Thursday, February 5, 2015

ANF 5: Cyprian Epistles XL-L

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Cyprian: Epistles XL-L

This stretch of letters deals with the schism and questions about heresy surrounding Novatian (more on him towards the end of this volume). In Epistle XL, Cyprian rejects an entourage from Novatian asking for support for his claim to the office of pastor/bishop/elder in Rome. Cyprian rejects the claim (the note points out that Cornelius had already been made bishop), pointing out that it would be improper, even wicked or heretical, for him to acknowledge a pastor other than the one "made and approved by the testimony and judgment of his colleagues and the people, another can by no means be appointed." So we should note 1) the autonomy of the local church; 2) the dual role of congregation and elders in choosing new elders/pastors.

Which isn't to say Cyprian had made a snap judgment about Novatian, in Epistle XLI, he writes to Cornelius and explains that he had tried to go slowly and carefully in figuring out what actually went on in Rome. Even when dealing with the internal affairs of other churches, we ought to work for unity and truth:
Let those beware, who, obeying either their own rage or lust, and unmindful of the divine law and holiness, rejoice to throw abroad in the meantime things which they cannot prove; and although they may not be successful in destroying and ruining innocence, are satisfied with scattering stains upon it with lying reports and false rumours.
Cyprian notes in Epistle XLIV that he had confirmed with others in Rome and made sure that Cornelius' version was in fact accurate.

Epistles XLII and XLIII show us that not only does Cyprian communicate with his own church and with Cornelius, but with those who he believes to be in error. He encourages restoration and begs them not to divide the church by working contrary to its established practice.

Epistles XLV and XLVI are a back-and-forth from Cornelius to Cyprian informing the latter that the schismatics have in fact returned, and praising God for the restoration of unity. They admit that they had acted too quickly, and acknowledge the legitimate ordination of Cornelius. Which did not exterminate the "faction of Novation," still to be dealt with. Cornelius in Epistle XLVII notifies Cyprian that the members of the faction who have not returned to communion have been excommunicated. In Epistle XLVIII, Cyprian responds with the record of a similar (the same?) event in Africa lead by one Novatus (who might be Novatian, it might just be that the Roman schism spread to Africa, see Elucidation VIII for the difficulties here). This Novatus has been disciplined for dividing the church--something he did even in the midst of persecution! And yet, Cyprian hopes for restoration, since no one who truly belongs to God can be lost, "He alone who has not been planted in the precepts and warnings of God the Father, can depart from the church."

Epistles XLIX and L are back-and-forth letters from some of the schismatics who had returned, and from Cyprian back to them. Cyprian rejoices over the restoration of unity and the peace among brothers and sisters in Christ. We must remember, that
For although there seem to be tares in the Church, yet neither our faith nor our charity ought to be hindered, so that because we see that there are tares in the Church we ourselves should withdraw from the Church: we ought only to labour that we may be wheat, that when the wheat shall begin to be gathered into the Lord's barns, we may receive fruit for our labour and work.
 Which is a wonderful reminder that we need not--should not--bail on our local church just because there are people in it we disagree with (Cyprian is of course assuming a general agreement on the Gospel and basic salvific doctrine, remember polity is the context here). 

No comments:

Post a Comment