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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV:
Writings in Connection with the Donatist Controversy.: Chapter 9

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 9.—14.  "This, moreover," says he, "Agrippinus, a man of excellent memory, with the rest, bishops with him, who at that time governed the Church of the Lord in the province of Africa and Numidia, did establish and, after the investigation of a mutual Council had weighed it, confirm; whose sentence, being both religious and legitimate and salutary in accordance with the Catholic faith and Church, we also have followed."  1244   By this witness he gives sufficient proof how much more ready he would have been to bear his testimony, had any Council been held to discuss this matter which either embraced the whole Church, or at least represented our brethren beyond the sea. 1245   But such a Council had not yet been held, because the whole world was bound together by the powerful bond of custom; and this was deemed sufficient to oppose to those who wished to introduce what was new, because they could not comprehend the truth.  Afterwards, however, while the question became matter for discussion and investigation amongst many on either side, the new practice was not only invented, but even submitted to the authority and power of a plenary Council,—after the martyrdom of Cyprian, it is true, but before we were born. 1246   But that this was indeed the p. 432 custom of the Church, which afterwards was confirmed by a plenary Council, in which the truth was brought to light, and many difficulties cleared away, is plain enough from the words of the blessed Cyprian himself in that same letter to Jubaianus, which was quoted as being read in the Council. 1247   For he says, "But some one asks, What then will be done in the case of those who, coming out of heresy to the Church, have already been admitted without baptism?" where certainly he shows plainly enough what was usually done, though he would have wished it otherwise; and in the very fact of his quoting the Council of Agrippinus, he clearly proves that the custom of the Church was different.  Nor indeed was it requisite that he should seek to establish the practice by this Council, if it was already sanctioned by custom; and in the Council itself some of the speakers expressly declare, in giving their opinion, that they went against the custom of the Church in deciding what they thought was right.  Wherefore let the Donatists consider this one point, which surely none can fail to see, that if the authority of Cyprian is to be followed, it is to be followed rather in maintaining unity than in altering the custom of the Church; but if respect is paid to his Council, it must at any rate yield place to the later Council of the universal Church, of which he rejoiced to be a member, often warning his associates that they should all follow his example in upholding the coherence of the whole body.  For both later Councils are preferred among later generations to those of earlier date; and the whole is always, with good reason, looked upon as superior to the parts.


Footnotes

431:1244

Cypr. Ep. lxxi. 4.

431:1245

Transmarinum vel universale Concilium.

431:1246

The plenary Council, on whose authority Augustin relies in many places in this work, was either that of Arles, in 314 A.D., or of Nicæa, in 325 A.D., both of them being before his birth, in 354 A.D.  He quotes the decision of the same council, contra Parmenianum, ii. 13, 30; de Hæresibus  69:  Ep. xliii. 7, 19.  Contra Parmenianum, iii. 4, 21:  "They condemned," he says, "some few in Africa, by whom they were in turn vanquished by the judgment of the whole world;" and he adds, that "the Catholics trusted ecclesiastical judges like these in preference to the defeated parties in the suit."  Ib. 6, 30:  He says that the Donatists, "having made a schism in the unity of the Church, were refuted, not by the authority of 310 African bishops, but by that of the whole world."  And in the sixth chapter of the first book of the same treatise, he says that the Donatists, after the decision at Arles, came again to Constantine, and there were defeated "by a final decision," i.e. at Milan, as is seen from Ep. xliii. 7, 20, in the year 316 A.D.  Substance of note in Benedictine ed. reproduced in Migne.

432:1247

See above, ch. ii. 3.


Next: Chapter 10

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