Introduction to early church history of Catholic Church 8

Introduction to early church history 8
 Jean Paul

Continuing Origen

Pages 4 and 5 of the handout: Eusibius gives a summary of Origen’s biblical work and an extract from the preface to De Principis. 

Whilst all this was going on in Antioch there were parallels in other parts of the Church for example in Antioch and the Roman West.

Antioch and Odessa

Odessa was the centre of Semitic Christianity.  It was an independent buffer state for the Roman Empire, the people were Parthians.

Letters survive which are falsely attributed as correspondence between Abgar (King of Odessa) and Jesus Christ.  They were probably based on a later King of Odessa who may have become Christian - Abgar Abu Manu (the ninth).

One of the king’s ‘class-mates’ from Odessa Bar Daisan (154-222(?)AD), a native of Odessa, becomes a Christian convert around 179AD.  He wrote a dialogue on fate or destiny (in syriac) called ‘Book of the Laws of the Countries.’  It was an attack on astrological fatalism, he argues that even though astrology is used in his own country it doesn’t apply elsewhere and so can’t be true.

Bar Daisan is considered to be a heretic in the Greek speaking world.  He was reported to have written 150 hymns (to balance the 150 Psalms) with Harmonius (Harmony - bit of a suspicious name) not all of these hymns would be acceptable to us today - they are written as they are probably because of his Semitic background.

Bar Daisan also wrote chastity, resurrection, etc.  Only the dialogue survives.

Other works survive fron Odessa:
‘Teaching of Addai’ which is alleged to be the teaching of the first Apostle who brought the faith to Odessa.  In Greek it is linked with the Apostle Thaddeus.  The teaching in its present form is from a later period - but the existence of the work tells us that the missionaries stayed within the Jewish community, were allowed to preach there and were tolerated.  This should make us suspicious of the Greek sources which talk of animosity.

Didascala of the Apostle.  It is a church order document similar to the Didache, it shows that there was a bond with the Jewish peoples, through their influence around 230AD.

We can see that Christianity spread to the Jewish East, and continue to spread in the years around 900AD it reaches China spreading along the trade routes.  Odessa also had on-going links with the Church in Southern India.

In Antioch there were also theological developments. 

Paul who was a Bishop in around 260AD was condemned in 268AD for Trinitarian and Christological errors.
A school of biblical exegesis was set up by Lucian of Antioch, this was a parallel to the school of Origen.  It was interested in the historical and grammatical sense of scripture - whereas Origen was interested in the spiritual message.

Roman West - Latin Fathers

Q.S.F. Tertullianus (Tertullian) (ca 160 - ca 225AD)

He converted to Christianity around 193/5AD.  He became Montanist between 207-213AD.
He was a Rhetorician and a lawyer he may have been a cleric.

Tertullian was from Carthage in North Africa of pagan birth.  His brilliant abilities meant that he moved to Rome where he was converted.  He was probably a lay-man, but St Jerome refers to him as a presbyter.  He was married, one of his works was addressed to his wife.  He was brilliant and masterful, a Latin stylist of the highest quality who enjoyed argument and controversy.  He was influenced by the second Sophist movement.  He was against the influence of philosophy in Christianity.

He wrote a long list of works in Latin of various types such as Apologetic, Controversial, etc.  He also wrote in Greek but these works are now lost.

He was particularly interested in the disciplinary and moral side of Christianity, not surprising as the Christians of North Africa had a reputation for being rigorists - they were provincials who were more Roman than the Romans.

He decided to dedicate himself completely to Christianity.  He return to Carthage in around 200AD - he develops an increasingly negative attitude to the pagan society and also to the Christians that he finds there.

He is attracted to the rigorist ideas of Montanism.  This comes out in his writings in which he emphasises that Christians should be separate from pagan society in order to protect themselves.  He had a very insular view of Christianity.  He also writes on fasting, modesty, against the various sectarian forms of Gnosticism and other heresies.

He wrote the first tract on a sacrament which was to do with Baptism.

In his work De Anima (On the Soul) he insists that the soul comes to the body from the male seed, so it is inherited from the father.  This prepares the way for a pessimistic doctrine  concerning the Fall and Original Sin which reaches its peak with St. Augustine which was that Original Sin was inherited from the father.

Tertullian was the father of Latin theology.  He was an important figure because the choices he made about vocabulary to do with theology, Christology and the other subjects he wrote about have been passed down to us and are still used in Latin theology.  It is likely they weren’t all invented by him but come from the community in Carthage he was part of .  There are words like natura (nature), anima (soul) and so on.

His Christology is a model for later Latin Christology.  But he was overly morally rigorist, for example he did not think that sins committed after baptism could be forgiven.


Also from Carthage - his name was Th. C. Cyprianus (ca 200-258AD).  He died as a martyr.

His life story still survives - it was written by his Deacon Pontius, but is a bit one sided as it is full of praise for Cyprian.

The date of his death is known precisely as there is an account of it in the records of the Proconsul of North Africa.

Like Tertullian before him he was well educated in literature but less so in rhetoric.  He seems to have been some sort of bureaucrat.  He starts as a pagan rhetorician but converts in 246AD.

He was elected Bishop in 248AD - given the length of time Catechesis took he can not have been baptised long before he was elected.  He was a skilled administrator - which may have been the reason he was elected. 

He studied the works of Tertullian and scripture.

There is no evidence that he knew Greek, during this period Latin culture isolates itself from Greek culture.

In 250 to 251AD there is a persecution of Christians under the Emperor Decius.  Cyprian flees Carthage to escape imprisonment and martyrdom, this will be held against him by some of the presbyters and faithful of Carthage.

Decius was emperor from 249 to 251AD.  He issued a decree against Church leaders - thinking if he cut off the head the church would die, but he also included a second item in which all were required to sacrifice to the genius of the Emperor and to the gods.  The way he did this was ingenious as he set up commissions in each town to oversee the people making their sacrifices.  When they had completed their sacrifices they were issued with a certificate to prove that they had completed their obligations.  A number of these certificates still survive today.

Decius is killed in battle in 251AD by the Goths.  This relatively short persecution, 12-13 months, had followed around 38 years of peace during which the Church had grown and so had a big impact.

This led to the development of a group called the lapsi who had fallen during the persecution but wanted to return to the Church.
There were different levels of lapsi:
a)  Those that had sacrificed to the pagan gods
b)  Those that had thrown incense on the brazier as a sacrifice to the genius of the Emperor.
c)  Those that did not take part in the sacrifices but had bribed officials to get a certificate to say that they had.
d)  Those that didn’t have a certificate but who had used bribery to have their names added to the roll of those that had sacrificed.

Added to this the Bishop had fled.

So the question is what to do?
For those that had fallen the Sacrament of Penance was severe it involved a long period of penance and those that had sacrificed were only permitted into Communion again on their death-bed.
The confessors - those that had been imprisoned and tortured - started to give out certificates of forgiveness (to counter the certificates for having made the sacrifice) but this was done without the permission of the Bishop.

Cyprian holds two councils in 251 and 252AD.  These lay down guidelines on dealing with apostates.  The outcome is a lessening of the severity of the Sacrament of Penance.

There is a similar problem in Rome centred round a senior Presbyter named Novatian (Novatianus).  He was a rigorist, although the work he wrote on the Trinity is orthodox his rigorism was a problem. 

The Pope (Fabian) had been killed during the persecution - in 252AD Cornellius was elected.  Novatian thought he should have been elected and set himself up as a rival.  This led to a Schism in the Church.

Novatian thought that the lapsi should not be forgiven by the Church, he had influence in North Africa even after the councils which whist being rigorist had still been held there were more moderate than Novatian.

All of this leads to a problem which is what happens to those that have been baptised by heretics or Schismatics when they wish to be part of the Church.

In 255 and 256 AD there were two Synods held by Cyprian and his bishops.  They held that Schismatic baptism is not valid anyone baptised in this way wishing to come to the Church had to be baptised again, this reflected the generally rigorist views of the Church in North Africa.  The logic of this decision was that if you were outside the Church you could not have the Spirit within you and so you could not pass on the Spirit to someone else through the sacrament.

Cyprian’s view - which has been condemned by the Church - was that there was no salvation outside the Church.  This view is still seen today Fr Feeney in the US set up a movement believing this.  Those believing this were excommunicated in the 1950’s - although Feeney has since died there are still members of the group around.

In Rome there was a different point of view both Cornelius and Stephen (who succeeded Lucius who had briefly succeeded Cornelius as Pope) felt that if the Schismatics or heretics had used the correct formula and had the correct intention then the baptism would be valid.  This led to a violent exchange of correspondence between Cyprian and Stephen, they were never to reconcile their differences.

A new Emperor succeeded after a period of civil war - Valerian (253-260AD).  This led to a new persecution.  In Aug 257 he ordered the arrest of all clergy, prohibits all assemblies and forbids Christians from using their cemeteries (against Roman custom) so they were unable to bury their dead.  He again tries to make sure all participate in the pagan religion.

In 258AD any bishop who would not participate in the pagan religion was to be put to death, Cyprian was first banished and then martyred, as was Sixtus who had become Pope.

But now there was a new persecution the question was what to do with those lapsi from the first persecution some of whom were still doing their long penance after their actions in the first persecutions.  Cyprian decides that they should be allowed immediate reconciliation with the Church - although this is an emergency measure it has a long term effect.

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