Persecution In the Third Century, Part 8

The History of Christianity #63

Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is 1 Corinthians 1:26-27 which reads: “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from John Wesley. He said: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Persecution In the Third Century” (Part 8) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Novatian was more rigorous than Cyprian. He clashed with the bishop of Rome, Cornelius, because in his opinion the lapsed were being readmitted too easily. Years earlier, there had been in the same city a similar conflict between Hippolytus, a noted theologian, and bishop Calixtus, because the latter was willing to forgive those guilty of fornication who repented, and Hippolytus insisted that this should not be done. At that time the result was a schism, so that there were two bishops in Rome. In the case of Novatian’s protests the result was the same. As in so many other cases, the issue was whether purity or forgiving love should be the characteristic note of the church. The schism of Hippolytus did not last long, but the Novatianist schism did continue for several generations.

The significance of these episodes is that they show how, due to its concern for its own purity, and to its understanding of sin as a debt owed to God, the Western church was repeatedly embroiled in debates regarding how that purity should be sustained while still having the church be a community of love. As a result, the restoration of the lapsed was one of the main concerns of the Western church from a very early date. The question of what should be done about those baptized Christians who sinned divided the Western church repeatedly. It was out of that concern that the entire penitential system developed. Much later, the Protestant Reformation was in large measure a protest against that system.

Next time, we will look at Christian Life.

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