Novatus of Carthage

Novatus Of Carthage, an Eastern ecclesiastic who flourished in the 3d century, is thought to have originated the Novatian heresy of which Novatian was the leader. Novatus is said to have rebelled against the episcopal authority of Cyprian, whom he had opposed from the time his name was mentioned for the see of Carthage. Novatus fled from Carthage to Rome to avoid the sentence of Cyprian, and there became an associate and a coadjutor of Novatian, procured him many friends, and with vast zeal and effort cherished and promoted his cause, as is abundantly proved by the Epistles of Cyprian, by Jerome, by Pacian, and by many others. Novatian, a man gloomy and retiring, would have given way to admonition, or would have been easily overcome, had not his irresolute mind been excited and fortified by the various appliances of that factious, active, eloquent man, an adept at kindling the passions, who. was influenced, undoubtedly, by his hatred of Cyprian, the partisan of Cornelius. Necessity also urged Novatus to embrace and defend the party of Novatian with all his might, and even to the establishing of a new Church at Rome. He had repaired to Rome as to a haven of security, in order to be safe from the shafts of Cyprian and the Africans. But if Cornelius, the intimate of his adversary, should continue at the head' of the Romish Church, he himself would most assuredly be rejected and expelled from it. It was therefore necessary for him either to seek another asylum, or to cause Cornelius to be deposed from the bishopric, or, lastly, to establish a new Church in which he would find shelter. He therefore, more for his own safety than for the honor of Novatian, prevailed by his eloquence on the Roman confessors, i.e. on that portion of the Church which possessed the greatest influence and efficiency, to place themselves in opposition to Cornelius; a thing which Novatian either could not or would not attempt. Says Cyprian (Epist. 49, p. 65): "Novato illinc a vobis 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 ille ab urbe discessit; ad ecclesiam reverterunt." The same man, and not Novatian, who was a quiet mall, though austere and rigid, induced a portion of the people at Rome to abandon Cornelius. Says Cyprian: "Similia et paria Romne molitus est, quse Carthagine, a clero portionem plebis avellens, fraternitatis bene sibicohaerentis et se invicem diligentis concordiam scindens." He also persuaded Novatian, a timid man, and perhaps hesitating, to allow himself to be created bishop: "Qui istic (at Carthage) adversus ecclesiam diaconum fecerat, illic (at Rome) episcopum fecit;" i.e. he ceased not to urge Novatian and his friends, until he prevailed with the latter to elect a bishop, and with the former to take upon him that office. He likewise consented to be dispatched to Africa, with others, by the new bishop; and, thus empowered, he established at Carthage and other places bishops adhering to the Novatian party. Everything was planned and executed by the active Novatus, and nothing or but little by Novatian. "These acts," says Mosheim, ''were criminal, and they indicate a turbulent spirit thirsting for revenge, and more solicitous for victory and self-advancement than for either truth or tranquillity. All the ecclesiastical historians add this to his other crimes, that at Rome he approved opinions directly opposite to those which he maintained in Africa; whence they conclude that he showed his malignity by this whiffling and inconsistent course. At Carthage, say they, he was mild and lenient to the lapsed, and thought they ought, especially such of them as presented certificates of peace, to be kindly received, and be admitted to the Church and to the Lord's Supper, without undergoing penance; and this was intended to vex Cyprian. But at Rome, with Novatian, he excluded the lapsed forever from the Church; and was austere and uncompassionate in order to overthrow Cornelius. Cyprian, however, the most bitter of Novatus's enemies, enumerates all his faults, real or fictitious, in a long catalogue; but he does not mention this. Such silence in his enemy is alone sufficient, it would seem, to clear his memory from this charge. Cyprian likewise touches on the opinion which, after the example of Novatian, he maintained at Rome; but he does not add that while in Africa he held a different and opposite opinion, which he would doubtless not have omitted if Novatian could be justly charged with the inconsistendy. With an affectation of wit, Cyprian says: 'Damnare nunc audet sacrificantium manus (i.e. he denies that persons who have sacrificed with their hands should be received again into the Church), cum sit ipse nocentior pedibus (i.e. when he had himself been more guilty with his feet: very bad taste!), quibus filius qui nascebatur occisus est.' Novatus was reported to have kicked his pregnant wife in her abdomen. Cyprian would have used other language if Novatus had been chargeable with changing his opinions respecting the lapsed. He would have said: 'Damnare nunc audet sacrificantium manus, quum pedes eorum antea osculatus sit' (he now dares condemn the hands of sacrificers, whereas before he kissed their feet). This comparison would have more force and more truth. The learned have no other reason for believing that Novatus at Rome. condemned the lapsed, whom in Africa he patronized, except their per. suasion that he was one of the five presbyters who deserted Cyprian at Carthage; for Cyprian complains of them that they were too indulgent towards the lapsed.'

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