|Saint Cyprian as taken from an engraving in Pictorial|
Lives of the Saints (1889)
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When the persecution of Valerian erupted in AD 257, Cyprian was apprehended by the Roman authorities. We have two ancient accounts of the last days of his life, thanks to a biography written by his deacon Pontius, and the Acta Proconsularis – a work which likely incorporates the actual transcript of the legal proceedings against Cyprian. Here is a translation of this text taken from the new book, I Am A Christian: Authentic Accounts of Christian Martyrdom and Persecution from the Ancient Sources:
Cyprian’s death took place on September 14, AD 258. He is commemorated in the western Church on September 16. I posted some of Pontius the Deacon's account of Cyprian's death here: Who was Saint Pontius the Deacon?
In the fourth consulship of the emperor Valerian and the third of Gallienus, on the third before the Kalends of September, in the council chamber of Carthage, Paternus, the proconsul, said to Bishop Cyprian: “The most sacred emperors, Valerian and Gallienus have thought fit to give me a letter according to which they have ordered that those who do not practice the Roman religion should recognize the Roman rites. I have asked, therefore, concerning your name. What do you answer me?”
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Bishop Cyprian said: “I am a Christian and a bishop. I have known no other gods except the true and only God, who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them. To this God we Christians yield ourselves. To Him we pray by day and night for you, for all men, and for the safety of the emperors themselves.”
Paternus, the proconsul, said: “Do you, then, persist in this purpose?”
Bishop Cyprian replied: “A good purpose, which has known God, cannot be changed.”
Paternus, the proconsul, said: “Will you be able to depart into exile, then, to the city of Curubitana (Curubis) according to the decree of Valerian and Gallienus?
Bishop Cyprian said: “I depart.”
Paternus, the proconsul, said: “They have thought fit to write to me not only concerning bishops, but also presbyters. I wish, therefore, to learn from you who the presbyters are who abide in the city.”
Bishop Cyprian replied: “By your laws you have rightfully and profitably decreed that there should be no informers, and hence they cannot be betrayed and denounced by me. But in their own cities they will be found.”
Paternus, the proconsul, said: “Today, in this place, I am going to seek them.”
Cyprian said: “Since custom forbids that any one offer himself voluntarily, and this is displeasing to your judgment, they cannot give themselves up, but if you seek them, you will find them.”
Paternus, the proconsul, said: “They will be found by me.” And added: “It has also been ordered that they should not hold assemblies in any place or enter the cemeteries. If any one does not observe this so wholesome ordinance he is to be beheaded.”
Bishop Cyprian replied: “Do as you are ordered.”
Then Paternus, the proconsul, ordered the blessed bishop Cyprian to be led into exile. When he had remained there for a long time, the proconsul Galerius Maximus succeeded the proconsul Aspasius Paternus and ordered the holy bishop Cyprian to be recalled from exile and brought before him. When the holy martyr Cyprian, chosen by God, had returned from the city of Curubitaua where he had been sent into exile by the order of Aspasius Paternus, the proconsul at that time, he remained in his gardens according to holy injunction, and thence daily hoped that it would happen to him as had been revealed.
While he was waiting here, there suddenly came to him on the Ides of September in the consulship of Tuscus and Bassus, two men of high rank: one the curator of the official Galerius Maximus, the proconsul, who had succeeded Aspasius Paternus, and the other the groom from the guards of this same official. And they put him between them and brought him to Sexti, where Galerius Maximus, the proconsul, had retired for the sake of recovering his health. And so the proconsul Galerius Maximus ordered Cyprian to be reserved for him until the next day. And at the same time the blessed Cyprian retired, led away to the chief and curator of this same official, Galerius Maximus, the proconsul, a most illustrious man, and he stayed with this man, enjoying his hospitality in the village called Saturui, which is between Venerea and Salutaria. Thither the whole company of brethren came and, when the holy Cyprian learned this, he ordered the maidens to be protected, since all had remained in the village before the gate of the hospitable officer.
And thus on the next day, the eighteenth before the Kalends of October, early in the morning, a great crowd came to Sexti according to the order of Galerius Maximus, the proconsul. And accordingly Galerius Maximus the proconsul ordered Cyprian to be brought before him that day while he was sitting in the Sauciolian court.
And when he had been brought, Galerius Maximus, the proconsul, said to bishop Cyprian: “You are Thascius Cyprian?”
Bishop Cyprian replied: “I am.”
Galerius Maximus, the proconsul, said: “The most sacred emperors have commanded you to sacrifice.”
Bishop Cyprian said: “I will not.”
Galerius Maximus said: “Reflect on it.”
Bishop Cyprian replied: “Do what you are ordered to do. In such a just case there is no need of reflection.”
Galerius Maximus, having spoken with the council, pronounced the sentence weakly and reluctantly in the following words: “For a long time you have lived in sacrilege, you have gathered about you many associates in your impious conspiracy, you have put yourself in hostility to the Roman gods and to the sacred rites, nor could the pious and most sacred princes, Valerian and Gallienus, emperors, and Valerian, the most noble Cæsar, bring you back to the practice of their worship. And therefore, since you are found to be the author of the vilest crimes and the standard bearer, you shall be a warning to those whom you have gathered about you in your crime. By your blood, discipline shall be established.”
And having said this he read out the decree from his tablet: “We command that Thascius Cyprian be executed by the sword.”
Bishop Cyprian said: “Thank God.”
After this sentence the crowd of brethren kept saying: “And we will be beheaded with him.” On account of this, a commotion arose among the brethren and a great crowd followed him.
And thus Cyprian was brought to the country about Sexti. Here he laid aside his red cloak, kneeled on the ground, and prostrated himself before the Lord in prayer. And when he had laid aside his priestly robe and given it to the deacons, he stood in his linen under-garments, and waited for the executioner. Moreover, when the executioner had come, he ordered his followers to give this executioner twenty-five pieces of gold. Indeed linen cloths and handkerchiefs were being sent before him by the brethren. After this the blessed Cyprian covered his eyes with his hand. When he could not bind the handkerchiefs to himself, Julian the presbyter, and Julian the subdeacon, bound them.
Thus the blessed Cyprian died, and his body was placed near at hand on account of the curiosity of the heathen. Hence, being borne away in the night with tapers and torches, it was brought with prayers and great triumph to the courts of the procurator Macrobius Candidianus, which are on the Via Mappaliensis, near the fish ponds.
Moreover, after a few days, Galerius Maximus, the proconsul, died.
Similar transcriptions of Roman trials may be found in previous posts on this blog about the burning of Christian books, the martyrdom of Chionia, Agape and Irene, the trial of Saint Crispina, the Passion of Saint Perpetua and others.