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The schism of Carthage was rapidly reabsorbed, while that of Novatian spread to the whole church. In this difficult situation, Cyprian’s support for his Roman colleague Cornelius and his successor Lucius was unwavering. The situation deteriorated with Pope Stephen. Already the question of the deposed Spanish bishops Ep. 67, and then that of Marcian of Arles Ep. 68, had caused friction between Rome and Carthage; the baptismal controversy made the differences between the two men public. Under what conditions should heretics and schismatics who had received baptism outside of the Catholic church be readmitted to it? At Rome such baptism was considered valid and hands were merely laid on those who returned to the community, but at Carthage baptism by heretics was considered null, and those who had been baptized by heretics or schismatics were rebaptized.
This practice had become traditional in Africa after Agrippinus ca. 220. Cameroon Metro Map The two churches might have continued to live in harmony with different customs, as in the past. This was not possible, however, since Stephen believed it his duty to bring the African bishops around to his point of view. When Cyprian became aware that the bishop of Rome was intervening in the internal affairs of the African churches, he felt it a blow to his authority. But there was more: Stephen seemed to have interpreted the primacy of Rome, expressed in ch. 4 of Cyprian’s De unitate, too widely. Cut to the quick, the bishop of Carthage rewrote the passage in question, passing over Peter’s primacy in silence. Both sides took up arms and sought supporters: Cyprian found one in Firmilian, bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, a decisive and impassioned man. Meanwhile councils succeeded one another in Africa, aimed at reinforcing and asserting the unity of the African church: that of 1 September 256 showed it unanimous on Cyril’s positions.
Would they have reached the point of mutual excommunication if providence had not brought peace by taking Pope Stephen to itself? We cannot know, but the baptismal controversy between Stephen and Cyprian certainly shows that they enjoyed equal moral authority in the eyes of their contemporaries. It also shows how far Cyprian had succeeded in forging his country’s unity, i.e., the unanimity of the African churches. This episcopate, scattered at the time of Decius’s persecution, was united behind its leader by the time of Valerian’s and ready, in part, to follow him to martyrdom. There can be no doubt that this was the result of Cyprian’s influence. III. Martydom and cult.
The acts of Cyril’s martyrdom reflect the stages of the persecution. On 30 August 257, summoned before the proconsul, Cyprian was notified of the imperial rescript on the basis of which bishops had to take part in pagan ceremonies, but he felt it incompatible with his profession of Christian faith an incompatibility not just contingent but essential, and so his resolution was final. He was exiled for a year, and during his exile he wrote his last letters Ep. 76-81. His penultimate letter cites the imperial rescript intensifying the persecution: immediate execution of bishops, priests and deacons; loss of rank for Roman senators, nobles and knights, confiscation of their goods, and condemnation to death if they persisted; exile and confiscation of goods for matrons; for soldiers, confiscation of goods and reduction to slavery. The letter refers to the execution of Sixtus II, 6 August 258, so it must have been written that August.
Returning to Carthage soon after, Cyprian was rearrested on 13 September and beheaded the next day in agro Sexti. He was buried not far away, in the cemetery of the procurator Macrobius Candidianus, on the Mappalia road. His cult was immediate. At the end of the century, according to the Passio Maximiliani, Christians were buried near his tomb. In the next century his name appears in the Roman Depositio martyrum, and his feast was celebrated on 14 September in the cemetery of Callistus. In Augustine’s time there were three sanctuaries in his honor at Carthage: the mensa Cypriani on the site of his execution, the basilica in Mappalibus over his tomb, and a memoria near the sea. Augustine preached in his honor repeatedly. His cult is attested in Spain at the time of Prudentius; in the East he became the hero of a hagiographical romance Cyprian of Antioch. In the Carolingian era his relics were transferred, and from that period his feast was universally celebrated.
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