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Fathers of the Church

Two Epistles from Cyprian to Pope Cornelius Regarding His Election As Vicar of Christ

Description

Cyprian writes this first letter to Pope Cornelius, explaining why Carthage had waited and investigated the circumstances of the papal election further before formally recognizing Cornelius as pope. The second letter gives an account of Cyprian's letters to the confessors that had fallen into schism under Novatian.

Provenance

A papal election was finally held in 251 around the beginning of the Council of Carthage. Two letters arrived in Carthage, one of which announced the election of Pope Saint Cornelius, and the other containing doubtful accusations against the new pope. The bishops Caldonius and Fortunatus went to Rome to discern the truth about the new pope. Then Carthage received the message that Novatian, the most prominent member of the Roman clergy, had been elected pope. However, when two African prelates (Pompeius and Stephanus) who had been present at the papal election arrived with the message that Cornelius had validly been elected pope without opposition at the time. Caldonius and Fortunatus returned with a letter from Cornelius, demanding why Carthage had hesitated to recognize him as Vicar of Christ. Cyprian responded with an explanation of the confusing circumstances surrounding the election.

by Cyprian of Carthage in 251 A.D. | translated by Unknown

EPISTLE XLI: TO CORNELIUS, ABOUT CYPRIAN'S APPROVAL OF HIS ORDINATION, AND CONCERNING FELICISSIMUS.

[Argument.—Cyprian excuses himself for not having without hesitation believed in the ordination of Cornelius, until he received the letters of his colleagues Caldonius and Fortunatus, which fully testified to its legitimacy; and incidentally repeats, in respect of the contrary faction of the Novatian party,that he did not in the very first instance give his adhesion to that, but rather to Cornelius, even to the extent of refusing to receive accusations against him.]

1. Cyprian to Cornelius his brother, greeting. As was fitting for God's servants, and especially for upright and peaceable priests, dearest brother, we recently sent our colleagues Caldonius and Fortunatus, that they might, not only by the persuasion of our letters, but by their presence and the advice of all of you, strive and labour with all their power to bring the members of the divided body into the unity of the Catholic Church, and associate them into the bond of Christian charity. But since the obstinate and inflexible pertinacity of the adverse party has not only rejected the bosom and the embrace of its root and Mother, but even, with a discord spreading and reviving itself worse and worse, has appointed a bishop for itself, and, contrary to the sacrament once delivered of the divine appointment and of Catholic Unity, has made an adulterous and opposed head outside the Church; having received your letters as well as those of our colleagues, at the coining also of our colleagues Pompeius and Stephanus, good men and very dear to us, by whom all these things were undoubtedly alleged and proved to us with general gladness, in conformity with the requirements alike of the sanctity and the truth of the divine tradition and ecclesiastical institution, we have directed our letters to you. Moreover, bringing these same things trader the notice of our several colleagues throughout the province, we have bidden also that our brethren, with letters from them, be directed to you.

2. This has been done, although our mind and intention had been already plainly declared to the brethren, and to the whole of the people in this place, when, having received letters lately from both parties, we read your letters, and intimated your ordination to the episcopate, in the ears of every one. Moreover, remembering the common honour, and having respect for the sacerdotal gravity and sanctity, we repudiated those things which from the other party had been heaped together with bitter virulence into a document transmitted to us; alike considering and weighing, that in so great and so religious an assembly of brethren, in which God's priests were sitting together, and His altar was set, they ought neither to be read nor to be heard. For those things should not easily be put forward, nor carelessly and rudely published, which may move a scandal by means of a quarrelsome pen in the minds of the hearers, and confuse brethren, who are placed far apart and dwelling across the sea, with uncertain opinions. Let those beware, who, obeying either their own rage or lust, and unmindful of the divine law and holiness, rejoice to throw abroad in the meantime things which they cannot prove; and although they may not be successful in destroying and ruining innocence, are satisfied with scattering stains upon it with lying reports and false rumours. Assuredly, we should exert ourselves, as it is fitting for prelates and priests to do, that such things, when they are written by any, should be repudiated as far as we are concerned. For otherwise, what will become of that which we learn and which we declare to be laid down in Scripture: "Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile?" And elsewhere: "Thy mouth abounded in malice, and thy tongue embraced deceit. Thou satest and spakest against thy brother, and slanderedst thine own mother's son." Also whist the apostle says: "Let no corrupt communication proceed from thy mouth, but that which is good to the edifying of faith, that it may minister grace unto the hearers." Further, we show what the right course of conduct to pursue is, if, when such things are written by the calumnious temerity of some, we do not allow them to be read among us: and therefore, dearest brother, when such letters came to me against you, even though they were the letters of your co-presbyter sitting with you, as they breathed a tone of religious simplicity, and did not echo with any barkings of curses and revilings, I ordered them to be read to the clergy and the people.

3. But in desiring letters from our colleagues, who were present at your ordination at that place, we did not forget the ancient usage, nor did we seek for any novelty. For it was sufficient for you to announce yourself by letters to have been made bishop, unless there had been a dissenting faction on the other side, who by their slanderous and calumnious fabrications disturbed the minds and perplexed the hearts of our colleagues, as well as of several of the brethren. To set this matter at rest, we judged it necessary to obtain thence the strong and decided authority of our colleagues who wrote to us; and they, declaring the testimony of their letters to be fully deserved by your character, and life, and teaching, have deprived even your rivals, and those who delight either in novelty or evil, of every scruple of doubt or of difference; and, according to our advice weighed in wholesome reason, the minds of the brethren tossing about in this sea have sincerely and decidedly approved your priesthood. For this, my brother, we especially both labour after, and ought to labour after, to be careful to maintain as much as we can the unity delivered by the Lord, and through His apostles to us their successors, and, as far as in us lies, to gather into the Church the dispersed and wandering sheep which the wilful faction and heretical temptation of some is separating from their Mother; those only being left outside, who by their obstinacy and madness have persisted, and have been unwilling to return to us; who themselves will have to give an account to the Lord of the dissension and separation made by them, and of the Church that they have forsaken.

4. Bill, so far as pertains to the cause of certain presbyters here, and of Felicissimus, that you may know what has been done here, our colleagues have sent you letters subscribed by their own hand, that you may learn, when you have heard the parties, from their letters what they have thought and what they have pronounced. But you will do better, brother, if you will also bid copies of the letters which I had sent lately by our colleagues Caldonius and Fortunatus to you, to he read for the common satisfaction, which I had written concerning the same Felicissimus and his presbytery to the clergy there, and also to the people, to be read to the brethren there; declaring your ordination, and the course of the whole transaction, that so as well there as here the brotherhood may be informed of all things by us. Moreover, I have here transmitted also copies of the same by Mettius the sub-deacon, sent by me, and by Nicephorus the acolyte. I bid you, dearest brother, ever heartily farewell.

EPISTLE XLII: TO THE SAME, ON HIS HAVING SENT LETTERS TO THE CONFESSORS WHOM NOVATIAN HAD SEDUCED.

[Argument.—The argument of this letter sufficiently appears from the title. It is manifest that this letter and the following were sent by one messenger.]

Cyprian to Cornelius his brother, greeting. I have though it both obligatory on me, and necessary for you, dearest brother, to write a short letter to the confessors who are there with you, and, seduced by the obstinacy and depravity of Novatian and Novatus, have departed from the Church; in which letter I might induce them, for the sake of our mutual affection, to return to their Mother, that is, to the Catholic Church. This letter I have first of all entrusted to you by Mettius the sub-deacon for your perusal, lest any one should pretend that I had written otherwise than according to the contents of my letter. I have, moreover, charged the same Mettius sent by me to you, that he should be guided by your decision; and if you should think that this letter should be given to the confessors, then that he should deliver it. I bid you, dearest brother, ever heartily farewell.

Taken from "The Early Church Fathers and Other Works" originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. in English in Edinburgh, Scotland beginning in 1867. (ANF 5, Roberts and Donaldson). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.