Bishop and Martyr of Carthage; died in 258
Convert; 246; Bishop, 248; Martyr, 258
St. Cyprian’s reconciling spirit is a fine example for any time or place. Church should be a place of healing, not recrimination, posturing, or ego-boosting, as it is so often. I know this well, for I grew up in a series of United Methodist parsonages across the South Georgia Annual Conference, and witnessed the goings-on in many congregations. The same dynamics play out in congregations of other descriptions, of course.
From the New Zealand Anglicans:
Thascius Cyprian was born about the year 200 and for much of his life was a lawyer and teacher. At the age of about forty-six he was converted to Christianity through his friendship with an aged priest. A wealthy man, Cyprian owned some fine parks in Carthage, North Africa. These he sold after his conversion, giving the money to the poor. Later, however, friends bought back the gardens and returned them to Cyprian, as a mark of their esteem.
He set himself to intensive study of Scripture and was greatly influenced by the writings of Tertullian. Within two years of his conversion he was elected bishop of Carthage. Soon after he became bishop, the persecution under the Emperor Decius began. Although it earned him much criticism, Cyprian decided to go into hiding and to continue to direct the church by correspondence, rather than risk almost certain martyrdom. He returned to his diocese in 251 and at once became embroiled in a controversy about how those Christians who had lapsed during the persecution might be reinstated. There were heated debates. Opinions ranged from relatively easy re-admission to permanent exclusion. Cyprian allowed reconciliation under episcopal supervision and insisted upon clear evidence of contrition and repentance.
During an outbreak of the plague in Carthage in 252 Cyprian was tireless in working for the relief of victims. Despite the good works of the church, the general populace blamed the “impious Christians” and their bishop for the epidemic.
Cyprian wrote extensively on theological issues, and his work was widely read. He made much use of Scripture, writing about church unity, the ministry, the place and authority of bishops, and the sacraments. In particular, Cyprian advocated regarding baptisms conducted by schismatic groups as null and void. The wider church eventually adopted the position maintained by another theologian, Bishop Stephen of Rome. Stephen argued that the authenticity of the sacrament rested on its divine authority, not on the character of the minister conducting it. Despite the argument with Stephen, Cyprian was an ardent supporter of the unity of the church.
In 257 the emperor Valerian renewed the persecution of the church, and Cyprian was one of the first to be arrested. For a year he was exiled to Curubis, about sixty-five kilometres from Carthage. In 258 he was brought back to Carthage for further trial. Again refusing to sacrifice to the Roman gods, he was sentenced to death. A great crowd of Christians and pagans went with him to the place of execution. Laying aside his outer garments, Cyprian made a gift of them to his executioner, knelt in prayer and was executed by being beheaded.
For Liturgical Use
Cyprian was born about 200 and did not become a Christian until he was forty-six. Soon after that, he was made bishop of Carthage, and for ten years he courageously led the church there through years of bitter persecution. He gave clear leadership in the tense debates over those who lapsed from their faith. Then he himself suffered martyrdom at the hands of the Roman authorities in the year 258.
Almighty God, who gave to your servant Cyprian boldness to confess the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world, and courage to die for this faith; Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 5:1-4, 10-11