Fleshly Equality

From “On the Mortality,” (252)

it disturbs some that the power of this disease attacks our people equally with the heathens, as if the Christian believed for this purpose, that he might have the enjoyment of the world and this life free from the contact of ills; and not as one who undergoes all adverse things here and is reserved for future joy. It disturbs some that this plague is common to us with others; and yet what is there in this world which is not common to us with others, so long as this flesh of ours still remains, according to the law of our first birth, common to us with them? So long as we are here in the world, we are associated with the human race in fleshly equality, though we are separated in spirit. Therefore until “this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and this mortal receive immortality,” and the Spirit lead us to God the Father, whatsoever are the disadvantages of the flesh are common to us with the human race.

Thus, when the earth is barren with an unproductive harvest, famine makes no distinction; thus, when with the invasion of an enemy any city is taken, captivity at once desolates all; and when the serene clouds withhold the rain, the drought is alike to all; and when the jagged rocks rend the ship, the shipwreck is common without exception to all that sail in her; and the disease of the eyes, and the attack of fevers, and the feebleness of all the limbs is common to us with others, so long as this common flesh of ours is borne by us in the world.

The righteous men have ever possessed endurance. The apostles maintained this discipline from the law of the Lord, not to murmur in adversity, but to accept bravely and patiently whatever things happen in the world… The fear and faith of God ought to make you prepared for everything.  If you have lost your property, if your limbs are harassed constantly and cruelly by agonizing diseases, if you have lost your wife, children, or dear friends, let not these things be offences to you, but battles: nor let them weaken nor break the Christian’s faith, but rather show forth his strength in the struggle, since all the injury inflicted by present troubles is to be despised in the assurance of future blessings.

Unless the battle has come first, there cannot be a victory: when there shall have been, in the onset of battle, the victory, then also the crown is given to the victors. For the helmsman is recognized in the tempest; in the warfare the soldier is proved. It is a meaningless display when there is no danger. Struggle in adversity is the trial of the truth. The tree which is deeply founded in its root is not moved by the onset of winds, and the ship which is compacted of solid timbers is beaten by the waves and is not shattered; and when the threshing-floor brings out the corn, the strong and robust grains despise the winds, while the empty chaff is carried away by the blast that falls upon it.

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.

St. Cyprian of Carthage (ca. 200-258) was a gifted rhetorician who was converted to Christianity and became Bishop of Carthage. He led the church there during two waves of persecution, and defended the offer of reconciliation to those who had lapsed through fear of their lives. The treatise “On the Mortality” responds to questions posed by his flock after the outbreak of a plague in the city. Cyprian was beheaded for the faith during a local wave of persecution and his feast is celebrated on several different days in mid-September by various churches.  


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