Category Archives: Cyprian of Carthage

Sep 16 – Will the real St Cyprian (~200-258AD), Bishop & Martyr, please stand up!


-by Fr Ray Ryland (1921-2014), for Catholic Answers, was an Episcopal priest who converted to Catholicism in 1963. Married and a father of five, he was ordained a Catholic priest in 1983 under the pastoral provision granted by the Vatican for the admittance of married Anglican priests to the Catholic priesthood.

“For centuries, Eastern Orthodox theologians have tried to put their brand on Cyprian of Carthage, who was martyred in 258. They have hailed him as chief exponent of the Eastern theory of national churches totally independent of Roman control. From the twelfth century onward, Byzantine writers opposing Catholic ecclesiology “found their strongest argument in the ecclesiology of Cyprian.”

Cyprian is also a favorite of Anglican apologists in their arguments against the papacy. One of them has said that defenders of the Church of England’s break with Rome can base their entire case on the writings of Cyprian. To a Catholic it seems risky, at best, for Anglicans to base their whole apologetic on one interpretation of a few passages from the writings of one saint—especially since, as we shall see, Cyprian always submitted to papal authority.

Both Orthodox and Anglicans contend that Cyprian was a non-papal Catholic, a third-century “episcopalian.” Cyprian held that each bishop is completely in charge of his own diocese and with all other bishops shares responsibility for the unity of the Church. Thus far he was on solid Catholic ground. But then he entered on less solid ground. Cyprian claimed that the unity of the Church is to be preserved by all the bishops unanimously holding the true faith. He never told us what is to be done when bishops disagree over doctrine. He did say that when bishops disagree in matters not involving doctrine, they must simply agree to disagree.

Where did Cyprian fit the pope into the picture? He laid great emphasis on Matthew 16: the naming of Peter as “rock,” the promise to build the Church on Peter, the gift to Peter of the keys of the kingdom. He taught that the Church was founded on Peter and also on the other apostles, insofar as they constitute a body under the headship of Peter. Scholars (both Catholic and non-Catholic) are divided over the connection Cyprian saw between the Church’s episcopate and the successors of Peter.

Cyprian was headstrong. He apparently did not see the anarchical consequences of his theory of the independence of bishops. His favorite and almost only teacher was Tertullian, who died a heretic. The lack of clarity in Cyprian’s writings may also be due to his having been rushed from baptism into the episcopate in only two years, with little theological preparation.

Cyprian’s position has offered scope for the arguments of Eastern Orthodox Christians, who argue that the authority of the pope did not exist in the early centuries, but was a later development not based on any divine authority.

Nicolas Afanassieff assures us that the first Christians had no idea “that there could be a power over the local churches” and certainly no idea that such power might belong to an individual (the bishop of Rome). He solemnly recalls as “historical fact” that at least in the first three centuries every local church (diocese) was totally independent of any other church or any other bishop. In earlier articles I have shown this claim to be erroneous. In the first century, Pope Clement exercised authority in the name of Jesus Christ to settle a schism in the church at Corinth. No one questioned the Pope’s exercise of authority. Indeed, the Corinthians welcomed it. For many decades in their liturgy the Corinthians read from Clement’s letter to them. In the second century Pope Victor threatened to excommunicate large sections of the Church in the East if they did not observe Easter according to the practice of Rome. Though some decried the wisdom of his declared intention, no one questioned his authority. Eventually his will prevailed throughout the Church.

Now we turn to Cyprian himself—mainstay, we are told, of the anti-papal ecclesiology of Eastern Orthodoxy. To determine what Cyprian really believed about universal papal jurisdiction, we have to move beyond the ambiguities of his writings and examine his dealings with the papacy. His actions not only speak more loudly than his words; they also speak much more clearly.

MARTYR’S CERTIFICATES

In his own diocese Cyprian had to deal with a widespread threat to the Church’s discipline. Confessors (those being punished by the state for not renouncing the faith) and martyrs awaiting execution were usurping the authority of the bishop.

Under intense persecution by the Roman government, many Christians had lapsed or apostatized, thereby coming under the Church’s ban. After the persecution abated, the lapsed who repented would obtain from the martyrs and confessors certificates requesting the bishop to reduce or cancel the punishment due them. It was the bishop’s responsibility to evaluate the sincerity of the penitents. The bishop also had to decide what effect the confessors’ and martyrs’ certificates should have on the penance of the lapsed.

(Note this fact. What the Catholic Church teaches today about “indulgences” she was teaching and practicing in Cyprian’s time. The granting of indulgences is made possible by the solidarity of the Mystical Body of Christ. By virtue of that solidarity, the sufferings of some members of the Body have the power to lessen the punishment of other members of the Body. This is precisely what the martyrs’ and confessors’ certificates were intended to do.)

Imprudent confessors were ignoring the bishop and, on their own authority, freeing the lapsed from the prescribed penance. Cyprian believed, rightly, that this irregular procedure threatened the whole of the Church’s discipline. He wrote letters to several persons about this problem and sent copies of all the letters to Rome, asking the Roman clergy to consider what he had written.

He addressed the Roman clergy rather than the pope because there had been no incumbent in the see of Peter for a couple of years: After the martyrdom of Pope Fabian (250), active government persecution had prevented the election of his successor. Yet Cyprian showed deference to the see of Peter even when it was vacant. He would take no final action with regard to reconciling the lapsed and apostates without consulting with Rome.

During the persecution, Cyprian himself had gone into hiding. Some of his people criticized his action and sent their complaint to the Roman clergy. (Why would Carthaginians take this matter to Rome, if the local churches were absolutely independent, as Eastern apologists assert?) The Roman clergy wrote to Cyprian and asked for an explanation. Did Cyprian indignantly reject their request and assert his complete independence as a bishop? No. On the contrary, he sent the Roman clergy a defense of his conduct.

Still another action on the part of the Roman clergy, when the see of Peter was vacant, reflects the primacy of Rome. In a letter to Cyprian’s archdeacon (bypassing Cyprian, bishop of the diocese), the Roman clergy told the Carthaginian clergy how they should deal with the lapsed. Did Cyprian condemn this action as interference infringing on his autonomous jurisdiction? Not at all. He wrote the Roman clergy that he had read their letter and in practice would uphold their opinion.

Schismatics from Carthage went to Rome to join the schism of Novatian there. Cyprian denounced the wickedness of the Novatians in Rome and spoke scornfully of the Carthaginian schismatics who had gone to Rome, “the chair of Peter and to the principal [or ruling] church, whence episcopal unity has taken its rise.”

Obviously Cyprian did not regard his own see, Carthage, as “the” or “a” chair of Peter. He said the schismatics who went to Rome were going to “the chair of Peter.”

“SOVEREIGN RULING”

This “chair of Peter,” said Cyprian, is “the principal Church.” Irenaeus had used these same words about Rome. Tertullian had defined the phrase to mean “that which is over anything, as the soul presides over and rules the body.” Cyprian called Tertullian his “master” and read his writings every day. We can assume that he followed his master in using “principal” to mean “sovereign ruling.”

Speaking of the schismatics who had gone to Rome, Cyprian said, in effect, “They are wasting their time!” Not only is Rome the source of the Church’s unity (“whence episcopal unity has taken its rise”), the schismatics are wasting their time because the Romans—the “chair of Peter,” the pope—are “they to whom faithlessness can have no access.” This is an astonishing statement—astonishing, that is, outside the context of papal infallibility. But we must assume that Cyprian meant what he said.

In practice Cyprian contradicted his own teaching about the independence of each bishop. When Marcion, bishop of Arles, left the Church’s communion and joined the schismatic Novatians, the bishops of the province wrote to the pope asking him to take action. (If they were independent of Rome, why did they not take action themselves?) The action required was for the pope to excommunicate Marcion and appoint a replacement. For unknown reasons, the pope delayed his response. Faustinus, bishop of Lyons, wrote to Cyprian about the matter, seeking his advice.

Cyprian thereupon wrote to the pope, urging him to take action. His letter implies that the pope was the one—the only one—to set matters straight in Arles. He urged the pope to write “letters of plenary authority [literally ‘most full letters’] by means of which, Marcion being excommunicated, another may be substituted in his place.”

Regardless of what Cyprian may have written about the independence of each bishop, here he clearly recognized the authority of the pope to remove and install bishops (for good cause) anywhere in the world.

BAPTISM BY HERETICS

It was Cyprian’s struggle with Pope Stephen over the subject of baptism by heretics which has most endeared Cyprian to Eastern Orthodox and Anglican apologists. It is also that.aspect of Cyprian’s career that caused the Donatists (fourth-century heretics) to claim him as patron saint of their position. Repeatedly to their chief opponent, Augustine, the Donatists quoted Cyprian. Augustine acknowledged Cyprian’s error, but emphasized Cyprian’s refusal to break with Rome.

In his conflict with the schismatic Novatians, Cyprian drew the erroneous conclusion that baptism by heretics is invalid, contrary to the Church’s teaching. By the force of his personality and of at least three African councils that he dominated, Cyprian lined up the bishops of Africa behind his position. Rejection of heretical baptism was an innovation that found wide support in the East.

On this issue, as on others, Cyprian’s thinking was confused. On the one hand he insisted that each bishop was perfectly free to decide whether to accept or reject baptism by heretics, since the issue was not doctrinal. At the same time, in vehemently expounding his position he invoked weighty dogmatic considerations. Cyprian sent Pope Stephen a report of the African synods, explaining that he and the synods had not laid down any law binding all the African bishops. He sent the report because he believed that the Pope should be consulted, even though this was not a doctrinal issue

The issue was whether persons outside the Church’s unity could baptize validly. Stephen ruled that they could, if they used the proper form. Persons who were baptized by heretics and who repented and returned to the Church were to be received by the laying-on of hands. Stephen’s answer to Cyprian makes it plain that his ruling is not a definition of faith, yet Stephen forbade rebaptism of those who had received heretical baptism and decreed excommunication for those who performed rebaptisms.

In his reply to Cyprian’s report, Stephen reminded Cyprian that he (Stephen) was successor of Peter, whom Cyprian had extolled in his writing on unity and on whom Jesus Christ had founded his Church. Stephen further reminded Cyprian that he (Stephen) held the chair of Peter, about which Cyprian had written enthusiastically. Finally, Stephen called for Cyprian’s obedience.

Immediately upon receiving Stephen’s reply, Cyprian dispatched legates to Rome to try to persuade the Pope to change his ruling. It was a most inopportune time for Cyprian to do this. The Pope was then contending with schismatic Novatians who were rebaptizing Catholics who joined them. The African legates would probably have been identified in people’s minds with the Novatians. This would have lent the eminent name of Cyprian to a heretical group.

So, for the good of the Church and of Cyprian, Stephen refused to receive the legates, ordering them not to spend a single night in Rome. When the legates returned to Carthage, Cyprian sent messengers to the East to enlist support for his cause of rebaptism. He wrote to Firmilian, bishop of Cappadocia and partisan of Cyprian’s cause. Firmilian responded to Cyprian’s letter, and Stephen’s ruling, in a letter filled with indignation and bitterness. Yet Firmilian’s letter itself implicitly recognized the Pope’s authority. Firmilian expressed no indignation over Stephen’s emphasizing his role as Peter’s successor and his claim to what we call universal jurisdiction.

If Stephen’s claim had not been universally accepted, Firmilian’s ultimate weapon against the despised ruling would have been to deny and reject papal authority. That weapon was not available to him, so all he could do was fulminate in bitterest terms.

There is no evidence that either Cyprian or Firmilian was excommunicated. Did Cyprian accept Stephen’s decision and stop rebaptizing those who had received baptism from heretical hands? Jerome says the African bishops corrected their decision to rebaptize and “issued a new decree.” Augustine says the Easterners followed the Pope’s directive: “they rescinded their judgment, by which they had decided that it was right to agree with Cyprian and that African council.” In another place he writes that the Easterners “corrected” their judgment about rebaptism.

Anti-papal apologist John Meyendorff asserts that this event was simply a regional reaction against incipient Roman centralization. There was nothing “incipient” about what Meyendorff calls Roman centralization, but which Catholics call papal universal jurisdiction. That jurisdiction had been exercised since the first century, as has been shown. Furthermore, the controversy was not about centralization at all, but about sacramental and ecclesiological issues of the deepest import.

Eastern and Anglican apologists who rely on Cyprian’s controversy with Pope Stephen to support their case for independent national churches forget or ignore the key fact: Cyprian never even questioned, much less denied, the Pope’s authority to make his ruling and its penalty for non-observance. He only opposed the content of the ruling. Cyprian’s insistence on rebaptism was attractive to many minds. It seemed to safeguard Catholic truth by drawing a sharp line between orthodoxy and heresy. But papal universal jurisdiction and papal teaching authority made all the difference.

In this controversy, “it needs only a few lines from the pen of the Pope to overthrow all that scaffolding of texts and syllogisms. The partisans of innovation may resist as they please, write letter after letter, assemble councils; five lines from the sovereign Pontiff will become the rule of conduct for the universal Church. Eastern and African bishops, all those who at first had rallied round the contrary opinion, will retrace their steps, and the whole Catholic world will follow the decision of the Bishop of Rome.”

Eastern opponents of the papacy are mistaken in their reliance on Cyprian as the mainstay of their apologetic. Cyprian repeatedly deferred to the supreme authority of the bishop of Rome. In at least one instance he begged for the exercise of that authority. With regard to heretical baptism, he opposed a pope’s ruling but never questioned papal authority. The Eastern churches today recognize that Cyprian’s teaching was wrong and that the pope—as usual—was right.”

Love,
Matthew

1. John Meyendorff, Orthodoxy and Catholicity (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1966), 12.

2. St. Cyprian, The Lapsed: The Unity of the Catholic Church (Westminster, Maryland: Newman Press, 1957), chapters 4 and 5.

3. Nicolas Afanassieff, “The Church Which Presides in Love” in John Meyendorff, The Primacy of Peter (Leighton Buzzad, Bedfordshire: Faith Press, 1973), 83, 73.

4. Quoted by Luke Rivington, The Primitive Church and the See of Peter (London: Longmans, Green, 1894), 58.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid., 71.

7. John Meyendorff, The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1982), 221.

8. Rivington, 115f.

Sep 16 – Sts Cornelius (d. 253 AD), Pope & Cyprian (~200-258 AD), Father of the Church, Bishops & Martyrs – The Difficult Way of Mercy



(inset)
-SS. Cornelius and Cyprian from The Hours of Catherine of Cleves; on Pierpont Morgan Library. The Netherlands, Utrecht, ca. 1440, 7 1/2 x 5 1/8 inches (192 x 130 mm). Cornelius, holding a horn (cornus in Latin—a pun on his name), and Cyprian, with the sword of his martyrdom, share a feast. Birdcages, executed in silver and gold, comprise the delightful border. They may allude to Cornelius as patron saint of pets or to an interest of Catherine.

Suffrages

Suffrages are short prayers to individual saints. As protectors of medieval people, saints were their doctor in plague, their midwife at childbirth, their guardian when traveling, and their nurse during toothache. If the Virgin was the figure to whom one addressed the all-important petition for intercession with the Lord for eternal salvation, it was from saints that one sought more basic or temporal kinds of help.  Please click on the images for greater detail.


-by Br Cyril Stola, OP

“Sacrifice or I’ll make you sacrifice.” Such was the choice that the Emperor Decius enjoined upon third century Christians. In response, some Christians refused, suffering torture or martyrdom. Others fled, losing their property. Far more, however, offered sacrifice to Roman idols or bought documents that said they did. These Christians “lapsed” (lapsi, the lapsi): their actions broke the first commandment and denied Christ, who said, “whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father Who is in heaven” (Matt 10:33).

After 18 months, the Decian persecution ended, and many of the lapsed wanted to return to the Church. Today’s martyrs, Pope Cornelius and Bishop Cyprian of Carthage, responded to them with compassion. St. Cyprian preached, “My heart bleeds with each one of you, I share the weight of your sorrow and distress … when my brethren fell, my heart was struck and I fell at their side” (The Lapsed). He saw the persecution as a trial for the Church. The lapsed had failed this trial, and they needed healing in order to regain communion with God. Cornelius and Cyprian desired the reconciliation of the lapsed, but two different forces impeded that goal.

The laxist party raised the first obstacle. They immediately permitted all the lapsed to receive the Eucharist. This admittance, however, achieved no reconciliation. Jesus gives us a remedy—penance—for the festering wound of mortal sin, and the Eucharist cannot help those with that wound. Cyprian comments that laxist indulgence “does not mean the granting of reconciliation but its frustration, it does not restore men to communion but bars them from it and from salvation.” As Saint Paul teaches, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons” (1 Cor 10:21). “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:27).

The laxists substituted their own standards of mercy for God’s standard of mercy, revealed to us through scripture. Despite their well-meaning intention, their approach nonetheless exalted their judgment over God’s judgment. Cyprian knew that the Eucharist is neither a mere reward for good behavior nor a mark of elite status. It is communion with Jesus. Grave sin in the soul thwarts this communion, and Cyprian saw the reason for the necessity of penance: it provides an opportunity for glory. “He who has made such satisfaction to God, he who by his repentance and shame for his sin, draws from the bitterness of his fall a fresh fund of valor and loyalty, shall by the help he has won from the Lord, rejoice the heart of the Church whom he has so lately pained; he will earn not merely God’s forgiveness, but His crown.”

The other threat to reconciliation arose from Novatian, who set himself up as anti-Pope against Cornelius and led many into schism. Novatian and his followers also replaced God’s standards of mercy for their own. They were rigorists and refused to absolve the lapsed. Novatian “did what the Lord did not even grant to the apostles”: he endeavored “to separate the chaff from the wheat” (St. Cyprian, Letter 51). Even Saint Peter lapsed when he denied Christ three times, yet he made a threefold reparation and Jesus forgave him. God is a merciful Father. He desires all to be saved and reconciled to himself, and all who stand in the way of that reconciliation betray him.

In these conflicts, Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian were faithful to their call to be merciful shepherds. They testify to true mercy, mercy which neither ignores the damage sin causes nor despairs of its healing. By reconciling people to the Eucharist, Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian cultivated communion in the Church. By their life and martyrdom, they now live in the fullest communion with God. We share that communion with them at every Mass.

God our Father,
in Saints Cornelius and Cyprian
you have given your people an inspiring example
of dedication to the pastoral ministry
and constant witness to Christ in their suffering.
May their prayers and faith give us courage
to work for the unity of your Church.
Amen.”

Love, Lord have mercy on me, for I am a sinful man,
Matthew

Sep 16 – St Cyprian of Carthage (200/210-258 AD)- Bishop, Martyr, Father of the Church


-Head Reliquary (has his actual head, or parts of it inside) of Saint Cyprian in the St. Kornelius chapel of the abbey church of Kornelimünster Abbey in Kornelimünster

Cyprian is important in the development of Christian thought and practice in the third century, especially in northern Africa.

Thaschus Cæcilius Cyprianus, was born into a rich pagan family of Carthage sometime during the early third century. His father was a senator.  His original name was Thascius; he took the additional name Caecilius in memory of the priest to whom he owed his conversion. Before his conversion, he was a leading member of a legal fraternity in Carthage, an orator, a “pleader in the courts”, and a teacher of rhetoric. After a “dissipated youth”, Cyprian was baptized when he was thirty-five years old, c. 245 AD. After his baptism, he gave away a portion of his wealth to the poor of Carthage, as befitted a man of his status.

Highly educated, a famous orator, he became a Christian as an adult. He distributed his goods to the poor, and amazed his fellow citizens by making a vow of chastity before his baptism. Within two years he had been ordained a priest and was chosen, against his will, as Bishop of Carthage.

In the early days of his conversion he wrote an Epistola ad Donatum de gratia Dei and the Testimoniorum Libri III that adhere closely to the models of Tertullian, who influenced his style and thinking. Cyprian described his own conversion and baptism in the following words:

“When I was still lying in darkness and gloomy night, I used to regard it as extremely difficult and demanding to do what God’s mercy was suggesting to me… I myself was held in bonds by the innumerable errors of my previous life, from which I did not believe I could possibly be delivered, so I was disposed to acquiesce in my clinging vices and to indulge my sins… But after that, by the help of the water of new birth, the stain of my former life was washed away, and a light from above, serene and pure, was infused into my reconciled heart… a second birth restored me to a new man. Then, in a wondrous manner every doubt began to fade…. I clearly understood that what had first lived within me, enslaved by the vices of the flesh, was earthly and that what, instead, the Holy Spirit had wrought within me was divine and heavenly.”

Contested election as bishop of Carthage

Not long after his baptism he was ordained a deacon, and soon afterwards a priest. Some time between July 248 and April 249 he was elected bishop of Carthage, a popular choice among the poor who remembered his patronage as demonstrating good equestrian style. However his rapid rise did not meet with the approval of senior members of the clergy in Carthage, an opposition which did not disappear during his episcopate.

Not long afterward, the entire community was put to an unwanted test. Christians in North Africa had not suffered persecution for many years; the Church was assured and lax. Early in 250 the “Decian persecution” began. The Emperor Decius issued an edict, the text of which is lost, ordering sacrifices to the gods to be made throughout the Empire. Jews were specifically exempted from this requirement. Cyprian chose to go into hiding rather than face potential execution. While some clergy saw this decision as a sign of cowardice, Cyprian defended himself saying he had fled in order not to leave the faithful without a shepherd during the persecution, and that his decision to continue to lead them, although from a distance, was in accordance with divine will. Moreover, he pointed to the actions of the Apostles and Jesus Himself: “And therefore the Lord commanded us in the persecution to depart and to flee; and both taught that this should be done, and Himself did it. For as the crown is given by the condescension of God, and cannot be received unless the hour comes for accepting it, whoever abiding in Christ departs for a while does not deny his faith, but waits for the time…”

Lapsi

Cyprian complained that the peace the Church had enjoyed had weakened the spirit of many Christians and had opened the door to converts who did not have the true spirit of faith. When the Decian persecution began, many Christians easily abandoned the Church. It was their reinstatement that caused the great controversies of the third century, and helped the Church progress in its understanding of the Sacrament of Penance.

The persecution was especially severe at Carthage, according to Church sources. Many Christians fell away, and were thereafter referred to as “Lapsi” (the fallen).  The majority had obtained signed statements (libelli) certifying that they had sacrificed to the Roman gods in order to avoid persecution or confiscation of property. In some cases Christians had actually sacrificed, whether under torture or otherwise. Cyprian found these libellatici especially cowardly, and demanded that they and the rest of the lapsi undergo public penance before being re-admitted to the Church.

Novatus, a priest who had opposed Cyprian’s election, set himself up in Cyprian’s absence (he had fled to a hiding place from which to direct the Church—bringing criticism on himself) and received back all apostates without imposing any canonical penance. Ultimately he was condemned. Cyprian held a middle course, holding that those who had actually sacrificed to idols could receive Communion only at death, whereas those who had only bought certificates saying they had sacrificed could be admitted after a more or less lengthy period of penance. Even this was relaxed during a new persecution.

However, in Cyprian’s absence, some priests disregarded his wishes by readmitting the lapsed to communion with little or no public penance. Some of the lapsi presented a second libellus purported to bear the signature of some martyr or confessor who, it was held, had the spiritual prestige to reaffirm individual Christians. This system was not limited to Carthage, but on a wider front by its charismatic nature it clearly constituted a challenge to institutional authority in the Church, in particular to that of the bishop. Hundreds or even thousands of lapsi were re-admitted this way, against the express wishes of Cyprian and the majority of the Carthaginian clergy, who insisted upon earnest repentance.

A schism then broke out in Carthage, as the laxist party, led largely by the priests who had opposed Cyprian’s election, attempted to block measures taken by him during his period of absence. After fourteen months, Cyprian returned to the diocese and in letters addressed to the other North African bishops defended having left his post. After issuing a tract, “De lapsis,” (On the Fallen) he convoked a council of North African bishops at Carthage to consider the treatment of the lapsed, and the apparent schism of Felicissimus (251 AD). Cyprian took a middle course between the followers of Novatus of Carthage who were in favor of welcoming back all with little or no penance, and Novatian of Rome who would not allow any of those who had lapsed to be reconciled. The council in the main sided with Cyprian and condemned Felicissimus, though no acts of this council survive.

The schism continued as the laxists elected a certain Fortunatus as bishop in opposition to Cyprian. At the same time, the rigorist party in Rome, who refused reconciliation to any of the lapsed, elected Novatian as bishop of Rome, in opposition to Pope Cornelius. The Novatianists also secured the election of a certain Maximus as a rival bishop of their own at Carthage. Cyprian now found himself wedged between laxists and rigorists, but the polarization highlighted the firm but moderate position adopted by Cyprian and strengthened his influence, wearing down the numbers of his opponents. Moreover, his dedication during the time of a great plague and famine gained him still further popular support.

Cyprian comforted his brethren by writing his De mortalitate, and in his De eleemosynis exhorted them to active charity towards the poor, setting a personal example. He defended Christianity and the Christians in the apologia Ad Demetrianum, directed against a certain Demetrius, in which he countered pagan claims that Christians were the cause of the public calamities.

Persecution under Valerian

During a plague in Carthage, Cyprian urged Christians to help everyone, including their enemies and persecutors.

A friend of Pope Cornelius, Cyprian opposed the following pope, Stephen. He and the other African bishops would not recognize the validity of baptism conferred by heretics and schismatics. This was not the universal view of the Church, but Cyprian was not intimidated even by Stephen’s threat of excommunication.

He was exiled by the emperor and then recalled for trial. He refused to leave the city, insisting that his people should have the witness of his martyrdom.

At the end of 256 AD a new persecution of the Christians broke out under Emperor Valerian, and Pope Sixtus II was executed in Rome.

In Africa, Cyprian prepared his people for the expected edict of persecution by his De exhortatione martyrii, and himself set an example when he was brought before the Roman proconsul Aspasius Paternus (August 30, 257). He refused to sacrifice to the pagan deities and firmly professed Christ.

The proconsul banished him to Curubis, modern Korba, whence, to the best of his ability, he comforted his flock and his banished clergy. In a vision he believed he saw his approaching fate. When a year had passed he was recalled and kept practically a prisoner in his own villa, in expectation of severe measures after a new and more stringent imperial edict arrived, in which Christian writers subsequently claimed it demanded the execution of all Christian clerics.

On September 13, 258, Cyprian was imprisoned on the orders of the new proconsul, Galerius Maximus. The public examination of Cyprian by Galerius Maximus, on 14 September 258 has been preserved:

“Galerius Maximus: “Are you Thascius Cyprianus?” Cyprian: “I am.” Galerius: “The most sacred Emperors have commanded you to conform to the Roman rites.” Cyprian: “I refuse.” Galerius: “Take heed for yourself.” Cyprian: “Do as you are bid; in so clear a case I may not take heed.” Galerius, after briefly conferring with his judicial council, with much reluctance pronounced the following sentence: “You have long lived an irreligious life, and have drawn together a number of men bound by an unlawful association, and professed yourself an open enemy to the gods and the religion of Rome; and the pious, most sacred and august Emperors … have endeavoured in vain to bring you back to conformity with their religious observances; whereas therefore you have been apprehended as principal and ringleader in these infamous crimes, you shall be made an example to those whom you have wickedly associated with you; the authority of law shall be ratified in your blood.” He then read the sentence of the court from a written tablet: “It is the sentence of this court that Thascius Cyprianus be executed with the sword.” Cyprian: “Thanks be to God.””

The execution was carried out at once in an open place near the city. A vast multitude followed Cyprian on his last journey. He removed his garments without assistance, knelt down, and prayed. After he blindfolded himself, he was beheaded by the sword. The body was interred by Christians near the place of execution.

Cyprian was a mixture of kindness and courage, vigor and steadiness. He was cheerful and serious, so that people did not know whether to love or respect him more. He waxed warm during the baptismal controversy; his feelings must have concerned him, for it was at this time that he wrote his treatise on patience. Saint Augustine remarks that Cyprian atoned for his anger by his glorious martyrdom.

Love,
Matthew