St. Cyprian & His Plague

CyprianusReliquiarCyprian (c. 200 – September 14, 258) was bishop of Carthage during the plague that was known as The Plague of Cyprian. The plague was named for him because of the descriptions he wrote about the plague. He was born into a wealthy pagan family and converted to the Christian religion in his thirties. He later became a bishop. He was classically educated and his Church writing made him one of the church scholars of his time.

When Carthage suffered a severe plague epidemic, Cyprian organized a program of medical relief and nursing of the sick, available to all residents.  Cyprian believed that the world was coming to an end. He wrote:

“The Kingdom of God, beloved brethren, is beginning to be at hand; the reward of life, and the rejoicing of eternal salvation, and the perpetual gladness and possession lately lost of paradise, are now coming, with the passing away of the world …”

The Carthaginians, however,  became convinced that the epidemic resulted from the wrath of the gods at the spread of Christianity. Another persecution of Christians arose, Cyprian was arrested, tried, and beheaded on in 258 AD. (See the reliquary on right.)

The world did not end, but the plague weakened the Roman Empire by killing two Emperors, Hostilian in A.D. 251 and Claudius II Gothicus in A.D. 270, and decimating the populations. The barbarians and Scythians armies, however, were also affected which put an end to large wars for a time.  The plague may have been a key driving force behind the spread of Christianity in the Empire when pagans saw the Christian response to the plague and persecution.

Tomorrow, Between and Among


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