A Second Response to Steve Ray

A Refutation of His Misrepresentations of the Teaching of Cyprian and of the Comments of William Webster

By William Webster



Steve Ray has responded to a quotation I had posted from Cyprian from the Seventh Council of Carthage in response to the assertion in his book, Upon This Rock, that no church Fathers could be cited who had ever challenged the primacy claims of the bishops of Rome. He claims there is complete silence. I submitted evidence from Cyprian and 86 other western bishops that they explicitly affirm that no bishop has the right to set himself up as the ‘bishop of bishops’ and they opposed Stephen, the bishop of Rome, in his claims, teachings and demands. I want to respond to Steve’s response because it is full of error and misrepresentation. The full text of Steve Ray's response can be found at the end of this article.

1) Steve Ray responded to this quote with these statements: “This is an interesting quotation Bill brings to bear but with it we have a few problems. Maybe he should have read it more carefully and checked the translation and context. First, this comment on ‘the Bishop of Bishops’ is not a decree of the council but a statement made by St. Cyprian within the council. Actually, we do not have the decrees of this council but only a collection of various bishop’s comments who attended the council. Cyprian provides a multitude of opinions expressed by bishops attending the council to show a consensus of opinion on the baptism of heretics (not on the primacy of Rome). Whereas Bill attempts to give the opinion that the Council made a solemn decree that no bishop could be a bishop of bishops, this is certainly not the case.”

Webster’s Response: Cyprian presided over the Council and is therefore expressing the opinion of the Council as a whole. Stephen had demanded submission to his decree on the rebaptism of heretics and apparently had couched the language of the decree in terms of a claim to primacy using the Petrine texts from the Gospels. At least this is what is implied from the letters of Cyprian and Firmilian. He had threatened to cut off communion, not only with the Churches of North Africa, but also in Asia Minor, where Firmilian was one of the leading bishops. What Cyprian and the other 86 bishops are saying is that they repudiate both the teaching of Stephen and his claims of authority or primacy. Cyprian’s statement is made in the context of the claims and assertions of Stephen and manifests a unanimous rejection by the bishops of those claims. What he is asserting is that such a claim is unheard of and is unlawful in the Church. It is an innovation. The statement taken in full context makes this clear. Cyprian says:

It remains, that upon this same matter each of us should bring forward what we think, judging no man, nor rejecting any one from the right of communion, if he should think differently from us (a direct allusion to Stephen). For neither does any one of us set himself up as a bishop of bishops, nor by tyrannical terror does any compel his colleague to the necessity of obedience; since every bishop, according to the allowance of his liberty and power, has his own proper right of judgment, and can no more be judged by another than he himself can judge another. But let all of us wait for the judgment of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only one that has the power both of preferring us in the government of His Church, and of judging us in our conduct there (Ante-Nicene Fathers (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1995), The Seventh Council of Carthage Under Cyprian, p. 565).

Cyprian refers here to the fact that no bishop has a right to demand obedience from his fellow bishops or to withdraw communion because of a difference of opinion. He speaks of this as a universal law in the Church as a whole. This, of course, goes back to Cyprian’s view of ecclesiology as expressed in his treatise On the Unity of the Church. In that treatise he makes it clear that all bishops are of equal status. Thus, from the standpoint of his ecclesiology, no bishop can lawfully be called the Bishop of Bishops as Stephen was claiming for himself. The only authority that can dictate to another bishop is a Church Council and that is precisely why they have come together in Council in Carthage. Three Roman Catholic historians, Robert Eno, Michael Winter and William Jurgens, affirm this conclusion:

Robert Eno: ‘Apart from his good relations and harmony with Bishop Cornelius over the matter of the lapsed, what was Cyprian’s basic view of the role, not of Peter as symbol of unity, but of Rome in the contemporary Church? Given what we have said above, it is clear that he did not see the bishop of Rome as his superior, except by way of honor, even though the lawful bishop of Rome also held the chair of Peter in an historical sense (Ep. 52.2)...It is clear that in Cyprian’s mind...one theological conclusion he does not draw is that the bishop of Rome has authority which is superior to that of the African bishops’ (Robert Eno, The Rise of the Papacy (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1990), pp. 57-60).

Michael Winter: ‘Cyprian used the Petrine text of Matthew to defend episcopal authority, but many later theologians, influenced by the papal connexions of the text, have interpreted Cyprian in a propapal sense which was alien to his thought...Cyprian would have used Matthew 16 to defend the authority of any bishop, but since he happened to employ it for the sake of the Bishop of Rome, it created the impression that he understood it as referring to papal authority...Catholics as well as Protestants are now generally agreed that Cyprian did not attribute a superior authority to Peter’ (Michael Winter, St. Peter and the Popes (Baltimore: Helikon, 1960), pp. 47-48).

William Jurgens: ‘Although Cyprian was on excellent terms with Pope St. Cornelius...he fell out sharply with Cornelius’ successor, Pope St. Stephen...on the question of the rebaptizing of converted heretics. It was the immemorial custom of the African Church to regard Baptism conferred by heretics as invalid, and in spite of Stephen’s severe warnings, Cyprian never yielded. His attitude was simply that every bishop is responsible for his own actions, answerable to God alone’ (William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers (Collegeville: Liturgical, 1970), Volume I, p. 216-217).

So in his use of the term ‘bishop of bishops’ Cyprian is making a direct reference to Stephen, the bishop of Rome. The Roman Catholic patristics scholar, William Jurgens, agrees with this assessment that Cyprian is indeed referring to Stephen in his use of the term and that it is a repudiation of the primacy claims enunciated by him. He says: ‘In the context of the present question of opposition between Rome and Carthage, it is impossible to believe that in commiting himself to the words of the present address, Cyprian did not have Stephen in mind’ (William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers (Collegeville: Liturgical, 1970), Volume I, p. 241).

2) Steve Ray makes reference to Jurgens where he casts doubt on the phrase ‘bishop of bishops’ as to whether it is the technically correct reading in the original. Steve Ray says:

Jurgens, in an endnote states that the double use of the word ‘bishop’ is actually a variant reading.

Webster’s Response: It is significant that Steve purposefully omits the remainder of Jurgens’ comments. The full text of what he actually says is this:

A variant reading of certain manuscripts makes the phrase read as a bishop of bishops. Probably it is not the technically correct reading, but it is clearly the sense of the passage: no bishop sets himself up as a bishop with authority over other bishops. The term episcopus episcoporum, as in the variant, is known as a title of grandeur occasionally accorded to various persons of authority as early as the 4th century; and according to Lucifer and Calaris, it was given by the Arians to Constantius. Except for the manuscript variant in question, we have not seen it in the third century. It was not at this time a special title assigned to the Bishop of Rome; and the attitude expressed in regard to the jurisdictional autonomy of individual bishops is Cyprian’s constant attitude, not much stronger in expression here than in certain passages of his letters as early as the year 250 A.D. Yet, in the context of the present question of opposition between Rome and Carthage, it is impossible to believe that in committing himself to the words of the present address, Cyprian did not have Stephen in mind (William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers (Collegeville: Liturgical, 1970), Volume I, p. 241).

Please note that Jurgens specifically goes on to state that even if the phrase ‘bishop of bishops (episcopus episcoporum)’ is a variant reading, it does not affect the sense of the passage as to what Cyprian is saying and that he has Stephen specifically in mind in his reference. And what he is saying, according to Jurgens, is that ‘no bishop sets himself up as a bishop with authority over other bishops.’ In other words the clear implication of Cyprian’s remarks is a repudiation of the primacy claims of Stephen. Why does Steve Ray omit this bit of information? The only answer can be because it undermines his position.

Steve is obviously attempting to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the phrase ‘bishop of bishops’ by citing Jurgens’ comments of a variant reading. But Jurgens’ conclusions are proven false on a closer examination of the evidence. In his introductory remarks on Cyprian, Jurgens cites the extant manuscript evidence for the Seventh Council of Carthage under Cyprian. He states:

The Acts of the council may be found in Mansi, Vol. I, 951-965, and in Migne, PL 4, 1051-1078. Neither edition any longer serves scholarly purposes, the standard edition being the critical text established by W. Hartel, in the Vienna Corpus (CSEL), Vol. 3, part I, Vienna 1868 (William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers (Collegeville: Liturgical, 1970), Volume I, p. 240). (Actually the Migne reference is PL 3 and not PL 4 as listed by Jurgens).

So what Jurgens is saying is that there are three main sources where the Acts of the Seventh Council of Carthage can be found: Migne, Mansi and the CSEL series. Regarding the sentence in question the Latin text from the CSEL series reads: ‘Neque enim quisquam nostrum episcopum se episcoporum constituit (No one of us sets himself up as a bishop of bishops).’ This is the critical text and please note that this critical edition uses the phrase ‘episcopum epsicoporum.’ In the Mansi edition the text reads: ‘Neque enim quisquam nostrum episcopum se esse epicoporum constituit.’ The Migne text reads: ‘Neque enim quisquam nostrum episcopum se episcoporum constituit.’ The only difference between these three texts is the use of the word ‘esse’, in Mansi, which means ‘to be’. All three use the term ‘episcopum episcoporum.’ The editors of the CSEL critical text point out that the only variants in this sentence have to do with the inclusion of the word ‘esse’. It says nothing of variants regarding the use of the phrase ‘episcopum episcoporum.’ Since this is the critical text and it uses the precise term, bishop of bishops, as do Mansi and Migne, this is not a variant reading.

Also, Jurgens states that the phrase 'bishop of bishops' would have been a very unusual term to be applied to the bishop of Rome in the third century. It had never been used before and therefore he implies that it is not the correct reading. The problem here is that there has to be some point at which such a title will be used for the first time if it is used historically. Given the fact that this is the first time a bishop of Rome has put forth primacy claims in asserting that he has the right of primacy over other bishops, it is not at all unusual that in repudiating those claims a church Father would use the term bishop of bishops. Besides, Augustine informs us that this is in fact the expression used by Cyprian.

Roman Catholic historian, Robert Eno, comes to the same conclusion as William Jurgens on the meaning of Cyprian’s use of the phrase ‘bishop of bishops.’ In the following remarks he states that Cyprian’s comments reflect his views on the question of a universal authority in the Church:

Even Cyprian the westerner who honored the Roman see did not admit Rome’s authority to demand a change in the African practice. The council he presided over in Carthage in September 256 agreed with him on this issue. His opening remarks sum up his views on this question of a world leadership for the Church:

For neither does any of us set himself up as a bishop of bishops, nor by tyrannical terror force his colleagues to a necessity of obeying; inasmuch as every bishop, in the free use of his liberty and power, has the right of forming his own judgment, and can no more be judged by another than he himself can judge another. But we must all await the judgment of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who alone has the power both of setting us in the government of His Church, and of judging of our acts therein (Robert Eno, The Rise of the Papacy (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1990), p. 65).

Eno affirms the interpretation I have given in my own remarks of Cyprian’s words and his use of the phrase bishop of bishops. It is also the phrase which Augustine uses when he quotes the words of Cyprian from the Seventh Council of Carthage in his treatise On Bapism, written against the Donatists.
In his opening remarks, Steve Ray makes these statements about my use of Cyprian’s comments:

This is an interesting quotation Bill brings to bear but with it we have a few problems. Maybe he should have read it more carefully and checked the translation and context.

Given the above documentation it is clear that there is nothing improper in the translation and the interpretation I have given to Cyprian’s words is supported by the context and the interpretation of conservative Roman Catholic scholars. It is Steve Ray who is distorting Cyprian’s words and the translation by twisting its meaning and ignoring the historical context.

This interpretation of Cyprian’s remarks as being a repudiation of the authority claims of Stephen is also seen in the response of Firmilian, the bishop of Cappadocia, to Stephen. He likewise was involved in the conflict with Stephen. Firmilian and the churches in Cappadocia fully supported Cyprian’s views on the rebaptism of heretics and had the support of councils held at Synnada and Iconium in Phrygia. Firmilian and the other bishops of Asia Minor were threatened with the withdrawal of communion with Rome if they did not submit to the decrees of Stephen. Dionysius of Alexandria attempted to mediate the situation between Stephen and the Churches in Asia Minor and Carthage. His comments in a personal letter to the successor of Stephen, pope Xystus (Sixtus II) as recorded by Eusebius, demonstrates that the controversy encompassed not only North Africa but a large portion of Asia Minor. Eusebius gives the following information:

But Stephen, having filled his office two years, was succeeded by Xystus. Dionysius wrote him a second epistle on baptism, in which he shows him at the same time the opinion and judgment of Stephen and the other bishops, and speaks in this manner of Stephen: “He therefore had written previously concerning Helenus and Firmilians, and all those in Cilicia and Cappadocia and Galatia and the neighboring nations, saying that he would not commune with them for this same cause; namely, that they re-baptized heretict But consider the importance of the matter. For truly in the largest synods of the bishops, as I learn, decrees have been issued on this subject, that those coming over heresies should be instructed, and then should be washed and cleansed from the filth of the old and impure leaven. And I wrote entreating him concerning all these things” (Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1995), Second Series, Volume I, pp. 294-295).

In my original response to Steve Ray, I said this about Firmilian:

It is obvious from these comments that these bishops (Carthage) reject the notion that one particular bishop holds a position of authority over other bishops as head of the Church universal. No single bishop can legitimately claim to be ‘Bishop of Bishops’ as they put it. This is further illustrated by Firmilian, the leading bishop of Cappadocia, who completely supported Cyprian in his opposition to Stephen. In a personal letter to Cyprian he expressed his own personal opposition to Stephen by stating that Stephen had fallen into error and adopted a false ecclesiology by misinterpreting Matthew 16. He gives his point of view in the following words:

But how great his error, how exceeding his blindness, who says, that remission of sins can be given in the synagogues of heretics, and abideth not on the foundation of the one Church which was once fixed by Christ on a rock, may be hence learnt, that Christ said to Peter alone, Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven: and again in the Gospel, when Christ breathed on the Apostles only, saying, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. The power then of remitting sins was given to the Apostles, and the Churches which they, sent by Christ, established, and to the Bishops who succeeded them by vicarious ordination.
And herein I am justly indignant at such open and manifest folly in Stephen, that he who boasts of the seat of his episcopate, and contends that he holds the succession from Peter, on whom the foundations of the Church were laid, introduces many other rocks, and buildeth anew many Churches, in that by his authority he maintains baptism among them...Nor does he perceive that he who thus betrays and abandons unity, casts into the shade, and in a manner effaces, the truth of the Christian Rock...Stephen, who proclaims that he occupies by succession the chair of Peter, is roused by no zeal against heretics...He who concedes and assigns to heretics such great and heavenly privileges of the Church, what else does he than hold communion with them, for whom he maintains and claims so much grace?...But as to the refutation of the argument from custom, which they seem to oppose to the truth, who so foolish as to prefer custom to truth, or not to leave darkness, when he sees light?...And this you of Africa may say in answer to Stephen, that on discovering the truth you abandoned the error of custom. But we join custom to truth, and to the custom of the Romans we oppose custom, but that of truth; from the beginning holding that which was delivered by Christ and by His Apostles
(A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford: Parker, 1844), The Epistles of St. Cyprian, Epistle LXXV. 17, 18, 20, pp. 279-281).

Firmilian expresses a view of the overall government of the Church which is directly opposed to that of Vatican I. He states that the keys were given to Peter alone as a representative of the Church universal, but were subsequently given to all the Apostles who then passed them on to every legitimate succeeding bishop. In the mind of Firmilian, all bishops are on an equal footing. He mocks Stephen’s claim of superiority to other bishops based on his possessing a unique Petrine succession. According to Firmilian all bishops possess the chair of Peter and are built upon the rock. This is not the exclusive and unique possession of the bishops of Rome. And if, as Firmilian claims Stephen did, they depart from the unity of the Church which is expressed in the collegiality of its bishops, they separate themselves from the rock and foundation of the Church. Because Stephen, in Firmilian’s view, had departed from Apostolic truth, he was no longer in unity with Apostolic succession and the rock foundation of the Church. The Roman see itself was not inherently authoritative simply because it could claim a Petrine foundation and succession. This did not impress the Eastern bishops. The important thing to them, and to Cyprian as well, was conformity to Apostolic truth. Where Roman custom opposed what they considered to be truth, they felt obliged to oppose the bishop of Rome. These bishops did not submit to the bishop of Rome and Cyprian died out of communion with him. They clearly did not view the Roman bishop as the universal ruler of the Church, nor communion with him a necessary condition for membership in the Church universal. Cyprian could say, ‘He who does not have the Church for his mother does not have God for his father,’ but in so stating he did not mean submission to and communion with the bishop of Rome.’

Robert Eno gives the following summation of Firmilian’s response to Stephen’s demands and the theology upon which they were based:

This is the first known appeal of a Roman bishop to Peter’s authority, indeed to the classical Petrine Gospel texts. But we must note as well that Firmilian not only does not accept the claim, he seems never to have heard of it before....This early assertion of Roman authority does not appear to have moved Firmilian, and its stated basis was unknown to him (Robert Eno, The Rise of the Papacy (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1990), pp. 64-65).

Steve Ray made the following assertions regarding the authority claims of Rome in his book Upon This Rock:

The bishop of Rome was unique in assuming the authority and obligation to oversee the Churches. Clement and Ignatius make this clear from the first century and the beginning of the second. If the authority exercised had been illegitimate, or wrongly arrogated, it would have been an act of overzealousness at one end of the spectrum, of tyranny at the other. Yet no one ever stood up and said, “No, you have no authority. Who are you to order us, to teach us, to require obedience from us, to excommunicate us?” If the jurisdictional primacy of Rome had been a matter of self-aggrandizement, someone would have opposed it as they opposed other innovations and heresies in the Church. The silence is profound (Upon This Rock (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1999), p. 13).

These assertions are proven false from the historical facts surrounding the controversy between Stephen and Cyprian and Firmilian. The significance of the response of these two Church fathers lies in the fact that it is in response to the first recorded instance of the primacy claims of the bishop of Rome. And the response of bishops from the East and West is an immediate repudiation of such claims and opposition to his demands for submission.

3) Steve Ray questions my use of the translation of the Oxford edition as if I had some sinister motive. He accuses me of using a translation that would give a slanted view of Cyprian’s words. He takes issue with the fact that the Ante-Nicene Fathers and William Jurgens translate the passage from Cyprian as saying ‘No one of us sets himself up as a bishop of bishops’, while the Oxford edition simply says: ‘No one setteth himself up as a bishop of bishops’. He takes issue with the omission of the pronoun ‘us’ in the Oxford translation and concludes that this is a twisting of Cyprian’s original statement. He states: ‘Cyprian does not say, as the old English translation used by Bill implies (why didn’t Bill use The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers edition published by Eerdmans, like he did the other passages of the Fathers?) that ‘no one setteth himself up as a Bishop of Bishops’ as though this is a final decree of the Council – no one like the Bishop of Rome has the authority to set themselves up as a supreme bishop. However, the two alternative translations in my library quote the words of Cyprian a bit differently, which is why I think Bill used the translation he did. The Eerdman’s edition of the Council of Carthage and St. Augustine’s later quotation of the same passage (On Baptism, Against the Donatists) translated by the Rev. Ernest Wallis, Ph.D., renders the passage ‘For no one of us sets himself up as a bishop of bishops’ (ANF 5:565) Notice the little preposition ‘us’. Who does the ‘us’ refer to? The African Bishops! Cyprian does not say ‘no one is ‘Bishop of Bishops’ but ‘none of us African bishops claim to be a bishop of bishops.’ This is quite a different thing from the slanted implications drawn by Bill using a translation that suits his purpose...So, why does Bill use the translation that suits his purpose and doesn’t give the full implication of the whole context, both textual and historical?

Webster’s Response: There is no ulterior motive here or an attempt to use a translation that suits my purpose which by implication is to distort the historical facts. The translation is true to what Cyprian is saying. As we have seen, Roman Catholic scholars, William Jurgens and Robert Eno, have both acknowledged that Cyprian is doing precisely what Steve Ray is denying he is doing in the above comments. Cyprian is indeed saying, and the council of 86 Bishops and those in the East agree with him: ‘no one like the Bishop of Rome has the authority to set themselves up as a supreme bishop.’ Remember the conclusion that was drawn from his treatise On the Unity of the Church as expressed by Robert Eno:

It is clear that in Cyprian’s mind...one theological conclusion he does not draw is that the bishop of Rome has authority which is superior to that of the African bishops’ (Robert Eno, The Rise of the Papacy (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1990), pp. 57-60).

This is the interpretation that William Jurgens says is the clear implication of Cyprian’s words, even when he uses the pronoun ‘us’. As Jurgens says: ‘it is clearly the sense of the passage: 'No bishop sets himself up as a bishop with authority over other bishops’. There is no difference in the meaning of the text whether you translate it as ‘no one sets himself up as bishop of bishops’ or as ‘no one of us sets himself up as bishop of bishops.’ When Cyprian states that no one of us sets himself up as a bishop of bishops the ‘us’ there is not restrictive to the Western Bishops at Carthage but is inclusive of the bishops universally in the Church. William Jurgens affirms this point when he says the meaning is: 'No bishop sets himself up as a bishop with authority over other bishops.' So, according to Jurgens, the Oxford translation is completely legitimate in its rendering.

The Oxford edition was an Anglican work of the mid 19th century, one of the editors of which was, if I am not mistaken, John Henry Newman. The translation he gives in no way alters what Cyprian says or gives a slanted view. It is the same view espoused by Jurgens and Eno and to my knowledge the vast majority of competent scholars. Steve’s charge here about using a translation that suits my purpose is proven from the foregoing facts to be utterly groundless.

4) Steve Ray says: ‘The position of Pope Stephen is eventually vindicated as the true teaching of the Apostles and the whole Church. It is the position held by the Church today and by most Protestants as well, probably even Bill and his tradition.’

Webster’s Response: It was and is not the view of the whole Church. The Eastern Church did not fully embrace the perspective of Rome. They eventually took a middle course between Cyprian and Firmilian and that of Stephen. They accepted schismatical but rejected heretical baptism. The editor’s of the Oxford Edition of the Fathers give the following affirmation:

There were three views in the ancient Church: first, that of the early African Church and of Asia Minor, in the time of Firmilian, which rejected all baptism out of the Church, schismatical as well as heretical; second, that of the Greek Church generally, stated fully by S. Basil, which accepted schismatical, but rejected heretical baptism; third, that first mentioned by Stephen, Bishop of Rome, who accepted all baptism, even of heretics, which had been given in the name of the Trinity. The second continues to be the rule of the Greek, the third (with some modifications) of the Latin, Church (A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford: Parker, 1844), Volume 30, p. 281).

Eastern fathers who reject heretical baptism include: Basil the Great, Athanasius, Epiphanius, and Cyril of Jerusalem. One can find an expression of Basil’s view in Canons 1 and 47 of the Canons of Basil.

5) Webster also says St. Cyprian died out of communion with Pope Stephen. He did not. St. Augustine uses the fact that St. Cyprian maintained communion with the whole Church including Rome as his main argument against the Donatists who actually did break communion. What Webster, the self-claimed patristic expert fails to know, is that St. Stephen died a year “before” St. Cyprian, and St. Cyprian died in good relations with Pope Stephen’s successor St. Sixtus II. Was St. Cyprian canonized a saint because he was out of communion? Come on Bill, you know better than that.”

Webster’s Response: Sorry Steve, I did not state this correctly. What I meant to say is that Cyprian was never reconciled to Stephen and he continued his opposition to the Roman practice even after Stephen died. He was not a schismatic. But he nonetheless never submitted to Rome on the issue of heretical baptism and therefore he was out of communion with Rome regarding that issue. It was not Cyprian who was taking initiative to cut off communion but Stephen. It was Stephen who was threatening to withdraw communion with the North African Churches and those in Asia Minor if they did not submit, which they didn’t. They remained steadfast in their opposition to Rome. William Jurgens affirms this in the following summation of Cyprian’s practice which reflected his theory of ecclesiology:

Although Cyprian was on excellent terms with Pope St. Cornelius...he fell out sharply with Cornelius’ successor, Pope St. Stephen...on the question of the rebaptizing of converted heretics. It was the immemorial custom of the African Church to regard Baptism conferred by heretics as invalid, and in spite of Stephen’s severe warnings, Cyprian never yielded. His attitude was simply that every bishop is responsible for his own actions, answerable to God alone (William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers (Collegeville: Liturgical, 1970), Volume I, p. 216-217).

Stephen’s threats apparently never materialized because he was martyred. But as Jurgens says Cyprian never yielded. The issue with Rome was never resolved. Sixtus II simply refused to make an issue out it. Cyprian died out of communion with Rome on this issue and the North African Church and the Eastern Churches continued their practices in opposition to the Roman practice. Robert Eno and W.H.C. Frend affirm this to be the case:

Eno: ‘Such a sad state of affairs certainly seems like a schism. But Stephen died; in the persecution of Valerian, Cyprian was exiled (257) and then executed (258). The practices of rebaptism in North Africa and Asia Minor continued unchanged into the fourth century, so that once more Roman demands for uniformity do not seem to have accomplished their purpose’ (Robert Eno, The Rise of the Papacy (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1990), p. 65).

Frend: ‘For the next forty years (after 260 A.D.) Rome and Carthage remained at peace. Their bishops were relatively obscure men who left little mark on history, but neither see abandoned its position’ (W.H.C. Frend, The Rise of Christianity (Philadelphia: Augsburg, 1984), p. 357).

He was canonized a saint even though he was never reconciled with Rome on this issue. When I refer to Cyprian being out of communion with Rome I do not mean that he became a schismatic but that the issue was never resolved and he remained steadfast in his opposition to Rome on that point.

Steve did point out an error in one of my statements in reference to the participants at the Council of Carthage. He says: ‘Jurgens says of this council ‘The Seventh Council of Carthage, of which Cyprian was president, met with eighty-seven bishops present (from the African church, and not from the East and West as stated by Bill), in the year 256 A.D.’ I erroneously assumed that due to the aggressive support Cyprian had received from the East that there were Eastern bishops present at the Council. I was mistaken. All 87 Bishops were western bishops from the region of North Africa. Thanks for pointing this out. It has been duly noted and corrected.

By the way, Steve, you can employ ad hominem remarks if you like such as referring to me as a self-claimed patristics expert. I have never made such a claim and never will. But why is it, as the forgoing facts demonstrate, that patristic scholars, including Roman Catholics, support my conclusions and oppose yours?

Bill Webster

 

The Full Text of Ray’s Response

Posted by Sknapper on June 09, 1999 at 23:49:43:
In Reply to: Weak Critique of my New Book “UPON THIS ROCK” posted by Steve Ray on June 09, 1999 at 14:40:56:

About the “argument from silence” you talk about... how nobody questioned the Pope thing... I mean, he provided a quote from a council that showed there was at least one outcry of “invention”, because they were like, “nobody can be Bishop among bishops”... Maybe I’m misunderstanding the terminology used or something... but it sounds like there wasn’t complete silence on the issue...??? Just wondering how you would respond to that...

Posted by Steve Ray on June 13, 1999 at 21:49:00:
In Reply to: One thing about Webster’s crituque made me wonder... posted by Sknapper on June 09, 1999 at 23:49:43:

“This is an interesting quotation Bill brings to bear but with it we have a few problems. Maybe he should have read it more carefully and checked the translation and context. First, this comment on ‘the Bishop of Bishops” is not a decree of the council but a statement made by St. Cyprian within the council. Actually, we do not have the decrees of this council but only a collection of various bishop’s comments who attended the council. Cyprian provides a multitude of opinions expressed by bishops attending the council to show a consensus of opinion on the baptism of heretics (not on the primacy of Rome). Whereas Bill attempts to give the opinion that the Council made a solemn decree that no bishop could be a bishop of bishops, this is certainly not the case.
Second, Cyprian does not say, as the old English translation used by Bill implies (why didn’t Bill use The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers edition published by Eerdmans, like he did the other passages of the Fathers?) that “no one setteth himself up as a Bishop of Bishops” as though this is a final decree of the Council – no one like the Bishop of Rome has the authority to set themselves up as a supreme bishop. However, the two alternate translations in my library quote the words of Cyprian a bit differently, which is why I think Bill used the translation he did. The Eerdman’s edition of the Council of Carthage and St. Augustine’s later quotation of the same passage (On Baptism, Against the Donatists) translated by the Rev. Robert Ernest Wallis, Ph.D., renders the passage “For no one of us sets himself up as a bishop of bishops” (ANF 5:565). Notice the little preposition “us”. Who does the “us” refer to? The African bishops! Cyprian does not say “no one is Bishop of Bishops” but “none of us African bishops claim to be a bishop of bishops”. This is quite a different thing from the slanted implications drawn by Bill using a translation that suits his purpose. This statement of Cyprian does imply a rebuke indirectly directed at Pope Stephen, but it is certainly not the outright denial of authoritative office that Bill implies and it certainly doesn’t meet the criterion I set in my book. We will mention St. Augustine’s use of this passage in a moment.

The second and alternative translation of this passage from Cyprian and the Seventh Ecumenical Council of Carthage is in William Jurgens’ Faith of the Early Fathers. We find the same distinction here. Jurgens says this of the council “The Seventh Council of Carthage, of which Cyprian was president, met with eighty-seven bishops present (from the African church, and not from the East and West as stated by Bill), in the year 256 A.D. The subject of their meeting was now the hotly controverted question of the baptism of heretics. They refused to acquiesce to the demands of Pope St. Stephen, even in the face of his threats of excommunication. Emissaries were sent to Rome from the council, but Stephen refused to give the audience” (Jurgens, 1:240). Interestingly enough, Cyprian and the African bishops sent emissaries to Rome and they were rebuffed for they represented a renegade council and the African church was threatened by Pope St. Stephen with excommunication. Do we find any statement by the Africans that St. Stephen had not authority to excommunicate them any more than Irenaeus never denied the authority of Pope Victor to excommunicate the Asian churches in the second century?

In Jurgens we find the words of Cyprian and the Council thus: “For neither does anyone of us set himself up as a bishop” (Jurgens, 1:240). Jurgens, in an endnote states that the double use of the word “bishop” is actually a variant reading.

St. Augustine quotes Cyprian and the Council word for word it is cited the same way as translated earlier by Wallis though this is translated by J. R. King. He translates it “For no one of us sets himself up as a bishop of bishops” (On Baptism, Against the Donatists in NPNF first series, 4:426). Interesting enough, earlier in the same book, St. Augustine sets the stage to show how Peter and Cyprian both worked to preserve the unity, while the Donatists brought about schism. St. Augustine writes of Peter and Cyprian, “The authority of Cyprian does not alarm me, because I am reassured by his humility. We know, indeed, the great merit of the bishop and martyr Cyprian; but is it in any way greater than that of the apostle and martyr Peter, of whom the said Cyprian speaks as follows in his epistle to Quintus? ‘For neither did Peter, whom the Lord chose first, and on whom He built His Church, when Paul afterwards disputed with him about circumcision, claim or assume anything insolently and arrogantly to himself, so as to say that he held the primacy, and should rather be obeyed of those who were late and newly come’. [The statement of Cyprian does not deny a primacy; rather, it affirms the primacy. It shows the great humility of Peter in that even though he had the great primacy, he was still humble when shown when and how he was wrong in his practice. Cyprian’s challenge was for Pope Stephen to have the same humility in his primacy that Peter had shown in his primacy.] I suppose that there is no slight to Cyprian in comparing him with Peter in respect to his crown of martyrdom; rather I ought to be afraid lest I am showing disrespect towards Peter. For who can be ignorant that the primacy of his apostleship [in his see, as stated in the next sentence] is to be preferred to any episcopate whatever? But, granting the difference in the dignity of their sees, yet they have the same glory in their martyrdom” (NPNF first series, 4:425, 426).

So, why does Bill use the translation that suits his purpose and doesn’t give the full implication of the whole context, both textual and historical? He certainly does no damage to my claim in Upon this Rock and once again shows his true colors. It should also be noted that even with all the bluster and resistance of the Cyprian and the African bishops, the position of Pope Stephen is eventually vindicated as the true teaching of the Apostles and the whole Church. It is the position held by the Church today and by most Protestants as well, probably even Bill and his tradition. The whole book of St. Augstine, is a chastisement of the Donatists who have separated them from the Church. Bill would be one that St. Augustine would chastise soundly for being is schism from the Catholic Church of which St. Augustine was a bishop. Bill assumes the mantle of patristic expertise, yet if he ever met Augustine he would be soundly reproved for his denial of the majority of what St. Augustine held as non-negotiable, especially in regards to ecclesiology.

Webster also says St. Cyprian died out of communion with Pope Stephen. He did not. St. Augustine uses the fact that St. Cyprian maintained communion with the whole Church including Rome as his main argument against the Donatists who actually did break communion. What Webster, the self-claimed patristic expert fails to know, is that St. Stephen died a year “before” St. Cyprian, and St. Cyprian died in good relations with Pope Stephen’s successor St. Sixtus II. Was St. Cyprian canonized a saint because he was out of communion? Come on Bill, you know better than that.”

Just a start on one point in his rebuttal. God bless.