
were taken away the Christian societies would fall into
confusion. Thus, in Carthage, the storm fell on
Cyprian. He made no attempt to escape. He was
arrested, and brought to the court through streets
lined with people, Christian and pagan. "Your name is
Cyprian?" asked the proconsul. "It is," "You are the
pope of a sacrilegious sect?" "I am." "The emperors
 require you to offer sacrifice." "I refuse to do so."
Thereupon the inevitable sentence was pronounced.
"Thanks be to God!" said Cyprian.
He was led to the place of execution, the whole city
attending. There was no pagan shouting. The man of
blameless life and devotion to the good of others had
won the esteem and affection of his neighbors. He took
off his red cloak, and knelt in prayer. He directed
that twenty-five pieces of gold should be given to the
executioner. Then he bowed his head, and the ax
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