Thascins Caeilius Cyprian, a Christian saint, bishop, and martyr, born at Carthage, died Sept. 14, 258. To his proper name of Thascius Cyprianus he added Caecilius, in gratitude to a Carthaginian priest of that name who had been instrumental in his conversion. His authentic history begins with his baptism about 246. He appears to have come of a senatorial family, and to have been a lawyer and a successful teacher of rhetoric. He gave his large fortune to the poor, retired from public life, and devoted himself wholly to the study of the Scriptures and of Christian writers. From his solitude he published a letter on the "Contempt of the World," and a treatise on the "Vanity of Idols." He was soon after raised to the priesthood, and on the death of his friend Donatus, bishop of Carthage, the people and clergy of that city gave him their united suffrages. Although the episcopal office had been forced upon him, he set about discharging its duties with zeal. The see of Carthage enjoyed metropolitan rank, while the lustre lent to Cyprian by his former social position, his learning, eloquence, and generosity, gave him more than ordinary influence over the bishops of northern Africa. The persecution of Decius broke out in 250, and placed before Cyprian the alternative of laying down his life for his faith, or concealing himself while the storm lasted.
He chose the latter course, and thereby laid himself open to the charge of cowardice afterward made by his enemies. In his concealment, however, he did not neglect his duties. The persecution was severe in Carthage and throughout its dependent provinpe; numbers of Christians apostatized or exhibited deplorable weakness. The former were called "fallen," the latter libellatici, because they had accepted from the magistrates libelli or certificates attesting that they had obeyed the imperial decrees, although they had not sacrificed to the idols. The persecution over, both classes sought to be reconciled with the church. To escape the canonical penalties, they had recourse to such as had suffered gloriously for the faith, and obtained from them libelli pads, or recommendations to mercy. Cyprian's disposition would not allow him to admit the fallen without full atonement, and a troublesome controversy arose. As the difficulty existed in every diocese in the province, he called a council at Carthage. The assembled bishops decided that the libellatici should be immediately admitted to communion, as they had not offered sacrifice, while all who had should undergo the usual course of public penance.
At the same time they excommunicated Simplicissimus, who had taken advantage of the persecution and of Cyprian's absence from Carthage to organize a separate church which admitted the apostates without atonement. The acts of this council were submitted to Cornelius, bishop of Rome, who called a council of 60 bishops, which adopted the disciplinary rules laid down by the African bishops. At Rome also Donatus, who had set up a rival church, and Novatian, who refused absolutely to admit those who had fallen into apostasy, were excommunicated by Cornelius. Novatus, one of the five priests opposed to Cyprian, had fled to Rome after the council of Carthage, and there, although so lax in his opinions, he joined hands with Novatian, who belonged to the opposite extreme of Mon-tanistic rigor. Fortunatus, who had been set up as bishop in Carthage in opposition to Cyprian, went also to Rome with the hope of having his nomination approved, and succeeded in deceiving Cornelius. A sharp correspondence ensued; but the misunderstanding was of short duration, and the schismatic party in Carthage died out in silence. A second council met in that city and confirmed all that had been decided in the former, while throughout the province the interests of Christianity seemed to prosper wonderfully.
Just then a fearful plague broke out, and the bishop of Carthage, amid the universal dismay, exerted himself for the relief of the sufferers. Some of the pagans bore witness to his deeds of charity even in their behalf. Others among them could only see in the plague a visitation of the angry gods; and already the ominous cry had been heard during the public games, "Cyprian to the lions!" Besides these annoyances, and the constantly recurring doctrinal disputes which the metropolitan of Carthage was called on to decide, at this period came up the question of the validity of baptism given by heretics. Cyprian, with many of his African bishops and several Asiatic churches, held it invalid, and that all who had received it should be baptized anew. This opinion, ratified by two different synods in Africa, was rejected at Rome. Stephen, the second successor of Cornelius, did not quite understand Cyprian, who appears to have urged rebaptism as a matter of discipline, and not as a point of dogmatic necessity. The ardent Carthaginian, whose messengers had been coldly received by the pope, now assembled a council representing all the African churches. They reaffirmed the lawfulness of their own condemned custom, and the controversy continued until a plenary council at length decided against rebaptizing.
Meanwhile, in 257, the emperor Valerian issued his decree of persecution. On Aug. 30 Cyprian was summoned to the presence of the proconsul, and commanded to sacrifice to the gods. "I am a Christian," was the bishop's reply. Asked to declare the number and abodes of his priests, he peremptorily refused, and for his contumacy was banished to Curubis, on the seacoast, 50 miles from Carthage. A second and more severe edict from Rome soon drove him from his place of banishment to face a greater peril. A guard had been sent to conduct him to Utica, where the emperor then was; but Cyprian, wishing to die in the midst of his flock, concealed himself for a time. He soon, however, showed himself in public, and waited for the coming of the soldiers. Arrested Sept. 13, 258, he was conducted under escort to Sexti, in the neighborhood of the city, where on the 14th he appeared before the proconsul, again refused to burn incense before the idols, and was condemned to be beheaded. " God be praised," was his only reply. When led to execution, he laid aside his upper garments, bestowed 50 pieces of gold upon the headsman, and calmly surrendered himself to the death stroke. The weeping crowd who witnessed his beheading steeped kerchiefs and napkins in his blood.
His body was interred on the Map-palian way, where a church long marked the spot. When the Saracens invaded northern Africa, his remains were carefully guarded, and brought over to France in the reign of Charlemagne. - The works of Cyprian have passed through many editions since the invention of printing. Fell's Oxford edition appeared in 1682; another in Holland in 1700, with the notes of Pearson and Dodwell. The standard edition is that of Paris (fol, 1726), with the notes of Baluze, and a life by the Benedictine Dom Maran. The best lives of Cyprian are those of Gervaise (4to, 1717), Rettberg (8vo, Gottingen, 1831), Poole (8vo, London, 1840), Collombet (Paris, 1843), and Bohringer (8vo, Zurich, 1842).
Deciduous Cypress (Taxodium distichum).