The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 1


CHAPTER FIFTEEN: Cyprian, Victorinus, and Methodius

I. Cyprian—Without Outline—Prophecy Perspective

CYPRIAN (c. 200-258), bishop of Carthage, greatest bishop of the third century, was likewise a premillenarian, though he had no clear view as to the particular time of the advent. Springing from the wealthy nobility of Carthage, trained in rhetoric and law, ranking high in social life, he nevertheless became a conspicuous confessor of Christ. Converted by a presbyter, about 246, he forsook the world, sold his estates for the benefit of the poor, and in ascetic retirement devoted himself to the study of the Scriptures and church teachers, especially Tertullian, for whose works Cyprian daily asked, with the words, “Hand me the masterl” Possessing marked administrative ability, Cyprian was made a bishop about two years after his conversion, retaining this position until his martyrdom, a decade later. Conspicuous in church organization and discipline, he directed his polemics principally against schismatics. PFF1 331.1


Tertullian’s influence upon Cyprian’s theological concepts was unmistakable. Like Tertullian, he exhibited a spirit of opposition to Rome’s hierarchal assumptions of lordship. Cyprian believed in “the universal parity and community of bishops.” 1 In the controversy over heretical baptism, he regarded the bishop of Rome as only a colleague; 2 he was conscious of his own equal dignity and authority, contending that under no conditions should heretics be admitted to the church without first being purified from their errors by Catholic baptism. 3 In his letter against Bishop Stephen, of Rome, 4 he quotes Firmilian’s charge of error and abuse of power, and calls tradition without truth merely antiquity of error. PFF1 331.2

Though Cyprian’s Unity o f the Church is used as the “magna charta” of the Roman primacy, he nevertheless contended zealously for an independent episcopate. Although he was the patron and defender of the presbyters and lay co-operation, the presbytery being an apostolic institution and associated with the bishops, his strong governing ability tended to increase his own episcopal authority at the expense of the presbyters. Thus he built up the authority of episcopal councils, which the popes ever labored to supplant. He believed in the theory of a primacy of the bishop of Rome, yet opposed its practical application. This contradictory element was characteristic. His position on conciliar primacy had to be practically destroyed by “decretalism” before it was possible for the pretentious figure of the supreme pontiff to rise and subject the Latin churches to the novelty of Ecclesia in Papa. Cyprian was antagonistic to this principle. He stood for representative church government and the legitimate power of the laity, and epitomized his position in the maxim Ecclesia in Episcopo (the church in the bishop). Later the great schism of the ninth century placed the Latin church clearly upon the foundations of the forged decretals, which substituted for the idea of “first among equals” the fictitious idea of the divine supremacy of one bishop and one see. 5 PFF1 332.1


Cyprian lived in the atmosphere of persecution, and often in the presence of torture and death. He had supreme contempt both for suffering and for worldly environment. Indeed, intense conviction generally marked the martyr spirit of the time. The evasions of those who dared not make a confession of Christ were denounced, together with the lapses of those shrinking from martyrdom. Cyprian declared that the thirst for martyrdom, which existed among Christians, arose from believing that those who suffered for Christ would obtain a martyr’s reward. PFF1 332.2

The outbreak of the Decian persecution, in A.D. 250, induced Cyprian to retire into concealment for a time, during which period he probably wrote his thirty-eight epistles to the clergy. Decius had determined to rehabilitate the old pagan religion, and issued his universal edict to all the governors of the provinces to suppress Christianity and to require all to sacrifice to the imperial gods. Confiscation, exile, torture, and death followed. 6 This severe persecution, which was continued in the two succeeding reigns, led Cyprian to believe that the end of the world, at the second advent of Christ, was at hand with the antecedent coming of Antichrist—which conviction he emphasized. PFF1 333.1

Later persecutions under Valerian brought Cyprian’s active labors to a close. He was sent into exile for about a year, being banished in 257, and was brought back to Carthage in 258 to martyrdom. When his own sentence of death was read to him, he said, “I heartily thank Almighty God, who is pleased to set me free from the chains of the body.” When he was led to execution, weeping friends cried, “Let us also be beheaded with him.” He knelt in prayer, covered his eyes with his own hand, and awaited the executioner, to whom he commanded the sum of about six pounds to be given. 7 PFF1 333.2


Cyprian prayed, in his treatise On the Lord’s Prayer, for Christ soon to come into His kingdom, declaring; that His advent was craved by the Christians. PFF1 333.3

“We pray that our kingdom, which has been promised us by God, may come, which was acquired by the blood and passion of Christ; that we who first are His subjects in the world, may hereafter reign with Christ when He reigns, as He Himself promises and says, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, receive the kingdom which has been prepared for you from the beginning of the world.’ Christ Himself, dearest brethren, however, may be the kingdom of God, whom we day by day desire to come, whose advent we crave to be quickly manifested to us. For since He is Himself the Resurrection, since in Him we rise again, so also the kingdom of God may be understood to be Himself, since in Him we shall reign.” 8 PFF1 334.1


He does not expound the time prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse, nor even the prophetic symbols of Daniel 2 and 7, but he refers to Christ’s great prophecy of the signs of the last days. The time element was sharply foreshortened to his gaze; he placed his expectation on the imminence of the advent. He deemed it inconsistent to anticipate any lengthy continuance of their present affairs, and urged all to await the sudden advent of the Lord. During a pestilence he consoled his flock with the prospect of the kingdom of God: PFF1 334.2

“Since those occur which were foretold before, whatever things were promised will also follow; as the Lord Himself promises, saying, ‘But when ye see all these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is at hand.’ The kingdom of God, beloved brethren, is beginning to be at hand; the reward of life, and the rejoicing of eternal salvation, and the perpetual gladness and possession lately lost of paradise, are now coming, with the passing away of the world.” 9 PFF1 334.3

An exhortation to martyrdom thus appeals to his readers to be prepared: PFF1 334.4

“For you ought to know and to believe, and hold it for certain, that the day of affliction has begun to hang over our heads, and the end of the world and the time of Antichrist to draw near, so that we must all stand prepared for the battle; nor consider anything but the glory of life eternal, and the crown of the confession of the Lord; and not regard those things which are coming as being such as were those which have passed away. A severer and a fiercer fight is now threatening, for which the soldiers of Christ ought to prepare themselves with uncorrupted faith and robust courage.” 10 PFF1 334.5


Cyprian declared that tile time of the threatening Antichrist, foretold in the Apocalypse, drew nigh, and would be followed by the speedy advent of Christ. PFF1 335.1

“Nor let any one of you, beloved brethren, be so terrified by the fear of future persecution, or the coming of the threatening Antichrist, as not to be found armed for all things by the evangelical exhortations and precepts, and by the heavenly warnings. Antichrist is coming, but above him comes Christ also. The enemy goeth about and rageth, but immediately the Lord follows to avenge our sufferings and our wounds. The adversary is enraged and threatens, but there is One who can deliver us from his hands .... And in the Apocalypse He instructs and forewarns, saying, ‘If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead or in his hand, the same also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, mixed in the cup of His indignation, and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb; and the smoke of their torments shall ascend tip for ever and ever; and they shall have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image.”’ 11 PFF1 335.2

Antiochus was set forth by Cyprian as a type of the coming Antichrist. 12 PFF1 335.3


Firmly believing that the second coming of Christ would overthrow Antichrist in the last times, as He establishes the kingdom of His saints, Cyprian looked for the eternal kingdom to follow the second advent, but had no definite concept, seemingly, of the relationship of the resurrection and the millennium to this expectation. 13 PFF1 335.4


He maintained that the portents predicted by Paul, in 2 Timothy 3:1-9, were then being fulfilled, apostasy being far advanced, and that the world’s decline had come. 14 He also believed that, because of the then-existent conditions, the day of judgment was drawing near. PFF1 335.5

“That wars continue frequently to prevail, that death and famine accumulate anxiety, that health is shattered by raging diseases, that the human race is wasted by the desolation of pestilence, know that this was foretold; that evils should be multiplied in the last times, and that misfortunes should be varied; and that as the day of judgment is now drawing nigh, the censure of an indignant God should be more and more aroused for the scourging of the human race.” 15 PFF1 336.1


Cyprian frequently declared his belief that the second coming of Christ, with the last things, was about to come to pass according to divine prediction. PFF1 336.2

“Nor let it disturb you, dearest brethren, if with some, in these last times, either an uncertain faith is wavering, or a fear of God without religion is vacillating, or a peaceable concord does not continue. These things have been foretold as about to happen in the end of the world; and it was predicted by the voice if the Lord, and by the testimony of the apostles, that now that the world is failing, and the Antichrist is drawing near, everything good shall fail, but evil and adverse things shall prosper.” 16 PFF1 336.3

Christians are to be admonished by the world’s approaching collapse, as of an aged dwelling, 17 and are to wait in readiness for the sudden appearance of the Lord. 18 This is the dominant note. PFF1 336.4


It is evident that Cyprian followed the other fathers in the current computation of the world’s duration of six thousand years until the end, 19 and made the seventh millenary the consummation of all. But on the great outline prophecies Cyprian wrote little. PFF1 336.5