Thursday, April 18, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we remember the “Ante-Nicene” Father Cyprian and his role in the church amidst persecution and plague.

It is the 18th of April 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


Today, we go way back in the way back machine- to the dawn of the third century, around the year 200, when we believe Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus was born into a comfortable Roman life in the great city of Carthage in North Africa on the coast of the Mediterranean. It was then the 3rd largest city in the Roman Empire, only behind Alexandria in Egypt and Rome. The man who would be known as Cyprian tells us little about his younger life besides that he was trained in the law, lived a life of luxury and the vices that accompany such wealth, and that he noticed a creeping greed amongst the city and a dread within himself.

He would write: “There is no sharing with the needy...They impart nothing to their friends, nothing to their children; they possess it only for this purpose, that another may not possess it. They make no use (of it) except for evil ends.” And later, he would write of himself at this time: “I was prostrate in the gloom of dark night...hesitant and undecided, I was tossed here and there by the stormy tides of the world, ignorant of the

meaning of my life, remote from truth and light. What divine mercy was promising me for my salvation seemed to me (given the habits of my life then) something truly difficult and wearisome...How is such a radical transformation possible? How is it possible to rid oneself of all those inborn vices that have become second nature over time?”

We aren’t given the play-by-play on what happened, but the increasingly influential Cyprian embraced the gospel as it was presented to him by a local elder. Cyprian was catechized and then baptized on this, the 18th of April in 246 at the Easter vigil. A known public figure, his conversion surprised his friends and delighted the church that rushed him through ordination as a priest, and only two years into the faith, he was consecrated as the Bishop of Carthage. The ordaining bishops noted that this was irregular but recognized Cyprian as especially talented in administration and pious in his desire to serve the church. And it was perhaps the times that called for such a character as the convert in his mid-40s who now found himself in the crosshairs of the empire.

This is during the so-called “Crisis of the Third Century” a catastrophic period in the Empire that hoped the new emperor, Decius would bring stability. And he would, to an extent, by calling all Roman citizens back to the ancient Pagan Roman religion. All members of the empire must sacrifice to the Roman Gods, and moreover, they must receive a certificate proving that they had and to be prepared to show it on demand.

Cyprian, unwilling to sacrifice but also afraid to be martyred so that the church might not have a bishop, instead went into exile. Within a year, Decius was dead, and Cyprian was able to return home. But this would then become the era of the so-called “Plague of Cyprian”, a devastating empire-wide plague originating in Africa that would be named so because it is from Cyprian’s writings that we know much about it. The church's diaconate would be involved in caring for many of the sick and burying the dead, actions which won them acclaim from many in the empire.  

But theological issues were also raised between Cyprian and his colleagues and fellow Bishops. To what extent could those who sacrificed to the Roman Gods, or any others with known public sin, be forgiven and re-admitted to the church? Cyprian’s position was that forgiveness was possible, even for the most notorious sinners, but repentance and forgiveness must be publicly presented. And what of baptisms in heretical sects, like the Novatians?  The Bishop at Rome believed any baptism using a trinitarian formula was valid, while Cyprian called for re-baptism if performed by heretics deemed outside the church. These issues would simmer under the surface through the time of Constantine and into the age of Augustine. Nevertheless, one of Cyprian’s most famous works would be “On the Unity of the Church,” in which he sought a relatively broad consensus and claimed that no one can claim “God as Father” who didn’t have “the church as a mother”.

The peace in the Empire did not last long as the ascension of Emperor Valerian would reinstitute the empire-wide Christian persecution (it’s worth noting that this, and that of Decius a few years earlier, were the first empire-wide persecutions of Christians). At first, Cyprian would go into exile but would definitely return in 258 when he would be tried, convicted, and executed. Cyprian, born around 200, was baptized on this day in 246. He died only 12 years into his life in Christ but would be remembered as a faithful saint by both Western and Eastern churches.


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary and Psalm 23- a rare but appropriate occasion to dip into Ye Olde King James Version:

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 18th of April 2024, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by the Bishop of Random Lake and the Archbishop of Your Heart- he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man sorry for all the Mavericks fans listening… it won’t end well for y’all. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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