Sunday, November 30, 2014

Justin Martyr: The Christian Philosopher by Chris White


Justin Martyr was born in Roman Palestine in the province of Samaria around 100 AD.  His parents were not Jewish by race or faith but were Greek and Roman and had migrated to Israel for reasons of employment.  As Justin grew up he knew about the Jewish and Christian religion as both had their origins in his homeland and were the faith of most of his neighbors, but as Justin began his own quest for ultimate things, he looked in the direction of philosophy and the life of the mind and was inspired to begin his journey.

The Philosopher Plato

In Justin’s day institutional universities as we understand them didn’t exist but higher learning certainly did.  Philosophers and scholars would teach pretty much any student who was a paying client.  Justin traveled through several schools of philosophy studying Aristotle, Pythagoras, Stoicism, and finally found himself at home studying Plato.  Justin truly was studying philosophy to understand the deeper meaning in life and Platonic teaching on the soul’s vision of God captured his mind.

Ephesus seaport dried up today

Justin was at the time living and studying in the seaport town of Ephesus in Asia Minor where only 30 years earlier the last of Jesus’ apostles St. John had died at the ripe old age of 100 and was buried outside of town.  It is during this period that Justin has a fateful encounter with an elderly Christian man while in the midst of meditating on the existence of God at the seashore.  There is an illustration here of Jesus’ principle that if we act on the light we are given, we will be given more (Mt. 13:12).
We don’t know the exact content of this conversation or even who really initiated it, but we know three important details.  First, that the evidence that proved convincing to Justin was how the Old Testament prophets gave detailed information about the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ centuries before it happened.  Secondly that there was a gentle, yet firm confrontation of Justin’s motives in studying philosophy as being more about winning debates than seeking to live by the truth.  And finally an exhortation to seek the God of the Bible in earnest prayer asking Him in humility to reveal Himself  and Christ to his heart and mind rather than trust his own philosophic reasoning.

His encounter in Ephesus set the tone for his future ministry.  After coming to the Christian faith he became the first apologist (from the Greek apologia “a defense”) for the Christian church, writing books aimed at showing ordinary people the reasonableness of the Christianity.  Ultimately Justin ends up coming to Rome where he opens a school where he teaches Christianity as the fulfillment of all philosophy.  An interesting sidelight to this is that for the remainder of his life he wears the costume of a philosopher which makes him the first minister in the church who wore any specific clothing to conduct their ministry.
Philosophic debate a public activity in the ancient world

For what is believed to be the next 35 years, Justin studied, collected information, wrote, taught, and even debated other religionists and pagans in an effort to show Christianity was the reasonable path to take and the true philosophy.  Justin was eventually beheaded in Rome under the emperor Marcus Aurelius in 165 after being betrayed by a disgruntled critic of his work.  Justin was brought to trial and refused to renounce his faith and make a sacrifice to the Roman gods.  He famously said “you may be able to kill us (fellow Christians) but you can never actually do us any harm.”  As Justin faithfully ended his life and laid down his work here on earth, it was taken up by others and has been an important ministry in every generation of the church ever since.
You can kill us but you can't really hurt us

Although Justin is quite removed from us by time and culture, I would like to end this essay by focusing on 10 ways his thinking has become a legacy to the Church:

1.  Christ is the culmination of all partial knowledge discovered by the Greeks (in philosophy) and the completion of all Jewish history.

2. Justin believed Christ is the Logos who was present in the Greek philosophers and is in germ form in all men.  God dwells in men insofar as they are susceptible and open to Him.  To the pagan and evil man he dwells not at all.

3.  All truth, no matter where it comes from is God’s truth.

4.  Prophecy is the supernatural basis by which the Christian faith is established.

5.  While Christianity can be understood philosophically, intellectual powers alone will not make you a Christian.  You must have a changed heart.  Teaching must include reaching the mind and heart.

6.  He believed that Plato was like Abraham.  He was a Christian before Christ who acted upon the light he had by God’s universal revelation.

7.  Justin took the Apocalypse of John quite literally and believed Christ would return to earth, rebuild Jerusalem as his capitol and would reign there for 1000 years.

8. Justin one of the earliest writers to refer to the Eucharist as a sacrifice offered to God and that the bread and wine once “eucharized” become the actual flesh and blood of Christ to the faithful.

9. Oddly, virtually all the knowledge in the world today that we possess about Gnosticism and other mystery religions which were Christianity’s competitors, is found only in the writings of Justin, Irenaeus, and Hippolytus (the Church’s most important ancient apologists).  These groups themselves did not produce their own theologies.

10.  People must be reached with a language they can understand.  In Justin’s day philosophy was an important medium and culturally relevant way of communicating.  While speaking in terms of philosophy is not as important today, the principle of finding the language of a culture in evangelization remains.
Justin's burial spot today


“Apologists”  New Dictionary of Theology.  Ferguson, Wright, Packer Eds.  (Downers Grove : Intervarsity Press, 1988)

Bartlet, J. Vernon.  Early History of Christianity.  (London: Religious Tract Society, 1897)

Chadwick, Henry.  The Early Church.  (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1984)

Christie-Murray, David.  A History of Heresy. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).

Eusebius. The History of The Church.  G.A. Williamson Trans. (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1965)

“Justin”  Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature.  McClintock and Strong Eds.  (Grand Rapids : Baker Books, 1981)

Kelly, J.N.D.  Early Christian Doctrines.  (San Francisco : Harper and Row, 1978)

Peterson, Curtis, Lang and.  The 100 Most Important Events in Christian History.  (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1991)

Pope Benedict XVI.  The Fathers.  (Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 2008)

Norwood, Frederick A.  Great Moments in Church History.  (Nashville: Graded Press, 1962)

Weiss, Johannes.  Earliest Christianity: A History of the Period AD 30-150 vol. 1.  (New York : Harper Torchbooks, 1959)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Gregory I “The Great” (540-604): Founder of the Medieval Church by Chris White

Gregory I

Rome had once been the powerful center of the civilized world.  It’s monuments attested to the military victories and political will of its leaders to expand their empire and protect and defend their holdings at any cost necessary.  But that was all in a historic past that was growing dimmer and dimmer with every year.  Rome the city was still standing and was an important symbol at least in people’s collective memories, but by now it stood alone, vulnerable, and unprotected by what remained of its own empire.

Into this time was Gregory born in the palace on the Caelian hill that had belonged to his aristocratic family for generations.  His family was well-connected to the wealth and power that remained in Rome, his father being a senator (which must have been more like a town council by this time) and his mother a part of the highest social circles.  Gregory’s family was also Christian and had been so for some time.  In the past, the family had produced two popes, but Gregory had been carefully educated in law and was prepared for a career as a public servant.  By his thirties he had reached the pinnacle of success attaining the office of prefect of Rome which was the highest authority in the city.
But as history has its turning points, often these same events become personal turning points as well.  Shortly before Gregory had become prefect of Rome, northern Italy had been invaded by a people known as the Lombards.  The Lombards were a group from Scandinavia who had been migrating south for centuries prior.  They were a Christianized people and had lived within the borders of the Roman empire for so long that they had even adopted parts of Roman culture.  But need and opportunity came together and in 568 they began to conquer and take the Italian peninsula for themselves.  Although Italy still belonged to the Roman Empire which was now situated to the east in Constantinople, they were ill-prepared to defend this territory and little resistance was able to be made against this warring people.  This problem doesn’t touch Rome or Gregory directly for nearly a decade, but year by year it draws closer and nothing seems to be able to stop it.

In the meantime, when Gregory is in his forties, his father dies and he inherits the family’s great wealth and landholdings.  As he considers the turmoil of his times and watches the great cities of Italy fall to siege, famine, and plague, he makes a rather bold decision: he decides to retire from public life and become a Christian monk.  Since a vow of poverty was part of being a monk, part and parcel with this decision was to take the family wealth and endow 6 new monasteries dedicated to St. Andrew.  Having done this, Gregory retires to the monastery in Rome and embarks on his new vocation of religious life pursuing a life of worship, prayer, contemplation, and acts of charity in preparation for eternal life.  It should be known that Gregory thought the end of the world might be near (a thought many Christians leaders have had during times of social upheaval and catastrophe) and if Christ was to return soon he wanted to be found doing the business of the kingdom of God rather than planning a better sewer and water system for Rome.

Gregory pursued his life as a monk with great enthusiasm and unfortunately, like many man in this career, undermined his health by over rigorous fasting and sleep deprivation; something that would plague him greatly in later years.  Soon Gregory was elected by his fellow monks to be their abbot or spiritual leader and as his reputation grew he was later ordained a deacon by the pope.
Monks carried the gospel to all of Europe

Later Pope Pelagius II asked him to be his representative at the Emperor’s court in Constantinople.  This was a great honor but one in which Gregory was quite ‘tone deaf.  He really never learned much Greek as Latin had by his day become the sole language of Rome and he didn’t care much for the pretensions   of the Byzantine world.  That to say, being a diplomat was not a good match Gregory, but in this time as he frequently corresponded with the pope, his writing skills were noticed and upon his recall to Rome, he was asked to become the papal secretary and in this he served with great distinction.
Gregory encounters Angle children

It is during this time that Gregory and two brother monks have an encounter that was to have an impact on the future history of Europe.  As they were passing by a slave market (and yes, slavery was still practiced in the day) Gregory was impressed with the beauty of some children that were being sold there.  Having never seen people of this race he enquired of one of his companions where they were from.  Upon being told they Angles (English), Gregory was said to have famously replied:  “Indeed they would not be Angli, but Angels if they were Christian.”   Later when he became pope he promoted and supported missions to many groups of people, but closest to his heart were the English and the mission he sent there took hold and firmly tied the Christians of England to Rome for the next thousand years until King Henry VIII made his famous break with the papacy.

In the course of time as Gregory neared his 50th birthday, a terrible plague struck the city of Rome taking as one of its victims pope Pelagius II.  Following his death, a papal election was held and the people and clergy of Rome called on Gregory to take the office of St. Peter.  Gregory at first resisted but saw the need and in 595 AD became the first monk ever elected to the papacy.
Castel San Angelo today

One of Gregory’s first acts was to hold a public procession of humility and repentance before God in hopes of staying the plague that was continuing to rage in the city.  As the procession neared the tomb of Hadrian a vision of the archangel Michael was seen there putting his sword of destruction back in its sheath.  Hadrian’s tomb, now known as the Castel San Angelo, is decorated on top with a beautiful statue of an archangel to commemorate this event.  Surely it is only a pious legend but it is an amazing coincidence that the plague did stop that very day.

As pope, Gregory was an able administrator, tireless worker, and visionary, bringing his monastic viewpoint to bear on the life of the church as well as a mind that had been disciplined in prayer and contemplation.  His pontificate lasted just short of 14 years but in that short span, he put an impress on the church that it was hold throughout the Middle Ages and arguably in some ways still holds.  Let me share some concrete examples.

A great influence on music

Although he did not invent Gregorian chant, Gregory was a hymn writer and poet and wrote in a metered style that was easily chanted and sung by choirs.  Some of hymns are still sung in Catholic liturgy and were made part of the mass.

The Latin mass was largely shaped by Gregory I.  The theology of the Eucharist being an un-bloody but actual repetition of Christ’s sacrifice for the sins of the world precedes his day but Gregory fills the idea with even greater meaning.  When it is served there is a reconciliation of heaven and earth, time and eternity and a spiritual benefit is conferred upon the living and the pious dead in a communion of the church.

In the early church there had long been the belief and practice of offering prayers for the dead.  But in the Christian east purgatory was unknown.   In the west it was an idea that was embellished and came to blossom under Gregory.  To his mind, purgatory was a foregone conclusion.  As each of the Christian faithful died there were remaining sins and infirmities that needed purging before entrance into glory.  Gregory promoted the ideas of saying 30 masses exclusively for the benefit of dead Christians as well as adding almsgiving as an efficacious means of reducing your purgatory time or that of a loved one.  The provision for this eventuality in the life of every Catholic unfortunately degenerated into a form of Holy Fire Insurance over the next millennium.
Dante was famous for his book on Purgatory

Although Gregory would disclaim any jurisdiction over other bishops around the Christian world he definitely held the view that the Bishop of Rome has the commission of Peter and is above all other bishops in Christendom as a first among equals.  He certainly advised other bishops, churches, kings, queens, and nobles, as if he had jurisdiction over them and sometimes this was not greatly appreciated.  Gregory also acted as a head of state.  As Italy’s civil government continued to suffer neglect and further barbarian attacks, Pope Gregory more or less made the church the government.  He organized social welfare and military protection.  He also governed well the many papal lands around Italy, Europe, and North Africa.  This action set the stage for the development of the later Papal States which were their own country with the Pontiff as the governmental head.  Having actual territory under papal governance was a good thing under Gregory as he used the lands to finance and provide food for the poor of Rome, but later popes would become quite distracted with maintaining control of this property to the point of abandoning their spiritual mission altogether.  The point is Gregory may have disclaimed being a monarchial pope in his writings and words, but is betrayed by his actions despite his protestations.

Gregory was a prolific writer and promotes monasticism as the biographer of St. Benedict of Nursia.  He also writes a book that directs priests in their spiritual ministry called the Pastoral Rule.  This book was very insightful and for centuries the textbook on the care of souls.  Gregory is also the person who articulated the idea of the 7 deadly sins:  pride, covetousness, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, sloth or apathy.  Although he borrowed the idea from the early church, he promoted it and transmitted in his writing to future generations.
Papal throne of Gregory I in Rome

Pope Gregory was untiring in his service to the poor caring for thousands in Rome.  He stood up for the rights of widows and orphans.  When he sat down to a meal, it was never before taking the food prepared for him off the table and giving it to the hungry.  He even sold expensive chalices and sacred vessels belonging to the church to help Rome’s impoverished.   Gregory personally punished himself if anyone died of starvation in his city.  Although some later popes were very much guilty of indulging their pleasures, this pattern of charity for the most part has remained a tradition within the papacy.
Gregory I tomb in St. Peter's today

Upon his death in 604, Gregory was immediately beatified (made a saint by the church) by popular acclamation.  In the 11th century the church began referring to him as “the Great” a title that has only been applied to one other pope in the entire history of the church.  In the 13th century Gregory I was declared  a Doctor of the Latin Church in 1298 by then Pope Boniface VIII (one of the few things he did right).  “Doctor” in Latin means a teacher and so this classification denotes an important contribution was made to the teaching of the church in their lifetimes or through their writings.  The Protestant 19th century historian Philip Schaff sums up his life well:  “Goodness is the highest kind of greatness, and the church has done right in according the title of great to him rather than other popes of superior intellectual power.”


Bede.  A History of the English Church and People.  (London : Penguin Books, 1968)

Collins, Roger.  Early Medieval Europe 300-1000. (New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)

Dawson, Christopher.  Religion and the Rise of Western Culture.  (New York : Doubleday, 1957)

“Gregory I”.  Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature.  McClintock and Strong Eds.  (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1981)

Gregory the Great, bishop of Rome.  The Pastoral Rule.  James Barmby D.D. trans.  (Peabody : Hendrickson Publishers, 2004)

Ferguson, Everett.  Church History Vol. 1: Christ to Pre-Reformation. (Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 2013)

Kelly, J.N.D.  The Oxford Dictionary of Popes.  (Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1986)

La Due, William J.  The Chair of St. Peter: A History of the Papacy.  (Maryknoll : Orbis, 1999)

Peterson, Curtis, Lang and.  The 100 Most Important Events in Christian History.  (Grand Rapids : Revell, 1994).

Schaff, Philip.  History of the Christian Church vol. 4: Medieval Christianity 590-1073. (Grand Rapids : Eerdmanns, 1994)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Thascius Caecilius Cyprian (c200-258 AD) and the Shape of the Church by Chris White

Icon of Cyprian

St. Cyprian was born to a prominent Roman family in Carthage and for his first 50 years lived what most of us would consider a “charmed life.”  His father was a well-known senator and his position afforded Cyprian with the best this world had to offer in terms of education, material goods, and opportunity.  In his early adulthood Cyprian became a teacher of law and rhetoric (a path to politics and/or public acclaim).  His teaching was in high demand and soon Cyprian was a wealthy man with his own household in Carthage and Roman Villa in the countryside.  
Carthage rivaled Rome for sophistication and power

But like many of us in middle-age, Cyprian went through a period of soul-searching and disenchantment with the world around him.  Roman society was never secular but it’s religious foundation lay in the idolatry of the Greeks and Cyprian found this to be trite and full of falsehood.  He had questions about the meaning of life and they were not answered by a pantheon of gods he didn’t believe to be true.  As people begin to search for God it is not uncommon for God to send someone out to find them.  In Cyprian’s case it was an elder in the Christian church of Carthage by the name of Caecillius who shared the good news of Jesus with him and after his conversion served as his instructor as he prepared for baptism.

Cyprian was baptized in the year 246 AD when he was approximately 50 years old.  In gratitude for his instruction and leadership, Cyprian took as his middle name “Caecillius” to honor his spiritual father. Cyprian was an earnest convert.  By his own testimony he felt his heart was renewed and his life had meaning and purpose.  Having an intellectual gift, he gave himself earnestly to Christian studies reading the Bible and early theologians in a dedicated fashion.  Soon he also divested himself of some of  his land and wealth and gave it all to the poor as a means of worship.
An ancient baptismal near present day Carthage

According to Acts 17:26, God determines the time and place of our existence.  We are rightly men and women of our times at the behest of God and thus we have a part in the specific history and destiny of where we live.  Even as Cyprian was growing towards maturity in his new found faith, he had no idea the challenges he would face and the burdens he would bear through the remaining years of his life.

In 248 AD the beloved bishop of the people of Carthage dies.  As the Christian community considers a successor the name of Cyprian is on everyone’s mind.  There was something quite natural about their selection  in that Cyprian was well-known, was well-educated, and from a family that was widely respected and proven leaders.  But there was equally something unnatural about this as well.  St. Paul’s Epistle to Timothy clearly states that an elder or bishop should not be a new convert lest they become swollen with pride and become the prey of the devil (I Tim. 3:16).  As a man with a commanding knowledge of the scriptures, Cyprian knew this and rejected the intentions of the congregation.  Unfortunately for Cyprian, the Church rejected his rejection and literally forced upon him the mantle of being their bishop.  Although his election was resented by some in church leadership who questioned mere popularity as a qualification for bishop, God used Cyprian in a mighty way and his viewpoints were to have a future impress on the entire church for generations to come.

To understand the context of Cyprian’s teachings and ministry you need to be aware that his ministry started with the Decian persecution for the first two years of it, continued with controversy in the aftermath of the persecution and then ended with the Valerian persecution (257-260) of which Cyprian was one of its casualties.  The Decian persecution was very harsh on the church and was very effective in terms of driving many nominal Christians to apostasize.  Cyprian had observed that the years of prosperity and ease that preceded the persecution had caused the discipline and morals of the church to become quite lax.  Cyprian had only started to enforce stricter discipline when the persecution broke out.   Cyprian viewed the persecution as a divine cleansing of the church which led him to set strict standards by which those who came back to the church would be restored to fellowship.

Read more on the later Donatist Controversy in North Africa  

But Cyprian was destined for controversy because during the persecution, he, the bishop of the city, went into hiding.  Cyprian defended his position as thoroughly biblical: “Our Lord commanded us in times of persecution to yield and fly.  He taught this and practiced it  himself.  For since the martyr’s crown comes by the grace of God, it cannot be gained before the appointed hour.  He who retires for a time and remains true to Christ, does not deny his faith, but only abides his time”.  Though very much criticized for his pattern of hiding and avoiding arrest during persecutions, Cyprian’s extant writings show that he was actively leading his people.  He instructed all to not offer themselves up, but if caught not to cave-in and apostasize but stand faithful in the face of persecution and torture.
In the wake of this persecution,  Cyprian was faced with the issue of dealing with those who failed to stand and yet wanted to be re-admitted to the church.  He believed their failure to stand in persecution sundered their bonds with Christ and the church.  Although Cyprian didn’t originate the idea of penance, this idea certainly crystallized in his times.  If the community of the faithful was going to remain truly that, grievous failure (such as apostasy) and the desire to be restored to the church needed an orderly connection.
Cyprian was committed to theology and the scripture

In truth, Cyprian dealt with this quite circumspectly.  Some had been faithful in their confession but had been tortured severely and had a momentary break in their loyalty.  Others had used money to buy off the authorities.  And still others, even lay leaders, gave up without a fight.  He recognized that there were degrees of failure and made allowances for human frailty.  It seems that his strongest policy was directed towards those who willingly cooperated with the Roman government.
In this case if you were penitent you may attend a sermon or church gathering but you will be deprived of the sacraments until you are on your deathbed or so sick that death might be imminent. 

Cyprian also advocated an alternative if you felt  your soul was in peril.  The alternative was to offer yourself in martyrdom during another persecution.  This offering of your lifeblood was believed efficacious in cancelling out your previous betrayal of Christ by undergoing a second baptism.  In Luke 12:50 Jesus referred to his going to the cross as “a baptism” and so it was implied that this was a baptism in blood. Others were critical of this and cited a tradition that a Christian who had been faithful in a persecution and didn’t die could and did have the right to forgive and restore the lapsed.

Cyprian’s view may seem stern but in fact was a ‘golden-mean’.  Novatus, a priest in Carthage who set himself up in Cyprian’s place when he went into hiding the first time, readmitted everyone who had lapsed without any question of their motives or circumstance.  On the other hand, the Pope in Rome had taken the view (at least for a short period) that never under any circumstance could a lapsed Christian return to the church.

Watch a short 2 minute video on Cyprian and Pope Cornelius 

Penance was considered a medicine for the soul.  It allowed a person to demonstrate over time their sorrow for their sin and eventually be received back into the church as a full member.  It allowed for grace and forgiveness but also restoration and discipline in the community of the faithful.  It may seem that the church forgot the fact that Jesus took back Peter after Peter denied him on the night of his betrayal and arrest (Mt. 26:75) and that Christ is our advocate and mediator before the Father when we sin (I John 2:1).  From my own perspective it seems withholding the benefits of the sacraments from a sorrowful believer is a denial of grace, but the modern viewpoint tends to cheapen grace by extending it often at the sacrifice of all church discipline.  I would also suggest that today’s evangelicals do actually have a form of penance in their ranks.  Witness the complete predictability of what happens when a high-profile minister is caught having committed a grievous sin.  Although the names and sins vary, their elders uniformly send the pastor and his spouse away to a counseling center for 10 weeks and then they return with several accountability advisors and then they are officially restored.  The ancients were seeking the same end in the absence of a therapeutic culture.

Cyprian in bishop's clothing

But far beyond his policies regarding lapsed Christians, Cyprian’s impress on the office of the bishop and the role of the church came to be the dominant view of Christendom and centuries later contributed to the development of the Roman papacy.  Cyprian held a high view of his office as a bishop.  In his day, the bishop was the leader of a church in a particular area (such as a city) and governed the life of the church in its worship and discipline.  Other ministers of congregations were his deputies and served under his authority.  His view was that “Bishop is in the church, and the church is in the Bishop and outside of the church there is no salvation”.  What Cyprian was doing was pointing to the reality, much more clearly known in his day, that bishops either succeeded or were connected in their succession to the original apostles of Christ.  Lists were kept and maintained because it was believed this would maintain and conserve the truth and apostolic foundations of the true church (as opposed to any heretical or schismatic churches).  Being connected with a true bishop in church membership and the receiving of the sacraments ensured that one had believed in the true gospel and was rightly connected into the body of Christ.  Apostolic succession and the inheritance of the churches knowledge and experience is important to all Christians.  For Protestant Christians the inheritance of the faith is found in the Apostolic writings (The New Testament) alone.  For Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism the inheritance of the faith comes the scriptures but also the long and unbroken chain of bishops from the ancient times to the present.
Bishops met in councils to discuss problems and theology

Cyprian, like others in his day, also believed that the bishop of one church was the equal to all other bishops in the world.  He believed in praying for other bishops and also to gather with them to discuss and make judgments on matters of faith and teaching.  The practice of councils was in place and the practice of the North African churches prior to Constantine and Nicea although it is marked as the first world council.  One should also note that Cyprian, strong as he was on the importance of the bishop, believed in collegiality.  The concept of the Roman Papacy having primacy over all the bishops of the church would have been utterly contrary to his thought on this office despite the fact that his thinking was adopted to support it.

The Valerian persecution (257-260 AD) was more fierce and more torturous than many of the other persecutions.  Empire wide, it was directed specifically to Church leadership, members of the senate, military and aristocracy that were Christians.  Valerian sent a letter to the pro-consul of Carthage naming Cyprian as one he wanted targeted for death.

In 257 he was demanded to sacrifice to the god Jupiter by the local pro-consul.  Cyprian refused and found himself banished from Carthage.  He continued to write and teach his church from a distance at his country estate in Utique. But the next year a death sentence was handed down and Cyprian was to report to the proconsul there for it to be carried out.  When he was officially summoned to the magistrate, Cyprian fled Utique and went back to Carthage. There and there only would Cyprian present himself to bear witness and seal his testimony, for it was Carthage and not Utique that Cyprian was the chief bishop.

Great resource landing page for further study of St. Cyprian here 

Cyprian writes “For whatever the bishop as confessor says at the moment of his confession he speaks, under the inspiration of God, as the mouth of them all (meaning the Christian community of Carthage). On Sept. 14, 258 AD  Cyprian was taken outside the city where he gave the executioner 25 gold pieces (to do his job well), stripped off his outer garments, prayed, and then kneeled to receive the sword.He was buried on the spot and church was built over his grave.  Unfortunately the later invasion of the Vandals ended up causing the church to be demolished. 
Beheading of Cyprian in church frescoe

Cyprian truly had no view of the visible and invisible church.  For him, all Christian life was directly related to your external connection to the visible church.  His most well-known words must be understood in that context:  “He cannot have God as his father who does not have the church as their mother.”  “Outside the church there is no salvation.”  To be outside the church is to be outside the ark of God’s provision drowning in the flood.  In a time when church membership is minimized in its importance and is seen as contributing nothing to a person’s salvation, Cyprian seems hard to understand.  But his passion was that Christians be connected to Jesus and that connection was made from within the body of Christ which was a very visible presence in his world. 

Born to New Life : Cyprian of Carthage.  Oliver Davies Ed.  (New Rochelle : New City Press, 1992)
Cyprian of Carthage.  On the Church.  Allen Brent, trans.  (Crestwood : St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2006)

Chadwick, Harold J. and John Foxe.  The New Foxes’s Book of Martyrs.  (New Brunswick :  Bridge-Logos Publishing, 1997)

“Cyprian”  Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Knowledge.  McClintock and Strong Eds.  (Grand Rapids : Baker Book House, 1981)

“Cyprian”  New Dictionary of Theology.  Ferguson, Wright, and Packer Eds.  ( Downers Grove : Intervarsity Press, 1988)

The Oxford History of Christianity.  John McManners Ed.  (Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1990)
Latourette, Kenneth Scott  The History of Christianity Vol. 1. Rev. Ed.  (New York : Harper and Row, 1975)

Saint of the Day:  Lives, Lessons, and Feasts.  Leonard Foley O.F.M. Ed., Pat McCloskey O.F.M. Rev.  (Cincinnati : St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2001)

Schaff, Philip.  History of the Christian Church Vol. II: Ante-Nicene Christianity AD 100-325.  (Grand Rapids : Eerdmans Publishing, 1910)