Skip to content

Wednesday's Audience - On St. Cyprian

"His Book on the 'Our Father' Has Helped Me to Pray Better"


VATICAN CITY, JUNE 8, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered Wednesday at the general audience in St. Peter's Square. The reflection focused on St. Cyprian.

* * *
Dear brothers and sisters,
 
Continuing with our catechetical series on the great figures of the ancient Church, we arrive today to an excellent African bishop of the third century, St. Cyprian, "the first bishop in Africa to attain the crown of martyrdom." His fame, as his first biographer, the deacon Pontius, testifies, is linked to his literary production and pastoral activity in the 13 years between his conversion and his martyrdom (cf. "Vida" 19,1; 1,1).

St. Cyprian was born in Carthage to a rich pagan family. After a squandered youth, Cyprian converted to Christianity at age 35. He himself tells us about his spiritual pilgrimage: "When I was still in a dark night," he wrote months after his baptism, "it seemed to me extremely difficult and exhausting to do what the mercy of God was proposing to me. ... I was bound by many mistakes of my past life and I didn't think I could be free, to such extent that I would follow my vices and favored my sinful desires. ... Later, with the help of the regenerative water, the misery of my previous life was washed away; a sovereign light illumined my heart; a second birth restored me to a completely new life. In a marvelous way, all doubt was swept away. ... I understood clearly that what used to live in me were the worldly desires of the flesh and that, on the contrary, what the Holy Spirit had generated in me was divine and heavenly" ("A Donato," 3-4).
 
Immediately after his conversion Cyprian, despite envy and resistance, was chosen for the priestly office and elevated to the dignity of bishop. In the brief period of his episcopacy, he faced the two first persecutions mandated by imperial decree: Decius' in 250 and Valerian's in 257-258. After the particularly cruel persecution of Decius, the bishop had to work hard to restore order in the Christian community. Many faithful, in fact, had renounced their faith or had not reacted adequately in the face of such a test. These were the so-called lapsi, that is, "fallen," who fervently desired to re-enter the community.

The debate regarding their readmission divided the Christians of Carthage into those who were lax and those who were rigorists. To these difficulties was added a serious plague that scourged Africa and posed grave theological questions both within the Church and in regard to the pagans. Finally, we must remember the controversy between St. Cyprian and the Bishop of Rome, Stephen, regarding the validity of baptism administered to the pagans by heretical Christians.
 
Amid these truly difficult circumstances, Cyprian showed a true gift for governing: He was strict, but not inflexible with the "fallen," giving them the possibility of forgiveness after a period of exemplary penance; in regard to Rome, he was firm in his defense of the traditions of the Church in Africa; he was extremely understanding and full of a truly, authentic evangelical spirit when exhorting Christians to fraternal assistance toward pagans during the plague; he knew how to maintain the proper balance when reminding the faithful, quite afraid of losing both their lives and their material possessions, that their true life and authentic goods are not of this world; he was unyielding in fighting the corrupt practices and sins that destroy the moral life, especially avarice.
 
"Thus were his days spent," narrates Deacon Pontius, "when by the command of the proconsul, unexpectedly, the police arrived at this house" ("Vida," 15,1). That day the holy bishop was arrested and, after a brief interrogation, courageously faced martyrdom amid his people.
 
Cyprian composed numerous treatises and letters, always linked to his pastoral ministry. Seldom given to theological speculation, he wrote mostly for the edification of the community and to encourage the good behavior of the faithful. In fact, the Church was his favorite subject. He distinguishes between the hierarchical "visible Church" and the mystical "invisible Church," but he strongly affirms that the Church is one, founded on Peter.
 
He never tires of repeating that "he who abandons the Chair of Peter, upon which the Church is founded, lives in the illusion that he still belongs to the Church" ("The Unity of the Catholic Church," 4).

Cyprian knew well, and strongly stated it, that "there is no salvation outside the Church" (Epistle 4,4 and 73,21), and that "he who doesn't have the Church as his mother can't have God as his Father" ("The Unity of the Catholic Church," 4).

Unity is an irrevocable characteristic of the Church, symbolized by Christ's seamless garment (Ibid., 7): a unity that, as he says, finds its foundation in Peter (Ibid., 4) and its perfect fulfillment in the Eucharist (Epistle 63,13).

"There is only one God, one Christ," Cyprian exhorts, "one Church, one faith, one Christian people firmly united by the cement of harmony; and that which by nature is one cannot be separated" ("The Unity of the Catholic Church," 23).
 
We have spoken of his thoughts on the Church, but let us not forget, lastly, his teachings on prayer. I particularly like his book on the "Our Father" which has helped me to understand and pray better the "Lord's Prayer." Cyprian teaches us that precisely in the Our Father, Christians are offered the right way of praying; and he emphasizes that this prayer is said in plural "so that whoever prays it, prays not for himself alone."

"Our prayer," he writes, "is public and communal, and when we pray, we pray not only for ourselves but for the whole people, for we are one with the people" ("The Lord's Prayer," 8).

In this manner, personal and liturgical prayer are presented as firmly united to each other. This unity is based on the fact that they both respond to the same Word of God. The Christian does not say "My Father," but "Our Father," even in the secret of his own room, because he knows that in all places and in all circumstances, he is a member of the one Body.
 
"Let us pray then my most beloved brothers," writes the bishop of Carthage, "as God, the teacher, has taught us. It is an intimate and confident prayer to pray to God with what is his, elevating to his ears Christ's prayer. May the Father recognize the words of his Son when we lift a prayer to him: that he who dwells interiorly in the spirit would also be present in the voice. ... Moreover, when we pray, we ought to have a way of speaking and praying that, with discipline, remains calm and reserved. Let us think that we are under God's gaze.

"It is necessary to be pleasing to the divine eyes both in our bodily attitude and our tone of voice. ... And when we gather with the brethren and celebrate the divine sacrifice with a priest of God, we must do it with reverent fear and discipline, without throwing our prayers to the wind with loud voices, nor elevating in long speeches a petition to God that ought to be presented with moderation, for God does not listen to the voice but to the heart ('non vocis sed cordis auditor est')" (3-4).

These words are as valid today as they were then, and they help us to celebrate well the sacred liturgy.
 
Undeniably, Cyprian is at the origins of that fertile theological-spiritual tradition that sees in the "heart" the privileged place of prayer. According to the Bible and the Fathers of the Church, the heart is, in fact, the inner core of the human being where God dwells. That encounter in which God speaks to man and man listens to God takes place there; there man speaks to God and God listens to man; all this takes place through the only divine Word. It is precisely in this sense that, echoing Cyprian, Smaragdus, abbot of St. Michael, at the beginning of the ninth century, asserts that prayer "is the work of the heart, not of the lips, because God does not look at the words, but at the heart of him who prays." (Diadem of the Monks, 1.)
 
Let us have this "listening heart" of which Scriptures and the Fathers speak (cf. 1 Kings 3:9): How greatly we need it! Only then will we be able to experience fully that God is our Father and the Church, the holy Bride of Christ, is truly our Mother.

[After the general audience, the Pope greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our catechesis on the Fathers of the early Church, we now turn to Saint Cyprian. A convert from paganism, Cyprian became the Bishop of Carthage and guided the Church in Africa through the persecution of the Emperor Decius and its aftermath. He showed firmness and pastoral sensitivity in readmitting, after due penance, those Christians who had lapsed during the persecution, and he worked strenuously for the spiritual and moral renewal of the community. His many writings, closely linked to his ministry as Bishop, stress the unity of Christ's Church, founded on Peter and most perfectly realized in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Cyprian is also known for his writings on prayer, and in particular his commentary on the Our Father. There he emphasizes both the public, communal nature of Christian prayer, and the importance of a personal "prayer of the heart". Cyprian's devotion to the word of God and his love for the Church found supreme expression in his death as a martyr during the persecution of Valerian. May his example and teaching help us to draw nearer to the Lord in prayer and in the unity of his Body, the Church.

I am pleased to greet the officers and cadets from the New York Maritime College and the members of the European Ophthalmic Pathology Society. I am also happy to welcome the pilgrims who have travelled to Rome for the Canonizations last Sunday. May we all continue to be inspired by the lives of these saints. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from Finland, England, Scotland, New Zealand and the United States of America, I cordially invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.

© Copyright 2007 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Contact

Catholic Online
http://www.catholic.org CA, US
Catholic Online - Publisher, 661 869-1000

Email

info@yourcatholicvoice.org

Keywords

Pope, Benedict, Address, St. Cyprian, Africa

More Catholic PRWire

Showing 1 - 50 of 4,718

A Recession Antidote
Randy Hain

Monaco & The Vatican: Monaco's Grace Kelly Exhibit to Rome--A Review of Monegasque-Holy See Diplomatic History
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

The Why of Jesus' Death: A Pauline Perspective
Jerom Paul

A Royal Betrayal: Catholic Monaco Liberalizes Abortion
Dna. Maria St.Catherine De Grace Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

Embrace every moment as sacred time
Mary Regina Morrell

My Dad
JoMarie Grinkiewicz

Letting go is simple wisdom with divine potential
Mary Regina Morrell

Father Lombardi's Address on Catholic Media
Catholic Online

Pope's Words to Pontifical Latin American College
Catholic Online

Prelate: Genetics Needs a Conscience
Catholic Online

State Aid for Catholic Schools: Help or Hindrance?
Catholic Online

Scorsese Planning Movie on Japanese Martyrs
Catholic Online

2 Nuns Kidnapped in Kenya Set Free
Catholic Online

Holy See-Israel Negotiation Moves Forward
Catholic Online

Franchising to Evangelize
Catholic Online

Catholics Decry Anti-Christianity in Israel
Catholic Online

Pope and Gordon Brown Meet About Development Aid
Catholic Online

Pontiff Backs Latin America's Continental Mission
Catholic Online

Cardinal Warns Against Anti-Catholic Education
Catholic Online

Full Circle
Robert Gieb

Three words to a deeper faith
Paul Sposite

Relections for Lent 2009
chris anthony

Wisdom lies beyond the surface of life
Mary Regina Morrell

World Food Program Director on Lent
Catholic Online

Moral Clarity
DAN SHEA

Pope's Lenten Message for 2009
Catholic Online

A Prayer for Monaco: Remembering the Faith Legacy of Prince Rainier III & Princess Grace and Contemplating the Moral Challenges of Prince Albert II
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe

Keeping a Lid on Permissiveness
Sally Connolly

Glimpse of Me
Sarah Reinhard

The 3 stages of life
Michele Szekely

Sex and the Married Woman
Cheryl Dickow

A Catholic Woman Returns to the Church
Cheryl Dickow

Modernity & Morality
Dan Shea

Just a Minute
Sarah Reinhard

Catholic identity ... triumphant reemergence!
Hugh McNichol

Edging God Out
Paul Sposite

Burying a St. Joseph Statue
Cheryl Dickow

George Bush Speaks on Papal Visit
Catholic Online

Sometimes moving forward means moving the canoe
Mary Regina Morrell

Action Changes Things: Teaching our Kids about Community Service
Lisa Hendey

Easter... A Way of Life
Paul Spoisite

Papal initiative...peace and harmony!
Hugh McNichol

Proclaim the mysteries of the Resurrection!
Hugh McNichol

Jerusalem Patriarch's Easter Message
Catholic Online

Good Friday Sermon of Father Cantalamessa
Catholic Online

Papal Address at the End of the Way of the Cross
Catholic Online

Cardinal Zen's Meditations for Via Crucis
Catholic Online

Interview With Vatican Aide on Jewish-Catholic Relations
Catholic Online

Pope Benedict XVI On the Easter Triduum
Catholic Online

Holy Saturday...anticipation!
Hugh McNichol

Never Miss any Updates!

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers.

Information
Learn about Catholic world

Catholic Online
Inform - Inspire - Ignite

Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained

Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need

Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online

Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye

Daily Reading
Today's bible reading

Lent / Easter
Death & resurrection of Jesus

Advent / Christmas
Birth of Jesus

Rest of Catholic Online
All Catholic world we offer

Services
Products and services we offer

Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books

The California Network
Inspiring streaming service

Advertise on Catholic Online
Your ads on catholic.org

Catholic Online Email
Email with Catholic feel

Catholic Online Singles
Safe, secure Catholic dating

The California Studios
World-class post production service

Education
Learn the Catholic way

Catholic Online School
Free Catholic education for all

Student Classes
K-12 & Adult Education Classes

Catholic Online MasterClass
Learn from experts

School Teachers
Teacher lesson plans & resources

Catholic Media Missionaries
The New Evangelization

Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education

Socials
Connect with us online

Catholic Online on Facebook
Catholic social network

Catholic Online on Twitter
Catholic Tweets

Catholic Online on YouTube
Enjoy our videos

Catholic Online on Instagram
Shared Catholic moments

Catholic Online on Pinterest
Catholic ideas style inspiration

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2017 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2017 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.