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March for Life 2012

Evil triumphs when good men do nothing - Edmund Burke

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Feast of St. Cyprian - 11th September 2008





St. 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 was converted to Christianity 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's first Christian writing is "Ad Donatum", a monologue spoken to a friend, sitting under a vine-clad pergola. He tells how, until the grace of God illuminated and strengthened the convert, it had seemed impossible to conquer vice; the decay of Roman society is pictured, the gladiatorial shows, the theatre, the unjust law-courts, the hollowness of political success; the only refuge is the temperate, studious, and prayerful life of the Christian.

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 Penance. 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, St. 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 his martyrdom.

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 St. Cyprian atoned for his anger by his glorious martyrdom.

In August, 258, Cyprian learned that Pope Sixtus had been put to death in the catacombs on the 6th of that month, together with four of his deacons, in consequence of a new edict that bishops, priests, and deacons should be at once put to death; senators, knights, and others of rank are to lose their goods, and if they still persist, to die; matrons to be exiled; Caesarians (officers of the fiscus) to become slaves. This edict was put forward by Emperor Valerian.

Galerius Maximus, the successor of Paternus, sent for Cyprian back to Carthage, and in his own gardens the bishop awaited the final sentence. Many great personages urged him to fly, but he had now no vision to recommend this course, and he desired above all to remain to exhort others. Yet he hid himself rather than obey the proconsul's summons to Utica, for he declared it was right for a bishop to die in his own city. On the return of Galerius to Carthage, Cyprian was brought from his gardens by two principes in a chariot, but the proconsul was ill, and Cyprian passed the night in the house of the first princeps in the company of his friends. Of the rest we have a vague description by Pontius and a detailed report in the proconsular Acts. On the morning of the 14th a crowd gathered "at the villa of Sextus", by order of the authorities. Cyprian was tried there. He refused to sacrifice, and added that in such a matter there was no room for thought of the consequences to himself. The proconsul read his condemnation and the multitude cried, "Let us be beheaded with him!" He was taken into the grounds, to a hollow surrounded by trees, into which many of the people climbed.Cyprian took off his cloak, and knelt down and prayed. Then he took off his dalmatic and gave it to his deacons, and stood in his linen tunic in silence awaiting the executioner, to whom he ordered twenty-five gold pieces to be given. The brethren cast cloths and handkerchiefs before him to catch his blood. He bandaged his own eyes with the help of a priest and a deacon, both called Julius. So he suffered. For the rest of the day his body was exposed to satisfy the curiosity of the pagans. But at night the brethren bore him with candles and torches, with prayer and great triumph, to the cemetery of Macrobius Candidianus in the suburb of Mapalia. He was the first Bishop of Carthage to obtain the crown of martyrdom.
“You cannot have God for your Father if you do not have the Church for your mother.... God is one and Christ is one, and his Church is one; one is the faith, and one is the people cemented together by harmony into the strong unity of a body.... If we are the heirs of Christ, let us abide in the peace of Christ; if we are the sons of God, let us be lovers of peace” (St. Cyprian, The Unity of the Catholic Church).

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