The Heroism of Charity

peste ad Atene

“Charity suffereth long, and is kind.”

–1 Cor. 13:4.

The early Christian leader, Cyprian, once told the early Christians…

“Behold Christ Himself, in your captive brethren, and redeem from captivity Him who has redeemed us from death. Snatch from the hands of the barbarians Him who has snatched us from the grasp of the demon, and purchase with money the liberation of Him who purchased us with His blood.”

To such appeals no Christian could continue insensible. The heroism of charity was sometimes carried so far that freemen offered themselves to serve instead of the captives. Such was the fervor of the love of the brethren; but charity must not confine itself within these limits, it must embrace all mankind, and seek the good of every fellow-creature.

Thus when cruel epidemics ravaged Carthage and Alexandria, the Christians were ever foremost at the bedside of the dying, never asking whether those whom they thus tended had not been among their persecutors. While terror reigned in the desolated villages, as their inhabitants were stricken down in multitudes, and the unburied dead were spreading death in the air, the proscribed Christians were the only helpers.

“If we show kindness only to our own,” says Cyprian to his brethren, “we shall be no better than the pagans and the publicans. We, as Christians, are called to return good for evil, and to pray for those who persecute us. Since we are the children of God, let us be like Him in compassion.” The Christians of Alexandria showed themselves no less devoted during the plague which broke out in their city. Many of them paid with their life for the courage with which they braved the epidemic by the bedside of their worst enemies. When charity has reached this height of self-abnegation, so that it can rise above all private enmities and national distinctions, it is truly a reflection of the Divine and perfect love. It embraces in its pity all who are embraced by the infinite compassion, and it is truly human, because truly Divine. The old selfish, exclusive principle is utterly subdued.

When Cyprian contrasted the parsimony of the Church with the largesses of the world to its prince, who had shed no blood for his subjects, nor won heaven for them, he used a rhetorical license to move the Christians to greater liberality; but he knew that the so-called sacrifices of the pagan world were made to its own evil passions, and cost it very little, and he could not deny that in that city of Carthage, where his noble example had been so eagerly followed, charity had appeared as a heavenly vision upon an accursed earth.

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Meet this early Christian leader and part of your Christian heritage: Cyprian (Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus) (c. 200 – September 14, 258) was bishop of Carthage and an important Early Christian writer, many of whose Latin works are extant. He was born around the beginning of the 3rd century in North Africa, perhaps at Carthage, where he received a classical education. After converting to Christianity, he became a bishop soon after in 249. A controversial figure during his lifetime, his strong pastoral skills, firm conduct during the Novatianist heresy and outbreak of the plague, as well as his eventual martyrdom at Carthage vindicated his reputation in the eyes of the Church.

His skillful Latin rhetoric led to his being considered the pre-eminent Latin writer of Western Christianity until Jerome and Augustine. At the end of 256 a new persecution of the Christians under Emperor Valerian I broke out, and in Africa Cyprian courageously prepared his people for the expected edict of persecution by his De exhortatione martyrii, and himself set an example when he was brought before the Roman proconsul Aspasius Paternus (August 30, 257). He refused to sacrifice to the pagan deities and firmly professed Christ.

The proconsul banished him to Curubis, modern Korba, whence he comforted to the best of his ability his flock and his banished clergy. In a vision he saw his approaching fate. When a year had passed he was recalled and kept practically a prisoner in his own villa, in expectation of severe measures after a new and more stringent imperial edict arrived, demanding the execution of all Christian clerics, according to reports of it by Christian writers.

On September 13, 258, he was imprisoned at the behest of the new proconsul, Galerius Maximus. The day following he was examined for the last time and sentenced to die by the sword. His only answer was “Thanks be to God!” The execution was carried out at once in an open place near the city. A vast multitude followed Cyprian on his last journey. He removed his garments without assistance, knelt down, and prayed. After he blindfolded himself, he was beheaded by the sword.

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The brief biographical sketch was taken from Wikipedia
Story taken and adapted from Anecdotes Illustrative of New Testament Texts, Author Unknown