Lesson 9B Preview: Selections from Cyprian’s Writings “On the Unity of the Church”, “On Works and Alms” ; History Channel’s “Cyprian’s Carthage”; Michael Haykin Audio Lecture “Cyprian and the Decian Persecution”

Selections from Cyprian’s On the Unity of the Church

You will see in the excerpt below the modern editor has entered notes in brackets: [ ]. His comments claim edits were subsequently made in Cyprian’s writings seeking to slant certain doctrinal issues so as to be more compatible with Catholic interpretations. The editor has also added Bible citations not in the original manuscript. Go to Christian Classics Ethereal Library for the annotated text.

“If any one consider and examine these things, there is no need for lengthened discussion and arguments.  There is easy proof for faith in a short summary of the truth.  The Lord speaks to Peter,[On the falsifying of the text by Romish editors, see Elucidation II.] saying, “I say unto thee, that thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”Matt. xvi. 18, 19. And again to the same He says, after His resurrection, “Feed my sheep.” John xxi. 15. [Here is interpolated]:  “Upon him, being one, He builds His Church, and commits His sheep to be fed.” And although to all the apostles, after His resurrection, He gives an equal power, and says, “As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you: Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they shall be remitted unto him; and whose soever sins ye retain, they shall be retained;”John xx. 21. yet, that He might set forth unity, He arranged by His authority the origin of that unity, as beginning from one. Assuredly the rest of the apostles were also the same as was Peter, endowed with a like partnership both of honour and power; but the beginning proceeds from unity. [Here is interpolated]: “And the primacy is given to Peter, that there might be shown one Church of Christ and one See; and they are all shepherds, and the Rock is one, which is fed by all the apostles with unanimous consent.” [This passage, as well as the one a few lines before, is beyond all question spurious.] Which one Church, also, the Holy Spirit in the Song of Songs designated in the person of our Lord, and says, “My dove, my spotless one, is but one. She is the only one of her mother, elect of her that bare her.”. Does he who does not hold this unity of the Church think that he holds the faith? Does he who strives against and resists the Church. [Here is interpolated]: “Who deserts the chair of Peter, upon whom the Church is founded.” [This passage also is undoubtedly spurious.] trust that he is in the Church, when moreover the blessed Apostle Paul teaches the same thing, and sets forth the sacrament of unity, saying, “There is one body and one spirit, one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God?” Eph. iv. 4.

5. And this unity we ought firmly to hold and assert, especially those of us that are bishops who preside in the Church, that we may also prove the episcopate itself to be one and undivided. [i.e., the universal episcopate is the chair of Peter.] Let no one deceive the brotherhood by a falsehood: let no one corrupt the truth of the faith by perfidious prevarication. The episcopate is one, each part of which is held by each one for the whole.[This maxim is the essence of the treatise; i.e., “Ecclesia in Episcopo.”] The Church also is one, which is spread abroad far and wide into a multitude by an increase of fruitfulness. As there are many rays of the sun, but one light; and many branches of a tree, but one strength based in its tenacious root; and since from one spring flow many streams, although the multiplicity seems diffused in the liberality of an overflowing abundance, yet the unity is still preserved in the source.  Separate a ray of the sun from its body of light, its unity does not allow a division of light; break a branch from a tree,—when broken, it will not be able to bud; cut off the stream from its fountain, and that which is cut off dries up. Thus also the Church, shone over with the light of the Lord, sheds forth her rays over the whole world, yet it is one light which is everywhere diffused, nor is the unity of the body separated. Her fruitful abundance spreads her branches over the whole world. She broadly expands her rivers, liberally flowing, yet her head is one, her source one; and she is one mother, plentiful in the results of fruitfulness: from her womb we are born, by her milk we are nourished, by her spirit we are animated.”

Selections from Treatise VIII

On Works and Alms.

2. The Holy Spirit speaks in the sacred Scriptures, and says, “By almsgiving and faith sins are purged.” Not assuredly those sins which had been previously contracted, for those are purged by the blood and sanctification of Christ. Moreover, He says again, “As water extinguisheth fire, so almsgiving quencheth sin.”Here also it is shown and proved, that as in the laver of saving water the fire of Gehenna is extinguished, so by almsgiving and works of righteousness the flame of sins is subdued. And because in baptism remission of sins is granted once for all, constant and ceaseless labor, following the likeness of baptism, once again bestows the mercy of God. The Lord teaches this also in the Gospel. For when the disciples were pointed out, as eating and not first washing their hands, He replied and said, “He that made that which is within, made also that which is without. But give alms, and behold all things are clean unto you;” teaching hereby and showing, that not the hands are to be washed, but the heart, and that the foulness from inside is to be done away rather than that from outside; but that he who shall have cleansed what is within has cleansed also that which is without; and that if the mind is cleansed, a man has begun to be clean also in skin and body. Further, admonishing, and showing whence we may be clean and purged, He added that alms must be given. He who is pitiful teaches and warns us that pity must be shown; and because He seeks to save those whom at a great cost He has redeemed, He teaches that those who, after the grace of baptism, have become foul, may once more be cleansed.

26. What, dearest brethren, will be that glory of those who labor charitably—how great and high the joy when the Lord begins to number His people, and, distributing to our merits and good works the promised rewards, to give heavenly things for earthly, eternal things for temporal, great things for small; to present us to the Father, to whom He has restored us by His sanctification; to bestow upon us immortality and eternity, to which He has renewed us by the quickening of His blood; to bring us anew to paradise, to open the kingdom of heaven, in the faith and truth of His promise! Let these things abide firmly in our perceptions, let them be understood with full faith, let them be loved with our whole heart, let them be purchased by the magnanimity of our increasing labors. An illustrious and divine thing, dearest brethren, is the saving labor of charity; a great comfort of believers, a wholesome guard of our security, a protection of hope, a safeguard of faith, a remedy for sin, a thing placed in the power of the doer, a thing both great and easy, a crown of peace without the risk of persecution; the true and greatest gift of God, needful for the weak, glorious for the strong, assisted by which the Christian accomplishes spiritual grace, deserves well of Christ the Judge, accounts God his debtor. For this palm of works of salvation let us gladly and readily strive; let us all, in the struggle of righteousness, run with God and Christ looking on; and let us who have already begun to be greater than this life and the world, slacken our course by no desire of this life and of this world.  If the day shall find us, whether it be the day of reward or persecution, furnished, if swift, if running in this contest of charity, the Lord will never fail of giving a reward for our merits: in peace He will give to us who conquer, a white crown for our labors; in persecution, He will accompany it with a purple one for our passion…

The History of Cyprian’s Carthage from the History Channel:

Part 1 (10 minutes):

Part 2 (10 minutes):

Part 3 (7 minutes):

Part 4 (8 minutes):

Cyprian warns weak, vulnerable Christians of the devil appearing as an angel in Treatise I: “…they still call themselves Christians, and, walking in darkness, they think that they have the light, while the adversary is flattering and deceiving, who, according to the apostle’s word, transforms himself into an angel of light [my emphasis], and equips his ministers as if they were the ministers of righteousness, who maintain night instead of day, death for salvation…”

The New Dictionary of Theology points out that  “In 2nd century Christianity attempts were made to describe both Christ and the Holy Spirit in angelic terms, but the New Testament picture of a Christ distinguished from, and infinitely superior to, all other powers prevailed.” J.N.D. Kelly discusses in Early Christian Doctrines Athanasius’ contribution in opposing the Tropici, a cult identified with the Pneumatomachi, that held “disparaging views of the Spirit.”(256). The Tropici diminished the Holy Spirit when they argued that the Holy Spirit was an angel, albeit “superior to other angels in rank.” (257).  Athanasius’ rejoinder argued “that the Spirit is fully divine, consubstantial with the Father and the Son.” (257).

Click here for Michael Haykin’s presentation Cyprian and the Decian Persecution. Please Note: Tucked behind this page is a bonus presentation The Conversion of Cyprian – if personal time permits. Click here for this bonus page.

Bible Verses for Reflection: Matt 16: 18-19Daniel 10: 4-12; Acts 27: 23-25

The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod tackles Matt 16: 18-19:

“Q. I believe strongly in justification by faith alone. However, in past months my conscience has been troubled by Roman Catholic teachings of the Papacy. I could easily discard their claims, but I am vexed over the meaning of Matthew 16:18-19. What is the Lutheran interpretation of these two verses? Specifically, here are a few questions:

1. What is the rock that Christ builds his Church on (I realize this occurs just after Peter declares his faith that Jesus is the Son of God)?

2. To whom does he give the keys to heaven and the power to bind and loose?

3. What are the keys to heaven?

A. Commenting on Peter’s words in Matthew 16:18, “The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope” (one of the Lutheran Confessional writings) says: “Certainly the church is not built upon the authority of a human being but upon the ministry of that confession Peter made, in which he proclaimed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God. For that reason Christ addresses him as a minister: ‘On this rock,’ that is, on this ministry. Furthermore, the ministry of the New Testament is not bound to places or persons like the Levitical ministry, but is scattered throughout the whole world and exists wherever God gives God’s gifts: apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers [cf. Eph. 4:11]. That ministry is not valid because of the authority of any person but because of the Word handed down by Christ” (paragraphs 25-27; Kolb-Wengert edition). The “keys to heaven” are the Gospel and the sacraments by which the door to heaven is “unlocked” for all who believe. Christ gave these keys, the Lutheran Confessions teach, “principally and without mediation” to the whole church, and the church calls pastors to exercise these keys publicly in its behalf (by proclaiming the Gospel and administering the sacraments).

For more information, see “The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope” in The Book of Concord…”

A Quote for Your Consideration: “Through faith in Christ he [the justified believer] is sure not only of divine grace in the present life, but also of eternal salvation in the life to come…” (John Theodore Mueller, Christian Dogmatics, 381).

Questions for discussion:

1. A new Christian in your Sunday School class asks “Why shouldn’t all Christians pray for a good dose of persecution”? How would Prof. Haykin, in light of his audio lecture on Cyprian and the Decian Persecution, respond to the statement. What will your answer be?

2. How would you assess Cyprian’s conflict with Pope Stephen I, as described by Dr. Haykin in his lecture? What was the theological issue shaping this conflict? What was Cyprian’s accusation against the Pope? What might Luther say about this issue?

3. Prof. Haykin discusses the North African followers of the Roman Novatian and his teachings. These “rigorists”, as they were called, were known for their doctrinal position on Christian sinners? Can you describe their position? How did the Roman document, the Libellus, figure into this controversy?

4. We have learned that Carthage was a dominant power in the Mediterranean for 600 years. The economic “engine” that supported Carthage was evident centuries after its founding in the life of Cyprian and his family. Given the History Channel’s presentation above Engineering an Empire what would you identify as key advantages driving the city’s growth and eventual dominance?

5. We learn in Engineering an Empire that Marcus Porcius Cato, known in history as Cato the Elder, took a position on Carthage that would profoundly shape the history of the Mediterranean cultures. What was his position?

6. A student in your Sunday School class asks, “Do guardian angels exist? What does the Bible tell us about guardian angels protecting us”? [You may want to refer to Ps. 91:11-12; Mt. 18:10; Heb. 1:14, when formulating your answer.]

7. A student says, “I have read that Lucifer or Satan was once an angel. Is he still an angel or is he a demon?” What will you say? How could you cite in your response from scripture?

8. A student turns to section 26. from Treatise VIII, (see above) and starts reading: ” ‘What, dearest brethren, will be that glory of those who labor charitably—how great and high the joy when the Lord begins to number His people, and, distributing to our merits and good works the promised rewards, to give heavenly things for earthly, eternal things for temporal, great things for small’… How are we Lutherans today to interpret this passage?” What will you say?

Glossary of Terms and Names (under development):

1. Meletius of Lycopolis


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