Bishop During a Plague

Today the church honors a Bishop who tended his flock during a plague, which makes him a bit relatable, no? Today is the feast day of Cyprian, 3rd Century Bishop and Martyr.

Hailing from Carthage in North Africa, Cyprian was a professor and lawyer by trade, only being baptized in his forty-sixth year of life. Amazingly, however, he was elected Bishop of Carthage only two years after ordination…hardly enough time to understand the ins and outs of parish ministry, me-thinks…but no one asked me.

Cyprian was a scholar and assumed the Bishopric when the church was rocked by schism and scandal. He used his office to gather the church together, seeing the office of Bishop as both encourager of the people and the anchor that holds disparate parts of the Body of Christ in communion with one another. When emperor Decius began persecuting Christians, Cyprian went into hiding, a move for which he was much criticized. He felt that he had to continue to lead his flock through the persecution, and so his survival was paramount. History has taken a more cynical view of this move.

Soon after the persecution a plague broke out in the empire, and the Christians took the popular blame for it. When persecutions again resumed under emperor Valerian, Cyprian willingly and peacefully was arrested on September 14th in the year 258. He died a martyr’s death two days later.

His arrest and appearance before the authorities is well documented, and even appears to have been a peaceful exchange…even though it led to his death. The charges?

He was accused of not bowing and acquiescing to the gods of the empire, of not siding with the powerful against the powerless, and not worshiping the emperors of the day. He spoke against their self-congratulatory ways of operating and their demands for prestige and accolades at the expense of the people they were supposed to serve. He plead guilty and died by the sword.

St. Cyprian asks us a question from his grave in these days:

Would we be found guilty or innocent?

-history gleaned from Pfatteicher’s _New Book of Festivals & Commemorations_