Cyprian: An Early Voice of the Martyrs
(Source: The March 2019 The Voice of the Martyrs newsletter. Photo: The Roman Empire’s Colosseum.)
Cyprian, a church leader in Carthage, had a decision to make. Should he stay in the city and face persecution, or flee to a safer place? He decided to flee.
Carthage was part of the Roman Empire in Cyprian’s time. The emperor, Decius, blamed Christians for wars, plagues, and a bad economy. To please the false Roman gods, he ordered all citizens to offer a sacrifice to the gods. He believed his empire would be better off if the gods were happy.
Everyone who made the sacrifice received a certificate to prove their loyalty to the gods. Some Christians paid others to make the sacrifice and to get a certificate for them. Others sacrificed, saying it was meaningless because the gods didn’t really exist anyway. But many Christians went to prison because they refused to sacrifice to idols.
From his safe place far away, Cyprian sent money, aid, encouragement, and other assistance to Christians living in places where they risked persecution. After a while, the persecution began to die down, and Cyprian returned to Carthage. He and other church leaders allowed Christians who had bought certificates, but not sacrificed, to return to the church. Those who sacrificed could return only if they proved their faith during future persecutions. Cyprian continued his work of sending aid to needy, sick, and persecuted Christians.
Several years later, a new emperor started another wave of persecution. This time, Cyprian did not flee. He was sentenced to death as an enemy of Roman gods and laws. When he heard the sentence, he responded, “Deo gratias!” (Latin for “Thanks be to God!”)
Cyprian died in the year 258.