Cyprian was born in Africa about 200 A.D., the son of a rich pagan senator .
All his life and work occurred there. Known as the Priest Martyr, he matriculated quickly in an excellent
secular education, attending the school of Carthage. He became an orator, rhetoric, and philosophy
instructor, and appeared often at court defending townsfolk.
Cyprian taught rhetoric oratory before he converted to the Christian faith. He assiduously studied Scripture,
and his mentor Tertullian's writings. Christianity soon gained his curiosity.
He wrote that his habits made it appear impossible for him to reach the revival promised by Jesus, but at age
46, he became a Christian catechumen. The year following his baptism, he was ordained a priest. When
Bishop Donatus of Carthage died, the faithful unanimously chose him as bishop in about the year 248 A.D.
Around the year in 248 A.D., church authorities elevated him to the rank of bishop of Carthage. It was the
time of the reign of terror in the persecutions of Roman Emperor Decius.
The Church's welfare proved his first concern, along with the concomitant ridding of vices in the clergy and
flock. Cyprian soon became known beyond his diocese. Bishops from other areas sought his counsel.
But persecution by the Emperor Decius, 249 A.D. to 251 A.D., revealed to him in a dream, forced him to
flee. Prior to his leaving, Cyprian distributed the church treasury among all the clergy to help to the poor, and
later sent additional funds. Through the letters (called epistles) to Presbyters, confessors and martyrs, he kept
constant touch with Carthaginian Christians.
In Cyprian’s absence, some Christians weakened by torture offered sacrifice to pagan gods. Cyprian said that
those lapsed during a time of persecution might be re- admitted to the Church only after penance and with
the local bishop's permission.
A plague erupted, and hundreds died in Carthage. Cyprian attended the sick and buried pagan as well as
Christian dead. Drought and famine followed, and attacks by the barbarian Numidians. They enslaved many
of the Carthaginians. On top of that, Emperor Valerian (253 A.D. to 259 A.D.) ordered new Christian
Refusing to sacrifice to idols, Cyprian was sent into exile. In a later trial, he again refused to sacrifice to idols.
The court sentenced Cyprian to beheading, and all the Christians present said in unified voice, "We want to
die with him!" He assured them their place was continuing his work on earth.
Prayer to St. Cyprian
Good God, may we confess your name to the end; may we emerge unmarked and glorious from the traps and darkness of this world. As you have bound us together by charity and peace, and as together we have persevered under persecution, so may we also rejoice together in your heavenly kingdom. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.