Friday, September 02, 2005

Cyprian, God the Father, and the Ecclesia

Cyprian argues that there is no salvation outside the church (extra ecclesiam non salus): “He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother. If any one could escape who was outside the ark of Noah, then he also may escape who shall be outside of the Church.”[1] The bishop reasons that just as the ark functioned as a vessel of salvation in Noah's day, so the church now eternally delivers those who actively participate in the liturgy and sacraments. Unless one recognizes the church as mother through the sacraments, corporate worship and the bishop, he or she cannot have God as a Father, Cyprian insists.[2] It seems that both “mother” and “Father” are metaphors for here. The church is not ontologically a mother, but functionally serves in that capacity. Similarly, it seems reasonable to believe that for Cyprian, “Father” does not speak to God’s essence. Other portions of Cyprian’s work indicate that paternal speech for God in this pre-Nicene’s writings is a linguistic, not a metaphysical assertion. For instance, we read: “God, in proportion as with the affection of a Father is always indulgent and good, in the same proportion is to be dreaded with the majesty of a judge.”[3] Cyprian speaks of God as if he were a father or a judge.[4] He argues that Christians can identify the divine paternitas through the manifestation of qualities such as indulgence or goodness. However, the bishop does not believe that God is permissive. One must honor, reverence and fear him “in the same proportion” as one honors the majesty of a human judge or father. Cyprian thus preserves the requisite tension between the indulgence and severity of God.

[1] On the Unity of the Church (De Unica) 6; Epistula 73.7.

[2] See Campenhausen, Fathers of the Church, 48.

[3] On the Lapsed (De Lapsis) 35.

[4] See Adversus Hermogenem 3.

1 comment:

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