1902 Encyclopedia > St Stephen

St Stephen

ST STEPHEN, described in late MSS. of Acts xxii. 20 and in subsequent ecclesiastical tradition as _________, was one of the first seven deacons who were chosen by the church in Jerusalem at the instance of the apostles. He is spoken of as " a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit," and, though his official function was rather the " serving of tables" than the ministry of the word, the narrative of the book of Acts shows him to have been principally and pre-eminently a preacher. After a brief period of popularity he was accused before the sanhedrin as a blasphemer, and, without being allowed to finish his speech in his own defence, he was hurried without the city walls and stoned to death (c. 37 A.D.). " Devout men "o— an expression apparently used to denote the uncircumcised adherents of the synagogue (see Acts x. 2)—buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. His martyrdom is commemorated in the Latin Church on December 26 and in the Greek on December 27. Ecclesiastical tradition tells that in the year 415 his remains were discovered by Lucian, priest of Caphar-Gamala near Jerusalem; after being deposited for some time in Jerusalem, they were removed by the younger Theodosius to Constantinople, and thence by Pope Pelagius to Rome. Some relics of Stephen were also brought from Palestine to the West by Orosius. Their discovery is commemorated on August 3.

The ministry and martyrdom of Stephen marked a great crisis in the history of the relations of the Christian church to the Gentile world. At first, we are informed, the early disciples, numbering three thousand souls, " had favour with all the people" (Acts ii. 47), who protected them against the rulers, elders, and scribes; " for all men glori-fied God for that which was done" (Acts iv. 21), and the people "magnified" the apostles (v. 13). It was this great popularity of the disciples of Jesus in Jerusalem that led to the. ordination of the deacons. Soon a great revulsion of feeling took place. Stephen, " full of grace and power," had wrought "great wonders and signs among the people" (vi. 8); then suddenly arose "certain of the synagogue," disputing with Stephen, and were " unable to withstand the wisdom and spirit by which he spoke." What was the new and offensive element intro-duced by Stephen into the apostolic preaching? The accusations against him, and his speech in his own de-fence, alike show that he was the first to realize with any clearness the greatness of the Christian revolution,—the incompatibility of the Mosaic institutions with the spiritu-ality and freeness of the gospel and with its destiny to become a message of salvation for the whole world. The entire drift of his speech is to show the progressive character of revelation, and to show that, as God had often manifested Himself apart from the forms of the law and the synagogue, these could not be held to be of the essence of religion. The seed of much that is most distinctive of the Pauline epistles wras sown by the preaching of Stephen.

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