Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page


CONCERNING BAPTISM

1.     HAPPY mystery of our water, because the sins of our former blindness are washed away and we are freed for everlasting life! The present treatise will not be useless, if it instruct alike those who are at this moment being formed, and those who, satisfied with simple belief, do not investigate the grounds of what has been handed down, and in inexperience carry an untried credible faith. And further, a certain viper of the Gaian persuasion,1 who lived here recently, has carried away very many with her poisonous teaching, which aimed particularly at the abolition of Baptism. In this she clearly acted according to nature: for it is the habit of vipers and asps and even basilisks to haunt dry and waterless spots. But we little fish, like our Fish Jesus Christ,2 are born in water, and it is only by remaining in water that we are safe. Therefore that monster, who even in her days of innocence was without the right to teach,3 well knew how to slay the little fish by removing them from the water.

2.     Yet so great is the power of frowardness for the undermining or the entire rejection of faith, that it |47 employs the materials of which it consists as a ground of attack upon it! There is really nothing that so blinds men's minds as the simplicity of divine works seen in process and their grandeur promised in the result: for example in this connexion also, since with so great simplicity, without any parade or novel equipment, without any expense even, a man is lowered into water and with intervals for a few words is dipped, and rises up again not much cleaner or even no cleaner, and yet an incredible result in eternity is deemed to be assured. I am mistaken, if the appointed ritual or hidden mysteries of idol-worship do not, on the contrary, build up for themselves the belief and influence they have, from the splendour 4 and cost of their elaborate preparations. Piteous unbelief, which deniest to God His own special qualities, simplicity and power! What then? is it not wonderful that even death can be washed away by a bath? 5 And indeed this is all the more to be believed, if it is not believed for the reason that it is wonderful. For what character suits the divine works except one beyond all admiration? We ourselves also are full of wonder, but it is because we believe. Unbelief, however, wonders but believes not. It wonders at simple things, looking on them as useless, at extraordinary things as being impossible. By all means let it be as you suppose; but a divine pronouncement is quite ready with an |48 answer to both attitudes "God chose the foolish things of the world to confound its wisdom," 6 and what is ex-cessively difficult to man is easy to God. For if God is both wise and powerful—and this is not denied even by those that neglect Him—He did right to place the materials of His working in the opponents of wisdom and power, namely in foolishness and powerlessness; since all strength gets its motive power from those by whom it is called forth.

3.     While keeping in mind this pronouncement as a kind of regulation, we nevertheless consider how foolish and impossible it is that restoration should come by water, and why in any case this material has earned a function so worthy. In my opinion the authority belonging to the liquid element requires examination. As a matter of fact it is amply attested, and indeed from the beginning. For it is one of those elements which, before the world was created at all, rested with God in a form as yet rude. "In the beginning," Scripture says, "God made heaven and earth. But the earth was invisible and in disorder, and there was darkness over the deep, and the spirit of the Lord moved over the waters." 7 It is your duty, oh man, to hold in reverence, in the first place, the age of the waters, because their substance is ancient, in the second place their worth, as the home of the divine spirit, more pleasing assuredly than the other elements at that time. For darkness was as yet entirely shapeless, being without the ornament of the stars, and the deep was forbidding, the earth was unready and the sky was unformed; water alone, the ever perfect matter, joyous, simple, unmixed in its very essence, provided a worthy vehicle for God. Again, later, the arrangement of the world took form for God, the waters |49  somehow exercising a regulative function. For it was by "separating the waters" 8 that He suspended "the firmament" of heaven "in the middle"; it was by placing the waters apart that He contrived to raise the dry land. Then, when the world had been arranged in elements and was receiving inhabitants, "the waters" first were commanded "to bring forth living beings." 9 "Water" first "gave forth what was to live": do not then be surprised that in Baptism waters are able to give life. Was not, too, the work of shaping even man himself completed by the association of waters therewith? 10 The substance was made up of earth, but earth is not manageable unless it be wet and juicy, and it the waters that had been moved away before the fourth day to their proper position had naturally, by reason of the moisture still remaining, modified to the consistency of mud. If I were to go on and detail all or many of the facts which I might mention about the importance of this element, how great its power is or the favour it confers, how many devices, how many functions, how great a power of work it brings to the world, I fear that I should be regarded as having gathered together the praises of water rather than the arguments for Baptism, even though I taught all the more fully the indisputable fact that God caused the matter, which He arranged in all His possessions and works, to carry out His will in His own mysteries also, that the matter which regulates the earthly life, acts as His agent in the heavenly also.

4.     But it will" be enough at the outset to seize upon those features in which the essential character of Baptism is recognised. Its first aspect is that by which even in those days the very attitude gave an early indication of the manner of Baptism, namely that "the spirit of God," |50 which from the beginning "moved upon the" primal "waters," 11 would rest over the waters of Baptism. Moreover, it was certainly a holy thing that moved over what was holy, and the supporting waters borrowed their holiness from that which moved over them. Every underlying substance must catch the quality of that which is suspended over it, particularly when the former is corporeal and the latter is spiritual, as the spiritual by the fineness of its substance can easily penetrate the corporeal, and also settle in it. So the nature of .the waters, having been made holy from that which is holy, has itself also conceived the power to sanctify. Let no one say: "Are we really dipped 12 in the very waters which existed then in the beginning?" Not, of course, the very waters, except to the extent to which, while there is one class, there is a number of subdivisions. What belongs to the class extends also to the subdivision. Therefore there is no difference whether one is washed in the sea or in a pool, in a river or in a spring, in a lake or in a river bed, and there is no difference between those whom John "dipped in the Jordan" 13 and Peter in the Tiber,14,15 unless it be true also that the eunuch whom Philip baptized on his journey with such water as offered, obtained more, or less salvation than others. Therefore all waters by virtue of the old privilege belonging to their origin, obtain the mystery of sanctifi-cation after God has been invoked. For immediately the Spirit comes from heaven over them, and is above the waters sanctifying them from itself, and being thus sanctified they imbibe the power of sanctifying. And |51 yet the parallel would accord with the simple act, namely that since we are stained by sins as if by filth, we may be washed by the waters. But although sins do not appear in the flesh (since no one bears on his skin the stain of idolatry or rape or fraud), yet their like are foul within the spirit, which is the originator of sin. For the spirit is lord, the flesh is its slave. Yet both share the guilt with one another, the spirit because of its command, the flesh because of its obedient service. Therefore when the waters have been, treated in a certain way by the intervention of the angel, the spirit is bodily washed in the waters and the flesh is spiritually cleansed in the same.

5.     But you will tell me that peoples without the slightest understanding of spiritual things attribute power to their images of gods through the same efficacy in water. These, however, deceive themselves, since the water they use is bereft of spiritual power. For they are initiated into certain sacred rites by a bath, those of some 16 Isis or Mithras; even their very gods they exalt with washings. Indeed, it is a universal custom to carry water round estates, houses, temples and whole cities, for their purification by sprinkling. It is true that at the celebrations in honour of Apollo 17 and those held at Pelusium,18 worshippers are dipped, and they have |52 the effrontery to declare that their object is rebirth and an escape from punishment for their broken oaths. Likewise among the men of old, whoever had stained himself with homicide, sought out waters of cleansing power. Therefore, if from their nature in itself, because they are the appropriate means of cleansing, waters charm such devotees by giving good promise of purification, how much more truly will waters confer that benefit through God's authority, by Whom all their nature has been established! If they think water is given a special property by religion, what better religion is there than that of the living God? When He is recognised, here also we perceive the zeal of the devil in seeking to rival the things of God, since he too practises a baptism among his followers. What likeness is there? The unclean cleanses, the destroyer frees, the condemned acquits. It is plain that it is his own work he will be undoing if he washes away sins inspired by himself. These remarks, of course, are set down as evidence against those who reject the faith, if they do not believe the things of God, while believing the imitations of these furnished by God's enemy. Do not unclean spirits also at other times, without any mystery, brood over the waters, counterfeiting that movement of the divine spirit at the beginning? 19 This is known to all springs in dark places, all remote streams, pools in the baths, channels in houses or cisterns and wells, which are said to carry people off, of course by the power of a malignant spirit. For they call those by the names 20 . . . and lymphatic (lit. affected by water) and |53 hydrophobic (lit. afraid of water), those whom waters have choked (drowned) or afflicted with madness or terror. To what purpose have we recalled these beliefs? Lest any one should think it too difficult that a holy angel of God should be present at the adaptation of the waters for the salvation of a man, when an evil angel is accustomed to engage in profane intercourse with the same element for the destruction of a man. If it seems an unheard-of thing that an angel should interfere with water, there was a precedent for that which was to be. The pool of Bethsaida "was stirred" 21 by the intervention of "an angel." 22 Those who complained of their health, used to watch for him. For any one who had first descended there, ceased to complain after a bath. This picture of bodily cure was prophetic of spiritual cure, according to the practice by which things carnal always precede, being a picture of things spiritual. As, therefore, the grace of God spread among men, greater power was added to the waters and the angel. Those who healed bodily defects, now heal the spirit; those who worked temporal salvation, now restore for us everlasting salvation; those who freed one once a year,23 now daily save communities, death being destroyed by the washing away of sins. With the removal of guilt there goes, of course, the removal of |54 punishment also. So man, who had in the past been made "in the image of God," 24 will be restored to God "in His likeness." "The image" is considered to be in the outward presentment, "the likeness" in eternity. For he recovers the spirit of God, which he had at that time received when breathed upon by Him, but had afterwards lost through sin.

6.     I do not mean to say that we obtain the Holy Spirit in the water, but having been cleansed in the water, we are being prepared under the angel for the Holy Spirit. Here, also, a type preceded; for in the same way John was forerunner 25 of the Lord, "preparing His ways." 26 So, also, the angel, the intermediary in Baptism, "makes straight the paths" 27 for the Holy Spirit that is to come upon us, by the washing away of sins, obtained by faith that has been sealed in Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For if "on the word of three witnesses every word shall be established," 28 how much more, while we have through blessing the same mediators of faith as we have guarantors of salvation, is the number of divine names sufficient for the confidence we feel in our hope! But although it is on the word of three that the witness to our faith and the covenant of our salvation alike are pledged, mention of the Church is added of necessity, since "where there are three,"29 that is Father, Son and Holy Spirit,30 "there" is the Church, which is a body of three. |55 

7.     Then, leaving the bath we are anointed all over 31 with blessed unction according to the primitive practice by which priests were wont to be anointed with olive oil from a horn.32 This custom obtained ever since Aaron was anointed by Moses, whence he is called "anointed" from the chrism, which is anointing.33 This adapted the name to the Lord, when it became spiritual. For He was anointed with the spirit by God the Father, as is stated in Acts: "For they were really gathered together in this city against Thy holy Son, whom Thou didst anoint." So also in us the anointing takes its course in a material sense, but it confers spiritual benefit, just as also the material act of Baptism itself, the fact that we are sunk in the water, becomes spiritual, in that we are freed from our sins.

8.     Thereafter, a hand is laid on us by way of blessing, summoning and inviting the Holy Spirit. Human device will, of course, be permitted to summon air to water,34 and to enliven their corporal union, by applying the hands above, with another blast of such distinctness; and will God not be allowed in the case of His own instrument to strike the note of spiritual elevation by means of holy hands? But this, too, comes from the old mystic rite by which Jacob blessed his grandsons,35 namely the sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh, |56 placing his hands on their heads, but interchanged, and indeed so transversely slanted, that representing Christ 36 they even then foretold the blessing that would be in Christ. Then that most holy spirit joyfully descends from the Father on cleansed and blessed bodies, and hovers over the waters of Baptism, as if recognising its ancient resting-place,37 "gliding down upon the Lord in the form of a dove,"38 so that the nature of holy spirit was clearly shown by means of an animal of simplicity and innocence, for even in a physical sense the dove is without gall.39 Therefore he says: "Be simple as doves";40  this also contains an indication of the preceding type. For, as after the waters of the Flood, by which the sin of the old days was cleansed, after the baptism, if I may style it so, of the world, the dove as herald proclaimed to the earth peace from heaven's wrath, having been let go from the ark and having returned with the olive-branch41 —a token which is held out even among the heathen as harbinger of peace; by the same arrangement of a spiritual result there flies to the earth, that is our flesh, as it emerges from the bath after old sins are washed away, the dove of the Holy Spirit, bringing God's peace, having been sent out from heaven, where the Church is, that was represented by the ark. But the world sinned again; thus the comparison of Baptism to the Flood is a bad one. Therefore, the world is reserved for fire like the man who after Baptism engages again in sin, so that this, too, ought to be taken as a sign of warning to us.

9.     How many protections, therefore, in nature, how |57 many privileges in grace, how many rites in outward religion, patterns, preparations, supplications, have regulated the worship connected with water! At first, for example, when the people, freed from the shackles of Egyptian bondage, escaped the violence of the king of Egypt by crossing the water, the water put an end to the king himself with all his forces.42 What pattern could be clearer in the mystery of Baptism! The nations are freed from the present world by water assuredly, and they leave behind them the devil, their former tyrant, overwhelmed in the water. Likewise the water is cured of the bitterness which spoilt it, and made sweet, useful and beneficial by Moses' rod. That wood was Christ, bringing healing, of course, out of Himself, to the streams of a nature that had once been poisoned and bitter, in the health-giving waters of Baptism. This is the water which flowed down for the people from "the attendant rock."43 For if "the rock is Christ," without doubt we see that Baptism is blessed by water in Christ. How great is the grace in water, where God and His anointed are present, for the ratification of Baptism! Christ is never apart from water: 44 for even He Himself is baptized with water; when invited to a wedding He inaugurates with water the earliest trials of His power; when He speaks he invites them "that thirst" to His "everlasting water "; when He teaches about love, He commends the offering of "a cup of water" to a destitute person among the works of love; at a well He recovers His strength, "on water He walks," He crosses the water with delight, with water He serves His disciples.45 The evidence of Baptism continues right to the time of His passion; when He is given over to the cross, water |58 interposes; Pilate's hands know this;46 when He is wounded, water breaks forth from His side; the soldier's spear knows it.47

10.     We have spoken, as far as our humble ability permitted, about all those elements which build up the religion of Baptism; now I will proceed as well as I am able to consider the rest of its constitution, with reference to certain minor questions. Baptism as proclaimed by John involved even at that time a question, put before the Pharisees even by the Lord Himself, namely, whether that Baptism was heavenly or really earthly.48 On this matter they were unable to give a courageous answer, since they did not understand, for the reason that they did not believe either. 49 We, however, with understanding as meagre as is our faith, can express the opinion that His baptism was indeed from heaven, divine in commission, however, not in power, because we read that John also was sent by the Lord to perform this duty, but was merely human in his nature. For he offered nothing heavenly,50 but he paved the way for the service of heavenly things, being, of course, given charge of penitence, which is in man's power. Indeed the doctors of the law and the Pharisees, who refused to believe, did not repent either.51 But if repentance is a human affair, Baptism must be of that very same nature; for if it had been heavenly, it would have conferred both the Holy Spirit and remission of sins. |59 But neither is sin forgiven nor the Spirit granted by any one save God alone.52 Even the Lord Himself said that "except He first ascended to the Father, the Spirit would not descend."53 What the Lord could not yet confer, assuredly His slave would have been unable to offer. Further, we find afterwards in the Acts of the Apostles that those who had "the Baptism of John," had not "received the Holy Spirit," whom "they did not know even by hearsay."54 Therefore that was not heavenly which did not show heavenly qualities, since the very quality in John that had been heavenly, namely, the spirit of prophecy, after the transference of the whole spirit to the Lord, so failed that he afterwards sent men to ask whether He whom he had preached and whose arrival he had signalised, were really He.55 It was, therefore, "a Baptism of repentance"56 that was carried on, as a sort of candidate for the remission and sanctification that were soon to follow in Christ. For "the Baptism of repentance for the remission of sins"57 which he preached, was announced with a view to the remission that was to be; for penitence comes first, remission follows after, and this is to prepare the way;58 he, however, who prepares, does not himself complete, but sees to the completion at the hands of another. He himself declares that heavenly things are not his, but the Christ's, when he says: "He that is of the earth, speaketh the things of the earth; but He who cometh from above is over all":59 also that he baptized with a view to repentance only, while there "would afterwards come one who would baptize in spirit and fire."60,61 And this he said assuredly because a true |60 and abiding faith is baptized with water for salvation, but a pretended and weak faith is baptized with fire for judgment.

11.     "But behold," they say, "the Lord came and did not baptize." For we read: "And yet He did not baptize, but His disciples."62 As if John had proclaimed that He himself would actually baptize with His own hands! It is not, of course, to be so understood, but as having been said simply in the ordinary way, as for example we say: "The emperor published an edict," or "the prefect lashed him with rods ": 63 does he himself publish, or he himself lay on the lash? He on whose behalf service is performed is always spoken of as acting. So the words "He himself will baptize you"64 must be taken as equivalent to "You will be baptized through Him or into Him." But let no one be troubled because He did not Himself baptize. For unto whom or what would He have baptized? Unto repentance?65 What need, then, of a forerunner? Unto remission of sins, which He offered by a word?66 Unto Himself, whom in humility He concealed? Unto the Holy Spirit, though He himself "had not yet ascended to His Father"? Into the Church, which the apostles had not yet built? Therefore His disciples baptized as His servants, as his forerunner John before Him, with the same baptism as John's, lest any one should suppose it was with a different Baptism: for there is no other except that later Baptism of Christ's, which could not, of course, be conferred at that time by the disciples. For the Lord's glory was not yet fulfilled, and the |61 efficacy of Baptism was not yet prepared by the passion and resurrection. Moreover, neither could our death be annulled except by the Lord's passion, nor could our life be restored without His resurrection.

12.     When, then, the rule is laid down that salvation belongs to no one without Baptism, especially in accordance with the declaration of the Lord, who says: "Except one be born of water, he hath not life,"67 there arise hesitant or rather reckless questionings on the part of some, how, if this rule is to hold, salvation can belong to the apostles, seeing we do not find that any of them were baptized in the Lord save Paul.68 Nay, more, seeing that Paul was the only one among them who experienced the baptism of Christ, they wonder whether the peril of the others who are without the water of Christ, is a foregone conclusion, if the rule be held inviolate, or whether the rule is repealed, if salvation has been settled even for those that have not been baptized. I have heard such words to which the Lord witnessed, lest any one should think me so reprobate as to go out of my way to use an author's fancy to devise what will inspire others with doubts. And now I will answer to the best of my power those who deny that the apostles were baptized. For if they had experienced the human baptism of John and went without the Lord's, because the Lord Himself had fixed Baptism as one, when he said to Peter who wished to be completely bathed: "He that hath washed once, hath no need to do so again" 69 (which certainly he would not at all have said to an unbaptized person), this also is a clear proof against those who seek to deprive the apostles of John's baptism also, in order to destroy the mystery of water. Can it be thought credible that |62 "the way of the Lord was" not then "prepared,"70 namely, the baptism of John, in those persons who were destined to open up the Lord's way throughout the whole world? The Lord Himself, though in no way bound to show penitence, was baptized; was it not necessary for sinners? While it is true, then, that others were not baptized, still they were not followers of Christ, but enemies of the faith, teachers of the law and Pharisees. Thus, too, it is suggested that when the Lord's enemies refused to be baptized, those who followed the Lord had been baptized and had not shared "the wisdom" of their enemies. The Lord, on whom they were in constant attendance, had of course extolled John in the following words of commendation: "No one is greater among them that are born of women, than John the Baptizer."71 Others by an interpretation that is clearly rather forced, insinuate that the apostles had fulfilled the duty of Baptism on the occasion when they were sprinkled and overwhelmed by the waves in the boat;72 and that even Peter himself by stepping over the sea had been sufficiently immersed.73 In my opinion, however, it is one thing to be sprinkled or cut off by the sea's violence, another thing to be baptized by an ordinance of religion. But that boat represented a type of the Church, because on the sea, which is this present world, it is disturbed by waves— that is, persecutions and trials, while the Lord in His forbearance "is" as it were "asleep,"74 until by the prayers of saints He is at last aroused, puts restraint upon the world and restores calm to His own. But whether they were in some way or other baptized or continued unwashed, so that the saying of the Lord also about one bath75 should, in the person of Peter, have |63 reference to us only, it is, however, at present rather rash to pronounce an opinion on the salvation of the apostles, because a short way to Baptism could have been conferred upon them even by the privilege of their original promotion and their subsequent inseparable association with the Lord, since they, I believe, were following Him who promised salvation to every one that believed. "Thy faith," he used to say, "hath saved thee,"76 and, "Thy sins will be forgiven thee,"77 as believing of course, but not, however, baptized. If the apostles were without that, I do not know by what faith, at one word from the Lord, a man arose and quitted the custom-house, another abandoned father and ship and the trade by which he made his livelihood, another disdained to attend his father's funeral, and obeyed before he had heard it, that supreme command of the Lord: "He that preferreth his father or mother to Me, is not worthy of Me."78

13.     It is in this connexion, then, that those criminals stir up questions. They actually say: "Baptism is not necessary to those for whom faith is enough; for Abraham also pleased God by no mystery of water, but by that of faith only." But in everything later practice settles a question, and what follows prevails over what has gone before. Let us admit that salvation came about in past times by simple faith, before the Lord's passion and resurrection; but when faith was increased (I mean by faith the belief in His nativity, passion and resurrection), there was added to the mystery, thus enlarged in scope,79 a ratification in Baptism, in some |64 way a garment of faith, which, previously was simple and now has no efficacy without obedience to its law. For the law of Baptism was enjoined and its ritual prescribed. "Go," he says, "teach the nations, baptizing them in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit."80 The addition to this law of the regulation: "Except one be born again of water and spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven,"81 bound faith to the necessity of Baptism. Consequently from that time all believers were baptized. Then Paul, also, when he believed, was baptized.82 And this is what the Lord also, in inflicting the scourge of blindness, had enjoined, saying: "Rise up, and enter Damascus; there you will be shown what you ought to do";83 namely, to be baptized, the only qualification that was wanting to him. Apart from that he had sufficiently learnt and believed that "the Nazarene"84 was the Lord, the Son of God.

14.     But with regard to the Apostle himself they raise the objection that he said: "For the Lord did not send me to baptize." 85 (As if by this argument Baptism were abolished! For why did he baptize Gaius and Crispus and the house of Stephanas? 86) And yet, although Christ had not sent him to baptize, he had nevertheless taught the other apostles to baptize. But these were written to the Corinthians in view of the circumstances at that time, since cleavages and disagreements were stirring among them,87 while one gave the chief place to Paul and another to Apollos.88 On this account the peace-loving Apostle, lest he should be thought to claim everything for himself, said that he was sent not to baptize, but to preach.89 Besides, preaching comes first, Baptism later; and preaching did take place first. I fancy, |65 however, that he who was allowed to preach, was also allowed to baptize.

15.     I know not whether anything else is canvassed in the dispute about Baptism. I will, of course, take up what I have omitted above, lest I should be thought to cut short the thoughts that are impending. There is for us "one Baptism" only, of which we learn alike from the Gospel of the Lord and from the letter(s) of the Apostle, who says that there is "one God" and "one baptism" and one Church in heaven.90 But one may rightly consider, I admit, what course must be maintained with regard to heretics. For it was to us that it was proclaimed: but heretics have no share in our rule of life; 91 the very deprivation of intercourse testifies that they are undoubtedly strangers. I am not bound to recognise in them what has been enjoined on me, because we have not the same god as they, nor have we one Christ—I mean the same, and therefore we have not one Baptism either, because it is not the same; if they have not Baptism as it should be, they are undoubtedly without it, and it is not allowable that what they have not should be counted; so also they cannot receive it either, because they have it not. But this matter I have dealt with already at greater fullness in the Greek. Once and once only, therefore, we enter the bath, once for all are sins washed away, because they must not be repeated. But the Jewish Israel washes daily, because he is daily soiled. That this might not be the practice in our case also, is the reason why a regulation was made about one bath. Happy water, which once for all cleanses, which is not a sport for sinners, which not being stained |66 by continual experience of filth, does not stain again those whom it washes!

16.     We have indeed a second bath too, which itself also is one, namely that of blood, about which the Lord says: "I have a baptism to be baptized with,"92 although he had been already baptized. For "He had come through water and blood,"93 as John wrote, that He might be baptized with water, and glorified by His shed blood, and might cause us likewise to be "called" by water, "chosen" by blood.94 Those two baptisms he sent forth from the wound of His pierced side, in order that those who believed in His blood might be washed with water, and those who had washed with water might also carry the stain of blood.95 This is the Baptism which makes real even a baptism that has not been received, and restores one that has been lost.

17.     To bring our slight treatment of the subject to an end,96 it remains to give hints also about the course to be followed in conferring and receiving Baptism. The highest priest, who is the bishop, has of course the right to confer it; then the presbyters and deacons, not, however, without the bishop's authority, out of respect to the Church: when this respect is maintained, peace is secure. But besides, even laymen have the right to baptize; for that which is received alike by all, can be by all alike conferred; unless you argue that the name "disciples" belongs only to bishops or presbyters or deacons. The Word of the Lord ought not to be hidden from any one. In like manner Baptism also, which is equally a divine institution, can be practised by all. But how much more is the practice of modesty and |67 obedience binding upon laymen, since those privileges are suited to their superiors, lest they should assume the duty that is assigned to bishops! Hostility to the bishop's position begets schisms. The most holy Apostle said that "all things were permissible, but that all things were not expedient."97 Let it suffice certainly to take advantage of the privilege in cases of necessity, if anywhere the circumstances either of the place or the time or the person compel it. For then is the boldness of the helper welcomed, when the situation of the endangered person is pressing, since he will be guilty of ruining a human being if he refrains from offering what he was freely able to confer. But the forwardness of a woman who has presumed to teach 98 will not of course acquire for her the right of baptizing also, unless some new beast appear like unto the old, so that just as that one took away Baptism, so some beast should by herself confer it. But if they claim writings which are wrongly inscribed with Paul's name 99—I mean the example of |68 Thecla—in support of women's freedom to teach and baptize, let them know that a presbyter in Asia, who put together that book, heaping up a narrative as it were from his own materials under Paul's name, when after conviction he confessed that he had done it from love of. Paul, resigned his position. For how consonant would it seem with faith that he should give woman the power to teach and baptize, who consistently refused permission to woman even to teach?100 "Let them keep silence," he says, "and ask their husbands' advice at home."101

18. But that Baptism is not lightly to be conferred, is known to those whose duty it is to confer it. "Give thyself to every one that asketh"102 has likewise its own reason, which is bound up with almsgiving. Rather must one give close attention to that other passage: "Give not the holy thing to the dogs and cast not your pearl 103 before swine";104 and: "Lay not on hands too readily, lest you share in another's sins."105 If Philip baptized the eunuch so readily,106 let us reflect that the clear and plain testimony of the Lord to his worthiness had intervened.107 The Spirit had commanded Philip to proceed along that "road";108 the eunuch himself also was found not in idleness,109 not such a man as eagerly desired to be baptized on a sudden, but one who having set out for the temple "to pray," had his attention riveted on the divine Scripture. In such an attitude should he be surprised, to whom God had actually sent an apostle, whom again "the Spirit" commanded, this time "to join himself to the eunuch's chariot";110 the passage of Scripture fitted to |69 inspire faith itself comes his way at the right time, the exhortation is accepted, the Lord is shown, faith delays not, there is no waiting for water, the Apostle, his task completed, "is snatched away."111 But even Paul was really baptized in a hurry: for Simon 112 his host had speedily learned that he was made "a chosen vessel." God's approval puts forward its own rights; every request can both deceive and be deceived. Consequently in view of the circumstances and will, even the age of each person, a postponement of Baptism is most advantageous, particularly, however, in the case of children. For what need is there, if it is not so urgent, that the sponsors also should be brought into danger, being as they are themselves also by reason of their mortality capable of falling short of their promises and being deceived by the development of an evil disposition? The Lord indeed says: "Forbid them not to come unto Me."113 Let them come, then, while they are growing up; let them come while they are learning, while they are being taught whither to come; let them become Christians, when they have been able to know Christ. Why hurries the age of innocence to the remission of sins? Shall we act more cautiously in worldly matters? Shall one to whom earthly substance is not entrusted, be entrusted with heavenly? Let them know how to seek salvation, that you may be seen "to give to him that asketh."114 For no less reason the baptism of the unmarried also should be postponed, for in them a testing has been prepared alike for virgins through their maturity and for widows through their freedom from the duty of marriage, until they either marry or are hardened for the practice of continence. If any should understand the importance |70 of Baptism, they will be more afraid of its consequences than of its postponement; unimpaired faith is sure of salvation.

19.     Good Friday offers the more regular occasion for Baptism, when also the Lord's passion into which we are baptized was consummated. And it will not be interpreted inconsistently with the type that when the Lord was to celebrate His last passover, on sending His disciples to prepare, He said, "You will meet a man carrying water,"115 and thus indicated the place for the celebration of the passover by the sign of water. Next, Whitsuntide is the most joyous period for the administration of Baptism, at which both the Lord's resurrection was widely made known among the disciples, and the gift of "the Holy Spirit" was inaugurated,116 and the hope of the Lord's advent suggested, when on His having then been "received back into the heavens,"117 the angels said to the apostles that "He would come in the very way in which He ascended into heaven,"118 namely at Whitsuntide. But indeed when Jeremiah says: "And I will gather them together from the farthest parts of the earth on a festal day,"119 he indicates the day of Good Friday and of Whitsunday, which is properly "a festal day." However, every day is the Lord's, every hour, every time is suitable for Baptism: if there is a difference in regard to the proper season, there is none in regard to the grace.

20.     Those about to enter on Baptism should supplicate with frequent prayers, fastings, genuflexions and vigils, and with confession of all their past sins, that they may set forth the baptism of John also: "they were baptized,"120 we are told, "confessing their sins." We must be congratulated if we now in presence of the congregation confess our iniquities or meannesses. For we are at one |71 and the same time both making an apology for the past with a struggle between flesh and spirit,121 and raising up beforehand defences against the trials that are to follow. "Watch and pray," he says, "lest ye fall into a testing situation."122 And the reason, I believe, why they were tested was that they fell asleep, with the result that they failed the Lord after His arrest, and that he who continued with Him and made use of a sword, actually denied Him thrice; for the saying also had preceded, that no untried person would attain the heavenly realms.123 The Lord Himself immediately after Baptism was beset by trials, "having fasted for forty days." "Therefore we also," some one will say, "ought rather to fast after Baptism." And who is to forbid us except the duty to rejoice and give thanks for our salvation? But the Lord, to the best of my humble belief, by following the pattern of Israel, cast back a reproach upon him. For the people, after crossing the sea and being brought thence into the desert, though fed there by supplies from God for forty years, remembered the belly and the palate as much as they did God.124 Afterwards the Lord, "having been moved away to desert places" after Baptism and "having made an end of forty days' fasting," showed that a "man" of God does "not live on bread, but by the Word of God," and that the trials associated with repletion and the excessive gratification of the belly, are crushed by abstinence.125 Therefore, ye blessed ones 126 on whom the grace of God waits, when ye come up from that most |72 holy bath of new birth, and before your Mother 127 and with your brethren ye spread out your hands for the first time, ask of the Father, ask of the Lord that the gifts of grace, "the partitions"128 of spiritual endowments be added thereto. "Ask and ye shall receive," He says.129 Ye have indeed asked and found;130 ye have knocked and the door has been opened unto you. I only pray that, when ye ask, ye may also remember Tertullian, a sinner. 


[Footnotes and marginal notes have been moved here]

[Note to the online edition:  the printed volume has scripture and other references in the outside margin of each page, in smaller type, with no indication of exactly to where they refer.  Where I have been able to guess, I have inserted them place by place.  Otherwise I have collected a mass of references and indicated them by the first likely place on the page.  Corrections are welcome.]

1. 1 See the Introduction.

2. 2 The first letters of the five words, "Jesus Christ, of God Son, Saviour," in Greek, spell the common noun meaning "a fish." This gave rise to the use of the latter word as an emblem of Christ and Christianity, and to various fanciful views hence derived.

3.  cf. 1 Tim, ii. 12

4. 1 Thus do I render suggestu in accordance with the view of Prof. August Engelbrecht of Vienna, who gives the best account of this difficult word, in Wiener Studien, Bd. XXVIII. (1906), pp. 9-17. It is here almost synonymous with apparatus, ornatus, cultus, habitus, pompa.

5. 2 I have throughout translated lauacrum by "bath," tinguere by "dip"; but no doubt Tertullian uses them in the sense "baptism," "baptize." The latter is indeed the older Latin word in this sense, and prevails in Tertullian. Very soon it had to give place to baptizare, and it is comparatively little found in later authors.

6.  1 Cor. i. 27

7.  Gen. i. 1, 2

8.  cf. Gen. i. 6,7

9.  cf. Gen. i. 20

10.  cf. Gen. ii. 7

11.  cf. Gen. i. 2

12. 1 See note 2, p. 47.

13.  cf. Matt, iii. 6 

14.  cf. Acts viii. 38

15. 2 The tradition that St. Peter had lived and worked in Rome is here assumed without question.

16. 1 It is a favourite device of Tertullian to prefix "some" (aliquis) to a proper name, when he wishes to show his contempt for the person; see the Index to Mayor's Tertullian Apologeticus for other instances. The Romans for long had been thoroughly familiar with the foreign cults here mentioned, that of Isis, the Egyptian goddess, and of Mithras, the Persian sun-god. The former worship appealed especially to women, the latter to men.

17. 2 The Ludi Apollinares, celebrated particularly at Rome.

18. 3 It is not quite certain what is intended by the reference to Pelusium (Sarapis?). But it is far better criticism to retain Pelusiis, confessing our ignorance, than to alter to Eleusiniis, which being generally understood, would never have been corrupted by any scribe to Pelusiis. Tertullian is our only authority for other features of Pagan religion also.

19.  cf. Gen. i. 2

20. 1 The MS. read apparently et esietos or esietos, which letters must conceal some word meaning "water," or "drowned." Perhaps Gelenius' enectos is right, but more probably some Graeco-Latin word is latent.

21.  cf. John v. 4

22. 1 Tertullian is our earliest dateable authority for this verse, now regarded as an interpolation. See the R.V. margin, and find the authorities for and against the interpolation in my edition of the Revisers' Text ad. loc.

23. 2 Tertullian therefore interprets the words kata kairon (John v. 4, R.V. marg., "at certain seasons") as meaning "once a year." Latin MSS. that do not shirk the phrase altogether, render by cata (sccundum, per) tempus.

24.  Gen. i. 26

25. 1 Neither antepraecursor nor ante praecursor can be right. I believe Tertullian wrote antecursor (as in Resurr. 22, and in Monog. 8, adv. Marc. iv. 33, where it is used of John) here and in c. 11, and that a scribe, to whom the word was unfamiliar, corrected it in both places to the better known precursor, with the result that in the MS. both prefixes were preserved.

26. cf. Matt, iii. 3, etc. 

27.  cf. Matt, iii. 3, etc.

28.  Deut. xix. 15, etc.

29.  cf. Matt, xviii. 20 

30.  cf. 1 John v. 7, 8

31. 1 The force of the per in perungimur is somewhat doubtful, seeing that the anointing was confined to the forehead.

32.  cf. 1 Sam. xvi. 13

33.  cf. Exod. xxx. 30; Lev. viii. 12, etc.; cf. Matt. i. 16, etc.; Acts iv. 27

34. 2 The reference here is to the ancient water organ, invented by Ctesibius of Alexandria (cf. Plin. H. N. VII. § 125), and very popular in Rome in Nero's time. It played then a part like that of the wonderful creations of Gavioli and Marenghi in modern times. For details of the construction of the water organ consult Lupton's note on this passage, with his diagram, also Köstlin in Herzog-Hauck's Real-Encyclopedie and Kraus in R. E. der christl. Altert. II. pp. 557 f.

35.  cf. Gen. xlviii. 14

36. 1 They represent Christ because the first letter of Christus in Greek and Latin is X. 

37.  cf. Gen. i. 2

38.  cf. Matt. iii. 16

39. 2 This ancient belief is untrue to fact.

40.  Matt x. 16

41.  cf. Gen. viii. 10; cf. Gen. viii. 11

42.  cf. Exod. xiv. 28

43.  1 Cor. x. 4

44.  cf. Matt, iii. 16, etc. cf. John ii. 7-9; cf. John iv. 14; cf. Matt. x. 42, etc. cf. John iv. 6 ff. cf. Matt, xiv. 25; cf. Matt, xiv. 34; cf. John xiii. 5

45. 1 Reading aqua (ablative case).

46.  cf. Matt. xxvii. 24, etc.

47.  cf. Matt. xxvii. 49; John xix. 34

48.  cf. Mark xi. 30, etc. cf. Mark xi. 33. etc.; cf. Isa. vii. 9 (LXX) cf. Mark xi. 30, etc.; cf. Luke iii. 2, etc.

49. 1 Here there is an allusion to a verse much quoted by the Fathers according to the Septuagint rendering, followed by the Old-Latin, which is: "And if ye do not believe, ye shall not understand either." The LXX is a translation of another Hebrew word like the true text (see Dr. G. Buchanan Gray's note ad. loc., p. 120 of Vol. I. of his commentary on the Book of Isaiah in the International Critical Commentary). The true text in the Hebrew means, "If ye believe not, ye shall not be established" (Gray, p. 119, cf. R.V.).

50.  cf. Matt. iii. 3, etc. cf. Matt. iii. 8, etc.

51.  cf. Matt. xi. 20

52. cf. Luke v. 21 

53. cf. John xvi. 7

54. cf. Acts xviii. 25; xix. 2

55. cf. Matt. xi. 3, etc.

56. Mark i. 4, etc.

57. Mark. i. 4

58. cf. Mark i.2; Matt, iii. 3, etc.

59. John iii. 31

60. cf. Luke iii. 16

61. 1 This interesting form of the text of Luke iii. 16 is supported by Clement of Alexandria, Eclog. 25, and Augustine, De Cons. Evang. II. 12 § 26 (see H. J. Vogels' tractate on the latter in Biblische Studien, Bd. XIII. (1908) (5), pp. 35 f.).

62.  John iv. 2

63. 1 Illustrations derived from the emperor and magistrates are a feature of Ambrosiaster (Study of Ambrosiaster, pp. 23 ff.), but are not unknown to other writers, e.g. the "Clementine" books, and Ambrose, In Psalm, i. § 13 (ed. Bened. Ven. tom. II. p. 8. D.E.); In Psalm, cxviii. 10, § 25, 4.

64.  Matt. iii. 11

65.  cf. Matt, iii. 11 

66.  cf. Luke iii. 3

67.  cf. John iii. 5, vi. 47, etc.

68.  cf. Acts ix. 18

69.  John xiii. 10

70.  cf. Matt, iii. 3, etc

71.  Matt. xi. 11

72.  cf. Matt, viii. 24, etc.

73.  cf. Matt. xiv. 29

74.  cf. Matt. viii. 24

75.  cf. John xiii. 10

76.  Matt. ix. 22, etc.

77.  Matt. ix. 2, etc.

78.  cf. Matt. ix. 9, etc.; cf. Matt. iv. 20, etc.; cf. Matt, viii. 22, etc.; Matt. x. 37

79. 1 I read here with Jülicher (Theologische Litteraturzeitung for 1909, p. 293) ampliato instead of ampliatio, and withdraw the comma after sacramento.

80.  Matt, xxviii. 19

81.  John iii. 5

82.  cf. Acts ix. 18

83.  Acts ix. 7

84.  Acts xxii. 8

85.  1 Cor. i. 17

86.  cf. 1 Cor. i. 14, 16

87.  cf. 1 Cor. xi. 18

88.  cf. 1 Cor. iii. 4

89.  cf. 1 Cor. i. 17

90.  cf. Eph. iv. 5 cf. ; Matt. xxviii. 9 ; cf. Eph. iv. 5

91. 1 On this passage, see C. H. Turner in Swete, Early History of the Church and Ministry, p. 152.

92.  Luke xii. 50

93.  1 John v. 6

94.  cf. Matt. xxii. 14

95.  cf. Matt, xxvii. 49; John xix 34

96. 1 On this chapter consult F. E. Brightman in Swete, Early History of the Church and Ministry, pp. 390 ff.

97.  1 Cor. vi. 12

98.  cf. 1 Cor. xiv. 34

99. 1 Tertullian alone records for us the circumstances of the composition of "The Acts of Paul," the original form of which exists only in a (fragmentary) Coptic translation. The work was composed in Greek, possibly at Smyrna, about A.D. 160, and was translated into Latin as well as into Coptic, etc, The book was produced with a worthy enough motive, being based in the main on the canonical Acts of the Apostles. The part of the narrative dealing with Thecla was largely circulated by itself, and survives in numerous copies. She was reported to be a convert of St. Paul, belonging to the district of Iconium and Pisidian Antioch, and "became the type of the female Christian teacher, preacher, and baptizer" (Ramsay, Church in the Roman Empire, p. 375; his Chap. XVI. is a searching examination of the historical character of the story). See Carl Schmidt, Acta Pauli. Uebersetzung, Untersuchungen und koptischer Text, 2te Ausg. (Leipzig, 1905), Oskar v. Gebhardt, Passio S. Theclae Virginis: Die latein. Uebersetzgn. der Acta Pauli el Theclae nebst Fragm., Auszügen u. Beilagen (Leipzig, 1902), E. Hennecke, Neu-testamentliche Apokryphen (Tubingen, 1904), Handbuch zu den Neutestamentlichen Apokryphen (Tubingen, 1905), and for the supposititious Pauline correspondence with Corinth, which formed part of the Acta Pauli, see A. v. Harnack in Sitzungsberichte d. preuss. Akad. for 1905, p. 3, and D. de Bruyne in Revue Bénédictine for 1908, pp. 431 ff.

100.  cf. 1 Cor. xiv. 34 

101.  1 Cor. xiv. 34

102.  Luke vi. 30

103. 1 There seems to be no doubt that Tertullian read the singular here: I know no other authority for it.

104.  Matt, vii 6

105.  1 Tim. v 22

106.  cf. Acts viii. 38 

107.  cf. Acts viii. 6 ff. 

108.  cf. Acts viii. 26 

109.  cf. Acts viii. 27, 28

110.  cf. Acts viii. 26; cf. Acts viii. 29

111.  cf. Acts viii. 36; cf. Acts viii. 39; Acts ix. 15

112. 1 Tertullian's mistake for Ananias.

113.  Matt. xix. 14

114.  cf. Matt, vii. 7, etc.

115.  cf. Mark xiv. 13; Luke xxii. 10

116.  cf. Acts i. 8

117.  cf. Acts i. 9

118.  cf. Acts i. 11

119.  cf. Jer. xxxi. 8

120.  Matt, iii.6

121.  cf. Eph. vi. 12

122.  Matt. xxvi. 41, etc.; cf. Matt. xxvi. 40, etc.; cf. Matt. xxvi, 51, etc.; cf. Jas. i. 12, and see note.; cf. Matt. iv. 2, etc.

123. 1 I am by no means certain that Resch (Agrapha2, p. 130 = Agraphon 90 [L. 26]) is right in equating this quotation with a saying frequently found in Greek (especially Syrian) sources as from Scripture: "The man who has not been tried, is not approved [before God]." The trial has reference especially to faith.

124.  cf. Exod. xvi. 3

125.  cf. Matt, iv. 1, etc. cf. Matt, iv. 2, etc. cf. Matt, iv. 4, etc.

126. 2 i. e. catechumens.

127. 1 See p. 21, n. 1.

128.  cf. Heb. ii. 4

129.  Matt. vii. 7

130.  cf. Matt. vii. 7


Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

Alexander Souter (tr), Tertullian's Treatises Concerning Prayer and Baptism. S.P.C.K. 1919. 

Translated by Alexander Souter, 1919.  Transcribed by Roger Pearse, 2002.   


This page has been accessed by ****** people since 16th December 2002.


Return to the Tertullian Project Index of Tertullian's Treatises Concerning Prayer and Baptism. About these pages