Firmilian

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Firmilian
Bishop of Caesarea Mazaca
Died ca. 269
Tarsus [1]
Honored in

Eastern Orthodox Church

Roman Catholic Church
Feast 28 October

Saint Firmilian (died c. 269), Bishop of Caesarea Mazaca from ca. 232, was a disciple of Origen. He had a contemporary reputation comparable to that of Dionysius of Alexandria or Cyprian, bishop of Carthage.[1]

He took an active part in the mid-3rd century controversies over rebaptising heretics and readmitting lapsed Christians after the persecutions of Decius and was excommunicated by Pope Stephen I for his position. A single letter of Firmilian to Cyprian survives among Cyprian's correspondence. Jerome omits Firmilian from De viris illustribus. "To his contemporaries his forty years of influential episcopate, his friendship with Origen and Dionysius, the appeal to him of Cyprian, and his censure of Stephanus might well make him seem the most conspicuous figure of his time" (Wace).

Life[edit]

Gregory of Nyssa tells that Gregory Thaumaturgus, when still a pagan, having completed his secular studies, "fell in with Firmilian, a Cappadocian of noble family, similar to himself in character and talent, as he showed in his subsequent life when he adorned the Church of Caesarea." The two young men came to Alexandria to study with Origen by whom Gregory, at least, was baptised. Later, when bishop, Eusebius records (Ecclesiastical History, VI, xxvi-xxviii), he invited Origen to his own country, at the time (232–35) when the great teacher was staying in Caesarea of Palestine.[1]

In the controversies over rebaptism of lapsed Christians, Firmilian was an opponent of the stringent policy of antipope Novatian (see Novatianism), for Dionysius in 252–53 writes that the bishops of Cilicia, Cappadocia, and Palestine had invited him to a synod at Antioch to repudiate Novatianism (Eusebius, VI, xlvi, 3). Dionysius counts Firmilian as one of "the more eminent bishops" in a letter to Pope Stephen I (Eusebius, VII, v, 1), where his expression "Firmilian and all Cappadocia" implies that Caesarea was already a metropolitan see. This explains how Firmilian could invite Origen to Cappadocia, "for the benefit of the Churches".[1]

Firmilian's letter to Cyprian[edit]

In a letter to Pope Sixtus II (257–58), Dionysius mentions that in the controversy over rebaptism of the lapsed Pope Stephen had refused communication with Helenus of Tarsus, Firmilian, and all Cilicia and Cappadocia, and the neighbouring lands (Eusebius, VII, v, 3-4), a subject touched on in the sole surviving letter of Firmilian, a response to Cyprian. When the baptismal controversy arose, Cyprian wished to gain support from the Eastern churches against Pope Stephen for his own decision to rebaptize all heretics who returned to the Church. At the end of the summer of 256, he sent the deacon Rogatian to Firmilian with a letter, together with the documents on the subject—letters of the pope, of his own, and of his council at Carthage in the spring, and the treatise De Ecclesia Catholica Unitate. Firmilian's existing reply was received at Carthage about the middle of November. It is a long letter, even more bitter and violent than the letter on this head of Cyprian to Pompeius. It has come down to us in a translation made, no doubt, under Cyprian's direction, and apparently very literal, as it abounds in Greek expressions (Cyprian, Epistle lxxv).

In the letter, Cyprian's arguments against Pope Stephen are reiterated and reinforced. Firmilian says: "We have received your writings as our own, and have committed them to memory by repeated reading" (c. iv). Firmilian's reasoning against the validity of heretical baptism is mainly that of Cyprian, that those who are outside the Church and have not the Holy Spirit cannot admit others to the Church or give what they do not possess: " "Very many of us meeting together in Iconium very carefully examined the matter, and we decided that every baptism was altogether to be rejected which is arranged for without the Church." Firmilian is fond of dilemmas: for instance, either the heretics do not give the Holy Ghost, in which case rebaptism is necessary, or else they do give it, in which case Stephen should not forbid the laying on of hands. Firmilian enables us to gather much of the drift of Stephen's letter to Cyprian. It is "ridiculous" that Stephen demanded nothing but the use of the Trinitarian formula. He had appealed to tradition from St. Peter and St. Paul: this is an insult to the Apostles, cries Firmilian, for they execrated heretics. Besides (this is from Cyprian, Ep. lxxiv, 2), "no one could be so silly as to believe this", for the heretics are all later than the Apostles! And Rome has not preserved the Apostolic traditions unchanged, for it differs from Jerusalem as to the observances at Easter and as to other mysteries. "I am justly indignant with Stephen's obvious and manifest silliness, that he so boasts of his position, and claims that he is the successor of St. Peter on whom were laid the foundations of the Church; yet he brings in many other rocks, and erects new buildings of many Churches when he defends with his authority the baptism conferred by heretics; for those who are baptized are without doubt numbered in the Church, and he who approves their baptism affirms that there is among them a Church of the baptized.… Stephen, who declares that he has the Chair of Peter by succession, is excited by no zeal against heretics" (c. xvii). "You have cut yourself off—do not mistake—since he is the true schismatic who makes himself an apostate from the communion of ecclesiastical unity. For in thinking that all can be excommunicated by you, you have cut off yourself alone from the communion of all" (c. xxiv).

We thus learn the claims of Stephen to impose on the whole Church by his authority as successor of Peter, a custom the Roman Church claims to derive from Apostolic tradition. Firmilian reassures Cyprian's church at Carthage that with them the custom of rebaptizing may be new, but in Cappadocia it has been the custom from the very beginning (c. xix), and he can answer Stephen by opposing tradition to tradition, and that some time since, he had joined in a council at Iconium with the bishops of Galatia and Cilicia and other provinces, and had decided to rebaptize the Montanists (c. vii and xix); for these acts Stephen excommunicated the Eastern churches. Dionysius, in a letter to the Roman priest Philemon , also mentions the Council of Iconium. It was presumably held in the last years of Alexander Severus, ca 231–35.

Proceedings against Paul of Samosata[edit]

Firmilian also took part in the first of two councils at Antioch which discussed deposing Paul of Samosata, in 266 (Wace). He may even have presided. The letter of the third council says he was too easily persuaded that Paul of Samosata would amend; hence the necessity of another council (Eusebius, VII, iii-v). He was on his way to this assembly when death overtook him, at Tarsus, in 268 (Adolf Harnack) or 269.

Though Firmilian was excommunicated by Stephen, it is certain that the following popes did not adhere to this severe policy. Firmilian is commemorated in the Greek martyrology (October 28) but is not venerated in the West. His great successor in Cappadocia, St Basil of Caesarea, mentions his view on heretical baptism without accepting it (Epistle clxxxviii), and says, when speaking of the expression "with the Holy Ghost" in the Doxology: "That our own Firmilian held this faith is testified by the lógoi which he has left" (De Spiritu Sancto, xxix, 74). There is no other mention of such writings, which were probably letters.

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