Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Leadership and Grace in the Early Church

A good friend reminded me today of the traditional feastday for St. Cornelius (served as pope from 251-253 AD), my namesake, that falls on September 16. Cornelius was elected as pope during a very difficult time of persecution under the Roman Emperor Decius and reluctantly accepted this position only in response to his sincere desire to serve. His contribution to early Christian theology was his firm conviction that Christians that denied Christ during times of persecution could and should be re-admitted back into the community of faith after a time of repentence. Not everyone agreed with his understanding of grace and the forgiveness of God in Christ and a man called Novatian came to Rome to set himself up as antipope. Cornelius experienced many trails and suffering in his efforts to build God's Church on the principles of mutuality and forgiveness in Christ and was finally exiled by the Romans and died at the port of Rome in 253.

Cornelius fought to keep the church free from leadership informed by selfish ambition and greed for power and is remembered together with his friend Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage, for their extra-ordinary love for God's people and a commitment to the leadership values of humility and mutuality. The writings of Cornelius remain a testament to this faithful servant and his desire for authentic Christian leadership. Here is a link to the letters of Cornelius: