When Cyprian (c. 200-258), a pagan rhetorician, was converted to Christianity in 248, who would have thought that within the compass of a decade he would have left so significant a mark on the life not only of the church in Africa but also on that of all subsequent centuries of the Christian Church? For within this short span, which comprised his pastoral ministry as a priest and bishop and, indeed, almost the entire extent of Cyprian's Christian life, his teaching became recognized as a compellingly fascinating witness to and powerful influence on the Universal Church regarding its mission to be a sacrament of unity. His life and teaching offer an inspiring lesson about the spirituality of the Eucharist as the unique sacrifice capable of transforming our personal existence into an offering or gift for others. This teaching is particularly evident in his famous Epistle 63--the earliest work exclusively devoted to the Eucharist. This letter tackles the division of the African Church brought about by the "Aquarian" controversy, which debated the use of water alone or wine mixed with water for the eucharistic celebration. Cyprian insisted, using the most persuasive argument of all, on fidelity to what Christ did, taught, and commanded. Herein is found the Church's unity. More compelling still was his fidelity in deed to Christ, by offering the supreme witness of pouring out his life-blood in martyrdom in imitation of the supreme sacrifice of Christ which he celebrated in the Eucharist. Thus, in this age of martyrs his life itself demonstrated Tertullian's renowned saying: "As frequently as we are bled by you, the more we increase in number; the blood of Christian martyrs waters the seed of faith." (Apology, 50)

The Real Presence Through the Ages
Michael L. Gaudoin-Parker