Cyprian of Carthage
(d. 258)

EarlyChurch.org.uk


Synopsis

CYPRIANUS, Thascius Cecilius, which last name he assumed in honor of an old presbyter, Cæcilius, who was instrumental in his conversion to Christianity, was born in Northern Africa, towards the close of the second, or in the beginning of the third, century, and educated at Carthage, where, in the fourth decade of the third century, he held a prominent position as a teacher of rhetoric. He was a man of wealth. His house and gardens were beautiful, his landed property considerable. He was also a man of elegance and dignity, both in dress and manners, both in literary productions and in business affairs. Of the history of his conversion nothing is known, but he was baptized in 245 or 246. Immediately after baptism he gave away a part of his fortune to the poor; and all his time he seems to have devoted to the study of the Bible and the Christian writers of the second century. His Epistolai acd Donatum, De Idolorum Vanitate, and Libri III. Testimoniorum adv. Judæes, in the last two of which works he closely follows Minucius Felix and Tertullian’s Apologeticus, belong to this period.

The African Church was at this period flourishing enough externally, but internally its state was rather precarious. The long peace it had enjoyed (nearly thirty years) had slackened the zeal and the discipline of its members. Even the character of the episcopate had suffered. Many of the bishops were engaged in agriculture or trade, or even in usury. Instances of fraud and swindling occurred among them. Sometimes they were so ignorant that they could not instruct the catechumens, nor distinguish between orthodox and heretical compositions. Under such. circumstances the conversion of a man like Cyprian naturally made a sensation, and awakened expectations. In 248 the episcopal chair of Carthage became vacant, and he was elected bishop. It is characteristic, however, that it was the lower mass of the church-members which carried his election, while a portion of the presbytery opposed it to the very last. The poor, the ignorant, the humble, of the Church of Carthage, felt how good it would be to them to have for their bishop a man of wealth, a man of learning, a man of social standing. They knew of Cyprian that he was liberal with his means, that he was possessed of brilliant literary talents, that he showed both decision and tact in business transactions, and they would hear of no refusal. Between July 248 and April 249 he was consecrated bishop. The opposition did not dissolve, however, after its defeat. On the contrary, it became more firmly organized; and it soon found a point from which an attack could be made. Early in 250 Decius issued the edict for the suppression of Christianity, and the persecution began. Measures were first taken against the bishops and officers of the church: by slaying the [592] shepherds it was hoped the flock would be stolen. The proconsul on circuit, and five commissioners for each town, administered the edict; but, when the proconsul reached Carthage, Cyprian had fled.

In his book De Lapsis, and in his letters to his congregation, to his fellow-bishops of the African Church, and to the clergy of Rome, Cyprian defends very adroitly the line of conduct he had adopted; but none of the reasons which he proffers — the necessity of preserving himself for the good of his church, the direct command of God through a vision, etc. — arc quite acceptable, and with the idea of heroism they are altogether incompatible. But it must be remembered, first, that martyrdom had not yet become a fashion, a rage, the necessary close of a distinguished life, the greatest grace which God could grant. When the Decian persecution broke out, Dionysius of Alexandria, Gregory Thaumaturgus, Maximus of Nola, and many other bishops, did as Cyprian, - fled before the storm. Next, the edict was directed, principally if not alone, against the bishops, - a circumstance which could not but influence their policy. In Rome the congregation left, for this very reason, the episcopal chair unoccupied for sixteen months after the martyrdom of Fabian. Finally the individual character must be taken into account. Cyprian was a man of education, not of genius ; he reasoned from facts, not from enthusiasm; he acted upon convictions, not upon passion. But with such characters every thing grand is the result of a slow growth, not of a moment’s inspiration; and the remark of Augustine about Cyprian’s style, that it ripened with age, growing simpler, nobler, and more fit to express the fulness of Christian truth, must be applied also to his conduct. Nevertheless, his flight gave his enemies a dangerous weapon in hand. Towards the close of 250 he sent the two bishops, Caldonius and Herculanus, to Carthage with money for the poor, with spiritual aid for the weak, with disciplinary power for those who had fallen. But in Carthage Caldonius and Herculanus met with the most determined opposition from the side of Felicissimus, a deacon; and when Cyprian excommunicated Felicissimus, five presbyters, beaded by Novatus, took up his cause: a schism thus broke out. In spring of 251 Cyprian returned; and the great question of the re-admission into the Church of the lapsi, especially of the libellatici, was now to be decided. The most extreme views found defenders. One party refused altogether to re-admit the lapsi: another granted them re-admission without any restriction at all. Cyprian adopted a middle course: after due penance he re-admitted those who had fallen. In the synods of Carthage (251 and 252) he carried through his policy, and it became the policy of the whole Christian Church. The two other parties, however, in which his adversaries were mixed up in a most singular manner... appointed each an anti-bishop, Maximus and Fortunatus. The schism was thus complete.

It would seem, however, that the authority of Cyprian was in no way impaired by this schism. The practical wisdom~ the inexhaustible energy, and the great self-abnegation with which he administered to the weal of his flock during the horrible plague which reached Carthage in 252 (see his De Mortalitate and De Eleomosynis), drew all true Christians close to their bishop; and the schismatics were forgotten. At the time when the controversy concerning baptism broke out between him and Bishop Stephen of Rome (255), Cyprian stood undisputedly as the prominent and most influential leader in the Christian Church. The Roman Church held that baptism administered in due form was valid, even when administered by a heretic, and admitted baptized heretics and schismatics by simple imposition of hands; while Cyprian protested that there was no baptism outside of the orthodox church, and baptized, or rather re-baptized, heretics and schismatics, before admitting them into the church. The Roman view held the ground; but it is very instructive to notice the relation in which Cyprian places himself to the Bishop of Rome. Acknowledging Rome as the natural centre of Christendom, and the successor of Peter as primus inter pares, he recognizes the precedence as one of honor only, and by no means as one of power. Of a feeling of subordination, of a yielding to a higher power of jurisdiction, there is in all his tracts and letters not the least trace. The papacy was not yet born. On the contrary, it is Cyprian who is styled Papa by the Roman bishop; and he does not give back the title to his interlocutor.

In spring of 257 Ynlerian’s edict against the Christians was issued, and in August, Cyprian appeared before the proconsul, Aspasius Paternus; and, when he refused to offer sacrifice to the Roman state-gods, he was banished to Curubis, a lonely place on the seashore, but only a day’s journey from Carthage. lie lived there eleven nionths, in decent retirement, and in steady communication with his flock. A new proconsul, Galerius Maximus, recalled him; but shortly after a much severer edict was issued, and (Aug. 13) he was again arrested. On Sept. 13 the trial began, and the next day the proconsul pronounced reluctantly the sentence of death by the sword. "Deo Gratias I" Cyprian exclaimed. The execution followed immediately. But the proceedings were carried on, from the side of the State, sith a regard for the victim which shows the great weight he carried in public opinion; and the execution was witnessed with a sympathetic awe which was still vibrating in people’s hearts when Augustine preached.

Hagenbach (Leimbach), "CYPRIANUS, Thascius Cecilius," Philip Schaff, ed., A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology, 3rd edn., Vol. 1. Toronto, New York & London: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1894. pp.591-593.

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Primary Sources

Book or monograph G.W. Clarke, "The Letters of St. Cyprian of Carthage," Ancient Christian Writers, Vols. 43, 44, 46, 48. New York: Newman, 1984, 1986, 1988.
On-line Resource Cyprian (Christian Classic Ethereal Library)
Book or monograph Cyprian: The LapsedCyprian, The Lapsed; The Unity of the Catholic Church, M. Bévenor, trans. Ancient Christian Writers, Vol.25. New York: Newman, 1957. Hbk. ISBN: 0809102609. pp.132. {Amazon.com}
Book or monograph Cyprian, Letters, The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 51, Rose Bernard Donna, trans. Washington, D.C: The Catholic University of America Press, 1992. Hbk. ISBN: 0813200512. pp.352. {Amazon.com}
Book or monograph Cyprian, Treatises, The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 36, Roy .J. Deferrari et al, trans., Washington, D.C: The Catholic University of America Press, 1958. Hbk. ISBN: 0813200369. pp.372. {Amazon.com}
Book or monograph R.E. Wallis, trans. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1886 / Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1080. Hbk. ISBN: 0802880916. pp.706. {Amazon.com}

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Secondary Sources

W. Beinert, "Who Can Be Saved?" Theology Digest 38 (1991): 223-28.
Maurice Bévenot, "An 'Old Latin' Quotation (2 Tim 3:2) and Its Adventures in the Mss of St. Cyprianus, De Unitate Ecclesiae, cp. 16," Studia Patristica 1 (1957): 249-52.
Maurice Bévenot, "Cyprian's Platform in the Rebaptism Controversy," Heythrop Journal 19 (1978): 123-42.
Maurice Bévenot, "Cyprian and his Recognition of Cornelius," Journal of Theological Studies 28.2 (1977): 346-359.
Maurice Bévenot, "Sacerdos' as Understood By Cyprian," Journal of Theological Studies 30.2 (1979): 413-429.
Book or monograph Maurice Bévenot, Tradition of Manuscripts: Study in the Transmission of St. Cyprian's Treatises. London: Greenwood Press, 1979. Hbk. ISBN: 0313206228. pp.163. {Amazon.com}
Maurice Bévenot, "The Oldest Surviving Manuscript of St. Cyprian in the British Library," Journal of Theological Studies 31.2 (1980): 368-377.
C.A. Bobertz, "For the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts was the house of Israel," Jewish Quarterly Review 82 (1991-1992): 1-15.
Allen Brent, "Cyprian's Reconstruction of the Martyr Tradition," Journal of Ecclesiastical History 53.2 (2002): 241-268.
Felix V.A. Boyse, "Cyprian, Lawyer and Bishop: A Study in Christian Leadership," Simon Greenleaf Law Review 6 (1986/87): 7-30.
On-line Resource John Chapman [1885-1934], "The Order of the Treatises and Letters in the MSS of St. Cyprian," Journal of Theological Studies 4 No 13 (Oct. 1902): 103-123.View in PDF format [This material is in the Public Domain]
On-line Resource John Chapman [1885-1934], "The Interpolations in St. Cyprian's De Unitate Ecclesiae," Journal of Theological Studies 5 No 20 (July 1904): 634-636.View in PDF format [This material is in the Public Domain]
G.W. Clarke, "Prosographical Notes on the Epistles of Cyprian. II. The Proconsul in Africa in 250 A.D.," Latomus 31 (1972): 1053-57.
G.W. Clarke, "Prosographical Notes on the Epistles of Cyprian. Rome in August , 258," Latomus 34 (1975): 437-48.
Book or monograph F.L. Cross, The Early Christian Fathers. Studies in Theology 1. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd., 1960. Hbk. pp.148-154.
Rupert E. Davies, "St. Cyprian of Carthage," London Quarterly and Holborn Review (1958): 198-207.
Geoffrey D Dunn, "Cyprian and His Collegae: Patronage and the Episcopal Synod of 252," Journal of Religious History 27.1 (2003): 1-13.
Geoffrey D. Dunn, "Pure and Holy Flock: Cyprian's Pastoral Care of Virgins," Journal of Early Christian Studies 11.1 (2003): 1-20.
Book or monograph M.A. Fahey, Cyprian and the Bible: A Study in Third Century Exegesis. Tübingen: Mohr, 1971. ISBN: 3161322223. pp.696. {Amazon.com}
Article Edward Fasholé-Luke, "Christian Unity: St. Cyprian's and Ours," Scottish Journal of Theology 23 (1970): 312-
Article Edward Fasholé-Luke, "Who id the Bridegroom? An Excursion into St. Cyprian's Use of Scripture," Studia Patristica 12 (1975): 294-98.
Article Paul J. Fitzgerald, "A Model for Dialogue: Cyprian of Carthage on Ecclesial Discernment," Theological Studies 59.2 (1998): 236-253.
Article Andrew Hamilton, "Cyprian and Church Unity," Pacifica 8.1 (1995): 9-21.
Book or monograph P. Hinchcliffe, Cyprian of Carthage and the Unity of the Christian Church. London: Chapman, 1974.
Book or monograph Edelhard L. Hummel, The Concept of Martyrdom according to St. Cyprian of Carthage. Catholic University of America Studies in Christian Antiquity 9. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1946. pp. xviii + 199.
Article John D. Laurance, "Eucharistic Leader According to Cyprian of Carthage: A New Study," Studia Liturgica 15.2 (1982): 66-75.
Article Giovani Mercati [1866-1957], "An Uncial MS of St Cyprian," Journal of Theological Studies 7 No 26 (Jan. 1906): 269-270.
Article G. Quispel, "African Christianity before Minucius Felix and Tertullian," J. den Boeft and A.H.M. Kessels, eds, Actus: Studies in honour of H.L.W. Nelson. Utrecht: Instituut voor Klassieke Talen, 1982. pp. xiii, 482.
Article Charles A. Robertz, "'For the Vineyard of the Lord of Hosts Was the House of Israel': Cyprian of Carthage and the Jews," Jewish Quarterly Review 82.1/2 (1991): 1-15.
Article John L. Rossner, "New Light On Cyprian," Anglican Theological Review 40 (1958): 214-219.
Article J. Jayakiran Sebastian, "Sensitivity and Proclamation: Perspectives on Mission from the Writings of Cyprian," Mission Studies 15.2 (1998): 40-50.
Book or monograph Martin M. Sage, Cyprian. Patristic Monograph Series, Vol. 1. Catholic Univerisity of America Press, 1975. Pbk. ISBN: 0813209986. pp. vi + 439. {Amazon.com}
On-line Resource Cuthbert H. Turner [1860–1930], "Prolegomena To The Testimonia Of St Cyprian. II," Journal of Theological Studies 9 No 33 (Oct. 1907): 62-87.View in PDF format [This material is in the Public Domain]
Book or monograph Walker: The Churchmanship of St. CyprianGeorge Stuart Murdoch Walker, The Churchmanship of St. Cyprian. London: Lutterworth, 1968. Reprinted: James Clarke & Co., Ltd., 2002. Pbk. ISBN: 0227171616. pp.108. {Amazon.com}
Article Iain Torence, "They Speak to Us Across the Centuries 2. Cyprian," Expository Times 108.12 (1997): 356-359.
On-line Resource Edward William Watson [1859-1936], "Cyprianica," Journal of Theological Studies 4 No 13 (Oct. 1902): 131.View in PDF format [This material is in the Public Domain]
On-line Resource Edward William Watson [1859-1936], "The Interpolations in St. Cyprian's De Unitate Ecclesiae," Journal of Theological Studies 5 No 19 (April 1904): 432-436.View in PDF format [This material is in the Public Domain]
Article Maurice F. Wiles, "The Theological Legacy of St. Cyprian," The Journal of Ecclesiastical History 14.2. (1963): 139-149.
Article Geoffrey Willis, "Saint Cyprian and the Mixed Chalice," Downside Review 100(339) (1982): 110-115.

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Biographies

Book or monograph J. Patout Jr. Burns, Cyprian the Bishop. Routledge, 2001. Pbk. ISBN: 0415238501. pp.272. {Amazon.com}
On-line Resource St. Cyprian of Carthage (John Chapman)
Book or monograph Born to New Life: Cyprian of CarthageOliver Davies, Cyprian Smith & Tim Witherow, Born to New Life: Cyprian of Carthage. The Spirituality of the Fathers, No. 2. New City Press, 1992. Pbk. ISBN: 1565480066. pp.127. {Amazon.com}
On-line Resource Cyprian of Carthage, Bishop and Martyr (James E. Kiefer)

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