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Fathers of the Church

Correspondence Between Caldonius and Cyprian, Concerning Whether or Not the Lapsed Christians Who Seek Forgiveness Ought to Be Brought Into Communion


Caldonius, a priest in Carthage, writes this first letter to Cyprian to ask him whether or not certain lapsed Christians ought to be brought back into communion with the Church. Cyprian responds in the affirmative, since those Christians have proved their repentance through their willingness to do penance and confess Christ publicly and suffer for Him in their resulting exile.


During the Decian persecution, many Carthaginian clergymen were admitting large numbers of Christians who had denied their faith back into communion with the Church. Cyprian did not approve of giving the lapsed Christians general indulgences, for he thought they ought to confess their sins and do ample penance before receiving Holy Communion. However, in this case, these fallen away Christians had shown their true reconversion by confessing Christ publicly. Thus Caldonius, a priest of Carthage, wrote to Cyprian to ask if they could be received back into the Church before they went into exile.

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


[Argument.—When, in the urgency of a new persecution, certain of the lapsed had confessed Christ, and so, before they went away into exile, sought for peace, Caldonius consults Cyprian as to whether peace should be granted them.]

Caldonius to Cyprian and his fellow-presbyters abiding at Carthage, greeting. The necessity of the times induces us not hastily to grant peace. But it was well to write to you, that they who, after having sacrificed, were again tried, became exiles. And thus they seem to me to have atoned for their former crime, in that they now let go their possessions and homes, and, repenting, follow Christ. Thus Felix, who assisted in the office of presbyter under Decimus, and was very near to me in bonds (I knew that same Felix very thoroughly), Victoria, his wife, and Lucius, being faithful, were banished, and have left their possessions, which the treasury now has in keeping. Moreover, a woman, Bona by name, who was dragged by her husband to sacrifice, and (with no conscience guilty of the crime, but because those who held her hands, sacrificed) began to cry against them, "I did not do it; you it was who did it!"—was also banished. Since, therefore, all these were asking for peace, saying, "We have recovered the faith which we had lost, we have repented, and have publicly confessed Christ"—although it seems to me that they ought to receive peace,—yet I have referred them to your judgment, that I might not appear to presume anything rashly. If, therefore, you should wish me to do anything by the common decision, write to me. Greet our brethren; our brethren greet you. I bid you, beloved brethren, ever heartily farewell.


[Argument.—Cyprian treats of nothing peculiar in this Epistle, beyond acquiescing in the opinion of Caldonius, to wit, that peace should not be refused to such lapsed as, by a true repentance and confession of the name of Christ, have deserved it, and have therefore returned to him.]

Cyprian to Caldonius, his brother, greeting. We have received your letter, beloved brother, which is abundantly sensible, and full of honesty and faith. Nor do we wonder that, skilled and exercised as you are in the Scriptures of the Lord, you do everything discreetly and wisely. lyon have judged quite correctly about granting peace to our brethren, which they, by true penitence and by the glory of a confession of the Lord, have restored to themselves, being justified by their words, by which before they had condemned themselves. Since, then, they have washed away all their sin, and their former stain, by the help of the Lord, has been done away by a more powerful virtue, they ought not to lie any longer under the power of the devil, as it were, prostrate; when, being banished and deprived of all their property, they have lifted themselves up and have begun to stand with Christ. And I wish that the others also would repent after their fall, and be transferred into their former condition; and that you may know how we have dealt with these, in their urgent and eager rashness and importunity to extort peace, I have sent a book to you, with letters to the number of five, that I wrote to the clergy and to the people, and to the martyrs also and confessors, which letters have already been sent to many of our colleagues, and have satisfied them; and they replied that they also agree with me in the same opinion according to the Catholic faith; which very thing do you also communicate to as many of our colleagues as you can, that among all these, may be observed one mode of action and one agreement, according to the Lord's precepts. I bid you, beloved 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.

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