April 17, 2007

Schism is Evil

Who, then, is so wicked and faithless, who is so insane with the madness of discord, that either he should believe that the unity of God can be divided, or should dare to rend it--the garment of the Lord--the Church of Christ? He Himself in His Gospel warns us, and teaches, saying, "And there shall be one flock and one shepherd." And does any one believe that in one place there can be either many shepherds or many flocks? ... Do you think you can stand and live if you withdraw from the Church, building for yourself other homes and a different dwelling?

-Cyprian of Carthage
Treatise I: On the Unity of the Church

1 comment:

Jason said...


That's a very interesting quote, especially coming from one who told Pope Stephen, in several letters (69,71,73)not to interfere in the "re-baptism" controversy which gripped Africa in the 3rd Century. Cyprian told Rome it was an "African" problem, and ought not to divide the Church. According to Cyprian, the issue of whether or not "the lapsed" (people who sinned "mortally" after baptism) ought to be re-baptized was not an issue which required "doctrinal unity" in the modern sense of the term. (Cyprian might scoff at Fentonian squabbles about Concordia Publishing House and liturgy).

So, what does St. Cyprian mean by the quote here posted? Perhaps his definition of unity is different than modern notions? Apparently, it isn't related to doctrine in the way we commonly think of the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae as "doctrine". At the same time, he certainly doesn't maintain a strict episcopal unity in the way Rome demands today. Cyprian clearly says that when he disagrees with the Pope, and when African churches' hold a different teaching and practice than Rome and its neighboring Sees, that Rome has no authority in the matter, and that the disagreement should not hurt the communion fellowship of Rome and African Churches. So how do we read Cyprian's statements on Church unity in light of his arguments in the re-baptism controversy? Also, Pope Stephen's was the teaching of Christian orthodoxy both then and now.

(Incidentally, Cyprian held the "rigorist" position espoused by Tertullian, who became an apostate, while at the same time composing some of the best dogmatic theology in early Christendom--on the Doctrine of the Trinity no less! Through his writings Tertullian (Cyprian referred to him reverently as "The Master")influenced African Christianity more than any other in the 3rd Century, including Irenaeus. Through Cyprian, Tertullian also informed Augustine)

So again, what does it mean to have a "unified" Church, and what does it mean to have "doctrinal unity", and what "doctrines" qualify as being worthy to create "schism", and is "schism"in the early Church sense of the terms?

just some food for thought.
God Bless,

for more on this see documents in: S. L. Greenslade
Westminster John Knox Press
Philadelphia, 1978