Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cyprian on Unity

In 251 AD, following the election of St. Cornelius to the See of Peter as Bishop of Rome, Novatian (a Roman priest) had himself elected bishop (and therefore the second anti-pope following Hippolytus) by several Italian bishops supported by five Roman priests. The fact that this schism so rocked the entire Catholic Church (East & West) speaks highly of the preeminence of the See of Peter during this time.

Cyprian of Carthage writes in response:
Who, then, is so wicked and faithless, who is so insane with the madness of discord, that either he should believe that the unity of God can be divided, or should dare to rend it— the garment of the Lord— the Church of Christ? He Himself in His Gospel warns us, and teaches, saying, "And there shall be one flock and one shepherd." And does any one believe that in one place there can be either many shepherds or many flocks?
For Cyprian, there is a unique and indefectible unity which belongs to the Bride of Christ. As Christ prophesied "there will be one flock and one shepherd" not "I hope there will be one flock and one shepherd" and not "I am the One Shepherd of many flocks". But in whom/what does this unity subside?
There is easy proof for faith in a short summary of the truth. The Lord speaks to Peter, saying, "I say unto you, that you are 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 you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." And again to the same He says, after His resurrection, "Feed nay sheep." And although to all the apostles, after His resurrection, He gives an equal power, and says, "As the Father has sent me, even so send I you: Receive the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they shall be remitted unto him; and whose soever sins ye retain, they shall be retained; " 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.
As for Cyprian's later views, that is a topic for another discussion. For now, at least we have the assurance that the early Church saw no possibility of a divided Body of Christ. The Body of Christ inevitably subsists in undivided - bodily form (not fractured, not invisible). If there is no bodily form, it cannot be the body of Christ. A divided "body" is not a body at all but two bodies and Christ is not polygamous - He has but one Bride and one Body.

St. Cyprian knew the head of that body was the See on which Christ promised to build His Church (body) and therefore the sine qua non of Christian unity.


George Weis said...

Hey Tim, where in the cyprian quotes does he mention visibility? Sorry if I missed, and I'm not trying to be a pain I promise!


Tim A. Troutman said...

George, thats really just my addition. I think it would be anachronistic for him to mention visibility because there was no contrast between visble/invisble Church in the 3rd century. Cyprian is taking visibility for granted. What I mean is that none of what he says makes sense given an invisible Church. Hope this makes sense, I've just been sampling my homebrew.

Rene'e said...

"sampling your homebrew"....when I lived in NC, I sampled some of the homebrew, but is was not beer. You NC folks do know your brewing.

Shine on...

Tim A. Troutman said...

Ohh you must be talking bout the stuff they brew up in the hills. Yea that's good too.