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The Catholic Defender: St. Stephen, the first Catholic Martyr

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.

2 And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.

3 Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty.

4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word."

5 And what they said pleased the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.

6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands upon them.

7 And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.

8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.

Recently, I was being challenged by an individual who began attacking the Catholic position on Luke 1:28, “And he came to her and said, ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” This Gentleman obviously had been misinformed about what the Angel Gabriel had said to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In part, he stated to me, “The dogma of the Immaculate Conception has to be the worst example of the Catholic Church engaging in “whole cloth” “interpretation” of Scripture.“ Interestingly, I couldn't help but recognize how he was really guilty of his own complaint?

How many denominations had been formed based on their own “whole cloth” interpretation of Scripture. I named off Sola Scriptura, a doctrine developed by Martin Luther as one of the main doctrines held against the Catholic position of Scripture as an example. There are many…

It was easy to make this case, but I wanted to show that the Catholic Church’s 2,000 year approach to Luke 1:28 is backed by the apostolic tradition. The individual wanted to offer his chief challenge asking me if St. Stephen had been born Immaculately Conceived? I had heard this argument before, what he was referring to was Acts 6:8 which states, “And Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.”

What I was being challenged with is clear, is the Virgin Mary’s scripture text, “full of grace” and that of St. Stephen be identical? This takes some consideration, especially when being challenged by someone who thinks they know the answer.

Obviously, the challenge centers on two things, one, that the Catholic Church either defies Scripture choosing to base itself on its tradition, and two, that the Immaculate Conception is a man made myth based on tradition.

To really understand this more fully, I had to take this out of the English vernacular and look at the Greek Text for “full of grace”.

The Greek Text was what the New Testament was originally written.

That would be the usual second language for many in the Holy Land at the time, much like English is today around the world.

Here is the Greek Text for Luke 1:28,“Kai eiselthon pros auten eipen, “Caire, kecharitomene!, ho Kurios meta sou.”

Here is the Greek Text for Acts 6:8, “Stephanos de plērēs charitos kai dynameōs epoiei terata kai sēmeia megala en tō laō.”

Can you see the difference and similarity here? Interestingly, both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts were written by St. Luke. Notice in Luke 1:28, the title Caire, kecharitomene is used, in Acts 6:8, the title plērēs charitos is used.

The English word “grace” comes from the Greek word, charis and we can determine that both text use the word charis or grace in it, but does the meaning amount to being the same? No, it does not.

Notice that the word used in Acts 6:8 referring to Stephen is a different word from the one referring to Mary. That is clear.

Acts 6:8 describes Stephen “pleres charitos” which literally means “filled up with grace”.

The Catholic view here is that St. Luke was meaning St. Stephen, at that moment, he was full of grace. From Catholic teaching, a true martyr would go straight to heaven. They bypass Purgatory and would be understood from this text, that at that moment, St. Stephen was full of grace at that moment in time.

In the same way, lets look again at Luke 1:28, the title given to Mary from the angel Gabriel is “Kecharitomene”, a perfect passive participle of “charitoo”.

Remember that Charis means grace, charitoo is a verb that comes from the Greek root of “charis” - which means “grace”. So, from this text, charitoó means to fill or endow with grace or in other words: “Hail, one who has always been full of grace“.

Where Stephen is being defined as full of grace at that moment, Mary is being defined as being full of grace from the beginning of her existence.

So, ”kecharitomene” by definition is the perfected passive participle meaning “to fill with grace”. That the Virgin Mary received this singular grace by God for the purpose of bringing Jesus into the world.

Mary is more than being full of grace for a period of time, but for all time. Her yes opened the door not only for St. Stephen, but for all “those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus.” Revelation 12:17

9 Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, arose and disputed with Stephen.

10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.

11 Then they secretly instigated men, who said, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God."

12 And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council,13 and set up false witnesses who said, "This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law;

14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place, and will change the customs which Moses delivered to us."15 And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel."

Acts of the Apostles 7-1 And the high priest said, "Is this so?"

2 And Stephen said: "Brethren and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran,3 and said to him, 'Depart from your land and from your kindred and go into the land which I will show you.'

4 Then he departed from the land of the Chaldeans, and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living;

5 yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot's length, but promised to give it to him in possession and to his posterity after him, though he had no child.

6 And God spoke to this effect, that his posterity would be aliens in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and ill-treat them four hundred years.

7 'But I will judge the nation which they serve,' said God, 'and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.'

8 And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.

9 "And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him,10 and rescued him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him governor over Egypt and over all his household.

11 Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food.

12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent forth our fathers the first time.

13 And at the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph's family became known to Pharaoh.

14 And Joseph sent and called to him Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five souls;

15 and Jacob went down into Egypt. And he died, himself and our fathers,16 and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.

17 "But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt 18 till there arose over Egypt another king who had not known Joseph.

19 He dealt craftily with our race and forced our fathers to expose their infants, that they might not be kept alive.

20 At this time Moses was born, and was beautiful before God. And he was brought up for three months in his father's house;

21 and when he was exposed, Pharaoh's daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son.

22 And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.

23 "When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel.

24 And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking the Egyptian.

25 He supposed that his brethren understood that God was giving them deliverance by his hand, but they did not understand.

26 And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and would have reconciled them, saying, 'Men, you are brethren, why do you wrong each other?'

27 But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying, 'Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?

28 Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?'

29 At this retort Moses fled, and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.

30 "Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush.

31 When Moses saw it he wondered at the sight; and as he drew near to look, the voice of the Lord came,32 'I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.' And Moses trembled and did not dare to look.

33 And the Lord said to him, 'Take off the shoes from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.

34 I have surely seen the ill-treatment of my people that are in Egypt and heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.'

35 "This Moses whom they refused, saying, 'Who made you a ruler and a judge?' God sent as both ruler and deliverer by the hand of the angel that appeared to him in the bush.

36 He led them out, having performed wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness for forty years.

37 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, 'God will raise up for you a prophet from your brethren as he raised me up.'

38 This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers; and he received living oracles to give to us.

39 Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt,40 saying to Aaron, 'Make for us gods to go before us; as for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.'

41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and rejoiced in the works of their hands.

42 But God turned and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: 'Did you offer to me slain beasts and sacrifices, forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?

43 And you took up the tent of Moloch, and the star of the god Rephan, the figures which you made to worship; and I will remove you beyond Babylon.'

44 "Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, even as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen.

45 Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations which God thrust out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David,46 who found favor in the sight of God and asked leave to find a habitation for the God of Jacob.

47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him.

48 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands; as the prophet says,49 'Heaven is my throne, and earth my footstool. What house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest?

50 Did not my hand make all these things?'

51 "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.

52 Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered,53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it."

54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth against him.

55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God;56 and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God."

57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him.

58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

60 And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

St. Stephen was buried by his Christian family, but in time the location of his tomb was lost until about 415 A.D. a Catholic Priest received a vision showing where St. Stephen had been buried. Confirmation of St. Stephen's tomb bore his name.

St. Stephen is the patron saint of Altar Servers, bricklayers, casket makers and deacons and his feast day is celebrated on December 26.

A Prayer by Deacon Keith Fournier

Lord Jesus, you chose Stephen as the first deacon and martyr of your One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The heroic witness of his holy life and death reveals your continued presence among us. Through following the example of his living faith, and by his intercession, empower us by your Holy Spirit to live as witnesses to the faith in this New Missionary Age. No matter what our state in life, career or vocation, help us to proclaim, in both word and in deed, the fullness of the Gospel to a world which is waiting to be born anew in Jesus Christ. Pour out upon your whole Church, the same Holy Spirit which animated St Stephen, Martyr, to be faithful to the end, which is a beginning of life eternal in the communion of the Trinity.

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