Wednesday, March 25, 2015

ANF V: Seventh Council of Carthage

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Seventh Council of Carthage under Cyprian 

Concerning the Baptism of Heretics

This is the record of the speeches at the Council of Carthage. There are any number of interesting things about this council, including the subject matter. Just to hit a few of them:

  • The attendees: "a great many bishops... together with the presbyters and deacons, and a considerable part of the congregation." That is, pastors, elders, deacons, and the laity were apparently all involved. 
  • The process: no one could be condemned for speaking his mind or rejected from communion "if he should think differently of us," nor was anyone allowed to claim supremacy "for neither does any of us set himself up as a bishop of bishops, nor by tyrannical terror does any compel his colleague to the necessity of obedience." If only John Huss had such a promise at Constance! 
  • The humility: At the end of the day, they are quite clear that only Christ can resolve this conflict once and for all. Whatever decisions are made there are non-ultimately binding. "Let us all wait for the judgment of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only one that has the power both of preferring us in the government of His Church, and of judging us in our conduct there."
  • Unity: if there's a part of this that's a little bit questionable, it's that there are no dissenting voices recorded. That may very well be because there were no dissenters there, but more likely this is a selection reflecting the position that carried the day. Which doesn't negate its value, since it did carry the day. But it does mean that we don't have much of a picture of the other side. 
  • Doctrine: what's in question is whether someone needs to be baptized after coming to the faith from a heresy. (Again, this need not necessarily mean a theological heresy, sometimes this just means a different church.) The council is quite adamant that the answer is "yes," since only the true church can baptize. Interestingly, they are quite clear that this is a Biblical truth which needs to trump whatever customs and traditions may be in place in various congregations. I don't know that we have a one-to-one equivalent of this question today, since the believers baptism/infant baptism divide is slightly different, and we use "heresy" differently anyway.
Overall, this piece is short and well worth the time it takes to read, even if it only raises more questions than it answers. 

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