Baptist History From the Foundation of the Christian Church to the Present Time
By J.M. Cramp, D.D. 1796-1881
Infant Baptism Excluded:
“The catechumen institution may be traced back to an early period-as far as the second century. At first, as we gather from the New Testament, converts were baptized as soon as they acknowledged Christ. Afterwards, it was judged expedient to prepare them for baptism by a course of instruction, generally extending, as Baron Bunsen states in the above-cited passage, to three years. In the first ages they experienced Christianity, and then professed it. In after times they learned Christianity, and that, in too many instances, was all: conversion and experience were unknown. But this catechumenical system was adapted to those only who were able to learn, and therefore excluded infants. Its very existence was incompatible with infantbaptism; and the consequence was, that when the latter became general the former disappeared, or dwindled down to an unmeaning form.”
No Provision for Infants:
“It is a very noticeable fact, that the baptismal service, as prescribed in the earliest liturgies, was prepared for Catechumens only. There was no provision for infants. Had infant-baptism been then in existence, the ecclesiastical arrangements would have recognized it, and there would have been a twofold service, as there is now in the Church of England, one for infant, and the other for ‘those of riper years.'”
A.D. 254 to A.D. 604 was a period of transition in which the church moved from confessors baptism to infant baptism:
“… because, so far as baptism was concerned, and, indeed, in many other particulars which might be adduced if needful, the ecclesiastical system was in a formative state. It was neither one thing nor the other, but a mixture of incongruities. The catechumenical arrangement was founded on the theory of baptism on a personal profession of faith, and so far accorded with the New Testament.”
The Baptism of Infants Progressed:
“infant-baptism had sprung up in Northern Africa, and was gradually extending itself through the powerful influence of Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, who wrote largely on the subject. His sheet-anchor in the argument was the supposed efficacy of baptism in removing the defilement of original sin. These two theories were in opposition to each other, for if all candidates for baptism were to become catechumens and receive preparatory instruction, infant-baptism had no place. Yet there it was, daily gaining ground. Augustine’s authority gave it the advantage in the West; but in the East, the baptism of children from three to ten years of age, who could in some sort answer for themselves, lingered much longer. And great numbers followed the example of the Emperor Constantine, who deferred his baptism till the latest possible period, that all his sins might be washed away at once, as he, poor man, vainly imagined they would be, by the administration of the ordinance. Thus we find a great diversity of practice. There was infant-baptism spreading from North Africa—child-baptism prevalent in the East—catechumen-baptism, properly so called, the ordinary mode of admitting converts—and procrastinated-baptism, including such cases as Constantine’s. We see, then, that this period is rightly termed the ‘Transition Period.'”
Gregory, Chrysostom, Basil & Ephrem:
“Gregory Nazianzen, Archbishop of Constantinople, who died in the year 389, and whose father was Bishop of Nazianzen, was not baptized till he was nearly thirty years old. He expressly intimated his disapproval of infant-baptism, in one of his public discourses, and advised that children should not be baptized till they were three years old or more, at which time they might be able to answer the questions proposed to candidates.
Chrysostom, the golden-mouthed preacher, also Archbishop of Constantinople, and born of Christian parents, received baptism at the age of twenty-eight. He died in the year 407.
Basil of Caesarea, though he could boast of Christian ancestry for several generations, was not baptized till he was twenty-seven years old. Addressing Catechumens, he says (A. D. 350), “Do you demur, and loiter, and put it off, when you have been from a child catechized in the Word? Are you not acquainted with the truth? Having been always learning it, are you not yet come to the knowledge of it? A seeker all your life long, a considerer till you are old? When will you become one of us?” Observe—“from a child catechized”—but baptism still delayed.
Ephrem of Edessa, a learned writer of the Syriac Church (died A.D. 378), was born of parents who, as Alban Butler remarks, “were ennobled by the blood of martyrs in their family, and had themselves both confessed Christ before the persecutors, under Diocletian or his successors. They consecrated Ephrem to God from his cradle, like another Samuel, but he was eighteen years old when he was baptized.” They would be called good Baptists in these times. They “consecrated” their child, that is, prayed for him, and trained him “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord;” but they did not think of his being baptized till he was a believer, which was not till he was “eighteen years old.” Would they have acted thus, if infant‑baptism had been the universal and binding practice of the Church?”
Cramp quoting Bingham’s “Antiquities” on the practice of immersion:
“Cyril of Jerusalem” (died A.D. 386) “makes it an emblem of the Holy Ghost’s effusion upon the Apostles; for as he that goes down into the water and is baptized is surrounded on all sides by the water, so the Apostles were baptized all over by the Spirit; the water surrounds the body externally, but the Spirit incomprehensibly baptizes the interior soul.”
“So St. Ambrose” (died A.D. 396) “explains it. ‘Thou wast asked, Dost thou believe in God the Father Almighty? And didst thou answer, I believe; and then, thou wast immerged in water, that is, buried.”’
“St. Chrysostom” (died A.D. 407) “proves the resurrection from this practice; ‘for,’ says he, ‘our being baptized and immerged into the water, and our rising again out of it, is a symbol of our descending into hell or the grave, and of our returning from thence.’”
“St. Jerome” (died A.D. 420) “makes this ceremony to be a symbol of the Unity as well as the Trinity. ‘For,’ says he, ‘we are thrice dipped in the water, that the mystery of the Trinity may appear to be but one; we are not baptized in the names of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, but in one name, which is God.’”
“St. Augustine” (died A.D. 430) “tells us there was a twofold mystery signified in this way of baptizing. The trine immersion was both a symbol of the Holy Trinity, in whose name we are baptized, and also a type of the Lord’s burial, and of His resurrection on the third day from the dead. For we are buried with Christ by baptism, and rise again with Him by faith.”
Leo the Great (died A.D. 461) says, “The trine immersion is an imitation of the three days’ burial; and the rising again out of the water is an image of Christ rising from the grave.”
Gregory the Great (died A.D. 604) wrote thus to Leander, Bishop of Seville:—“Concerning the three immersions in baptism, you have judged very truly already, that different rites and customs do not prejudice the Holy Church, whilst the unity of faith remains entire. The reason why we use three immersions at Rome is to signify the mystery of Christ’s three days’ burial, that whilst an infant is thrice lifted up out of the water the resurrection on the third day may be expressed thereby. But if anyone thinks this is rather done in regard to the Holy Trinity, a single immersion in baptism does no way prejudice that; for so long as the unity of substance is preserved in Three Persons, it is no harm whether a child be baptized with one immersion or three; because three immersions may represent the Trinity of Persons, and one immersion the Unity of the Godhead.”
A comment on baptistries:
“At first, baptism was administered in rivers, pools, baths, wherever a sufficient quantity of water could be conveniently obtained. In the fourth century, baptisteries began to be erected. These were large buildings, contiguous to the churches. There was usually but one in a city, attached to the bishop’s or cathedral church. The baptistery proper, or font, was in the center of the building, and at the sides were numerous apartments for the accommodation of the candidates. Several of these baptisteries yet remain, and have been frequently described by travelers. The baptisteries at Rome (in the church of St. John Lateran), Ravenna, Florence, Pisa, and Parma may be particularly mentioned. The fonts in these baptisteries are from three to four feet‑deep, and of proportionate size. Of course they were intended for immersion”.