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2. Historical Sketch

Antiquities of the Christian Church
XIV. Of Baptism

2. Historical Sketch

The learned of every age have generally regarded baptism as an independent institution, distinct, alike from the washings and consecrations by water, so common among the pagan nations, and from the ceremonial purifications and proselyte baptisms of the Jews. Neither have they accounted it the same as the baptism of John. Even those who have contended for the identity of the two institutions, have still concurred with .others in regarding baptism as a separate, and independent ordinance.

But the opinions of authors are greatly divided in regard to the time when this ordinance was instituted by our Lord. It might seem, from the account given by Matthew and Mark, to have been instituted when he gave his final commission to his disciples just before his ascension. Such was the opinion of Chrysostom, Leo the Great, Theopylact, and others. But this supposition is contradicted by John 3:22, John 4:1, 2., from whom we learn that Christ, by his disciples, had already baptized many, before his death. Augustine supposed Christ to have instituted this ordinance when he himself was baptized in Jordan; and that the three persons of the Godhead, were there distinctly represented; the Father, by the voice from heaven, the Son, in the person of Christ Jesus, and the Holy Ghost, by the form of the dove descending from heaven. Others, without good reason, refer the time of instituting it to the conversation of Christ with Nicodemus; and others again, to the time when he commissioned the twelve to go forth preaching repentance, and the approach of the kingdom of heaven. Matt. 10:7. But this supposition is contradicted by the fact that these same truths had been before preached, and that those who duly regarded this ministry, received John's baptism. Matt. 4:17, 3:1, 2, Luke 7:29.

On this subject, the truth seems to be that our Lord, on entering upon his ministry, permitted the continuance of John's baptism as harmonizing well with his own designs. The import of the rite was the same, whether administered by John himself, or by the disciples of Jesus. In either case, it implied the profession of repentance, and a consecration to the kingdom of heaven. To this baptism, none but Jews were admitted; to whom the ministry of John was wholly restricted. Our Lord did indeed, at a later period, declare that he had other sheep, not of that fold, which must also be gathered; but his disciples understood not the import of that declaration, until after his ascension; and, even then, were slow to yield their national prejudices so far as to receive the gentiles to participate, in common with the Jews, in the privileges of the gospel.

The introduction of christian baptism, strictly so called, was immediately consequent upon our Lord's ascension; and the most important commission for receiving it, as an universal ordinance of the church, is given By its divine author in Matt. 28:19, "Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Those who had been baptized by John, now received christian baptism; which was regarded by the fathers rather as a renewal of the ordinance, than as a distinct right. It differed from the former, in that it was administered in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. This was the sacramentum plenum, the plenary baptism of Ambrose and Cyprian.

Baptism was uniformly administered as a public ordinance, even to the end of the second century. In no instance, on record in the New Testament, was it administered privately as a secret rite. Nor is there an intimation to this effect given by the earliest authorities. The apostolic fathers indeed give no instruction respecting the mode of administering this rite. Justin Martyr distinctly intimates that the ordinance was administered in the presence of the assembly. From the third century it became one of the secret mysteries of the church. Such it continued to be, until the middle of the fifth century, when Christianity became so prevalent, and the practice of infant baptism so general, that the instances of adult baptism were comparatively rare. But during that period of time it was administered privately, in the presence of believers only; and the candidates, without respect to age, or sex, were divested of all covering in order to be baptized, and in this state, received the ordinance. 

It was customary for adults immediately after baptism to receive the sacrament. This usage gave rise to the custom of administering the sacrament also to children at their baptism, a superstition which continued in the Western churches until the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and in the Eastern, remains unto this day. 

Certain religious sects, contrary to the established usage of the church, were accustomed to re-baptize; others again contended that it must be thrice administered, to be valid. Such was the custom of the Marcionites and Valentinians.

The Novatians maintained that those who had apostatized from the faith, on being restored to the church ought to be baptized anew; having lost, by their apostasy, the benefit of their former baptism. Against this Tertullian and Cyprian earnestly contended, alleging that the validity of the ordinance, once rightly administered, could never be annulled; subsequent writers also concur with them in this opinion.

Baptism by heretics was early regarded as null and void. Clemens of Alexandria declared it strange and uncongenial, *. Tertullian classed heretics with idolaters, and declared their baptism of no effect; unless rightly administered, it was no baptism. Cum baptisma rite non habeant, omnirio non habent. Cyprian also agreed with him, and generally the churches of Africa, together with that of Caesarea and Alexandria. These required that their converts from heretical sects should be re-baptized, limiting themselves, however, to those sects who differed most widely from the true church. The churches of Rome, and France, and of some parts of Asia, on the other hand, received such to their communion by prayer and the imposition of hands, with the exception of such as disowned the Catholic church, and of those who were not baptized in the names of the Trinity. Baptism in the name of the Trinity, even by heretics, was considered valid, except some who were expressly named.' The council of Nice proceeded on the same principle. The efficacy of the rite depended upon the divine power accompanying it, not upon the character of him who administered it. For a further discussion of this point, see references. 

Tractat. 5. in Joann. c. 5.

De Spir. S. lib i. c. 3: comp. Cyprian, epist. 83. ad Jubaj
(No tag #2 appears in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)

Cyrill. Hieros. Catech. Algst. 2. Ambrose Chrysost. Horn. 6. in Coloss. Serm. 10.

Comp. Petr. Zornii, Historia Eucharistiae Infantum. Chr. E. Weismann, De praepestera Eucbarisiiae reductione.

Tertull. De Bapt. c. 15. Cyprian Ej). 7, 3. ad Jubaj. de unitate eccl. p. 112.

De Baptism, c. 15. comp. De Praescript: Haer. c. 14. c. 37. De Pudicit. c. 19, 40.

Concil. Arelat. 1. c. 8. Cone. Nic. c. 8. 19: Cone. Trull, c. 95: Cone. Constant. 1. c. 7. Cone. Laodic. c. 7. 8.

Optatus Milevit De schismat. Donat. lib. i. c. ii. c. 10. v. c. 3, 7, 8: Augustin De Bapt. contr. Donat. lib. iv. c. 19. 1. c. 3. Tulgentius Rusp. De Fide, c. 29.

(* denotes Greek text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)


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