Last Wednesday, our Catholic Study Group read about St. Cyprian, who was a public orator, teacher of rhetoric and pleader in the courts who converted to Christianity in or about 246 A.D. As a child and to the present day, I remembered that his name was commemorated in the Roman Canon of the Mass.
In 248 A.D., Cyprian was elected the Catholic Bishop of Carthage in North Africa, and in this capacity, this great Bishop as well as all Christianity endured a brutal persecution under the emperor Decius. Not only did Decius want to murder all Christians, he desired to completely do away with this religion. Of course, he failed miserably. Nevertheless, because of this persecution, Cyprian was driven into exile, wherein he ruled his Diocese by correspondence. I think of St. Paul who also guided the Christians during his various imprisonments through all of his letters to the Christian Churches. At or about 251 A.D., St. Cyprian returned to Carthage; however, he found that many Christians denied their faith so that they might live, but seeing their betrayal, desired to be reconciled with the Church.
It is in this context that St. Cyprian wrote his famous work, The Unity of the Catholic Church, which has 27 points, to address in part, the issues of such betrayal, and to further address those individuals who were against such a reconciliation with the Church.
But in our study of this great man, we found what he said absolutely relevant to our current situation in history. One of our group members said that it was as though St. Cyprian was writing to us right now. Here is what he said about the devil that we must remember in our daily lives:
The devil’s wiles must be unmasked and overcome by obedience to Christ’s commands…
Our Lord solemnly warns us: You are the salt of the earth, and bids us in our love of good to be not only simple but prudent as well. Accordingly, dearest brethren, what else ought we to do but be on our guard and watch vigilantly, in order to know the snares of our crafty foe and to avoid them? Otherwise, after putting on Christ who is the Wisdom of God the Father, we may be found to have failed in wisdom for the care of our souls. It is not persecution alone that we ought to fear, nor those forces that in open warfare range abroad to overthrow and defeat the servants of God. It is easy enough to be on one’s guard when the danger is obvious; one can stir up one’s courage for the fight when the Enemy shows himself in his true colours. There is more need to fear and beware of the Enemy when he creeps up secretly, when he beguiles us by a show of peace and steals forward by those hidden approaches which have earned him the name of the ‘Serpent’. Such is ever his craft: lurking in the dark, he ensnares men by trickery. That was how at the very beginning of the world he deceived and by lying words of flattery beguiled the unguarded credulity of a simple soul; that was how he tried to tempt Our Lord Himself, approaching Him in disguise, as though he could once more creep upon his victim and deceive Him. But he was recognized and beaten back, and he was defeated precisely through being detected and unmasked.
Here we are given an example how to break company with the ‘old man,’ how to follow in the steps of Christ to victory, so that we may not carelessly stumble again into the snare of death, but being alive to the danger, hold fast to the immortality given us. And how can we hold fast to immortality unless we observe those commandments of Christ by which death is defeated and conquered? He Himself assures us: If thou wilt attain to life, keep the commandments; and again: If ye do what I command you, I call you no longer servants but friends. . .
This is precisely why Dr. Eowyn founded the Fellowship of the Minds, to fight evil, to fight this devil, by detecting the evil and unmasking it, and then to follow through to fight by putting on the armor of God in all aspects of our lives. Does St. Cyprian’s description of the devil and evil remind you of what is going on in our nation and in our world?
So Truth and Light go on, because all things are possible through Jesus Christ who strengthens us, and we fight together this ‘old man’ and all evil forever and ever! In the meantime, my fellow warriors in the Fellowship, lead by our brilliant and holy Dr. Eowyn, detect and unmask evil in all of its many forms. St. Cyprian ultimately was martyred, beheaded, during the reign of emperor Valerian because he refused to sacrifice to the pagan gods. We remember what St. Cyprian said about the devil, about evil, as we go forth in our daily battles. My motto is the same as St. Joan’s motto that was written on her banner, her favorite possession, “Jesu Maria” – forever and ever!
With the greatest respect and love,
The Treasury of Catholic Wisdom, edited and with an introduction by John A. Hardon, S.J., Ignatius Press 1995;
Butler’s Lives of the Saints, Edited by Michael Walsh, first Harper Collins Edition Published in 1991.