Carthage, Roman Empire
|Died||14 September 258|
|Venerated in||Oriental Orthodox Churches, Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Lutheranism, Anglicanism|
|Feast||16 September (Western Orthodox, Catholic & Lutheran)|
31 August (Eastern Orthodox)
13 or 15 September (Anglican)
14 September (historical Sarum Use)
Dispute with Novatianisms
Saint Cyprian by Master of Messkirch
|Epistola ad Donatum de gratia Dei|
Testimoniorum Libri III
|Notable ideas|| Church of Rome as the Matrice of the Church |
Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus
Cyprian (SIP-ree-ən; Latin : Thaschus Cæcilius Cyprianus; c. 200 – September 14, 258 AD) was bishop of Carthage and a notable Early Christian writer of Berber descent, many of whose Latin works are extant. He is also recognised as a saint in the Christian churches. He was born around the beginning of the 3rd century in North Africa, perhaps at Carthage, where he received a classical education. Soon after converting to Christianity, he became a bishop in 249. A controversial figure during his lifetime, his strong pastoral skills, firm conduct during the Novatianist heresy and outbreak of the Plague of Cyprian (named after him due to his description of it), and eventual martyrdom at Carthage established his reputation and proved his sanctity in the eyes of the Church. His skillful Latin rhetoric led to his being considered the pre-eminent Latin writer of Western Christianity until Jerome and Augustine.
Cyprian was born into a rich, pagan, Berber (Roman African),Carthage family sometime during the early third century. 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 baptised 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.
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.
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..."
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.
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). Cyprian took a middle course between the followers of Novatus of Carthage who were in favour 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.
At the end of 256 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, and which Christian writers subsequently claimed 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.
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Cyprian's works were edited in volumes 3 and 4 of the Patrologia Latina. He was not a speculative theologian, his writings being always related to his pastoral ministry.The first major work was a monologue spoken to a friend called Ad Donatum, detailing his own conversion, the corruption of Roman government and the gladiatorial spectacles, and pointing to prayer as "the only refuge of the Christian". Another early written work was the Testimonia ad Quirinum. During his exile from Carthage Cyprian wrote his most famous treatise, De Ecclesiae Catholicae Unitate (On the Unity of the Catholic Church) and on returning to his see, he issued De Lapsis (On the Fallen). Another important work is his Treatise on the Lord's Prayer.
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 Martyrdom"); Adversus aleatores ("Against Gamblers"); De duobus montibus Sina et Sion ("On the Two Mountains Sinai and Sion"); Adversus Judaeos ("Against the Jews"); and the Cena Cypriani ("Cyprian's Banquet", which enjoyed wide circulation in the Middle Ages). The treatise entitled De duplici martyrio ad Fortunatum and attributed to Cyprian was not only published by Erasmus, but probably also composed by him. It is possible that his "Citation," was the only text written by him, a prayer for the help of angels against demonic attacks. Doubtless only part of his written output has survived, and this must apply especially to his correspondence, of which some sixty letters are extant, in addition to some of the letters he received.
Cyprian of Carthage is often confused with Cyprian of Antioch, reputedly a magician before his conversion. A number of grimoires, such as Libellus Magicus are mistakenly attributed to the former.
Pontius the Deacon wrote a biography of Cyprian titled The Life and Passion of St. Cyprian which details the saint's early life, his conversion, notable acts, and martyrdom under Valerian.
Churches were afterward erected over his tomb and over the place of his death, In later centuries, however, these churches were destroyed by the Vandals. The graves of such saints as Cyprian and Martin of Tours came to be regarded as "contact points between Heaven and Earth", and they became the centres of new, redefined, Christian urban communities.A surviving homily from Augustine on Cyprian's feast day indicates that his following was fairly widespread throughout Africa by the fourth century.
Charlemagne is said to have had the bones transferred to France; and Lyons, Arles, Venice, Compiègne, and Roenay in Flanders all have claimed to possess part of the martyr's relics.
The Roman Catholic Church celebrates his feast together with that of his good friend Pope St. Cornelius on September 16.Lutherans also commemorate him on September 16. Anglicans celebrate his feast usually either on September 13 (e.g. the Anglican Church of Australia) or September 15 (the present-day Church of England, although the Church of England before the Reformation, in the Sarum use, observed it on the day of his death, September 14). The Eastern Orthodox Church commemorates him on August 31.
Pope Stephen I was the bishop of Rome from 12 May 254 to his death on 2 August 257.
Pope Cornelius was the bishop of Rome from 6 or 13 March 251 to his martyrdom in June 253. He was pope during and following a period of persecution of the church and a schism occurred over how repentant church members who had practiced pagan sacrifices to protect themselves could be readmitted to the church. Cornelius agreed with Cyprian of Carthage that those who had lapsed could be restored to communion after varying forms of penance. That position was in contrast to the Novationists, who held that those who failed to maintain their confession of faith under persecution would not be received again into communion with the church. That resulted in a schism in the Church of Rome that spread as each side sought to gather support. Cornelius held a synod that confirmed his election and excommunicated Novatian, but the controversy regarding lapsed members continued for years.
Hippo Regius is the ancient name of the modern city of Annaba, Algeria. It historically served as an important city for the Phoenicians, Berbers, Romans, and Vandals. Hippo was the capital city of the Vandal Kingdom from 435–439 C.E. until it was shifted to Carthage following the Vandal Capture of Carthage (439).
Donatism was a heresy leading to schism in the Church of Carthage from the fourth to the sixth centuries AD. Donatists argued that Christian clergy must be faultless for their ministry to be effective and their prayers and sacraments to be valid. Donatism had its roots in the long-established Christian community of the Roman Africa province in the persecutions of Christians under Diocletian. Named after the Christian bishop Donatus Magnus, Donatism flourished during the fourth and fifth centuries.
Novatianism was an Early Christian sect devoted to the theologian Novatian that held a strict view that refused readmission to communion of Lapsi. The Church of Rome declared the Novatianists heretical following the letters of Saint Cyprian of Carthage.
Novatian was a scholar, priest, theologian and antipope between 251 and 258. Some Greek authors give his name as Novatus, who was an African presbyter.
Saint Dionysius the Great was the 14th Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria from 28 December 248 until his death on 22 March 264. Most information known about him comes from his large surviving correspondence. Only one original letter survives to this day; the remaining letters are excerpted in the works of Eusebius.
The Councils of Carthage were church synods held during the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries in the city of Carthage in Africa. The most important of these are described below.
Firmilian, Bishop of Caesarea Mazaca from ca. 232, was a disciple of Origen. He had a contemporary reputation comparable to that of Dionysius of Alexandria or Cyprian, bishop of Carthage. He took an active part in the mid-3rd century controversies over rebaptising heretics and readmitting lapsed Christians after the persecutions of Decius and was excommunicated by Pope Stephen I for his position. A single letter of Firmilian to Cyprian survives among Cyprian's correspondence. Jerome omits Firmilian from De viris illustribus. "To his contemporaries his forty years of influential episcopate, his friendship with Origen and Dionysius, the appeal to him of Cyprian, and his censure of Stephanus might well make him seem the most conspicuous figure of his time" (Wace).
The Diocletianic or Great Persecution was the last and most severe persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. In 303, the Emperors Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius, and Constantius issued a series of edicts rescinding Christians' legal rights and demanding that they comply with traditional religious practices. Later edicts targeted the clergy and demanded universal sacrifice, ordering all inhabitants to sacrifice to the gods. The persecution varied in intensity across the empire—weakest in Gaul and Britain, where only the first edict was applied, and strongest in the Eastern provinces. Persecutory laws were nullified by different emperors at different times, but Constantine and Licinius' Edict of Milan (313) has traditionally marked the end of the persecution.
Assuras, sometimes given as Assura or Assur, was a town in the Roman province of Proconsular Africa.
Saints Cyprian and Justina are honored in the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodoxy as Christians of Antioch, who in 304, during the persecution of Diocletian, suffered martyrdom at Nicomedia on September 26. According to Roman Catholic sources, no Bishop of Antioch bore the name of Cyprian.
Pontius, or Pontius the Deacon, was a Christian saint and Latin author from Carthage. He served as a deacon under Cyprian of Carthage and wrote the Vita Cypriani shortly after Cyprian's death.
Abitinae was a town in the Roman province of Africa Proconsularis and is famed for the Martyrs of Abitinae.
In the early Christian Church, lapsi were apostates who renounced their faith under persecution by Roman authorities. The term refers to those who have lapsed or fallen away from their faith, only to return to it later.
The persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire occurred intermittently over a period of over two centuries between the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD under Nero and the Edict of Milan in 313 AD. Following the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, Constantine the Great and his co-Augustus Licinius issued the Edict of Milan which granted religious toleration to all faiths, not just the Christian faith.
The Plague of Cyprian was a pandemic that afflicted the Roman Empire about from AD 249 to 262. The plague is thought to have caused widespread manpower shortages for food production and the Roman army, severely weakening the empire during the Crisis of the Third Century. Its modern name commemorates St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, an early Christian writer who witnessed and described the plague. The agent of the plague is highly speculative because of sparse sourcing, but suspects have included smallpox, pandemic influenza and viral hemorrhagic fever (filoviruses) like the Ebola virus.
The Decian persecution of Christians occurred in 250 AD under the Roman Emperor Decius. He had issued an edict ordering everyone in the Empire to perform a sacrifice to the Roman gods and the well-being of the emperor. The sacrifices had to be performed in the presence of a Roman magistrate, and be confirmed by a signed and witnessed certificate from the magistrate. Although the text of the edict has been lost, many examples of the certificates have survived.
Rucuma is a former city and bishopric in Roman North Africa, which remains a Latin Catholic titular see.
The Archdiocese of Carthage, also known as the Church of Carthage, was a Latin Catholic diocese established in Carthage, Roman Empire, in the 2nd century. Agrippin was the first named bishop, around 230 A.D. The temporal importance of the city of Carthage in the Roman Empire had previously been restored by Julius Caesar and Augustus. When Christianity became firmly established around the Roman province of Africa Proconsulare, Carthage became its natural ecclesiastical seat. Carthage subsequently exercised informal primacy as an archdiocese, being the most important center of Christianity in the whole of Roman Africa, corresponding to most of today's Mediterranean coast and inland of Northern Africa. As such, it enjoyed honorary title of patriarch as well as primate of Africa: Pope Leo I confirmed the primacy of the bishop of Carthage in 446: "Indeed, after the Roman Bishop, the leading Bishop and metropolitan for all Africa is the Bishop of Carthage."
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