« Prev Novatian Next »

§ 200. Novatian.

(I.) Novatiani, Presbyteri Romani, Opera quae exstant omnia. Ed. by Gagnaeus (Par. 1545, in the works of Tertullian); Gelenius (Bas. 1550 and 1562); Pamelius (Par. 1598); Gallandi (Tom III.); Edw. Welchman (Oxf. 1724); J. Jackson (Lond. 1728, the best ed.); Migne (in "Patrol. Lat." Tom. III. col. 861–970). Migne’s ed. includes the dissertation of Lumper and the Commentary of Gallandi.

English translation by R. E. Wallis in Clark’s "Ante-Nicene Library," vol. II. (1869), p. 297–395; Comp. vol. I. 85 sqq.

(II.) Euseb.: H. E. VI. 43, 44, 45. Hieron.: De Vir. ill. 66 and 70; Ep. 36 ad Damas.; Apol. adv. Ruf. II. 19. Socrates: H. E. IV. 28. The Epistles Of Cyprian and Cornelius referring to the schism of Novatian (Cypr. Ep. 44, 45, 49, 52, 55, 59, 60, 68, 69, 73). Epiphanius: Haer. 59; Socrates: H. E IV. 28. Theodor.: Haer. Fab. III. 5. Photius Biblioth. 182, 208, 280.

(III.) Walch: Ketzerhistorie II. 185–288. Schoenemann: Biblioth. Hist. Lit. Patr. Latinorum, I. 135–142. Lumper: Dissert. de Vita, Scriptis, et doctrina Nov., in Migne’s ed. III. 861–884. Neander, I. 237–248, and 687 (Am ed.) Caspari: Quellen zur Gesch. des Taufsymbols, III. 428–430, 437–439. Jos. Langen (Old Cath.): Gesch. der röm. Kirche (Bonn 1881), p. 289–314. Harnack; Novatian in Herzog2 X. (1882), p. 652–670. Also the works on Cyprian, especially Fechtrup. See Lit. § 199. On Novatian’s doctrine of the trinity and the person of Christ see Dorner’s Entwicklungsgesch. der L. v. d. Pers. Christi (1851), I. 601–604. (Dem Tertulliannahe stehend, von ihm abhängig, aber auch ihn verflachend ist Novatian.")

Novatian, the second Roman anti-Pope (Hippolytus being probably the first), orthodox in doctrine, but schismatic in discipline, and in both respects closely resembling Hippolytus and Tertullian, flourished in the middle of the third century and became the founder of a sect called after his name.15581558    Novatiani, in the East also Καθαροί, which is equivalent to Puritans.559 He was a man of unblemished, though austere character, considerable biblical and philosophical learning, speculative talent, and eloquence.15591559    Jerome calls him and Tertullian eloquentissimi viri (Ad Dam. Ep. 36). Eusebius speaks unfavorably of him on account of bis severe discipline, which seemed to deny mercy to poor sinners.560 He is moreover, next to Victor and Minucius Felix, the first Roman divine who used the Latin Language, and used it with skill. We may infer that at his time the Latin had become or was fast becoming the ruling language of the Roman church, especially in correspondence with North Africa and the West; yet both Novatian and his rival Cornelius addressed the Eastern bishops in Greek. The epitaphs of five Roman bishops of the third century, Urbanus, Anteros, Fabianus, Lucius, and Eutychianus (between 223 and 283), in the cemetery of Callistus are Greek, but the epitaph of Cornelius (251–253) who probably belonged to the noble Roman family of that name, is Latin ("Cornelius Martyr E. R. X.")15601560    On the subject of the official language of the Roman Church, see especially the learned and conclusive investigations of Caspari, l.c. III. 430 sqq., and the inscriptions in De Rossi, Rom. sotter. I. 277 sqq., 293, and II. 76 sqq. Also Harnack: D. Pseudo-Cyprian. Tractat D Aleatoribus, 1888. Cornelius was not buried officially by the Roman Church, but by private members of the same.561

At that time the Roman congregation numbered forty presbyters, seven deacons, seven sub-deacons, forty-two acolytes, besides exorcists, readers and janitors, and an "innumerable multitude of the people," which may have amounted perhaps to about 50,000 members.15611561    See the letter of Cornelius to Fabius, preserved by Euseb. VI. 33.562

We know nothing of the time and place of the birth and death of Novatian. He was probably an Italian. The later account of his Phrygian origin deserves no credit, and may have arisen from the fact that he had many followers in Phrygia, where they united with the Montanists. He was converted in adult age, and received only clinical baptism by sprinkling on the sick bed without subsequent episcopal confirmation, but was nevertheless ordained to the priesthood and rose to the highest rank in the Roman clergy. He conducted the official correspondence of the Roman see during the vacancy from the martyrdom of Fabian, January 21, 250, till the election of Cornelius, March, 251. In his letter to Cyprian, written in the name of "the presbyters and deacons abiding at Rome,"15621562    Ep. XXX. of Cyprian (Oxf. and Hartel’s edd.). English version in "Ante-Nic. Libr., " Cyprian’s works, I. 85-92. That this letter was written by Novatian, appears from Cyprian’s Ep. LV. (ad Antonianum) cap. 4, where Cyprian quotes a passage from the same, and then adds "Additum est etiam Novatiano tunc scribente," etc.563 he refers the question of the restoration of the lapsed to a future council, but shows his own preference for a strict discipline, as most necessary in peace and in persecution, and as "the rudder of safety in the tempest."15631563    Ch. 2. Comp. also ch. 3, where he says: "Far be it from the Roman Church to slacken her vigor with so profane a facility, and to loosen the nerves of her severity by overthrowing the majesty of faith; so that when the wrecks of your ruined brethren are not only lying, but are falling around, remedies of a too hasty kind, and certainly not likely to avail, should be afforded for Communion; and by a false mercy, new wounds should be impressed on the old wounds of their transgression; so that even repentance should be snatched from there wretched beings, to their greater overthrow." And in ch. 7: "Whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father and before his angels. For God, as He is merciful, so He exacts obedience to his precepts, and indeed carefully exacts it; and as be invites to the banquet, so the man that hath not a wedding garment be binds hands and feet, and casts him out beyond the assembly of the saints. He has prepared heaven but he has also prepared hell. He has prepared places of refreshment, but he has also prepared eternal punishment. He has prepared the light that none can approach unto, but he has also prepared the vast and eternal gloom of perpetual night." At the close be favors an exception in case of impending death of the penitent lapsed, to whom cautious help should be administered, "that neither ungodly men should praise our smooth facility, nor truly penitent men accuse our severity as cruel." This letter relieves Novatian of the reproach of being chiefly influenced in his schism by personal motives, as Pope Cornelius (Euseb. VI. 43), and Roman historians maintain (also Harnack, in Herzog X. 661).564

He may have aspired to the papal chair to which he seemed to have the best claim. But after the Decian persecution had ceased his rival Cornelius, unknown before, was elected by a majority of the clergy and favored the lenient discipline towards the Fallen which his predecessors Callistus and Zephyrinus had exercised, and against which Hippolytus had so strongly protested twenty or thirty years before. Novatian was elected anti-Pope by a minority and consecrated by three Italian bishops.15641564    "Ex exigna et vilissima Italiae parte." See Jaffé Regesta Pontif. Rom. p. 7. Cornelius, in his letter to Fabian (Euseb. VI. 43), describes these three bishops as contemptible ignoramuses, who were intoxicated when they ordained Novatian "by a shadowy and empty imposition of hands."565 He was excommunicated by a Roman council, and Cornelius denounced him in official letters as "a deceitful, cunning and savage beast." Both parties appealed to foreign churches. Fabian of Antioch sympathized with Novatian, but Dionysius of Alexandria, and especially Cyprian who in the mean time had relaxed his former rigor and who hated schism like the very pest, supported Cornelius, and the lax and more charitable system of discipline, together with worldly conformity triumphed in the Catholic church. Nevertheless the Novatian schism spread East and West and maintained its severe discipline and orthodox creed in spite of imperial persecution down to the sixth century. Novatian died a martyr according to the tradition of his followers. The controversy turned on the extent of the power of the Keys and the claims of justice to the purity of the church and of mercy towards the fallen. The charitable view prevailed by the aid of the principle that out of the church there is no salvation.

Novatian was a fruitful author. Jerome ascribes to him works On the Passover; On the Sabbath; On Circumcision; On the Priest (De Sacerdote); On Prayer; On the Jewish Meats; On Perseverance;15651565    De Instantia, probably in persecution, not in prayer. See Caspari, p. 428, note 284 versus Lardner and Lumper, who explain it of Perseverance in prayer: but this was no doubt treated in De Oratione, for which, however, the Vatican Cod. reads De Ordinatione.566 On Attilus (a martyr of Pergamus); and "On the Trinity."

Two of these books are preserved. The most important is his Liber de Trinitate (31 chs.), composed a.d. 256. It has sometimes been ascribed to Tertullian or Cyprian. Jerome calls it a "great work," and an extract from an unknown work of Tertullian on the same subject. Novatian agrees essentially with Tertullian’s subordination trinitarianism. He ably vindicates the divinity of Christ and of the Holy Spirit, strives to reconcile the divine threeness with unity, and refutes the Monarchians, especially the Sabellians by biblical and philosophical arguments.

In his Epistola de Cibus Judaicis (7 chapters) written to his flock from a place of retirement during persecution, he tries to prove by allegorical interpretation, that the Mosaic laws on food are no longer binding upon Christians, and that Christ has substituted temperance and abstinence for the prohibition of unclean animals, with the exception of meat offered to idols, which is forbidden by the Apostolic council (Acts 15).

« Prev Novatian Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection