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 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.
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.
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 (August 28) remarks that Cyprian atoned for his anger by his glorious martyrdom.
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