Popes in a Year
#23 - Pope St. Stephen I
Pope from 254-257 A.D.
Died: 257 A.D.
Give me the scoop on Stephen I.
Stephen I was a Roman by birth, and served as archdeacon (the pope’s Number Two) to his predecessor Lucius I. Stephen also collaborated with St. Cyprian of Carthage like the two popes before him, but their relationship was a bit rockier than that of Lucius I and Cornelius.
Cyprian helped Stephen continue to handle the Novatianists, who believed that any wretched sinner who had renounced their faith could just take a walk, because they had no place in the Church anymore. In one unfortunate incident, Stephen was hoodwinked by two bishops in Spain - Martial and Basilides - who had renounced their faith under Roman emperor Decius. The bishops tricked Stephen into pleading their case, but St. Cyprian sniffed out the deception in time and helped the pope wipe the egg off his face. St. Stephen I died on August 2, 257 and was buried in the cemetery of St. Callixtus in Rome.
What was he known for?
A humble man, but unwilling to be pushed around, Stephen I is known for holding fast to the Church’s standing tradition that already-baptized converts coming to the Church from heretical communities didn’t need to be baptized again in order to be reconciled. Similar to how non-Catholic Christian converts to Catholicism don’t need re-baptizing, Stephen I affirmed belief in “once baptized, always baptized.”
This didn’t sit well with St. Cyprian, who, as head of the African bishops, had gotten a little too big for his britches and thought he knew better (at least at first). Initially, the African bishops, along with the hierarchy in Asia, stood by their practice of re-baptism in defiance of the pope and risked excommunication. Thankfully, it appears that St. Cyprian and his brethren reconsidered at some point -- possibly with help from St. Dionysius (then Bishop of Alexandria) -- choosing to act in obedience to the Holy Father and keep the Church united instead.
St. Stephen I, according to the
, was the first pope to recommend that the vestments and attire worn in Church - both by the ordained and the laity - should be distinct from everyday garb. That means the tradition of wearing your “Sunday Best” stretches back more than 1750 years!
What else was going on in the world at the time?
Emperor Valerian began another persecution of Christians in 256, as cities in the Roman Empire started to build walls to help protect from invading armies on its borders.
Coming tomorrow....Pope St. Sixtus II
SOURCES (and further reading)
- John, E. (1964). The Popes: A concise biographical history. New York: Hawthorn Books.
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Sent by Matthew Sewell on Wednesday, February 1 at 2:00AM