Papal Primacy: Did Firmilian, the Bishop of Caesarea, support It?

A reader wrote me to tell me that "my claims about church history are patently unresearched." Specifically, he assured me that "Firmilian acknowledges that Stephen took the throne of Peter."

The statement that "Firmilian Acknowledges that Stephen took the Throne of Peter" is partly capitalized, so it's possible the writer took that from some Catholic version of Firmilian's (the bishop of Caesarea) letter to Cyprian, which is listed as letter 74 of Cyprian's letters in the Protestant Ante-Nicene Fathers vol. V. It's entirely possible a Roman Catholic collection of the early fathers might have a heading like that.

Here was my response:


Thanks, for writing. However, I'm really not sure what to do with someone who tells me "Firmilian acknowledges that Stephen took the throne of Peter," but sends me a quote that says,

I am justly indignant at this so open and manifest folly of Stephen ... who contends that he holds by succession the throne of Peter. (par. 17)

Obviously Firimilian didn't agree with Stephen that he held the throne of Peter.

Cyprian's was bishop of Carthage from AD 249-257. By that time, appealing to apostolic churches was very important. Bishops of churches like Alexandria and Antioch exercised authority over large areas.

Note: the writer had also sent me a quote showing that Cyprian asked Stephen, bishop of Rome, who had been appointed bishop of Arles after their former bishop, Marcian, had been excommunicated. The next paragraph addresses that quote.

Rome was the only apostolic church in the west. The bishop there did have some authority not only in Italy, but also in North Africa. If you look on a map, you'll find Arles on the outskirts of Italy, northern. This would have been an area where the appointment of a bishop would indeed have involved help from Rome. It would be my supposition that even in Carthage, where Cyprian was, that when Cyprian was replaced, Rome would have approved his replacement.

However, Cyprian—and Firmilian even more so—both opposed Stephen's claim to hold the throne of Peter, which Cyprian clearly assigns to all bishops in On the Unity of the Church (par. 4 & 5a) and which Firmilian opposed in the very quote you sent me. Cyprian led a council of 87 bishops in north Africa who unanimously rejected his claim to be "a bishop of bishops."

The point of all that is not to prove that the Roman bishop is not a bishop of bishops. I have plenty of other ways to prove that. The point of my quotes of Cyprian is to show that the RCC is picking and choosing its quotes of Cyprian and is dishonestly and unjustifiably portraying Cyprian as a supporter of papal primacy when he was not.

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