CENTESIMA, SEXAGESIMA, TRICESIMA

Cyprian sermon from Africa, late 2nd to mid-3rd c. for some scholars, early 4th; handed down in a small corpus of Donatist writings in the 9th-c. codices Wirceburgensis theol. f. 33 and Monacensis 3739. Contains an allegorical-moral exposition of the parable of the sower Mt 13:3ff. and par., in particular a spiritual exegesis of the three numbers 100, 60 and 30, explained respectively as the prize of martyrdom, of virginity and of continence in marriage. Martyrdom appears in a dual dimension: imitation of Christ’s example and spiritual combat against flesh and blood, understood as demonic powers; but ascetics imitate the six angels co-created with the Son of God, and they too fight against flesh and blood in a sort of spiritual martyrdom. The just who intend to live according to their baptismal rebirth are shown the way of continence. The hierarchical distinction of martyrs, virgins and the continent was an integral part of a commonly held conception of the Christian life in the first half of the 3rd c., including in Syria and Egypt, as Origen’s valuable testimony, Com. Rom. 9,1 on Rom 12:1-2, shows. This conception has archaic Encratite connotations, which were accompanied by the frequent use of apocryphal texts or of altered biblical citations, and familiar reference to theological ideas of clear Jewish Christian derivation: e.g., a strongly subordinationist angelomorphic Christology which made God’s Son one of the seven angels created from fire and subsequently raised to the dignity of Son; the martyrological exegesis of the parables of the drachma and the lost sheep, against which Tertullian had earlier argued Pud. 9,1-3 and 21-22; a pessimistic antisomatic anthropology, linked with the idea that the delictum primae nativitatis is canceled in baptismal remission. This latter is the earliest Western formulation known to us of the doctrine, based on the biblical testimonium of Ps 51:5, of sin contracted by each person at birth, which will become Augustine’s originale peccatum see P.F. Beatrice, Tradux peccati, 271-273.

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