Feast Day: September 16th | Patronage: | Iconography: Cornelius: Holding Cruciform Staff and Tiara of a Pope, Carrying Book of one who preaches the Gospel and Horn (from his name, which means “battle horn”); Cyprian: Wearing Vestments of a Bishop, including the Pallium and holding a Crosier, Book of one who preaches the Gospel, and Crown or Palm of martyrdom
St. Cyprian was killed, martyred, for the crime of impiety! Consider this early account of his martyrdom:
When the bishop appeared the proconsul asked him: ‘Are you Thascius Cyprian?’ The bishop replied: ‘I am.’ ‘And have you acted as leader in a community of impious men?’ ‘I have.’ ‘The sacred emperors have ordered you to sacrifice.’ ‘I will not sacrifice.’ ‘Consider your position.’ ‘Do what is required of you. I have no need to deliberate; the issues are clear.’ Galerius consulted briefly with his advisers and reluctantly pronounced sentence in the following words: ‘You have lived in an irreligious manner for a long time now and have gathered about you a large congregation of criminals and unbelievers. You have shown yourself hostile to the gods of Rome and the rites by which they are worshipped. … Your death will be an example to those whom you have gathered into your criminal conspiracy. Your blood will uphold the law.’[from the “Proconsular Acts of the martyrdom of St. Cyprian”, 258 AD]
Killed for “impiety” because he didn’t worship the gods of the surrounding culture. He chose to give his highest love, and honor, and fealty to the One True God, no one else. We will suffer, like Christ, and like Cyprian, when we make this same choice! Am I ready for that?
We have a letter that Bp. Cyprian wrote to Pope Cornelius (one of the main reasons we celebrate them both on September 16th), and it offers us a key way that Cyprian practiced this courageous-faithfulness before called to make the ultimate sacrifice:
Cyprian sends greetings to his brother Cornelius,
My very dear brother, we have heard of the glorious witness given by your courageous faith. On learning of the honor you had won by your witness, we were filled with such joy that we felt ourselves sharers and companions in your praiseworthy achievements. After all, we have the same Church, the same mind, the same unbroken harmony. Why then should a priest not take pride in the praise given to a fellow priest as though it were given to him? What brotherhood fails to rejoice in the happiness of its brothers wherever they are?
Words cannot express how great was the exultation and delight here when we heard of your good fortune and brave deeds: how you stood out as a leader of your brothers in their declaration of their faith. You led the way to glory, but you gained many companions in that glory; being foremost in your readiness to bear witness on behalf of all, you prevailed on your people to become a single witness. We cannot decide which we ought to praise, your own ready and unshaken faith or the love of your brothers who would not leave you. While the courage of the bishop who thus led the way has been demonstrated, at the same time the unity of the brotherhood who followed has been manifested. Since you have one heart and one voice, it is the Roman Church as a whole that has thus borne witness….
Divine providence has now prepared us. God’s merciful design has warned us that the day of our own struggle, our own contest, is at hand. By that shared love which binds us closely together, we are doing all we can to exhort our congregation, to give ourselves unceasingly to fasting, vigils and prayers in common. These are the heavenly weapons which give us the strength to stand firm and endure; they are the spiritual defenses, the God-given armaments that protect us. Let us then remember one another, united in mind and heart. Let us pray without ceasing, you for us, we for you; by the love we share we shall thus relieve the strain of these great trials.[“Letter by St. Cyprian, bishop and martyr”, Epistle 60,1-2, 5]
Two simple things that St. Cyprian did that prepared him to give witness to Christ: First, recognizing and encouraging others when they choose courageous-faithfulness. Do you and I notice when someone makes a certain choice because they are a Christian? Do we tell them how inspiring their action was, that we want to emulate their faith in that way? And secondly, do we simple expect trials to come our way, or have we imbibed in some way, or just in some area of our lives, a “prosperity gospel” that assumes crosses are for other people, that reacts with dis-belief when God allows our Christianity to cost us?
– Fr. Dominic has been impressed numerous times by the faith, sacrifices, joy, or hope of others. As a priest, he gets to see faith alive in people’s hearts on so many occasions, but I often fail to thank them, or mention that they have inspired me. I hope to learn from St. Cyprian how to do that! One quick story: at World Youth Day, like St. Cyprian, I was moved by the witness of my Holy Father, Pope Francis. It’s so easy to get confused or cynical by something we hear about him, yet when I saw him at WYD I was moved to tremendous gratitude that Christ has entrusted his Church to a Pope, a Papa for all of us. And, his reflections throughout that week were so centered on Christ, on the joy that comes from Christ, on the love He has for us. I am grateful for his witness of those truths again to me!