Sunday, September 28, 2008

More Martyrs for the Month of September

Earlier this month, we had the feast day of Pope St. Cornelius and St. Cyprian of Carthage. We know much more about the latter than the former, and the little we know of the former, we know from the writings of the latter.

Cornelius took over as pope after the martyrdom of Pope St. Fabian during the Decian persecution around 250 or so AD. In Cyprian's words:

What fortitude in his acceptance of the episcopate, what strength of mind, what firmness of faith, that he took his seat intrepid in the sacerdotal chair, at a time when the tyrant in his hatred of bishops was making unspeakable threats, when he heard with far more patience that a rival prince was arising against him, than that a bishop of God was appointed at Rome. . .

Besides open persecution, Cornelius also had to put up with an antipope in the person of a guy named Novatian, who basically said that really bad sins like adultery, apostasy, or murder couldn't be absolved via confession. Cornelius and Cyprian resisted him on this and so schism resulted. Of course, the good guys won out on this point.

Cyprian is actually a great source for knowing about the Church of the 3rd century. We still have a lot of his letters, giving great defenses of infant baptism, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the sacrament of Penance, and the horrors of persecution. On the bad side, Cyprian did have some issues with Pope Stephen I, who was one pope (Lucius) removed from Cornelius's reign. Basically, you had problems with what to do with heretics who were baptizing people. Cyprian wanted people baptized in such a manner re-baptized before being admitted into communion with the Church. Stephen, teaching the same view we have now, said that their baptism was fine, and they could be admitted simply by a laying on of hands by the bishop.

Cyprian kind of blew a gasket on this, though Augustine is clear that he never formally went into schism. Anyways, there was a lot of harsh language exchanged, and maybe some hurt feelings as well. Cyprian even re-wrote his famous treatise on The Unity of the Church to edit out some of his language that previously supported the primacy of the Roman See. His ultimate fate was blessedness, though, as he died in communion with the Church during the Valerian persecution.

As an aside, I find it very interesting that some Orthodox and even Protestant folk try to claim the edited version of the above-mentioned treatise as some sort of knockout argument to Catholic claims regarding the papacy. This is strange because, though Cyprian does introduce language that indicates the Apostles all received an equal power, he still states that the authority of the others proceeds from the unity of Peter. It still seems kind of stretched to mesh this view with either Protestant or Orthodox ecclesiology. Or maybe I'm just reading it wrong. Anyways, here's Cyprian's original take on the Petrine See:

Upon one He builds His Church, and to the same He says after His resurrection, 'feed My sheep'. And though to all His Apostles He gave an equal power yet did He set up one chair, and disposed the origin and manner of unity by his authority. The other Apostles were indeed what Peter was, but the primacy is given to Peter, and the Church and the chair is shown to be one. And all are pastors, but the flock is shown to be one, which is fed by all the Apostles with one mind and heart. He that holds not this unity of the Church, does he think that he holds the faith? He who deserts the chair of Peter, upon whom the Church is founded, is he confident that he is in the Church?

By the way, if anyone is looking for sources on the point about Cyprian's editing, I direct you to Eamon Duffy's book Saints and Sinners for this account of things.

Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian, pray for us!

No comments: