A Friend of the World is an Enemy to God. A Consideration of St Cyprian’s Teaching against the Fear of Death

As we wrap up November and the traditional meditation we make on the four last things (death, judgement, heaven and hell), A classic meditation of St. Cyprian comes to mind. It is a meditation on a fundamental human struggle to be free of undue attachment to this world and to truly have God, and the things waiting for us in heaven, as our highest priority.

St. Cyprian has in mind the Book of James, and also the Epistle of St John. Yes, surely these dramatic texts are present in his mind as he writes. Hence, before pondering St. Cyprian, it may be good to reference these pounding and uncompromising texts:

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God…..Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (James 4:4,8)

The Lord Jesus, of course, had first said,

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. (Matt 6:24)

And St. John also adds:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

Nothing is perhaps so difficult to imagine, especially for us moderns, as being wholly free of the enticements of the world. These texts, so adamant and uncompromising, shock us by their sweeping condemnation of “the world.” Who can really say that they have no love for the world?

We may perhaps find temporary refuge in some distinctions. For, while the adulterous love of attachment, and preference for the world, over its creator is certainly to be condemned. Yet, surely the love of appreciation for what is good, true and beautiful in the world is proper. Does not St. Paul speak of those things which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. (1 Tim 4:3-5).

Our distinction, though proper, cannot provide most of us full cover however, since we also know that the adulterous love of this is still aplenty in our soul, whatever noble love we also have. And the lust of the world is more than willing to sacrifice the good, the true and the beautiful, not to mention God himself, for lower pleasures.

Only God can free us. And while some are gifted to gain remarkable poverty of spirit long before departing this world, for most of us, it is the dying process itself that God uses ultimately to free us from the lust of this world. Slowly we die to this world as we see our skills, strength and looks begin to fade in late middle age. As old age sets in we say farewell to friends, perhaps a spouse, perhaps the home we owned. Our eyesight, hearing and general health begin to suffer many and lasting assaults, and complications begin to set in.

For those who are faithful, (and I have made this journey with many an older parishioner and family member), it begins to occur that what matters most is no longer here; that our true treasure is in heaven and with God. A gentle longing for what is above grows. Slowly the lust of this world dies, for those who are faithful and let God do his work.

Yet too many, even of those who believe, resist this work of God. While a natural fear of death is to be expected, too many live in open denial and resistance of what is inevitably coming. Our many medicines and creature comforts help maintain the illusion that this world can hold, and some people tighten their grip on it. A natural fear of death is supplanted by a grasping fear, rooted in a lack of faith and little desire for God.

And this is where we pick up with St. Cyprian:

How unreasonable it is to pray that God’s will be done, and then not promptly obey it when he calls us from this world!

Instead we struggle and resist like self-willed slaves and are brought into the Lord’s presence with sorrow and lamentation, not freely consenting to our departure, but constrained by necessity.

And yet we expect to be rewarded with heavenly honors by him to whom we come against our will! Why then do we pray for the kingdom of heaven to come if this earthly bondage pleases us? What is the point of praying so often for its early arrival if we should rather serve the devil here than reign with Christ.

The world hates Christians, so why give your love to it instead of following Christ, who loves you and has redeemed you?

John is most urgent in his epistle when he tells us not to love the world by yielding to sensual desires. Never give your love to the world, he warns, or to anything in it. A man cannot love the Father and love the world at the same time. All that the world offers is the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and earthly ambition. The world and its allurements will pass away, but the man who has done the will of God shall live for ever.

Our part, my dear brothers, is to be single-minded, firm in faith, and steadfast in courage, ready for God’s will, whatever it may be.

Banish the fear of death and think of the eternal life that follows. That will show people that we really live our faith.

We ought never to forget, beloved, that we have renounced the world. We are living here now as aliens and only for a time. When the day of our homecoming puts an end to our exile, frees us from the bonds of the world, and restores us to paradise and to a kingdom, we should welcome it.

What man, stationed in a foreign land, would not want to return to his own country as soon as possible? Well, we look upon paradise as our country, and a great crowd of our loved ones awaits us there, a countless throng of parents, brothers and children longs for us to join them. Assured though they are of their own salvation, they are still concerned about ours. What joy both for them and for us to see one another and embrace! O the delight of that heavenly kingdom where there is no fear of death! O the supreme and endless bliss of everlasting life!

There is the glorious band of apostles, there, the exultant assembly of prophets, there, the innumerable host of martyrs, crowned for their glorious victory in combat and in death. There, in triumph, are the virgins who subdued their passions by the strength of continence. There the merciful are rewarded, those who fulfilled the demands of justice by providing for the poor. In obedience to the Lord’s command, they turned their earthly patrimony into heavenly treasure.

My dear brothers, let all our longing be to join them as soon as we may. May God see our desire, may Christ see this resolve that springs from faith, for he will give the rewards of his love more abundantly to those who have longed for him more fervently.  (Treatise on Mortality: Cap 18:24, 26: CSEL 3, 308, 312-314)


As November ends, remember the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell. Prepare eagerly to meet God, run toward him with joy and confidence, calling on Him who made you for himself. Death will surely come. Why not let it find you joyful, victorious and confident; eager to go and meet God?

9 Replies to “A Friend of the World is an Enemy to God. A Consideration of St Cyprian’s Teaching against the Fear of Death”

  1. One day my daughter and I discussed what would we do in case of a fire. (we were watching the Reno fire at the time with the high wind gusts and just minutes to save your life). We would take the 2 dogs, any clothes we could grab, medications and head out. Everything is replaceable, except the pictures we could never replace them but we have so many picture albums it would be hard to haul them into the car during a fast moving fire.
    I suppose great grandparents would forgive me, we will meet them all in person on the other side anyways.
    But its always nice for the kids to see there history, especially family history, it is becoming such a jumble, with second and third marriages, step parents and brothers and sisters. Kids can never see their real roots at all. More filters that come across our eyes and minds so we cannot see that simple lives and simple things are still really the only way to go in life.

  2. Years ago we had to evacuate for a hurricane, leaving behind the house we were not sure we would return to. We took a few clothes and all the photos we could pack, the kids and the animals (because we were not going to a shelter, but to stay with friends). The rest was just stuff. I’ve tried to remember that, with varying degrees of success. Stuff. It’s just stuff.

  3. All seems quiet on the home front today.. 🙂

    Well, I am still alive… so… I respond!

    While reading your blog today I re-visit Genesis and the first story of Creation. “In the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened…” (Genesis 3:5) Before that beautiful tree, laden with fruit withheld, Evil, murmured and we lured by deception that there was “more” to a full life, there was more to see. Certainly there was more to see, ugliness. The ugliness that was not intended by the Creator for us to see. Sinfulness we had not witnessed and the loss we had not known.

    Yes, we had it all! Our sight was perfect! We visioned perfection and a world overflowing with goodness! All that was available was the goodness of God! We glimpsed God as He truly is:good!!!!

    And sin entered the world…… a world that serves self, immediate gratification, a means to an end. Sin blinded us to see God as one we can trust…we lost paradise as it was freely given to us. We journey on and become ‘hungry’, we seek the fruit and are left hungry. We don’t see the material world as God intended, the means to ‘communion with God’, so we are left aching, battered and broken; unsatisfied and selfish.

    And Jesus, came…… do we get it yet? I wonder. Self absorbed as we are, sometime it takes us to face our mortality head on before it penetrates our hard hearts. And then…. all of “this” suddenly becomes so… temporary. We are faced with questions and challenges we struggle to find solutions to. And yes, if we are open to the same gifts we were given “In the Beginning” we have perhaps one more opportunity to say, “Yes.” Then loving Him more than Mother, Father, Sister, Brother…. has come full circle to the place we started from. All so simple and easy …. and then….there is sin!

  4. My father and stepmother are helping to manage the affairs for a family friend who is bedridden and living in a nursing home. The woman, who with her late husband was a friend of my grandparents, has no family and is wholly dependent on my dad. She is very cantankerous; if my father and stepmother aren’t the models of charity in the support they have provided to her, I can’t imagine what is.

    What is sad about the situation is that this 90-something-year-old woman is afraid to die. She has no religious beliefs, no faith to ease her from this world into the next (not that she thinks there is a next). She has spurned offers for pastoral care.

    Please pray for her.

    1. I would fear death without the Lord as well. Will definitely pray for her. Is there a first name? I would be willing to offer my time on the sidewalk for her as well. Although her time may be short, there is still time.

      Prayers and sacrifice offered for her.

  5. Scriptures and Faith proved the Puritans and Pilgrim Separatists of England and America

    In the later years of the sixteenth century the tyranny of the
    Ecclesiastical Commission drove multitudes of English churchmen into the ranks
    of the dissenters. At last this tyranny, and the threats of King James I,
    caused some of the Independents to leave the country.

    An Independent Church, mainly composed of simple country people, was
    formed in 1606 at Scrooby, in Nottinghamshire. At its head were John
    Robinson, the pastor, and William Brewster, often called Elder Brewster, who
    was postmaster at Scrooby. Robinson was distinguished alike for his learning
    and his tolerant spirit. Another leader was William Bradford, then but
    seventeen years old. He was afterward Governor of Plymouth colony for thirty
    years, and was its historian.

  6. from J L Moody That is a legend; but how many in the past year have heard these warning voices. Death has come very near to many of us. What warnings have come to us all. The preacher’s calls to repentance, how again and again they have rung in our ears. We may have but one or two more calls yet, this year, in the next few hours; but I doubt it. Then how many of us in the last twelve months have gone to the bedside of some loved friend, and kneeling in silent anguish unable to help, have whispered a promise to meet that dying one in heaven. Oh, why delay any longer! Before these few lingering hours have gone, and the year rolls away into eternity, I beg of you, see to it that you prepare to make that promise good. Some of you have kissed the marble brow of a dead parent this year, and the farewell look of those eyes has been, “Make ready to meet thy God.” In a few years you will follow, and there may be a reunion in heaven. Are you ready, dear friends?

  7. This is the devils domain by way of the devil being ones mind which in turn renders you as Satan only when in your flesh because the flesh is a a servant to two mind. You thinking you need anything other than God to to live isa sin in to God therefore all sins are ccreated equal by way of if one is of breath they’re of sin. To accept this world as your home is basically making your bed next to your master of the mind as the devil. Christ overcame this world now ypu must. This is not life. Fancy your flesh which is Satan and you’re selling your soul to the devil for a materialistic possessions of this world. Reason is you’ll never find your soul or spirit bit remain as shallow as the ground you tread. Repent. Get your soul back before its too late

  8. This world is a lie along with everything in it by way of having you believe this is life when in fact its nothing but death. Tho only your flesh as Satan dies. Who will you serve?

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