St. Cyprian remains a controversial and continually relevant figure in the history of the Church. Elected Bishop of Carthage a scant two years after becoming a Christian, his rule was christened by the Decian persecution of 249 A.D. in which the new emperor decreed that every citizen must offer sacrifice to the immortal gods. Apostasy was rampant, and Cyprian himself withdrew into exile. The remaining years of his episcopacy were necessarily devoted to the controversies surrounding the reconciliation and penance of the fallen. Cyprian chose the middle ground, refusing to accept the letters of the confessors (those who had not succumbed to apostasy during persecution) on behalf of the unfaithful, yet allowing for a process by which apostates could be received again into communion. J. Patout Burns focuses his study on the incarnation of St. Cyprian's theology within the social context of the times, specifically exploring his rulings on the rituals of reconciliation (through penance and rebaptism), his unflinching commitment to the indivisibility of the Church and the reasons his theologically sound doctrine faded into obscurity with the rise of the Constantinian revolution.
An Eighth Day View:
This is the first up-to-date, accessible study on the rule of Cyprian as the Bishop of Carthage in the 250s AD. It controversially shows that Cyprian radically enforced the primary emphasis on the unity of the church, interpreting loyalty in the community as fidelity to Christ.
It uses cultural anthropology to examine the impact of Cyprian's policy during the Decian persecution. Cyprian attempted to steer the middle ground between compromise and traditionalism and succeeded by defining the boundary between the empire and the church.
J. Patout Burns Jr. concentrates on social structures to reveal the logic of Cyprian's plan, the basis for its success in his time, and why it later failed. This book will be of great interest to classicists, ancient historians and sociologists as well as theologians.