In the traditional Calendar, this is the feast of Saint Cyprian the Magician and Saint Justina, virgin and martyr.
“At Nicomedia, the birthday of the holy martyrs Cyprian, and Justina, virgin. Under the emperor Diocletian and the governor Eutholmius, Justina suffered much for the faith of Christ and converted Cyprian, who, while a magician, endeavored to bring her under the influence of his magical practices. She afterwards suffered martyrdom with him. Their bodies being exposed to the beasts, were taken away in the night by some Christian sailors, and carried to Rome. They were subsequently taken into the Constantinian basilica, and deposited near the baptistery.”
This meager account was supplemented by several stories, which can be found in the Golden Legend. Accordingly, Justina was a young woman of Antioch, whose father was a pagan priest. By listening at the window of a Christian priest as he read the Gospels, she was converted. Her parents also converted (which got Dad tossed out of the Pagan Priests’ union.)
Enter the villain (boo!) – a man called Cyprian, who, from the time his parents had dedicated him to the devil at the age of seven years, had been practicing necromancy and the dark arts. As you might guess, the beauty and purity of Justina operated powerfully on Cyprian’s libido, and he tried every trick in the book to have a one-night-stand with her.
When that didn’t work, he moved to stronger measures. He called up a demon – something perhaps of the caliber of Wormwood in The Screwtape Letters – and begged him to find a way that he (Cyprian) could enjoy her. Impiety gave him an ointment and told him to smear it on Justina’s house. This would disable any Christian alarm systems, and allow the demon to enter and subtly move her heart towards granting Cyprian’s desires.
But is our heroine so moved? Not she! Recognizing temptation when she felt it, she made the Sign of the Cross, causing the demon to flee in terror. He returned to Cyprian and confessed his failure, and was forthwith fired.
Cyprian, not discouraged by one back-cast, called up a stronger demon, perhaps on the order of Uncle Screwtape, and gave him the same commands. A demon of more parts than his unsuccessful subaltern, this one didn’t need no stinkin’ ointments but went straight into Justina’s room and hit her with all the weapons at his disposal. Once again recognizing that she was being tempted to immorality, our heroine jumped into the foxhole of God’s protective love and fired back with the Sign of the Cross, a direct hit which caused the demon to retreat back to Cyprian.
The magician, finally convinced that for a major job you should hire the best, now called up Lucifer himself. The Father of Lies promised that he would bring Justina (in a proper fever of lust) to Cyprian’s house at midnight and forthwith transformed himself into the semblance of a pious young woman, who came to Justina’s room and begged to live with her in holy chastity. That, of course, was the chink in our heroine’s armor. Happy to find a like-minded friend, Justina sat talking of God with Lucifera, until the Evil One, in the same provocative voice he used in the Garden, posed the question: “But did not God command that we should multiply and replenish the earth? How can we obey God’s word if we remain virgins? Is that not disobedience to God?”
The devil can quote scripture to his own end, and our heroine nearly fell into that end. She actually started feeling that her companion might be right, and if so… Widening the chink, Lucifer suggested all sorts of evil thoughts, but in the nick of time Justina came to her right senses and used her customary weapon. At the Sign of the Cross, the devil fled.
He did not give up, however. This time, he took on the likeness of a really hot guy, the kind that Hollywood turns out, and relying on his visible charms to overcome her resistance, didn’t bother with first, second, or third base, but jumped straight into her bed for the home run. Why he thought this would work is anybody’s guess, but Justina didn’t hesitate, and as she finished crossing herself, the handsome bloke melted like wax. What a mess!
Now the Prince of Demons was really mad! He smote the city with a great pestilence which killed both men and beasts, and then let it be known through his henchmen that the pestilence would stop if Justina would marry Cyprian. Naturally a mob (albeit sick and ailing) gathered at her father’s house and threatened to forcibly carry her to the altar, but she prayed for God’s assistance, and the pestilence stopped.
Meanwhile, Cyprian was still waiting for the object of his desires to show up. Lucifer, at his wits end, was at an impasse. Mohammed would not go to the mountain… but perhaps a pseudo-Mohammed would do? He took on the form of Justina, and in this guise went to Cyprian’s house, acting as if he couldn’t wait to engage in the Posturepedic Polka.
The magician was overjoyed! She was here at last and - glory be! - not only in a receptive mood, but hauling him down the hallway to his bedroom! He went to embrace ‘her’ saying, “Welcome, Justina, fairest of all women” but even her name was so holy that as it passed his lips, the devil vanished.
Well, you don’t send a boy to do a man’s job. Cyprian decided to take charge, whereupon he changed himself into a sparrow and flew to Justina’s house. Each time he did so, his magic failed him as he entered the house, and he regained his Cyprian-shape (and was forced to retreat, discomfited). Another young man with the same intent and bird characteristics, flew to Justina’s bedroom window, but having landed on the narrow ledge of the blessed house, regained his own manly form. The ledge on which a sparrow could perch was too small for a man, and he hung there until Justina, afraid that the idiot would kill himself if he fell, caused a ladder to be set up next to him, and charitably warned him as he climbed down not to do such a stupid thing again. (He didn’t.)
Cyprian couldn’t figure it out. Every trick, every wile, every bit of a necromancer’s art had been used, and Justina was still out of arm’s reach. Calling back the Prince of Demons, he asked what magic Justina possessed that kept her safe even from the Head Devil himself? Lucifer had to confess that it was no magic but God, and at the sign of the Crucified Christ, all demons lose their powers and flee. Cyprian now understood that there is One Who is more powerful than evil, and immediately renounced the Devil and all his works. As he made the Sign of the Cross, Lucifer departed. Cyprian also departed in search of a bishop to baptize him.
Eventually, Cyprian and Justina were taken to Nicomedia and condemned to death by the local magistrate for refusing to sacrifice to idols. After several torments, they were beheaded together.
Reflection.—If the errors and disorders of St. Cyprian show the degeneracy of human nature corrupted by sin, and enslaved to vice, his conversion displays the power of grace and virtue to repair it. Let us beg of God to send us grace to resist temptation, and to do His holy will in all things.
John Gilmary Shea, Pictorial Lives of the Saints, p. 411
“Cyprian and Justina” (and demons), from a 15th century edition of The Golden Legend. Wikipedia. In the upper right corner, Cyprian receives the magic ointment from the demon; to his left, a more colorful demon is sent packing by Justina making the Sign of the Cross. In the foreground, Justina protects herself from two disabled men, possibly part of the mob that would have delivered her up to Cyprian.