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Saint Cyprian (Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus)

Saint Cyprian
Born 3rd century in North Africa
Died September 14, 258 in Carthage
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church
Saints Portal
This page is about Cyprian, bishop of Carthage. For other Cyprians, see Cyprian (disambiguation).

Saint Cyprian (Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus) (died September 14, 258) was bishop of Carthage and an important early Christian writer. He was probably born at the beginning of the 3rd century in North Africa, perhaps at Carthage, where he received an excellent classical (pagan) education. After converting to Christianity, he became a bishop (249) and eventually died a martyr at Carthage. Image File history File links Stcyprian. ... // Overview Events 212: Constitutio Antoniniana grants citizenship to all free Roman men 212-216: Baths of Caracalla 230-232: Sassanid dynasty of Persia launches a war to reconquer lost lands in the Roman east 235-284: Crisis of the Third Century shakes Roman Empire 250-538: Kofun era, the first... Carthage and the Berbers Phoenician traders arrived on the North African coast around 900 BC and established Carthage (in present-day Tunisia) around 800 BC. By the sixth century BC, a Phoenician presence existed at Tipasa (east of Cherchell in Algeria). ... September 14 is the 257th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar (258th in leap years). ... Events Sun Xiu succeeds Sun Liang as ruler of the Chinese kingdom of Wu The Goths ravage Asia Minor and Trabzon Gaul, Britain and Spain break off from the Roman Empire to form the Gallic Empire Nanjing University first founded in Nanjing, China Births Emperor Hui of Jin China (approximate... The Roman Catholic Church or Catholic Church (see terminology below) is the Christian Church in full communion with the Bishop of Rome, currently Pope Benedict XVI. It traces its origins to the original Christian community founded by Jesus of Nazareth, with its traditions first established by the Twelve Apostles and... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged into Eastern Christianity. ... The calendar of saints is a traditional Christian method of organising a liturgical year on the level of days by associating each day with one or more saints, and referring to the day as that saints day. ... Image File history File links Gloriole. ... Cyprian can refer to: St. ... September 14 is the 257th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar (258th in leap years). ... Events Sun Xiu succeeds Sun Liang as ruler of the Chinese kingdom of Wu The Goths ravage Asia Minor and Trabzon Gaul, Britain and Spain break off from the Roman Empire to form the Gallic Empire Nanjing University first founded in Nanjing, China Births Emperor Hui of Jin China (approximate... Two bishops assist at the Exhumation of Saint Hubert, who was a bishop too, at the église Saint-Pierre in Liège. ... Ruins of Roman-era Carthage For other uses, see Carthage (disambiguation). ... Christianity is a monotheistic[1] religion centered on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as presented in the New Testament. ... // Overview Events 212: Constitutio Antoniniana grants citizenship to all free Roman men 212-216: Baths of Caracalla 230-232: Sassanid dynasty of Persia launches a war to reconquer lost lands in the Roman east 235-284: Crisis of the Third Century shakes Roman Empire 250-538: Kofun era, the first... Carthage and the Berbers Phoenician traders arrived on the North African coast around 900 BC and established Carthage (in present-day Tunisia) around 800 BC. By the sixth century BC, a Phoenician presence existed at Tipasa (east of Cherchell in Algeria). ... Heathen redirects here. ... Events Trajan Decius becomes Roman emperor. ... For other uses, see Sacrifice (disambiguation). ...


Early life

He was of a wealthy and distinguished pagan background; in fact the site of his eventual martyrdom was his own villa. The date of his conversion is unknown, but after his baptism about 245-248 he gave away a portion of his wealth to the poor of Carthage, as befitted a man of his rank. He was either of Punic stock or, as is sometimes claimed, a Berber. Punic (from Latin pūnicus) was a Latin version of the term Phoenician. (After the Punic Wars, Romans used this term as an adjective meaning treacherous.) In archaeological and linguistic usage, it refers to the Greco-Roman era culture and dialect of Carthage and its empire as distinct from their... The Berbers (also called Amazigh people or Imazighen, free men, singular Amazigh) are an ethnic group indigenous to Northwest Africa, speaking the Berber languages of the Afroasiatic family. ...

His original name was Thascius; he took the additional name Caecilius in memory of the presbyter to whom he owed his conversion. He became a teacher of rhetoric. Presbyter in the New Testament refers to a leader in local Christian congregations, a synonym of episkopos, which has come to mean bishop. ...

In the early days of his conversion he wrote an Epistola ad Donatum de gratia Dei ("Letter to Donatus concerning God's grace"), and three books of Testimoniorum adversus Jud├Žes that adhere closely to the models of Tertullian, who influenced his style and thinking, and are largely interesting as a document in the history of anti-semitism. Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, anglicized as Tertullian, (ca. ... The Eternal Jew: 1937 German poster. ...

His contested election as bishop of Carthage

Not long after his baptism he was ordained 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 tenure.

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. The intense following of martyrdom as a Christian career still lay in an unexpected future. Early in 250 the Emperor Decius issued the edict for the suppression of Christianity, and the "Decian persecution" famous to Christians began. Measures were first taken demanding that the bishops and officers of the church sacrifice to the Emperor, a matter of an oath of allegiance that was taken by Christians as profoundly offensive. The proconsul on circuit, and five commissioners for each town, administered the edict; but, when the proconsul reached Carthage, Cyprian had fled. Historically, a martyr is a person who dies for his or her religious faith. ... Bust of Traianus Decius. ...

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, whatever price they actually paid, and those who buckled, submitting in word or in deed to the order of sacrifice and receiving a ticket or receipt called a libellum ("booklet"). His secret departure from Carthage was interpreted by his enemies as cowardice and infidelity, and they hastened to accuse him at Rome. The Roman clergy (the see being vacant at that time) 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. Nickname: The Eternal City Motto: SPQR: Senatus PopulusQue Romanus Location of the city of Rome (yellow) within the Province of Rome (red) and region of Lazio (grey) Coordinates: Region Lazio Province Province of Rome Founded 21 April 753 BC Mayor Walter Veltroni Area    - City 1,285 km²  (580 sq mi... The Holy See (Latin: Sancta Sedes, lit. ...

For the context of the "Decian persecution" in the Empire, see the entry at Decius. Bust of Traianus Decius. ...

Controversy over the lapsed

The persecution was especially severe at Carthage, according to Church sources (Official sources are silent on this "Decian persecution.") Many Christians fell away, but afterward asked to be received again into the Church. Their request was early granted, 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 readmission to the Church to more quiet times. A schism broke out in Carthage. One Felicissimus, who had been ordained deacon 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 (guided by a vision, all for the good of the community) in letters to the other North African bishops, and a tract De lapsis ("On lapses"), 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, it is said, and condemned Felicissimus, though no Acts of this council survive. The libellatici, i.e., Christians who had made or signed the written statements (libelli) that they had obeyed the behest of the emperor, 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. 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. Novatian (2XX - 258) was a scholar and antipope who held the title between 251 and 258. ... Cornelius was elected pope on either March 6 or March 13, 251 during the lull in the persecution of the Roman Emperor Decius. ...

But these extremes strengthened the influence of the wise, moderate, yet firm Cyprian, 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 Ad Demetrianum. directed against a certain Demetrius and the reproach of the heathens that Christians were the cause of the public calamities. This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ...

Controversy concerning heretic baptism

But Cyprian had yet to fight another battle, which broke to the surface in 255, in which his opponent was Pope Stephen I. The matter in dispute was the efficacy of baptism in the conventional accepted forms, when it was administered by heretics. Events Births Deaths Wuqiu Jian, general of the Kingdom of Wei Categories: 255 ... Stephen I, pope (about March 12, 254 to August 2, 257). ... Baptism in early Christian art. ... Heresy, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is a theological or religious opinion or doctrine maintained in opposition, or held to be contrary, to the Catholic or Orthodox doctrine of the Christian Church, or, by extension, to that of any church, creed, or religious system, considered as orthodox. ...

Stephen declared baptism by heretics valid if administered according to the institution either in the name of Christ or of the holy Trinity. This was the mainstream view of the Church. Cyprian, on the other hand, believing that outside the Church there was no true baptism, regarded that of heretics as null and void, and baptized as for the first time those who joined the Church. When heretics had been baptized in the Church, but had temporarily fallen away and wished to return in penitence, he did not rebaptize them. Within Christianity, the doctrine of the Trinity states that God is a single being who exists, simultaneously and eternally, as a perichoresis of three persons (hypostases, personae): Father, the Son (incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth), and the Holy Spirit, and thus is sometimes used by Christians as a name for...

Cyprian's narrow definition of the Church led him to certain inferences that made him in this respect the connecting-link between his model, the rigorist Tertullian, and the comparable Donatist controversy that split North Africa later, concerning the efficacy of the mass, when said by an unworthy priest. The Donatists (founded by the Berber Christian Donatus Magnus) were followers of a belief considered a heresy by the broader Catholic community. ...

The majority of the North African bishops sided with Cyprian; and in the East he had a powerful ally in Firmilian, bishop of Caesarea. But the position of Stephen came to find general acceptance. While, however, Cyprian defended his position with wisdom and dignity, Stephen showed a blind, blunt zeal; and there appears in his letters the claim of superiority of the Roman See over all bishoprics of the Church. To this claim Cyprian answered that the authority of the Roman bishop was coordinate with, not superior to, his own. Stephen broke off communion with Cyprian and Carthage, though perhaps without going as far as a formal excommunication of Cyprian. Caesarea Palaestina Caesarea Palaestina, also called Caesarea Maritima, a town built by Herod the Great about 25 –13 BC, lies on the sea-coast of Israel about halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa, on the site of a place previously called Pyrgos Stratonos (Strato or Stratons Tower, in Latin...

Modern Roman Catholic writers make a special effort to show that the controversy concerned only a question of discipline, not of doctrine. The modern Catholic church holds dogmatically that baptism by heretics and even by atheists or other non-Christians is valid if intentionally done according to the manner that the Church prescribes. Dogma (the plural is either dogmata or dogmas) is belief or doctrine held by a religion, ideology or any kind of organization to be authoritative and not to be disputed or doubted. ...

Persecution under Valerian

At the end of 256 a new persecution of the Christians under Valerian broke out, and both Stephen and his successor, Xystus (Sixtus) II, suffered martyrdom at Rome. Events Births Arius, founder of Arianism Deaths Invasions Goths invade Asia Minor. ... Publius Licinius Valerianus (Latin: IMPERATOR CAESAR PVBLIVS LICINIVS VALERIANVS · PIVS FELIX · INVICTVS AVGVSTVS)¹ (ca. ... Sixtus II was pope from August 30, 257 to August 6, 258, following Stephen I as bishop of Rome in 257. ...

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 the desolate Churubis, 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 on his own villa, in expectation of severer measures after a new and more stringent imperial edict arrived which demanded 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, 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. Two of his clergy blindfolded him. He ordered twenty-five gold pieces to be given to the executioner, who with a trembling hand administered the death-blow.

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. Charlemagne is said to have had the bones transferred to France; and Lyons, Arles, Venice, Compiegne, and Roenay in Flanders boast the possession of the martyr's relics. The Vandals traditional reputation: a colored steel engraving of the Sack of Rome (455) by Heinrich Leutemann (1824-1904), c 1860-80 Vandal and Vandali redirect here. ... A portrait of Charlemagne by Albrecht Dürer that was painted several centuries after Charlemagnes death. ...


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 this, which makes the one episcopate, not of Rome, but of the Church at large, the foundation-stone of the Church, occur the following statements: "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 most famous saying of Cyprian, usually though inadequately translated "Outside the Church there is no salvation," (embraced, e.g. by Pius IX's Errores, is found among his Letters, lxxii. Ad Jubajanum de haereticis baptizandis "Quia salus extra ecclesiam non est." His work De oratione Dominica is an adaptation of Tertullian's De oratione; he also worked over Tertullian's De patientia in his work De bono patientiae. The Blessed Pope Pius IX, born Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, ( May 13, 1792 – February 7, 1878) was pope for a record pontificate of over 31 years, from June 16, 1846 until his death. ...

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", which may perhaps be by Novatian); De laude martyrii ("In praise of martyrs"); Adversua aleatores ; De montibus Sina et Sion. The treatise entitled De duplici martyrio ad Fortunatum was not only published for the first and only time by Erasmus, but was probably also composed by him and fathered upon Cyprian. Novatian (2XX - 258) was a scholar and antipope who held the title between 251 and 258. ...

Posterity has had less difficulty in reaching a universally accepted view of Cyprian's personality than his contemporaries. He combined loftiness of thought with an ever-present consciousness of the dignity of his office; his earnest life, his self-denial and fidelity, moderation and greatness of soul have been increasingly acknowledged and admired. He was the type of a prince of the Church. The glory of his courageous and edifying martyrdom can not be extinguished by the earlier charges of cowardice. As a writer, however, he was in general by no means original or especially deep.


  • Daniel, Robin, 1993.This Holy Seed: Faith, Hope and Love in the Early Churches of North Africa (Tamarisk Publications) ISBN 0-9520435-0-5
  • Wace, Henry,

External links

  Results from FactBites:
Cyprian, Saint. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-05 (0 words)
Cyprian concurred with Pope Cornelius (and Calixtus I before him), calling for strictness but ultimate forgiveness for the truly contrite.
He recognized the preeminence of the Church of Rome, but fell into sharp dispute with Pope Stephen I on the validity of baptism conferred by heretics or schismatics; Cyprian believed persons so baptized had to be rebaptized upon entering the church.
The question was settled in favor of the Roman teaching, after Cyprian’s martyrdom in the persecution of Valerian.
Cyprian, Carthage, Ancient Christian Church (5310 words)
For Cyprian, the church might be spread abroad through all the world yet she remains one: "Even as the sun has many rays, yet one light." It follows from Cyprian's view that to separate from the church was the worst of sins.
Cyprian had insisted that no change should be made in the usual practice until the end of the persecution when the bishop could convene and decide on an overall policy.
Cyprian's main idea on church unity was that of the coherence of bishops in mutual concord and he quoted Ephesians 4, which points to the mystery of church unity.
  More results at FactBites »



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