Cyprian on Church and State




In-Sub Ahn




In North African Christianity, Cyprian was a great figure. He had the second authority next to the Bible from his periods to the seventh century, the end of Christianity of North Africa. He was admired not only as a leader of the Church but also as a martyr.



1. Church


Cyprian opposed any separation from the church. There was no salvation outside the discipline of the Catholic Church. On the other hand, he was regarded as the perfect example of a bishop by the Donatists. They admired Cyprianí»s attitude of martyrdom and asceticism. Cyprian became the first bishop-martyr of Africa. His essential idea was the unity of the Church, í░expressing itself through a federation of bishops, all of whom were equally possessed and guided by the Spirit.í▒ Therefore, we may remark that Cyprian linked the qualities of episcopacy with those of spiritual enthusiasm.


For Cyprian, the church should not be adulterous. The nature of the Church is incorruption. The church is so important that í░he can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother.í▒ The church, in Cyprian, was an institution led by bishops who were the successors of the apostles. On the base of his understanding of the unity of God, he established a logical scheme of church government. God was one. Thus his church must be one and each community must have one leader, the bishop, maintaining peace and unity with his colleagues. The church was in the bishop and the bishop was in the church. He surely recognized the authority of the Roman Church as "the origin" of episcopacy. However, according to Cyprian, Peter made claim neither to primacy nor to obedience from his colleagues. Therefore, the body of bishops were equal members of a "college" ( co-sacerdotes).


Like Tertullian, he regarded the Church as Godí»s holy people. On that point, the Donatists and Augustine exactly followed Cyprian and Tertullian. In short, he could be mentioned as the model of an independent bishop of the North African Church.



2. Church and State


Concerning the attitude to this world and especially to the idolatrous Roman Empire with its persecutions, Cyprian seemed to be gloomy. Just as Tertullian shows an antithesis of the world and the church, so does Cyprian. He saw this world as í░darknessí▒ and í░gloomy nightí▒. He wanders there. For Cyprian, the metaphor of darkness and night is closely connected with this world. The characteristics of God will brightly be shown by the development of the truth. Thus the veil from the darkness of this hidden world will be shown. In Cyprianí»s thoughts, thus, to be a Christian means to renounce this world. When he wrote about baptism, he explained that baptism means the renunciation from the world. He writes :


í░We had renounced the world when we were baptized ; but we have now indeed renounced the world when tried and approved by God, we leave all that we have, and have followed the Lord, and stand and live in His faith and fear.í▒


Moreover, for him the world had the same meaning with the devil. He, too, uses the story of the Exodus in the Bible. When the Jewish people escaped from the severe slavery of Pharaoh and Egypt in Exodus, this means the liberty and the salvation from the devil of the world. Thus God, as a guardian, will protect his people in the world. Therefore, it was very natural for him to argue that the baptism was the renunciation of the world. To live in this world is to inhabit a continual battle-field, where we Christians are fighting against the devil of this world.


Therefore Cyprian describes the identity of the Christians as strangers in this world, just as we found it in Tertullianí»s thoughts. We Christians have renounced the world. Thus we are living in the meantime as guests and strangers in this world. We have been placed in this foreign world.

As we have seen above, Cyprian regarded the world and worldly things as negative, while he emphasized the believerí»s state as an alien.


However, if we consider Cyprianí»s view of eschatology, we can notice that he also had a positive view of the state. For him, the Church is Christí»s presence in the world. According to him, the provisionally distinct existence of the Church in the world during this epoch is derived from the need to embody holiness in a social structure. For the eschatological future, the State should support the Church. For the mission of the Kingdom of God in the Roman world, for Cyprian, the Christians should attend to the Roman society. The Roman Empire ought to be christianized. Under this thought, the eschatological perspective lies. He believed that Christí»s kingdom will govern the whole world, before Christí»s coming again. In this context, his concept about the state will be evaluated as positive.



3. Augustine and Cyprian



When Augustine wrote the Lordí»s sermon on the mountain in 394, he seemed to learn from Cyprianí»s De oratione dominica. Augustine included Cyprian in the list in which Augustine regarded Cyprian as one of the good Christian models of use of the profane writings, when he maintained the methods for the interpretation of the Bible in De doctrina Christiana. In the book four, Augustine mentioned Cyprian and Ambrose as examples of three styles such as simple, modest, and sublime. Moreover, in the Pelagian controversy, Augustine regarded Cyprian as positive to the infant baptism.


In the controversy with the Donatists, Augsitine was faced by Cyprianí»s authority. Augustine refuted Donatistsí» argument that they were following Cyprian as a martyr. According to Augustine, true martyrdom can be in a right cause. Augustine, thus, refuted that Cyprianí»s example in relationship with Stephen , conversely, revealed the fault of the Donatists.


On the matter of the baptism, Augustine had to accept that Cyprian had rejected the baptism outside his own church. However, Augusitne rejected also the Donatistí»s insistence that they are the followers of Cyprian. According to Augustine, on the contrary, Cyprian emphasized on the unity rather than his thought on baptism. In Augustineí»s persistence, the unity of the church was underlined by Cyprian himself. Therefore, we can conclude that Augustine not only knew Cyprian but also using him in his controversies especially on the matter of the Church. (*)