This short article simply makes available, in one place, every explicitly quoted or paraphrased passage we have of Pope Saint Stephen I’s letters to Cyprian. These letters are now lost and bear some historical importance, as they present to us what the teaching of the Roman Church was pertaining to rebaptism and ecclesiology during the third century.
In short, Pope Saint Stephen I believed that the baptism of Christological heretics as well as schismatics were valid.* He felt so strongly about this, he excommunicated Saint Cyprian with palpable anger. Lastly, he made explicit appeals to the “rock” and “throne of Peter” in justifying his right to decide the doctrine and excommunicate others. On this last point, it should be noted that Stephen (like Pope Saint Victor I) ran into universal condemnation in every extant letter we have on this point.
*This is not presently the Roman view as they now reject Mormon baptisms.
Without further ado, the passages from Pope Stephen’s lost letters–
Stephen’s “first” letter (all reference’s from Cyprian’s 72nd letter:)
- “That it should not be asked who baptized, since he who is baptized might receive remission of sins according to what he believed [i.e. in some notion of the Holy Trinity]“…in the same epistle that mention was also made of Marcion, saying that, “even those that came from him did not need to be baptized, because they seemed to have been already baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” Therefore we ought to consider their faith who believe without, whether in respect of the same faith they can obtain any grace (72:4). (Note: Quotations are from Stephen, interpretations are from Cyprian.)
- [Cyprian:] in respect of the assertion of some [likely Stephen’s letter] concerning those who had been baptized in Samaria, that when the Apostles Peter and John came, only hands were imposed on them…they were not re-baptized [as Stephen points out]; we see that that place does not, dearest brother, touch the present case. For they who had believed in Samaria had believed with a true faith and within, in the Church which is one, and to which alone it is granted to bestow the grace of baptism and to remit sins, had been baptized by Philip the deacon, whom the same apostles had sent (72:9).
- We follow that which we have received from the apostles (72:13)
- For as to what some [Stephen] say, as if it tended to favour heretics, that the Apostle Paul declared, “
Only every way, whether in pretence or in truth, let Christ be preached” (72:14; see also 74:20).
- What, then, shall become of those who in past times, coming from heresy to the Church, were received without baptism (72:23; see also 74:21)?
Pope Stephen’s letter in response to Cyprian’s “letters” (see epistle 73:)
- If any one, therefore, come to you from any heresy whatever, let nothing be innovated (or done) which has not been handed down, to wit, that hands be imposed on him for repentance; since the heretics themselves, in their own proper character, do not baptize such as come to them from one another, but only admit them to communion (73:1; CF St Vincent de Lerin’s Commonitorium, Par 16).
- [Cyprian:]…our brother Stephen broken forth to such an extent, as to contend that sons are born to God from the baptism of Marcion; moreover, of Valentinus and Apelles, and of others who blaspheme against God the Father; and to say that remission of sins is granted in the name of Jesus Christ where blasphemy is uttered against the Father and against Christ the Lord God (73:7)?
- [Cyprian:] Does he give glory to God, who, a friend of heretics and an enemy to Christians, thinks that the priests of God, who support the truth of Christ and the unity of the Church, are to be excommunicated?
Unknown letter of Stephen, but likely one of the preceding, or an amended version that included Firmilian’s excommunication (see Epistle 74:)
- [Firmilian:]Stephen has said, as though the apostles forbade those who come from heresy to be baptized, and delivered this also to be observed by their successors (74:5)
- [Firmilian:] herein [the letter] defaming [i.e. citing the authority of Rome’s succession from] Peter and Paul the blessed apostles (74:6).
- [Firmilian:]Stephen said in his letter that heretics themselves also are of one mind in respect of baptism; and that they do not baptize such as come to them from one another, but only communicate with them; as if we also ought to do this (74:7).
- [Firmilian:] [W]hat is the meaning of that which Stephen would assert, that the presence and holiness of Christ is with those who are baptized among heretics (74:12)?
- [Firmilian:] I am justly indignant at this so open and manifest folly of Stephen, that he who so boasts of the place of his episcopate, and contends that he holds the succession from Peter, on whom the foundations of the Church were laid, should introduce many other rocks and establish new buildings of many churches; maintaining that there is baptism in them by his authority…Stephen, who announces* that he holds by succession the throne of Peter (74:17, *There is an implication that this was a new idea).
- [Firmilian:] Stephen is not ashamed to assert and to say that remission of sins can be granted by those who are themselves set fast in all kinds of sins, as if in the house of death there could be the layer of salvation (74:22).
- Abstain from strange water, and drink not from a strange fountain (74:23).
- [Cyprian is]
a false Christ and a false apostle, and a deceitful worker (74:26).