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The new emperor had the reputation of being at first 'exceptionally friendly' towards the Christians.76 The evidence shows that the great Christian centres of Rome, Carthage and Alexandria recovered quickly. At Carthage, bishop Cyprian returned to his city early in 251. He dealt rapidly with the problems raised by the multitude of lapsed Christians who wanted to return to the church, and asserted his episcopal authority against the claims ofthe confessors that, as 'friends of Christ', they, and not the bishop, had the right to forgive sins.77 However, Cyprian's victory was short-lived.78

The persecution that resulted in his execution differed from that of Decius. Decius had made no attempt to confiscate the goods of the church. Now, this was to be a prime aim. According to Eusebius,79 quoting a letter from bishop Dionysius to a fellow bishop, Herammon, the trouble started in Egypt with jealousy between 'the synagogue of Egyptian magicians' and Christians. The magicians were accused by the latter of performing horrible rites involving infanticide (just as the Christians had been accused earlier in the century). Unfortunately for the Christians, the 'ruler of the synagogue' was Macrianus, a former, yet still powerful, official who had been in charge of the imperial finances. He harboured hopes of gaining the empire for himself, and apparently (there is a lengthy gap in the text here) persuaded Valerian that the Christians posed a danger to the empire at a time when the empire itself was being threatened by Persian invaders.

The aim ofthepersecution wasto destroy the church, financially and socially, by confiscatingits not inconsiderable property and by preventingthe leadership from functioning. The first aim was understandable as within a few years the coin in common use, the antoninanus, would suffer a catastrophic devaluation. In addition, Christian services were forbidden, and Christian places of worship confiscated. There was good reason for these new tactics. In the previous thirty years, the social composition of the church in Rome had been changing. No longer 'the dregs of the population', but matronae ('wives of the aristocracy or near-aristocracy') and the influential Caesariani ('imperial freedmen'), were among its numbers. Moreover, catacombs, often the burial places of retainers of the leading houses in Rome, were passing into Christian hands, those of Calepodius and Domitilla being prime examples. The authorities were faced with a formidable task.

76 Dionysius of Alexandria, quoted by Euseb. HE 7.10.3.

77 Cypr. Ep. 23 (the statement of the confessor Lucian to Cyprian). In the previous century, the confessors of Lyons had assumed without question the right of'binding and loosing' (Euseb. HE 5.2.5).

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