35: The Conversion of Cyprian

How can a man be born when he is old?

John 3:4

Cyprian of Carthage is regarded as the most excellent churchman of the Third Century. While his writings did not have literary or theological brilliance of Tertullian, his fellow Carthaginian, in terms of his administration and leadership of the body of Christ he was unsurpassed among his peers.

The history of this period reveals a tender man who took seriously his duty to help the sick and inflicted even risking his own life in times of plague. He was a wise leader choosing to go into hiding during persecution so as to protect his flock.

Cyprian was committed to church order and discipline insisting that salvation cannot exist outside the Church, a truth distorted by the Roman apostasy of later centuries. While we live in a different age when the body of the Church is divided into denominations; it remains the case to be a Christian one must belong to the Church as in the universal body of Christ. In Cyprian’s day the body of the Church and the denomination were one entity.

The most amazing fact about Cyprian, however, is his late conversion, which contributed to a majority of his life being spent living for the empty success of this world.

Born into a heathen family in Carthage, where he spent his entire life, Cyprian rose through the ranks of society as a lawyer, debater and philosopher. His success in his chosen fields and his popularity in the city elevated him to a position of high rank. He lived in luxury and wealth.

As Peter was won by Andrew, as Paul was encouraged by Barnabus and as Johann von Staupitz pointed a young Luther in the direction of Christ, so Cyprian had one, a little known man who loved his soul. Caecilius, was a presbyter who lived Cyprian’s home. Upon his death he entrusted his wife and children to the care of this wealthy heathen benefactor. But before he passed into glory he shared Christ and encouraged Cyprian to read the Bible.

Cyprian resisted the call of Christ for a long time but when he finally surrendered the result was transformative. He sold all his property, giving to the poor and entered all class of catechumens with a view to getting baptised.

At 46 years of age he was baptised adopting the name of his spiritual father – Caecilius. Interestingly he also took a vow of chastity indicating that he was unmarried and that the idea of celibacy was beginning to take root in the Church, although for Cyprian it was a voluntary act of devotion to Christ.

And so an eminent heathen was converted and his skills would be used to great effect for the glory of God.

So soon as I drank the spirit from above and was transformed by a second birth into a new man, then the wavering mind became wonderfully firm; what had been closed opened; the dark became light..

What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought
Since Jesus came into my heart!
I have light in my soul for which long I had sought,
Since Jesus came into my heart!

Rufus H. Daniel

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