Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian (Memorial)
These two contemporaries, martyred in 253 and 258 respectively, were linked by one particular issue: what to do with those Christians who lapsed through fear in time of persecution, and then wished to return? An influential Roman priest, Novatian, maintained that they could not be forgiven (along with murderers, adulterers and those in second marriages). Cornelius and Cyprian strongly took the opposite view.
Cornelius was elected Pope in 251, at the time of the persecution of the Christians by the Emperor Decius. In 253 he was exiled to Civitavecchia and from there wrote several times to Cyprian on the above-mentioned issue. He died of ill-treatment and was because of this was considered a martyr.
Cyprian, a brilliant thinker and speaker, was a native of Carthage in North Africa; he was converted to Christianity in 245 and only three years later was unanimously elected Bishop by the local Christian clergy and people. He had to flee when the persecutions began, but encouraged his flock by letter. He said that those who, through fear, had obtained false certificates stating that they had sacrificed to pagan gods should be re-admitted to the Church after a period of penance.
One of his priests, Novatus, wanted them re-admitted without any penance at all, which Cyprian thought was going a bit too far. In 257 a further persecution began, under Valerian which required him to take part in pagan worship, but Cyprian refused. Consequently, he was beheaded at Carthage in 258.
Cyprian was a particular advocate of the unity of the whole Church, and was unable to accept that those baptised by heretics and schismatics could be seen as validly baptised. Their baptism needed to be linked to the whole body of the Church.
Together Cornelius and Cyprian share a feast day to remind us of the unity that the Church should always practice and celebrate. This unity is a mark of the presence of Jesus who is at the Center.
Collect: God our Father, in Saints Cornelius and Cyprian you have given your people an inspiring example of dedication to the pastoral ministry and constant witness to Christ in their suffering. May their prayers and faith give us courage to work for the unity of your Church. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.