Thursday, August 05, 2004

I’m now reading the correspondence of St. Cyprian, the 3rd Century Bishop of Carthage, who was martyred in 258 because of his faith in Christ. As Bishop Cyprian experienced the heavy persecution of Rome during the reigns of Emperor Decius (249-251) and Emperor Valerian (253–260).

There are eighty-two letters in this series and I have read sixty of them. So far, I’ve found the epistles of Cyprian to be a joy to read. He was Bishop of Carthage during a time of intense persecution. One of the interesting things in his letters is his the discussion of the “lapsed.” These were Christians who, one way are another, compromised at some point during the persecution. How was the church supposed to deal with these people when others were being tortured, exiled and killed for the faith. Should the Church cast them off, or should it try to restore them, and if to restore them than how? It’s great stuff.

In Epistle LVIII Cyprian is responding to a letter from Fidus. Fidus believes that baptism of infants should not be performed until the child is eight days old. His reasons are that circumcision was not preformed until the eighth day, and since baptism replaces circumcision this too should be preformed on the eighth day as well.

This was discussed during a council of the church in North Africa and Cyprian wrote the response to Fidus. He wrote “you think that one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day, we all thought very differently in our council. For in this course which you thought was to be taken, no one agreed; but we all rather judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to any one born of man.”

I found part of the reason Cyprian gives to be very interesting. He wrote “For in respect of the observance of the eighth day in the Jewish circumcision of the flesh, a sacrament was given beforehand in shadow and in usage; but when Christ came, it was fulfilled in truth. For because the eighth day, that is, the first day after the Sabbath, was to be that on which the Lord should rise again, and should quicken us, and give us circumcision of the spirit, the eighth day, that is, the first day after the Sabbath, and the Lord's day, went before in the figure; which figure ceased when by and by the truth came, and spiritual circumcision was given to us… For which reason we think that no one is to be hindered from obtaining grace by that law which was already ordained, and that spiritual circumcision ought not to be hindered by carnal circumcision, but that absolutely every man is to be admitted to the grace of Christ, since Peter also in the Acts of the Apostles speaks, and says, "The Lord hath said to me that I should call no man common or unclean."

I found this explanation to be a very good one and thought I would pass it along.

Coram Deo,