Wednesday, February 25, 2015

ANF V: Cyprian Epistle LXXIII

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Cyprian: Epistle LXXIII

Again, Cyprian tackles the question of "baptism" by heretics. In this epistle, Cyprian walks through and responds to a letter from Stephen, the pastor of the church in Rome. Stephen had apparently been accepting the baptism of heretics, under the claim that such practices had been handed down from the time of the Apostles. Cyprian is having none of that--the only source of authority in the church is Scripture, not tradition! And that means only one orthodox baptism should be recognized. Recognizing the baptism of heretics is recognizing the legitimacy of their church institution and hence recognizing the legitimacy of their heresy.

This is a longish epistle and really just restates many of Cyprian's previous arguments, and in that sense it need not be read--skimming is sufficient. And yet, it does raise all those same issues where Cyprian is a mixture of right and wrong. Baptism should be done properly and by the true church; we should not recognize the baptism performed by heretics; baptism should be practiced as laid out in the New Testament, not according to the whims of church leadership or tradition. But then again, Cyprian misses the point when he assumes that water baptism is what saves, and that salvation is through the church rather than into the church. Again, we've hashed this out already and need not hit all of these points again in detail. I can sincerely say that I wish modern Christians had Cyprian's desire for purity in doctrine and practice, his sense of the radical independence of the church from the world and from heretical movements, but without his corrupted views of polity.
"Nor ought custom, which had crept in among some, to prevent the truth from prevailing and conquering; for custom without truth is the antiquity of error. On which account, let us forsake the error and follow the truth.... But there is a brief way for religious and simple minds, both to put away error, and to find and to elicit truth. For if we return to the head and source of divine tradition, human error ceases;"

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