1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Baptism
BAPTISM. The Gr. words βαπτισμός and βάπτισμα (both of which occur in the New Testament) signify "ceremonial washing," from the verb βαπτίζω, the shorter form βάπτω meaning "dip" without ritual significance (e.g. the finger in water, a robe in blood). That a ritual washing away of sin characterized other religions than the Christian, the Fathers of the church were aware, and Tertullian notices, in his tract On Baptism (ch. v.), that the votaries of Isis and Mithras were initiated per lavacrum, "through a font," and that in the Ludi Apollinares et Eleusinii, i.e. the mysteries of Apollo and Eleusis, men were baptized (tinguntur, Tertullian's favourite word for baptism), and, what is more, baptized, as they presumed to think, "unto regeneration and exemption from the guilt of their perjuries." "Among the ancients," he adds, "anyone who had stained himself with homicide went in search of waters that could purge him of his guilt."
The texts of the New Testament relating to Christian baptism, given roughly in chronological order, are the following:—
A.D. 55-60, Rom. vi. 3, 4; 1 Cor. i. 12-17, vi. 11, x. 1-4, xii. 13, xv. 29; Gal. iii. 27.
A.D. 60-65, Col. ii. 11, 12; Eph. iv. 5, v. 26.
A.D. 60-70, Mark x. 38, 39.
A.D. 80-90, Acts i. 5, ii. 38-41, viii. 16, 17, x. 44-48, xix. 1-7, xxii. 16; 1 Pet. iii. 20, 21; Heb. x. 22.
A.D. 90-100, John iii. 3-8, iii. 22, iii. 26, iv. 1, 2.
Uncertain, Matt, xxviii. 18-20; Mark xvi. 16.
The baptism of John is mentioned in the following:—
A.D. 60-70, Mark i. 1-11.
A.D. 80-90, Matt. iii. 1-16:; Luke iii. 1-22, vii. 29, 30; Acts i. 22, x. 37, xiii. 24, xviii. 25, xix. 3, 4.
A.D. 90-100, John i. 25-33, iii. 23, x. 40.
It is best to defer the question of the origin of Christian baptism until the history of the rite in the centuries which followed has been sketched, for we know more clearly what baptism became after the year 100 than what it was before. And that method on which a great scholar insisted when studying the old Persian religion is doubly to be insisted on in the study of the history of baptism and the cognate institution, the eucharist, namely, to avoid equally "the narrowness of mind which clings to matters of fact without rising to their cause and connecting them with the series of associated phenomena, and the wild and uncontrolled spirit of comparison, which, by comparing everything, confounds everything."
Our earliest detailed accounts of baptism are in the Teaching of the Apostles (c. 90-120) and in Justin Martyr.
The Teaching has the following:—
1. Now concerning baptism, thus baptize ye: having spoken beforehand all these things, baptize into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, in living water.
2. But if thou hast not living water, baptize into other water; if thou canst not in cold, in warm.
3. But if thou hast not either, pour water upon the head thrice, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
4. Now before the baptism, let him that is baptizing and him that is being baptized fast, and any others who can; but thou biddest him who is being baptized to fast one or two days before.
The "things spoken beforehand" are the moral precepts known as the two ways, the one of life and the other of death, with which the tract begins. This body of moral teaching is older than the rest of the tract, and may go back to the year A.D. 80.
Justin thus describes the rite in ch. lxi. of his first Apology, (c. 140):—
"I will also relate the manner in which we dedicated ourselves to God when we had been made new through Christ. As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water."
In the sequel Justin adds:—
"There is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe, he who leads to the laver the person that is to be washed calling Him by this name alone. For no one can utter the name of the ineffable God, and this washing is called Illumination (Gr. φωτισμός), because they who learn these things are illuminated in their understandings. And in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Ghost, who through the prophets foretold all things about Jesus, he who is illuminated is washed."
In ch. xiv. of the dialogue with Trypho, Justin asserts, as against Jewish rites of ablution, that Christian baptism alone can purify those who have repented. "This," he says, "is the water of life. But the cisterns which you have dug for yourselves are broken and profitless to you. For what is the use of that baptism which cleanses the flesh and body alone? Baptize the soul from wrath, from envy and from hatred; and, lo! the body is pure."
In ch. xliii. of the same dialogue Justin remarks that "those who have approached God through Jesus Christ have received a circumcision, not carnal, but spiritual, after the manner of Enoch."
In after ages baptism was regularly called illumination. Late in the 2nd century Tertullian describes the rite of baptism in his treatise On the Resurrection of the Flesh, thus:
1. The flesh is washed, that the soul may be freed from stain.
2. The flesh is anointed, that the soul may be consecrated.
3. The flesh is sealed (i.e. signed with the cross), that the soul also may be protected.
4. The flesh is overshadowed with imposition of hands, that the soul also may be illuminated by the Spirit.
5. The flesh feeds on the body and blood of Christ, that the soul also may be filled and sated with God.
6. He also mentions elsewhere that the neophytes, after baptism, were given a draught of milk and honey. (The candidate for baptism, we further learn from his tract On Baptism, prepared himself by prayer, fasting and keeping of vigils.)
Before stepping into the font, which both sexes did quite naked, the neophytes had to renounce the devil, his pomps and angels. Baptisms were usually conferred at Easter and in the season of Pentecost which ensued, and by the bishop or by priests and deacons commissioned by him.
Such are the leading features of the rite in Tertullian, and they reappear in the 4th century in the rites of all the orthodox churches of East and West; Tertullian testifies that the Marcionites observed the particulars numbered one to six, which must therefore go back at least to the year 150. About the year 300, those desirous of being baptized were (a) admitted to the catechumenate, giving in their names to the bishop. (b) They were subjected to a scrutiny and prepared, as to-day in the western churches the young are prepared for confirmation. The catechetic course included instruction in monotheism, in the folly of polytheism, in the Christian scheme of salvation, &c. (c) They were again and again exorcized, in order to rid them of the lingering taint of the worship of demons. (d) Some days or even weeks beforehand they had the creed recited to them. They might not write it down, but learned it by heart and had to repeat it just before baptism. This rite was called in the West the traditio and redditio of the symbol. The Lord's Prayer was communicated with similar solemnity in the West (traditio precis). The creed given in Rome was the so-called Apostles' Creed, originally compiled as we now have it to exclude Marcionites. In the East various other symbols were used. (e) There followed an act of unction, made in the East with the oil of the catechumens blessed only by the priest, in the West with the priest's saliva applied to the lips and ears. The latter was accompanied by the following formula: "Effeta, that is, be thou opened unto odour of sweetness. But do thou flee, O Devil, for the judgment of God is at hand." (f) Renunciation of Satan. The catechumens turned to the west in pronouncing this; then turning to the east they recited the creed. (g) They stepped into the font, but were not usually immersed, and the priest recited the baptismal formula over them as he poured water, generally thrice, over their heads. (h) They were anointed all over with chrism or scented oil, the priest reciting an appropriate formula. Deacons anointed the males, deaconesses the females. (i) They put on white garments and often baptismal wreaths or chaplets as well. In some churches they had worn cowls during the catechumenate, in sign of repentance of their sins. (j) They received the sign of the cross on the brow; the bishop usually dipped his thumb in the chrism and said: "In name of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, peace be with thee." In laying his hands on their heads the bishop in many places, especially in the West, called down upon them the sevenfold spirit. (k) The first communion followed, with milk and honey added. (l) Usually the water in the font was exorcized, blessed and chrism poured into it, just before the catechumen entered it. (m) Easter was the usual season of baptism, but in the East Epiphany was equally favoured. Pentecost was sometimes chosen. We hear of all three feasts being habitually chosen in Jerusalem early in the 4th century, but fifty years later baptisms seem to have been almost confined to Easter. The preparatory fasts of the catechumens must have helped to establish the Lenten fast, if indeed they were not its origin.
Certain features of baptism as used during the earlier centuries must now be noticed. They are the following:—(1) Use of fonts; (2) Status of baptizer; (3) Immersion, submersion or aspersion; (4) Exorcism; (5) Baptismal formula and trine immersion; (6) The age of baptism; (7) Confirmation; (8) Disciplina arcani; (9) Regeneration; (10) Relation to repentance; (11) Baptism for the dead; (12) Use of the name; (13) Origin of the institution; (14) Analogous rites in other religions.
1. Fonts.—The New Testament, the Didachē, Justin, Tertullian and other early sources do not enjoin the use of a font, and contemplate in general the use of running or living water. It was a Jewish rule that in ablutions the water should run over and away from the parts of the body washed. In acts of martyrdom, as late as the age of Decius, we read of baptisms in rivers, in lakes and in the sea. In exceptional cases it sufficed for a martyr to be sprinkled with his own blood. But a martyr's death in itself was enough. Nearchus (c. 250) quieted the scruples of his unbaptized friend Polyeuctes, when on the scaffold he asked if it were possible to attain salvation without baptism, with this answer: "Behold, we see the Lord, when they brought to Him the blind that they might be healed, had nothing to say to them about the holy mystery, nor did He ask them if they had been baptized; but this only, whether they came to Him with true faith. Wherefore He asked them, Do ye believe that I am able to do this thing?"
Tertullian (c. 200) writes (de Bapt. iv.) thus: "It makes no difference whether one is washed in the sea or in a pool, in a river or spring, in a lake or a ditch. Nor can we distinguish between those whom John baptized (tinxit) in the Jordan and those whom Peter baptized in the Tiber." The custom of baptizing in the rivers when they are annually blessed at Epiphany, the feast of the Lord's baptism, still survives in Armenia and in the East generally. Those of the Armenians and Syrians who have retained adult baptism use rivers alone at any time of year.
The church of Tyre described by Eusebius (H.E. x. 4) seems to have had a font, and the church order of Macarius, bishop of Jerusalem (c. 311-335), orders the font to be placed in the same building as the altar, behind it and on the right hand; but the same order lays down that a font is not essential in cases of illness for "the Holy Spirit is not hindered by want of a vessel."
2. Status of Baptizer.—Ignatius (Smyrn. viii.) wrote that it is not lawful to baptize or hold an agapē (Lord's Supper) without the bishop. So Tertullian (de Bapt. xvii.) reserves the right of admitting to baptism and of conferring it to the summus sacerdos or bishop, Cyprian (Epist. lxxiii. 7) to bishops and priests. Later canons continued this restriction; and although in outlying parts of Christendom deacons claimed the right, the official churches accorded it to presbyters alone and none but bishops could perform the confirmation or seal. In the Montanist churches women baptized, and of this there are traces in the earliest church and in the Caucasus. Thus St Thekla baptized herself in her own blood, and St Nino, the female evangelist of Georgia, baptized king Mirian (see "Life of Nino," Studia Biblica, 1903). In cases of imminent death a layman or a woman could baptize, and in the case of new-born children it is often necessary.
3. Immersion or Aspersion.—The Didachē bids us "pour water on the head," and Christian pictures and sculptures ranging from the 1st to the 10th century represent the baptizand as standing in the water, while the baptizer pours water from his hand or from a bowl over his head. Even if we allow for the difficulty of representing complete submersion in art, it is nevertheless clear that it was not insisted on; nor were the earliest fonts, to judge from the ruins of them, large and deep enough for such an usage. The earliest literary notices of baptism are far from conclusive in favour of submersion, and are often to be regarded as merely rhetorical. The rubrics of the MSS., it is true, enjoin total immersion, but it only came into general vogue in the 7th century, "when the growing rarity of adult baptism made the Gr. word βαπτίζω) patient of an interpretation that suited that of infants only." The Key of Truth, the manual of the old Armenian Baptists, archaically prescribes that the penitent admitted into the church shall advance on his knees into the middle of the water and that the elect one or bishop shall then pour water over his head.
4. Exorcism.—The Didachē and Justin merely prescribe fasting, the use of which was to hurry the exit of evil spirits who, in choosing a nidus or tenement, preferred a well-fed body to an emaciated one, according to the belief embodied in the interpolated saying of Matt. xvii. 21: "This kind (of demon) goeth not forth except by prayer and fasting." The exorcisms tended to become longer and longer, the later the rite. The English prayer-book excludes them, as it also excludes the renunciation of the devil and all his angels, his pomps and works. These elements were old, but scarcely primitive; and the archaic rite of the Key of Truth (see Paulicians) is without them. Basil, in his work On the Holy Spirit, confesses his ignorance of how these and other features of his baptismal rite had originated. He instances the blessing of the water of baptism, of the oil of anointing and of the baptizand himself, the use of anointing him with oil, trine immersion, the formal renunciation of Satan and his angels. All these features, he says, had been handed down in an unpublished and unspoken teaching, in a silent and sacramental tradition.
5. The Baptismal Formula.—The trinitarian formula and trine immersion were not uniformly used from the beginning, nor did they always go together. The Teaching of the Apostles, indeed, prescribes baptism in the name of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, but on the next page speaks of those who have been baptized into the name of the Lord—the normal formula of the New Testament. In the 3rd century baptism in the name of Christ was still so widespread that Pope Stephen, in opposition to Cyprian of Carthage, declared it to be valid. From Pope Zachariah (Ep. x.) we learn that the Celtic missionaries in baptizing omitted one or more persons of the Trinity, and this was one of the reasons why the church of Rome anathematized them; Pope Nicholas, however (858-867), in the Responsa ad consulta Bulgarorum, allowed baptism to be valid tantum in nomine Christi, as in the Acts. Basil, in his work On the Holy Spirit just mentioned, condemns "baptism into the Lord alone" as insufficient. Baptism "into the death of Christ" is often specified by the Armenian fathers as that which alone was essential.
Ursinus, an African monk (in Gennad. de Scr. Eccl. xxvii.), Hilary (de Synodis, lxxxv.), the synod of Nemours (A.D. 1284), also asserted that baptism into the name of Christ alone was valid. The formula of Rome is, "I baptize thee in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit." In the East, "so-and-so, the servant of God, is baptized," &c. The Greeks add Amen after each person, and conclude with the words, "Now and ever and to aeons of aeons, amen."
We first find in Tertullian trine immersion explained from the triple invocation, Nam nec semel, sed ter, ad singula nomina in personas singulas tinguimur: "Not once, but thrice, for the several names, into the several persons, are we dipped" (adv. Prax. xxvi.). And Jerome says: "We are thrice plunged, that the one sacrament of the Trinity may be shown forth." On the other hand, in numerous fathers of East and West, e.g. Leo of Rome, Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, Theophylactus, Cyril of Jerusalem and others, trine immersion was regarded as being symbolic of the three days' entombment of Christ; and in the Armenian baptismal rubric this interpretation is enjoined, as also in an epistle of Macarius of Jerusalem addressed to the Armenians (c. 330). In Armenian writers this interpretation is further associated with the idea of baptism into the death of Christ.
Trine immersion then, as to the origin of which Basil confesses his ignorance, must be older than either of the rival explanations. These are clearly aetiological, and invented to explain an existing custom, which the church had adopted from its pagan medium. For pagan lustrations were normally threefold; thus Virgil writes (Aen. vi. 229): Ter socios pura circumtulit unda. Ovid (Met. vii. 189 and Fasti, iv. 315), Persius (ii. 16) and Horace (Ep. i. 1. 37) similarly speak of trine lustrations; and on the last mentioned passage the scholiast Acro remarks: "He uses the words thrice purely, because people in expiating their sins, plunge themselves in thrice." Such examples of the ancient usage encounter us everywhere in Greek and Latin antiquity.
6. Age of Baptism.—In the oldest Greek, Armenian, Syrian and other rites of baptism, a service of giving a Christian (i.e. non-pagan) name, or of sealing a child on its eighth day, is found. According to it the priest, either at the door of the church or at the home, blessed the infant, sealed it (this not in Armenia) with the sign of the cross on its forehead, and prayed that in due season (ἐν καιρῷ εὐθέτῳ) or at the proper time (Armenian) it may enter the holy Catholic church. This rite announces itself as the analogue of Christ's circumcision.
On the fortieth day from birth another rite is prescribed, of churching the child, which is now taken into the church with its mother. Both are blessed by the clergy, whose petition now is that God "may preserve this child and cause him to grow up by the unseen grace of His power and made him worthy in due season of the washing of baptism." As the first rite corresponds to the circumcision and naming of Jesus, so does the second to His presentation in the temple. These two rites really begin the catechumenate or period of instruction in the faith and discipline of the church. It depended on the individual how long he would wait for initiation. Whenever he felt inclined, he gave in his name as a candidate. This was usually done at the beginning of Lent. The bishop and clergy next examined the candidates one by one, and ascertained from their neighbours whether they had led such exemplary lives as to be worthy of admission. In case of strangers from another church certificates of character had to be produced. If a man seemed unworthy, the bishop dismissed him until another occasion, when he might be worthier; but if all was satisfactory he was admitted, in the West as a competens or asker, in the East as a φωτιζόμενος, i.e. one in course of being illumined. Usually two sponsors made themselves responsible for the past life of the candidate and for the sincerity of his faith and repentance. The essential thing was that a man should come to baptism of his own free will and not under compulsion or from hope of gain. Macarius of Jerusalem (op. cit.) declares that the grace of the spirit is given in answer to our prayers and entreaties for it, and that even a font is not needful, but only the wish and desire for grace. Tertullian, however, in his work On Baptism, holds that even that is not always enough. Some girls and boys at Carthage had asked to be baptized, and there were some who urged the granting of their request on the score that Christ said: "Forbid them not to come unto Me" (Matt. xix. 14), and: "To each that asketh thee give" (Luke vi. 30). Tertullian replies that "We must beware of giving the holy thing to dogs and of casting pearls before swine." He cites 1 Tim. v. 22: "Lay not on thy hands hastily, lest thou share in another's sins." He denies that the precedents of the eunuch baptized by Philip or of Paul baptized without hesitation by Simon (to which the other party appealed) were relevant. He dwells on the risk run by the sponsors, in case the candidates for whose purity they went bail should fall into sin. It is more expedient, he concludes, to delay baptism. Why should persons still in the age of innocence be in a hurry to be baptized and win remission of sins? Let people first learn to feel their need of salvation, so that we may be sure of giving it only to those who really want it. Especially let the unmarried postpone it. The risks of the age of puberty are extreme. Let people have married or be anyhow steeled in continence before they are admitted to baptism. It would appear from the homilies of Aphraates (c. 340) that in the Syriac church also it was usual to renounce the married relation after baptism. Cyril of Jerusalem, in his Catecheses, insists on "the longing for the heavenly polity, on the goodly resolution and attendant hope" of the catechumen (Pro. Cat. ch. 1.). If the resolution be not genuine, the bodily washing, he says, profits nothing. "God asks for nothing else except a goodly determination. Say not: How can my sins be wiped out? I tell thee, by willing, by believing" (ch. viii.). So again (Cat. 1. ch. iii.) "God gives not his holy treasures to the dogs; but where he sees the goodly determination, there he bestows the seed of salvation.... Those then who would receive the spiritual saving seal have need of a determination and will of their own.... Grace has need of faith on our part." In Jerusalem, therefore, whither believers flocked from all over Christendom to be buried, the official point of view as late as A.D. 350 was entirely that of Tertullian. Tertullian's scruples were not long respected in Carthage, for in Cyprian's works (c. 250.) we already hear of new-born infants being baptized. In the same region of Africa, however, Monica would not let her son Augustine be baptized in boyhood, though he clamoured to be. She was a conservative. In the Greek world thirty was a usual age in the 4th century for persons to be baptized, in imitation of Christ. It is still the age preferred by the Baptists of Armenia. But it was often delayed until the deathbed, for the primitive idea that mortal sins committed after baptism were sins against the Holy Spirit and unforgivable, still influenced men, and survived among the Cathars up to the 14th century. The fathers, however, of the 4th century emphasized already the danger of deferring the rite until men fall into mortal sickness, when they may be unconscious or paralysed or otherwise unable to profess their faith and repentance, or to swallow the viaticum. Gregory Theologus therefore (c. 340) suggests the age of three years as suitable for baptism, because by then a child is old enough, if not to understand the questions put to him, at any rate to speak and make the necessary responses. Gregory sanctions the baptism of infants only where there is imminent danger of death. "It is better that they should be sanctified without their own sense of it than that they pass away unsealed and uninitiated." And he justifies his view by this, that circumcision, which foreshadowed the Christian seal (σφραγίς), was imposed on the eighth day on those who as yet had no use of reason. He also urges the analogue of "the anointing of the doorposts, which preserved the first-born by things that have no sense." On such grounds was justified the transition of a baptism which began as a spontaneous act of self-consecration into an opus operatum. How long after this it was before infant baptism became normal inside the Byzantine church, we do not exactly know, but it was natural that mothers should insist on their children being liberated from Satan and safeguarded from demons as soon as might be. The change came more quickly in Latin than in Greek Christendom, and very slowly indeed in the Armenian and Georgian churches. Augustine's insistence on original sin, a doctrine never quite accepted in his sense in the East, hurried on the change.
7. Confirmation.—In the West, however, the sacrament has been saved from becoming merely magical by the rite of confirmation or of reception of the Spirit being separated from the baptism of regeneration and reserved for an adult age. The English church confirms at fifteen or sixteen; the Roman rather earlier. The catechetic course, which formerly preceded the complete rite, now intervenes between its two halves; and the sponsors who formerly attested the worthiness of the candidate and received him up as anadochi out of the font, have become god-parents, who take the baptismal vows vicariously for infants who cannot answer for themselves. In the East, on the contrary, the complete rite is read over the child, who is thus confirmed from the first. The Roman church already foreshadowed the change and gave a peculiar salience to confirmation as early as the 3rd century, when it decreed that persons already baptized by heretics, but reverting to the church should not be baptized over again, but only have hands laid on them. It was otherwise in Africa and the East. Here they insisted in such cases on a repetition of the entire rite, baptism and confirmation together. The Cathars (q.v.) of the middle ages discarded water baptism altogether as being a Jewish rite, but retained the laying on of hands with the traditio precis as sufficient initiation. This they called the spiritual baptism, and interpreted Matt. xxviii. 19, as a command to practise it, and not water baptism.
8. Disciplina arcani.—The communication to the candidates of the Creed and Lord's Prayer was a solemn rite. Cyril of Jerusalem, in his instruction of the catechumens, urges them to learn the Creed by heart, but not write it down. On no account must they divulge it to unbaptized persons. The same rule already meets us in Clement of Alexandria before the year 200. In time this rule gave rise to what is called the Disciplina arcani. Following the fashion of the pagan mysteries in which men were only permitted to gaze upon the sacred objects after minute lustrations and scrupulous purifications, Christian teachers came to represent the Creed, Lord's Prayer and Lord's Supper as mysteries to be guarded in silence and never divulged either to the unbaptized or to the pagans. And yet Justin Martyr, Tertullian and other apologists of the 2nd century had found nothing to conceal from the eye and ear of pagan emperors and their ministers. In the 3rd century this love of mystification reached the pitch of hiding even the gospels from the unclean eyes of pagans. Probably Mgr. Pierre Battifol is correct in supposing that the Disciplina arcani was more or less of a make-believe, a bit of belletristic trifling on the part of the over-rhetorical Fathers of the 4th and 5th centuries. It is in them that the atmosphere of mystery attains a maximum of intensity. They clearly felt themselves called upon to out-trump the pagan Mystae. Yet it is inconceivable that men and women should spend years, even whole lives, as catechumens within the pale of the church, and really remain ignorant all the time of the Trinitarian Epiclesis used in baptism, of the Creed, and above all of the Lord's Prayer. Wherever the Disciplina arcani, i.e. the obligation to keep secret the formula of the threefold name, the creed based on it and the Lord's Prayer, was taken seriously, it was akin to the scruple which exists everywhere among primitive religionists against revealing to the profane the knowledge of a powerful name or magic formula. The name of a deity was often kept secret and not allowed to be written down, as among the Jews.
9. Regeneration.—The idea of regeneration seldom occurs in the New Testament, and perhaps not at all in connexion with baptism; for in the conversation with Nicodemus, John iii. 3-8, the words "of water and" in v. 5 offend the context, spiritual re-birth alone being insisted upon in vv. 3, 6, 7 and 8; moreover, Justin Martyr, who cites v. 5, seems to omit them. Nor is there any mention of water in ch. i. 13, where, according to the oldest text, Christ is represented as having been born or begotten not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
In 1 Pet. i. 3, it is said of the saints that God the Father begat them anew unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus, and in v. 23 that they have been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible through the word of God. But here again it is not clear that the writer has in view water baptism or any rite at all as the means and occasion of regeneration. In the conversation with Nicodemus we seem to overhear a protest against the growing tendency of the last years of the 1st century to substitute formal sacraments for the free afflatus of the spirit, and to "crib, cabin and confine" the gift of prophecy.
The passage where re-birth is best put forward in connexion with baptism is Luke iii. 22, where ancient texts, including the Gospel of the Hebrews, read, "Thou art my beloved Son, this day have I begotten Thee." These words were taken in the sense that Jesus was then re-born of the Spirit an adoptive Son of God and Messiah; and with this reading is bound up the entire adoptionist school of Christology. It apparently underlies the symbolizing of Christ as a fish in the art of the catacombs, and in the literature of the 2nd century. Tertullian prefaces with this idea his work on baptism. Nos pisciculi secundum ΙΧΘΥΝ nostrum Jesum Christum in aqua nascimur. "We little fishes, after the example of our Fish Jesus Christ, are born in the water." So about the year 440 the Gaulish poet Orientius wrote of Christ; Piscis natus aquis, auctor baptismatis ipse est. "A fish born of the waters is himself originator of baptism."
But before his time and within a hundred years of Tertullian this symbolism in its original significance had become heretical, and the orthodox were thrown back on another explanation of it. This was that the word ΙΧΘΥΣ is made up of the letters which begin the Greek words meaning "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour." An entire mythology soon grew up around the idea of re-birth. The font was viewed as the womb of the virgin mother church, who was in some congregations, for example, in the early churches of Gaul, no abstraction, but a divine aeon watching over and sympathizing with the children of her womb, the recipient even of hymns of praise and humble supplications. Other mythoplastic growths succeeded, one of which must be noticed. The sponsors or anadochi, who, after the introduction of infant baptism came to be called god-fathers and god-mothers, were really in a spiritual relation to the children they took up out of the font. This relation was soon by the canonists identified with the blood-tie which connects real parents with their offspring, and the corollary drawn that children, who in baptism had the same god-parent, were real brothers and sisters, who might not marry either each the other or real children of the said god-parent. The reformed churches have set aside this fiction, but in the Latin and Eastern churches it has created a distinct and very powerful marriage taboo.
10. Relation to Repentance.—Baptism justified the believer, that is to say, constituted him a saint whose past sins were abolished. Sin after baptism excluded the sinner afresh from the divine grace and from the sacraments. He fell back into the status of a catechumen, and it was much discussed from the 2nd century onwards whether he could be restored to the church at all, and, if so, how. A rite was devised, called exhomologesis, by which, after a fresh term of repentance, marked by austerities more strict than any Trappist monk imposes on himself to-day, the persons lapsed from grace could re-enter the church. In effect this rite was a repetition of baptism, the water of the font alone being omitted. Such restoration could in the earlier church only be effected once. A second lapse from the state of grace entailed perpetual exclusion from the sacraments, the means of salvation. As has been remarked above, the terror of post-baptismal sin and the fact that only one restoration was allowable influenced many as late as the 4th century to remain catechumens all their lives, and, like Constantine, to receive baptism on the deathbed alone. The same scruples endured among the medieval Cathars. (See Penance and Novatianus.)
11. Baptism for the Dead.—Paul, in 1 Cor. xv. 29, glances at this as an established practice familiar to those whom he addresses. Three explanations are possible: (1) The saints before they were quickened or made alive together with Christ, were dead through their trespasses and sins. In baptism they were buried with Christ and rose, like Him, from the dead. We can, therefore, paraphrase v. 29 thus: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for their dead selves?” &c. It is in behalf of his own sinful, i.e. dead self, that the sinner is baptized and receives eternal life. (2) Contact with the dead entailed a pollution which lasted at least a day and must be washed away by ablutions, before a man is re-admitted to religious cult. This was the rule among the Jews. Is it possible that the words “for the dead” signify “because of contact with the dead”? (3) Both these explanations are forced, and it is more probable that by a make-believe common in all religions, and not unknown in the earliest church, the sins of dead relatives, about whose salvation their survivors were anxious, were transferred into living persons, who assumed for the nonce their names and were baptized in their behalf, so in vicarious wise rendering it possible for the sins of the dead to be washed away. The Mormons have this rite. The idea of transferring sin into another man or into an animal, and so getting it purged through him or it, was widespread in the age of Paul and long afterwards. Chrysostom says that the substitutes were put into the beds of the deceased, and assuming the voice of the dead asked for baptism and remission of sins. Tertullian and others attest this custom among the followers of Cerinthus and Marcion.
12. Use of the Name.—In Acts iv. 7, the rulers and priests of the Jews summon Peter and inquire by what power or in what name he has healed the lame. Here a belief is assumed which pervades ancient magic and religion. Only so far as we can get away from the modern view that a person's name is a trifling accident, and breathe the atmosphere which broods over ancient religions, can we understand the use of the name in baptisms, exorcisms, prayers, purifications and consecrations. For a name carried with it, for those who were so blessed as to be acquainted with it, whatever power and influence its owner wielded in heaven or on earth or under the earth. A vow or prayer formulated in or through a certain name was fraught with the prestige of him whose name it was. Thus the psalmist addressing Jehovah cries (Ps. liv. 1): “Save me, O God, by Thy name, and judge me in Thy might.” And in Acts iii. 16, it is the name itself which renders strong and whole the man who believed therein. In Acts xviii. 15, the Jews assail Paul because he has trusted and appealed to the name of a Messiah whom they regard as an overthrower of the law; for Paul believed that God had invested Jesus with a name above all names, potent to constrain and overcome all lesser powers, good or evil, in heaven or earth or under earth. Baptism then in the name or through the name or into the name of Christ placed the believer under the influence and tutelage of Christ's personality, as before he was in popular estimation under the influence of stars and horoscope. Nay, more, it imported that personality into him, making him a limb or member of Christ's body, and immortal as Christ was immortal. Nearly all the passages in which the word name is used in the New Testament become more intelligible if it be rendered personality. In Rev. xi. 13, the revisers are obliged to render it by persons, and should equally have done so in iii. 4: “Thou hast a few names (i.e. persons) in Sardis which did not defile their garments.” (See Consecration.)
13. Origin of Christian Baptism.—When it is asked, Was this a continuance of the baptism of John or was it merely the baptism of proselytes?—a distinction is implied between the two latter which was not always real. In relation to the publicans and soldiers who, smitten with remorse, sought out John in the wilderness, his baptism was a purification from their past and so far identical with the proselyte's bath; but so far as it raised them up to be children unto Abraham and filled them with the Messianic hope, it advanced them further than that bath could do, and assured them of a place in the kingdom of God, soon to be established—this, without imposing circumcision on them; for the ordinary proselyte was circumcised as well as baptized. For the Jews, however, who came to John, his baptism could not have the significance of the proselyte’s baptism, but rather accorded with another baptism undergone by Jews who wished to consecrate their lives by stricter study and practice of the law. So Epictetus remarks that he only really understands Judaism who knows “the baptized Jew” (τὸν βεβαμμένον). We gather from Acts xix. 4, that John had merely baptized in the name of the coming Messiah, without identifying him with Jesus of Nazareth. The apostolic age supplied this identification, and the normal use during it seems to have been “into Christ Jesus,” or “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,” or “of Jesus Christ” simply, or “of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul explains these formulas as being equivalent to “into the death of Christ Jesus,” as if the faithful were in the rite raised from death into everlasting life. The likeness of the baptismal ceremony with Christ's death and resurrection ensured a real union with him of the believer who underwent the ceremony, according to the well-known principle in sacris simulata pro veris accipi.
But opinion was still fluid about baptism in the apostolic age, especially as to its connexion with the descent of the Spirit. The Spirit falls on the disciples and others at Pentecost without any baptism at all, and Paul alone of the apostles was baptized. So far was the afflatus of the Spirit from being conditioned by the rite, that in Acts x. 44 ff., the gift of the Spirit was first poured out upon the Gentiles who heard the word preached so that they spoke with tongues, and it was only after these manifestations that they were baptized with water in the name of Jesus Christ at the instance of Peter. We can divine from this passage why Paul was so eager himself to preach the word, and left it to others to baptize.
But as a rule the repentant underwent baptism in the name of Christ Jesus, and washed away their sins before hands were laid upon them unto reception of the Spirit. Apollos, who only knew the baptism of John (Acts xviii. 24), needed only instruction in the prophetic gnosis at the hands of Priscilla and Aquila in order to become a full disciple. On the other hand, in Acts xix. 1-7, twelve disciples, for such they were already accounted, who had been baptized into John's baptism, i.e. into the name of him that should follow John, but had not even heard of the Holy Spirit, are at Paul's instance re-baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Paul himself lays hands on them and the Holy Ghost comes upon them, so that they speak with tongues and prophecy. Not only do we hear of these varieties of practice, but also of the laying on of hands together with prayer as a substantive rite unconnected with baptism. The seven deacons were so ordained. And this rite of laying on hands, which was in antiquity a recognized way of transmitting the occult power or virtue of one man into another, is used in Acts ix. 17, by Ananias, in order that Paul may recover his sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost. Saul and Barnabas equally are separated for a certain missionary work by imposition of hands with prayer and fasting, and are so sent forth by the Holy Ghost. It was also a way of healing the sick (Acts xxviii. 8), and as such accompanied by anointing with oil (Jas. v. 14). The Roman church then had early precedents for separating confirmation from baptism. It would also appear that in the primitive age confirmation and ordination were one and the same rite; and so they continued to be among the dissident believers of the middle ages, who, however, often dropped the water rite altogether. (See Cathars.) More than one sect of the 2nd century rejected water baptism on the ground that knowledge of the truth in itself makes us free, and that external material washing of a perishable body cannot contribute to the illumination of the inner man, complete without it. St Paul himself recognizes (1 Cor. vii. 14) that children, one of whose parents only is a believer, are ipso facto not unclean, but holy. Even an unbelieving husband or wife is sanctified by a believing partner. If we remember the force of the words ἅγιος ἁγιάζω (cf. 1 Cor. i. 2), here used of children and parents, we realize how far off was St Paul from the positions of Augustine.
The question arises whether Jesus Himself instituted baptism as a condition of entry into the Messianic kingdom. The fourth gospel (iii. 22, and iv. 1) asserts that Jesus Himself baptized on a greater scale than the Baptist, but immediately adds that Jesus Himself baptized not, but only His disciples, as if the writer felt that he had too boldly contradicted the older tradition of the other gospels. Nor in these is it recorded that the disciples baptized during their Master's lifetime; indeed the very contrary is implied. There remain two texts in which the injunction to baptize is attributed to Jesus, namely, Mark xvi. 16 and Matt. xxviii. 18-20. Of these the first is part of an appendix headed "of Ariston the elder" in an old Armenian codex, and taken perhaps from the lost compilations of Papias; as to the other text, it has been doubted by many critics, e.g. Neander, Harnack, Dr Armitage Robinson and James Martineau, whether it represents a real utterance of Christ and not rather the liturgical usage of the region in which the first gospel was compiled. The circumstance, unknown to these critics when they made their conjectures, that Eusebius Pamphili, in nearly a score of citations, substitutes the words "in My Name" for the words "baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost," renders their conjectures superfluous. Aphraates also in citing the verse substitutes "and they shall believe in Me"—a paraphrase of "in My Name." The first gospel thus falls into line with the rest of the New Testament.
14. Analogous Rites in other Religions (see also Purification).—The Fathers themselves were the first to recognize that "the devil too had his sacraments," and that the Eleusinian, Isiac, Mithraic and other mystae used baptism in their rites of initiation. But it is not to be supposed that the Christians borrowed from these or from any Gentile source any essential features of their baptismal rites. Baptism was long before the advent of Jesus imposed on proselytes, and existed inside Judaism itself.
It has been remarked that the developed ceremony of baptism, with its threefold renunciation, resembles the ceremony of Roman law known as emancipatio, by which the patria potestas (or power of life and death of the father over his son) was extinguished. Under the law of the XII. Tables the father lost it, if he three times sold his child. This suggested a regular procedure, according to which the father sold his son thrice into mancipium, while after each sale the fictitious vendee enfranchized the son, by manumissio vindicta, i.e. by laying his rod (vindicta) on the slave and claiming him as free (vindicatio in libertatem). Then the owner also laid his rod on the slave, declaring his intention to enfranchise him, and the praetor by his addictor confirmed the owner's declaration. The third manumission thus gave to the son and slave his freedom. It is possible that this common ceremony of Roman law suggested the triple abrenunciatio of Satan. Like the legal ceremony, baptism freed the believer from one (Satan) who, by the mere fact of the believer's birth, had power of death over him. And as the legal manumission dissolved a son's previous agnatic relationships, so, too, the person baptized gave up father and mother, &c., and became one of a society of brethren the bond between whom was not physical but spiritual. The idea of adoption in baptism as a son and heir of God was almost certainly taken by Paul from Roman law.
The ceremony of turning to the west three times with renunciation of the Evil One, then to the east, is exactly paralleled in a rite of purification by water common among the Malays and described by Skeat in his book on Malay magic. If the Malay rite is not derived through Mahommedanism from Christianity, it is a remarkable example of how similar psychological conditions can produce almost identical rites.
The idea of spiritual re-birth, so soon associated with baptism, was of wide currency in ancient religions. It is met with in Philo of Alexandria and was familiar to the Jews. Thus the proselyte is said in the Talmud to resemble a child and must bathe in the name of God. The Jordan is declared in 2 Kings v. 10 to be a cleansing medium, and Naaman's cure was held to pre-figure Christian baptism. Jerome relates that the Jew who taught him Hebrew communicated to him a teaching of the Rabbi Baraciba, that the inner man who rises up in us at the fourteenth year after puberty (i.e. at 29) is better than the man who is born from the mother's womb.
In a Paris papyrus edited by Albr. Dieterich (Leipzig, 1903) under the title of Eine Mithrasliturgie, an ancient mystic describes his re-birth in impressive language. In a prayer addressed to "First birth of my birth, first beginning (or principle) of my beginning, first spirit of the spirit in me," he prays "to be restored to his deathless birth (genesis), albeit he is let and hindered by his underlying nature, to the end that according to the pressing need and spur of his longing he may gaze upon the deathless principle with deathless spirit, through the deathless water, through the solid and the air; that he may be re-born through reason (or idea), that he may be consecrated, and the holy spirit breathe in him, that he may admire the holy fire, that he may behold the abyss of the Orient, dread water, and that he may be heard of the quickening and circumambient ether; for this day he is about to gaze on the revealed reality with deathless eyes; a mortal born of mortal womb, he has been enhanced in excellence by the might of the All-powerful and by the right hand of the Deathless one," &c.
This is but one specimen of the pious ejaculations, which in the first centuries were rising from the lips of thousands of mystae, in Egypt, Asia Minor, Italy and elsewhere. The idea of re-birth was in the air; it was the very keynote of all the solemn initiations and mysteries—Mythraic, Orphic, Eleusinian—through which repentant pagans secured pardon and eternal bliss. Yet there is not much evidence that the church directly borrowed many of its ceremonies or interpretations from outside sources. They for the most part originated among the believers, and not improbably the outside cults borrowed as much from the church as it from them.
(F. C. C.)
- James Darmesteter, in "Introd. to the Vendidad," in the Sacred Books of the East.
- Rogers' essay on Baptism and Christian Archaeology in Studia Biblica, vol. v.
- Études historiques, Essai sur Disc. arc. (Paris 1902).