The Catholic University of America


Final Examination
Benjamin Safranski
for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
10:00a.m., Caldwell Hall, Room 125


St. cyprian of carthage and the college of bishops
Director: Dr. Tarmo Toom, Ph.D.
          The episcopate of St. Cyprian of Carthage was replete with crises which involved the opinions and actions of his fellow-bishops. Regarding these crises, scholarly attention has largely been devoted to the issues themselves and the results of the crises. Less attention has been paid to the ways in which Cyprian envisioned and acted within the sacerdotum collegium (ep. 59.5.2) both within his own province and in the Christian world generally. In addition, a modern debate has taken place among ecclesiologists concerning Cyprian’s place in the development of episcopal authority and collegiality. Russian Orthodox priest-scholar Nicolas Afanasiev lamented Cyprian as the father of universal ecclesiology. Afanasiev claimed that Cyprian’s college wielded authority above that of the local bishop. Scholars both Catholic and Orthodox have disagreed for a variety of reasons. The grounds of this debate in the relationships between bishops in Cyprian’s time have not yet been examined at length.
This dissertation critically assesses the schema of episcopal cooperation that Cyprian envisioned. It outlines and assesses the various interactions between local bishops, provincial colleges of bishops, and the worldwide college.  Assessing these interactions sheds light on the relationship between Cyprian’s strong sense of local autonomy and the reality that each bishop was responsible to the world-wide college of which he was a part. It concludes with in-depth evaluation of Afanasiev’s ecclesiology and his critiques of Cyprian.
           This dissertation comes to two notable conclusions. The first is that episcopal consensus was the sine qua non, for Cyprian, for a major issue of faith or practice to become one that defined membership in the college and, ultimately, the Church. The second is that Afanasiev fundamentally misconstrued Cyprian’s understanding of collegiality. It is shown that, for Cyprian, collegiality was the framework for the common ministry of the bishops and did not infringe on the sovereignty of the local bishop. Rather, the college’s duty was to define the boundaries of acceptable Christian belief and practice. The failure to do this, in Cyprian’s mind, would have had major consequences for the integrity of the Faith and the purity of Christ’s Body.