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Pope Cornelius

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Estimated Range of Dating: 251-253 A.D.

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Information on Pope Cornelius

H. Hammerich writes, "After the martyrdom of Fabian (Jan. 250) during the Decian persecution, Cornelius was elected bishop of Rome in March 251, after Rome was without a bishop for a year. Novatian, a presbyter, who had been leading the community at the end of that year, had himself elected antibishop. This decision was probably due to Cornelius's lax atttitude, visible even before the election, in the question of how to deal with those who had lapsed during the persecution. In the schism that followed Cornelius was able to win out, thanks in part to support from outside, especially from Cyprian and Dionysius Alex. In the persecution under Gallus Cornelius was first arrested and then banished to Centumcellae (Civitavecchia). He died in exile in June 253. Cyprian already described him as a martyr. According to the Liber pontificalis (22) Cornelius was a Roman by birth. Despite all his efforts, Cyprian could say in Cornelius's favor only that he had passed through all the ecclesiastical offices (ep 75.8). The hatred with which Cornelius attempted to blacken Novatian in the eyes of Fabius Alex. (see Eusebius, h.e. 6.43.5-22) does not show Cornelius in a good light. In addition to his decision in the matter of penance, his most imporant contribution to the history of early Christianity was the list of distressed persons in the Roman community (preserved in Eusebius, h.e. 6.43.11ff.), which allows inferences as to the size and social structure of the community. Two letters of Cornelius to Cyprian are preserved in the latter's correspondence (ep. 49; 50)." (Dictionary of Early Christian Literature, p. 144)

J. Quasten writes, "Eusebius (Hist. eccl. 6,43,3-4) knows of three epistles of Cornelius' to Bishop Fabius of Antioch. Written in Greek, the first of them dealt with the schism of Novatian, 'telling the facts concerning the roman Synod, and what was decreed by them of Italy and Africa and the regions thereabout' (ibid. 6,43,3), the second 'on the resolutions of the synod' and the third 'on the doings of Novatian' (ibid. 4). In the last, from which Eusebius quotes at length (cf. above, p. 215 f), Cornelius gives a repulsive picture of Novatian's life and character in order to warn the bishop of Antioch, who was tempted to favor the schismatic. However, critical examination shows up many of the charges as untrustworthy, based seemingly on malicious gossip. Another letter in the same vein to Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria (Euseb., Hist. eccl. 6,46,3) no longer exists. Socrates (Hist. eccl. 4,28) mentions a circular to all the Churches, in which were justified from Scripture the decisions in the vexed question of apostates." (Patrology, vol. 2, pp. 236-237)

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