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Home > Fathers of the Church > Epistles (Cyprian of Carthage) > Epistle 66

Epistle 66

To Father Stephanus, Concerning Marcianus of Arles, Who Had Joined Himself to Novatian.

Argument.— As Marcianus, Bishop of Arles, When He Followed the Sect of Novatian, Had Seduced Many, and by His Schism Had Separated Himself from the Communion of the Rest of the Bishops, Cyprian Warns Stephanus, that He Should by Announcing the Excommunication of the Offender, Alike by Rome and Carthage, Enable the Church at Arles, to Elect Another in His Place; And that So Peace Might Be Granted, as Well to the Lapsed as to Those Seduced by Him, Upon Their Repentance, and a Return to the Church Conceded to Them.

1. Cyprian to his brother Stephen, greeting. Faustinus our colleague, abiding at Lyons, has once and again written to me, dearest brother, informing me of those things which also I certainly know to have been told to you, as well by him as by others our fellow bishops established in the same province, that Marcianus, who abides at Aries, has associated himself with Novatian, and has departed from the unity of the Catholic Church, and from the agreement of our body and priesthood, holding that most extreme depravity of heretical presumption, that the comforts and aids of divine love and paternal tenderness are closed to the servants of God who repent, and mourn, and knock at the gate of the Church with tears, and groans, and grief; and that those who are wounded are not admitted for the soothing of their wounds, but that, forsaken without hope of peace and communion, they must be thrown to become the prey of wolves and the booty of the devil; which matter, dearest brother, it is our business to advise for and to aid in, since we who consider the divine clemency, and hold the balance in governingthe Church, do thus exhibit the rebuke of vigour to sinners in such a way as that, nevertheless, we do not refuse the medicine of divine goodness and mercy in raising the lapsed and healing the wounded.

2. Wherefore it behooves you to write a very copious letter to our fellow bishops appointed in Gaul, not to suffer any longer that Marcian, froward and haughty, and hostile to the divine mercy and to the salvation of the brotherhood, should insult our assembly, because he does not yet seem to be excommunicated by us; in that he now for a long time boasts and announces that, adhering to Novatian, and following his frowardness, he has separated himself from our communion; although Novatian himself, whom he follows, has formerly been excommunicated, and judged an enemy to the Church; and when he sent ambassadors to us into Africa, asking to be received into our communion, he received back word from a council of several priests who were here present, that he himself had excluded himself, and could not by any of us be received into communion, as he had attempted to erect a profane altar, and to set up an adulterous throne, and to offer sacrilegious sacrifices opposed to the true priest; while the Bishop Cornelius was ordained in the Catholic Church by the judgment of God, and by the suffrages of the clergy and people. Therefore, if he were willing to return to a right mind, and to come to himself, he should repent and return to the Church as a suppliant. How vain it is, dearest brother, when Novatian has lately been repulsed and rejected, and excommunicated by God's priests throughout the whole world, for us still to suffer his flatterers now to jest with us, and to judge of the majesty and dignity of the Church!

3. Let letters be directed by you into the province and to the people abiding at Arles, by which, Marcian being excommunicated, another may be substituted in his place, and Christ's flock, which even to this day is contemned as scattered and wounded by him, may be gathered together. Let it suffice that many of our brethren have departed in these late years in those parts without peace; and certainly let the rest who remain be helped, who groan both day and night, and beseeching the divine and fatherly mercy, entreat the comfort of our succour. For, for that reason, dearest brother, the body of priests is abundantly large, joined together by the bond of mutual concord, and the link of unity; so that if any one of our college should try to originate heresy, and to lacerate and lay waste Christ's flock, others may help, and as it were, as useful and merciful shepherds, gather together the Lord's sheep into the flock. For what if any harbour in the sea shall begin to be mischievous and dangerous to ships, by the breach of its defences; do not the navigators direct their ships to other neighbouring ports where there is a safe and practicable entrance, and a secure station? Or if, on the road, any inn should begin to be beset and occupied by robbers, so that whoever should enter would be caught by the attack of those who lie in wait there; do not the travellers, as soon as this its character is discovered, seek other houses of entertainment on the road, which shall be safer, where the lodging is trustworthy, and the inns safe for the travellers? And this ought now to be the case with us, dearest brother, that we should receive to us with ready and kindly humanity our brethren, who, tossed on the rocks of Marcian, are seeking the secure harbours of the Church; and that we afford such a place of entertainment for the travellers as is that in the Gospel, in which those who are wounded and maimed by robbers may be received and cherished, and protected by the host.

4. For what is a greater or a more worthy care of overseers, than to provide by diligent solicitude and wholesome medicine for cherishing and preserving the sheep? Since the Lord speaks, and says, The diseased you have not strengthened, neither have you healed that which was sick, neither have you bound up that which was broken, neither have you brought again that which was driven away, neither have you sought that which was lost. And my sheep were scattered because there is no shepherd; and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, and none did search or seek after them. Therefore thus says the Lord, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my flock at their hands, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall they feed them any more: for I will deliver them from their mouth, and I will feed them with judgment. Since therefore the Lord thus threatens such shepherds by whom the Lord's sheep are neglected and perish, what else ought we to do, dearest brother, than to exhibit full diligence in gathering together and restoring the sheep of Christ, and to apply the medicine of paternal affection to cure the wounds of the lapsed, since the Lord also in the Gospel warns, and says, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick? Matthew 9:12 For although we are many shepherds, yet we feed one flock, and ought to collect and cherish all the sheep which Christ by His blood and passion sought for; nor ought we to suffer our suppliant and mourning brethren to be cruelly despised and trodden down by the haughty presumption of some, since it is written, But the man that is proud and boastful shall bring nothing at all to perfection, who has enlarged his soul as hell. Hebrews 2:5 And the Lord, in His Gospel, blames and condemns men of that kind, saying, You are they which justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight Of God. Luke 16:15 He says that those are execrable and detestable who please themselves, who, swelling and inflated, arrogantly assume anything to themselves. Since then Marcian has begun to be of these, and, allying himself with Novatian, has stood forth as the opponent of mercy and love, let him not pronounce sentence, but receive it; and let him not so act as if he himself were to judge of the college of priests, since he himself is judged by all the priests.

5. For the glorious honour of our predecessors, the blessed martyrs Cornelius and Lucius, must be maintained, whose memory as we hold in honour, much more ought you, dearest brother, to honour and cherish with your weight and authority, since you have become their vicar and successor. For they, full of the Spirit of God, and established in a glorious martyrdom, judged that peace should be granted to the lapsed, and that when penitence was undergone, the reward of peace and communion was not to be denied; and this they attested by their letters, and we all everywhere and entirely have judged the same thing. For there could not be among us a diverse feeling in whom there was one spirit; and therefore it is manifest that he does not hold the truth of the Holy Spirit with the rest, whom we observe to think differently. Intimate plainly to us who has been substituted at Arles in the place of Marcian, that we may know to whom to direct our brethren, and to whom we ought to write. I bid you, dearest brother, ever heartily farewell.

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Source. Translated by Robert Ernest Wallis. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/050666.htm>.

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