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Pope St. Stephen I

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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 ("Eng. Hist. 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 "situated at 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 necessities "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 the "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.

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