Church Fathers, Saints of Color:

St. Cyprian of Carthage

St. Cyprian, was born in Carthage, North Africa.   He was was a big-hearted, well-educated “man about town” when he was converted by the example and words of an old priest. He redirected his life in his mid fourties and made a vow of chastity.   His mind was now focused on Scripture and the growing canon of Christian theology, mostly that of his fellow North African Tertullian.  Soon after his baptism, Cyprian was ordained a priest, and in 248, after first resisting the appointment, he was named Bishop of of Carthage. His impressive bearing and refined education earned him deep respect among the faithful.

One of his most prolific writings is a treatise on Church unity, arguing that the pope’s teaching on this matter must be obeyed: “There is one God, one Christ, and but one episcopal chair, originally founded on Peter, by the Lord’s authority. There cannot be set up another altar or another priesthood.”   He placed all his gifts and reputation at the service of the people as a bishop of consequence.

St. Cyprian was sentenced in 258 to death by a local bureaucrat.  He knelt in the burning sand and waited for the heavy Roman sword to lop off his head. St. Cyprian’s cult of martyrdom sprang up instantly, even as the faithful, carrying white cloths, soaked up the holy blood that poured from his torso. Saint Augustine of Hippo, a fellow North African, recounts in Book Five of his Confessions how his mother, St. Monica, prayed in a shrine dedicated to Saint Cyprian in the port city of Carthage around 375 A.D. So, approximately one hundred and twenty years after St. Cyprian’s death, his legacy was firmly established.  St. Cyprian is named to this day in the Roman Canon at Mass in Eucharistic Prayer I.