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316BOOK REVIEWS Rome and the African Church in the Time ofAugustine. By J. E. Merdinger. (New Haven:Yale University Press. 1997. Pp. xvi, 267. $40.00.) The theme of this book is more limited than the title would suggest. Dr. Merdinger is concerned with African appeals to Rome, upon which her verdict is that "the pope's advice was eagerly solicited by Augustine and his coUeagues in some cases, whereas at other times they were very disturbed by papal interference in what they considered to be a strictly intramural affair" (p. Lx). This may sound like ecclesiastical opportunism; but in the fifth century the powers and immunities of individual ecclesiastical provinces were less clearly denned than they were later to become and need to be evaluated by contemporary circumstances and not by the assumptions of later ages. A century ago, Englishspeaking scholars of dUferent communions, Like EW. Puller andJohn Chapman, although immensely learned, interpreted the events of the patristic age In the Ught of the ecclesiological beUefs of their own communions. At the end of the twentieth century we can recognize that the Fathers did not anticipate either the Reformation or the Vatican CouncU of 1870. Canon law was in its Infancy, though ecclesiastics were beginning to acquire an interest in exploiting it. One may regret that Merdinger, in her introductory chapter, does not say something about the development ofcanonical legislation in the fourth and fifth centuries: of the Macedonian bishop Sabinus, who made a coUection of concUiar decrees favoring his own party (Socrates,iZFI,8);ofBasU ofCaesarea,writing his canonical letters to AmphUocius; of Theophilus of Alexandria denouncing John Chrysostom.whom he beUeved,wrongly, to have received into communion the Four Tall Brethren, whom TheophUus had expelled from Egypt: "I think you know the regulations of the canons of Nicaea, which forbid a bishop to judge a dispute outside his own area. If not, please learn them and keep clear of complaint against me. If I am to be judged it should be by Egyptians, and not by you, who are seventy-five days' journey away"(Palladius,Di«tog. 7). Chrysostom was himseU to rebuke Epiphanius of Cyprus for uncanonical behavior in ordaining a man Ln Constantinople without securing John's authorization (Socrates, HE VI, 14). Bishops, sensitive to their prerogatives, could now appeal to conciUar decrees, and especiaUy to those ofthe great and holy synod ofNicaea, to uphold their rights. The Africans were no exception to this rule, despite a general regard and affection for the Roman see. Merdinger's book faUs into two parts. In the first, after an introductory general chapter, she deals with the background to the fifth century in the persons of three distinguished theologians: TertuUian, Cyprian, and Optatus of MUevis, aU of whom, in different ways, Alústrate the attitude of the African Church to Rome: respect, combined with independence. In this context she might have made more of the behavior of the African bishops Ln the condemnation of Pelagius as Ulustrating the African attitude to Rome. The Africans were happy enough to appeal to Pope Innocent I to excommunicate Pelagius and Caelestius (neither of whom, it may be observed, was a member of their own Church), but when Innocent's successor, Zosimus, sought to reopen the case, they flatly book reviews317 opposed him. Augustine was never more the canon-lawyer manqué than Ln his famous declaration: "Two councils have already sent letters to the Apostolic See; rescripts have been received; causa finita est—'leave to appeal refused '" (Serm. 131, 10). Merdinger sees Augustine, if not necessarUy as the initiator of the reforming CouncU of Hippo of 393, as F. L. Cross believed, then at least as the enthusiastic collaborator of Aurelius of Carthage in that enterprise (p. 66). The second part of Merdinger's study concerns the legal aspect of the relations between North Africa and the papacy in Augustine's time. She recognizes the dUficulty of the enquiry: "Investigating North African canon law ... is like entering a minefield" (p. 63), admits the subjective element in any conclusions which may be drawn in the present state of our knowledge (pp. 83, 87, 178, 179, etc.), and speaks of "the fluidity of ecclesiastical...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-0708
Print ISSN
0008-8080
Pages
pp. 316-318
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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