Excerpt from an old debate I did at Christian forums on the Stephen/Cyprian incident. It loses some of the formatting and bold, but you get the idea… ;)At the time Pope Stephen, then bishop of Rome, stated that the Spirit will flow even through a heretic if the proper form of baptism is enacted. Thus, a person who was the object of such a baptism would be validly baptized in the eyes of the Church.
There was much debate on this issue as evidenced in such sources as the writings of Firmilian, who sided with Cyprian at the time. Firmilian wrote a scathing critique of Stephen. Firmilian granted that his opponents included Stephen and “those who agree with him.” (Firmilian, letter to Cyprian, 8, 256 AD)
Among those with Cyprian and Firmilian opposed to so-called heretical baptism, were a number of bishops in Africa. It was these bishops for whom Cyprian spoke in the local Synod when he stated: “For neither does any of us set himself up as a bishop of bishops…” More on this in a moment… (At the bottom of Simon’s link to the Synod at Carthage, we read 16th century historian Binius’ comment that “Bishop of bishops” was a term that was a “custom” at the time for the Roman bishop.)
Firmilian, in his letter siding with Cyprian against Stephen, wrote the following:
[INDENT]But what is the greatness of his error, and what the depth of his blindness, who says that remission of sins can be granted in the synagogues of heretics, and does not abide on the foundation of the one Church which was once based by Christ upon the rock, may be perceived from this, that Christ said to Peter alone, Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven…the power of remitting sins was given to the apostles, and to the churches which they, sent by Christ, established, and to the bishops who succeeded to them by vicarious ordination…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, is stirred with no zeal against heretics…
*]Firmilian claims that the power to forgive sins given to the apostles was passed on to their successors by ordination.
*]Firmilian says “Peter alone” was the foundation of the one Church, coupled with binding and loosing authority.
*]Firmilian does not disagree with the notion of Peter having left a “throne” filled by a successor.
Look beneath the issue of heretical baptism in Firmilian’s letter. What Firmilian is challenging is whether Stephen is validly filling the throne of Peter. His doubt is cast on Stephen personally because of “the greatness of his error.” Of course the valid successor of Peter could not teach error in issues of faith. He does not assert there is no throne nor that Peter’s special authority is not passed onto his successors. That there is a throne with Petrine authority passed through successors is a given in Firmilian’s discourse!
Getting back to Cyprians “no bishop of bishops” comment should be read in light of what I already quoted of Cyprian in my 3rd round: “the place of Peter and the degree of the sacerdotal throne…” and that the “origin of unity” in the Church is rooted in Peter.
After the Council at Carthage, Cyprian wrote to Stephen specifically regarding the agreement of the African bishops on the invalidity of any baptism by a heretic. He said:
We have brought these things, dearest brother, to your knowledge, for the sake of our mutual honour and sincere affection; believing that, according to the truth of your religion and faith, those things which are no less religious than true will be approved by you. (Cyprian, letter to Stephen, 3, 255 A.D.)
Ultimately, on this issue, the authority of Rome’s bishop won out. Just as the debate in Acts 15 over the necessity of circumcision ended with Peter’s voice, so too did the Church preserve the Tradition of Pope Stephen. The monk Jerome and Vincent of Lerins both recognized Cyprian’s subservient view to the See of Peter.
As Augustine recounts the tale of Cyprian and heretical baptism, he points out how Cyprian later submitted to the authority of the Church:
Seek counsel from the blessed Cyprian himself. See how much he considered to depend upon the blessing of unity, from which he did not sever himself to avoid the communion of those who disagreed with him; how, though he considered that those who were baptized outside the communion of the Church had no true baptism, he was yet willing to believe that, by simple admission into the Church, they might, merely in virtue of the bond of unity, be admitted to a share in pardon. For thus he solved the question which he proposed to himself in writing as follows to Jubaianus: “But some will say, ‘What then will become of those who, in times past, coming to the Church from heresy, were admitted without baptism?’ The Lord is able of His mercy to grant pardon, and not to sever from the gifts of His Church those who, being out of simplicity admitted to the Church, have in the Church fallen asleep.” (Augustine, On Baptism, II.18)
Thus we see more clearly when Cyprian spoke of unity through Peter, and sought “approval” from Stephen, and ended up submitting his own view to that of the Pope’s. Today, the Church recognizes him as a saint.
…And the Church to this day recognizes the validity of proper Trinitarian baptism, even if administered by someone outside the faith. (CCC#1256) [/INDENT]