Stephen I, Pope, St.
STEPHEN I, POPE, ST.
Pontificate: March 12, 254 to Aug. 2, 257. A Roman by birth, Stephen is commemorated in the Depositio episcoporum as buried in the cemetery of Callistus, but the early Roman liturgy does not record his cult as a martyr. This claim was first made in a sixth-century passio that confused the notice of the end of the reign of sixtus ii with that of Stephen. His short pontificate was disturbed by problems of government and doctrine, information for which is preserved mainly in the letters of St. cyprian (Epistles 67–75; Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum 3.2.738–827).
At the close of the Decian persecution, two Spanish bishops, Martial of Mérida and Basilides of León Astorga, were accused of accepting certificates indicating that they had sacrificed (libellatici) and deposed from their sees. Basilides personally appealed to Pope Stephen and obtained rehabilitation for himself and Martial. Upon being apprised of this papal action, Cyprian and the African bishops in council advised the Spanish churches not to reinstate the two bishops. When later, in two letters to Cyprian, Bp. Faustinus of Lyons denounced Marcian of Arles as a schismatic in communion with novatian, Cyprian wrote to Stephen, who had shown reluctance to intrude, asking him to depose Marcian.
The conflict between Cyprian and Stephen over the validity of baptism administered by heretics was more serious. In North Africa, Antioch, and Asia Minor, the baptism performed by heretics was generally regarded as invalid. In Rome, Alexandria, and Palestine, however, such baptisms were held to be valid, and heretics were reconciled with the Church through absolution given by the imposition of hands. At the request of the layman Magnus (c. 255), Cyprian wrote a treatise to prove his contention that as heretics were outside the Church, they could not forgive sins, and the Council of carthage in 255 supported him. Some African bishops, however, objected, defending the Roman position. After another council of 71 bishops in 256, Cyprian sent the synodal decree to Rome. His envoys were treated as heretics, and a split between Rome and Carthage threatened. Cyprian wrote to Stephen asserting that every bishop was master in his own see. Stephen's reply was an order to obey: "If anyone comes to us from any heresy at all, let nothing new be done (innovetur ), but abide by tradition and let there be an imposition of hands for penance; for the heretics themselves do not baptize those who come to them, but grant them communion." On Sept. 1, 256, eighty-seven African bishops in council again supported Cyprian and wrote to Bp. firmilian of caesarea in Cappadocia. Cyprian's letter to Firmilian is not extant, but Firmilian's reply is a violent attack on the pope and the Roman teaching on baptism by heretics. Whether Stephen went through with his threatened excommunication is not known. St. dionysius of alexandria wrote to Stephen calling for moderation; and valerian began a persecution of the Christians. Stephen died, probably not, as the Liber pontificalis reports, a martyr. His successor, Sixtus II, restored peaceful relations with Carthage and Cappadocia, and by the beginning of the fourth century North Africa had adopted the Roman usage.
Stephen is the first bishop of Rome after victor i (c. 190) known to have tried to exercise supervision over the whole Church and the first, with the possible exception of callistus i, to refer explicitly to Matthew 16.18 (Thou art Peter…) to justify the pope's authority to impose Roman traditions on other sees. This text would dominate later exercises of papal authority, but unfortunately scholars know little about the Roman understanding of this text before Stephen's use of it in this controversy.
Feast: Aug. 2.
Bibliography: eusebius, Histoire Ecclesiastique 7.2, 3, 5. duchesne, Liber pontificalis, 1:XCVI–XCVIII, CCXLVII, 68–69,154. j. quasten, Patrology (Westminster, Md. 1950—) 2:237–239. a. clarval, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., (Paris 1903–50) 5.1:970–973. j. p. burns, "On Rebaptism: Social Organization in the Third Century Church," Journal of Early Christian Studies 1 (1992) 367–403. e. ferguson, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity (New York 1997) 2.1089. s. g. hall, "Stephen of Rome and One Baptism," Studia Patristica 17.2 (1982) 796–798. j. n. d. kelly, Oxford Dictionary of Popes (New York 1986) 20–21. m. bÉvenot, "'Primatus Petro datur': St. Cyprian on the Papacy," Studies in Early Christainity 13 (1993) 341–57. h. kirchner, "Der Ketzertaufstreit zwischen Karthago und Rom und seine Konsequenzen für die Frage nach den Grenzen der Kirche," Studies in Early Christianity 11 (1993) 414–31. j. Śrutwa, "Ewangelia św. Mateusza (16, 16–19) jako argument papie[symbol omitted]a Stefana I na rzecz prymatu papieskiego," Analecta Cracoviensia (1995) 323–28.
[e. g. weltin/
j. f. kelly]