Guilty or Innocent?

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

Stuff of Lore

The church today also remembers a Celtic saint and Bishop after my own heart, Saint Ninian, Scotsman and the Stuff of Lore.

Not much is known about Saint Ninian, at least not much that can be proven by historical record. Most formal works regarding his life and deeds are dubious, the Life of Ninian penned by St. Aelred chief amongst him.

But that’s kind of why I like him.

The Celts believed that life was best lived in story form. Historical fact is cold; historical fiction is alive. When the two hold hands a great adventure follows, which is why the Celts hold tightly to story, a mix of fact and fiction.

Regardless, we know that Ninian was the first Bishop of Galloway, that he was a Scotsman who was Romanized by the conquering warriors, and that he was ordained in Rome but sent back to his homeland to preach to the stubborn Picts and Celts there. In 397 he established a white stone church at Whithorn in Galloway, and from there he spoke to his fellow Scots about the beauty of the Gospel, intermingling Christianity with the ancient Celtic ways.

While we don’t know much about the actual missionary work of St. Ninian, we do know that he laid the groundwork for St. Columba, of whose work we know quite a bit!

St. Ninian is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes historical fact and historical fiction must hold hands for amazing stories to happen (looking at you, Scriptures!), and that the groundwork we lay now in our time prepares the way for others in their time.