Saturday, March 21, 2020

Eusebius, EH.7.3-6; Cyprian and Stephen's Conflict Over the (Re)Baptism of the Lapsed

This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea's Ecclesiastical HistoryBook 7, chapters 3-6. Listen here.

Notes and Commentary:

These chapters continue to review the baptismal controversy that followed after the Decian persecution and the Novatian schism. What should be done to the lapsed, fallen, or heretics who desired to be restored to the church?

Chapter 3 begins with the position of Cyprian of Carthage who held that the lapsed had to be submitted again to baptism for purification. This view was opposed by Stephen of Rome who held that baptism (or rebaptism) was not required for restoration.

Chapters 4-5 shares a letter from Dionysius of Alexandria to Stephen celebrating the peace now achieved in the churches. It provides a summary of the churches and their bishops, including:

Demetrian at Antioch;
Theoctistus at Caesarea;
Mazabanes at Aelia (Jerusalem);
Marinus at Tyre (succeeding Alexander);
Heliodorus at Laodicea (succeeding Thelymidres);
Helenus at Tarsus and Cilicia;
Firmilian at Cappadocia.

At the death of Stephen, he was succeeded as bishop by Xystus, to whom Dionysius wrote a second letter On Baptism.

Dionysius describes how Stephen wrote regarding his conflict with Helenus and Firmilian over this issue of baptism of those who had “come over from heresies” and his threatening withdrawal of fellowship with them because of it.

Mention is also made to his communication with two presbyters, Dionysius and Philemon, who “had formerly been of the same opinion as Stephen.”

Chapter 6 notes that in this same letter Dionysius also makes reference to “the Sabellian heresy.” It is described as having begun “at Ptolemais in the Pentapolis” and as being an “impious doctrine” offering blasphemy against God the Father and “great unbelief” in “the only begotten Son.”


These chapters describe the conflict between Cyprian and Stephen over the baptism (rebaptism) of those who had fallen during persecution or heresy. It again describes the writing of Dionysius and his efforts to forge peace and unity. Two of his letters are cited, one to Stephen, and a second to Xythus, Stephen’s successor. Lastly, mention is made of his combatting the Sabellian heresy. When the church has outward peace, it must also be vigilant to maintain inward peace and fidelity.


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