SAINT CORNELIUS (?-253), pope and martyr, and SAINT CYPRIAN of CARTHAGE (c.190-258), bishop and martyr
Today, the Church honors two friends in the service of Christ and His Church, Saints Cornelius and Cyprian.
Cornelius was elected the 21st pope in the year 251 during the persecutions of the Roman emperor, Decius. His first challenge, besides the ever present threat of the Roman authorities, was to bring an end to the schism brought upon the Church by his rival, the anti-pope Novatian. Cornelius convened a synod of bishops to confirm him as the rightful successor of Peter.
Pope Cornelius was quoted by his friend Bishop Cyprian as saying, “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.”
Also, during Cornelius’ papacy, a great controversy arose as a result of the Decian persecution as to whether or not the Church could pardon and receive back into its fold those who had apostatized [renounced their faith] in the face of martyrdom, for it was not until the reign of Decius that the persecutions of Christians spread throughout the entire Roman Empire, and the deaths of Christians was on such a large scale that they could not be numbered.
Pope Cornelius, after much heated debate among bishops on both sides of the issue, and with the support of Bishop Cyprian, decreed that the apostates could reenter the Church after performing adequate penance.
At the beginning of the year 252, a new persecution suddenly broke out under a new Roman emperor, Gallus. Pope Cornelius was exiled to what is now called Civitavecchia, which is near Rome. Bishop Cyprian wrote that Cornelius died in June of 253 due to the hardships of his exile, declaring him a martyr for Christ.
Regarding the life of Cyprian of Carthage, his writings are of great importance, especially his treatise on “Unity of the Church”, in which he argues that unity is grounded in the authority of the bishop, and among the bishops in their recognition of the primacy of the See of Rome: “He that holds not this unity of the Church, does he think that he holds the faith? He who deserts the chair of Peter, upon whom the Church is founded, is he confident that he is in the Church?”
In his treatise, Cyprian continues to write, “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.”
Like his friend Cornelius, Cyprian followed him in martyrdom. During the persecutions of Emperor Valerian, Cyprian was exiled to Curubis in 257, brought back to Carthage, and then was beheaded on September 14, 258.
We commemorate their joint feastday on September 16.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saints Cornelius and Cyprian)
“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 in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”