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E02839: Augustine of Hippo delivers a Latin sermon on the feast of *Cyprian (bishop and martyr of Carthage, S00411), emphasising that the Church celebrates the days of the martyrs' death and not those on which they were born. He also claims that Cyprian, venerated above all in Carthage, is also known in many other regions because of both his martyrdom and his writings. Sermon 310, preached probably in Hippo, at an unknown date between 391 and 430.

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posted on 2017-05-23, 00:00 authored by robert
Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 310

[In natali Cypriani martyris

'On the birthday of the martyr Cyprian']

1. Spiritus sanctus doceat nos in hac hora quae oporteat dicere: dicturi enim sumus aliquid de laude Cypriani gloriosissimi martyris, cuius natalem hodie, sicut nostis, celebramus. Quod nomen sic frequentat ecclesia, id est, natales, ut natales uocet pretiosas martyrum mortes. Sic, inquam, hoc nomen frequentat ecclesia, ut etiam qui non sunt in illa, hoc dicant cum illa. Quis enim hodie, non dicam in hac nostra ciuitate, sed plane per Africam totam transmarinas que regiones, non christianus solum, sed paganus, aut iudaeus, aut etiam haereticus poterit inueniri, qui non nobis cum dicat natalem martyris Cypriani? Quid est hoc, fratres? Quando natus sit, ignoramus; et quia hodie passus est, natalem eius hodie celebramus. Sed illum diem non celebraremus, etsi nossemus. Illo enim die traxit originale peccatum: isto autem die uicit omne peccatum. Illo die ex fastidioso matris utero istam processit in lucem, quae oculos carnis illecebrat: isto autem die ex occultissimo naturae sinu illam discessit ad lucem, quae uisum mentis feliciter et beate illustrat.
'May the Holy Spirit teach me what I should say at this moment; I'm going to say something, you see, in praise of the most glorious martyr, Cyprian, whose birthday (natalis), as you know, we are celebrating today. This expression, that is to say, birthdays, is regularly employed by the Church in this way, so that it calls the precious deaths of the martyrs their birthdays. This expression, I repeat, is regularly employed by the Church, to the extent that even those who don't belong to her join her in using it. Is there anyone to be found, I ask you, and I don't mean just in this city of ours, but throughout the whole of Africa and the regions overseas, and not only any Christian, but any pagan or Jew, or even heretic, who doesn't call today the birthday of the martyr Cyprian? Why is this, brothers? What date he was born on, we don't know; and because he suffered today, it's today that we celebrate his birthday. But we wouldn't celebrate that other day, even if we knew when it was. On that day he contracted original sin, while on this day he overcame all sin. On that day he came forth from the wearisome confines of his mother's womb into this light, which is also alluring to our eyes of flesh; but on this day he went away from the deep darkness of nature's womb to that light, which sheds such blessing and good fortune upon the mind.'

2. Carthaginensem ecclesiam uiuens gubernauit, moriens honorauit. Ibi episcopatum gessit, ibi martyrium consummauit. In eo quippe loco, ubi posuit carnis exuuias, saeua tunc multitudo conuenerat, quae propter odium Christi sanguinem funderet Cypriani: ibi hodie uenerans multitudo concurrit, quae propter natalem Cypriani bibit sanguinem Christi. Et tanto dulcius in illo loco propter natalem cypriani sanguis bibitur Christi, quanto deuotius ibi propter nomen christi sanguis fusus est Cypriani. Denique, sicut nostis, quicumque Carthaginem nostis, in eodem loco mensa deo constructa est; et tamen mensa dicitur Cypriani, non quia ibi est unquam Cyprianus epulatus, sed quia ibi est immolatus, et quia ipsa immolatione sua parauit hanc mensam, non in qua pascat siue pascatur, sed in qua sacrificium deo, cui et ipse oblatus est, offeratur ...

'Living, he governed the Church of Carthage, dying he adorned it. It was there that he exercised his episcopate, there that he achieved his martyrdom. In the very place where he laid aside the trappings of his flesh, a savage crowd gathered then, which out of hatred for Christ would shed Cyprian's blood; there a reverend crowd assembles today, which on account of Cyprian's birthday drink the blood of Christ. And all the more delightfully is the blood of Christ drunk in that place on account of Cyprian's birthday, the more devotedly the blood of Cyprian was shed in the same place for the sake of the name of Christ. Eventually, as you know, any of you who know Carthage, a table was erected to God in the very same place; at yet it's called Cyprian's table (mensa Cypriani), not because Cyprian ever dined there, but because he was crucified there, and because this very sacrifice of himself he prepared this table; not as one on which to feed or be fed, but as one on which sacrifice might be offered to God, to whom he offered his very self ...'

3. Sed cum Carthago habuerit cathedram eius, carthago habeat memoriam eius; unde nos celebraremus natalitia eius, nisi esset pretiosa in conspectu domini mors sanctorum eius?

'But since Carthage is where he had his bishop's throne (cathedra), Carthage should be where he has his memorial shrine (memoria); why would we here be celebrating his birthday (natalitia) if it were not the case that "precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his saints" (Ps 116:15).'

In what follows Augustine refers to the writings of Cyprian, who, thanks to them, is known in many regions not only as a martyr, but also as an author.

Text: Patrologia Latina 38, 1412-13. Translation: Hill 1994, 68-69. Summary: Robert Wiśniewski.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

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

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Sermons/Homilies


  • 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

Hippo Regius

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

Hippo Regius Carthage Carthago Karthago قرطاج‎ Qarṭāj Mçidfa Carthage

Major author/Major anonymous work

Augustine of Hippo

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Sermon/homily

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places


Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Pagans Jews Crowds


The date of this sermon is impossible to fix with any certainty. It was not preached in Carthage since in ch. 3 Augustine refers to those who may know this city, assuming that not all members of his audience belong to this category.


Augustine claims that the day of Cyprian's feast (his natalis or natalitia) is widely known and referred to as such even by pagans and Jews. It is difficult to say, however, whether this remark reflects reality or is just a rhetorical exaggeration.


Text: Migne, J.P., Patrologia Latina 38 (Paris, 1865). Translation: Hill, E., The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century, vol. III 9. Sermons 306-340A for the Saints ‬(New York: New City Press, 1994). Dating: Kunzelmann, A., "Die Chronologie der sermones des hl. Augustinus," Miscellanea Agostiniana, vol. 2 (Rome: Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana, 1931), 417-452.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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