Notes on the subject of Baptism

Baptist History From the Foundation of the Christian Church to the Present Time
By J.M. Cramp, D.D. 1796-1881baptism

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.[5]

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.”[6] 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”.

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2 thoughts on “Notes on the subject of Baptism

  1. I’m not sure what you are trying to say. At first, you are against infant baptism, then you quote extensively from Church fathers about being immersed or water being poured three times vs once. At the very end, you quote Pope St. Gregory the Great, who talks explicitly about baptizing children.

    I think it’s important to note that infant baptism was practiced in the early Church, and specifically by the Apostles. In Acts, Peter and Paul baptize entire families – which would include infants and small children not yet at the age of reason (Acts 16:15, 16:33, 1 Cor. 1:16 ). Even more to the point, nowhere in the Bible is infant baptism condemned, which is not insignificant.

    Further, the New Testament specifically compares circumcision and baptism, and how the latter replaces the former. Circumcision was performed to bring a male child into the Jewish faith, just as Baptism brings a person into the family of Christ. Specifically, children were circumcised on the eight day – they obviously didn’t choose to undergo the ritual. The parents brought them into the Jewish family and faith, knowing that at a later time, the child would obviously accept or reject his faith. As circumcision is replaced by baptism in Christianity, so it follows that infant baptism would be wholly acceptable in 1st century Christianity.

    Obviously, we don’t immediately baptize adults -there is a period of catechism, in order to instruct those who are of the age of reason to make a committed, informed choice, to follow Jesus. This is to ensure that one doesn’t make a weighty decision without all the facts, and to ensure that the believer truly believes, and is educated in the faith.

    Lastly, we can’t lose sight of what baptism confers, and why Christians should baptize their children. Baptism removes the stain of original sin. It is “regenerative,” i.e. it puts to death our sinfulness, and infuses sanctifying grace upon the soul. It imparts the very Spirit of God in us. It brings us into the family of Christ. It is adoption into the family of God, and we become a part of the Body of Christ. It is not merely a symbolic act. In fact, Peter very explicitly states that through baptism we are saved (1 Peter 3:21). Christ Himself was explicit about this as well: “Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” John 3:5.

    • Hi Jonathan, thank you for your comment. I have just a few quick points in reply.

      I’m not sure what you are trying to say. At first, you are against infant baptism, then you quote extensively from Church fathers about being immersed or water being poured three times vs once. At the very end, you quote Pope St. Gregory the Great, who talks explicitly about baptizing children.

      I do not believe paedobaptism is biblical and therefore cannot be historical. We have evidence that latter, around 250ad, infants were baptized. As the quote in my blog pointed out it wasn’t until after the teaching of baptismal regeneration, after the time of Augustine, that infant baptism became widespread. The quote from Gregory illustrates, that even if in error on who should be baptized, the mode was immersion. The Eastern Orthodox still practice immersion. The word baptism means immersion as I’m sure you know. We should not confuse the baptism of children with the baptism of infants. The Bible contains the earliest snap shot of church history and those who were baptized were baptized upon a confession of faith in Christ.

      I think it’s important to note that infant baptism was practiced in the early Church, and specifically by the Apostles. In Acts, Peter and Paul baptize entire families – which would include infants and small children not yet at the age of reason (Acts 16:15, 16:33, 1 Cor. 1:16 ). Even more to the point, nowhere in the Bible is infant baptism condemned, which is not insignificant.

      Jonathan, I understand your argument, but disagree with your use of the passages sited. We have no record of the Apostles practicing paedobapism recorded in Acts or 1 Corinthians. You are presupposing paedobaptism in Acts but that really is just an argument from silence. The writer of Acts explicitly teaches that people were baptized based on their confession of Jesus Christ as their saviour. When we come to chapter 16 we find no evidence of the baptism of infants and no need to ignore the explicit teaching concerning baptism in other passages such as Acts 8. If you use 1 Cor. to conclude that infants are made holy by their one believing parent you must also conclude the unbelieving spouse is also holy due to the faith of their partner and this isn’t a step you can make based on scripture.

      Further, the New Testament specifically compares circumcision and baptism, and how the latter replaces the former.

      I disagree and must ask, how so? If baptism replaces circumcision is it a 1 to 1 equal replacement ratio? To claim baptism replaces circumcision excludes female believers while including house servants and unbelievers. Abraham had over 300 servants and boys circumcised in Genesis (see chp. 14 and 17), would you baptize your unbelieving maid or housekeeper? The covenant that included the putting off of the flesh, the outward purifying of the body differs from baptism. You quoted 1 Peter in your comment, “is not the putting off of the filth of the flesh…” see also Hebrews 9.10

      Circumcision was performed to bring a male child into the Jewish faith, just as Baptism brings a person into the family of Christ. Specifically, children were circumcised on the eight day – they obviously didn’t choose to undergo the ritual. The parents brought them into the Jewish family and faith, knowing that at a later time, the child would obviously accept or reject his faith. As circumcision is replaced by baptism in Christianity, so it follows that infant baptism would be wholly acceptable in 1st century Christianity.

      What did the circumcision seal in the unbelieving servants Abraham had circumcised? Absolutely nothing. Circumcision in the Abrahamic covenant was for national purposes and not personal or faith based. If we base baptism on the entirety of the old Mosaic covenant we must state with Paul, “And the law is not of faith…” Gal. 3

      Obviously, we don’t immediately baptize adults -there is a period of catechism, in order to instruct those who are of the age of reason to make a committed, informed choice, to follow Jesus. This is to ensure that one doesn’t make a weighty decision without all the facts, and to ensure that the believer truly believes, and is educated in the faith.

      Why would that be obvious if baptism replaces circumcision? We find clear examples in scripture of unbelieving adults being circumcised so why not baptize any adult willing to be sprinkled with water?

      Lastly, we can’t lose sight of what baptism confers, and why Christians should baptize their children. Baptism removes the stain of original sin. It is “regenerative,” i.e. it puts to death our sinfulness, and infuses sanctifying grace upon the soul. It imparts the very Spirit of God in us. It brings us into the family of Christ. It is adoption into the family of God, and we become a part of the Body of Christ. It is not merely a symbolic act. In fact, Peter very explicitly states that through baptism we are saved (1 Peter 3:21). Christ Himself was explicit about this as well: “Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” John 3:5.

      The passage from 1 Peter defeats the point you are trying to make. The context of 1 Peter 3.21 begins at v.18 with “Christ also once suffered for sins…” and, “a good conscience toward God…” (v.21). You believe that “baptism removes the stain of original sin” but the text reads, “is not the putting away of the filth of the flesh…” The water you speak of is the work of the Holy Spirit in the soul for it is, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;” Titus 3.5

      Thank you,

      jason

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