Fathers of the Church

Epistle XIII: to the Clergy, Concerning Those Who Are in Haste to Receive Peace

Description

Cyprian argues in this epistle that it is a gravely wrong to give Holy Communion to the lapsed who have not yet confessed and performed due penance for their sin. He says that if their death is imminent, the lapsed may be admitted into communion with the faithful by a priest or deacon, but otherwise they ought to wait until the end of the persecution, when a council could be called to address this issue.

Provenance

During the Decian persecution, five Carthaginian priests who opposed Cyprian from the beginning of his episcopate were admitting large numbers of Christians who had denied their faith back into communion. The confessors of Carthage had issued a general indulgence to allow any lapsed Christian whom they had examined and approved to return to communion with the Church. Also, martyrs could request that certain lapsed be restored to communion (St. Mappalicus asked this for his sister and mother). While Cyprian respected the judgment of the confessors and martyrs, he did not want to place those lapsed Catholics on a higher level than those who had remained faithful, without giving them due penance. He wrote this epistle from his retreat during the persecution.

by Cyprian of Carthage in 250 A.D. | translated by Unknown

[Argument.—Peace must be attained through penitence, and penitence is realized by keeping the Commandments. They who are oppressed with sickness, if they are relieved by the suffrages of the martyrs, may be admitted to peace; but others are to be kept back until the peace of the Church is secured.]

1. Cyprian to the presbyters and deacons, his brethren, greeting. I have read your letter, beloved brethren, wherein you wrote that your wholesome counsel was not wanting to our brethren, that, laying aside all rash haste, they should manifest a religious patience to God, so that when by His mercy we come together, we may debate upon all kinds of things, according to the discipline of the Church, especially since it is written, "Remember from whence thou hast fallen, and repent." Now he repents, who, remembering the divine precept, with meekness and patience, and obeying the priests of God, deserves well of the Lord by his obedience and his righteous works.

2. Since, however, you intimate that some are petulant, and eagerly urge their being received to communion, and have desired in this matter that some rule should be given by me to you, I think I have sufficiently written on this subject in the last letter that was sent to you, that they who have received a certificate froth the martyrs, and can be assisted by their help with the Lord in respect of their sins, if they begin to be oppressed with any sickness or risk; when they have made confession, and have received the imposition of hands on them by you in acknowledgment of their penitence, should be remitted to the Lord with the peace promised to them by the martyrs. But others who, without having received any certificate from the martyrs, are envious (since this is the cause not of a few, nor of one church, nor of one province, but of the whole world), must wait, in dependence on the protection of the Lord, for the public peace of the Church itself. For this is suitable to the modesty and the discipline, and even the life of all of us, that the chief officers meeting together with the clergy in the presence also of the people who stand fast, to whom themselves, moreover, honour is to be shown for their faith and fear, we may be able to order all things with the religiousness of a common consultation. But how irreligious is it, and mischievous, even to those themselves who are eager, that while such as are exiles, and driven from their country, and spoiled of all their property, have not yet returned to the Church, some of the lapsed should be hasty to anticipate even confessors themselves, and to enter into the Church before them! If they are so over-anxious, they have what they require in their own power, the times themselves offering them freely more than they ask. The struggle is still going forward, and the strife is daily celebrated. If they truly and with constancy repent of what they have done, and the fervour of their faith prevails, he who cannot be delayed may be crowned. I bid you, beloved brethren, ever heartily farewell; and have me in remembrance. Greet all the brotherhood in my name, and tell them to be mindful of me. Fare ye well.

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.