Cyprian of Carthage – Saint

Also known as: Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus Cyprian of Carthage
Born: ca. 200 Died: 258
Occupation: bishop of Carthage
From: Encyclopedia of Catholicism.

A pagan rhetorician who converted to Christianity around 246, Cyprian within two years acquired such a remarkable knowledge of the Scriptures that he was elected bishop of Carthage. With Tertullian before him and Augustine after, he was one of the founding theologians of African and Latin theology. His feast day is September 16.

During the Decian persecution of 249–51, when the emperor demanded that Christians sacrifice to the Roman gods, Cyprian fled to the hinterland but continued to govern his diocese by mail. Some Christians submitted during the persecution and offered sacrifices (sacrifacati), while others simply purchased letters saying they did so (libellatici). When many of these backsliders later sought reentry to the church, Cyprian, while opposing utterly lax conditions for reentry, came also to oppose the rigorist high-penance position of the schismatic followers of the Roman Novatian (d. 257/258) on the principle of preserving the unity of the church. However, he led a series of African councils that required schismatics to be rebaptized on the grounds that sacraments given outside the church were invalid. The Roman church argued to the contrary that sacraments administered by heretics and schismatics could still be valid. The controversy was not settled until Augustine argued against the Donatists that it was Christ and not the heretical or schismatic minister who conferred the grace of the sacrament (ex opere operato).

Cyprian also contributed to the theology of original sin, arguing for the baptism of infants on the grounds that the entire human race was united with Adam in sin (Letters 151). This teaching, too, was given definitive form by Augustine. Cyprian’s On the Unity of the Church has come down in two versions, one defending the unity of the church on the basis of the primacy of the see of Peter in Rome, and another that is silent on the subject, perhaps reflecting Cyprian’s strong public disagreements with Saint Stephen I, bishop of Rome. Today there is almost no instance of a bishop engaging in public debate with the papacy the way Cyprian did.

Last updated: January 24, 2014 at 11:17 am

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