Pope St. Stephen I
Although there is some doubt as to the dates connected with the pontificate
of Stephen, it is generally believed that he was consecrated 12 May, 254, and
that he died 2 August, 257. According to the most ancient catalogues, he was a
Roman by birth, and the son of Jovius, and there is no reason to doubt the
assertion of the
Liber Pontificalis that Lucius I, when about to be martyred,
made over the care of the Church to his archdeacon Stephen (254). Most of what
we know regarding Pope Stephen is connected directly or indirectly with the
severe teachings of the heretic Novatus. Concerning his most important work, his
defence of the validity of heretical baptism against the mistaken opinion of St.
Cyprian and other bishops of Africa and Asia, there is no need to speak now, as
the history of this important controversy will be found under BAPTISM and SAINT
CYPRIAN OF CARTHAGE. Suffice it here to call attention to certain newly
discovered letters on the subject by St. Dionysius of Alexandria (
Rev., Jan., 1910, 111 sq.), and to note, with the late Archbishop Benson of
Canterbury, that Stephen
triumphed, and in him the Church of Rome triumphed, as
she deserved [E.W. Benson,
Cyprian, His Life, His Times, His Works, VIII
(London), 1897, 3]. In the early part of his pontificate Stephen was frequently
urged by Faustinus, Bishop of Lyons, to take action against Marcian, Bishop of
Arles, who, attaching himself to doctrines of Novatus, denied communion to the
penitent lapsi. For some reason unknown to us Stephen did not move. The bishops
of Gaul accordingly turned to Cyprian, and begged him to write to the pope. This
the saint did in a letter which is our sole source of information regarding this
affair (Epp. lxix, lxviii). The Bishop of Carthage entreats Stephen to imitate
his martyred predecessors, and to instruct the bishops of Gaul to condemn
Marcian, and to elect another bishop in his stead. As no more is said by St.
Cyprian on this affair, it is supposed that the pope acted in accordance with
his wishes, and that Marcian was deposed. The case of the Spanish bishops
Martial and Basilides also brought Stephen in connection with St. Cyprian. As
libellatici they had been condemned by the bishops of their province for denying
the Faith. At first they acknowledged their guilt, but afterwards appealed to
Rome, and, deceived by their story, Stephen exerted himself to secure their
restoration. Accordingly some of their fellow bishops took their part, but the
others laid the case before St. Cyprian. An assembly of African bishops which he
convoked renewed the condemnation of Basilides and Martial, and exhorted the
people to enter into communion with their successors. At the same time they were
at pains to point out that Stephen had acted as he had done because
a distance, and ignorant of the true facts of the case he had been deceived by
Basilides. Anxious to preserve the tradition of his predecessors in matters of
practical charity, as well as of faith, Stephen, we are told, relieved in their
all the provinces of Syria and Arabia. In his days the vestments
worn by the clergy at Mass and other church services did not differ in shape or
material from those ordinarily worn by the laity. Stephen, however, is said by
Liber Pontificalis to have ordained that the vestments which had been used
for ecclesiastical purposes were not to be employed for daily wear. The same
authority adds that he finished his pontificate by martyrdom, but the evidence
for this is generally regarded as doubtful. He was buried in the cemetery of St.
Calixtus, whence his body was transferred by Paul I to a monastery which he had
founded in his honour.
DUCHESNE, Liber Pontificalis, I (Paris, 1886), xcvii, 153-4; EUSEBIUS, Hist. Eccles., VII, 2-5; the letters of ST. CYPRIAN, lxvii sq., in any ed. of his Works, or ap. COUSTANT, Epp.; Rom. Pont., I (Paris, 1721), 211 sq.; JAFFÉ, Regesta, I (Leipzig, 1888), 20-1; HEFELE, Conciles; I (Paris, 1869), 97 sq.
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