9

CYPRIAN’S AFRICAN HERITAGE

Investigation of the correlation between the social structures of Cyprian’s church and its theology depends upon the unusual historical evidence, Cyprian’s letters and treatises, which permit modern scholars to specify many aspects of church life in the third century in Roman Africa. For the life of this church during the 140 years which separated the death of Cyprian from the ordination of Augustine, the historical record is much less full. Only with the surviving letters, controversial writings and preaching of Augustine, as well as the decrees of the African councils which carried forward the reform program of Bishop Aurelius of Carthage, does the historical record once again reflect the life of Christian communities in any detail. By that time, however, the situation of Christianity within the Roman world and the social structures of the churches had changed significantly. The thesis of this study can be confirmed by a sampling of these social changes and the corresponding shifts in the appropriation of the Cyprianic theology.

At the end of the Diocletian persecution, the situation of the African church changed dramatically. The Constantianian toleration and support of Christianity brought to the fore a conflict over the episcopal succession at Carthage, which was cast in Cyprianic terms. The elected candidate, Caecilian, was charged with cooperation with the government and one of his consecrators, Felix of Aptunga, was charged with denying Christ by turning over the scriptures to the imperial authorities. A schism resulted in which commissions of bishops appointed by the emperor and the bishop of Rome chose between the rival candidates. They recognized Caecilian as the rightful bishop but as a condition for communion required that he adopt the Roman practice of receiving schismatics and heretics without rebaptism. Having made the concession, this Catholic party enjoyed the support of the imperial government and the universal church. The opposing Donatist party claimed freedom

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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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