Bishop of Carthage, Martyr


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Bishop of Carthage, Martyr

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Thascius Cyprian was bishop of Carthage and a notable Early Christian writer of Berber descent; for much of his life he was a lawyer and teacher. Roman Carthage, was the major city of the Roman Empire in the province of Africa. At the age of about 46 he was converted to Christianity through his friendship with an aged priest. A wealthy man, Cyprian owned some fine parks in Carthage, North Africa. These he sold after his conversion, giving the money to the poor. Later, however, friends bought back the gardens and returned them to Cyprian, as a mark of their esteem.

He set himself to intensive study of Scripture and was greatly influenced by the writings of Tertullian. Within 2 years of his conversion he was elected bishop of Carthage. Soon after he became bishop, the persecution under the Emperor Decius began. Although it earned him much criticism, Cyprian decided to go into hiding and to continue to direct the church by correspondence, rather than risk almost certain martyrdom. He returned to his diocese in 251 and gave clear leadership in the tense debates over those who lapsed from their faith.

During an outbreak of the plague in Carthage in 252 Cyprian was tireless in working for the relief of victims. Despite the good works of the church, the general populace blamed the “impious Christians” and their bishop for the epidemic.

Cyprian wrote extensively on theological issues, and his work was widely read. He made much use of Scripture, writing about church unity, the ministry, the place and authority of bishops, and the sacraments. Cyprian was an ardent supporter of the unity of the church.

In 257 the emperor Valerian renewed the persecution of the church, and Cyprian was one of the first to be arrested. For a year he was exiled to Curubis, about 65 km’s from Carthage. In 258 he was brought back to Carthage for further trial. Again refusing to sacrifice to the Roman gods, he was sentenced to death. A great crowd of Christians and pagans went with him to the place of execution. Laying aside his outer garments, Cyprian made a gift of them to his executioner, knelt in prayer and was executed by being beheaded.

BORN: 210 AD, Carthage, Tunisia, Northwest Africa

DIED: 14 September 258, Carthage, Tunisia, Northwest Africa