the church or churches were presided over by a bishop of great influence, who not only governed in the city, but supervised neighbouring areas. This hierarchy had not always been there, though the seeds of it are as early as the territorial role attributed to Titus in the New Testament (Tit 1:5). Divine authority had been claimed for duly appointed bishops by Clement of Rome,27 then in the Ignatian letters for a single bishop in each church.28 Irenaeus saw the succession ofbishops or 'elders' of the apostolic sees, particularly Rome, as guarantors of the genuine tradition of doctrine as against heretical deviation.29 This thought was enthusiastically reasserted in North Africa by Tertullian,30 and became central to the thinking of Cyprian. His most elaborate statement occurs in the book De catholicae ecclesiae unitate ('On the unity of the catholic church'), produced in 251, and prompted first by the schism in his native Carthage, but applied to a graver one in Rome.
We know little about the choice in Rome of Cornelius to succeed the martyr Fabian in the spring of 251. Cyprian says he did not rise suddenly, but had been 'promoted through all the ecclesiastical offices'.31 Lifelong clergy like Cornelius probably resented the brilliant Novatian, who had emerged as leader during the emergency. Cornelius favoured compromise when it came to reinstating the lapsed, be they clergy or laity, and he needed defending against allegations of laxity.32 For whatever reason, soon after Cornelius' ordination Novatian rose as champion of the gospel and was ordained by three Italian bishops, with the support of a body of Roman clergy, four or five confessors, and Novatus, who had arrived from Carthage. Cornelius and Novatian both notified other leading bishops. Dionysius of Alexandria supported Cornelius, and pleaded with Novatian to recant.33 Fabius of Antioch apparently supported Novatian, and received remonstrations from Cornelius and Dionysius; he died soon after.34 Cyprian sent an investigative team to Rome, an act of hesitation which required some diplomatic explanations to Cornelius.35 It was embarrassing for
30 Praescr. 20-2.
32 Cypr. Ep. 55.11-12; note passim communicare sacrificatis.
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