Saint Cyprian was born sometime between the years 200 and 210 in Carthage which was at the time a part of the Roman Empire. He came from a rich Berber background, and was with his family pagan. As he became a young adult, he was a member of a legal fraternity in Carthage and frequently taught rhetoric. Cyprian would be baptized at the age of 35, choosing the Christian name Caecilius in memory of the priest who converted him (Cyprian's name in Latin was originally Thaschus Caecilius Cyprianus). Saint Cyprian described his conversion with the following words:
"When I was still lying in darkness and gloomy night, I used to regard it as extremely difficult and demanding to do what God's mercy was suggesting to me... I myself was held in bonds by the innumerable errors of my previous life, from which I did not believe I could possibly be delivered, so I was disposed to acquiesce in my clinging vices and to indulge my sins... But after that, by the help of the water of new birth, the stain of my former life was washed away, and a light from above, serene and pure, was infused into my reconciled heart... a second birth restored me to a new man. Then, in a wondrous manner every doubt began to fade.... I clearly understood that what had first lived within me, enslaved by the vices of the flesh, was earthly and that what, instead, the Holy Spirit had wrought within me was divine and heavenly"
He gave away a large portion of his family's wealth immediately after his conversion, and within a few years was ordained a deacon then a priest. Rapidly afterwards, he was elected as the Bishop of Carthage, angering some of the senior members of the clergy in Carthage. Only a year after becoming bishop, the Emperor Decius issued an edict requiring all persons under the Empire of Rome begin making sacrifices to the Roman Gods, with only practicing Jews exempted. In a controversial move, Saint Cyprian left Carthage to go in hiding, leading the flock from afar. The same clergy that he had angered during his election were now calling him a coward for fleeing during the persecution. Saint Cyprian though, saw the situation as one where the people of Carthage would need a leader, even one from afar, and staying physically in Carthage would mean his death and no leadership.
The Roman persecution from Emperor Decius was severe in Carthage. Many Christians had indeed performed the sacrifices and had obtained signed statements showing that they had performed them. These groups were called the Lapsi (the fallen) and upon Saint Cyprian's return were ordered to undergo public penance before being re-admitted. This led to a schism, as some clergy were issuing signed statements showing the confession and re admittance for the Lapsi against the Bishop's orders.
Eventually, Saint Cyprian convoked a council of Bishops at Carthage. Taking the middle road between the parties, he eventually won over the opponents bringing peace in a time where even in Rome the arguments between those wishing to not admit the Lapsi and those wishing to readmit them had reached terrible levels. Saint Cyprian also wrote De mortalitate and De elemosynis during this time, showing massive charity to the poor and leading by example.
The peaceful time after the first persecution was not to last, as the persecutions of Valerian began in 256. Shortly after Pope Sixtus II was executed in Rome, Saint Cyprian brought himself to the Roman Proconsul Aspasius Paternus, refusing to sacrifice to the pagan gods and professing Christ. The proconsul banished him to Korba and allowed his return a year later, although he was sentenced to house arrest in his villa. Soon a new imperial edict arrived demanding the execution of Christian clerics.
The public examination of Saint Cyprian by Galerius Maximus (the new proconsul) has survived the ages and reads as follows:
Galerius Maximus: "Are you Thascius Cyprianus?" Cyprian: "I am." Galerius: "The most sacred Emperors have commanded you to conform to the Roman rites." Cyprian: "I refuse." Galerius: "Take heed for yourself." Cyprian: "Do as you are bid; in so clear a case I may not take heed." Galerius, after briefly conferring with his judicial council, with much reluctance pronounced the following sentence: "You have long lived an irreligious life, and have drawn together a number of men bound by an unlawful association, and professed yourself an open enemy to the gods and the religion of Rome; and the pious, most sacred and august Emperors ... have endeavored in vain to bring you back to conformity with their religious observances; whereas therefore you have been apprehended as principal and ringleader in these infamous crimes, you shall be made an example to those whom you have wickedly associated with you; the authority of law shall be ratified in your blood." He then read the sentence of the court from a written tablet: "It is the sentence of this court that Thascius Cyprianus be executed with the sword." Cyprian: "Thanks be to God.”
Saint Cyprian was led away from the city and ordered to kneel. He blindfolded himself and began praying. Minutes later the sword fell and he was executed.
By the fourth century, Saint Cyprian was well known to the Christian community. The church built on his grave was unfortunately destroyed by the Vandal sometimes later, but relics are believed to be held in France.