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Cyprian

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Treatise
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Estimated Range of Dating: 246-258 A.D.

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Information on Cyprian

A. Hoffman writes, "Caecilius Cyprianus, also named Thascius (ep. 66 pr.; Acta procons. 3)--was probably born at the beginning of the 3rd c. and was bishop of Carthage 248/249-258. His high level of education, considerable wealth, friends in the equestrian and senatorial classes, the degree to which he was known in Carthage, and his treatment as an honestior at his trial all suggest that his family belonged to the leading circles of Carthage and that he was at least of the equestrian class. According to Jerome (vir. ill. 67), after the usual rhetorical training he worked as a teacher of oratory (or an orator); he may perhaps also have aimed at a career as administrator or even have begun it. Under the influence of the presbyter Caecilian he turned to Christianity in his early to mid-forties (Pontius, Vita Cypr. 4). After baptism and, with it, the abandonment of his previous activity as well as the distribution of a large part of his personal property, Cyprian soon became a presbyter and in 248/249 a bishop. His quick rise seems to have been due especially to the community (ep. 43.1 and 4; Pontius, Vita Cypr. 5), which evidently supported the influential, wealthy, and charitable convert as its patronus. Among the Carthaginian clergy, on the other hand, there was until 253 a noticeable opposition centered on five presbyters who had been passed over in the episcopal election." (Dictionary of Early Christianity, p. 148)

Claudio Moreschini writes, "It was probably in 248-249 that Cyprian made a collection of biblical passages, the Testimonia, relating to central problems of Christian teaching. The treatise, To Quirinius: Testimonies against the Jews (Ad Quirinum testimonia adversus Iudaeos), is in three books and was requested by a friend who wanted a compendium of the church's teaching on Judaism and on the relationship and opposition between Judaism and Christianity. The collection is of shapeless material, testimonia pure and simple, texts already commonly used in the second century in anti-Jewish polemics ... and its purpose is the traditional one. From the same period comes another treatise, likewise a compilation, which contains material taken chiefly from Tertullian and Minucius Felix, and which has for its purpose, as did the material from those two writers, to combat pagan religion; its title is That Idols Are not Gods (Quod idola dii non sint). For a long time this treatise was considered not to be from Cyprian. It is indeed attributed to him by Jerome and Augustine, but it is not found in the manuscripts of his works. Pontius the biographer and an early catalogue of Cyprian's works, compiled in 359, do not list it." (Early Christian Greek and Latin Literature, vol. 1, p. 366)

Claudio Moreschini writes, "Another little work from these first years of Cyprian's episcopate is The Dress of the Virgins (De habitu virginuum), which takes up a particular problem of Christian ethics, namely, the behavior of women who had chosen a life dedicated to virginity. Cyprian takes as his model a work on a similar subject by his teacher, Tertullian; he stresses, however, the need for modesty and simplicity of dress and takes a resolute position on the excesses attending the practice of virgines subintroductae, that is, of those women who shared their lives with men, while observing virginity in agreement with them. This was a problem to which the bishop returned later in some letters." (Early Christian Greek and Latin Literature, vol. 1, p. 366)

J. Quasten writes, "There are several valuable sources of information for his life. The most important and reliable are his treatises and his numerous letters. For the arrest, trials and martyrdom, we possess the Acta Proconsularia Cypriani, which are founded on official reports (cf. vol. 1, p. 179). Finally, there is a Vita Cypriani extant in a great number of manuscripts, supposedly written by his deacon, Pontius, who shared his exile until the day of his death (Jerome, De vir. ill. 58). The first biography of which the history of early Christian literature knows, it has been found to be historically unreliable. The author, filled with admiration for his hero, has written a panegyric, in order 'that to posterity this incomparable and lofty pattern may be prolonged into immortal remembrance' (ch. 1). Thus his purpose is to edify." (Patrology, vol. 2, p. 340)

Ronald E. Heine writes, "Most of Cyprian's literary activity was generated by crises. Shortly after his election as bishop, the Church was thrown into disorder and confusion by the ravaging persecution of Decius which lasted from January 250 to the spring of 251. Cyprian took refuge in this persecution, but maintained contact with the church in Carthage by correspondence. Some Christians were arrested, and thereby attained the honoured position of 'confessors'. Far greater numbers, however, complied with the demands of the emperor, and were termed the 'lapsed'. The situation created the problems which dominated the remainder of Cyprian's episcopate." (Cambridge History of Early Christian Literature, pp. 152-153)

J. Quasten writes, "De lapsis was written after Cyprian's return from his retirement during the Decian persecution in the spring of 251. After giving thanks to God for the restoration of peace, he praises the martyrs who have resisted the world, have afforded a glorious spectacle in the sight of god and have been an example to their brethren. However, his joy soon turns to gloom and sorrow because of the many brethren who had fallen away during the persecution. He speaks of those who had sacrificed to the gods even before they were forced to do so, of parents who had brought their children to participate in these rites and especially of those who, for blind love of their property, remained and denied the faith. No easy pardon can be granted them. He warns the confessors against interceding for such people. Leniency under these circumstances would merely prevent them from making due atonement. Those who became weak only after great tortures deserve more mercy. However all of those must submit to penance, evne those who in some way or other had secured certificates of sacrifice without having polluted their hands with actual participation in such pagan worship (libellatici), because they have defiled their conscience. Cyprian's treatise was read at the council which met in Carthage in the spring of 251 and became the basis of a uniform course of action in the difficult question of the lapsed for the entire Church of North Africa." (Patrology, vol. 2, pp. 348-349)

J. Quasten writes, "Cyprian's literary activity was intimately connected with his life and times. All of his works are written for specific occasions and served practical purposes. He was a man of action, interested in the direction of souls rather than in theological speculation. He had neither Tertullian's depth and gift of expression nor his fiery passionateness. On the other hand, his practical wisdom avoids the exaggerations and provocations which did so much harm to the other. His language and style are clearer and more polished, and show a greater influence of the vocabulary and imagery of the Bible. But his admiration for Tertullian is evident from the fact that his treatises embody his master's best thoughts. In Christian antiquity, as in the Middle Ages, he was one o fthe most popular authors and his writings are extant in a great number of manuscripts." (Patrology, vol. 2, p. 344)

The works To Donatus (ca. 246), On the Behavior of Virgins (before 250), On the Lapsed (spring 251), On the Unity of the Catholic Church (spring 251), On the Lord's Prayer (251/252), To Demetrianus (ca. 252), On Mortality (252/253), On Charity and Almsgiving (252/253), On the Value of Patience (spring-summer 256), On Jealousy and Envy (256), To Fortunatus (summer/fall 257?), and the letters are generally assigned to Cyprian (with dates as given by A. Hoffman). However, Hoffman writes, "There is disagreement on whether Cyprian also composed the works To Quirinus or Testimonies from Scripture (testim.) and Idols are not gods (idol.)." (Dictionary of Early Christian Literature, p. 150)

The works Praise of Martyrdom, Against the Jews, Shows, and The Advantage of Modesty have sometimes been assigned to Novatian. Claudio Moreschini writes, "Some inauthentic works have come down to us ... the attribution of these works to Cyprian guaranteed their orthodoxy and therefore their survival in later centuries. If some of them were written by Novatian, then the attribution to Cyprian was deliberately made, after Novatian's death, by one of his followers. It must be kept in mind, however, that the placement of the works in the African world is not certain for any of them." (Early Christian Greek and Latin Literature, p. 378)

A. Hoffman writes, "Certainly not authentic, in addition to some letters, prayers, and sermons, are these works: Against the Jews (adv. Iud.) (3rd. c.?); On Sinai and Zion (mont.) (mid-3rd. c.?); To Bishop Vigilius on Jewish Unbelief (Iud. incred.) (3rd. c.?); Calculation of the Date of Easter (pasch.) (243); In Praise of Martyrdom (laud. mart.) (253?); On Rebaptism (rebapt.) (ca. 256); To Novatian (ad Novat.) (after mid-3rd c.?); On Clerical Celibacy (singul. cler.) (end of 3rd c.); Treatise on the Hundred-, Sixty-, Thirtyfold (tract.) (3rd/4th c.?); Exhortation to Penance (exhort. paen.) (4th/5th c.?); On the Twelve Transgressions of This World (abus.) (7th c.). Two works, On Chastity (pudic.) and On Spectacles (spect.), that have come down under Cyprian's name are usually ascribed to Novatian. Cyprian is also not the author (of the prose version) of the Banquet (cena), the origin of which has not yet been cleared up, nor of poems On Sodom (De sodoma) and On Jonah (De Iona), among others; whether they were written by Cyprian the Singer (C. Gallus) is disputed." (Dictionary of Early Christian Literature, p. 150)

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