Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Cyprian, Bishop and Martyr

stained glass window of Saint Cyprian of Carthage, Sir Ninian Comper, Saint Cyprian's church, London, England; swiped with permission from the flickr account of Brother Lawrence Lew, OPArticle

Saint Cyprian was a bishop and martyr, and whose name is recorded, on the 16th of this month, in the Roman Martyrology.

This man, whom Saint Jerome describes as a model of eloquence and holiness, was born at Carthage, in Africa, of noble but pagan parents. Growing up, he excelled to such a degree in the art of eloquence, that he was chosen to teach rhetoric. He became acquainted with Caecilius, a pious priest, who, convincing him of his errors, brought him happily into the pale of the Catholic Church. At holy baptism, he took the name Caecilius in grateful memory of him who had instructed him in the doctrines of the true faith. The heathens could not comprehend so unexpected a conversion of their excellent orator, and were greatly provoked, while the Christians rejoiced and praised the Lord.

Cyprian led so pious and holy a life after he had been baptized, that the bishop of Carthage ordained him priest On the death of this bishop, Cyprian was elected to succeed him, but deeming himself unworthy of so high a position, he fled and endeavored to conceal himself; but being discovered and placed, almost by force, on the episcopal chair, he submitted to the divine will, and entered on his new functions. He was a most watchful shepherd to his flock, a tender father to the poor and afflicted, an invincible protector of the true faith and not only an incomparable teacher, but a perfect model of all virtues.

Some time later, in the reign of the emperor Decius, arose a terrible persecution of the Christians, which the Almighty permitted in order to renew their fervor. The Clergy of Carthage, who knew that the idolaters would first seize their bishop, advised him to leave the city, and live for some time concealed in a quiet place. The holy man at first refused to follow their advice, lest he might have the appearance of not having sufficient courage to make a public confession of his faith, or to suffer for the sake of Christ. But when he had asked counsel of God in prayer, he acted in accordance with the request of the clergy, and concealed himself outside of the city, but in a place known to the Christians. During the persecution, which lasted forty-five months, he encouraged the faithful, as well personally as also by the priests whom he had with him and whom he frequently sent into the city. He strengthened the weak and despairing, and endeavored to bring back into the pale of the Church, those who for fear of torments had apostatized. He returned to Carthage when the persecution ceased, and labored, with his unwearied zeal, to repair the great damage his beloved flock had suffered. Not long after, the barbarians invaded the land, and besides occasioning other sufferings, they took a great many Christians away as prisoners. The holy bishop gave all he possessed for their ransom, and gathered, for the same purpose, a large sum of money in his diocese. Hardly had this storm passed over, when a terrible pestilence commenced in Africa, making great havoc among the inhabitants of Carthage. The Saint left nothing undone to assist those stricken down with the dreadful disease. He visited them, administered the Holy Sacraments to them, provided them with remedies and food, and animated those who were well to follow his example, and be kind to the sick, although a great portion of the sufferers were pagans, who had proved themselves always the most bitter enemies of the Christians. This scourge left, only to give place to another; for no sooner had God restored health to the people of Carthage, than a fresh persecution of the Christians broke out under the Emperor Valerian. Aspasius, the Roman Governor at Carthage, knew that Cyprian was the principal support of Christianity at that place, but fearing to cause a revolt, dared not seize and execute him. He therefore commanded him to leave the city, and banished him to Curubis. The holy man obeyed, but succeeded in making such arrangements, that several priests remained to strengthen and encourage the Christians in their faith. He himself wrote several letters to them from the place of his exile, in which he exhorted them to remain true to their God. When, after the expiration of a year, a new Governor came to Carthage, Cyprian left Curubis, and made his residence near the city in a garden which he had bought for the poor. He remained there almost a year, and as the crowd of Christians that visited him increased daily, one of the enemies of the faithful informed the Governor of it. The holy bishop was exhorted to avoid the approaching danger by flight; but he answered that his martyrdom had been revealed to him by the Almighty. He desired nothing more of this world but to end his life in the presence of his flock and to give them an example how to remain constant in their faith. The desire of the holy bishop was granted. He was taken prisoner and brought before the Governor, whose first question was: “Are you Cyprian?” “Yes,” answered the Saint; “I am Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage!” Upon this, a written order of the Emperor was put into his hands, either to sacrifice to the gods, or to give up his life. Cyprian having read the order with unmoved heart, replied: “I will rather give my life a thousand times than sacrifice to the gods;” on which the Governor sentenced him to die by the sword, as a scorner of the imperial order. Having listened calmly to his death-sentence, the holy bishop said cheerfully: “Thanks be to God.” He was followed to the place of execution by a great crowd of people, to whom he gave the most fervent exhortations not to forsake the Lord. Arrived at the place where he was to receive his death, he divested himself of his episcopal robe and handed it to a deacon, and ordered that the executioner should be paid twenty-five pieces of gold, to reward him for the stroke which should promote him to the Kingdom of heaven. He then knelt down, raised his eyes to heaven, and, with invincible fortitude, received the fatal stroke, in the year of our Lord 260. Thus ended the glorious career of this holy bishop, to whom Saint Augustine, Saint Jerome, Saint Gregory Nazianzen, and other fathers of the Church, give the highest praise on account of his great virtues and heavenly wisdom.

Practical Considerations

Saint Cyprian acted most kindly to his bitterest enemies, the heathens, at the time of the pestilence, and exhorted others to do the same. Before he was executed he gave a considerable sum of money to the executioner, who was to take his life. Saint Januarius restored the sight of the tyrant who unjustly condemned him to die. That was truly living up to the words of Christ: “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you.” (Luke 6) How do you act towards those who have wronged you, or who hate and persecute you? Do you not refuse to forgive them, wish them all possible misfortune, and harbor ill-feelings against them in your heart? Do you not seek to revenge yourself, and to repay evil with evil? Oh! if you do this, say not that you are a disciple of Christ. Christ, your teacher, has instructed you to forgive wrongs, to love your enemies, to pray for them, and to do good to them. If you do exactly the contrary, how can you call yourself a disciple of Christ? Begin today to be a true follower of the Redeemer, and declare before the Almighty that you forgive, with your whole heart, every wrong done to you. Cast all hatred out of your heart. Fray for those who have offended you, and if ever an occasion offers itself to do good to those who have injured you, leave it not undone. Take the crucifix into your hand and ask yourself whether your Saviour does not deserve that you should do this out of love to Him? You have often and bitterly offended Him, and He has pardoned you. He has not revenged Himself. He has prayed for you. He has done so much good to you, and does it daily, even after having been so often offended by you. Does He not deserve that you, after His example, should do good to your enemy? Listen to the words of Saint Augustine: “Turn your eyes towards your Lord. Your enemy is wicked, but your Lord is good. Your enemy does not deserve that you should forgive him, but your Lord deserves it a thousand times. He deserves that you forgive for love of Him. Look upon your Lord.”

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Cyprian, Bishop and Martyr”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 6 May 2018. Web. 21 June 2018. <>