Saturday, 2 May 2015

Joseph Lenow: Patience and Judgment in the Christology of Cyprian of Carthage

Scholars have long recognized the literary dependence of Cyprian of Carthage’s late treatise De bono patientiae upon Tertullian’s De patientia. Less commonly noted has been the extent to which Cyprian expands upon the Christological material of Tertullian’s text, relative to his extension of other topics. While retaining the general framework of his predecessor, Cyprian crafts an account of patience as the virtue underlying both Christ’s redemptive work (as the Father’s sending of the Son and the Son’s endurance of human existence and death itself) and the Church’s participation in it (as a community founded on the endurance of worldly troubles for the sake of fidelity to its Lord). Yet Cyprian’s treatise culminates in a corresponding expansion of Tertullian’s brief statements on the Last Judgment; in Cyprian’s work, the entire discussion of patience leads to consideration of the long-deferred return of Christ as Judge, in which all the injustices inflicted by the wicked and suffered by the Church are given their recompense. This dialectical interplay between Christ as patient sufferer and Christ as Judge should be seen as one of the most distinctive features of Cyprian’s Christology, as attested by its appearance not only in De bono patientiae but also in his epistles. This framing around the two foci of patience and judgment offers a key instance in which Cyprian’s Christology is shaped in response to the climactic persecutions, plagues, and controversies of his episcopal career.

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