The Extension Of The Church At T
Some approximately correct idea of the extension of the Church by the
middle of the third century may be gathered from a precise statement of
the organization of the largest church, that at Rome, about the year 250
(a), from the size of provincial synods, of which we have detailed
statements for North Africa (b), from references to organized and
apparently numerous churches in various places not mentioned in earlier
documents (c). That the Church, at least in Egypt and parts adjacent,
had ceased to be confined chiefly to the cities and that it was composed
of persons of all social ranks is attested by Origen (d).
(a) Cornelius, Ep. ad Fabium, in Eusebius, Hist. Ec., VI, 43. (MSG,
20:622.) Cf. Kirch, n. 222 ff.
Cornelius was bishop of Rome 251-253.
This avenger of the Gospel [Novatus] did not then know that there should
be one bishop in a Catholic church; yet he was not ignorant (for how could
he be) that in it [i.e., the Roman church] there were forty-six
presbyters, seven deacons, seven subdeacons, forty-two acolytes, fifty-two
exorcists, readers, and janitors, and over fifteen hundred widows and
persons in distress, all of whom the grace and kindness of the Master
nourished. But not even this great multitude, so necessary in the Church,
nor those who through God's providence were rich and full, together with
very many, even innumerable, people, could turn him from such desperation
and recall him to the Church.
(b) Cyprian, Epistulae 71 [=70] (MSL, 4:424) and 59:10 [=54] (MSL,
The church in North Africa had grown very rapidly before Cyprian
was elevated to the see of Carthage. An evidence of this is the
number of councils held in North Africa. That held under
Agrippinus, between 218 and 222, was the first known in that part
of the Church. Under Cyprian a council was held at Carthage in 258
at which no less than seventy bishops, whose names and opinions
have been preserved, are given. See ANF, V, 565 ff.
Ep. 71 [=70]. Ad Quintum.
Which thing, indeed, Agrippinus [A. D. 218-222], also a man of worthy
memory, with his fellow-bishops, who at that time governed the Lord's
Church in the province of Africa and Numidia, decreed, and by the
well-weighed examination of the common council established.
Ep. 59 [=54]:10. Ad Cornelium.
I have also intimated to you, my brother, by Felicianus, that there had
come to Carthage Privatus, an old heretic in the colony of Lambesa, many
years ago condemned for many and grave crimes by the judgment of ninety
bishops, and severely remarked upon in the letters of Fabian and Donatus,
also our predecessors, as is not hidden from your knowledge.
(c) Cyprian, Epistula 67 [=68]. (MSL, 3:1057, 1065.)
The following extracts from Cyprian's Epistle "To the Clergy and
People abiding in Spain, concerning Basilides and Martial," is of
importance as bearing upon the development of the appellate
jurisdiction of the Roman see, for which see the epistle in its
entirety as given in Cyprian's works, ANF, vol. V, for the
treatment of the vexed question of discipline in the case of those
receiving certificates that they had sacrificed, (see below, §§ 45
f.), and as the first definite statements as to localities in
Spain where there were Christians and bishops placed over the
Church. The mass of martyrdoms that have been preserved refer to
Cyprian to Felix, the presbyter, and to the peoples abiding in Legio
[Leon] and Asturica [Astorga], also to Laelius, the deacon, and the people
abiding in Emerita [Merida], brethren in the Lord, greeting. When we had
come together, dearly beloved brethren, we read your letters, which,
according to the integrity of your faith and your fear of God, you wrote
to us by Felix and Sabinus, our fellow-bishops, signifying that Basilides
and Martial, who had been stained with the certificates of idolatry and
bound with the consciousness of wicked crimes, ought not to exercise the
episcopal office and administer the priesthood of God. Wherefore, since we
have written, dearly beloved brethren, and as Felix and Sabinus, our
colleagues, affirm, and as another Felix, of Caesar-Augusta [Saragossa], a
maintainer of the faith and a defender of the truth, signifies in his
letter, Basilides and Martial have been contaminated by the abominable
certificate of idolatry.
(d) Origen, Contra Celsum, III, 9. (MSG, 11:951.)
With the following should be compared the statements of Pliny,
more than a hundred years earlier, relative to Bithynia. See
above, § 7.
Celsus says that "if all men wished to become Christians, the latter would
not desire it." That this is false, is evident from this, that Christians
do not neglect, as far as they are able, to take care to spread their
doctrines throughout the whole world. Some, accordingly, have made it
their business to go round about not only through cities, but even
villages and country houses, that they may persuade others to become pious
worshippers of God. At present, indeed, when because of the multitude of
those who have embraced the teaching, not only rich men, but also some
persons of rank and delicate and high-born ladies, receive the teachers of
the Word, there will be some who dare to say that it is for the sake of a
little glory that certain assume the office of Christian teachers. In the
beginning, when there was much danger, especially to its teachers, this
suspicion could have had no place.
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