Page:Vactican as a World Power.djvu/53

This page needs to be proofread.


Though much that occurred during the century prior to Constantine may seem merely the bickering of prelates and theologians, there was really taking place below the surface a ferment the settling of which into a genuinely Catholic wine must henceforth be the unceasing concern of the Church. The forty or fifty peaceful years between Caracalla's reign and the universal persecutions under the Emperors Decius and Valerian (who already confronted a state within a state so powerful that Decius could say he would be less concerned over a rival emperor than over a new bishop) were times when Christianity grew stronger and in which the Roman community came to number about 150 clerics of higher and lower rank. Then some of the Popes (for this word was already used) , began to advocate vigorously the idea of Roman primacy. This conformed with their responsibilities in the shadow of imperial Caesar and in the city whence the Empire was ruled. In this sense spoke Calixtus, the bishop whom the Roman authorities held under grave suspicion but had freed from bondage. He quoted as the basis for his claim Christ's words to Peter. Stephen I and Dionysius were likewise not averse to upholding the authority of Rome in matters of teaching. Yet Rome was, then as well as later on, not so much the creator as the guardian of religious life, which seems to grow most abundantly outside the city in fields of greater fertility. If one wishes to list the foremost Christian personages of the third century, one must begin with the Africans, Cyprian and Tertullian, who also represented the two divergent attitudes of objec- tive Catholicism and personal romantic religion. During the conflict which they engendered and brought to a solution, the Church began to formulate a new definition of its nature.

There was a generation's difference of age between the two Africans. Tertullian, who in his early years had been the steward of an estate in Rome, abjured heathenism after a youth of excesses. Cyprian, teacher of rhetoric, was nearly fifty when he became a Christian about 246. Two or three years later he was consecrated Bishop of Carthage. The writings of the elder were to be the daily bread of the younger man: and yet each one's life work was as a whole as different from the other's as were their personal characters. Common to both was the chialistic mood: resistance against a world caught in the bondage of evil, a desire to reconstruct all in the Christian sense, and opposition to the forces