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st.Stephen I-Pope

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st.Stephen I-Pope

Feast Day : August 2 (Western Church); September 7 (Eastern Church)

 

 

Stephen was born in Rome, the son of Jovius, progeny of the clan Julia. He was an archdeacon in the Roman Church under Popes SS. Cornelius and Lucius, and was nominated as his successor by the latter. Stephen was elected bishop of Rome on May 3 and consecrated on May 12, 254. Stephen was the first bishop of Rome to assert the primacy of Rome over affairs of the universal Christian Church, based on its link to the apostle St. Peter. He also ordained that vestments worn for ecclesiastical purposes were not to be used in daily wear, thus setting the clergy apart from the hoi polloi in their dress. His pontificate was largely concerned with the Novatian controversy that had been raging since the days of Cornelius. Cornelius had excommunicated Novatus, whereupon Novatus had himself consecrated bishop of Rome by some dissident deacons, bringing about a schism in the Church. Novatus and his followers held that Christian baptisms performed by sinners such as heretics, apostates and murderers were invalid because one could not receive the Holy Spirit at the hands of one who did not possess Him. Stephen replied that baptism by heretics was a practice that went back to the apostles of Jesus, and since it was Christ who actually bestowed the sacraments, their validity and efficacy did not depend on the grace of the human minister. On the same grounds, he argued that it was not necessary to rebaptize apostates and heretics who had lapsed, but that a simple laying-on of hands was sufficient to bring them back into the Church. His positions alienated many, including St. Cyprian, who had supported Cornelius and Lucius. Stephen died on August 2, 257, after a reign of a little more than three years. He is sometimes said to have died a martyr, beheaded while saying Mass in the catacombs, but this idea seems to have arisen from confusion with his successor, St. Sixtus II (r. 257–258). The earliest liturgical documents describe Stephen as bishop and confessor, not as martyr. He was buried in the Catacombs of St. Callistus. Pope St. Paul I (757–767) had his relics moved to a monastery that he founded in Stephen’s honor. In 1682, his relics were again translated, this time to Pisa, where they are venerated in a church named after him. His head is enshrined in Cologne, Germany. In art, Stephen is depicted as beheaded in his chair at Mass. He may also be shown stabbed at the altar or with a sword in his breast.

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