As the persecutions continued the issue that had arisen in the church in Rome concerning treatment of the backsliders (''lapsi'') appeared in Carthage, raised by Novatus and his supporters. Cyprian, following the general approach of Rome, gave a more precise approach that pastoral care would be given to the backsliders while the persecutions continued, leaving the decision of receiving them back into the fellowship of the church to a [[synod]] after the persecutions ended.
In 251, Cyprian called a local council that decreed that it was possible to receive the lapsed back into the church after a penance. In the meantime, the priest Novatus joined with a priest of Rome, [[Novatian]], in a [[schism]] of the church by asserting that those who lapsed during the persecution could not be readmitted even if they repented their sin. In Carthage, Fortunatus, who opposed absolution, was elected by Cyprian's opponents as bishop of Carthage. Further, Novatian, aided by Novatus, convinced three Roman bishops to place Novatian on the [[cathedra]] of Rome while Bp. Cornelius still occupied it. Cyprian entered the battle with a series of encyclicals to the African bishops that was later produced as the book, ''On the Unity of the Church''. Support for the extreme measures by those who opposed absolution were moderated by Bp. Cyprian's writings raising him in the eyes of the people and increased further by their witness of his self-denying devotion during a great plague and famine that descended on Africa.
In 256, a new persecution arose under emperor Valerian in which the Roman bishops [[Stephen I of Rome|Stephen I]] and Sixtus II were martyred in Rome. After preparing his people for the extension of the persecution to Africa with his ''De exhortatione martyrii'', Bp. Cyprian set himself as an example when he was brought before the Roman proconsul Aspasius Patermus on [[August 30]], 257, by refusing to sacrifice to the pagan gods and firmly professed Christ.