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§ 92. Baptism.


For the Literature, see vol. i. § 37, p. 122; especially Höfling (Lutheran): Das Sacrament der Taufe. W. Wall (Anglican): The History of Infant Baptism (1705), new ed. Oxf. 1844, 4vols. C. A. G. v. Zezschwitz: System der christlich kirchlichen Katechetik. Vol. i. Leipz. 1863.

On heretical baptism in particular, See Mattes (R.C.): Ueber die Ketzertaufe, in the Tübingen “Theol. Quartalschrift,” for 1849, pp. 571–637, and 1850, pp. 24–69; and G. E. Steitz, art. Ketzertaufe in Herzog’s Theol. Encyclop. vol. vii. pp. 524–541 (partly in opposition to Mattes). Concerning the form of baptism, on the Baptist side, T. J. Conant: The Meaning and Use of Baptizein philologically and historically investigated. New York, 1861.


The views of the ante-Nicene fathers concerning baptism and baptismal regeneration were in this period more copiously embellished in rhetorical style by Basil the Great and the two Gregories, who wrote special treatises on this sacrament, and were more clearly and logically developed by Augustine. The patristic and Roman Catholic view on regeneration, however, differs considerably from the one which now prevails among most Protestant denominations, especially those of the more Puritanic type, in that it signifies not so much a subjective change of heart, which is more properly called conversion, but a change in the objective condition and relation of the sinner, namely, his translation from the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of Christ. Some modern divines make a distinction between baptismal and moral regeneration, in order to reconcile the doctrine of the fathers with the fact that the evidences of a new life are wholly wanting in so many who are baptized. But we cannot enter here into a discussion of the difficulties of this doctrine, and must confine ourselves to a historical statement.

Gregory Nazianzen sees in baptism all blessings of Christianity combined, especially the forgiveness of sins, the new birth, and the restoration of the divine image. To children it is a seal (σφραγίς) of grace and a consecration to the service of God. According to Gregory of Nyssa, the child by baptism is instated in the paradise from which Adam was thrust out. The Greek fathers had no clear conception of original sin. According to the Pelagian Julian of Eclanum, Chrysostom taught: We baptize children, though they are not stained with sin, in order that holiness, righteousness, sonship, inheritance, and brotherhood may be imparted to them through Christ.974974   The passage is not found in the writings of Chrysostom. Augustine, however, does not dispute the citation, but tries to explain it away (contra Julian. i. c. 6, § 21).

Augustine brought the operation of baptism into connection with his more complete doctrine of original sin. Baptism delivers from the guilt of original sin, and takes away the sinful character of the concupiscence of the flesh,975975   De nupt. et concup. i. 28: “Dimittitur concupiscentia carnis in baptismo, non ut non sit, sed ut in peccatum non imputetur.” while for the adult it at the same time effects the forgiveness of all actual transgressions before baptism. Like Ambrose and other fathers, Augustine taught the necessity of baptism for entrance into the kingdom of heaven, on the ground of John iii. 5, and deduced therefrom, in logical consistency, the terrible doctrine of the damnation of all unbaptized children, though he assigned them the mildest grade of perdition.976976   “Parvulos in damnatione omnium mitissima futuros.” Comp. De peccat. mer. i. 20, 21, 28; Ep. 186, 27. To the heathen he also assigned a milder and more tolerable condemnation, Contr. Julian. iv. 23.

The council of Carthage, in 318, did the same, and in its second canon rejected the notion of a happy middle state for unbaptized children. It is remarkable, however, that this addition to the second canon does not appear in all copies of the Acts of the council, and was perhaps out of some horror omitted.977977   Comp. Neander, l.c. i. p. 424, and especially Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, ii. p. 103. The passage in question, which is lacking both in Isidore and in Dionysius, runs thus: “Whoever says that there is, in the kingdom of heaven or elsewhere, a certain middle place, where children who die without baptism live happy (beate vivant), while yet they cannot without baptism enter into the kingdom of heaven, i.e., into eternal life, let him be anathema.”

In Augustine we already find all the germs of the scholastic and Catholic doctrine of baptism, though they hardly agree properly with his doctrine of predestination, the absolute sovereignty of divine grace and the perseverance of saints. According to this view, baptism is the sacrament of regeneration, which is, negatively, the means of the forgiveness of sin, that is, both of original sin and of actual sins committed before baptism (not after it), and positively, the foundation of the new spiritual life of faith through the impartation of the gratia operans and co-operans. The subjective condition of this effect is the worthy receiving, that is, penitent faith. Since in the child there is no actual sin, the effect of baptism in this case is limited to the remission of the guilt of original sin; and since the child cannot yet itself believe, the Christian church (represented by the parents and the sponsors) here appears in its behalf, as Augustine likewise supposed, and assumes the responsibility of the education of the baptized child to Christian majority.978978   The scholastics were not entirely agreed whether baptism imparts positive grace to all, or only to adults. Peter Lombard was of the latter opinion; but most divines extended the positive effect of baptism even to children, though under various modifications. Comp. the full exposition of the scholastic doctrine of baptism (which does not belong here) in Hahn, l.c. p. 333 ff.

As to infant baptism: there was in this period a general conviction of its propriety and of its apostolic origin. Even the Pelagians were no exception; though infant baptism does not properly fit into their system; for they denied original sin, and baptism, as a rite of purification, always has reference to the forgiveness of sins. They attributed to infant baptism an improving effect. Coelestius maintained that children by baptism gained entrance to the higher stage of salvation, the kingdom of God, to which, with merely natural powers, they could not attain. He therefore supposed a middle condition of lower salvation for unbaptized children, which in the above quoted second canon of the council of Carthage—if it be genuine—is condemned. Pelagius said more cautiously: Whither unbaptized children go, I know not; whither they do not go, I know.

But, notwithstanding this general admission of infant baptism, the practice of it was by no means universal. Forced baptism, which is contrary to the nature of Christianity and the sacrament, was as yet unknown. Many Christian parents postponed the baptism of their children, sometimes from indifference, sometimes from fear that they might by their later life forfeit the grace of baptism, and thereby make their condition the worse. Thus Gregory Nazianzen and Augustine, though they had eminently pious mothers, were not baptized till their conversion in their manhood. But they afterward regretted this. Gregory admonishes a mother: “Let not sin gain the mastery in thy child; let him be consecrated even in swaddling bands. Thou art afraid of the divine seal on account of the weakness of nature. What weakness of faith! Hannah dedicated her Samuel to the Lord even before his birth; and immediately after his birth trained him for the priesthood. Instead of fearing human weakness, trust in God.”

Many adult catechumens and proselytes likewise, partly from light-mindedness and love of the world, partly from pious prudence and superstitious fear of impairing the magical virtue of baptism, postponed their baptism until some misfortune or severe sickness drove them to the ordinance. The most celebrated example of this is the emperor Constantine, who was not baptized till he was on his bed of death. The postponement of baptism in that day was equivalent to the postponement of repentance and conversion so frequent in ours. This custom was resisted by the most eminent church teachers, but did not give way till the fifth century, when it gradually disappeared before the universal introduction of infant baptism.

Heretical baptism was now generally regarded as valid, if performed in the name of the triune God. The Roman view prevailed over the Cyprianic, at least in the Western church; except among the Donatists, who entirely rejected heretical baptism (as well as the catholic baptism), and made the efficacy of the sacrament depend not only on the ecclesiastical position, but also on the personal piety of the officiating priest.

Augustine, in his anti-Donatistic writings, defends the validity of heretical baptism by the following course of argument: Baptism is an institution of Christ, in the administration of which the minister is only an agent; the grace or virtue of the sacrament is entirely dependent on Christ, and not on the moral character of the administering agent; the unbeliever receives not the power, but the form of the sacrament, which indeed is of no use to the baptized as long as he is outside of the saving catholic communion, but becomes available as soon as he enters it on profession of faith; baptism, wherever performed, imparts an indelible character, or, as he calls it, a “character dominicus,” “regius.” He compares it often to the “nota militaris,” which marks the soldier once for all, whether it was branded on his body by the legitimate captain or by a rebel, and binds him to the service, and exposes him to punishment for disobedience.

Proselyted heretics were, however, always confirmed by the laying on of hands, when received into the catholic church. They were treated like penitents. Leo the Great says of them, that they have received only the form of baptism without the power of sanctification.979979   Epist. 129 ad Nicet. c. 7: “Qui baptismum ab haereticis acceperunt ... sola invocatione Spiritus S. per impositionem manuum confirmandi sunt, quia formam tantum baptismi sine sanctificationis virtute sumpserunt.”

The most eminent Greek fathers of the Nicene age, on the other hand, adhered to the position of Cyprian and Firmilian. Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzen, Basil, and Cyril of Jerusalem regarded, besides the proper form, the true trinitarian faith on the part of the baptizing community, as an essential condition of the validity of baptism. The 45th of the so-called Apostolic Canons threatens those with excommunication who received converted heretics without rebaptism. But a milder view gradually obtained even in the East, which settled at last upon a compromise.

The ecumenical council of Constantinople in 381, in its seventh canon (which, however, is wanting in the Latin versions, and is perhaps later), recognizes the baptism of the Arians, the Sabbatians (a sort of Novatians, so called from their leader Sabbatius), the Quartodecimanians, the Apollinarians, but rejected the baptism of the Eunomians, “who baptize with only one immersion,” the Sabellians, “who teach the Son-Fatherhood (υἱοπατορία),” the Montanists (probably because they did not at that time use the orthodox baptismal formula), and all other heretics. These had first to be exercised, then instructed, and then baptized, being treated therefore as heathen proselytes.980980   Comp. Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, ii. 26; Mattes, Ueber die Ketzertaufe, in the Tübingen Quartalschrift, 1849, p. 580. The Trullan council of 692, in its 95th canon repeated this canon, and added the Nestorians, the Eutychians, and the followers of Dioscurus and Severus to the list of those heretics who may be received into the church on a mere recantation of their error. These decisions lack principle and consistency.

The catechetical instruction which preceded the baptism of proselytes and adults, and followed the baptism of children, ended with a public examination (scrutinium) before the congregation. The Creed—in the East the Nicene, in the West the Apostles’—was committed to memory and professed by the candidates or the god-parents of the children.

The favorite times for baptism for adults were Easter and Pentecost, and in the East also Epiphany. In the fourth century, when the mass of the population of the Roman empire went over from heathenism to Christianity, the baptisteries were thronged with proselytes on those high festivals, and the baptism of such masses had often a very imposing and solemn character. Children were usually incorporated into the church by baptism soon after their birth.

Immersion continued to be the usual form of baptism, especially in the East; and the threefold immersion in the name of the Trinity. Yet Gregory the Great permitted also the single immersion, which was customary in Spain as a testimony against the Arian polytheism.981981   Greg. Ep. i. 43, to Bishop Leander of Seville: “Dum in tribus subsistentiis una substantia est, reprehensibile esse nullatenus potest infantem in baptismate vel ter vel semel mergere: quando et in tribus mersionibus personarum trinitas, et in una potest personarum singularitas designari. Sed quia nunc usque ab haereticis infans in baptismate tertio mergebatur, fiendum apud vos non esse censeo, ne dum mersiones numerant, divinitatem dividant.” From this we see, at the same time, that even in infant baptism, and among heretics, immersion was the custom. Yet in the nature of the case, sprinkling, at least of weak or sick children, as in the baptismus clinicorum, especially in northern climates, came early into use.

With baptism, several preparatory and accompanying ceremonies, some of them as early as the second and third centuries, were connected; which were significant, but overshadowed and obscured the original simplicity of the sacrament. These were exorcism, or the expulsion of the devil;982982   Comp. vol. i. p. 399. breathing upon the candidates,983983   Insufflare, ἐμφυσᾷν. as a sign of the communication of the Holy Ghost, according to John xx. 22; the touching of the ears,984984   Sacramentum apertionis. with the exclamation: Ephphatha!—from Mark vii. 34, for the opening of the spiritual understanding; the sign of the cross made upon the forehead and breast, as the mark of the soldier of Christ; and, at least in Africa, the giving of salt, as the emblem of the divine word, according to Mark ix. 50; Matt. v. 13 Col. iv. 6. Proselytes generally took also a new name, according to Rev. ii. 17.

In the act of baptism itself, the candidate first, with his face toward the west, renounced Satan and all his pomp and service,985985   This was the ἀποταγή, or abrenunciatio diaboli, with the words: Ἀποτάσσομαί σοι, Σατανᾶ, καὶ πάσῃ τῇ πομπῇ σου καὶ πάσῃ τῇ λατρείᾳ σου. The Apostolic Constitutions add τοῖς ἔργοις. In Tertullian: “Renunciare diabolo et pompae et angelis ejus.” then, facing the east, he vowed fidelity to Christ,986986   Συντάσσομαί σοι, Χριστέ. and confessed his faith in the triune God, either by rehearsing the Creed, or in answer to questions.987987   Ὁμολόγησις, professio. Thereupon followed the threefold or the single immersion in the name of the triune God, with the calling of the name of the candidate, the deacons and deaconesses assisting. After the second anointing with the consecrated oil (confirmation), the veil was removed, with which the heads of catechumens, in token of their spiritual minority, were covered during divine worship, and the baptized person was clothed in white garments, representing the state of regeneration, purity, and freedom. In the Western church the baptized person received at the same time a mixture of milk and honey, as a symbol of childlike innocence and as a fore-taste of the communion.



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