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In his absence, individual Christians panicked. They sought readmission to the church by whatever means they could. Some pressured 'laxist' clergy; others took a path that would cause the community long-term problems. They went to confessores, Christians imprisoned for their refusal to sacrifice, and sought their intercession. Confessors held a peculiar place within the church. While many were not ordained, their authority was unquestioned, even by Cyprian. They had professed their allegiance to Christ and had been willing to suffer. By their imprisonment and torture, often to the brink of death, they acquired a status as close to that of a martyr as one can attain without dying. Some confessors issued repentant lapsi letters of reconciliation (libelli pacis) reincorporating them into the church. Some wrote letters on behalf of penitents to be used after their own death. Others issued blanket letters of forgiveness without specifying the names of the persons to whom they applied.

Under these circumstances, Cyprian was forced to navigate between the confessors' authority and his own articulated position on the lapsi. For a few years after the death of Decius in 251, Cyprian spent time setting the house of the Carthaginian church in order. Confessors were brought into the ranks of the clergy, without ordination, on the grounds that their suffering was enough to grant them the right to the deaconate and presbyterate, though not episcopacy. Repentant lapsi were reconciled on the bishop's terms, often with communion only in articulo mortis ('at the time of their death').

By 253, the interval of peace had evaporated, and under Valerian (r. 253-9) a new persecution began. As the noose tightened on the church, Cyprian began to admit more of the lapsi to communion. He felt that they needed spiritual strength from the sacrament and Christian fellowship to endure the next round of testing from God. In 256 Valerian issued an edict requiring higher-ranking clergy to sacrifice on behalf of the emperor, proscribing Christian assemblies, confiscating property and forbidding Christians to have their own cemeteries (M. Cypr. 1.7). Some clergy were sentenced to the imperial mines (Cypr. Ep. 76-9). During the summer of 256, the higher clergy became subject to the death penalty; upper-class men lost their status and property and, if they persisted in the faith, were also executed. Upper-class women were exiled and their property seized (Cypr. Ep. 80). Imperial officials had less interest in pursuing members of the lower classes since the confiscation of small properties would not be worth the effort. And, having little status in the community, they would not be significant exemplars of imperial wrath. Cyprian's elite status and position put him at risk. He was arrested at his suburban villa, brought into Carthage, tried and executed in 258.

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