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Chapter II.—The Bishops of Rome in those Times.

Cornelius2165 having held the episcopate in the city of Rome about three years, was succeeded by Lucius. 2166 He died in less than eight months, and transmitted his office to Stephen. 2167 Dionyp. 294 sius wrote to him the first of his letters on baptism, 2168 as no small controversy had arisen as to whether those who had turned from any heresy should be purified by baptism. For the ancient custom prevailed in regard to such, that they should receive only the laying on of hands with prayers. 2169



On Cornelius, see Bk. VI. chap. 39, note 3.


Eusebius makes Cornelius’ episcopate a year too long (see Bk. VI. chap. 39, note 3), and hence puts the accession of Julius too late. Jerome puts him in the second year of Gallus (see the same note) and gives the duration of his episcopate as eight months, agreeing with Eusebius in the present passage. The Armenian Chron. puts Lucius in the seventh year of Philip, and assigns only two months to his episcopate. But it is far out of the way, as also in regard to Cornelius. The Liberian catalogue assigns three years and eight months to Lucius’ episcopate, putting his death in 255; but Lipsius has shown conclusively that this must be incorrect, and concludes that he held office eight months, from June, 253, to March, 254. He was banished while bishop of Rome, but returned very soon, and died in a short time, probably a natural death. The strife in regard to the lapsed, begun while Cornelius was bishop, continued under him, and he followed the liberal policy of his predecessor. One letter of Cyprian addressed to him is extant (Ep. 57; al. 61).


Lipsius puts the accession of Stephen on the twelfth of May, 254, and his death on the second of August, 257, assigning him an episcopate of three years, two months and twenty-one days. The dates given by the chief authorities vary greatly. The Liberian catalogue gives four years, two months and twenty-one days, which Lipsius corrects simply by reading three instead of four years, for the latter figure is impossible (see chap. 5, note 5). Eusebius, in chap. 5, tells us that Stephen held office two years. Jerome’s version of the Chron. says three years, but puts his accession in the second year of Gallus, which is inconsistent with his own statement that Cornelius became bishop in the first year of Gallus. The Armenian Chron. agrees with Eusebius’ statement in chap. 5, below, in assigning two years to the episcopate of Stephen, but puts his accession in the seventh year of Philip, which, like his notices of Cornelius and Lucius is far out of the way.

The discussion in regard to the lapsed still continued under Stephen. But the chief controversy of the time was in regard to the re-baptism of heretics, which caused a severe rupture between the churches of Rome and Carthage. Stephen held, in accordance with ancient usage and the uniform custom of the Roman church (though under Callistus heretics were re-baptized according to Hippolytus, Phil. IX. 7), that baptism, even by heretics and schismatics, is valid; and that one so baptized is not to be re-baptized upon entering the orthodox church, but is to be received by the imposition of hands. Cyprian, on the other hand, supported by the whole of the Asiatic and African church, maintained the invalidity of such baptism and the necessity of re-baptism. The controversy became very sharp, and seems to have resulted in Stephen’s hurling an excommunication against the Asiatic and African churches. Compare the epistle of Firmilian to Cyprian (Ep. 75), and that of Dionysius, quoted by Eusebius in chap. 5, below. Stephen appears to have been a man of very dictatorial and overbearing temper, if our authorities are to be relied upon, and seems to have made overweening claims in regard to Rome’s prerogatives; to have been the first in fact to assume that the bishop of Rome had the right of exercising control over the whole Church (see especially the epistle of Firmilian to Cyprian; Cyprian’s Epistles, No. 74, al. 75). It must be remembered, however, that we know Stephen only through the accounts of his opponents. It had been the practice in the churches of Asia for a long time before Cyprian to re-baptize heretics and schismatics (cf. the epistle of Firmilian to Cyprian, and the epistle of Dionysius, quoted by Eusebius in chap. 5, below), and the custom prevailed also in Africa, though it seems to have been a newer thing there. Cyprian, in his epistle to Jubaianus (Ep. 72, al. 73), does not trace it back beyond Agrippinus, bishop of Carthage, under whom the practice was sanctioned by a council (186–187 or 215–217 a.d.). Under Cyprian himself the practice was confirmed by a council at Carthage, in 255 a.d. The more liberal view of the Roman church, however, in time prevailed and was confirmed with some limitations by the Council of Arles, in 314. Stephen figures in tradition as a martyr, but there is no reason to think that he was one, for the Church was enjoying comparative peace at the time of his death. Two epistles are extant, addressed to him by Cyprian (Nos. 66 and 71, al. 68 and 72). A number of Cyprian’s epistles refer to Stephen.


Six epistles by Dionysius on the subject of baptism are mentioned by Eusebius (see below, chap. 5, note 6). It is clear that Dionysius, so far as Eusebius knew, wrote but one to Stephen on this subject, for he calls the one which he wrote to Xystus the second (in chap. 5). Dionysius’ own opinion on the subject of re-baptism is plain enough from Eusebius’ words in this chapter, and also from Dionysius’ own words in chap. 5, below. He sided with the entire Eastern and African church in refusing to admit the validity of heretical baptism, and in requiring a convert from the heretics to be “washed and cleansed from the filth of the old and impure leaven” (see chap. 5, §5).


See note 3.

Next: Chapter III