Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian, Martyrs

September 16 is the memorial of Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian. These two contemporaries, martyred in 253 and 258 respectively, were linked by one particular issue: what to do with those Christians who lapsed through fear in time of persecution, and then wished to return? An influential Roman priest, Novatian, maintained that they could not be forgiven (along with murderers, adulterers and those in second marriages). Cornelius and Cyprian strongly took the opposite view.

A Roman priest, Cornelius was elected Pope in 251 to succeed Fabian, at the time of the persecution of the Christians by the Emperor Decius. Novatian denied the Church’s authority to forgive serious sins, such as abandoning the faith during a time of danger. Novatian even had himself consecrated as a rival bishop of Rome, thereby becoming an anti-pope. Pope Cornelius, backed by St. Cyprian and Saint Dionysius, upheld the Church’s teaching, and allowed sinners to do penance and return to the Church. In 253, St. Cornelius was exiled by the authorities, and died shortly afterwards of ill-treatment. Because of this, was considered a martyr. A document from Cornelius shows the size of the Church in his papacy 46 priests, 7 deacons, 7 subdeacons, and approximately 50,000 Christians.

Cyprian, a brilliant thinker and speaker, was a native of Carthage in North Africa. At the age of 46, he was converted to Christianity and three years later was unanimously elected Bishop by the local Christian clergy and people. He was an energetic shepherd of souls and a prolific writer. He defended the unity of the Church against schismatic movements in Africa and Italy, and greatly influenced the shaping of Church discipline relative to reinstating Christians who had apostatized. He fled during the Decian persecution but guided the Church by means of letters. During the Valerian persecution (258) he was beheaded.

Together Cornelius and Cyprian share a feast day to remind us of the unity that the Church should always practice and celebrate. This unity is a mark of the presence of Jesus who is at the Center.

Cornelius is the patron saint against ear ache; against epilepsy; fever; cattle; domestic animals. Cyprian is the patron saint of Algeria and North Africa.


God our Father, in Saints Cornelius and Cyprian you have given your people an inspiring example of dedication to the pastoral ministry and constant witness to Christ in their suffering. May their prayers and faith give us courage to work for the unity of your Church. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saint Quotes

Cornelius: "There is one God and one Christ and but one episcopal chair, originally founded on Peter, by the Lord's authority. There cannot, therefore, be set up another altar or another priesthood. Whatever any man in his rage or rashness shall appoint, in defiance of the divine institution, must be a spurious, profane and sacrilegious ordinance" (St. Cyprian, The Unity of the Catholic Church).

Cyprian: “You cannot have God for your Father if you do not have the Church for your mother.... God is one and Christ is one, and his Church is one; one is the faith, and one is the people cemented together by harmony into the strong unity of a body.... If we are the heirs of Christ, let us abide in the peace of Christ; if we are the sons of God, let us be lovers of peace” (St. Cyprian, The Unity of the Catholic Church).

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