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Firmilian of Caesarea

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Firmilian of Caesarea

Letter of Firmilian, Bishop of Caesarea, to Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, 200- 258 AD.

"Suddenly, a certain woman started up in our midst: she presented herself as a prophetess, being in a state of ecstasy and acting as if she were filled with the Holy Spirit. But she was so deeply under the sway of the principal demons that she managed to disturb and deceive the brethren for a long time by performing astonishing and preternatural feats...And the woman, through the illusions and trickeries of the devil, had devised a number of ways for deceiving the faithful. Among other practices by which she deceived many, she frequently dared even to use this one: employing a by no means despicable form of invocation, she would pretend to sanctify the bread and celebrate the Eucharist, and she would offer the sacrifice to the Lord not without the sacred recitation of the wonted formula. And she would baptize many also, adopting the customary and legitimate wording of the baptismal interrogation. And all this she did in such a way that she appeared to deviate in no particular from ecclesiastical discipline. What, then, are we to say about such a baptism, where an evil demon baptized through the agency of a woman? Can it be that Stephen and his adherents extend their approval even to this baptism, especially as it came complete with Trinitarian credal formula and the legitimate invocation of the Church? Is it credible that forgiveness of sins was granted or that the rebirth of the saving waters was duly accomplished in a case where everything may have been done in semblance of the truth but was in fact done though (sic) the agency of the demon?"

Firmilian of Caesarea, in Saint Cyprian, Epist., 75: CSEL 3, pp. 817-818.

Note. John H.Wright makes this comment: "It should be noted that the heart of Firmilian's objection is that the person baptizing is the instrument of a demon, not that she is a woman. Even a man baptizing under similar circumstances would be baptizing invalidly in Firmilian's view. The same thing should be said about the performance of the eucharistic rite: the person presuming to do this acts "through the illusions and trickeries of the devil." That she is a woman may aggravate the matter in Firmilian's view, but it is not the point of his objection. It cannot in context be taken as an argument against the possibility of ordaining women. (p. 519). From: John H. Wright. "Patristic Testimony of Women's Ordination in INTER INSIGNIORES." Theological Studies 58 (1997), pp. 516-526.

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