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E00980: According to the Life of *Cyprian (bishop and martyr of Carthage, S00411), an officer and ex-Christian sought to obtain Cyprian's bloodstained garments; written in Latin at Carthage, possibly by his deacon Pontius, and certainly before 359.

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posted on 13.12.2015, 00:00 by robert
Pontius of Carthage, Life of Cyprian 16.6-7

6. Illic cum post iter longum nimio sudore madidatus sederet - sedile autem erat fortuito linteo tectum, ut et sub ictu passionis episcopatus honore frueretur -, quidam ex tesserariis quondam christianus res suas obtulit, quasi vellet ille vestimentis suis humidis sicciora mutare - videlicet nihil aliud in rebus oblatis ambiebat, quam ut proficiscentis ad Deum martyris sudores iam sanguineos possideret 7. Cui ille respondit et dixit: ‘Medellas adhibemus querelis, quae hodie forsitan non erunt?’ Mirum, si contempsit laborem corpore, qui mortem mente contempserat?

'(6.) There, as he sat moistened after his long journey with excessive perspiration (the seat was by chance covered with linen, so that even in the very moment of his passion he might enjoy the honour of the episcopate), one of the officers, who had formerly been a Christian, offered him his clothes, as if he might wish to change his moistened garments for drier ones; and he doubtless coveted nothing further in respect of his proffered kindness than to possess the now bloodstained sweat of the martyr going to God. (7.) He made reply to him, and said, We apply medicines to annoyances which probably today will no longer exist.' Is it any wonder that he despised suffering in body who had despised death in soul?'

Text: Bastiaensen 1975, p. 42. Translation: Wallis 1886.

History

Evidence ID

E00980

Saint Name

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

Saint Name in Source

Cyprianus

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Lives of saint

Language

Latin

Evidence not before

258

Evidence not after

359

Activity not before

258

Activity not after

258

Place of Evidence - Region

Latin North Africa

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Carthage

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

Carthage Carthage Carthago Karthago قرطاج‎ Qarṭāj Mçidfa Carthage

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Officials Soldiers Ecclesiastics - bishops

Cult Activities - Relics

Contact relic - saint’s possession and clothes Bodily relic - blood

Source

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.

Discussion

This is a very early testimony of the practice of collecting martyrs' blood. This custom can be found in African contexts also in the Martyrdom of Perpetua (see E01668). The text does not suggest, however, that Cyprian's garments, covered with sweat and blood, were considered to be something more than a pious souvenir.

Bibliography

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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