Sunday, 10 February 2019
Matthew Esquivel: Penance and Ecclesial Purity: The Divine Urgency Behind Cyprian’s Response to the Decian Persecution
After the outbreak of the Decian persecution, the Church faced the controversy of admitting back into communion Christians who had committed apostasy in various forms. Cyprian of Carthage challenges both the laxist position of Felicissimus that appealed to the authority of the martyrs to supply reconciliation for the lapsed without penance and the rigorist position of Novatian that provided no means of reconciliation to the Eucharistic fellowship. This study argues that Cyprian develops a penitential program based upon the authority of the bishop in order to mediate between the laxist and rigorist positions. Against the laxists, readmittance was to be administered through the penitential protocol and the imposition of hands of the bishops rather than the absolution of the martyrs which required no penance. Against the rigorists, penitents who followed the proper protocol of the bishops were not to be denied restoration to communion.By analyzing Cyprian’s treatises such as De Lapsis and De catholicae ecclesia unitate, as well as his related letters, this study argues that his insistence upon the mediation of the bishop for ecclesial reconciliation is based upon his views of 1) divine order of the Church located in the authority of the bishops, 2) divine command given through prophetic experiences within his community, and 3) divine judgment both now and in eternity. This study analyzes these convictions and the urgency they produced for Cyprian to establish a penitential order that would preserve the purity and unity of the Church.