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§ 199. Cyprian.



(I.) S. Cypriani Opera omnia. Best critical ed. by W. Hartel, Vindob. 1868–’71, 3 vols. oct. (in the Vienna "Corpus Scriptorum ecclesiast. Latinorum "); based upon the examination of 40 MSS.

Other edd. by Sweynheym and Pannartz, Rom. 1471 (ed. princeps), again Venice 1477; by Erasmus, Bas. 1520 (first critical ed., often reprinted); by Paul Manutius, Rom. 1563; by Morell, Par. 1564; by Rigault (Rigaltius), Par. 1648; John Fell, Bp. of Oxford, Oxon. 1682 (very good, with Bishop Pearson’s Annales Cyprianici), again Amst. 1700 and since; the Benedictine ed. begun by Baluzius and completed by Prud. Maranus, Par. 1726, 1 vol. fol. (a magnificent ed., with textual emendations to satisfy the Roman curia), reprinted in Venice, 1758, and in Migne’s "Patrol. Lat." (vol. IV. Par. 18, and part of vol. V. 9–80, with sundry additions); a convenient manual ed. by Gersdorf, Lips. 1838 sq. (in Gersdorf’s "Biblioth. Patrum Lat." Pars II. and III.)

English translations by N. Marshall, Lond., 1717; in the Oxf. "Library of the Fathers," Oxf. 1840 and by R. G. Wallis in "Ante-Nicene Lib." Edinb. 1868, 2 vols. N. York ed. vol. V. (1885).

(II.) Vita Cypriani by Pontius, and the Acta Proconsularia Martyrii Cypr., both in Ruinart’s Acta Mart. II., and the former in most ed. of his works.

(III.) J. Pearson: Annales Cyprianici. Oxon. 1682, in the ed. of Fell. A work of great learning and acumen, determining the chronological order of many Epp. and correcting innumerable mistakes.

H. Dodwell: Dissertationes Cyprianicae tres. Oxon. 1684; Amst. 1700; also in Tom. V of Migne’s "Patr. Lat." col. 9–80.

A. F. Gervaise: Vie de St. Cyprien. Par. 1717.

F. W. Rettberg: Cyprianus nach seinem Leben u. Wirken. Gött. 1831.

G. A. Poole: Life and Times of Cyprian. Oxf. 1840 (419 pages). High-church Episcop. and anti-papal,

Aem. Blampignon: Vie de Cyprien. Par. 1861.

Ch. E. Freppel (Ultramontane): Saint Cyprien et l’église d’ Afrique an troisième siécle. Paris, 1865, 2d ed. 1873.

Ad. Ebert: Geschichte der christl. latein. Literatur. Leipz. 1874, vol. I. 54–61.

J. Peters (R.C.):Der heil. Cyprian. Leben u. Wirken. Regensb. 1877.

B. Fechtrup: Der h. Cyprian, Leben u. Lehre, vol. I. Münster, 1878.

Otto Ritschl: Cyprianvom Karthago und die Verfassung der Kirche. Göttingen 1885.

Articles on special topics connected with Cyprian by J. W. Nevin and Varien (both in "Mercerburg Review" for 1852 and ’53); Peters (Ultramontane: Cyprian’s doctrine on Unity of the Church in opposition to the schisms of Carthage and Rome, Luxemb 1870); Jos. Hub. Reinkens (Old Cath. Bp.: Cypr’s. Doctr. on the Unity of the Church. Würzburg, 1873).


I. Life of Cyprian.

Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus, bishop and martyr, and the impersonation of the catholic church of the middle of the third century, sprang from a noble and wealthy heathen family of Carthage, where he was born about the year 200, or earlier. His deacon and biographer, Pontius, considers his earlier life not worthy of notice in comparison with his subsequent greatness in the church. Jerome tells us, that he stood in high repute as a teacher of rhetoric.15521552    Catal. c. 67: "Cyprianus Afer primum gloriose rhetoricam docuit."553 He was, at all events, a man of commanding literary, rhetorical, and legal culture, and of eminent administrative ability which afterwards proved of great service to him in the episcopal office. He lived in worldly splendor to mature age, nor was he free from the common vices of heathenism, as we must infer from his own confessions. But the story, that he practised arts of magic arises perhaps from some confusion, and is at any rate unattested. Yet, after he became a Christian he believed, like Tertullian and others, in visions and dreams, and had some only a short time before his martyrdom.

A worthy presbyter, Caecilius, who lived in Cyprian’s house, and afterwards at his death committed his wife and children to him, first made him acquainted with the doctrines of the Christian religion, and moved him to read the Bible. After long resistance Cyprian forsook the world, entered the class of catechumens, sold his estates for the benefit of the poor,15531553    Pontius, in his Vita, a very unsatisfactory sketch, prefixed to the editions of the works of Cyprian, places this act of renunciation (MaTt. 19:21) before his baptism."inter fidei prima rudimenta." Cyprian’s gardens, however, together with a villa, were afterwards restored to him, "Dei indulgentia," that is, very probably, through the liberality of his Christian friends.554 took a vow of chastity, and in 245 or 246 received baptism, adopting, out of gratitude to his spiritual father, the name of Caecilius.

He himself, in a tract soon afterwards written to a friend,15541554    De Gratia Dei, ad Donatum, c. 3, 4.555 gives us the following oratorical description of his conversion: While I languished in darkness and deep night, tossing upon the sea of a troubled world, ignorant of my destination, and far from truth and light, I thought it, according to my then habits, altogether a difficult and hard thing that a man could be born anew, and that, being quickened to new life by the bath of saving water, he might put off the past, and, while preserving the identity of the body, might transform the man in mind and heart. How, said I, is such a change possible? How can one at once divest himself of all that was either innate or acquired and grown upon him?... Whence does he learn frugality, who was accustomed to sumptuous feasts? And how shall he who shone in costly apparel, in gold and purple, come down to common and simple dress? He who has lived in honor and station, cannot bear to be private and obscure .... But when, by the aid of the regenerating water,15551555    "Undae genitalis auxilio," which refers of course to baptism.556 the stain of my former life was washed away, a serene and pure light poured from above into my purified breast. So soon as I drank the spirit from above and was transformed by a second birth into a new man, then the wavering mind became wonderfully firm; what had been closed opened; the dark became light; strength came for that which had seemed difficult; what I had thought impossible became practicable."

Cyprian now devoted himself zealously, in ascetic retirement, to the study of the Scriptures and the church teachers, especially Tertullian, whom be called for daily with the words: "Hand me the master!"15561556    "Da magistrum!" So Jerome relates in his notice on Tertullian, Cat. c. 53, on the testimony of an old man, who had heard it in his youth from the "notarius beati Cypriani." As to the time, Cyprian might have personally known Tertullian, who lived at least till the year 220 or 230.557 The influence of Tertullian on his theological formation is unmistakable, and appears at once, for example, on comparing the tracts of the two on prayer and on patience, or the work of the one on the vanity of idols with the apology of the other. It is therefore rather strange that in his own writings we find no acknowledgment of his indebtedness, and, as far as I recollect, no express allusion whatever to Tertullian and the Montanists. But he could derive no aid and comfort from him in his conflict with schism.

Such a man could not long remain concealed. Only two years after his baptism, in spite of his earnest remonstrance, Cyprian was raised to the bishopric of Carthage by the acclamations of the people, and was thus at the same time placed at the head of the whole North African clergy. This election of a neophyte was contrary to the letter of the ecclesiastical laws (comp. 1 Tim. 3:6), and led afterwards to the schism of the party of Novatus. But the result proved, that here, as in the similar elevation of Ambrose, Augustin, and other eminent bishops of the ancient church, the voice of the people was the voice of God.

For the space of ten years, ending with his triumphant martyrdom, Cyprian administered the episcopal office in Carthage with exemplary energy, wisdom, and fidelity, and that in a most stormy time, amidst persecutions from without and schismatic agitations within. The persecution under Valerian brought his active labors to a close. He was sent into exile for eleven months, then tried before the Proconsul, and condemned to be beheaded. When the sentence was pronounced, he said: "Thanks be to God," knelt in prayer, tied the bandage over his eyes with his own hand, gave to the executioner a gold piece, and died with the dignity and composure of a hero. His friends removed and buried his body by night. Two chapels were erected on the spots of his death and burial. The anniversary of his death was long observed; and five sermons of Augustin still remain in memory of Cyprian’s martyrdom, Sept. 14, 258.

II. Character and Position.

As Origen was the ablest scholar, and Tertullian the strongest writer, so Cyprian was the greatest bishop, of the third century. He was born to be a prince in the church. In executive talent, he even surpassed all the Roman bishops of his time; and he bore himself towards them, also, as "frater" and "collega," in the spirit of full equality. Augustin calls him by, eminence, "the catholic bishop and catholic martyr;" and Vincentius of Lirinum, "the light of all saints, all martyrs, and all bishops." His stamp of character was more that of Peter than either of Paul or John.

His peculiar importance falls not so much in the field of theology, where he lacks originality and depth, as in church organization and discipline. While Tertullian dealt mainly with heretics, Cyprian directed his polemics against schismatics, among whom he had to condemn, though he never does in fact, his venerated teacher, who died a Montanist. Yet his own conduct was not perfectly consistent with his position; for in the controversy on heretical baptism he himself exhibited his master’s spirit of opposition to Rome. He set a limit to his own exclusive catholic principle of tradition by the truly Protestant maxims: "Consuetudo sine veritate vetustas erroris est, and, Non est de consuetudine praescribendum, sed ratione vincendum." In him the idea of the old catholic hierarchy and episcopal autocracy, both in its affinity and in its conflict with the idea of the papacy, was personally embodied, so to speak, and became flesh and blood. The unity of the church, as the vehicle and medium of all salvation, was the thought of his life and the passion of his heart. But he contended with the same zeal for an independent episcopate as for a Roman primacy; and the authority of his name has been therefore as often employed against the papacy as in its favor. On both sides he was the faithful organ of the churchly spirit of the age.

It were great injustice to attribute his high churchly principle to pride and ambition, though temptations to this spirit unquestionably beset a prominent position like his. Such principles are, entirely compatible with sincere personal humility before God. It was the deep conviction of the divine authority, and the heavy responsibility of the episcopate, which lay it the bottom both of his first "nolo episcopari, " and of subsequent hierarchical feeling. He was as conscientious in discharging the duties, as he was jealous in maintaining the rights, of his office. Notwithstanding his high conception of the dignity of a bishop, he took counsel of his presbyters in everything, and respected the rights of his people. He knew how to combine strictness and moderation, dignity and gentleness, and to inspire love and confidence as well as esteem and veneration. He took upon himself, like a father, the care of the widows and orphans, the poor and sick. During the great pestilence of 252 he showed the most self-sacrificing fidelity to his flock, and love for his enemies. He forsook his congregation, indeed, in the Decian persecution, but only, as he expressly assured them, in pursuance of a divine admonition, and in order to direct them during his fourteen months of exile by pastoral epistles. His conduct exposed him to the charge of cowardice. In the Valerian persecution he completely washed away the stain of that flight with the blood of his calm and cheerful martyrdom.

He exercised first rigid discipline, but at a later period—not in perfect consistency—he moderated his disciplinary principles in prudent accommodation to the exigencies of the times. With Tertullian he prohibited all display of female dress, which only deformed the work of the Creator; and he warmly opposed all participation in heathen amusements,—even refusing a converted play-actor permission to give instruction in declamation and pantomime. He lived in a simple, ascetic way, under a sense of the perishableness of all earthly things, and in view of the solemn eternity, in which alone also the questions and strifes of the church militant would be perfectly settled. "Only above," says he in his tract De Mortalitate, which be composed during the pestilence, "only above are true peace, sure repose, constant, firm, and eternal security; there is our dwelling, there our home. Who would not fain hasten to reach it? There a great multitude of beloved awaits us; the numerous host of fathers, brethren, and children. There is a glorious choir of apostles there the number of exulting prophets; there the countless multitude of martyrs, crowned with victory after warfare and suffering; there triumphing virgins; there the merciful enjoying their reward. Thither let us hasten with longing desire; let us wish to be soon with them, soon with Christ. After the earthly comes the heavenly; after the small follows the great after perishableness, eternity."

III. His writings.

As an author, Cyprian is far less original, fertile and vigorous than Tertullian, but is clearer, more moderate, and more elegant and rhetorical in his style. He wrote independently only on the doctrines of the church, the priesthood, and sacrifice.

(1.) His most important works relate to practical questions on church government and discipline. Among these is his tract on the Unity of the Church (A. D. 251), that "magna charta" of the old catholic high-church spirit, the commanding importance of which we have already considered. Then eighty-one Epistles,15571557    The order of them varies in different editions occasioning frequent confusion in citation.558 some very long, to various bishops, to the clergy and the churches of Africa and of Rome, to the confessors, to the lapsed, &c.; comprising also some letters from others in reply, as from Cornelius of Rome and Firmilian of Caesarea. They give us a very graphic picture of his pastoral labors, and of the whole church life of that day. To the same class belongs also his treatise: De Lapsis (A. D. 250) against loose penitential discipline.

(2.) Besides these he wrote a series of moral works, On the Grace of God (246); On the Lord’s Prayer (252); On Mortality (252); against worldly-mindedness and pride of dress in consecrated virgins (De Habitu Virginum); a glowing call to Martyrdom; an exhortation to liberality (De Opere el Eleemosynis, between 254 and 256), with a touch of the "opus operatum" doctrine; and two beautiful tracts written during his controversy with pope Stephanus: De Bono Patienti, and De Zelo et Livore (about 256), in which he exhorts the excited minds to patience and moderation.

(3.) Least important are his two apologetic works, the product of his Christian pupilage. One is directed against heathenism (de Idolorum Vanitate), and is borrowed in great part, often verbally, from Tertullian and Minucius Felix. The other, against Judaism (Testimonia adversus Judaeos), also contains no new thoughts, but furnishes a careful collection of Scriptural proofs of the Messiahship and divinity of Jesus.

Note.—Among the pseudo-Cyprianic writings is a homily against dice-playing and all games of chance (Adversus Aleatores, in Hartel’s ed. III. 92–103), which has been recently vindicated for Bishop Victor of Rome (190–202), an African by birth and an exclusive high churchman. It is written in the tone of a papal encyclical and in rustic Latin. See Harnack: Der pseudo-cyprian. Tractat De Aleatoribus, Leipzig 1888. Ph. Schaff: The Oldest Papal Encyclical, in The Independent, N. York, Feb. 28, 1889.



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