Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume III/Ethical/On Baptism/XVII

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Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. III, Ethical, On Baptism by Tertullian, translated by Sydney Thelwall

Chapter XVII.—Of the Power of Conferring Baptism.

For concluding our brief subject,[1] it remains to put you in mind also of the due observance of giving and receiving baptism. Of giving it, the chief priest[2] (who is the bishop) has the right: in the next place, the presbyters and deacons, yet not without the bishop’s authority, on account of the honour of the Church, which being preserved, peace is preserved. Beside these, even laymen have the right; for what is equally received can be equally given. Unless bishops, or priests, or deacons, be on the spot, other disciples are called i.e. to the work. The word of the Lord ought not to be hidden by any: in like manner, too, baptism, which is equally God’s property,[3] can be administered by all. But how much more is the rule[4] of reverence and modesty incumbent on laymen—seeing that these powers[5] belong to their superiors—lest they assume to themselves the specific[6] function of the bishop! Emulation of the episcopal office is the mother of schisms.  The most holy apostle has said, that “all things are lawful, but not all expedient.”[7] Let it suffice assuredly, in cases of necessity, to avail yourself (of that rule[8], if at any time circumstance either of place, or of time, or of person compels you (so to do); for then the stedfast courage of the succourer, when the situation of the endangered one is urgent, is exceptionally admissible; inasmuch as he will be guilty of a human creature’s loss if he shall refrain from bestowing what he had free liberty to bestow. But the woman of pertness,[9] who has usurped the power to teach, will of course not give birth for herself likewise to a right of baptizing, unless some new beast shall arise[10] like the former; so that, just as the one abolished baptism,[11] so some other should in her own right confer it! But if the writings which wrongly go under Paul’s name, claim Thecla’s example as a licence for women’s teaching and baptizing, let them know that, in Asia, the presbyter who composed that writing,[12] as if he were augmenting Paul’s fame from his own store, after being convicted, and confessing that he had done it from love of Paul, was removed[13] from his office. For how credible would it seem, that he who has not permitted a woman[14] even to learn with over-boldness, should give a female[15] the power of teaching and of baptizing! “Let them be silent,” he says, “and at home consult their own husbands.”[16]


  1. Materiolam.
  2. Summus sacerdos. Compare de Orat. xxviii., “nos…veri sacerdotes,” etc.:  and de Ex. Cast. c. vii., “nonne et laici sacerdotes sumus?”
  3. Census.
  4. Disciplina.
  5. i.e. the powers of administering baptism and “sowing the word.”  [i.e. “The Keys.” Scorpiace, p. 643.]
  6. Dicatum.
  7. 1 Cor. x. 23, where μοι in the received text seems interpolated.
  8. Or, as Oehler explains it, of your power of baptizing, etc.
  9. Quintilla. See c. i.
  10. Evenerit. Perhaps Tertullian means literally—though that sense of the word is very rare—“shall issue out of her,” alluding to his “pariet” above.
  11. See c. i. ad fin.
  12. The allusion is to a spurious work entitled Acta Pauli et Theclæ. [Of which afterwards. But see Jones, on the Canon, II. p. 353, and Lardner, Credibility, II. p. 305.]
  13. Decessisse.
  14. Mulieri.
  15. Fœminæ.
  16. 1 Cor. xiv. 34, 35.