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Fathers of the Church

Correspondence Between the Confessors of Carthage and Cyprian, Concerning Certificates Issued to the Lapsed to Bring Them Back Into Communion


In the first letter included here, the confessors under Lucian write to Cyprian to tell him that they have restored many lapsed Catholics to communion with the Church. Cyprian responds in the second letter that the confessors ought to follow his guidance in his previous letters concerning this subject: lapsed Catholics ought not to receive Communion until the persecution is over and a council can decide how to handle the issue.


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. Cyprian recognized this as a clear and serious abuse.

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


[Argument.—A certificate written in the name of the martyrs by Lucianus.]

All the confessors to father Cyprian, greeting. Know that, to all, concerning whom the account of what they have done since the commission of their sin has been, in your estimation, satisfactory, we have granted peace; and we have desired that this rescript should be made known by you to the other bishops also. We bid you to have peace with the holy martyrs. Lucianus wrote this, there being present of the clergy, both an exorcist and a reader.


[Argument.—No account is to be made of certificates from the martyrs before the peace of the Church is restored.]

Cyprian to the presbyters and deacons, his brethren, greeting. The Lord speaketh and saith, "Upon whom shall I look, but upon him that is humble and quiet, and that trembleth at my words?" Although we ought all to be this, yet especially those ought to be so who must labour, that, after their grave lapse, they may, by true penitence and absolute humility, deserve well of the Lord. Now I have read the letter of the whole body of confessors, which they wish to be made known by me to all my colleagues, and in which they requested that the peace given by themselves should be assured to those concerning whom the account of what they have done since their crime has been, in our estimation, satisfactory; which matter, as it waits for the counsel and judgment of all of us, I do not dare to prejudge, and so to assume a common cause for my own decision. And therefore, in the meantime, let us abide by the letters which I lately wrote to you, of which I have now sent a copy to many of my colleagues, who wrote in reply, that they were pleased with what I had decided, and that there must be no departure therefrom, until, peace being granted to us by the Lord, we shall be able to assemble together into one place, and to examine into the cases of individuals. But that you may know both what my colleague Caldonius wrote to me, and what I replied to him, I have enclosed with my letter a copy of each letter, the whole of which I beg you to read to our brethren, that they may be more and more settled down to patience, and not add another fault to what had hitherto been their former fault, not being willing to obey either me or the Gospel, nor allowing their cases to be examined in accordance with the letters of all the confessors. I bid you, beloved brethren, ever heartily farewell; and have me in remembrance. Salute all the brotherhood. 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.

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