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Effects Of The Persecution Upon





The persecution developed the popular opinion of the superior sanctity of
martyrdom. This was itself no new idea, having grown up in the Church from
the time of Ignatius of Antioch, but it now received new applications and
developments (a, b). See also 42, d, and below for problems
arising from the place the martyrs attempted to take in the organization
of the Church and the administration of discipline. This claim of the
martyrs was successfully overcome by the bishops, especially under
Cyprian's leadership and example. But in the administration of discipline
there were sure to arise difficulties and questions, e.g., Was there a
distinction to be made in favor of those who had escaped without actually
sacrificing? (c). No matter what policy was followed by the bishop,
there was the liability of the rise of a party in opposition to him. If he
was strict, a party advocating laxity appeared, as in the case of
Felicissimus at Carthage; if he was milder in policy, a party would call
for greater rigor, as in the case of Novatian at Rome (e).


Additional source material: Cyprian, Ep. 39-45, 51 (ANF, V);
Eusebius, Hist. Ec., VI, 43, 45.


(a) Origen, Exhortatio ad Martyrium, 30, 50. (MSG, 11:601, 636.)


An estimate of the importance and value of martyrdom.


The Exhortation to Martyrdom was addressed by Origen to his
friend and patron Ambrosius, and to Protoctetus, a presbyter of
Caesarea, who were in great danger during the persecution
undertaken by Maximinus Thrax (235-238). It was probably written
in the reign of that Emperor.


Ch. 30. We must remember that we have sinned and that it is impossible to
obtain forgiveness of sins without baptism, and that according to the
evangelical laws it is impossible to be baptized a second time with water
and the Spirit for the forgiveness of sins, and therefore the baptism of
martyrdom is given us. For thus it has been called, as may be clearly
gathered from the passage: "Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of, and
be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" [Mark 10:38]. And
in another place it is said: "But I have a baptism to be baptized with;
and how am I straightened until it be accomplished!" [Luke 12:50]. For be
sure that just as the expiation of the cross was for the whole world, it
(the baptism of martyrdom) is for the cure of many who are thereby
cleansed. For as according to the law of Moses those placed near the altar
are seen to minister forgiveness of sins to others through the blood of
bulls and goats, so the souls of those who have suffered on account of the
testimony of Jesus are not in vain near that altar in heaven [cf. Rev.
6:9 ff.], but minister forgiveness of sins to those who pray. And at the
same time we know that just as the high priest, Jesus Christ, offered
himself as a sacrifice, so the priests, of whom He is the high priest,
offer themselves as sacrifices, and on account of this sacrifice they are
at the altar as in their proper place.

Ch. 50. Just as we have been redeemed with the precious blood of Christ,
who received the name that is above every name, so by the precious blood
of the martyrs will others be redeemed.


(b) Origen, Homil. ad Num., X, 2. (MSG, 12:658.)


Of Origen's homilies on the Pentateuch only a few fragments of the
Greek text remain. We have them, however, in a Latin translation
or paraphrase made by Rufinus. The twenty-eight homilies on
Numbers were written after A. D. 244.


Concerning the martyrs, the Apostle John writes in the Apocalypse that the
souls of those who have been slain for the name of the Lord Jesus are
present at the altar; but he who is present at the altar is shown to
perform the duties of priest. But the duty of a priest is to make
intercession for the sins of the people. Wherefore I fear, lest,
perchance, inasmuch as there are made no martyrs, and sacrifices of saints
are not offered for our sins, we will not receive remission of our sins.
And therefore I fear, lest our sins remaining in us, it may happen to us
what the Jews said of themselves, that not having an altar, nor a temple,
nor priesthood, and therefore not offering sacrifices, our sins remain in
us, and so no forgiveness is obtained. And therefore the devil, knowing
that remission of sins is obtained by the passion of martyrdom, is not
willing to raise public persecutions against us by the heathen.


(c) Cyprian, Epistula 55, 14 (=51). (MSL, 3:805.)


The opinion of the Church as to the libellatici. The date is 251
or 252.


Since there is much difference between those who have sacrificed, what a
want of mercy it is, and how bitter is the hardship, to associate those
who have received certificates with those who have sacrificed, when he who
has received the certificate may say, "I had previously read and had been
informed by the discourse of the bishop that we ought not to sacrifice to
idols, that the servant of God ought not to worship images; and therefore
that I might not do this which is not lawful, when the opportunity of
receiving a certificate was offered (and I would not have received it, if
the opportunity had not been offered) I either went or charged some one
other person going to the magistrate to say that I am a Christian, that I
am not allowed to sacrifice, that I cannot come to the devil's altars, and
that I will pay a price for this purpose, that I may not do what is not
lawful for me to do"! Now, however, even he who is stained by a
certificate, after he has learned from our admonitions that he ought not
to have done even this, and though his hand is pure, and no contact of
deadly food has polluted his lips, yet his conscience is nevertheless
polluted, weeps when he hears us, and laments, and is now admonished for
the things wherein he has sinned, and having been deceived, not so much by
guilt as by error, bears witness that for another time he is instructed
and prepared.


(d) Epistula pacis, Cyprian, Epistula 16. (MSL, 4:268.) Cf. Kirch,
n. 241.


This brief Letter of Peace is a specimen of the forms that were
being issued by the confessors, and which a party in the Church
regarded as mandatory upon the bishops. These Cyprian strenuously
and successfully resisted. See also Cyprian, Ep. 21, in ANF, V,
299.


All the confessors to Cyprian, pope,(70) greeting. Know that we all have
given peace to those concerning whom an account has been rendered you as
to what they have done since they committed their sin; and we wish to make
this rescript known through you to the other bishops. We desire you to
have peace with the holy martyrs. Lucianus has written this, there being
present of the clergy an exorcist and a lector.


(e) Cyprian, Epistula 43, 2, 3. (MSL, 4:342.)


The schism of Felicissimus was occasioned by the position taken by
Cyprian in regard to the admission of the lapsi in the Decian
persecution. But it was at the same time the outcome of an
opposition to Cyprian of longer standing, on account of jealousy,
as he had only recently become a Christian when he was made bishop
of Carthage.


Ch. 2. It has appeared whence came the faction of Felicissimus, on what
root and by what strength it stood. These men supplied in a former time
encouragements and exhortations to confessors, not to agree with their
bishop, not to maintain the ecclesiastical discipline faithfully and
quietly, according to the Lord's precepts, not to keep the glory of their
confession with an uncorrupt and unspotted mode of life. And lest it
should have been too little to have corrupted the minds of certain
confessors and to have wished to arm a portion of our broken fraternity
against God's priesthood, they have now applied themselves with their
envenomed deceitfulness to the ruin of the lapsed, to turn away from the
healing of their wound the sick and the wounded, and those who, by the
misfortune of their fall, are less fit and less able to take stronger
counsels; and having left off prayers and supplications, whereby with long
and continued satisfaction the Lord is to be appeased, they invite them by
the deceit of a fallacious peace to a fatal rashness.

Ch. 3. But I pray you, brethren, watch against the snares of the devil,
and being careful for your own salvation, guard diligently against this
deadly deceit. This is another persecution and another temptation. Those
five presbyters are none other than the five leaders who were lately
associated with the magistrates in an edict that they might overthrow our
faith, that they might turn away the feeble hearts of the brethren to
their deadly nets by the perversion of the truth. Now the same scheme, the
same overturning, is again brought about by the five presbyters, linked
with Felicissimus, to the destruction of salvation, that God should not be
besought, and that he who has denied Christ should not appeal for mercy to
the same Christ whom he has denied; that after the fault of the crime
repentance also should be taken away; and that satisfaction should not be
made through bishops and priests, but, the Lord's priests being forsaken,
a new tradition of sacrilegious appointment should arise contrary to the
evangelical discipline. And although it was once arranged as well by us as
by the confessors and the clergy of the city,(71) likewise by all the
bishops located either in our province or beyond the sea [i.e., Italy],
that there should be no innovations regarding the case of the lapsed
unless we all assembled in one place, and when our counsels had been
compared we should then decide upon some moderate sentence, tempered alike
with discipline and with mercy; against this, our counsel, they have
rebelled and all priestly authority has been destroyed by factious
conspiracies.


(f) Eusebius, Hist. Ec., VI, 43. (MSG, 20:616.)


The schism of Novatian at Rome was occasioned by the question of
discipline of the lapsed. While the schism of Felicissimus was in
favor of more lenient treatment of those who had fallen, the
schism of Novatian was in favor of greater strictness. The sect of
Novatians, named after the founder, Novatus or Novatianus, lasted
for more than two centuries.


Novatus [Novatianus], a presbyter at Rome, being lifted up with arrogance
against these persons, as if there was no longer for them a hope of
salvation, not even if they should do all things pertaining to a pure and
genuine conversion, became the leader of the heresy of those who in the
pride of their imagination style themselves Cathari.(72) Thereupon a very
large synod assembled at Rome, of bishops in number sixty, and a great
many more presbyters and deacons; and likewise the pastors of the
remaining provinces deliberated in their places by themselves concerning
what ought to be done. A decree, accordingly, was confirmed by all that
Novatus and those who joined with him, and those who adopted his
brother-hating and inhuman opinion, should be considered by the Church as
strangers; but that they should heal such of the brethren as had fallen
into misfortune, and should minister to them with the medicines of
repentance. There have come down to us epistles of Cornelius, bishop of
Rome, to Fabius, of the church at Antioch, which show what was done at the
synod at Rome, and what seemed best to all those in Italy and Africa and
the regions thereabout. Also other epistles, written in the Latin
language, of Cyprian and those with him in Africa, by which it is shown
that they agreed as to the necessity of succoring those who had been
tempted, and of cutting off from the Catholic Church the leader of the
heresy and all that joined him.





Next: The Period Of Peace For The Chur

Previous: The Decian-valerian Persecution



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