Wednesday, April 15, 2015

ANF V: Appendix Against Novatian

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Appendix: Anonymous Treatise Against the Heretic Novatian

As the introductory notice points out, it's unclear who wrote this treatise (hence the "anonymous" bit in the title). It probably wasn't Cyprian but probably was a like-minded pastor, probably from North Africa.

I'm tempted to say that there's nothing new here that we haven't already seen in the letters of Cyprian and so you can go ahead and skip it. And that's true, so far as it goes. But although there are no new theological arguments in this short treatise, there are some turns of phrase that are simply too good not to read. Such as this one:
lo, there appeared opposed to me another enemy, and the adversary of his own paternal affections--the heretic Novatian--who not only, as it is signified in the Gospel, passed by the prostrate wounded man, as did the priest or the Levite, but by an ingenious and novel cruelty rather would slay the wounded man, by taking away the hope of salvation, by denying the mercy of his Father, by rejecting the repentance of his brother. 
As with Cyprian's letters, I'm on board with his concern for the integrity of the church. And I'm certainly on board with his respect for Scripture. But I just can't go along with either his exegesis (which: ugh) or his extreme view of church unity. You can split off into different local church and still be a part of the true church. I would rather that not happen, of course, but I would not condemn a body that holds to the Gospel just because it formed its own institution. This, for example, is simply too far: "For ye who were some time Christians, but now are Novatians, no longer Christians, have changed your first faith by a subsequent perfidy in the calling of your name." The fact is we have no record of them rejecting any of the core tenets of the Gospel, and so they are still Christians. That said, the author was there and I am not, so to some extent we should also give something of the benefit of the doubt to our sources.

So is this worth reading? Yes, but not because you'll get anything new out of it. Only because of the author's excellent way with words and imagery.

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