Saint Spotlight Saints Cornelius and Cyprian

Feast Day 16 September

Immortal Diamonds

"We are only the earthenware Jars. " 2 Corinthians 4: 7

The Church commemorates the martyred saints Cornelius (c. 180-253) and Cyprian (210-258) on the same day, as their lives were intertwined during a critical period for Christianity: at the time of the persecutions of Decius, Cyprian and pope Cornelius were in favour of readmitting to communion the lapsi, those who had denied Christ in order to escape persecution.

An English soldier of the First World War was injured at the Battle of the Somme. Returning to the front later and suffering from shell-shock he threw away his riffle. He was executed and his wife and family deprived of all benefits. Not until the year 2000 was this man’s suffering seen in a more compassionate light. Now his name is on the War Memorial in his home town. In the Church of the third century, a similar struggle occurred with regard to people who “fell away” in times of persecution. Were they to be written off or was it permitted to pardon them and to receive them back into the fold? A certain priest, Novatian, in Rome, took the hard line and said that reconciliation was impossible. He taught that it was a betrayal of Christ.

A kinder, more compassionate response came from the Pope of the day, Cornelius, and from the bishop of Carthage in North Africa, Cyprian. Cornelius ruled in favour of reconciliation and restored peace to the Church in Rome. Shortly afterwards he was banished by the Emperor, and died in exile from his city. Over in Carthage,
Cyprian had supported Cornelius by letter, and in his own city he ruled his flock with great kindness and learning. He showed great understanding in reconciling the
“fallen away” to the Church, and in his own time of trial, he showed great fortitude and courage. The Roman consul found him guilty of not conforming to the religion of the Empire and condemned him to death. After his execution, the people came at night with torches and lanterns to collect his body, and to bear it with great reverence to a worthy place of burial.

The tombs of the saints, the graves of soldiers, hold precious remains of human beings, at once frail and full of faith. Earthly powers so often fear the face of frailty and seek to stamp it out. It is far better, surely, to face the human frailty in ourselves, so as to understand it in others. “When I am weak, then I am strong.”