Early African Christians knew what it was like to engage in spiritual warfare on a daily basis. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage (d. Sept 14, 258) knew the struggles of his parishioners in North Africa. These struggles with temptation are as relevant today as they were in the third century. Today we are concerned about the rampant corruption, greed, promiscuity that confront us at every turn. It was no less in third century North Africa:
Our warfare is with avarice, with immodesty, with anger, with ambition; our trying and toilsome wrestling with carnal vices, with the enticements of the world. The mind of humanity besieged, and on every hand infested with the onslaught of the devil, scarcely meets the repeated attacks, scarcely resists them. If avarice is humbled, lust springs up. If lust is overcome, ambition takes its place. If ambition is despised, anger exasperates, pride puffs up, drunkenness entices; envy breaks concord: jealousy cuts friendship; you are constrained to curse, which the divine law forbids; you are compelled to swear, which is not lawful. So many persecutions the soul suffers daily, with so many risks is the heart wearied; and yet it delights to abide here long among the devil’s weapons, although it should rather be our craving and wish to hasten to Christ by the aid of a quicker death. Treatise 7.4-5, On Mortality.
Cyprian understood something that many of us today have forgotten: that the tempter is relentless. If one temptation is overcome, there is always another, and another. While he talks about death as an escape, he also realized, as many of the African fathers did, that the spiritual struggles of this life are the training grounds for the spiritual athlete. We are called to endure; but we should not expect any rest until the day we meet Christ face to face.