After Novatian’s break with the Church over the treatment of Christians who had lapsed in the persecution of Decius (AD 250–52), Church authorities were reluctant to recognize officially his contributions to Christian theology. Because his writings were too valuable to ignore, a number of them were attributed to less controversial authors. On the basis of stylistic and other internal evidence, scholars have been able to retrieve Novatian’s work from obscurity and to give him recognition as a pioneer of Roman Latin theology.
This volume presents translations of all Novatian’s surviving writings, which appear together in English for the first time under their author’s name. The collection opens with the work that most clearly defines him as a theologian of central importance: The Trinity. This treatise refuted current heresies concerning Christ’s dual nature and God’s total spirituality.
The collection also contains a trilogy of pastoral letters: In Praise of Purity, The Spectacles, and Jewish Foods. Novatian, absent from his community, writes to his adherents about current problems in Christian morality and encourages them to remain faithful to the Gospel. In the three letters, written to Cyprian Bishop Carthage after the martyrdom of Pope Fabian, Novatian speaks for the Church at Rome. They are an important source for the study of Penance as practiced by the early Church. Novatian insisted that those who had denied Christ during the persecution should be most strictly dealt with. There is little in him of Cyprian’s conciliatory tone. Novatian’s Letters illumine a third-century controversy that offers new perspectives for modern re-examination of the sacrament.
For The Fathers of the Church series in its entirety, see Fathers of the Church Series (127 vols.).
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Novatian (c. AD 200–258) sometimes known as Novatus, was a scholar, theologian, and antipope. He was the first Roman theologian to write in Latin. In AD 251, Novatian was consecrated as pope, though he was later excommunicated. Pope Cornelius wrote that prior to Novatian’s baptism, a nearly fatal exorcism had been performed on him. Novatian was the first Christian convert to study Stoic philosophy and receive a literary education, and he quickly proved to be a highly intelligent theologian.