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E00981: The Life of *Cyprian (bishop and martyr of Carthage, S00411) describes his martyrdom; written in Latin at Carthage, possibly by his deacon Pontius, and certainly before 359.

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posted on 2015-12-13, 00:00 authored by robert
Pontius of Carthage, Life of Cyprian 18

1. Et cum exiret praetorii fores, ibat comes militum turba, et ne quid in passione deesset, centuriones et tribuni latus texerant. 2. Ipse autem locus convallis est, ubi pati contigit, ut arboribus ex omni parte densatis sublime spectaculum praebeat. 3. Per enormitatem spatii longioris visu denegato vel per confusam nimis turbam personae faventes in ramos arborum repserant, ne vel hoc illi negaretur, ut ad Zachaei similitudinem de arboribus videretur. 4. Sed iam ligatis per manus suas oculis moram carnificis urgere temptabat, cuius munus est ferrum, et iam labentem dextera gladium vix trementibus digitis circuibat, donec ad perpetrandam pretiosi viri mortem clarificationis hora matura centurionis manum concesso desuper vigore firmatam permissis tandem viribus expediret. 5. O beatum ecclesiae populum, qui episcopo suo tali et oculis pariter et sensibus, et quod est amplius, publica voce compassus est, et, sicut ipso tractante semper audierat, Deo iudice coronatus est. 6. Quamvis enim non potuerit evenire, quod optabant vota communia, ut consortio paris gloriae simul plebs tota pateretur, quicumque sub Christi spectantis oculis et sub auribus sacerdotis ex animo pati voluit, per idoneum voti sui testem legationis quodammodo litteras ad Deum misit.

'(1.) And when he left the doors of the praetorium, a crowd of soldiery accompanied him; and that nothing might be wanting in his passion, centurions and tribunes guarded his side. (2.) Now the place itself where he was about to suffer is level, so that it affords a noble spectacle, with its trees thickly planted on all sides. (3.) But as, by the extent of the space beyond, the view was not attainable to the confused crowd, persons who favoured him had climbed up into the branches of the trees, that there might not even be wanting to him (what happened in the case of Zacchaeus), that he was gazed upon from the trees. (4.) And now, having with his own hands bound his eyes, he tried to hasten the slowness of the executioner, whose office was to wield the sword, and who with difficulty clasped the blade in his failing right hand with trembling fingers, until the mature hour of glorification strengthened the hand of the centurion with power granted from above to accomplish the death of the excellent man, and at length supplied him with the permitted strength. (5.) O blessed people of the Church, who as well in sight as in feeling, and, what is more, in outspoken words, suffered with such a bishop as theirs; and, as they had ever heard him in his own discourses, were crowned by God the Judge! (6.) For although that which the general wish desired could not occur, viz. that the entire congregation should suffer at once in the fellowship of a like glory, yet whoever under the eyes of Christ beholding, and in the hearing of the priest, eagerly desired to suffer, by the sufficient testimony of that desire did in some sort send a missive to God, as his ambassador.'

Text: Bastiaensen 1975, 44-46; Translation: Wallis 1886.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Cyprian, bishop of Carthage (Africa) and martyr, ob. 258 : S00411

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Lives of saint


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Latin North Africa

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Carthage Carthage Carthago Karthago قرطاج‎ Qarṭāj Mçidfa Carthage

Cult activities - Places

Place of martyrdom of a saint

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Saint as patron - of a community

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Crowds Soldiers Torturers/Executioners Ecclesiastics - bishops


According to Jerome’s On Illustrious Men 68, 'Pontius, Cyprian’s deacon, sharing his exile until the day of his death, left a notable volume On the life and death of Cyprian.' Jerome, writing in 392, is the only author who names Pontius. The Life of Cyprian is mentioned also in the so-called 'Cheltenham List' of Cyprian’s works, composed in Rome in 359. Otherwise no ancient author refers to the Life of Cyprian, unlike his Acts which were widely quoted. This is why some scholars find it implausible that the Life of the most famous African bishop was actually written already in the 3rd century by a member of the Carthaginian clergy and remained unknown, all the more so as other Lives of Christian saints appear only a hundred years after Cyprian’s death (258), in the second half of the 4th century. These scholars argue that the text was in reality the work of an anonymous 4th century author. The precise dating of the text must remain uncertain, but the very limited early circulation of the Life of Cyprian is a fact. It was unknown even to Augustine who collected all Cyprian’s works, and it had no impact for the further development of hagiography. The Life of Cyprian is deeply rooted in the tradition of martyr stories, but its author aims to convince his readers that Cyprian surpassed both the heroes of the Old Testament and earlier Christian martyrs, because, unlike some of them who were just catechumens (an obvious allusion to the martyr *Perpetua and her companions), he was a bishop and, more importantly, one can learn a lot from his example even putting aside his martyrdom (qui et sine martirio habuit quae doceret - 'who even without martyrdom had that which instructs', Life of Cyprian 1.2). Thus for Pontius Cyprian’s way of life was no less important that his death. This is why he decided to describe his youth, education, conversion, ordination and especially his episcopal activity, not just his martyrdom. The only miraculous element in the Life is the vision which predicts Cyprian's martyrdom.


This description of Cyprian's death is almost devoid of miraculous elements. Cyprian is presented as a witness sent to God by all those who desired to suffer with him, yet nothing suggests that he should play the role of intercessor on behalf of his community.


Editions and translations: Hartel, G., Vita Cypriani (Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 3:1; Vienna: 1868). Harnack, A., Das Leben Cyprians von Pontius, die erste christliche Biographie (Texte und Untersuchungen 39:3; Leipzig: J.C. Hinrichs, 1913). Pellegrino, M., Ponzio, Vita e Martirio di San Cipriano (Alba: Edizioni Paoline, 1955). Bastiaensen, A.A.R. (ed.), and Canali, L. (trans.), Vita di Cipriano, in: Vite dei santi, vol. 3 (Milan: Mondadori, 1975). English translation: Wallis, R.E., The Life and Passion of Cyprian by Pontius the Deacon (Ante-Nicene Fathers 5; Buffalo NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886).

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