Action Alert!

Fathers of the Church

Epistle XXII: to the Clergy Abiding At Rome, Concerning Many of the Confessors, and Concerning the Forwardness of Lucian and the Modesty of Celerinus the Confessor


[Argument.—In this letter Cyprian informs the Roman clergy of the seditious demand of the lapsed to be restored to peace, and of the forwardness of Lucian. In order that they may better understand these matters, Cyprian takes care that not only his own letters, but also those of Celerinus and Lucian, should be sent to them.] Cyprian also notes the difference between the martyr St. Mapalicus' command that his mother be pardoned and Paulus' command that any who desired forgiveness should be pardoned in his name.


During the Decian persecution, Carthaginian clergymen were admitting large numbers of Christians who had denied their faith back into communion with the Church. The confessor Lucian began this practice by issuing an indulgence (allowing lapsed Christians to receive Communion without confessing or performing penance) to any who desired it. He received "permission" to do this from a Christian, Paulus, who was about to be martyred. Lucian also began granting pardons in the names of confessors who were still living. Among those who received pardon from Lucian were the sisters of Celerinus, upon his request (see CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN CELERINUS AND LUCIAN CONCERNING THE RECONCILIATION OF THE LAPSED CHRISTIANS WITH THE CHURCH). When he heard of these abuses, Cyprian addressed this letter to the Roman clergy to explain that Lucian's actions were not valid.

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

1. Cyprian to the presbyters and deacons abiding at Rome, his brethren, greeting. After the letters that I wrote to you, beloved brethren, in which what I had done was explained, and some slight account was given of my discipline and diligence, there came another matter which, any more than the others, ought not to be concealed from you. For our brother Lucian, who himself also is one of the confessors, earnest indeed in faith, and robust in virtue, but little established in the reading of the Lord's word, has attempted certain things, constituting himself for a time an authority for unskilled people, so that certificates written by his hand were given indiscriminately to many persons in the name of Paulus; whereas Mappalicus the martyr, cautious and modest, mindful of the law and discipline, wrote no letters contrary to the Gospel, but only, moved with domestic affection for his mother, who had fallen, commanded peace to be given to her. Saturninus, moreover, after his torture, still remaining in prison, sent out no letters of this kind. But Lucian, not only while Paulus was still in prison, gave everywhere in his name certificates written with his own hand, but even after his decease persisted in doing the same things under his name, saying that this had been commanded him by Paulus, ignorant that he must obey the Lord rather than his fellow-servant. In the name also of Aurelius, a young man who had undergone the torture, many certificates were given, written by the hand of the same Lucian, because Aurelius did not know how to write himself.

2. In order, in some measure, to put a stop to this practice, I wrote letters to them, which I have sent to you under the enclosure of the former letter, in which I did not fail to ask and persuade them that consideration might be had for the law of the Lord and the Gospel. But after I sent my letters to them, that, as it were, something might be done more moderately and temperately; the same Lucian wrote a letter in the name of all the confessors, in which well nigh every bond of faith, and fear of God, and the Lord's command, and the sacredness and sincerity of the Gospel were dissolved. For he wrote in the name of all, that they had given peace to all, and that he wished that this decree should be communicated through me to the other bishops, of which letter I transmitted a copy to you. It was added indeed, "of whom the account of what they have done since their crime has been satisfactory;"—a thing this which excites a greater odium against me, because I, when I have begun to hear the cases of each one and to examine into them, seem to deny to many what they now are all boasting that they have received from the martyrs anti confessors.

3. Finally, this seditious practice has already begun to appear; for in our province, through some of its cities, an attack has been made by the multitude upon their rulers, and they have compelled that peace to be given to them immediately which they all cried out had been once given to them by the martyrs and confessors. Their rulers, being frightened and subdued, were of little avail to resist them, either by vigour of mind or by strength of faith. With us, moreover, some turbulent spirits, who in time past were with difficulty governed by me, and were delayed till my coming, were inflamed by this letter as if by a firebrand, and began to be more violent, and to extort the peace granted to them. I have sent a copy to you of the letters that I wrote to my clergy about these matters, and, moreover, what Caldonius, my colleague, of his integrity and faithfulness wrote, and what I replied to him. I have sent both to you to read. Copies also of the letter of Celerinus, the good and stout confessor, which he wrote to Lucian the same confessor—also what Lucian replied to him,—I have sent to you; that you may know both my labour in respect of everything, and my diligence, and might learn the truth itself, how moderate and cautious is Celerinus the confessor, and how reverent both in his humility and fear for our faith; while Lucian, as I have said, is less skilful concerning the understanding of the Lord's word, and by his facility, is mischievous on account of the dislike that he causes for my reverential dealing. For while the Lord has said that the nations are to be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and their past sins are to be done away in baptism; this man, ignorant of the precept and of the law, commands peace to be granted and sins to be done away in the name of Paulus; and he says that this was commanded him by Paulus, as you will observe in the letter sent by the same Lucian to Celerinus, in which he very little considered that it is not martyrs that make the Gospel, but that martyrs are made by the Gospel; since Paul also, the apostle whom the Lord called a chosen vessel unto Him, laid down in his epistle: "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace of Christ, unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the Gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed."

4. But your letter, which I received, written to my clergy, came opportunely; as also did those which the blessed confessors, Moyses and Maximus, Nicostratus, and the rest, sent to Saturninus and Aurelius, and the others, in which are contained the full vigour of the Gospel and the robust discipline of the law of the Lord. Your words much assisted me as I laboured here, and withstood with the whole strength of faith the onset of ill-will, so that my work was shortened from above, and that before the letters which I last sent you reached you, you declared to me, that according to the Gospel law, your judgment also strongly and unanimously concurred with mine. I bid you, brethren, beloved and longed-for, 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.