SS. NEMESIANUS, FELIX, LUCIUS, ANOTHER FELIX, LITTEUS, POLIANUS, VICTOR, JADER, AND DATIVUS, BISHOPS; WITH MANY PRIESTS, DEACONS, AND OTHER COMPANIONS, PART MARTYRS, PART CONFESSORS, IN NUMIDIA
IN the first year of the eighth general persecution, raised by Valerian, St. Cyprian was banished by the proconsul of Carthage to Curubis. At the same time the president of Numidia* proceeded with more severity against the Christians, tortured many, and afterward put several to barbarous deaths, and sent others to work in the mines, or rather in quarries of marble; for Pliny tells us there were no other in Numidia. Out of this holy company some were frequently culled to be tormented afresh, or inhumanly butchered, whilst others continued their lingering martyrdom in hunger, nakedness, and filth, exhausted with hard labor, and tormented with daily stripes, and perpetual reproaches and insults. St. Cyprian wrote from the place of his banishment to comfort and encourage these gallant sufferers for their faith.1 He tells them, that hearing of their glorious conflicts he earnestly desired to wait upon them in person, and hasten to their embraces; but was not able, being himself in banishment, and confined to the limits of the place appointed for him. He adds: “Yet in heart and spirit I am with you, and my letter must perform the office of my tongue, in expressing to you the joy of my soul for the glory of your virtues, and the share I reckon myself to have in it, though not by a participation of your sufferings, yet, by the communion of charity. It is impossible for me to be silent when I hear such glorious things of my nearest and dearest friends, whom the favorable providence of God hath vouchsafed to honor with such extraordinary graces; some of your happy company having already attained the crown of martyrdom, whilst others stay yet behind in bonds, or in the mines, and by the delay of their consummation, encourage our brethren to follow their example, and to aspire after like honors with them. Their slow and lingering torments enhance their crowns, and each day of their continuance in a state of suffering will entitle them to a distinct reward. That our Lord should prefer you to the highest honors, I cannot wonder, since you have all along proceeded in one regular and uniform course of faith and obedience; and the Church hath ever found you peaceable and orderly members, diligent and faithful in the charge committed to you; careful always of the poor; vigorous and constant in defence of the truth; firm and strict in your observance of her discipline” (viz., never giving in to the faction of those who encouraged unreasonable relaxations); “and, to crown your other virtues you now, by your example, lead on the rest of your brethren to martyrdom.—As to the entrance you made upon your gallant confession by being beaten with clubs, Christians should not shrink at a club, who have all their hopes founded in the wood of the cross, by which they were redeemed unto life eternal. A servant of Christ discerns in wood a figure of his salvation, and embraces in it the instrument by which he is preferred to the martyr’s glory. They have manacled your feet with fetters marked with infamy; but they cannot reach your souls; and that iron sits rather as an ornament upon persons devoted to God. Happy are the feet so bound, which are moving forward in their blessed journey to paradise. You have nothing but the ground to receive your weary limbs after the labors of the day; but surely you will not account it a punishment to lie on the ground with your master Christ. Your bodies are loathsome and nasty for want of bathing;* but your spirits are cleansed in the inner man, proportionably as the flesh of the outer suffers through dirt and filth. Your bread is poor and scanty; but man doth not live by bread alone, but by the word of God. You are in want of clothing to keep out the cold; but he who hath put on Christ is abundantly clothed and adorned. The hair of your head, when half of it is shaved, hath a dismal and ignominious aspect;† but nothing can misbecome a head, renowned for its adherence to Christ. How will all these deformities, which make such a shocking appearance in the eye of the Gentile world, be recompensed in eternal glory with honors pro portionable to your disgrace! Neither can your religion suffer, even from that hard circumstance, that the priests among you have not the liberty, nor the opportunity to offer, and celebrate the divine sacrifice;‡ but you present yourselves victims to God with the sacrifice of a contrite and humbled heart, which he will not despise, and which you cease not to offer day and night.”
The holy archbishop goes on pathetically encouraging the confessors to take the cup of salvation with readiness and alacrity, and to receive with courage and constancy that death which is precious in the sight of God, who graciously looks down upon their conflict, approves and assists their ardor, and crowns them when victorious, recompensing the virtues which himself hath wrought in them. That great saint puts them in mind that their crowns would be multiplied by all those whom their courage should excite to virtue. “Accordingly,” says he, “a great number of our lay-brethren have followed your example, have confessed our Lord, and stand thence entitled to a crown with you; as being united to you in the bonds of an invincible charity, and not suffering themselves to be divided from their bishops, either in the mines, or in the prison. Nor are you without the company of tender virgins, who move forwards to their crown with the double title of virgins and martyrs. Even the courage of children hath approved itself beyond their age, and the glory of their confession hath surpassed their years; so that your blessed troop of martyrs hath each age and sex to adorn it. How strong, my beloved brethren, is even now the sense of your victory! How joyful must it be to you to consider that each of you stand in readiness to receive the promised recompense at the hands of God: that you are secure of the issues of the last judgment: that Christ affordeth you his gracious presence, and rejoiceth to see the fortitude and patience of his servants who follow his steps to their joy and crown. You live in daily expectation of being dismissed to your proper home, to your heavenly habitation,” &c. The confessors thanked Saint Cyprian for his letter, which, they say, had alleviated their stripes and hardships, and rendered them insensible of those noisome exhalations with which the place of their confinement abounded. They tell him, that by gloriously confessing his faith in the proconsul’s court, and going before them into banishment, he had sounded the charge to them, and animated all the soldiers of God to the conflict. They conclude begging his prayers, and say: “Let us assist one another by our prayers, that God and Christ, and the whole choir of angels may lend us their favorable succor when we shall most want it.”2 This glorious company of saints is commemorated on this day in the Roman Martyrology.