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Assessing the primacy: a contemporary contribution from the writings of St. Cyprian of Carthage.

I. Introduction

Papal primacy: the term itself is pregnant with meanings. For the Roman Catholic Church, the primacy of the Roman pontiff is a matter of doctrine. He is the successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ, "a permanent and visible source and foundation of [the Church's] unity of faith and communion." (1) For other Churches the authority that Roman Catholicism asserts as inherent to this primacy, (2) even if not necessarily the primacy per se, is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to the full, visible unity of the Church. (3) In this light, one cannot but note the extraordinary progress that the Roman Catholic Church and its ecumenical partners continue to make in their dialogues on this contentious issue. This is particularly true of the dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, whose millennium of separation is, in part, rooted in their different understandings of what it means for the bishop of Rome to be protos (first) among the taxis (order) of the Church's ancient apostolic sees. This dialogue's decision to examine the Roman pontiffs role in the communion of the Church in the first millennium, (4) therefore, should prove a significant contribution to the search for unity, not only of these sibling Churches but of all Christians as the one Church of Jesus Christ.

In service of this resourcement, I introduce the figure of St. Cyprian of Carthage. It is my thesis that his classical insights into both the unity of the Church and the Petrine ministry established to serve this unity would make an invaluable contribution to the present state of Orthodox-Roman Catholic dialogue on papal primacy. I have no doubt that both Orthodox and Roman Catholics will find Cyprian a challenging dialogue partner, though I believe this will be especially true for Roman Catholics, who will find that his contributions do not sit easily with their present understanding of either the primacy or the nature of the Church it serves. While Cyprian's contributions in themselves will not be able to resolve the differences between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church on the issue of papal primacy, they can play a significant role in helping Orthodox and Roman Catholics to understand not only its place in "the ancient structural principles of Christianity" but also the role it may play "in [responding] to the need of a unified Christian message in the world of today." (5)

I shall demonstrate this thesis by establishing my sources, examining the insights they afford in light of their historical context, and placing these insights into dialogue with contemporary Roman Catholic teaching on the nature of papal primacy and of the unity of the Church. I shall conclude by remarking upon how Cyprian's insights are a timely aid for assessing progress in ecumenical dialogue on the Petrine primacy of the Roman pontiff.

II. Establishment of Sources

A. Why Cyprian?

Cyprian is honored in both Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism as a martyr and sainted Father of the Church. For this essay he is important for three reasons: (1) Insofar as we know, he was the first Father to consider the Church's unity per se; (2) as part of this consideration he described a Petrine ministry established by Christ in service of this unity; and (3) he developed these positions at a time when the bishops of Rome sought to exert authority beyond the Church of Rome, claiming it their right as the successors of St. Peter. As it is the question of this right and of the prerogatives claimed as inherent to it that continue to be contested today, Cyprian is an invaluable compass-point from which to orient and assess a dialogue that is both faithful to the inheritance of the Church of the first millennium and capable of serving the future, visible unity of the one Church of Jesus Christ.

B. The Sources

My principle source for Cyprian's understanding of Petrine ministry is the treatise in which he considered it most thoroughly: De ecclesiae catholicae unitate, specifically chapters four and five in which he considered it explicitly. As such, these two chapters of De unitate will be my major point of reference, specifically with respect to the manner in which Cyprian sought to clarify his position in these chapters by deliberately rewriting them. I shall supplement this text with pertinent references from Cyprian's surviving correspondence. (6)

As was established by Maurice B6venot, (7) Cyprian composed two versions of De unitate. (8) These versions are known as the Primacy Text (PT) and the Received Text (RT): PT because it speaks of a primacy given to Peter by Christ for the unity of Christ's Church; RT because it had been believed to be the only version of De unitate until PT was rediscovered in 1563. Although scholars had debated the proper ordering of these texts, it is now widely accepted that PT was written before RT. (9) The reason for this, B6venot argued, was Cyprian's reaction to the way that Bishop Stephen of Rome was using the pro-Roman position upheld in PT to justify exercising authority beyond his own see. I shall treat the context of this controversy in the next section. First, I present the rival texts of De unitate below, beginning with chapter four and continuing through the opening lines of chapter five, where Cyprian brought his rewrite into line with the remainder of the treatise: (10)

4. But if anyone considers those things carefully, he [sic] will need no long discourse or arguments. The proof is simple and convincing, being summed up in a matter of fact. The Lord says to Peter: I say to you that you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not overcome it. I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And what you shall bind upon earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven [Mt. 16:18-19].

Primacy Text

And He says to him again after the resurrection: Feed my sheep [Jn. 21:17]. It is on him that He builds the Church, and to him that He entrusts the sheep to feed. And although He assigns a like power to all the Apostles, yet He founded a single Chair, thus establishing by His own authority the source and hallmark of the [Church's] oneness. No doubt the others were all that Peter was, but a primacy is given to Peter, and it is [thus] made clear that there is but one Church and one Chair. So too, even if they are all shepherds, we are shown but one flock which is to be fed by all the Apostles in common accord. If a man does not hold fast to this oneness of Peter, does he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he deserts the Chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, has he still confidence that he is in the Church?


Received Text

It is on one man that He builds the Church, and although He assigns a like power to all the Apostles after His resurrection, saying: As the Father has sent me, I also send you.... Receive the Holy Spirit: if you forgive any man his sins, they shah be forgiven him; if you retain any man's, they shall be retained [Jn. 20:21-23], yet, in order that the oneness might be unmistakable, He established by His own authority a source for that oneness having its origin in one man alone. No doubt the other Apostles were all that Peter was, endowed with equal dignity and power, but the start comes from him alone, in order to show that the Church of Christ is unique. Indeed this oneness of the Church is figured in the Canticle of Canticles, when the Holy Spirit, speaking in Our Lord's name, says: One is my dove, my perfect one: to her mother she is the only one, the darling of her womb [Song 6:9]. If a man does not hold fast to this oneness of the Church, does he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he resists and withstands the Church, has he still confidence that he is in the Church, when the blessed Apostle Paul gives us this very teaching and points to the mystery of Oneness saying: One body and one Spirit, one hope of your calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God [Eph. 4:4-6]?

5. Now this oneness we must hold on to firmly and insist on--especially we who are bishops and exercise authority in the Church--so as to demonstrate that the episcopal power is one and undivided too. Let none mislead the brethren with a lie, let none corrupt the true content of the faith by a faithless perversion of the truth.

The authority of the bishops forms a unity, of which each holds his part in its totality. And the Church forms a unity, however far she spreads and multiplies by the progeny of her fecundity; just as the sun's rays are many, yet the light is one, and a tree's branches are many, yet the strength deriving from its sturdy root is one....

111. De unitate in Context

A. The Primacy Text (PT)

Cyprian composed the PT version of De unitate in response to a schism that occurred within the Church of Rome in March, 251 C.E. As the reason for this schism had previously made its presence known within Carthage, I shall begin this section by first addressing the context for both schisms. I shall then examine, in turn, Cyprian's response to the schism within Carthage and the manner in which this response influenced what he would say to the Roman Church by means of De unitate.

1. The Decian Persecution

According to the oft-cited maxim of Tertullian, martyrdom is the seed from which the Church gives birth to new members. It is a maxim that history has often proved true, yet history also offers testimony to the contrary--that is, martyrdom has occasionally been an effective means of inducing Christians to abandon their faith in Christ. The persecution begun under the Roman Emperor Gaius Messius Quintus Decius in 249 proved an occasion for both.

Even accounting for the tendency of ancient chroniclers to indulge in the art of exaggeration, a considerable number of Christians acquiesced to Decius's demand that they demonstrate their loyalty to the empire by sacrificing to its principle gods. In some instances, they were led by their own bishops. (11) Whether the willingness of these sacrificers (sacrificati) publicly to disavow their faith was born of genuine apostasy or of simple pragmatism, their action stood in stark contrast to that of the confessors, whose steadfastness, even to the point of martyrdom, (12) made them heroes in the eyes of Christians who were desperate for a reason to believe in the rightness of their faith.

Not all Christians found themselves on one end or the other of this great divide, however. Many continued to live as inconspicuously as they had before the persecution. The more prominent went into hiding. (13) Among them was the newly elected bishop of Carthage, Cyprian, who through vigorous correspondence remained in contact with the faithful of both his city and other cities of the empire. These included Rome, whose bishop, Fabian, was martyred in January, 250. (14) Others who were either unable or unwilling to make themselves so invisible obtained copies of the certificates (libelli) that had been issued to the sacrificat as testimony to their act of imperial loyalty, though without their ever having offered the requisite sacrifice themselves.

Despite these differences, with the suspension of persecution upon Decius's death in 251 all Christians had to face the same questions: Who would be counted among the Church's faithful sons and daughters? Who would be welcomed to communion? Who would be barred? Who would make this determination? For Cyprian the answers were clear, and, as bishop of the most influential city in North Africa, he would deliver them clearly and with authority, which he did by means of his treatise De lapsis.

2. De lapsis

By means of De lapsis, Cyprian responded to his Church's questions even before the persecution ended. Only confessors and those who had not apostatized would be considered in the communion of the Church. (15) Barred were the lapsed (lapsi): the sacrificati (16) and those who had obtained libelli. Although these libellatici had not actually sacrificed to the gods, they had publicly disassociated themselves from the Church. (17) Therefore, they could be readmitted only after public penance. (18) As for the sacrificati, readmission could be granted only upon danger of death. (19) As for who possessed the authority to make these decisions, by his very act of issuing De lapsis Cyprian revealed this to be none other than the Church's rightful bishop, that is, himself. (20)

Not everyone in Cyprian's flock followed his lead. Some of the presbyters and confessors thought him unduly harsh, to say nothing of the many penitent lapsi. (21) Under the leadership of the deacon Felicissimus, (22) they separated themselves from Cyprian's ministry. (23) When the persecution ended, Cyprian acted quickly to reassert the authority of his office. Upon his return to Carthage at Easter, 251, he reaffirmed the decisions of De lapsis, winning support for it from North Africa's bishops. (24) At the core of his action was Cyprian's concern to reassert the authority of the office he held as Carthage's legitimate bishop--an authority he believed was established by Christ for the unity of Christ's Church and its salvific mission in the world.

For Cyprian, "Christianity meant liberation from vice, darkness and insecurity, not the perfection of the hitherto incomplete yearning after the divine." It was "redemption from sin rather than enlightenment through guidance of the divine Word" that lay at the heart of Cyprian's understanding of the Church's faith and of its mission in the world, (25) and the Church could not fulfill this mission if it was not steadfastly united in faith under the leadership of its legitimate bishop. (26) The bishop was, in Cyprian's eyes, the true and rightful successor to the Apostles' divinely established ministry to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and keep Christ's faithful people united in their communion with and in Christ. (27) Further, in conjunction with his fellow bishops, this ministry of unity extended to the entire communion of Churches. (28) Through their communion in faith and charity, the bishops were an effective sign of the unity of all the Churches throughout the world as the one Church of Jesus Christ. (29)

Far from being the product of ecclesiastical egoism, Cyprian's assertion of his authority by means of De lapsis was born of his concern to maintain what he conceived as the bishop's rightful place within the Church as the guarantor of both its unity and, via this unity, its fidelity to the mission given it by Christ: to be an effective witness to the salvific will of Christ for the world. Such was Cyprian's constant concern for the Church, be it the Church of Carthage or the Church of Rome.

3. De unitate

While Cyprian was meeting in synod with North Africa's bishops to discuss the delicate issue of the lapsi, letters arrived from Rome announcing the election of Fabian's long-awaited successor, Cornelius, one of Rome's presbyters. (30) At the same time, other letters arrived protesting Cornelius's election and announcing the election of another of Rome's presbyters, Novatianus, who, unlike Cornelius, was more rigorous in his approach to the lapsi, that is, reconciliation only upon danger of death. (31) In response, the North Africans declared their support for Cornelius, as well as for the decisions of a Roman synod held under his leadership that had both excommunicated Novatianus and adopted a process for reconciling lapsi that corresponded to their own practice. (32) For his own part, Cyprian took up Cornelius's cause, which he understood to be nothing less than the cause of the Church itself.

Novatianus had broken unity with his legitimate bishop and, in consequence, with the Church. Furthermore, by inducing others to do the same, both in Rome and abroad, (33) he was leading Christians away from the saving grace of Christ. (34) There could be no countenancing this. Therefore, Cyprian stood by Cornelius. Even if Cornelius's approach to reconciling the lapsi went beyond the limits he had established in Carthage, Cyprian never withdrew his support. In Cornelius he saw a bishop motivated by his own fundamental desire: to preserve the unity of the Church for both the salvation of its members and that of the world. (35) In support of Cornelius's claim to the see of Rome, Cyprian composed De unitate, specifically the PT version (in II-B, above) to which I now turn.

At first glance these words may appear a vigorous defense of the primacy of the Roman pontiff as bishop of Rome. The historical context of De unitate, however, clearly suggests the opposite: It is a defense of Cornelius as bishop of Rome. Thus, as Cyprian had done for Carthage by means of De lapsis, so would he now do for Rome by means of De unitate: call Christians to embrace the saving grace of Christ by returning to the unity of Christ's true Church, by reestablishing communion with their rightful bishop. Cyprian began by challenging his readers to recognize the full import of their actions in light of the true identity of the one they had chosen to follow, that is, Satan, who upon "seeing his idols abandoned and his temples and haunts deserted by the ever growing numbers of the faithful, devised a fresh deceit, using the Christian name itself to mislead the unwary. He invented heresies and schisms so as to undermine the faith, to corrupt the truth, to sunder our unity." (36)

With eternal life in the balance, Cyprian taught that the only way Christians could be sure they were united with Christ was to ensure that they were united with their rightful bishop. (37) Through this unity, Christians remained within the Church and avoided "disloyal troublemakers" who "will not keep the unity," (38) "who, disregarding God's teaching, crave for strange doctrines and introduce authorities of human origin," (39) even if they were once among the Church's lauded confessors. (40) Christ has only one flock. (41) Those who do not gather within it scatter it. (42) For them, "all hope of its salvation is lost." (43) So, Cyprian called his schismatic audience back to the Church, exhorting them to "go back to the origin of [the Christian] realities," that is, "the teaching of their heavenly Master." (44) "The Lord says to Peter: I say to you that you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not overcome it. I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And what you shall bind upon earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shah be loosed also in heaven" (Mt. 16:18-19). (45)

Within this context of schism, Cyprian's appeal to Peter was an appeal to the foundation of the Church's unity: the unity of Christians with their rightful bishop. The singularity of St. Peter was exemplary of the unity of the Church; that of his chair, exemplary of the authority of every bishop who succeeds to Peter's place within his own Church. In this light, Cyprian saw the primacy given Peter the man as temporal, not ontological, in nature, and he saw Peter's place among the Apostles as a particular instance of who each of them--and their successors, the bishops--was to be for the Church: the rock upon which the Church would stand in faith. (46) Thus, Cyprian held that, while there are many bishops as there were once many Apostles, these bishops are united in one act of service to the one flock of Christ, a service they rendered individually, within their own respective sees, and collectively, as shepherds of the one Church of Christ, embracing the world in all its Churches. (47)

It was with this in mind that Cyprian asked: "Does a man [sic] think he is with Christ when he acts in opposition to the bishops of Christ, when he cuts himself off from the society of His clergy and people?" (48) "If a man does not hold fast to this oneness of Peter, does he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he deserts the Chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, has he still confidence that he is in the Church?" (49) Cyprian's answer: "Whoever breaks with the Church and enters on an adulterous union, cuts himself off from the promises made to the Church; and he who has turned his back on the Church of Christ shall not come to the rewards of Christ: he is an alien, a worldling, an enemy. You cannot have God for your Father if you have not the Church for your mother." (50)

As Bevenot remarked, the context of De unitate argues against any restriction of the cathedra Petri to the see of Rome. Cyprian's "argument was pertinent not only for Rome, where [Novatianus] had broken with Cornelius ..., but also nearer home, where Felicissimus and his faction were in revolt against himself." It was based upon "the unicity of the origin (in Peter) of Church and authority alike. The one authority was perpetuated in the legitimate successions of the bishops, and to break with one's bishop was to break with the one, Christ-established authority, that is, the 'Chair of Peter."' (51) This was Cyprian's mind, yet would it resonate with the mind of the bishop of Rome, whose Church Cyprian had once hailed as "the primordial Church, the very source of episcopal unity"? (52)

B. The Received Text (RT)

Cyprian presumably composed the RT of De unitate in or immediately after 255, at the height of a controversy over whether baptisms performed in schismatic and heretical Churches were valid. (53) He did so in reaction to the claim of Bishop Stephen of Rome to be able to settle the matter on his own authority as the successor of St. Peter. To understand Cyprian's response to Stephen in the RT, it is necessary first to consider the ways in which he addressed two prior controversies in which Stephen was involved, both of which involved the deposition of bishops, the first in Spain and the second in Gaul.

1. Principles for Episcopal Authority

In the autumn of 254, (54) emissaries from Spain sought the assistance of the North African bishops on the matter of Basilides of Emerita and Martialis of Asturica, bishops recently deposed by a local synod for having been libellatici during the Decian Persecution, but who had subsequently been reinstated in their sees by Stephen. (55) The North Africans' decision to hear the appeal and render their decision--against Stephen--reveals the principles upon which Cyprian, who spoke in their name, would later deal with Stephen on the issue of schismatical baptisms: unity, competence, and collegiality.

Cyprian's argument on behalf of his brother bishops was straightforward: Basilides and Martialis had separated themselves from the Church and, as a consequence, from the Spirit that effected their ministry. They no longer had a claim to their previous offices, for they were no longer bishops. Stephen had decided the issue on faulty principles, contrary to the faith of the Church. Cyprian went even further. He declared that the very right of a bishop to judge a case brought for his consideration was contingent upon his ability to consider the case competently, that is, considering every side of the issue. Stephen had not done this. He had made his decision after hearing only the side of the deposed bishops, without seeking the aid of any of his brother bishops, who may have had better knowledge of the case than he had.

For Cyprian and his North African brothers, the unity of the Church and the ability of those who served this unity to act competently, in accordance with the faith of the Church and in accord with the mind of his brother bishops outweighed any individual bishop's claim to authority, including the bishop of "the primordial Church, the very source of episcopal unity." (56) These principles revealed themselves again during the deposition of Marcianus, bishop of Arles, albeit with different results.

In a letter to Stephen concerning Marcianus of Aries, Cyprian made clear to his "dearly beloved brother" that he was commenting on a matter Stephen knew well. It had already been brought to Stephen's attention by the bishops of Southern Gaul, a territory traditionally considered to be within Rome's direct sphere of influence: Marcianus's declared support both for Novatianus's stance toward the reconciliation of penitent lapsi and Novatianus's schism: (57) Cyprian urged Stephen to act in support of his brothers against the schismatic Marcianus (58) and to support his excommunication and the election of a new bishop for Arles's desperate faithful. (59)

As to why this particular responsibility to care for the welfare of the Church, which all of the bishops share, (60) should fall so heavily upon Stephen's shoulders, Cyprian explained:
   It is our duty to preserve the honor of those glorious predecessors
   of ours, the blessed martyrs Cornelius and Lucius. But much as we,
   for our part, honor their memory, you, dearly beloved brother, far
   more than anyone else, are duty bound to bring honor upon that
   memory and to uphold it. By exerting the full weight of your
   personal authority; after all, you are the one who has been
   appointed to replace and succeed them. (61)

Though markedly different in tone from his reply to the Spanish appeal, Cyprian's approach to the issue of Stephen's exerting authority beyond Rome was consistent with his approach to the Basilides/Martialis affair. Stephen was well informed about Marcianus's loyalty to Novatianus and the plight of Arles's lapsi. Further, he knew well the support that Southern Gaul's bishops had received from his predecessors Lucius and Cornelius, who with these brother bishops had labored to preserve the unity of the Church, both within their own Churches and within the communion of Churches. Cyprian was not asking Stephen to act alone. He was asking Stephen to take leadership, to join his authority as the bishop of Rome to that of his brothers in order that their unanimity might demonstrate the unity of their Churches with one another and with the entire Church of Christ throughout the world.

What would happen, though, should Stephen seek to exercise this authority upon a matter over which his brothers were divided, a matter which, in his judgment, was harmful to the Church's unity--and on which he would not have Cyprian's support? What would Cyprian's response be? The answer may be seen in the subsequent controversy that arose in 255: the validity of baptisms performed in schismatic and heretical communities.

Cyprian's judgment flowed logically from his ecclesiology: "Nothing that is separated from the parent stock can ever live or breathe apart"; for them, "all hope of its salvation is lost." (62) Thus, when the question arose of what to do with those who had been baptized in Novatianus's community but now wished to enter into communion with the Catholic Church, Cyprian responded:
   On this matter we can speak only as far as the capacity of our
   faith allows, while relying upon the sacred truth of the holy
   Scriptures, and our view is that without exception all heretics and
   schismatics are without any powers or rights whatsoever. And
   therefore, no exception ought to be, indeed can be, made in the
   case of Novatianus. He continues to be like the others, outside the
   Church, he acts against the peace and charity of Christ; he must be
   reckoned as one of the adversaries and antichrists. (63)

Although he claimed to be presenting simply his own opinion on the matter, Cyprian's approach to the question of schismatic/heretical baptism was firmly rooted in the North African Christianity from whence he came. In line with the traditions of Roman Christianity, however, Stephen took a decidedly different approach to the question, one that led him to a very different answer. (64)

Although Stephen held that the Spirit was not effective in the ministry of those outside the Church, he did not hold that baptisms performed by them were necessarily invalid; they were merely ineffective. Stephen distinguished two actions in the baptismal rite: the administration of the baptismal water, and the laying on of hands. Whereas the former cleansed the baptized of his or her sins, the latter imparted the grace of the Spirit, so that the sanctifying grace of baptism would be effective in the Christian's life. Thus, Stephen concluded that all that was needed to reconcile those who had been baptized in communities that were schismatic or heretical to the true Church was for a legitimate bishop to confer upon them the gift of the Spirit through the laying on of hands. (65)

Cyprian's reaction was swift. In 255, he led a synod in Carthage that denounced Stephen's decision: "No one can be baptized outside of the Church." (66) In the spring of 256, Cyprian led another synod that reaffirmed this judgment, and this was followed by yet another synod that same year. From these synods only one letter exists, sent by Cyprian to Stephen after the second synod in 256. (67) Although nowhere in that letter did Cyprian directly confront Stephen or threaten any break in communion, (68) the challenge was clear: "[I]n the household of faith infidelity ought to be given no advancement. What do we leave for the good and the innocent who never abandoned the Church, if we give honors to those who abandoned us and rebelled against the Church?" (69)

Stephen's response was equally swift. He denounced the actions of Cyprian and the North Africans as contrary to the apostolic traditions of the Church and demanded that the rebaptism of schismatics and heretics cease immediately. He further instructed that the reception of such persons conform to the apostolic tradition of the Church of Rome. (70) In support of this decision, Stephen declared that he was speaking with the unique authority of the Apostle Peter, whose divinely instituted power of binding and loosing Stephen had inherited by virtue of his being the direct successor to St. Peter's Chair--bishop of the Apostle's Church, bishop of Rome. (71)

Unfortunately, history is silent regarding Cyprian's response to Stephen's claim. Cyprian's remaining letters deal only with the renewal of the persecution that would (tradition holds) claim his own life. Yet, whatever his response may have been, it could not have been dissimilar to his action that history has preserved: Cyprian's rewriting chapters four and five of what has come down to us as the RT of De unitate.

2. A Question of Rightful Authority

In the RT (see section II-B, above), gone was the reference to Peter's primacy. Gone, too, were all references to Peter's Chair. As Bevenot put it, it is as if one can hear Cyprian saying to his Roman colleague: "But I never meant that!" (72) In their place, Cyprian added scriptural "proofs" concerning the unity of the Church. He also added several new lines to the beginning of Chapter 5, to demonstrate that this unity was not the concern of any one bishop, but of all bishops, lest some-one seek to "mislead the brethren with a lie." (73) Attending to every detail, Cyprian went so far as to alter the rhetorical question he asked in the PT: "If a man does not hold fast to this oneness of Peter, does he imagine that he still holds the faith?" It now read: "If a man does not hold fast to this oneness of the Church, does he imagine that he still holds the faith?"

The lengths to which Cyprian went not simply to edit but also to rewrite these pivotal chapters of De unitate testify to the integrity of his thought. That this rewrite was done during a time when he was at odds with Rome's bishop does not detract at all from this integrity. Rather, in light of the historical context outlined above, Cyprian's action confirms it. Cyprian wrote De unitate to defend not the primacy of St. Peter's see within Christ's one Church but the primacy of that unity willed by Christ in founding the Church upon the Apostle, which Peter, in the singularity of his own person, exemplified for the benefit of both his brother Apostles and those who would succeed them in their ministry of unity, namely, the bishops.

The unity of the Church in faith and in fact, the indispensable role of the bishop as the divinely established instrument of this unity, the ability of bishops to act authoritatively on behalf of ecclesial unity only when competent to do so, the imperative for bishops to act in concert with their brothers and according to their common mind--all these principles were central to Cyprian's ecclesiology. Returning now to my introductory comments, I ask what light these insights shed upon both the current discussion of the essential nature of the primacy claimed by the bishop of Rome and upon how this primacy may be exercised in the service of a visibly reunited Church.

IV. Assessing the Primacy

In the centuries since Cyprian composed De unitate, the Church has undergone changes he could never have imagined, including the development of an ecumenical consciousness recognizing the legitimacy of concepts that would have scandalized him: an ecclesiology of "subsistence" rather than of exclusive identification, the belief that Christians separated on points of dogma nevertheless share in the one baptism of Christ, granting the possibility that the bishop of Rome possesses primacy within the Church on the basis of his being the bishop of Rome. Such concepts stand in stark contrast to the positions espoused by Cyprian, and any attempt to harmonize them would lack credibility. This notwithstanding, if one takes the time to listen closely to Cyprian, one will soon notice that he has something vital to contribute to the current ecumenical dialogue on the role that the bishop of Rome may play in a renewed and visibly reunited Church.

Cyprian's insights speak directly to several issues that directly influence the manner in which ecumenical dialogue on both the Petrine primacy claimed by the Roman pontiff and the manner in which it may serve the Church's unity are shaped, beginning with the manner in which the Roman Catholic Church itself approaches them. These issues are: (1) the relationship between universality and particularity in Roman Catholic ecclesiology, (2) the juridical authority proper to the bishop of Rome in light of this relationship, and (3) the manner in which the primacy claimed by the bishop of Rome as successor of Peter is understood when examined through the lens of doctrinal development. I shall consider each of them in turn.

A. The Church, Universal and Particular

On May 28, 1992, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (C.D.F.) issued a letter to the bishops of the Catholic Church, titled "Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion." (74) The letter opened by acknowledging that the concept of communion is "very suitable for expressing the core of the mystery of the church and can certainly be a key for the renewal of Catholic ecclesiology." (75) It likewise observed that "some approaches to ecclesiology suffer from a clearly inadequate awareness of the church as a mystery of communion." (76) This is particularly the case when the term is applied to the union existing among particular Churches (that is, local diocesan Churches) in such a manner that "the concept of the unity of the church at the visible and institutional level" is weakened, (77) as when "it is asserted that every particular church is a subject complete in itself, and that the universal church is the result of a reciprocal recognition on the part of the particular churches." The C.D.F. continued: "This ecclesiological unilateralism ... betrays an insufficient understanding of the concept of communion." (78)
      In order to grasp the true meaning of the analogical application
   of the term communion to the particular churches taken as a whole,
   one must bear in mind above all that the particular churches,
   insofar as they are "part of the one church of Christ," have a
   special relationship of "mutual interiority" with the whole, that
   is, with the universal church, because in every particular church
   "the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of Christ is truly
   present and active." For this reason, "the universal church cannot
   be conceived as the sum of the particular churches" ... but in its
   essential mystery it is a reality ontologically and temporally
   prior to every individual particular church. (79)

Much attention has been given the debate between Cardinal Walter Kasper and then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger over the twofold priority given the Church Universal in the above letter. (80) For the purpose of this essay, it is worth noting that, in his "friendly reply" to Ratzinger, Kasper's words resonated with those of Cyprian when he stated: "The relationship between the universal church and the local churches cannot be explained in the abstract by way of theoretical deductions, because the church is a concrete historical reality." (81) For that reality, Cyprian looked firmly in the direction of the particular, local Church.

It is clear from his writings, including that of De unitate, that Cyprian's concern for the unity of the Church was expressed in and through his concern for the unity of the Churches--the communion in faith and love that each Christian shared with his or her bishop and, through the like communion that each bishop shared with his brother bishops throughout the world, with all their brothers and sisters in Christ. For Cyprian, "Church" was a personal reality. It flowed from the baptismal waters that united each of the faithful both to Christ and, by virtue of the one Spirit who effected their baptism, to one another. Thus, to be Christian was necessarily to be united to other Christians in a bond of faith and love that was both preserved and promoted by the ministry and communion of their bishops. To see the Church in any other way would have been, for Cyprian, to turn a blind eye toward what Christ had established: a living community of faith, whose unity, exemplified by the single figure of St. Peter, was to be served by the apostles and their successors, the college of bishops, in every place that it had life, that is, in the Churches.

In this light, Cyprian's ecclesiology is a challenge to that of the C.D.F. Granted, no Particular Church "is a subject complete in itself," (82) for vital to its identity as Church is the unity intended for it by Christ with the other Churches. Yet, this does not imply any ontological and/or temporal priority of the Church Universal over the Church Particular. For Cyprian, an ecclesiology that would affirm such a priority would, to borrow the language of the C.D.F., betray "an insufficient understanding of the concept of communion," (83) for it would favor the universal "in such a way as to weaken the concept of the unity of the church" at the local, particular level. (84)

Recalling that for Cyprian the heart of ecclesial unity is found in the communion of the local, Particular Church, it would follow that the Particular Churches exist in a necessary relationship not to the Church Universal--understood as some overarching, extratemporal reality from which they each receive their ecclesial legitimacy--but in a necessary relationship to one another as the one Church of Christ in its own particular place and time, a necessary relationship, a communion, that is effected by the Churches' mutual fidelity to the unity of faith and love that Christ established upon Peter for them as Christ's one and indivisible Church. This echoes the agreed statement issued from Ravenna by the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. In discussing the nature of the Church's conciliarity at the universal level, it stated:
   Each local [that is, Particular] Church is in communion not only
   with neighboring Churches, but with the totality of the local
   Churches, with those now present in the world, those which have
   been since the beginning, and those which will be in the future,
   and with the Church already m glory. According to the will of
   Christ, the Church is one and indivisible, the same always and in
   every place. Both sides confess, in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan
   Creed, that the Church is one and catholic. Its catholicity
   embraces not only the diversity of human communities but also their
   fundamental unity? (85)

In this light, the validity of a Church's ecclesial identity is seen to be a twofold reality comprising both a Particular Church's own communion of faith and love and the communion it shares with the other Churches in their own particularity. Cyprian's challenge may be expressed in the following terms: Even to conceive of the Church as a universal existent possessing ontological and temporal priority over the Churches is to betray an insufficient understanding of the very reality of Church itself. The Church does not exist apart from the Churches, for it is only in the Churches that "the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of Christ" can be said to be "truly present and active" (86) in the world, both living the essential unity that they have in Christ and, by so doing, effectively witnessing to the salvific unity Christ wills all humanity to share in Christ.

Vatican II hinted at such an understanding of the Church as a Church of Churches when, citing Cyprian, it stated: "The individual bishops ... are the visible principle and foundation of unity in their own particular churches ... in and from these particular churches there exists the one unique catholic church." (87) This statement, however, was qualified: The Particular Churches are "formed in the likeness of the universal Church." (88) While this may be interpreted in line with Cyprian's position, it may also be read as an instance of that tendency toward ecclesial universalism that so unnerves the Catholic Church's ecumenical partners, particularly the Orthodox Church. This is related to the concomitant tendency to absolutize the authority of the Roman pontiff. This is clearly the case regarding the issue of the juridical authority proper to the Roman pontiff as bishop of Rome.

B. A Question of Rightful Authority

In its dogmatic constitution Pastor aeternus (PA), Vatican I decreed:
   Wherefore we teach and declare that, by divine ordinance, the Roman
   Church possesses a pre-eminence of ordinary power over every other
   Church, and that this jurisdictional power of the Roman Pontiff is
   both episcopal and immediate. Both clergy and faithful, of whatever
   rite and dignity, both singly and collectively, are bound to submit
   to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true
   obedience, and this not only in matters concerning faith and
   morals, but also in those which regard the discipline and
   government of the Church throughout the world. In this way, by
   unity with the Roman Pontiff in communion and in profession of the
   same faith, the Church of Christ becomes one flock under one
   Supreme Shepherd. This is the teaching of the Catholic truth, and
   no one can depart from it without endangering his faith and
   salvation. (89)

The Code of Canon Law puts it more succinctly and forcefully:
   The bishop of the Church of Rome, in whom resides the office given
   in a special way by the Lord to Peter, the first of the Apostles,
   and to be transmitted to his successors, is the head of the college
   of bishops, the Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the universal Church
   on earth; therefore, in virtue of his office he enjoys supreme,
   full, immediate and universal ordinary authority in the Church,
   which he can always freely exercise. (90)

So that the full import of this authority may be unambiguous, the Code continues: "There is neither appeal nor recourse against a decision or decree of the Roman Pontiff." (91)

In light of these definitions, the concerns of the Roman Catholic Church's ecumenical partners are not without warrant. The primatial authority of the Roman pontiff presented above resembles more a justification for the divine right of kings than the practical implication of Christ's commission to Peter to feed Christ's flock. (92) Unfortunately, more than one bishop of Rome has acted upon this resemblance in his exercise of the primacy. Whether the definitions of PA and the Code must be abandoned in order to dismantle the monarchical papacy and quell the fears of Catholicism's ecumenical partners is a matter of debate--one to which recent Roman Catholic scholarship answers in the negative. (93) What appears beyond debate, however, is the determinative influence that Roman Catholicism's present perspective on the nature of the Church Universal--as exemplified in Vatican I, the Code of Canon Law, and recent statements by the C.D.F.--has upon its understanding of the primacy it claims for the bishop of Rome as "the Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the universal Church on earth." (94)

As Kasper has pointed out, the present emphasis upon the universality of the Church is a development of the last millennium. (95) During that period, the needs of the Churches came to be seen in terms of the needs of the Church, which in turn were seen in reference to the papacy's struggle to assert its claims to primatial authority, first within and then over Christendom. A result of this process was a view of the Roman pontiff as the font of all ecclesial authority. This view gained momentum during controversies of the Reformation and continued through the struggles against Gallicanism and Josephinism. Vatican I capped this development, so much so that, as the 1983 Code and Vatican II witness, (96) the authority of the Roman pontiff continues to be defined principally in terms of his being "Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the universal Church on earth." (97) That this is so because he is bishop of Rome is often either overlooked or subsumed into considerations of his role as universal primate. Cyprian's challenge is to turn such an understanding of the primacy on its head.

As I alluded to above, Cyprian's ecclesiology draws the Church Particular out from the backdrop of the Church Universal by recognizing in the former its own inherent dignity as Church. The Church is the communion of Churches. Thus, the needs of the Church are seen as the needs of the Churches, whose essential unity demands that their members, especially the bishops, exercise mutual care and solicitude for the apostolic faith that at once both animates their local realities as Church and binds them to one another as the Church Universal. This is especially true with respect to the Roman pontiff, who was honored in the first millennium as bishop of the Church that "presides in love" over the communion of Churches--an honor the Orthodox Church has never denied him and with which it would honor him again, under conditions more obviously in accord with the ecclesiology of De unitate than with that of the bare texts of PA or the present Code of Canon Law. (98)

In light of Cyprian's ecclesiology, primacy is understood as a service that is realized in the preservation and promotion of the communion in faith and love that unites all the Churches as the one Church of Jesus Christ. This is accomplished by the bishop of Rome when he acts, first and foremost, as the bishop of Rome, strengthening the unity of the faithful of his own see in order that they may effectively be the Church of Christ in Rome. It is from his place within the Church of Rome, protos within the taxis of the ancient apostolic sees, that he reaches out to exercise his Petrine ministry in a universal manner, strengthening the bonds of communion among all the Churches by collaborating with their bishops--"the visible principle and foundation of unity in their own particular churches" (99)--who, together with him as the head of their college, "govern the house of the living God." (100)

It should be noted that such a collegial understanding of the primacy is not foreign to Roman Catholicism. As I alluded to above, it was one of the characteristics of the ecclesiology of Vatican II. However, as several prominent scholars have observed, the manner in which collegiality has recently been codified in ecclesiastical law has made collegiality appear to be at the service of the primacy, rather than the other way around. (101) Again, Cyprian's insights challenge contemporary Roman Catholic teaching to stand such an understanding of the primacy on its head and to root it more explicitly within an ecclesiology that sees the Church as fundamentally a communion of Churches. Such an understanding of Church and of the primacy that serves it would help engender the trust needed for other Christian communities to set aside their "painful recollections" of the papacy and receive the bishop of Rome as the "first servant of unity" that the Roman Catholic Church proposes him to be, (102) and the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation believes can be, in the spirit of the Undivided Church of the first millennium:
   The fundamental worldwide ministry of the bishop of Rome would be
   to promote the communion of all the local Churches: to call on them
   to remain anchored in the unity of the Apostolic faith, and to
   observe the Church's traditional canons. He would do this as a
   witness to the faith of Peter and Paul, a role inherited from his
   early predecessors who presided over the Church in that city where
   Peter and Paul gave their final witness. (103)

There can be no doubt that such a reenvisioning of the primacy of the Roman pontiff would be far more difficult to define canonically than the primacy presently enshrined in the Roman Catholic Church's Code. It would have to distinguish what is of the nature of the primacy per se, together with all the rights inherent to it, from the rights it holds by virtue of historically conditioned ecclesiastical law. Further, it would have to define these rights in accordance with the various degrees of primacy that the Roman pontiff holds as bishop of Rome, metropolitan of the Roman province, primate of Italy, and "Vicar of Christ and pastor of the universal Church"--and, perhaps once again, as patriarch of the West. (104) However difficult such an attempt may be to incorporate Cyprian's insights into a thorough reform of this primacy along the lines noted above, it would be an honest reflection of the primacy's own history.

C. Roman Primacy and the Development of Doctrine

Since Roman Catholicism's adoption of a historical consciousness with respect to doctrine, it has been customary to speak of a consistent development of papal primacy, either in terms of a logical explication of what has always been implicit in the life and teaching of the Church or in terms of an organic process that has steadily unfolded into its present form from some ancient seed. (105) Continuity and progress are the hallmarks of this view. Unfortunately for those who hold to such a development, history reveals something quite different. As Hermann Pottmeyer has observed:
      This idea of an unbroken logical or organic development is
   questionable both historically and theologically. In the realm of
   history it ignores the fact that along with an undeniable
   continuity, breaks with venerable structural traditions occurred.
   In addition, different metaphors and motifs, models and influences
   alternated, without any logical or organic continuity to be found
   among them. The idea is also theologically questionable, because it
   sees the forms taken by the Petrine office in earlier ages as
   having been defective. Is the understanding of the Petrine ministry
   which the fathers of the church or the bishops and popes of earlier
   centuries had to be judged faulty because it did not completely
   correspond to that of Vatican I? (106)

Or, for that matter, with Vatican II? It is tempting for those who support a strongly ultramontanist, principally universalist primacy to draw a straight line from Stephen I through Gregory VII, Innocent III, and Pius IX, ending in Benedict XVI, as if the condemnation of Hadrian I, the Great Western Schism, and the papacy of Alexander VI were merely distractions (at best) or detours (at worst) along the inevitable march to Vatican I. Yet, the distractions and detours were far more significant. They helped to shape the papacy as we know it, as much as did the grace that sanctified many of those who sat in Peter's cathedra and strove to fulfill its Petrine charge to serve the unity of the Church in their particular moments in history. As Pottmeyer noted: "It is more correct, both theologically and historically, to speak of a plurality of possible and actual embodiments of the Petrine office. Each of these embodiments is to be judged by whether it served the welfare and mission of the church in a given age and was consistent with the commission given to Peter." (107)

V. Conclusion

In his 1995 encyclical Ut unum sint, the late Pope John Paul II invited Christian leaders to engage with him in a "patient and fraternal dialogue," in order that, "keeping only before us the will of Christ for his church," they may together discern "a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation." (108) Responses were not long in coming, yet these responses echoed a theme that the Roman Catholic Church had heard time and again from the ecumenical partners with whom it was already in dialogue: Before the issue of exercising the primacy can be considered, the question of what is of essence to the primacy must be addressed. (109) This is a question that "can only be answered by special historical studies and not merely by speculative deductions from the concepts of keys, rock, or head," studies that have as their expressed aim to "distinguish what is proper to the primacy--what Christ conferred on Peter to be passed on to his successors--from the rights which he exercises by ecclesiastical law, and from those too which accrued to him in particular historical circumstances." (110) For the Roman Catholic and Orthodox scholars now engaged in such studies--not to mention those from other confessional traditions--Cyprian of Carthage is a classical figure whose writings make him more than an object for investigation; they make him a dialogue partner.

At the outset of such a dialogue, it must be acknowledged that Cyprian wrote not merely in a particular age; he also wrote for that age. Nevertheless, his insights into the unity of the Church and the Petrine ministry established by the Sovereign to serve it address so many of the questions asked today: In what sense may one claim that the Sovereign established a primacy in Peter? In what sense can one legitimately claim to have succeeded to it? What is of the essence of this ministry? How does it relate to the other ministries that serve to build up Christ's Body, particularly that of the bishops? How does it relate to the unity of the Church itself?. What are its legitimate rights, and how may its proper limits be discerned? Although Cyprian's contributions cannot answer these questions fully, the ecclesiological principles that guided him can serve as a sound compass-point from which to guide our dialogue and assess the progress we desire to make. It is this: that the primacy accorded the bishop of Rome be manifestly "in continuity with the ancient structural principles of Christianity" and enable the Church, in all its Churches, to respond "to the need for a unified Christian message in the world of today." (111) How could it be otherwise for those who honor Cyprian as a sainted father of Christ's one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church?

(1) Vatican II, Lumen gentium, no. 18 (hereafter, LG). The translations for this and all other conciliar decrees cited in this essay are from Norman P. Tanner, ed., Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, vol. 2: Trent-Vatican H (London: Sheed and Ward; and Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1990).

(2) These are universal jurisdiction and the ability of the Roman pontiff to exercise freely the Church's charism of infallibility when teaching on matters of faith and morals; see Vatican !, Pastor aeternus, chaps. 3-4 (hereafter, PA); available at Also see LG, nos. 18, 22, and 25.

(3) Throughout this essay, I use such terms as "Church," "Christ's Church," etc., to designate, with deference to the ecumenical consciousness of Vatican II, the one, albeit visibly divided Church of Christ. My source for this is Jean-Marie Tillard, "One Church of God: The Church Broken into Pieces," One in Christ, vol. 17, no. 1 (1981), pp. 2-12.

(4) This is the subject of the working document of the Joint Coordinating Committee for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church that leaked to the media following its 2008 meeting in Crete. At its 2010 meeting in Vienna, the Commission decided that the text needed further revision; see "The Role of the Bishop of Rome in the Communion of the Church in the First Millennium" at

(5) The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Commission, Steps towards a Reunited Church: A Sketch of an Orthodox-Catholic Vision for the Future, no. 7; see beliefs-and-teachings/dialogue-with-others/ecumenical/orthodox/ steps-towards-reunited-church.cfm

(6) Daniel Hamilton noted in his essay, "The Roman Primacy: The First Five Hundred Years," Ecumenical Trends 39 (July/August, 2010): 2, that "historical science in its present state cannot prove either that Cyprian wrote both versions [of De unitate] or that the so-called pro-Roman version is the result of later interpolations." Then, it is also not able to disprove the Church's long-held belief that Cyprian did write both versions and that he did so in the order proposed by the late Maurice Bevenot, S.J., which I note in the text above. Until this occurs, I believe it justifiable to treat Cyprian as the author of both versions of De unitate, as I do in this essay.

(7) Here and throughout this essay, I am indebted to B6venot.

(8) Bevenot noted the existence of De unitate in over 160 manuscripts, which he divided into six families. Thus, the texts that have come down to us are neither uniform in content nor of the same quality. This fact and the fact that none of these manuscripts is earlier than the sixth century make the rendering of a definitive critical edition of De unitate impossible. See Maurice Bevenot, The Tradition of Manuscripts: A Study in the Transmission of St. Cyprian's Treatises (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961), pp. 1-17; for a listing of the families, see the appendices of Maurice Bevenot, St. Cyprian's De Unitate, Chap. 4, in Light of the Manuscripts, Analecta Gregoriana 11 (Rome: Gregorian University, 1937), pp. 81 ff.

(9) A synopsis of the debate over the dates of PT and RT (NB: these are B6venot's abbreviations) is found in G. S. M. Walker, The Churchmanship of St. Cyprian, Ecumenical Studies in History 9 (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1968), pp.19-25. I adhere to the dates proposed by Bevenot: PT in 251 C.E, and RT in 255 C.E. See Maurice Bevenot, "'Primatus Petro Datur': St. Cyprian on the Papacy," Journal of Theological Studies 5 (April, 1954): 19-35, on the debate over whether the PT was even written by Cyprian.

(10) The translation is from Maurice Bevenot, tr., The Lapsed and The Unity of the Catholic Church, Ancient Christian Writers: The Works of the Fathers in Translation 25 (Westminster, MD: Newman Press; and London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1957), pp. 46--48. Bevenot's translation was based upon the critical Latin edition proposed by G. Hartel in Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 3.1 (Vienna, 1868), pp. 207-264. With respect to chap. 4, Bevenot made a number of alterations based upon his own study of the text. These are reflected in the RT of De unitate. Note that I have altered the language of this translation in order that it may more readily correspond to modern English. In no way do these alterations affect the intention of the translation itself. Scriptural citations are italicized, as they were in Bevenot's translation, although I have included their sources in the text itself for ease of reference.

(11) G. W. Clarke, tr. and ann., The Letters of Cyprian of Carthage, vol. 3: Letters 55--66, Ancient Christian Writers: The Works of the Fathers in Translation 46 (New York: Paulist Press, 1986]), 59, no. 10 (hereafter, Letters followed by the letter number, for all volumes of Cyprian's letters). Also see Robert M. Grant, Augustus to Constantine: The Thrust of the Christian Movement into the Roman World (New York, Evanston, IL, and Rome: Harper & Row, 1970), p. 226.

(12) Not all of those who refused to offer the requisite sacrifices were executed or even imprisoned for very long. As W. H. C. Frend pointed out, the imperial edict was so successful that local magistrates did not possess the means to hold their prisoners. Having secured the apostasy or imprisonment/execution of a few prominent Christians, they were content simply "to let matters be" (W. H. C. Frend, The Early Church [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982; repr., London: Hodden and Sloughton, 1965], p. 99). The empire did not want martyrs, just apostates (see G. W. Clarke's introduction in G. W. Clarke, tr. and ann., The Letters of St. Cyprian of Carthage, vol. 1: Letters 1-27, Ancient Christian Writers: The Works of the Fathers in Translation 43 [New York and Ramsey, NY: Newman Press, 1984], pp. 35-36).

(13) Frend, Early Church, p. 99.

(14) See Eusebius, The History of the Church, tr. G. A. Williamson, ed. and intro. Andrew Louth, rev. ed. (London: Penguin Books, 1989), VI, no. 39.

(15) Cyprian, De lapsis, chaps. 2-3.

(16) Ibid., chaps. 7-8.

(17) Ibid., chaps. 27-28.

(18) Ibid., chaps. 32 and 35.

(19) Letters 55, nos. 6 and 17.

(20) Cyprian, De lapsis, chaps. 18-19; also see chaps. 16 and 28-29.

(21) Letters 11, no. 1; 15, no. 1; and 23.

(22) Felicissimus had been established in his office not by Cyprian but by the presbyter Novatus (Letters 52, no. 2), whose schismatic activities extended to Rome, where he later became a leading supporter of Novatianus's more rigorous form of Christianity.

(23) G. W. Clarke, tr. and ann., The Letters of St. Cyprian of Carthage, vol. 2: Letters 28-54, Ancient Christian Writers: The Works of the Fathers in Translation 44 (New York and Ramsey, NY: Newman Press, 1983), 41, no. 1; and 42-43.

(24) Letters, 55, no. 6. These provisions were modified by a later synod, at the threat of renewed persecutions under Decius's successor, Gaius Vibius Trebonianus Gallus, in 252. The synod permitted the reconciliation of all lapsi, provided they had begun to do penance from the day they lapsed and had been received by their bishops. The synod's concern was that, without immediate recourse to the Church, these penitent lapsi would not persevere in their re-found faith (see Letters 57, nos. 2 ff.; also see Grant, Augustus to Constantine, pp. 331-332).

(25) Frend, Early Church, p. 99. For Cyprian's account of his own conversion, see his letter to Donatus (246/247 C.E.) in W. A. Jurgens, sel. and tr., The Faith of the Early Fathers: A Source-Book of Theological and Historical Passages from the Christian Writings of the Pre-Nicene and Nicene Eras (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1970), p. 217.

(26) Cyprian, De lapsis, chaps. 18-19; Letters 43, no. 5.

(27) Letters 33.

(28) Ibid., 43, no. 3.

(29) See ibid., 55, no. 24; cf. Frend, Early Church, p. 100.

(30) Cornelius served as Bishop of Rome until June, 253, when he died in exile in Centumcellae.

(31) Grant, Augustus to Constantine, p. 193; cf. Letters 44. Today, the little that is known about Novatianus comes only from his enemies (Eusebius, History, VI, no. 43; cf. Letters 55). Even the circumstances of his death in 258 remain unclear. See Letters 55, no. 5, in which Cyprian offered his own recollection of the situation and Novatianus's more rigorous position.

(32) Letters 44 and 55, nos. 1 and 6; cf. Eusebius, History, VI, no. 43.

(33) Letters, 44-48, cf. 50 and 52, in which Novatus is named as having been one of Novatianus's supporters in Rome. Although Novatianus did not receive the support he had hoped for in Rome--not to mention in North Africa--his movement did make substantial inroads in Spain and in the East, lasting until the end of the seventh century.

(34) Ibid., 55, no. 29.

(35) The matter of Cyprian's support for the lapsed bishop Troilus, who had led a large portion of his Church into apostasy (see Letters 55, nos. 11-12), illustrates this point. Although Cyprian was against any ready readmittance of penitent lapsi to communion, he supported Comelius's reconciliation of Troilus. Cornelius's reason was that Troilus had been able to convince many of these lapsi to return with him. Further, these penitents made it clear that they would not return without Troilus, even if as laity. For Cornelius, as for Cyprian, the supreme law of the Church must always be salvation. For this, exceptions to lesser laws were, at least, tolerable.

(36) Cyprian, De unitate, chap. 3.

(37) See Cyprian, De lapsis, chaps. 18-19; also Letters 43, no. 5, and 65, no. 5.

(38) Cyprian, De unitate, chap. 10.

(39) Ibid., chap. 19.

(40) Ibid., chap. 20.

(41) Ibid., chap. 8.

(42) Ibid., chap. 6.

(43) Ibid., chap. 23.

(44) Ibid., chap. 3.

(45) Ibid., chap. 4; cf. chaps. 13, 15, and 17, in which Cyprian denied the efficacy of all schismatic worship (chap. 13).

(46) Cyprian, De unitate, chap. 4: "[A]lthough [Christ] assigns a like power to all the Apostles, yet He founded a single Chair, thus establishing by His own authority the source and hallmark of the [Church's] oneness. No doubt the others were all that Peter was, but a primacy is given to Peter, and it is [thus] made clear that there is but one Church and one Chair. So too, even if they are all shepherds, we are shown but one flock which is to be fed by all the Apostles in common accord."

(47) Ibid.

(48) Ibid., chap. 17.

(49) Ibid., chap. 4.

(50) Ibid., chap. 6.

(51) Bevenot, The Lapsed and The Unity of the Catholic Church, p. 104, n. 30; emphasis in original.

(52) Letters 59, no. 14. As Clarke noted, while Cyprian did recognize a special relationship of the bishop of Rome to Peter, this should not be read as his "phrasing some dogmatic flattery, much less thinking of Rome's jurisdictional authority; he is writing a skillful blend of indignant expostulation and knowing flattery" to Cornelius regarding a matter in which he had a stake: the nonrecognition of two schismatic bishops. "This is a task which at once expresses Cyprian's genuine respect for the great traditions of the great see of Rome--and which Comelius of Rome would much like to hear" (Clarke, Letters, vol. 3, pp. 257-258, n. 70).

(53) See Bevenot, "'Primatus Petro datur,'" pp. 34-35.

(54) See G. W. Clarke, tr. and ann., The Letters of Cyprian of Carthage, vol. 4: Letters 67-81, Ancient Christian Writers: The Works of the Fathers in Translation 47 (New York: Paulist Press, 1989), pp. 139-140.

(55) See Letters 67.

(56) Letters 59, no. 14.

(57) Ibid., 68, no. 1.

(58) Ibid., 68, no. 2.

(59) Ibid., 68, no. 3.

(60) Ibid.

(61) Ibid., 68, no. 5.

(62) Cyprian, De unitate, chap. 23.

(63) Letters 69, no. 1.

(64) Stephen's views and the manner in which he entered into this controversy are found in a letter (listed as Letter 75 in the Cyprianic corpus) to Cyprian from Bishop Firmillian of Cappadocia, a staunch opponent of Stephen in this struggle. Cf. Letter 74, in which Cyprian responded to Stephen. Unfortunately, we do not have the letter from Stephen that occasioned Cyprian's response. Therefore, I am working on the assumption that, when offering his response, Cyprian provided his reader with an accurate reflection of Stephen's mind.

(65) See Frend, Early Church, pp. 102-103; and Letters 74, nos. 4-5.

(66) Letters 70, no. 1.

(67) This is listed in the Cyprian corpus as Letter 72.

(68) Letters, 72, no. 3.

(69) Ibid., 72, no. 2.

(70) Ibid., 75.

(71) Ibid., 75, nos. 16-17.

(72) See Bevenot's introduction to De unitate in his The Lapsed and The Unity of the Catholic Church, p. 7.

(73) Cyprian, De unitate, chap. 5.

(74) Published in Origins 22 (June 25, 1992): 108-112. All references to this text are according to its own internal ordering, as was reproduced in the translation in Origins.

(75) Ibid., no. 1.

(76) Ibid.

(77) Ibid., no. 8.

(78) Ibid.

(79) Ibid., no. 9; the first and third internal quotations in this passage are from Chrisms Dominus, 6.3, and 11.1, respectively.

(80) For a thorough review of this debate, see Kilian McDonnell, "The Ratzinger/Kasper Debate: The Universal Church and Local Churches," Theological Studies 63 (June, 2002): 227-250.

(81) Walter Kasper, "On the Church: A Friendly Reply to Cardinal Ratzinger," America 184 (April 23-30, 2001): 10.

(82) C.D.F., "Some Aspects," no. 8.

(83) See ibid.

(84) See ibid.

(85) Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church

and the Orthodox Church, Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences of the Sacramental Nature of the Church: Ecclesial Communion, Conciliarity, and Authority, no. 32; available at http://www.

(86) See n. 79, above, citing Christus Dominus, 11.1.

(87) LG, no. 23, citing Letters 66, no. 8, and 55, no. 24.

(88) LG, no. 23: "The individual bishops, however [in reference to the universal primacy of the Roman pontiff], are the visible principle and foundation of unity in their own particular churches, formed in the likeness of the universal church; in and from these particular churches there exists the one unique catholic church."

(89) PA, chap. 3, nos. 2-4; cf. LG, no. 18, in which this teaching is affirmed.

(90) Code of Canon Law, tr. the Canon Law Society of America (Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1983), canon 331.

(91) Ibid., canon 333, [section] 3.

(92) Jn. 21:15.

(93) See Hermann J. Pottmeyer, Towards a Papacy in Communion: Perspectives from Vatican Councils I and II, tr. Matthew J. O'Connell, Ut Unum Sint: Studies in Papal Primacy, A Herder and Herder Book (New York: Crossroad Publishing Co., 1998), pp. 70-75.

(94) Code of Canon Law, canon 331.

(95) Kasper, "On the Church," p. 11; cf. Steps towards a Reunited Church, no. 3, in which the North American Theological Commission noted the particular influence of the events of the nineteenth century, when "absolutist forms of civil government ... challenged the competence and even the right of Catholic institutions to teach and care for their own people. In this context, the emphasis of the First Vatican Council's document PA (1870) on the Catholic Church's ability to speak the truth about God's self-revelation in a free and unapologetic way, and to find the criteria for judging and formulating that truth within its own tradition, can be understood as a reaffirmation of the apostolic vision of a Church called by Christ to teach and judge through its own structures."

(96) See LG, nos. 18 ff.

(97) In Maurice Bevenot, "Primacy and Development," Heythrop Journal 9 (October, 1968): 400-413], Bevenot offered an alternative reading of this development, positing that it is better understood as one of "pruning," whereby the Church has gradually come to a clearer understanding of the primacy held by the Roman pontiff. This is an intriguing proposal. Whatever its merits, it should be acknowledged that this is not how the Roman Catholic Church's ecumenical partners read the history of the papacy. It is precisely their reading of history with which the Roman Catholic Church must contend in any dialogue on the primacy it claims as belonging de jure divino to the Roman pontiff.

(98) See Joint Commission, Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences, no. 41; and Steps towards a Reunited Church, no. 7a.

(99) LG, no. 23.

(100) Ibid., no. 18.

(101) This judgment has been made especially of the Synod of Bishops, as established by Pope Paul VI in Apostolica sollicitudo, and the degree of authority accorded Episcopal Conferences by Pope John Paul II in Apostolos suos. See James Coriden, "The Synod of Bishops: Episcopal Collegiality Still Seeks Adequate Expression," The Jurist, vol. 64 (2004), pp. 116-136; and Francis A. Sullivan, "The Teaching Authority of Episcopal Conferences," Theological Studies 63 (September, 2002): 472-493.

(102) See John Paul II, Ut unum sint (May 25, 1995), nos. 88 and 94 (hereafter, UUS); see hap:// hf_jp-ii_enc_25051995_ut-unumsint_en.html.

(103) Steps towards a Reunited Church, no. 7c.

(104) See Joint Commission, Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences, Part II, "The Threefold Actualization of Coneiliarity and Authority." Such distinctions, in light of the Church's conciliar nature and effective structure, would be precisely in line with this agreed statement: "Primacy and conciliarity are mutually interdependent. That is why primacy at the different levels of the life of the Church, local, regional and universal, must always be considered in the context of conciliarity, and conciliarity likewise in the context of primacy" (no. 43).

(105) See my remark in n. 97, above, on Bevenot's alternative reading of history in "Primacy and Development."

(106) Pottmeyer, Towards a Papacy in Communion, p. 24.

(107) Ibid.

(108) SUUS, nos. 95-96.

(109) For an example, see Stephen W. Sykes, "The Papacy and Power: An Anglican Perspective," in Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson, eds., Church Unity and the Papal Office: An Ecumenical Dialogue on John Paul II's Encyclical Ut Unum Sint (Grand Rapids, MI, and Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001), pp. 59-75.

(110) Bevenot, "Primacy and Development," p. 411, referencing Gustave Thils, "Papaute et Episcopat: Harmonie et Complementarite," in Remigius Baumer and Heimo Dolch, eds., Volk Gottes: Zum Kirchenverstandnis der katholischen, evangelischen und anglikanischen Theologie--Festgabe fur Josef Hofer (Freiburg, Basel, and Vienna: Herder, 1967), pp. 41-63.

(111) Steps towards a Reunited Church, no. 7.

Russel Murray, O.F.M. (Roman Catholic), is director of the Franciscan Center for Service and Advocacy at Siena College, Loudenville, NY, after teaching systematic theology at the Washington (DC) Theological Union as an instructor (2007-08) and assistant professor (2008-11). He was on the staff of St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, 1998-2000. He holds a B.A. from Fordham University, an M.Div. from Washington Theological Union, and a Ph.D. in theology (2008) from the University of St. Michael's College in Toronto. Ordained a deacon and a presbyter in the Order of Friars Minor in 1998, he has been involved in several provincial ministries, including being regional vocation director and member of the Evangelization Directorate of the Holy Name Province, New York, and local spiritual assistant of the St. Thomas Moore Fraternity, Arlington, VA. He has been a sacramental minister in a Silver Spring, MD, parish and at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC; a chaplain for the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD; and a fundraiser for the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation in Bethesda. He also held several ministerial internships in parishes in New York and suburban Washington, DC, as well as in a parish in Novosibirsk, Russia (1996-97). The Cord published his article on "Franciscan Ecumenism" in 2008, and New Theology Review published "'In the Neighborhoods of Humanity': An Ecclesiology of the Parish for a Time of Closings and Mergers" in 2009. His first J.KS. article (Summer, 2009) was "Mirror of Experience: Palamas and Bonaventure on the Experience of God." He has lectured or led workshops in New York, Boston, and suburban Philadelphia and Washington, DC. He has studied languages in universities in the U.S., Canada, and Germany. A board member of the North American Academy of Ecumenists, he has participated in International Ecumenical Franciscan Encounters in Italy, the U.K., and the U.S.; did doctoral research in 2005 at Centro Pro Unione, in Rome; and participated in a Northern Virginia Muslim-Catholic Dialogue in 2007. He was recently appointed to the O.F.M Commission for Dialogue (ecumenical, interreligious, and intercultural).
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Date:Jan 1, 2012
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