The Unity Of The Church And The

In the middle of the third century there were in sharp conflict two

distinct and opposed theories of Church unity: the theory that the unity

was based upon adherence to and conformity with the see of Peter; and the

theory that the episcopate was itself one, and that each bishop shared

equally in it. The unity was either in one see or in the less tangible

unity of an order of the hierarchy. The former was the theory of the Roman
bishops; the latter, the theory of Cyprian of Carthage, and possibly of a

number of other ecclesiastics in North Africa and Asia Minor. Formerly

polemical theology made the study of this point difficult, at least with

anything like impartiality. In the passage given below from Cyprian's

treatise On the Unity of the Catholic Church the text of the Jesuit

Father Kirch is followed in the most difficult and interpolated chapter 4.

As Father Kirch gives the text it is perfectly consistent with the theory

of Cyprian as he has elsewhere stated it, and that the interpolated text

is not. See, however, P. Battifol, Primitive Catholicism, Lond., 1911,

Excursus E.

Additional source material: V. supra, § 27; also Mirbt, §§

56-69. The little treatise De Aleatoribus (MSL, 4: 827), from

which Mirbt gives an extract (n. 71), might be cited in this

connection, but its force depends upon its origin. It is wholly

uncertain that it was written either by a bishop of Rome or in

Italy. Cf. Bardenhewer. Kirch also gives the text in part, n.

276; for other references, see Kirch.

(a) Cyprian, De Catholicae Ecclesiae Unitate, 4, 5. (MSL, 4:513.)

The tract entitled On the Unity of the Catholic Church is the

most famous of Cyprian's works. As the theory there developed is

opposed to that which became dominant, and as Cyprian was regarded

as the great upholder of the Church's constitution, interpolations

were early made in the text which seriously distort the sense.

These interpolations are to-day abandoned by all scholars. The

best critical edition of the works of Cyprian is by W. von Hartel

in the CSEL, but critical texts of the following passage with

references to literature and indication of interpolations may be

found in Mirbt (Prot.), n. 52, and in Kirch (R. C.), n. 234

(chapter 4 only).

Ch. 4. The Lord speaks to Peter, saying: "I say unto thee, that thou art

Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell

shall not prevail against it. I will give thee the keys of the Kingdom of

Heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound also in

heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed also in

heaven" (Matt. 16:18, 19). [To the same He says after His resurrection:

"Feed my sheep" (John 21:15). Upon him He builds His Church, and to him He

commits His sheep to be fed, and although. Interpolation.] Upon one he

builds the Church, although also to all the Apostles after His

resurrection He gives an equal power and says, "As the Father has sent me,

I also send you: receive ye the Holy Ghost: whosesoever sins ye retain,

they shall be retained" (John 20:21); yet, that He might show the unity,

[He founded one see. Interpolation.] He arranged by His authority the

origin of that unity as beginning from one. Assuredly the rest of the

Apostles were also what Peter was, with a like partnership both of honor

and power; but the beginning proceeds from unity [and the primacy is given

to Peter. Interpolation.], that there might be shown to be one Church of

Christ [and one see. And they are all shepherds, but the flock is shown to

be one which is fed by the Apostles with unanimous consent.

Interpolation.]. Which one Church the Holy Spirit also in the Song of

Songs designates in the person of the Lord and says: "My dove, my spotless

one, is but one. She is the only one of her mother, chosen of her that

bare her" (Cant. 6:9). Does he who does not hold this unity of the Church

[unity of Peter. Corrupt reading.] think that he holds the faith? Does

he who strives against and resists the Church [who deserts the chair of

Peter. Interpolation.] trust that he is in the Church, when, moreover,

the blessed Apostle Paul teaches the same things and sets forth the

sacrament of unity, saying, "There is one body and one spirit, one hope of

your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God"? (Eph. 4:4.)

Ch. 5. And this unity we ought to hold firmly and assert, especially we

bishops who preside in the Church, that we may prove the episcopate itself

to be one and undivided. Let no one deceive the brotherhood by a

falsehood; let no one corrupt the truth by a perfidious prevarication. The

episcopate is one, each part of which is held by each one in its entirety.

The Church, also, is one which is spread abroad far and wide into a

multitude by an increase of fruitfulness. As there are many rays of the

sun, but one light, and many branches of a tree, but one strength based

upon its tenacious root, and since from one spring flow many streams,

although the multiplicity seems diffused in the liberality of an

overflowing abundance, yet the unity is still preserved in its source.

(b) Firmilian of Caeesarea, Ep. ad Cyprianum, in Cyprian, Ep. 74

[=75]. (MSL, 3:1024.)

The matter in dispute was the rebaptism of those heretics who had

received baptism before they conformed to the Church. See § 52. It

was the burning question after the rise of the Novatian sect.

Stephen, bishop of Rome (254-257), had excommunicated a number of

churches and bishops, among them probably Cyprian himself. See the

epistle of Dionysius to Sixtus of Rome, the successor of Stephen,

in Eusebius, Hist. Ec., VII, 5. "He" (Stephen) therefore had

written previously concerning Helenus and Firmilianus and all

those in Cilicia, Cappadocia, Galatia, and the neighboring

countries, saying that he would not communicate with them for this

same cause: namely, that they rebaptized heretics. This attitude

of Stephen roused no little resentment in the East, as is shown by

the indignant tone of Firmilian, who recognizes no authority in

Rome. The text may be found in Mirbt, n. 74, and in part in Kirch,

n. 274. The epistle of Firmilian is to be found among the epistles

of Cyprian, to whom it was written.

Ch. 2. We may in this matter give thanks to Stephen that it has now

happened through his unkindness [inhumanity] that we receive proof of your

faith and wisdom.

Ch. 3. But let these things which were done by Stephen be passed by for

the present, lest, while we remember his audacity and pride, we bring a

more lasting sadness on ourselves from the things he has wickedly done.

Ch. 6. That they who are at Rome do not observe those things in all cases

which have been handed down from the beginning, and vainly pretend the

authority of the Apostles, any one may know; also, from the fact that

concerning the celebration of the day of Easter, and concerning many other

sacraments of divine matters, one may see that there are some diversities

among them, and that all things are not observed there alike which are

observed at Jerusalem; just as in very many other provinces also many

things are varied because of the difference of places and names, yet on

this account there is no departure at all from the peace and unity of the

Catholic Church. And this departure Stephen has now dared to make;

breaking the peace against you, which his predecessors have always kept

with you in mutual love and honor, even herein defaming Peter and Paul,

the blessed Apostles, as if the very men delivered this who in their

epistles execrated heretics and warned us to avoid them. Whence it appears

that this tradition is human which maintains heretics, and asserts that

they have baptism, which belongs to the Church alone.

Ch. 17. And in this respect I am justly indignant at this so open and

manifest folly of Stephen, that he who so boasts of the place of his

episcopate and contends that he holds the succession of Peter, on whom the

foundation of the Church was laid, should introduce many other rocks and

establish new buildings of many churches, maintaining that there is a

baptism in them by his authority; for those who are baptized, without

doubt, make up the number of the Church. Stephen, who announces that he

holds by succession the throne of Peter, is stirred with no zeal against

heretics, when he concedes to them, not a moderate, but the very greatest

power of grace.

Ch. 19. This, indeed, you Africans are able to say against Stephen, that

when you knew the truth you forsook the error of custom. But we join

custom to truth, and to the Romans' custom we oppose custom, but the

custom of truth, holding from the beginning that which was delivered by

Christ and the Apostles. Nor do we remember that this at any time began

among us, since it has always been observed here, that we have known none

but one Church of God, and have accounted no baptism holy except that of

the holy Church.

Ch. 24. Consider with what want of judgment you dare to blame those who

strive for the truth against falsehood.(82) For how many strifes and

dissensions have you stirred up throughout the churches of the whole

world! Moreover, how great sin have you heaped up for yourself, when you

cut yourself off from so many flocks! For it is yourself that you have cut

off. Do not deceive yourself, since he is really the schismatic who has

made himself an apostate from the communion of ecclesiastical unity. For

while you think that all may be excommunicated by you, you have alone

excommunicated yourself from all; and not even the precepts of an Apostle

have been able to mould you to the rule of truth and peace.(83)

Ch. 25. How carefully has Stephen fulfilled these salutary commands and

warnings of the Apostle, keeping in the first place lowliness of mind and

meekness! For what is more lowly or meek than to have disagreed with so

many bishops throughout the whole world, breaking peace with each one of

them in various kinds of discord: at one time with the Easterns, as we are

sure is not unknown to you; at another time with you who are in the south,

from whom he received bishops as messengers sufficiently patiently and

meekly as not to receive them even to the speech of common conference;

and, even more, so unmindful of love and charity as to command the whole

brotherhood that no one should receive them into his house, so that not

only peace and communion, but also a shelter and entertainment were denied

to them when they came. This is to have kept the unity of the Spirit in

the bond of peace, to cut himself off from the unity of love, and to make

himself a stranger in all things to his brethren, and to rebel against the

sacrament and the faith with the madness of contumacious discord. Stephen

is not ashamed to afford patronage to such a position in the Church, and

for the sake of maintaining heretics to divide the brotherhood; and, in

addition, to call Cyprian a false Christ, and a false Apostle, and a

deceitful worker, and he, conscious that all these characters are for

himself, has been in advance of you by falsely objecting to another those

things which he himself ought to bear.