Cyprian, Saint

Cyprian, Saint sĭpˈrēən [key], 200?–258, Father of the Church, bishop of Carthage (c.248), and perhaps a disciple of Tertullian. Converted in his middle age, he rose quickly to become the most powerful bishop in Africa. His vigorous championing of Pope St. Cornelius against the attacks of Novatian averted a dangerous schism. Many Christians had apostasized under the persecution of the Roman emperor Decius. Novatian and his sect maintained these could not be received back into the church. Cyprian concurred with Pope Cornelius (and Calixtus I before him), calling for strictness but ultimate forgiveness for the truly contrite. The schism occasioned his important treatise, De unitate catholicae ecclesiae, in which he argues for the authority of the bishop as ground for the church's unity. He recognized the preeminence of the Church of Rome, but fell into sharp dispute with Pope Stephen I on the validity of baptism conferred by heretics or schismatics; Cyprian believed persons so baptized had to be rebaptized upon entering the church. The question was settled in favor of the Roman teaching, after Cyprian's martyrdom in the persecution of Valerian. He is mentioned in the canon of the Mass. Feast: Sept. 16.

See De unitate (tr. M. Bévenot, 1937) and The Letters of Cyprian of Carthage (tr. G. W. Clarke, 1984); G. S. Walker, The Churchmanship of Saint Cyprian (1969).

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