- This page is about Cyprian, bishop of Carthage. For other Cyprians, see Cyprian (disambiguation)Cyprian (disambiguation)Cyprian can refer to:*A synonym for Cypriot, someone or thing from Cyprus**The Cyprian, an epithet for Aphrodite, because of her association with Cyprus*St. Cyprian , bishop of Carthage*Cyprian, Metropolitan of Moscow...
Cyprian (died September 14, 258) was bishop
A bishop is an ordained or consecrated member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight. Within the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox Churches, in the Assyrian Church of the East, in the Independent Catholic Churches, and in the...
of Carthage and an important Early Christian writer, many of whose Latin works are extant. He was born around the beginning of the 3rd century in North Africa
North Africa during the Classical Period
The history of North Africa during the period of Classical Antiquity can be divided roughly into the History of Egypt in the east and the history of Ancient Libya in the west. The Roman Republic established the province of Africa in 146 BC after the defeat of Carthage...
, perhaps at Carthage, where he received a classical education. After converting to Christianity, he became a bishop in 249 and eventually died a martyr
A martyr is somebody who suffers persecution and death for refusing to renounce, or accept, a belief or cause, usually religious.-Meaning:...
Early lifeCyprian was born sometime in the early third century. He was of a wealthy and distinguished pagan background; in fact, the site of his eventual martyrdom was his own villa. Before becoming a Christian, he was an orator, "pleader in the courts", and a teacher of rhetoric. The date of his conversion is unknown, but after his baptism
In Christianity, baptism is for the majority the rite of admission , almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church generally and also membership of a particular church tradition...
about 245–248 he gave away a portion of his wealth to the poor of Carthage
Carthage , implying it was a 'new Tyre') is a major urban centre that has existed for nearly 3,000 years on the Gulf of Tunis, developing from a Phoenician colony of the 1st millennium BC...
, as befitted a man of his status.
His original name was Thascius; he took the additional name Caecilius in memory of the presbyter
Presbyter in the New Testament refers to a leader in local Christian congregations, then a synonym of episkopos...
to whom he owed his conversion. 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
Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, anglicised as Tertullian , was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. He is the first Christian author to produce an extensive corpus of Latin Christian literature. He also was a notable early Christian apologist and...
, who influenced his style and thinking.
His contested election as bishop of Carthage
Not long after his baptism he was ordained
The term Holy Orders is used by many Christian churches to refer to ordination or to those individuals ordained for a special role or ministry....
deacon, and soon afterward presbyter; and some time between July 248 and April 249 he was chosen bishop of Carthage, a popular choice among the poor who remembered his patronage as demonstrating good equestrian style, while a portion of the presbytery opposed it, for all Cyprian's wealth and learning and diplomacy and literary talents. Moreover, the opposition within the church community at Carthage did not dissolve during his episcopacy.
Soon, however, the entire community was put to an unwonted test. Christians in North Africa had not suffered persecution for many years; the church was assured and lax. Early in 250 the "Decian
Trajan Decius , was Roman Emperor from 249 to 251. In the last year of his reign, he co-ruled with his son Herennius Etruscus until they were both killed in the Battle of Abrittus.-Early life and rise to power:...
persecution" began. Measures were first taken demanding that the bishops and officers of the church sacrifice to the emperor. The proconsul on circuit, and five commissioners for each town, administered the edict; but, when the proconsul reached Carthage, Cyprian had fled.
It is quite evident in the writings of the church fathers from various dioceses that the Christian community was divided on this occasion, among those who stood firm in civil disobedience, and those who buckled, submitting in word or in deed to the order of sacrifice and receiving a ticket or receipt called a "libellus
A libellus was a document given to a Roman citizen to certify performance of a pagan sacrifice, hence demonstrating loyalty to the authorities of the Roman Empire...
". Cyprian's secret departure from Carthage was interpreted by his enemies as cowardice and infidelity, and they hastened to accuse him at Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...
. The Roman clergy wrote to Cyprian in terms of disapproval. Cyprian rejoined that he fled in accordance with visions and the divine command. From his place of refuge he ruled his flock with earnestness and zeal, using a faithful deacon as his intermediary.
Controversy over the lapsedThe persecution was especially severe at Carthage, according to Church sources. Many Christians fell away, and were thereafter referred to as "lapsi
Lapsi was the name given to apostates in the early Christian Church, when Christians were persecuted by the Roman authorities to renounce their faith. It also means those who have lapsed or fallen away from their faith and decide later in life to come back to it.-Sacrificati:Those who had actually...
", but afterwards asked to be received again into the Church. Their requests were granted early, with no regard being paid to the demand of Cyprian and his faithful among the Carthaginian clergy, who insisted upon earnest repentance. The confessors among the more liberal group intervened to allow hundreds of the lapsed to return to the Church.
Though he had remained in seclusion himself, Cyprian now censured all laxity toward the lapsed, refused absolution to them except in case of mortal sickness, and desired to postpone the question of their re-admission to the Church to quieter times. A schism broke out in Carthage. Felicissimus
Felicissimus was a public officer in Ancient Rome, during the reign of Emperor Aurelian. He is famous because he led an uprising of mint workers against the emperor, but was defeated and killed, possibly in 274, but more probably in 271....
, who had been ordained deacon
Deacon is a ministry in the Christian Church that is generally associated with service of some kind, but which varies among theological and denominational traditions...
by the presbyter Novatus during the absence of Cyprian, opposed all steps taken by Cyprian's representatives. Cyprian deposed and excommunicated him and his supporter Augendius. Felicissimus was upheld by Novatus and four other presbyters, and a determined opposition was thus organized.
When, after an absence of fourteen months, Cyprian returned to his diocese, he defended leaving his post in letters to the other North African bishops and a tract "De lapsis," and called a council of North African bishops at Carthage to consider the treatment of the lapsed and the apparent schism of Felicissimus (251). The council in the main sided with Cyprian and condemned Felicissimus, though no acts of this council survive. The "libellatici" were to be restored at once upon sincere repentance; but such as had taken part in heathen sacrifices could be received back into the Church only when on the point of death. Afterward this regulation was essentially mitigated, and even these were restored if they repented immediately after a sudden fall and eagerly sought absolution; though clerics who had fallen were to be deposed and could not be restored to their functions.
In Carthage the followers of Felicissimus elected Fortunatus as bishop in opposition to Cyprian, while in Rome the followers of the Roman presbyter Novatian, who also refused absolution to all the lapsed, elected their man as bishop of Rome, in opposition to Cornelius
Pope Saint Cornelius was pope from his election on 6 or 13 March 251 to his martyrdom in June 253.- Christian persecution :Emperor Decius, who ruled from 249 to 251 AD, persecuted Christians in the Roman Empire rather sporadically and locally, but starting January in the year 250, he ordered all...
. The Novationists secured the election of a rival bishop of their own at Carthage, Maximus by name. Novatus now left Felicissimus and followed the Novatian party.
But these extremes strengthened the firm but moderating influence exhibited in Cyprian's writings, and the following of his opponents grew less and less. He rose still higher in the favor of the people when they witnessed his self-denying devotion during the time of a great plague and famine.
He comforted his brethren by writing his "De mortalitate," and in his "De eleomosynis" exhorted them to active charity towards the poor, while he set the best pattern by his own life. He defended Christianity and the Christians in the apologia
Apologetics is the discipline of defending a position through the systematic use of reason. Early Christian writers Apologetics (from Greek ἀπολογία, "speaking in defense") is the discipline of defending a position (often religious) through the systematic use of reason. Early Christian writers...
"Ad Demetrianum," directed against a certain Demetrius and the reproach of the heathens that Christians were the cause of the public calamities.
Persecution under ValerianAt the end of 256 a new persecution of the Christians under Emperor Valerian I
Valerian , also known as Valerian the Elder, was Roman Emperor from 253 to 260. He was taken captive by Persian king Shapur I after the Battle of Edessa, becoming the only Roman Emperor who was captured as a prisoner of war, resulting in wide-ranging instability across the Empire.-Origins and rise...
broke out, and both Pope Stephen I and his successor, Pope Sixtus II
Pope Sixtus II
Pope Sixtus II or Pope Saint Sixtus II was Pope from August 30, 257 to August 6, 258. He died as a martyr during the persecution by Emperor Valerian....
, suffered martyrdom at Rome.
In Africa Cyprian courageously 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 consul banished him to Curubis, modern Korba
Korba, ancient Curubis, is a town in Tunisia on the eastern shore of the Cap Bon. It was the place of exile of the Carthaginian bishop Cyprian in the year leading up to his martyrdom...
, whence he comforted to the best of his ability his flock and his banished clergy. In a vision 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 severer measures after a new and more stringent imperial edict arrived, demanding the execution of all Christian clerics, according to reports of it by Christian writers.
On September 13, 258, he was imprisoned at the behest of the new proconsul
A proconsul was a governor of a province in the Roman Republic appointed for one year by the senate. In modern usage, the title has been used for a person from one country ruling another country or bluntly interfering in another country's internal affairs.-Ancient Rome:In the Roman Republic, a...
, Galerius Maximus. The day following he was examined for the last time and sentenced to die by the sword. His only answer was "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 Christian hands near the place of execution, and over it, as well as on the actual scene of his death, churches were afterward erected, which, however, were destroyed by the Vandals
The Vandals were an East Germanic tribe that entered the late Roman Empire during the 5th century. The Vandals under king Genseric entered Africa in 429 and by 439 established a kingdom which included the Roman Africa province, besides the islands of Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia and the Balearics....
Charlemagne was King of the Franks from 768 and Emperor of the Romans from 800 to his death in 814. He expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800...
is said to have had the bones transferred to France, and Lyons, Arles, Venice, Compiegne, and Roenay in Flanders claim the possession of the martyr's relics.
WritingsCyprian's works were edited in volumes 3 and 4 of the Patrologia Latina
The Patrologia Latina is an enormous collection of the writings of the Church Fathers and other ecclesiastical writers published by Jacques-Paul Migne between 1844 and 1855, with indices published between 1862 and 1865....
Besides a number of epistles, which are partly collected with the answers of those to whom they were written, Cyprian wrote a number of treatises, some of which have also the character of pastoral letters.
His most important work is his "De unitate ecclesiae." In it, he states: "He can no longer have God for his Father who has not the Church for his mother; . . . he who gathereth elsewhere than in the Church scatters the Church of Christ" (vi.); "nor is there any other home to believers but the one Church" (ix.).
The following works are of doubtful authenticity: 'De spectaculis ("On public games"); De bono pudicitiae ("The virtue of modesty"); De idolorum vanitate ("On the vanity of images", written by Novatian); De laude martyrii ("In praise of martyrs"); Adversus aleatores ; De duobus montibus Sina et Sion(On the two mountains Sinai and Zion); Adversus Judaeos; and the Cena Cypriani ("Cyprian's Banquet", which enjoyed wide circulation in the Middle Ages). The treatise entitled De duplici martyrio ad Fortunatum was not only published for the only time by Erasmus, but was probably also composed by him and fathered upon Cyprian.
- Cyprian and Roman Carthage by Allen Brent(Cambridge, 2010).
- Pontius the Deacon (Pontius Diaconis), "The Life and Passion of Cyprian, Bishop and Martyr"
- "The Plague of AD 251"
- Cyprian on the nature of the Church and Papacy by Dom John Chapman
- Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Cyprian
- Works by Cyprian at the IntraText Digital Library, with concordance and frequency lists
- Acta proconsularia S. Cypriani
- Multilanguage Opera Omnia
- Prayer to St. Cyprian
- The Cyprian Project