Saint of the Day – 2 August – Saint Stephen I (Died 257) Pope, Martyr, Bishop of Rome from 12 May 254 until his death. Born in Rome and died on 1 August 257 by being beheaded as he concluded Holy Mass in the Cemetery of Callistus. Patronage – Fiano Romano, Italy.
The Roman Martyrology reads today: “At Rome, in the Cemetery of Callistus, the birthday of St Stephen, Pope and Martyr. In the persecutions of Valerian, the soldiers suddenly entered whilst he was celebrating Holy Mass but he remained before the Altar and concluded the Sacred Mysteries, with intrepidity and was beheaded on his Throne.”
Stephen was by birth a Roman but had Greek ancestry.. After being promoted to Holy Orders, he was made Archdeacon of Rome under the holy Popes Saint Cornelius and Saint Lucius. When these had both suffered Martyrdom, Saint Stephen was elected Head of the Church in the year 254.
Controversy concerning the re-baptising of heretics gave Saint Stephen much trouble. The heretics themselves were re-baptising Catholics who left the orthodox faith to join them. Certain African Bishops decided then to rebaptise those who returned to the True Faith from their errors and some other Bishops joined them in this practice. It is the teaching of the Catholic Church, however, that baptism given with natural water and in the name of the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity is valid, even if conferred by those in error. Saint Stephen suffered patiently when accused of favouring heresy by ratifying such baptisms – he did not doubt that the great men in whom a mistaken zeal seemed to obscure the Truth would, when the heat of the dispute had subsided, calmly open their eyes to the Truth. Thus by his zeal, he preserved the integrity of the Faith and by his gentleness and forbearance, saved many souls.
When the persecutions grew violent, he assembled the faithful in the underground tombs of the Martyrs, going from one catacomb to another to baptise neophytes, celebrate Mass and exhort them to remain true to Christ. After twelve members of his clergy were Martyred, he himself was arrested but he was set free when a violent storm so frightened the soldiers and executioners sent to put him to death, that they fled. Nonetheless, he was followed to a catacomb by the Emperor’s soldiers and, on 2 August 257, while seated in his Pontifical chair in the Callistus Catacomb, after concluding Holy Mass, he was beheaded.
The chair, stained with his blood, was placed with his relics in the Church which he had built and is still shown in the same Church, today, Saint Sylvester in capite.