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E00982: The Life of *Cyprian (bishop and martyr of Carthage, S00411) emphasises that its hero gained both the crown of priesthood and 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 19

1. Sic consummata passione perfectum est, ut Cyprianus, qui bonorum omnium fuerat exemplum, exemplum etiam sacerdotalis coronae in Africa primus inbueret, quia et talis esse post apostolos prior coeperat. Ex quo enim Carthagini episcopatus ordo numeratur, numquam aliquis quamvis et bonus et ex sacerdotibus ad passionem venisse memoratur. 2. Licet semper Deo mancipata devotio dicatis hominibus pro martyrio deputetur, Cyprianus tamen etiam ad perfectam coronam Domino consummante profecit, ut in civitate ipsa, in qua taliter vixerat et in qua prior fecerat multa praeclara, prior et sacerdotii caelestis insignia glorioso cruore decoraret. 3. Quid hoc loco faciam? Inter gaudium passionis et remanendi dolorem in partes divisus animus, et angustum nimis pectus adfectus duplices onerant. Dolebo quod non comes fuerim? Sed illius victoria triumphanda est. De victoria triumphabo? Sed doleo quod comes non sim. 4. Verum vobis tamen et simpliciter confitendum est, quod et vos scitis, in hac me fuisse sententia: multum ac nimis multum de gloria eius exsulto, plus tamen doleo quod remansi.
'(1.) His passion being thus accomplished, it resulted that Cyprian, who had been an example to all good men, was also the first who in Africa imbued his priestly crown with blood of martyrdom, because he was the first who began to be such after the apostles. For from the time at which the episcopal order is enumerated at Carthage, not one is ever recorded, even of good men and priests, to have come to suffering. (2.) Although devotion surrendered to God is always in consecrated men reckoned instead of martyrdom; yet Cyprian attained even to the perfect crown by the consummation of the Lord; so that in that very city in which he had in such wise lived, and in which he had been the first to do many noble deeds, he also was the first to decorate the insignia of his heavenly priesthood with glorious gore. (3.) What shall I do now? Between joy at his passion, and grief at still remaining, my mind is divided in different directions, and twofold affections are burdening a heart too limited for them. Shall I grieve that I was not his associate? But yet I must triumph in his victory. Shall I triumph at his victory? Still I grieve that I am not his companion. (4.) Yet still to you I must in simplicity confess, what you also are aware of, that it was my intention to be his companion. Much and excessively I exult at his glory; but still more do I grieve that I remained behind.'

Text: Bastiaensen 1975, 46-48. 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 - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

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 is probably the earliest testimony of the motif of two crowns gained by a martyr. In this passage, at the end of the Life, the author returns to his thought, expressed at the beginning of the text, that Cyprian was greater than other martyrs in Africa because he was a bishop (see E00916).


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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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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