Friday, January 23, 2015

ANF 5: Cyprian Epistles X-XIV

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Cyprian: Epistles X-XIV

The Tenth Epistle likewise is about what to do with those who turn away from the faith in a time of persecution. Cyprian reminds his fellow elders that it is not enough to claim with our mouths to believe the Gospel, we must reflect that belief in our lives as well--"those who so devotedly and bravely maintain the faith of the Lord should also maintain the law and discipline of the Lord." In terms of the life of the congregation, this means not being hasty in admitting people of questionable practice into membership. While we of course want to be generous in our treatment of those who claim to be brothers and sisters in Christ, we also want to be careful such that we are doing our best to only allow true believers into the rolls of the church. This means that in the case of those who turned aside from Christ in times of persecution, prudence and patience are going to be our key allies, rather snap judgments.

Epistle XI repeats the theme, this time being directly addressed to the congregation. Again, he reminds them that those who fall away are to be objects of prayer and pity, not condemnation.
I sympathize with you in your suffering and grief, therefore, for our brethren, who, having lapsed and fallen prostrate under the severity of the persecution, have inflicted a like pain on us by their wounds, inasmuch as they tear away part of our bowels with them-- to these the divine mercy is able to bring healing. Yet I do not think that there must be any haste, nor that anything must be done incautiously and immaturely, lest, while peace is grasped at, the divine indignation be more seriously incurred.
Cyprian encourages the members of the church to 1) encourage those who have fallen away to return to Christ; 2) hold the elders accountable by reminding them that the restoration process is and should be slow. The elders who have taken communion to those who have not yet been restored should be rebuked, and possibly even disciplined themselves.

That we have not completely abandoned the lapsed is the point of Epistle XII. Though they are not yet fully restored to communion, they are likewise not totally cut off from the fellowship of the church. The elders, for example, are not to deny them prayer in time of sickness, good instruction, and fellowship with the catechumens (new believers who are being instructed before being admitted to full membership in the church). With that said, Epistle XIII reiterates that other than for those on their deathbed, the re-admittance process needs to be slow--possibly even not fully happening until the persecution itself is over (however emphatic the lapsed may be in their desire to rejoin the fellowship).

Epistle XIV is Cyprian's summary of the point of all of these letter, and should probably have been read before any of the other stuff about restoring the lapsed. (I think there was a note of some sort about that, but I'm trying to go in order. [shrug])

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