others (Novatus23 and Felicissimus), who had taken over the church in his absence, and who were responsible for the mass reconciliation of the lapsed, to which Cyprian was opposed.24
Already the outlines of Cyprian's ecclesiology were apparent: whatever authority or privilege God might grant to confessors, the fundamental structure of the church rested in the duly appointed bishops, in whom final authority was vested, and whose voice as priests God would hear.
Our Lord, whose instructions we ought to dread and observe, setting forth the honour of the bishop and the organisation (ratio) of his church, speaks in the gospel and says to Peter: 'I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the underworld will not conquer it, and to you I shall give the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and things which you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatever you set free on earth shall be set free also in heaven.' [Matt 16:18-19] Thence through the changes of times and successions the ordination of bishops and the organisation of the church have come down, so that the church is established upon the bishops, and every act of the church is directed by those same superiors (praepositos).25
Such was the office of bishop as Cyprian saw it. There was a network of congregations throughout the empire which corresponded in organisation to the empire itself. Each bishop was responsible for his local church and its members, for their conduct and their welfare, physical as well as spiritual. He was answerable to his superior in the metropolis, and the metropolitan bishop usually to the greater see nearby, not only for himself, but for those in his charge. The bishops of the greater sees were in communication with each other. It was already the practice that, to make a new bishop, three bishops were needed, normally with the authority, if not the actual presence, of the metropolitan.26 An efficient metropolitan needed to keep an accurate written record of ordinations and correspondence, of synods and of judgements. The bishops thus constituted an empire-wide bureaucracy in parallel with that of the empire itself. In an imperial centre like Rome, Alexandria or Syrian Antioch,
23 Not to be confused with Novatian.
24 Cypr. Ep. 41-3; for Novatus, see Cyprian's hostile portrait Ep. 52.2.
26 So Novatian got three bishops to ordain him (Cornelius apud Euseb. HE 6.43.8-9).
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