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Novatian

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Treatise
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Greek
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Estimated Range of Dating: 251-258 A.D.

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Information on Novatian

Ronald E. Heine writes, "With Novatianism we return to the spirit of Tertullian, and the issue of Christian discipline. The Novatian schism began from a very specific occasion. In the episcopal election at Rome in March 251, Cornelius, rather than Novatian, was chosen as the successor of Fabian who had been martyred at the beginning of the Decian persecution. Novatian responded by establishing a rigorist Church of the 'Pure' (Eusebius, HE 6.43.1), which granted no reconciliation to those who had lapsed during the persecution, and had himself ordained as its bishop. Cyprian's Letters 4454, written in the weeks immediately following the election, document Novatian's angry reaction. The author of the anonymous Ad Novatianum, written only a few years later, hints that it was this rejection that prompted Novatian to set up a rival church, when he compares Novatian to Saul who was 'once a good man', but who turned against David out of 'envy' (14.4)." (The Cambridge History of Early Christian Literature, pp. 214-215)

J. Quasten writes, "Although Cornelius brands 'his craftiness and duplicity, his perjuries and falsehoods, his unsociability and wolf-like friendship' and goes so far as to call him a 'treacherous and malicious wild beast' (ibid. 6,43,6), he must have been eminently well-qualified, because about the year 250, he occupied a leading position among the clergy of Rome. In the correspondence of St. Cyprian we find two letters (Epist. 30,36) addressed to the bishop of Carthage in answer to questions about apostates (lapsi) and written during the long vacancy of the Apostolic See which preceded the election of Cornelius. Although sent in the name of the 'presbyters and deacons abiding at Rome,' they were composed by Novatian, as Cyprian testifies (Epist. 4,5) in regard to the first, and as contents and style prove for the second. Both are outstanding for their careful, elaborate and brilliant style and for the moderation and far-sightedness of their author. Epistle 30 makes it clear that the Church of Rome agrees fully with the bishop of Carthage regarding the maintenance of ecclesiastical discipline in the case of those who apostatised during the persecution, but does not wish to settle the question of their reconciliation until a new bishop is elected. Only in the case of imminent death should absolution be given." (Patrology, vol. 2, p. 213)

C. Schmidt writes, "Of the works of Novatian listed by Jerome (vir. ill. 70; ep. 36), representing the first works composed in Latin by a Roman theologian, only two have survived: the treatise De trinitate (trin.) found among the works of Tertullian, and the circular leter De cibis iudaicis (cib. Iud.), which is the same as the De mundis atque immundis animalibus, mentioned in the trin. The reason for the acceptance of trin. among Tertullian's works was probably the similarity to several titles of the African writer, and to a certain likeness in content. In its first part (1-8), Trin., an apologetic explanation (composed ca. 240) of the regula fidei regarding the Trinity, defends God the Father as creator of the world against the teachings of the gnostics; in its second part (9-28) it defends the unity of the godhead and humanity in Jesus Christ, the true Son of the creator, and his distinction from the Father against Marcionites, adoptionists, and modalists; in the third part (29) it explains the responsibility of the Spirit for the church and, in the fourth (30-31) the connection between the true godhead of the Son and the oneness of God. The work, which in its terminology is strongly influenced by Tertullian, reflects the still quite undeveloped christology and pneumatology of the 3rd c., which regarded the Father as a personal unity completely independent of the Son and gave the Spirit the role solely of a source of virtues that is bestowed on human beings in baptism." (Dictionary of Early Christian Literature, p. 437)

Ronald E. Heine, "Novatian's rigoristic religion found a following that lasted several centuries. Cyprian's prediction of its rapid demise after the initial enthusiasm cooled down proved wrong (Ep. 55.24.3). The Novatianist churches spread widely and rapidly, and could still be found in the fifth century in the West, and till the eighth century in the East." (The Cambridge History of Early Christian Literature, p. 216)


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