Firmilian, Bishop of Csarea in Cappadocia, died c. 269. He had among his contemporaries a reputation comparable to that of Dionysius or Cyprian. St. Gregory of Nyssa tells us that St. Gregory the Wonder-Worker, then 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 Csarea.” The two young men agreed in their desire to know more of God, a cage to Origen, whorl i ciples they became; and whom Gregory, at least, was baptized. Firmilian was more probably brought up as a Christian. Later, when bishop, Eusebius tells us, he had such a love for Origen that he invited him to his own country for the benefit of the Churches, at the time (232-5) when the great teacher was staying in Caesarea of Palestine, on account of his bishop’s displeasure at his having been ordained priest in that city. Firmilian also went to him subsequently and stayed with him some time that he might advance in theology (Hist. Eccl., VII, xxviii, 1). He was an opponent of the antipope Novatian, for Dionysius in 252-3 writes that Helenus of Tarsus, Firmilian, and Theoctistus of Csarea in Palestine (that is, the Metropolitans of Cilicia, Cappadocia, and Palestine) had invited him to a synod at Antioch, where some were trying to support the heresy of Novatian (Euseb., Hist. Eccl., VI, xlvi, 3). Dionysius counts Firmilian as one of “the more eminent bishops” in a letter to Pope Stephen (ibid., VII, v, 1), where his expression “Firmilian and all Cappadocia” again implies that Caesarea was already a metropolitan see. This explains why Firmilian could invite Origen to Cappadocia “for the benefit of the Churches”.
In a letter to Pope Sixtus II (257-8), Dionysius mentions that Pope St. Stephen in the baptismal controversy had refused to communicate with Helenus of Tarsus, Firmilian, and all Cilicia and Cappadocia. and the neighboring lands (Euseb., VII, v, 3-4). We learn the cause of this from the only writing of St. Firmilian’s which remains to us. When the baptismal controversy arose, St. Cyprian wished to gain support from the Churches of the East 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 Eccl. Cath. Unitate”. Firmilian’s reply was received at Carthage about the middle of November. It is a long letter, even more bitter and violent than that of Cyprian to Pompeius. It has come down to us in a translation made, no doubt, under St. Cyprian’s direction, and apparently very literal, as it abounds in Graecisms (Ep. lxxv among St. Cyprian’s letters). St. Cyprian’s arguments against St. Stephen are reiterated and rein-forced, and the treatise on Unity is laid under contribution. It is particularly interesting to note that the famous fourth chapter of that treatise must have been before the writer of the letter in its original form, and not in the alternative “Roman” form (c. xvi). It is the literal truth when Firmilian says: “We have received your writings as our own, and have committed them to memory by repeated reading” (c. iv).
The reasoning against the validity of heretical baptism is mainly that of St. 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. 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 enjoin the laying on of hands. It is important that Firmilian enables us to gather much of the drift of St. Stephen’s letter. 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 at 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 the pope to impose on the whole Church by his authority as successor of Peter, a custom derived by the Roman Church from Apostolic tradition. Firmilian tells the Africans that with them the custom of rebaptizing may be new, but in Cappadocia it is not, and he can answer Stephen by opposing tradition to tradition, for it was their practice from the beginning (c. xix); and 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). Dionysius, in a letter to the Roman priest Philemon, also mentions the Council of Iconium with one at Synnada “among many”. It was presumably held in the last years of Alexander Severus, c. 231-5. Firmilian also took part in the two councils of 264-5 at Antioch which deposed Paul of Samosata. He may even have presided. The letter of the third council says he was too easily persuaded that Paul would amend; hence the necessity of another council (Euseb. Hist. Eccl., VII, iii-v). He was on his way to this assembly when death overtook him at Tarsus. This was in 268 (Harnack) or 269. Though he was cut off from communion by Pope Stephen, it is certain that the following popes did not adhere to this severe policy. He is commemorated in the Greek Mena on October 28, but is unknown to the Western martyrologies. His great successor, St. Basil, mentions his view on heretical baptism without accepting it (Ep. 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 books [X6yoc] which he has left” (De Spir. Sane., xxix, 74). We hear nothing else of such writings, which were probably letters.