(Maintained by consent, and caressed by excuses, p.557.)
The severer discipline of early Christianity must not be discarded by those who claim it for the canon of Scripture; for modes of baptism, confirmation, and other rites; for Church polity, in short; and for the Christian year. Let us note that the whole spirit of antiquity is opposed to worldliness. It reflects the precept, |Be not conformed to this world,| and in nothing more emphatically than in hostility to theatrical amusements, which in our days are re-asserting the deadly influence over Christians which Cyprian and Tertullian and other Fathers so solemnly denounced. If they were |maintained by consent, and caressed by excuses,| even in the martyr-age, no wonder that in our Laodicean period they baffle all exertions of faithful watchmen, who enforce the baptismal vow against |pomps and vanities,| always understood of theatrical shows, and hence part of that |world, the flesh, and the devil| which Christians have renounced.
(Now is the axe laid to the root, p.586.)
Matt. iii.10. |Securis ad radicem arboris posita est,| says Cyprian, quoting the Old Latin, with which the Vulgate substantially agrees. A very diligent biblical scholar directs attention to the vulgar abuse of this saying, which turns upon a confusion of the active verb to lay, with the neuter verb to lie. It is quoted as if it read, Lay the axe to the root, and is |interpreted, popularly, as of felling a tree, an incumbrance or a nuisance....Hence it often makes radical reformers in Church and State, and becomes the motto of many a reckless leader whose way has been to teach, not upward by elevating the ignoble, but downward by sinking the elevated....There is something similar in Latin: jacio to hurl; and jaceo, to lie, recline, or remain at rest. Beza follows the Vulgate (posita est); but the original is clear, -- keitai, is laid, or lieth....It means, The axe is ready; it lieth near the root, in mercy and in menace....The long-suffering of God waiteth as in the days of Noah...waiteth, i.e., for good fruit.|
Compare Luke xiii.9: |If it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.| Such is the argument of Cyprian, in view of the approaching |end of time.|
Let me here call attention to the mischievous use of words common among modern Latins, even the best of them. Thus, Pellicia mentions Cyprian as referring his synodical judgment to |the supreme chair of the Church of Rome.| No need to say that his reference proves nothing of the kind. |Supremacy,| indeed! Consult Bossuet and the Gallicans on that point, even after Trent. The case cited is evidence of the very reverse. Cyprian and his Carthaginian colleagues wished, also, the conspicuous co-operation of their Italian brethren; and so he writes to |Cornelius, our colleague,| who, |with very many comprovincial bishops, having held a council, concurred in the same opinion.| It is an instance of fraternal concurrence on grounds of entire equality; and Cyprian's courteous invitation to his |colleague| Cornelius and his comprovincials to co-operate, is a striking illustration of the maxim, |Totus apellandus sit orbis, ubi totum orbem causa spectat.| Compare St. Basil's letters to the Western bishops, in which he reminds them that the Gospel came to them from the East. This is a sort of primacy recognised by St. Paul himself, as it was afterwards, when Jerusalem was recognised as |the mother of all the churches| by a general council, writing to Damasus, bishop of Rome, himself.