Thursday, 7 May 2015

David Riggs: Cyprian against the Nicaeans: Claiming the Saint for Homoean Christianity in Vandal Carthage

The Vandal period of African Christianity has long existed as a sort of Dark Ages in which the primary narratives of the Church are flush with persecution, exile, and destruction. Nevertheless, a notable surge of interest in the history of the Vandals in recent decades has prompted revisionist work that has broadened the purview of scholarship well beyond the paradigm Victor of Vita offers. Amid such work, the Homoean ecclesial fellowship of the Vandal kingdom has begun to emerge as something more than a one-dimensional body of heretical barbarian persecutors. Some recent studies have highlighted how the Homoean Church sought to establish itself as a genuinely "African" communion that appealed to a broad cross-section of the population.
Along these lines, this paper proposes that a little-known anonymous sermon, Contra Paganos, offers a first-hand glimpse of Homoean Church leaders leveraging the prestige and authority of Saint Cyprian to establish their ecclesial communion as the rightful heir of the African Christian tradition. After making a case for ascribing this sermon to the Homoean Church at Carthage and highlighting its rhetorical use of Saint Cyprian's authority, this study will situate the anonymous text alongside additional literary and archaeological glimpses of the Homoean Church's effective cultivation of the cult of Saint Cyprian in Vandal Carthage. Accordingly, I shall argue that conventional characterizations of the Vandal period as destructive and disruptive for African Christianity must yield to interpretations that are more attentive to Vandal contributions to the development and prosperity of the African Church.

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