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Saint Cyprian (Latin: Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus) (died September 14, 258) was bishop of Carthage and an important Early Christian writer, many of whose Latin works are still extant. He was born circa the beginning of the 3rd century in North Africa, perhaps at Carthage, where he received a classical education. After converting to Christianity, he became a bishop (249) and eventually died a martyr at Carthage.


Early life

Cyprian was born around the year 208. He was of a wealthy and distinguished pagan background. In fact, the site of his eventual martyrdom was his own villa. Before becoming a Christian, he was an orator, "pleader in the courts", and a teacher of rhetoric.[1] The date of his conversion is unknown, but after his baptism about 245–248 he gave away a portion of his wealth to the poor of Carthage, as befitted a man of his status. He was either of Punic stock or a Berber.

His original name was Thascius; he took the additional name Caecilius in memory of the presbyter to whom he owed his conversion. In the early days of his conversion he wrote an "Epistola ad Donatum de gratia Dei," and three books of "Testimoniorum adversus Judæos" that adhere closely to the models of Tertullian, who influenced his style and thinking, and are largely interesting as a document in the history of anti-semitism.

His contested election as bishop of Carthage

Not long after his baptism he was ordained deacon, and soon afterward presbyter; and some time between July 248 and April 249 he was chosen bishop of Carthage, a popular choice among the poor who remembered his patronage as demonstrating good equestrian style, while a portion of the presbytery opposed it, for all Cyprian's wealth and learning and diplomacy and literary talents. Moreover, the opposition within the church community at Carthage did not dissolve during his episcopacy.

Soon, however, the entire community was put to an unwonted test. Christians in North Africa had not suffered persecution for many years: the church was assured and lax. Early in 250 the "Decian persecution" began. Measures were first taken demanding that the bishops and officers of the church sacrifice to the emperor. The proconsul on circuit, and five commissioners for each town, administered the edict; but, when the proconsul reached Carthage, Cyprian had fled.

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