16 September 2009

Commemoration of Cyprian of Carthage, Pastor and Martyr

Today our Synod commemorates St. Cyprian. From the Treasury and our Synod's website:

Cyprian (A.D. ca. 200–258), was acclaimed bishop of the north African city in Carthage around 248. During the persecution of the roman Emperor Decius, Cyprian fled Carthage but returned two years later. He was then forced to deal with the problem of Christians who had lapsed from their faith under persecution and now wanted to return to the Church. It was decided that these lapsed Christians could be restored but that their restoration could take place only after a period of penance that demonstrated their faithfulness. During the persecution under Emperor Valerian, Cyprian at first went into hiding but later gave himself up to the authorities. He was beheaded for the faith in Carthage in the year 258.

Today's Collect notes that "You gave Your servant Cyprian boldness to confess the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, before the rulers of this world and the courage to die for the faith he proclaimed" and asks that we also be given constant strength "to give a reason for the hope that is in us and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Treasury, p. 728)

Today's Treasury writing is a beautiful meditation by St. Cyprian that includes these words: "If we are the sons of God; if we are already beginning to be His temples; if, having received the Holy Spirit, we are living holy and spiritually; if we have raised our eyes from earth to heaven; if we have lifted our hearts, filled with God and Christ, to things above and divine, let us do nothing but what is worthy of God and Christ..." (Treasury, p. 728)


Past Elder said...

"It was decided"? That's passive voice, needs an agent -- who decided?

Cyprian was elected bishop of Carthage by the diocese (you could do that in those days) in a contested election, then when the Romans showed up to make sure he sacrificed to the Emperor,they found he had taken off in secret. Among the "flock", who did not share that option with their "shepherd", some did and some didn't. First he wanted, still hiding, using a deacon, evidence of repentance from those who did but wanted back in, then when many were taken back in regardless wanted no laxity until a council was called, and another deacon opposed his deacon. Then he called the council of local bishops, which, surprise surprise, mostly upheld him. Then the other party elects a bishop in opposition to him. Similar developments happened in Rome between Novatius and Cyprian's friend Cornelius, bishop of Rome.

THEN, they get into it again about baptism administered by heretics, Cyprian saying no way, the then bishop of Rome, Stephen I, saying way and besides the bishop of Rome is bishop over all other bishops, then Cyprian saying no you're not, then Pope Stephen breaks with Cyprian, though whether formally with excommunication is unsure. Stephen's position is RC teaching to this day. Ours too -- I wasn't rebaptised by either WELS or LCMS.

Then new persecution begins under Emperor Valerian, Stephen is killed, and the proconsul in Carthage exiles Cyprian, this time the Romans kicking him out, he didn't buckle, was kept in his family villa (he was rich) and finally executed there 14 September 258. I guess he learned something from the Decian thing by the time Valerian came along.

Sun of a gun if 14 Septemder doesn't turn into Holy Cross Day, now that Christianity is the state church, so he gets bumped to 16 September.

And what happened to his friend Pope Cornelius, who had a similar story as bishop of Rome, including a rival bishop of Rome, and who died in exile under the next Emperor after Decius? He's commemorated on the same day with his friend Cyprian. Then again, it isn't for certain whether he was martyred or not, so maybe that's why he's left out to-day.

Point being, this saint stuff gets real tricky a lot of the time and needs to be approached with great care.

Father Robert Lyons said...

Past Elder,

The calendar of my ecclesial body commemorates Cyprian on the 14th and omits Holy Cross day.


William Weedon said...


The great thing about celebrating St. Cyprian is how the Church received and acknowledged him DESPITE his getting somethings ass-backwards. How St. Augustine treats him is a model for how we deal with the foibles and failings found in even the greatest of the fathers. FWIW.

Past Elder said...

FL -- well, that is the day he died, the usual choice for saints days, so in the absence of Holy Cross Day, makes sense. However, Holy Cross Day being one of the older observances, I'm curious -- what is your ecclesial body?

PW -- It's worth a lot. Trouble is, we get confused about what is a strong point and what is a foible! I've had De unitate ecclesiae quoted at me by RCs (OK one, whose blog I no longer visit) as "proof" we Lutherans have got to be on the wrong path, yet the author was on the outs with the "bishop of Rome" at the time and was a basis for later Donatist doctrine! As Maimonides said to me one time, Oy!

Maria said...

"It was decided that these lapsed Christians could be restored but that their restoration could take place only after a period of penance that demonstrated their faithfulness."

Do you believe this was right? Weren't they in need of hearing the forgiveness of sins immediately after expressing their sorrow over not having confessed their faith and being welcomed back into the church immediately?

"During the persecution under Emperor Valerian, Cyprian at first went into hiding but later gave himself up to the authorities."

I heard on Issues,etc. that Cyprian at first quoted bible verses that supported his escape from persecution but apparently changed his mind later. What is your opinion about this? Wasn't he right on this, doesn't the bible give a lot of examples of God's people fleeing oppressors and persecutors?