From the Latin word for "fallen," the Christians who fell from the faith in the persecution of Decius (249–251). They were of three kinds: sacrificati, those who offered sacrifice to the pagan gods; thurificati, those who burned incense at a pagan religious ceremony; and libellatici, those who obtained certificates stating they had sacrificed, though they had not done so. While there had always been apostates, the lapsi formed a problem because of their great number and the desire most had of being readmitted to communion in the Church even while the persecution continued. Church leadership differed in the solution of the problem. In Rome novatian leaned toward a rigoristic treatment, denying penance and reconciliation, at least until after the persecution; in Carthage many lapsi had recourse to confessors of the faith for their intercession and received libelli pacis, or requests that the bishops admit them to communion. Bishop Cyprian decided on a synod to solve the problem in Carthage, and Pope Cornelius did the same in Rome. Reconciliation was extended to the libellatici and to the sacrificati in danger of death who had already begun to do penance.
Bibliography: cyprian, Epist. 5–56; Laps. b. poschmann, Paenitentia secunda (Bonn 1940) 368–397. k. rahner, Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie 74 (1952) 257–276, 381–438. h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. f. carroll, h. leclerq, and h. i. marrou, 15 v. (Paris 1907–53) 5.1: 1067–80; 9.1:78–79, 81–85.