Fragments of Pope Stephen's Letter Against Re-Baptizing Heretics

The following are fragments from a letter written by Pope St. Stephen in about 256 A.D., as well as summaries of the letter's content. The fragments and summaries are taken from two letters, one by St. Cyprian of Carthage and one by Bishop Firmilian of Cappadocia. Both of these bishops had read the pope's document and wrote letters discussing its contents and occasionally quoting it. I am not aware of any source of the letter other than the quotations and summaries found in those two letters.

The background of the letter is this: the Church in Carthage followed a different custom than the Roman Church in regard to converting heretics. The Christians in Carthage would administer baptism to all converts from heretical churches, even if they had already been baptized by the heretics. The Roman Church accepted the baptism of heretics and thus would not rebaptize heretics who converted to the true faith, but would only give them the Sacrament of Confirmation. St. Stephen wrote this letter to St. Cyprian to tell him and his followers about the Roman custom.

Fragments from Pope Stephen’s Letter

“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.”

“...a false Christ and a false apostle, and a deceitful worker…”

Summaries of the Content of Pope Stephen’s Letter

“[He said] that [he] do[es] not think it is to be inquired who was the person that baptized, for the reason that he who has been baptized may have obtained grace by the invocation of the Trinity, of the names of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”

“[He says] that, by the sacrament of baptism, the filth of the old man is washed away by [heretics], that they pardon the former mortal sins, that they make sons of God by heavenly regeneration, and renew to eternal life by the sanctification of the divine layer.”

“[He] 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. … [He] announces that he holds by succession the throne of Peter.”

“[He] be a partaker with [the heretics] in other matters [than baptism], [for example,] to meet together with them, and equally with them to mingle their prayers, and appoint a common altar and sacrifice.”

“[He says] that persons baptized among the heretics ought to be received as if they had obtained the grace of lawful baptism, [and] that baptism is one and the same to them and to us, and differs in no respect.”

“[He says] the name of Christ is of great advantage to faith and the sanctification of baptism; so that whosoever is anywhere so-ever baptized in the name of Christ, immediately obtains the grace of Christ.”

“[He said] that although the second birth is spiritual, by which we are born in Christ through the layer of regeneration, one may be born spiritually among the heretics.”

“[He indicated] that these indeed can by imposition of hands alone give the Holy Spirit to those heretics who come (to the Church).”

“[He said that] he who in any manner whatever is baptized without, may obtain the grace of baptism by his disposition and faith.”

“[He asks,] What then will become of those who, coming from the heretics, have been received without the baptism of the Church?”

“Stephen would assert, that the presence and holiness of Christ is with those who are baptized among heretics.”

“[He] says that remission of sins can be granted in the synagogues of heretics [through baptism].”

“[He says] that the apostle said, ‘Whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached’ [Philippians 1:18].”

“[He said] that putting away of sins and second birth may result from the baptism of heretics.”

“[He says] that remission of sins can be granted by [heretics through baptism].”


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