to God, for himself. This was a position which Cyprian had suggested earlier.74 Events overtook the dispute: when Stephen died in 257 and Cyprian was himself arrested and finally martyred in 258, Stephen's successors took steps to mend relations with other churches, aided by the mediation of Dionysius of Alexandria.75 The debate died down, but would erupt ferociously as a prime controversy between Donatists and catholics in the fourth century. The issues were settled by conciliar decisions at Arles in 314 and Nicaea in 325, whereby those baptised in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit were reckoned baptised (which of course included Novatianists), and those whose baptisms were not doctrinally orthodox (like the Samosatenes) were to be baptised.

Novatianism was not itself the prime subject of the baptismal dispute. It may, however, have played a key role. For Stephen, Novatian was a senior figure, a formidable theologian with a devout following. His decision not to acknowledge impure baptisms could undermine Stephen's own position, raising the spectre that faults of his predecessors or of those they allowed (like the Spanish bishops)76 made their sacramental acts invalid. It is possible, though there is no direct evidence, that this was what led Stephen to reaffirm the old Roman tradition of acknowledging all baptisms, as a function of the faith of the individual and not of the administering priest. If so, he would have seen the stance of Cyprian and his eastern supporters as a gross betrayal, and that could account for his ire.

As to the doctrine of the church itself, this final controversy of Cyprian's short career repeated the lesson of the lapsed: the hard line is not the way to identify the truth of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. Sixty-five years before, Irenaeus had been obliged to modify his doctrine of the inspired unity of bishops in the apostolic tradition, when Rome differed from Asia over Easter.77 Now Cyprian can only maintain that the bishops are a single body by allowing differences of baptismal discipline, as he had allowed flexibility towards the lapsed. Stephen adopted a more generous, charitable and evangelical policy, but did it with disastrous rigour. As to Novatian, his own schism and his denial of other baptisms were doubtless pursued in good faith, in response to calamity and disorder. He tried to find a faultless church, but could only produce one which essentially lacked the charity which is the church's bond and soul.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment