Feast of Sts. Cyprian of Carthage, Cornelius of Rome, Lucius I of Rome, and Stephen I of Rome (September 16)   5 comments

Above:  Carthage and Rome

Image in the Public Domain



Bishop of Carthage, and Martyr

Born Thascius Caecillianus Cyprianus

His feast day = September 16

Alternative feast days = August 31, September 15, September  26, and October 2



Bishop of Rome

His feast day = September 16



Bishop of Rome

His feast transferred from March 4



Bishop of Rome

His feast transferred from August 2


Whoso stands aloof from the Church and is joined to an adulteress [a schismatic sect] is cut off from the promises given to the Church; and he that leaves the Church of Christ attains not to Christ’s rewards.  He is an alien, an outcast, an enemy.  He cannot have God for his father who has not the Church for his mother.

–St. Cyprian of Carthage, On the Unity of the Church; quoted in Henry Bettenson and Chris Mander, eds., Documents of the Christian Church, 3d. ed. (1998), 80


September 15 is the Feast of St. Cyprian of Carthage in The Episcopal Church.  The saint has more than one feast day, not one of them September 14, the anniversary of his death.  September 14 is, after all, the Feast of the Holy Cross.  Of all the feast days of St. Cyprian September 16 makes the most sense for my purposes as I continue to renovate my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days because (1) September 16 is the Feast of St. Cornelius of Rome, and (2) one cannot explain the lives of either St. Cyprian or St. Cornelius properly in isolation from each other.

Most persecution of Christianity in the Roman Empire was local and sporadic.  Sometimes, however, an emperor launched an empire-wide persecution.  Roman pagan orthodoxy, such as it was, mixed politics, religion, and civic duty.  The reasoning was that the empire would prosper as long as the gods allowed.  A civic duty, therefore, was to sacrifice to the gods on behalf of the empire.  Jews were exempt from this obligation, but had to pay a tax instead.  Gentiles who refused to make such a sacrifice were not fulfilling their civic duty, as the government defined it.  As Christianity grew, more and more Gentiles refused.  Was Christianity a threat to the future of the empire?  Were Christians threats to imperial security?

Above:  St. Cyprian of Carthage

Image in the Public Domain

St. Cyprian, born in Carthage between 190 and 210, was a pagan rhetorician until he converted to Christianity circa 246.  Within two years he had progressed from convert to deacon to priest then, in 248, to Bishop of Carthage, a post he held for the rest of his life, that is, until 258.  St. Cyprian was one of the most influential Christian leaders of the 250s.

The Emperor Decius (reigned 249-251), unlike his tolerant predecessor, Philip I (reigned 244-249), considered Christianity to be a threat to the future of the Roman Empire.  Decius forced St. Cyprian to flee Carthage; the bishop governed his diocese remotely.  St. Fabian, Bishop of Rome from 236 to 250, became a martyr.  A committee of clergymen, with Novatian (circa 200-258) as the spokesman, governed the Church for fourteen months.  In March 251, toward the end of the reign of Decius, a papal election was finally safe.  Novatian expected to win, but St. Cornelius did instead.

Above:  St. Cornelius of Rome

Image in the Public Domain

In 251, when St. Cyprian returned to Carthage, he had to contend with the question of how to deal with people who had committed apostasy by renouncing their Christian faith during the Decian persecution.  Some confessors were overly eager to readmit the lapsed on the grounds of the merits of the martyrs.  This displeased St. Cyprian, who insisted that apostates must perform penance in order for reconciliation to occur.  This penance, the Bishop of Carthage said, must be suitably long.  St. Cornelius agreed.  The policy would become the policy church-wide, the Bishop of Rome decreed.

Novatian disagreed.  In March 251, via a schismatic papal election, he established himself as a rival Bishop of Rome.  St. Cornelius excommunicated Novatian and his followers.  The Novatianist sect was ridiculously morally rigorous, teaching that there was no forgiveness for serious sins one committed after one’s baptism.  The schism persisted in Armenia and Mesopotamia until the 400s, and later elsewhere.

Sts. Cyprian and Cornelius did not always have friendly relations.  The Bishop of Carthage had initially been dubious about the election of St. Cornelius, but had quickly accepted it.  St. Cyprian even helped St. Cornelius to win the support of many Roman clergymen who might otherwise have supported Novatian.  In the summer of 252, however, St. Cornelius received envoys of Fortunatus, a bishop rival to St. Cyprian.  The Bishop of Rome did not side with Fortunatus, but St. Cyprian complained in writing about the meeting.

The next emperor was Gallus (reigned 251-253), initially tolerant of Christianity.  The reign of Gallus was one disaster after another.  A plague swept through the empire.  In Carthage Christians became scapegoats for the plague.  There were also barbarian invasions as well as military defeats on the Persian frontier.  Gallus distracted much criticism of him by resuming the persecution of Christianity in June 252.  That month the imperial government forced St. Cornelius into exile at Centumcellae (now Civitavecchia, the port of Rome).  The Bishop of Rome died in June 253.  The empire seemed to be coming apart; a civil war seemed unavoidable.  Gallus had two rivals (both generals) for the imperial throne.  In July 253 he died at the hands of his soldiers, who preferred assassinating their emperor to fighting a losing battle in which they would die in vain.  Aemilian, the next emperor, reigned for a few months until dying the same way.

The next emperor was Valerian (reigned 253-260), initially tolerant of Christianity.

Above:  St. Lucius I

Image in the Public Domain

St. Lucius I, elected Bishop of Rome on June 23, 253, had been in exile during the persecution under Gallus.  St. Cyprian wrote to St. Lucius I, who maintained the policy of St. Cornelius vis-á-vis repentant apostates.  The Bishop of Carthage congratulated the new Bishop of Rome for faithful suffering, and welcomed him back to Rome.  St. Lucius I died of natural causes on March 5, 254.

Above:  St. Stephen I

Image in the Public Domain

St. Stephen I, elected Bishop of Rome on May 12, 254, had conflicts with St. Cyprian.

St. Stephen I readmitted two lapsed Spanish bishops to the Church.  St. Cyprian did not agree that the Spanish bishops had repented of their apostasy.  He convened a synod of north African bishops.  The synod decreed that the Spanish bishops were still apostates, and that they had deceived the Bishop of Rome.

Marcian, Bishop of Arles, was, like Novatian, a moral rigorist who refused forgiveness and reconciliation, to repentant apostates–even on deathbeds.  Some local bishops petitioned St. Stephen I to depose Marcian.  St. Cyprian urged the Bishop of Rome to excommunicate and depose Marcian.  St. Stephen I refused on all counts.

Sts. Stephen I and Cyprian disagreed about the rebaptism of people baptized by heretics, i.e., Novatianists.  The Bishop of Carthage argued that such baptisms were almost always invalid.  He contended that the sacrament was valid only within the Church, so rebaptism was necessary in most of these cases.  The Bishop of Rome, however, regarded baptisms by heretics as generally valid.  Therefore, according to St. Stephen I, absolution via the laying on of hands was the only requirement for reconciliation of heretics.  He refused to permit the churches in Asia Minor to hold valid Eucharists due to their practice of rebaptizing heretics.  However, St. Cyprian convened two synods (in 255 and 256) that reaffirmed his position.  Ironically, Novatian and St. Cyprian had something in common, for Novatian refused to accept orthodox Catholic baptisms, just as St. Cyprian refused to accept Novatianist baptisms.

St. Stephen I was doing something new; he became the first Bishop of Rome to claim the primacy of his office based on succession from St. Simon Peter.  What the Bishop of Rome said, went.  St. Cyprian was having none of it, despite his acknowledgment of St. Simon Peter as the rock upon which Jesus founded the Church.

One may wonder what the long-term consequences of the dispute between Sts. Stephen I and Cyprian would have been.  One must, however, consign those thoughts to the realm of the counterfactual.  One should also consider St. Cyprian’s condemnation of schism as sinful.

Circumstances ended the dispute.  St. Stephen I died of natural causes on August 2, 257.  The next Bishop of Rome was St. Sixtus II.  In August 257 Valerian, seeking to distract attention from ample imperial woes, resumed the empire-wide persecution of Christianity.  St. Cyprian, forced into exile again, eventually returned to Carthage, where he became a martyr on September 14, 258.

Novatian also died in 258, perhaps as a martyr during the persecution under Valerian.

Valerian’s persecution did much to damage the Church, which survived, of course.  St. Sixtus II and many clergy died.  The empire also confiscated Church property.  Nevertheless, St. Dionysius, the Bishop of Rome from 260 to 268, rebuilt the Church.  He also had to contend with the issue of rebaptism.  Valerian failed.

The position of the Roman Catholic Church on baptism is that all Christian baptisms are valid.  Defects in the intentions of those who administer baptism render a baptism invalid, hence the Church’s refusal to accept Mormon baptisms.








Heavenly Father, Shepherd of your people, we thank you for your servants

Saint Cyprian of Carthage,

Saint Cornelius of Rome,

Saint Lucius I of Rome, and

Saint Stephen I of Rome,

who were faithful in the care and nurture of your flock;

and we pray that, following their examples and teachings of their holy lives,

we may by your grace grow into the stature of the fullness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Ezekiel 34:11-16

Psalm 23

1 Peter 5:1-4

John 21:15-17

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 718


5 responses to “Feast of Sts. Cyprian of Carthage, Cornelius of Rome, Lucius I of Rome, and Stephen I of Rome (September 16)

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