Saint Brigid Religious Education
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Pope St. Cornelius

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 about 50,000.

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.

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