Saints of the Canon – Saint Cyprian

[Saint Cyprian of Carthage]After the five martyred Popes comes an African Bishop, Saint Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage. He was of distinguished rank, rich and talented, a man of letters, winning fame in Carthage as a barrister. Converted to Christianity about the year 246, Cyprian distributed his great wealth among the poor, made a vow of perpetual chastity, and devoted his life to prayer and study. Ordained a priest, he was promoted to the See of Carthage, over which he ruled for ten years, from 248 to 258, a period of terrible persecutions. In the public square of Carthage he was put to death by the sword on the same day as his friend, Pope Saint Cornelius, had been six years before. Their joint feast is on September 16th.

Saint Cyprian is one of the noblest characters of Christian antiquity. He was one of the earliest of the great Christian writers to use Latin in his many epistles and treatises. He had a long controversy with Pope Saint Stephen on the question of heretical baptism, whose validity he attacked with arguments which built too confidently on the images he employed. Pope Stephen held by the traditional practice of the Church at Rome. The dispute threatened to lead to a schism when the death of Pope Stephen ended it. It is pleasant to see that Saint Cyprian, in spite of his mistake about heretical baptism, and his long controversy with the Pope, has always been so honoured by the Apostolic See, that he is the one foreigner here among her local saints.

His friendship with Pope Saint Cornelius is apparent in a letter congratulating the Pope on his banishment and foretelling the approaching martyrdom of both of them.

“Let us agree,” he writes, “in remembering each other at this time of peril, and whichever of its shall first be favoured by Our Lord with a removal hence, let our affection still persevere before the Lord for our brethren in never-ceasing prayers for them.”

At his execution the valiant Bishop begged twenty-five gold pieces from his friends for his executioner. Walking to the place of execution in Carthage wearing a linen tunic, he bandaged his own eyes, and thanked God for his approaching death.

- from The Saints of the Canon, by Monsignor John T. McMahon, M.A., Ph.D; Australian Catholic Truth Society, 1958