Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume IV/Donatist Controversy/On Baptism/Book IV/Chapter 21
Chapter 21.—29. With regard to the objection brought against Cyprian, that the catechumens who were seized in martyrdom, and slain for Christ’s name’s sake, received a crown even without baptism, I do not quite see what it has to do with the matter, unless, indeed, they urged that heretics could much more be admitted with baptism to Christ’s kingdom, to which catechumens were admitted without it, since He Himself has said, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." Now, in this matter I do not hesitate for a moment to place the Catholic catechumen, who is burning with love for God, before the baptized heretic; nor yet do we thereby do dishonor to the sacrament of baptism which the latter has already received, the former not as yet; nor do we consider that the sacrament of the catechumen is to be preferred to the sacrament of baptism, when we acknowledge that some catechumens are better and more faithful than some baptized persons. For the centurion Cornelius, before baptism, was better than Simon, who had been baptized. For Cornelius, even before his baptism, was filled with the Holy Spirit; Simon, even after baptism, was puffed up with an unclean spirit. Cornelius, however, would have been convicted of contempt for so holy a sacrament, if, even after he had received the Holy Ghost, he had refused to be baptized. But when he was baptized, he received in no wise a better sacrament than Simon; but the different merits of the men were made manifest under the equal holiness of the same sacrament—so true is it that the good or ill deserving of the recipient does not increase or diminish the holiness of baptism. But as baptism is wanting to a good catechumen to his receiving the kingdom of heaven, so true conversion is wanting to a bad man though baptized. For He who said, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God," said also Himself, "except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." For that the righteousness of the catechumens might not feel secure, it is written, "Except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." And again, that the unrighteousness of the baptized might not feel secure because they had received baptism, it is written, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." The one were too little without the other; the two make perfect the heir of that inheritance. As, then, we ought not to depreciate a man’s righteousness, which begins to exist before he is joined to the Church, as the righteousness of Cornelius began to exist before he was in the body of Christian men,—which righteousness was not thought worthless, or the angel would not have said to him, "Thy prayers and thine alms are come up as a memorial before God;" nor did it yet suffice for his obtaining the kingdom of heaven, or he would not have been told to send to Peter,—so neither ought we to depreciate the sacrament of baptism, even though it has been received outside the Church. But since it is of no avail for salvation unless he who has baptism indeed in full perfection be incorporated into the Church, correcting also his own depravity, let us therefore correct the error of the heretics, that we may recognize what in them is not their own but Christ’s.
- John iii. 5.
- Another reading, of less authority, is, "Aut catechumeno sacramentum baptismi præferendum putamus." This does not suit the sense of the passage, and probably sprung from want of knowledge of the meaning of the "catechumen’s sacrament." It is mentioned in the Council of Carthage, A.D. 397, as "the sacrament of salt" (cap. 5). Augustin (de Peccat. Meritis, ii. c. 26), says that "what the catechumens receive, though it be not the body of Christ, yet is holy, more holy than the food whereby our bodies are sustained, because it is a sacrament."—Cp. de Catech. Rudibus, c. 26 [Bened.]. It appears to have been only a taste of salt, given them as the emblem of purity and incorruption. See Bingham, Orig. Eccles. Book x. c. ii. 16.
- Acts x. 44.
- Acts viii. 13, 18, 19.
- Matt. v. 20.
- Acts x. 4, 5.