« Stagirus, friend of Chrysostom Stephanus I., bp. of Rome Stephanus, bp. of Ephesus »

Stephanus I., bp. of Rome

Stephanus (1) I., bp. of Rome, after Lucius, from May 12, 254, to Aug. 2, 257. These dates are arrived at by Lipsius (Chron. der röm. Bischöf.) after careful examination. Those given by the ancient catalogues are erroneous and conflicting. If Lucius died, as is supposed, on Mar. 5, 254, Stephen was appointed after a vacancy of 61 days.

At the time of his accession the persecution of the church, begun by Decius and renewed by Gallus, had ceased for a time under Valerian. The internal disputes as to the reception of the lapsi, which had given rise to the schism of NOVATIAN, still continued.

In the autumn of 254 a council was held at Carthage, the first during the episcopate of Stephen, on the matter of two Spanish bishops, Basilides and Martialis, deposed for compliance with idolatry. Basilides had been to Rome to represent his case to Stephen and procure reinstatement in his see; and Stephen 916had apparently supported him. The synodical letter of the council (drawn up, without doubt, by Cyprian) confirmed the deposition of the two prelates and the election of their successors, on the ground that compliance with idolatry incapacitated for resumption of clerical functions, though not for reception into the church through penance. The action of Stephen was put aside as of no account, though excused as due to the false representations of Basilides (Cyp. Ep. 67). A letter from Cyprian to Stephen himself, probably written soon after the council and in the same year, is further significant of the relations between Carthage and Rome. Stephen seems to have been determined to act independently in virtue of the supposed prerogatives of his see, while Cyprian shews himself equally determined to ignore such prerogatives. The subject of the letter is Marcian, bp. of Arles, who had adopted Novatianist views, and whose deposition Stephen is urged to bring about by letters to the province and people of Arles. The letter shews that Faustinus of Lyons had repeatedly written to Cyprian on the subject, having also, together with other bishops of the province, in vain solicited Stephen to take action. While allowing that it rested with the bp. of Rome to influence with effect the Gallic provinces, Cyprian is far from conceding him any prerogative beyond that of the general collegium of bishops, by whose concurrent action, according to his theory, the true faith and discipline of the Church Catholic was to be maintained. In praising the late bps. of Rome, Cornelius and Lucius, whose example he exhorts Stephen to follow, Cyprian seems to imply a doubt whether the latter was disposed to do his duty (ib. 68).

A new question of dispute, that of the rebaptism of heretics, led to an open rupture between Rome and Carthage, in which the Asian as well as the African churches sided with Cyprian against Rome. The question was raised whether the adherents of Novatian who had been baptized in schism should be rebaptized when reconciled to the church (ib. 69 ad Magnum). But it soon took the wider range of all cases of heretical or schismatical baptism. It had been long the practice in both Asia and Africa to rebaptize heretics, and the practice had been confirmed by synods, including the first Carthaginian synod under Agrippinus. Cyprian (Ep. 73, ad Jubaianum) does not trace the African custom further back than Agrippinus, but he insisted uncompromisingly on the necessity of rebaptism, and was supported by the whole African church. At Rome admission by imposition of hands only, without iteration of baptism, seems to have been the immemorial usage, the only alleged exception being what Hippolytus states (Philosophum. p. 291) about rebaptism having been practised in the time of Callistus. Stephen took a view opposite to that of Cyprian. Cyprian would baptize all schismatics, whether heretical in doctrine or no; Stephen would apparently rebaptize none, whatever their heresies or the form of their baptism (Cyp. Ep. 74).

The first council of Carthage on the subject, held in 255, issued a synodal letter supporting Cyprian's position. Cyprian then sent to Stephen a formal synodal letter, agreed on in a synod at Carthage, probably at Easter, 256, in which the necessity of baptizing heretics and of the exclusion from clerical functions of apostate clergy on their readmission into the church, is urged. But the tone of the letter is not dictatorial. Stephen may retain his own views if he will without breaking the bond of peace with his colleagues, every prelate being free to take his own line, and responsible to God (Ep. 72).

Stephen's reply, written, according to Cyprian, "unskilfully and inconsiderately," contained things "either proud, or irrelevant, or self-contradictory." Cyprian charges Stephen with "hard obstinacy," "presumption and contumacy," referring, by way of contrast, to St. Paul's admonition to Timothy, that a bishop should not be "litigious," but "mild and docile," and replying to the arguments advanced by Stephen. Stephen had so far apparently not broken off communion with those who differed from him (Ep. 74). Cyprian summoned a plenary council of African, Numidian, and Mauritanian bishops, numbering 87, with presbyters and deacons, in the presence of a large assembly of laity, which met on Sept. 1, 256. Cyprian and other bishops separately gave their opinions, unanimously asserting the decision of the previous synod. But Cyprian was careful, in his opening address, to repudiate any intention of judging others or breaking communion with them on the ground of disagreement. After this great council, probably towards the winter of 256, Firmilian, bp. of Neocaesarea, wrote his long letter to Cyprian, from which it appears that Stephen had by this time renounced communion with both the Asian and African churches, calling Cyprian a false Christ, a false apostle, a deceitful worker. The question has been raised whether Stephen's action was an excommunication of the Eastern and African churches, or only a threat. H. Valois and Baronius say the latter only; but Firmilian's language seems to imply more, and so Mosheim (Comm. de Rebus Christian. pp. 538 seq.) thinks. Routh and Lipsius also hold that excommunication was pronounced. Stephen claimed authority beyond other bishops as being St. Peter's successor, and took much amiss Cyprian's independent action; Cyprian, supported by all the African and Asian churches, utterly ignored any such superior authority; his well-known position being that, though Christ's separate commission to St. Peter had expressed the unity of the church, this commission was shared by all the apostles and transmitted to all bishops alike. Unity, according to his theory, was to be maintained, not by the supremacy of one bishop, but by the consentient action of all, allowing considerable differences of practice without breach of unity. Stephen seems to have taken the position, carried to its full extent by subsequent popes, of claiming a peculiar supremacy for the Roman see, and requiring uniformity as a condition of communion.

The arguments of Stephen were mainly these: "We have immemorial custom on our side, especially the tradition of St. Peter's see, 917which is above all others. We have also Scripture and reason on our side; St. Paul rejoiced at the preaching of the gospel, and recognized it, though preached out of envy and strife. There is but one baptism; to reiterate it is sacrilege, and its efficacy depends, not on the administrators, but on the institution of Christ; whoever, then, has been once baptized in the name of Christ, even by heretics, has been validly baptized, and may not be baptized again." Cyprian's answer was: "As to your custom, however old, it is a corrupt one, and not primitive; no custom can be set against truth, to get at which we must go back to the original fountain. Scripture is really altogether against you; those at whose preaching of the gospel St. Paul rejoiced were not schismatics, but members of the church acting from unworthy motives; he rebaptized those baptized only unto St. John's baptism, without acknowledgment of the Holy Ghost; he and the other apostles regarded schism and heresy as cutting men off from Christ; the Catholic Church is one, `a closed garden, a fountain sealed'; outside it there is no grace, no salvation, consequently no baptism; people cannot confer grace if they have not got it; we do not reiterate baptism, for those whom we baptize have not previously been baptized at all; it is you that make two baptisms in allowing that of heretics as well as that of the church."

Stephen's martyrdom under Valerian is asserted in the Felician Catalogue, but not in the earlier Liberian Catalogue.


« Stagirus, friend of Chrysostom Stephanus I., bp. of Rome Stephanus, bp. of Ephesus »
VIEWNAME is workSection