instituted by the emperor Decius in 250. All Novatian's letters support Cyprian's stand against the ready reinstatement of lapsed Christians. Those who had fraudulently or by bribery obtained certificates of sacrifice were as guilty as those who actually sacrificed; the wave of requests for reinstatement based on the recommendation of confessors was to be rejected.
When it came to the restoration of a penitent sinner, practice varied. The repentance of the baptised is clearly envisaged in some early documents.13 The curing of sinful members by repentance is systematically urged upon the churches in the figurative revelation to Hermas in the mid-second century.14 Where restoration was permitted, it involved penitential behaviour such as fasting, almsgiving and attendance for prayer among the catechumens for a matter of years before final restoration. The young Tertullian argued in De paenitentia ('Repentance') for one opportunity to repent after baptism, exactly the position of Hermas. Later, approving the severity of the New Prophecy (so-called 'Montanism'), he repudiated Hermas and argued in De pudicitia ('On modesty') that the church had no authority to remit post-baptismal sins, except hypothetically by the decision of a body of prophets. After the Decian calamity, churchmen were faced with the need to find a policy which would match the situation. One way forward related to the standing of confessors and martyrs. These terms (confessor = homologetes; martyr = martys) were both applied to those who attested their faith by suffering and were often used interchangeably. A stricter definition, now conventional, had already begun to arise, whereby a martyr had died in bearing witness to the faith, whereas a confessor had suffered trial, torture or imprisonment, but had survived, or was so far surviving. In the Decian persecution few executions took place: death occurred as the result of torture, or very commonly of imprisonment.15 Prisoners were deprived of food and drink, perhaps in order to persuade them to yield. Public confession brought such esteem among the faithful that not only were martyrs commemorated annually, but confessors were specially honoured: they enjoyed the same privileges as presbyters, and could be appointed deacon or
14 E.g. Herm. Vis. 2.2 (6.1-8); 4.2 (23.5; 30.2); thorough presentation of evidence in Schneider, 'Propter sanctam ecclesiam suam'.
15 Sage, Cyprian, 186-9.
Was this article helpful?