Cyprian of Carthage – On Patience – The Virtue Above All Others

Genius is nothing but a greater aptitude for patience.

~Benjamin Franklin.

Recalling my days in seminary and the fun times had, including those whopping breaks where table tennis was the staple, I also remember an intriguing study on Cyprian of Carthage–the Early Church Father. I did a study on his work called, On Patience, and I found it fascinating.

Here are some of my condensed notes:

Cyprian links the concepts of wisdom and humility with patience. And to those who are worldly wise: “true wisdom is not with them… neither can true patience be.” Further, no matter how wise a person is, if they are “pleased with themselves (i.e. they are not being humble and mild), [they show] they cannot please God.”

Cyprian shows us, Jesus is perfect patience. The meaning Cyprian attaches to patience is better described as grace in our time. Jesus was the perfect example-pointedly, if it had been any other way, “the Church would not have had Paul as an apostle.”

Jesus is shown as the model of patience; he’s so “Jesus-like” to complete in deeds what he required of his disciples, forever patient he was with them.

Cyprian paints an awesome picture of reality in Bearing the Pains of This Life. With all the “effort and toil… there can be no consolations to help those undergoing them except patience.” Patience is a critical attribute of the character of the person of God; it doesn’t just show how close we are to God.

God’s character is patient. When we seek God, we seek to become like him, to behave like him and so we are to strive to work towards, and exhibit, his patience. For, to put up with the world and the “afflictions of the devil,” those close to God need patience; patience enough to “bear everything that is thrown at us.”

This fruit of patience to persevere through the entirety of life is characterised by Romans 8:25-we wait patiently for that we hope for. In relation to the hope of glory, Cyprian is reminding us to “persevere in patience and strength” so we may actually win the prize.

Love doesn’t endure without patience.

In a believer’s heart, patience means anger has no room to set up house, certainly not one with strong foundations. Endurance in the midst of extreme pain reveals the righteous in God-“it is their patience that reveals the righteous to be true [as opposed to those]… who complain in adversity and blaspheme in their impatience.”

Impatience brings “the devil’s curse.” Cyprian cuts to an issue of personal passion. He cites areas of major sin that occurred in history; all point to impatience. Not only that, but “it is impatience:

[T]hat produces those who break from orthodox belief within the Church and who,

in their rebellion against the peace and love of Christ, are driven into furious hatreds.

Cyprian was big on schisms in the church-having been personally touched by them-and about those that “lapsed” he wrote a thesis called On the Unity of the Church.

Genius, then, given all the aforementioned, is vast advantage in all things in life if it’s agreed that it contributes notably to patience-and along with “thankfulness” could be considered a king virtue. Perhaps again, patience is also accurately considered “grace,” in today’s terms.

And the real good news is genius can be developed, and it is certainly something that’s also identifiable in each of us i.e. “what” we’re ingenious with, and how ingenious we can be in given situations. Let us use the learning provided by Cyprian to enhance our understanding of patience, so when we find our genius, we can then in turn have greater aptitude to patience.

General Reference: O. Davies, (ed.), T. Witherow, (trans.), C. Smith O.S.B. (intro.), Born to New Life – Cyprian of Carthage, (New City Press, New York, 1992). All quotes are from this text. For simplicity reasons I left out the citations.