8

UNITY OF THE EPISCOPATE

The issue of church unity has been an element throughout this study of the episcopacy of Cyprian. In the schisms which challenged the Carthaginian church at the end of the Decian persecution, he found a way for the lapsed to confess the unity of the church and thereby to be released from their sin, at least on earth. In commissioning Peter, he insisted, Christ had established the bishop as the foundation of unity for the local church. That unity, though reflected in the charity and harmony of the eucharistic fellowship, was grounded in the unity of God and the bond between Christ and the Father. The church was indivisible in principle; schismatics could leave but not divide it. All this Cyprian taught about the local church, gathered under the leadership of its bishop. Though he made similar assertions about the solidarity of the episcopate and the harmony of the world-wide church, his understanding of its unity was significantly different. Though Christ’s great flock was indeed one, it had many shepherds. Each of them had been assigned a portion of the flock to govern and would answer to the Lord for his stewardship. Though none was to intrude on the work of another, all were jointly responsible for the whole and even for each of its parts. Thus the theory of the unity of the world-wide church contained conflicting elements whose balance was achieved by negotiation. It is better understood by examination of actual practices and their justification than by making any one of its components the guiding principle of a systematic whole.

Attention will first be directed to the practice of unity, to the structures of collaboration developed by the bishops. Only then will Cyprian’s justification of these structures be examined. The final revision of On the Unity of the Catholic Church, which was undertaken during the conflict over the practice of rebaptism, will be investigated and interpreted in the light of contemporary developments.

-151-

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Cyprian the Bishop
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • 1 - History of Cyprian’s Controversies 1
  • 2 - Christians of Carthage Under Persecution 12
  • 3 - Necessity of Repentance 25
  • 4 - Efficacy of the Reconciliation Ritual 51
  • 5 - Indivisibility of the Church 78
  • 6 - Initiation into Unity 100
  • 7 - Purity of the Church 132
  • 8 - Unity of the Episcopate 151
  • 9 - Cyprian’s African Heritage 166
  • Notes 177
  • Bibliography 233
  • Index 235
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