In the mid-third century, a controversy relating to the validity of baptism by the lapsed broke out between Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, and Stephen, bishop of Rome. The former maintained that baptisms carried out by those who later lapsed had no validity, but must be repeated by a priest of whose behaviour there could be no doubt. Stephen maintained that baptisms carried out in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit were to be viewed as valid, whoever had carried them out. Cyprian appealed to his fellow bishops for support. In 256, Firmilian, bishop of Caesarea, wrote to him outlining the case of a woman who had for some time baptized and celebrated the eucharist, but who had then been identified as being possessed by demons, casting her earlier actions into question. This essay will analyse the grounds for Firmilian's doubts about the validity of the woman's actions, his proposed response, and the way in which this episode has been used in modern debates about the ordination of women.
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