Cyprian of Carthage, Bishop & Martyr
Cyprian, Bishop and Martyr of Carthage
Cyprian was born around 200 AD in North Africa, of pagan parents. He was a prominent trial lawyer and teacher of rhetoric. Around 246 he became a Christian, and in 248 was chosen Bishop of Carthage. During the reign of the Emperor Valerian, Carthage suffered a severe plague epidemic. Cyprian organized a program of medical relief and nursing of the sick, available to all residents, but this did not prevent the masses from being convinced that the epidemic resulted from the wrath of the gods at the spread of Christianity. Another persecution arose, and this time Cyprian did not flee. He was arrested, tried, and finally beheaded on 14 September 258. (Because 14 is Holy Cross Day, he is usually commemorated on a nearby open day.) We have an account of his trial and martyrdom.
Many of his writings have been preserved. His essay On the Unity of The Catholic Church stresses the importance of visible, concrete unity among Christians, and the role of the bishops in guaranteeing that unity. It has greatly influenced Christian thought, as have his essays and letters on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He has been quoted both for and against the Roman Catholic claims for Papal authority.