Saint Brigid Religious Education
100 Mayflower Street
West Hartford, CT 06110
Feast day: September 16
Saint Cyprian was born to wealthy pagans about the year 190 and
educated in the classics and rhetoric. He converted at the age of 56,
was ordained a priest a year later and a bishop two years after that.
There was no pope for 14 months after the martyrdom of St. Fabian
(January 20) because of the intensity of the persecution of the Church.
During the interval, the Church was governed by a college of priests.
St. Cyprian, a friend of Cornelius, writes that Cornelius was elected
pope "by the judgment of God and of Christ, by the testimony of most of
the clergy, by the vote of the people, with the consent of aged priests
and of good men."
The greatest problem of Cornelius's two-year term as pope had to do
with the Sacrament of Penance and centered on the readmission of
Christians who had denied their faith during the time of persecution.
After his election, a priest named Novatian (one of those who had
governed the Church) had himself consecrated a rival bishop of Rome, one
of the first antipopes. He denied that the Church had any power to
reconcile not only the apostates, but also those guilty of murder,
adultery, fornication or second marriage! Cornelius had the support of
most of the Church (especially of Cyprian of Africa) in condemning
Novatianism, though the sect persisted for several centuries. Cornelius
held a synod at Rome in 251 and ordered the "relapsed" to be restored to
the Church with the usual "medicines of repentance."
A document from Cornelius shows the extent of organization in the
Church of Rome in the mid-third century: 46 priests, seven deacons,
seven sub-deacons. It is estimated that the number of Christians totaled
His writings are of great importance, especially his treatise on The
Unity of the Catholic Church in which he argues that unity is grounded
in the authority of the bishop, and among the bishops, in the primacy of
the See of Rome.
During the Decian persecutions Cyprian considered it wiser to go into
hiding and guide his flock covertly rather than seek the glorious crown
of martyrdom, a decision that his enemies attacked him for.
On September 14, 258, however, he was martyred during the
persecutions of the emperor Valerian.