Presbyters Uniwersytet Warszawski
ER 1275
Cyprian, bishop of Carthage (North Africa), denounces the immoral behaviour of his ex-presbyter, Novatus. Cyprian, Letter 52, AD 251.
Epistula 52
Cyprianus Cornelio fratri s[alutem].
II,1. Nam de Nouato nihil inde ad nos fuerat nuntiandum, cum magis per nos uobis debeat Nouatus ostendi rerum nouarum semper cupidus, auaritiae inexplebilis rapacitate furibundus, adrogantia et stupore superbi tumoris inflatus, semper istic episcopis male cognitus, quasi haereticus semper et perfidus omnium sacerdotum uoce damnatus, curiosus semper ut prodat, ad hoc adulatur ut fallat, numquam fidelis ut diligat, fax et ignis ad conflanda seditionis incendia, turbo et tempestas ad fidei facienda naufragia, hostis quietis, tranquillitatis aduersarius, pacis inimicus.
2. Denique Nouato illinc a uobis recedente, id est procella et turbine recedente, ex parte illic quies facta est, et gloriosi ac boni confessores qui de ecclesia illo incitante discesserant, posteaquam ab urbe ille discessit, ad ecclesiam reuerterunt. Idem est Nouatus, qui apud nos primum discordiae et schismatis incendium seminauit, qui quosdam istic ex fratribus ab episcopo segregauit, qui in ipsa persecutione ad euertendas fratrum mentes alia quaedam persecutio nostri fuit.
3. Ipse est qui Felicissimum satellitem suum diaconum nec permittente me nec sciente sua factione et ambitione constituit et cum sua tempestate Romae quoque ad euertendam ecclesiam nauigans similia illic et paria molitus est, a clero portionem plebis auellens, fraternitatis bene sibi cohaerentis et se inuicem diligentis concordiam scindens. Plane quoniam pro magnitudine sua debebat Carthaginem Roma praecedere, illic maiora et grauioria commisit. Qui istic aduersus ecclesiam diaconum fecerat, illic episcopum fecit.
4. Nec hoc quisquam miretur in talibus. Feruntur semper mali suo furore dementes et posteaquam scelera fecerunt, conscientia ipsa sceleratae mentis agitantur. Nec remanere in ecclesia dei possunt qui deificam et ecclesiasticam disciplinam nec actus sui conuersatione nec morum pace tenuerunt.
5. Spoliati ab illo pupilli, fraudatae uiduae, pecuniae quoque ecclesiae denegatae has de illo exigunt poenas quas in eius furore conspicimus. Pater etiam eius in uico fame mortuus et ab eo in morte postmodum nec sepultus. Vterus uxoris calce percussus et abortione properante in parricidium partus expressus. Et damnare nunc audet sacrificantium manus, cum sit ipse nocentior pedibus, quibus filius qui nascebatur occisus est.
III. Hanc conscientiam criminum iam pridem timebat. Propter hoc se non de presbyterio excitari tantum, sed et communicatione prohiberi pro certo tenebat, et urgentibus fratribus imminebat cognitionis dies quo apud nos causa eius ageretur, nisi persecutio ante uenisset, quam iste uoto quodam euadendae et lucrandae damnationis excipiens haec omnia commisit et miscuit, ut qui eici de ecclesia et excludi habebat, iudicium sacerdotum uoluntaria discessione praecederet, quasi euasisse sit poenam praeuenisse sententiam.
(ed. Diercks 1994: 245-248)
Letter 52
Cyprian to Cornelius his brother, greeting.
II,1. For about Novatus there need have been nothing told by you to us, since Novatus ought rather to have been shown by us to you, as always greedy of novelty, raging with the rapacity of an insatiable avarice, inflated with the arrogance and stupidity of swelling pride; always known with bad repute to the bishops there; always condemned by the voice of all the priests as a heretic and a perfidious man; always inquisitive, that he may betray: he flatters for the purpose of deceiving, never faithful that he may love; a torch and fire to blow up the flames of sedition; a whirlwind and tempest to make shipwrecks of the faith; the foe of quiet, the adversary of tranquillity, the enemy of peace.  
2. Finally, when Novatus withdrew thence from among you, that is, when the storm and the whirlwind departed, calm arose there in part, and the glorious and good confessors who by his instigation had departed from the Church, after he retired from the city, returned to the Church. This is the same Novatus who first sowed among us the flames of discord and schism; who separated some of the brethren here from the bishop; who, in the persecution itself, was to our people, as it were, another persecution, to overthrow the minds of the brethren.
3. He it is who, without my leave or knowledge, of his own factiousness and ambition appointed his attendant Felicissimus a deacon, and with his own tempest sailing also to Rome to overthrow the Church, endeavoured to do similar and equal things there, forcibly separating a part of the people from the clergy, and dividing the concord of the fraternity that was firmly knit together and mutually loving one another. Since Rome from her greatness plainly ought to take precedence of Carthage, he there committed still greater and graver crimes. He who in the one place had made a deacon contrary to the Church, in the other made a bishop.
4. Nor let any one be surprised at this in such men. The wicked are always madly carried away by their own furious passions; and after they have committed crimes, they are agitated by the very consciousness of a depraved mind. Neither can those remain in God’s Church, who have not maintained its divine and ecclesiastical discipline, either in the conversation of their life or the peace of their character.
5. Orphans despoiled by him, widows defrauded, moneys moreover of the Church withheld, exact from him those penalties which we behold inflicted in his madness. His father also died of hunger in the street, and afterwards even in death was not buried by him. The womb of his wife was smitten by a blow of his heel; and in the miscarriage that soon followed, the offspring was brought forth, the fruit of a father's murder. And now does he dare to condemn the hands of those who sacrifice, when he himself is more guilty in his feet, by which the son, who was about to be born, was slain?
III. He long ago feared this consciousness of crime. On account of this he regarded it as certain that he would not only be turned out of the presbytery, but restrained from communion; and by the urgency of the brethren, the day of investigation was coming on, on which his cause was to be dealt with before us, if the persecution had not prevented. He, welcoming this, with a sort of desire of escaping and evading condemnation, committed all these crimes, and wrought all this stir; so that he who was to be ejected and excluded from the Church, anticipated the judgment of the priests by a voluntary departure, as if to have anticipated the sentence were to have escaped the punishment.


During the ecclesiastical turmoil following the Decian persecution, Novatus, the laxist presbyter of Carthage, sided with Novatianus, the rigorist presbyter of Rome. They opposed Bishops Cornelius of Rome and Cyprian of Carthage. We can doubt the exactness of the violent accusations raised by the latter against Novatus, but at least it gives us some glimpse of the family life and activities of a presbyter in the mid-3rd century.

Place of event:

  • Latin North Africa
  • Rome
  • Carthage
  • Rome

About the source:

Author: Cyprian
Title: Letters, Epistulae, Epistolae
Origin: Rome (Rome)
Denomination: Catholic/Nicene/Chalcedonian
Cyprian was born probably about AD 200. He converted to Christianity in about 245 and in 248 was elected Bishop of Carthage. Soon after, the Decian persecution began (in 249/250) and Cyprian went into hiding. In 251 he returned to the city. Under Valerian, he was exiled in 257 and executed in 258. The epistolary of Cyprian consists of 81 letters (16 of them by his correspondents, and 6 synodal or collective), the majority of them are from the period of 250-251, when they were the means of Cyprian`s communication with his clergy. They offer us a wide view on the organization of the Church in Carthage in the middle of the third century, her relation with the Church of Rome, on the development of the persecutions, and on the conflicts that they caused inside the Church.
Different numerations of Cyprian's letters exist, I follow the edition of Diercks in Corpus Christianorum.
G.F. Diercks ed., Sancti Cypriani Episcopi Epistularium. Epistulae 1-57, Corpus Christianorum. Series Latina 3B, Turnhout 1994.
J. Patout Burns Jr, Cyprian the Bishop, London & New York 2002.


Family life - Marriage
Family life - Permanent relationship after ordination
Family life - Offspring
Impediments or requisits for the office - Improper/Immoral behaviour
Public law - Ecclesiastical
    Relation with - Wife
    Relation with - Father/Mother
    Relation with - Woman
    Administration of justice - Excommunication/Anathema
      Administration of justice - Demotion
        Conflict - Violence
        Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL: S. Adamiak, Presbyters in the Late Antique West, ER1275,