The Church in Ancient Society: From Galilee to Gregory the Great

By Henry Chadwick | Go to book overview

22 Cyprian of Carthage

For the story of the Church (and of much else) in the middle decades of the third century the principal sources of information are the letters and tracts of Cyprian, bishop of Carthage during the decade 248-58, and the excerpts from the writings and letters of Dionysius of Alexandria mainly preserved in the Church History of Eusebius of Caesarea. Unfortunately sources for the secular history of the time are jejune. Cyprian and Dionysius both shed much light on the internal problems of the Church at a period when the crisis of a disintegrating Roman empire provoked passionate popular hostility to the Christians. The empire faced a series of civil wars between legitimate and less legitimate emperors. Goths poured across the lower Danube, Persians under King Shahpuhr I invaded Syria and captured the great Syrian city of Antioch-on-the-Orontes. In Asia Minor there had been earthquakes which people blamed on the Christian neglect of the traditional gods. In addition plague 1 spread from Egypt reducing the population of many cities and weakening the imperial armies. Writing against Celsus about 248 Origen noted rising attacks on Christians as responsible for these disasters (c. Cels. 3. 15). In 248 a celebration of Rome's millennium provided a context for a pagan revival. At Alexandria in 249 the mob subjected the Christians to a violent pogrom, a sign of what was to come (Eus. HE 6. 41). The dimensions of the Christian presence in third-century north Africa are manifest in the exceptionally large number of bishoprics attested in Cyprian's letters and councils, which record more than 130. Pagans could easily have felt swamped. The notorious Alexandrian mob could be roused to frenzy.

Cyprian had enjoyed a successful career at Carthage as a master of Latin rhetoric. In 246 he was converted from polytheism and idolatry to Christianity. An open letter to a friend and fellow convert Donatus provides some account of the motives underlying his conversion. He described himself as disgusted with the cruelties of contemporary society, the corruption of the judges easily bribed, the savagery of judicial tortures which left innocent people maimed if they did not die on the rack and did not confess

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The Church in Ancient Society: From Galilee to Gregory the Great
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Church in Ancient Society iii
  • Prefatory Note vi
  • Contents vii
  • Abbreviations ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1: The First Followers of Jesus 5
  • 2: The Jewish Matrix 13
  • 3: Jews and Christians Survive Rome's Crushing of Revolts 21
  • 4: The Hebrew Scriptures in the Church 27
  • 5: Interpreting Scripture 32
  • 6: Apostles and Evangelists 43
  • 7: Women Among Jesus' Followers 53
  • 8: 'Barnabas', Jewish Christianity, Trouble at Corinth 56
  • 9: Ignatius of Antioch 65
  • 10: Didache 84
  • 11: Marcion 89
  • 12: Justin 93
  • 13: Irenaeus of Lyon 100
  • 14: The New Testament Text 108
  • 15: Celsus: A Platonist Attack 110
  • 16: Montanism: Perpetua 114
  • 17: Tertullian, Minucius Felix 118
  • 18: Clement of Alexandria 124
  • 19: Julius Africanus 130
  • 20: Hippolytus and Liturgy 132
  • 21: Origen 135
  • 22: Cyprian of Carthage 145
  • 23: Dionysius of Alexandria 161
  • 24: Paul of Samosata 166
  • 25: Mani 170
  • 26: Plotinus, Porphyry 173
  • 27: Diocletian and the Great Persecution; Rise of Constantine 176
  • 28: Constantine 190
  • 29: The Seeds of Reaction 201
  • 30: The Church at Prayer 212
  • 31: Athanasius, Marcellus, and the Gathering Storm 226
  • 32: A Fiasco at Serdica 240
  • 33: Religious Division 254
  • 34: Athanasius' Return 260
  • 35: Constantius' Double Council of Unity 279
  • 36: Julian and the Church 295
  • 37: Damasus, Siricius, Papal Authority, Synesius of Cyrene 314
  • 38: Basil of Caesarea (Cappadocia) 331
  • 39: Ambrose 348
  • 40: Ambrosiaster 379
  • 41: Donatism 382
  • 42: Monks: The Ascetic Life 394
  • 43: Messalians 411
  • 44: Schism at Antioch 415
  • 45: Jerome and Rufinus 433
  • 46: Pelagius, Caelestius, and the Roman See in Gaul and North Africa 446
  • 47: Julian of Eclanum 464
  • 48: Augustine 473
  • 49: John Chrysostom 479
  • 50: Innocent I and John Chrysostom's Honour 499
  • 51: The Christological Debate, I 515
  • 52: The Christological Debate, Ii 538
  • 53: The Christological Debate, Iii 557
  • 54: The Aftermath of the Council of Chalcedon 592
  • 55: Justinian, Origen, and the 'Three Chapters' 612
  • 56: The Ancient Oriental Churches 628
  • 57: The Church and the Barbarian Invasions in the West 633
  • 58: Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) 658
  • 59: Worship After Constantine 675
  • 60: Pilgrims 684
  • 61: Penance 688
  • Further Reading 694
  • Dates of Roman Emperors 714
  • Index 721
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