Saint Brigid Religious Education
100 Mayflower Street
West Hartford, CT 06110
Feast day: September 16
Cyprian is important in the development of Christian thought and
practice in the third century, especially in northern Africa.
Highly educated, a famous orator, he became a Christian as an adult.
He distributed his goods to the poor, and amazed his fellow citizens by
making a vow of chastity before his baptism. Within two years he had
been ordained a priest and was chosen, against his will, as Bishop of
Carthage (near modern Tunis).
Cyprian complained that the peace the Church had enjoyed had weakened
the spirit of many Christians and had opened the door to converts who
did not have the true spirit of faith. When the Decian persecution
began, many Christians easily abandoned the Church. It was their
reinstatement that caused the great controversies of the third century,
and helped the Church progress in its understanding of the Sacrament of
Novatus, a priest who had opposed Cyprian's election, set himself up
in Cyprian's absence (he had fled to a hiding place from which to direct
the Church, bringing criticism on himself) and received back all
apostates without imposing any canonical penance. Ultimately he was
condemned. Cyprian held a middle course, holding that those who had
actually sacrificed to idols could receive Communion only at death,
whereas those who had only bought certificates saying they had
sacrificed could be admitted after a more or less lengthy period of
penance. Even this was relaxed during a new persecution.
During a plague in Carthage, he urged Christians to help everyone,
including their enemies and persecutors.
A friend of Pope Cornelius, Cyprian opposed the following pope,
Stephen. He and the other African bishops would not recognize the
validity of baptism conferred by heretics and schismatics. This was not
the universal view of the Church, but Cyprian was not intimidated even
by Stephen's threat of excommunication.
He was exiled by the emperor and then recalled for trial. He refused
to leave the city, insisting that his people should have the witness of
Cyprian was a mixture of kindness and courage, vigor and steadiness.
He was cheerful and serious, so that people did not know whether to love
or respect him more. He waxed warm during the baptismal controversy; his
feelings must have concerned him, for it was at this time that he wrote
his treatise on patience. St. Augustine remarks that Cyprian atoned for
his anger by his glorious martyrdom.