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Third-century Christians who relapsed into heathenism by sacrificing to the gods or performing other acts of apostasy. There were three classes: sacrificati, who had actually offered sacrifices to idols; thurificati, who had merely burned incense to the gods; and libellatici, who certified in writing that they had offered sacrifice to idols without having actually offered sacrifice. After the edict of Decius (250-25) the lapsi who had apostasized through weakness often wished to repent and return to Christian worship. Pope Cornelius and St. Cyprian favored their return, and the synods of that time felt that after their performance of certain public penances they should be readmitted. Novatian opposed this leniency and formed a schismatic community. The Donatist schism was occasioned by a new class of lapsi, called "traditores," mostly clerics, who gave up the sacred books to the civil authorities and later repented. Several synods including the First Council of Nicaea in 325, drew up canons relative to the treatment of lapsi.
All items in this dictionary are from Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary, © Eternal Life. Used with permission.