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Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus was born at Carthage of
heathen parentage probably about A.D. 160. Shortly after 190 he
became a Christian. As a man of excellent education and a ready
writer in both Greek and Latin, a practising barrister also, skilful
in the presentation of a case, he began at once to write in defence
of the faith. In his apologetic treatises (all but one written before
the end of the century) he protests with forceful indignation
against popular misrepresentations of Christianity, and against
persecution both private and official. If it is true that neither he
nor any other apologist ever succeeded in bringing persecution
to an end, it is equally true that his treatment of this subject was
so competent and thorough as to leave nothing more to be said.
It is also to be observed that even so soon after his conversion he
had acquired such a clear understanding of Christian theology and
such facility in its expression that in all his subsequent works he
hardly ever needed to correct things previously written.

        During the next two decades he turned to other matters,
producing two series of works which ran as it were side by side.
It was not, it would seem, that he deliberately chose these subjects
with the intention of making a systematic survey of Christian
doctrine and moral practice: rather it was that these were ques-
tions which successively disturbed the Church, or claimed its
interest and attention, and that Tertullian, certainly the ablest
man of that generation, dealt with them as they arose. The series
of theological treatises undertakes the defence and elucidation of
the already traditional faith of the apostolic churches against
heretical perversion and misrepresentation. In his moral and
disciplinary works Tertullian demands the acceptance and more
stringent enforcement of the Christian ethical code, as against
what he regards as dangerous and growing laxity. Thus over a
period of twenty-five years his writings deal with almost every


one of the subjects which held the attention of the Church in his
day: and as he was (with the doubtful exception of Minucius
Felix) the earliest Christian writer of Latin, he is the author (or
the earliest recorder) of the theological terminology still in use in
the Latin-speaking Churches and their vernacular-speaking off
spring. That is to say, that his theological work stands, as of
permanent value: his ethical and disciplinary treatises failed, as
they were bound to do, since he asked for too much, in too
peremptory a fashion, and for the wrong reasons.

        For at some time, probably about 206, Tertullian began to be
interested in Montanism. This movement originated in Asia
Minor, about the year 170, claiming to be a new revelation,
supplementary to traditional Christianity, given through a fresh
outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that other Paraclete promised by
our Lord, upon one Montanus and two women, his companions.
What apparently attracted most notice was a statement by this
self-styled new prophecy that the New Jerusalem would very
shortly come down from heaven and settle upon a certain moun-
tain in Phrygia: and in consequence large crowds of people
gathered at that place, and there was a great deal of unhealthy
religious excitement. In this and some other abnormalities of the
sect (of which we hear from other people), Tertullian does not
seem to have been very interested. He was chiefly attracted by
the rigour of its disciplinary system, so congenial to his own stern
and censorious mind, and eventually (perhaps about 213 or even
earlier1) he separated himself from the Church of Carthage and
became the hostile critic both of it and of the Church of Rome.
At all times, however, both before and after his secession, he
claims that the Montanist revelations in no way contradict the
traditional faith, though they do supply it with additional
assurance and explanation. On one point he did differ, for he
held that the soul is of a corporal constitution, is in fact a sort of
body. This was in origin no more than a piece of Stoic meta-
physic, and meant that the soul is an objective reality: but there
is some reason to think that in his later years he considered it so
important that he left even the Montanists and founded a sect of

1. The separation was already complete when he wrote Adversus Praxean.


his own.1 These, under the name of Tertullianists, survived until
the end of the fourth century, when their last remaining basilica
in Carthage was handed over to the catholic church.

        Tertullian's tractate or homily On Baptism, like the homily On
the Prayer
(which is similar in temper and style) stands rather
outside the three main series of his writings. Of its date it is
impossible to speak with precision, though we may with some
confidence place both these works after the completion of the
great works of apologetic and before (or along with) the beginning
of the disciplinary and theological works -- that is, about the turn
of the century. Nowhere in these homilies does Tertullian show
any interest in Montanism, and that (as well as a certain simplicity
of language) points to a fairly early date. These two little works
may also claim to present the earliest surviving treatment of their
respective subjects, and both have greatly influenced subsequent
Christian thought. A work peri\ loutrou~, On the Laver,2 by
Melito of Sardis (who died very old about A.D. 180) may have
been known to Tertullian, though too little of it remains for us
to judge of the extent of his indebtedness.3 Tertullian himself
had previously written in Greek, dealing more fully than he does
here with the insufficiency of heretical baptism:4 of this too
nothing survives. In its original spoken form the present treatise
was designed to meet an immediate need. A certain woman
teacher,5 apparently of gnostic or Marcionite connections, and
perhaps an adherent of the Cainite sect, had argued against the

        1.  See Gösta Säflund, De Pallio and die stilistische Entwicklung Tertullians
(Lund, 1955), who argues that De Pallio is one of Tertullian's latest works, and
marks this final step.
        2.  Eusebius, HE. IV. 29. The title evidently refers to Ephesians 5. 26, 'the
washing of water, with the word', and Titus 3.5,'by the laver of regeneration
and the renewing of the Holy Ghost'.
        3.  See Otto, Corpus Apologeticorum, vol. IX, p. 397, and fragment XII (on
p.418),quoted in part in our note on ch. 16.
        4.  Cf. ch. 15, sed de isto plenius iam nobis in Graeco digestum est.
        5.  Cf. ch. 1. It is possible to make too much of this woman's importance.
Christian institutions continually call for explanation, or even defence: and a
wise preacher conciliates attention by reference to current interests, however
temporary and insignificant.


sacrament of Baptism as either unnecessary or ineffective:
Tertullian's first nine chapters therefore take up the cause of the
dignity of water, and defend it on both natural and religious
grounds against this kind of attack. These, with the other eleven
chapters, may be the record of a series of addresses possibly given
in preparation for the paschal administration of baptism, but
certainly also designed for the further instruction of those already


The treatise falls into three parts. Chapters 1-9 are controversial
and doctrinal, beginning with a defence of the sacrament against
heretical denials of its utility, and proceeding to an explanation of
the significance of the several parts of the baptismal rite. Chapters
10-16 treat of a number of questions, two of them of practical
interest, which were under debate at that time. Chapters 17-20
are again didactic, laying down practical rules for the administra-
tion of the sacrament.


(1) This work is intended to be useful both to those who are
shortly to receive baptism and to any simple persons who, though
baptized, are open to hostile attack through defective understand-
ing of what they then experienced. Treatment of some sort is
urgently called for in view of a recent heretical attack on baptism
which (if allowed) would end in the destruction of these simple
persons' faith. (2) The heretical allegation is that the act of
baptism is of too trivial a nature, and water too simple an element,
to have the effect ascribed to them, especially when the initiation
ceremonies of heathendom are both outwardly more impressive
and financially expensive. We reply that this is the way God
always works, using foolish things to confound the wise, and
simple acts to procure supernatural effects. (3) The high dignity
of water has at all times been in evidence. At the beginning of
creation it was the resting-place of the Spirit of God. During the
process of creation its division gave distinction to the firmament,
and its withdrawal caused the dry land to appear. It was the first


of the elements to produce living creatures, and it was present in
the clay of which man was formed. No wonder that an element
so eminently useful in God's works of nature should also be active
in his sacraments of salvation.

        (4) Without going into exhaustive detail we refer to the effects
which follow from that primal movement of the Holy Spirit
upon the waters. Then and there the element of water was sancti-
fied for ever by the holiness of the Spirit who rested upon it,
the water itself acquiring sanctifying power. We have no need to
ask if our present baptismal waters are the very same as were
there in the beginning: all waters thenceforth possess sanctifying
power, provided prayer is made to God. The Holy Spirit comes
down upon them, and as ordinary water washes away defilement
of the body, so spiritual defilement is washed away by the water
of baptism. The water receives healing power by an angel's
intervention, so that while our spirit is carnally washed our flesh
is spiritually cleansed. (5) Even the heathen allege that their idols
afford healing by means of water, as in the initiatory rites of
certain cults, and in other ceremonial lustrations: how much
more must this be true of the religion of God, since those heathen
ceremonies, ineffective though they are, are the devil's imitations
of divine things. Moreover it is well known that apart from any
pretended religious use, waters become infested by evil spirits
and drag people to destruction. Then why should not God's holy
angel work upon water for men's salvation? The pool of
Bethsaida, with its healing of the body, was a presage of greater
powers afterwards to be given to water and to the angel: for
now man is by them restored to the divine similitude, receiving
back that Spirit of God which he lost by sinning.

        (6) We do not, when baptized, receive the Holy Spirit actually
in the water, but are there cleansed by the angel in preparation
for the Holy Spirit whom we receive when sealed by faith in the
threefold Name. To this confession of faith is rightly added a
mention of the Church; which is a body of three. (7) When we
emerge from the water we are anointed with the blessed unction.
It was because of their anointing that the Aaronic priests, and our
Lord himself, received the tide of Christ, the Anointed. In us


too the anointing, like the washing, is a carnal act with a spiritual
effect. (8) The imposition of the hand in benediction calls down
the Holy Spirit. A human parallel is that of the musician's hands
as he plays the organ, and the ceremony is also illustrated by
Jacob's blessing of Joseph's sons, which was a prefiguring of the
Cross. Thus the Holy Spirit comes to rest upon bodies now
cleansed and blessed, as he came down upon our Lord in the form
of a dove. The dove, a creature without guile, was also present,
bringing the olive of peace, at the subsiding of the Flood: and in
like manner the Holy Spirit comes down with peace from heaven,
where the Church is, of which the Ark was a copy. If any object
that after the Flood men sinned, and were destroyed by fire, we
answer that this too is a warning to those who after baptism
repeat their sin.

        (9) We add further examples of the religious significance of
water. There was the crossing of the Red Sea, wherein some were
saved while their pursuers were drowned: there was the healing
of bitter waters by the tree which Moses cast in; and there was
the water which came out of the stony rock. Also there is the
baptism of Christ, his first miracle at Cana of Galilee, and his
invitation to the thirsty to come to him and drink. There is his
inclusion of a cup of cold water among the works of charity,
his resting by the well at Sychar, his walking upon the water and
his crossing over the lake: and there is his washing of the disciples'
feet. Also there is Pilate's washing of his hands: and there is the
water from Christ's pierced side.

        (10) We now come to further questions which people raise, and
first, of the baptism of John, whether it was heavenly or earthly.
This question the Pharisees were incompetent to answer, because
they had not faith. Our answer is that it was of divine appoint-
ment, though it conveyed no heavenly gift. It was directed only
to repentance, which is in a man's own power, not to forgiveness
or to the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was not given
until after our Lord's ascension, as we see in the Acts that certain
persons baptized by John had yet to receive the Spirit: and more-


over it appears as if the Spirit of prophecy had departed even from
John himself, for he sent from his prison to ask for confirmation
of facts he had previously been sure of. The remission of sins
which John preached was not present, but future, and his baptism
of repentance was no more than a preparation for this. John him-
self had said that he was preparing the way for a greater. (11) The
objection that our Lord did not himself baptize cannot stand: he
baptized by his agents, his disciples, who would not have done
this without his permission. Moreover there was no call for him
to baptize, for the conditions of an effective baptism were not
yet fulfilled. So his disciples were baptizing, and until after his
passion and resurrection continued to baptize, with the same
baptism as John's. (1,2) As there is an assumption that without
baptism there is no salvation, though there is no record of any of
the apostles except Paul being baptized, some persons presume
to question whether the apostles were saved. If they had been
baptized, as is most likely, with John's baptism, there was no
need for, this to be repeated: and since our Lord was baptized as
part of the preparing of his own way, we must assume that his
disciples were not left without baptism. The suggestion that the
apostles were baptized when their ship was sinking, or that Peter
was when he sank in the water, is too unnatural: the sinking ship
has a different meaning, being a figure of the Church which is in
distress until our Lord is awakened by the prayers of the saints to
bring this troubled world to an end. Whether or not the apostles
were baptized, it is presumptuous to question their salvation:
they had been in our Lord's company, and he remits the sins
of those who believe in him. Also, if these were not saved,
how could those others have been, of whose salvation we are

        (13) Another objection is that baptism is shown to be un-
necessary in that Abraham was not baptized, although it is written
that he pleased God. But this was before our Lord's coming;
now, by our Lord's own command, the divine plan of salvation
has been enlarged, and baptism is required as a complement to
faith. That is why Paul was sent to be baptized, though he already
believed. (14) The allegation that Paul had little regard for


baptism, because he baptized so few at Corinth, is misconceived:
he left baptizing to others so as to avoid arrogating all functions
to himself.

        (15) To summarize: There is one baptism, which is one only.
The baptism of heretics is null and void, for they cannot confer
that salvation which they do not possess. The frequent, even daily,
washings of the Jews are equally ineffective. Our washing is
made once and for all: it cleanses, and does not (like those others)
add further defilement. (16) There is indeed a second baptism,
that of blood. Christ came by water and blood, and blood as
well as water came forth from his side. This is a baptism which
supplies the lack of that other, or restores it if it has been lost.


(17) The proper minister of baptism is the bishop, and after him
the presbyter or deacon, but only with his permission. Laymen
may not baptize except in grave necessity, in no case in opposition
to the bishop. Women may not under any circumstances baptize:
the example of Thecla in this respect is of no account, for that
book is of no authority. How should Paul have given a woman
permission to baptize and to teach, when he forbids her even
to learn, except from her husband at home? (18) Baptism must
not be conferred without careful consideration. The baptism
of the eunuch by Philip is no precedent for hasty action, for this
was a very particular case, led up to by divine guidance, and
accompanied by special circumstances. Also Paul's speedy bapt-
ism was by our Lord's direct command. Baptism on mere re-
quest can both disappoint and be disappointed. Delay is always
advisable, especially with young children; these ought to wait
until they are old enough to know what is being done to them.
Delay is also advisable with young persons, especially the

        (19) The usual time for baptizing is at Easter, as was prefigured
by the disciples being sent at Easter to meet a man carrying a
pitcher of water. Pentecost also is suitable, for this is an extension
of Easter, as indicated by Jeremiah's prophecy. Beyond that, any
day will serve, for solemnity adds nothing to grace. (20) Baptism


ought to be prepared for by prayer and fasting, with confession
of sins: in such a way we fortify ourselves against the temptations
which are sure to come. Our Lord's disciples failed because they
were not watchful, and even he himself was tempted immediately
after his baptism and fasting. His forty days' fast was intended as
a reproach to Israel who for forty years in the wilderness were
forgetful of God; it is also a warning to us that temptations arise
from excess of meat:

        I beseech you, when you have been baptized, and for the first
time join in the Church's prayers, to pray even for me.


From the day of Pentecost onwards admission into the apostles'
fellowship, into the Church of God, with all that this implies of
benefits both social and spiritual, both present and future, was by
baptism. The Acts and the Epistles give unquestionable evidence
of this, though they afford no information as to what ceremonies
(however simple) were employed. Twice, at Acts 2. 3 8 and 19. 5,
we read of persons being baptized 'in the name of Jesus the
Messiah' or 'into the name of Jesus the Lord ',and this may per
haps represent the formula commonly used. at that early time.
But, at whatever date St Matthew's Gospel was written, evidently
the trinitarian formula was by that time in use: and, with or with
out some slight expansions, this has remained throughout Christian
history the standard form.

        Post-apostolic writers, no less than the apostles, assume the
indispensability of baptism, and (until we come to Tertullian)
are almost equally reticent about the ceremonies that were in use.
The so-called Teaching of the Twelve Apostles1 is content to repeat  

        1 It could not be regarded as certain that this slight work represents the
actual practice of any church, however remote and backward, at any time. It
quite possibly expresses the personal ideas of a good and simple-minded man
who, on the basis of what he could draw from the apostolic writings and of
what appealed to him in the practice of the church he knew, had drawn up
the plan of a 'model church' for his own pleasure and that of a few others,
though not necessarily with the intention of having it adopted for use.



the apostolic formula with the addition of a few remarks addressed
to the scrupulous -- remarks which themselves show how in-
dispensable baptism is:

Now regarding baptism. This is the way ye must baptize. When ye
have given them all this instruction, baptize them into the name of the
Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, in living water. And if
thou hast no living water baptize into other water: and if thou canst
not in cold, do it in warm: and if thou art short of both, pour out
water thrice upon his head into the name of Father and Son and Holy
Ghost. Before the baptizing let the baptizer and the baptized fast,
along with any others who can: and thou shalt tell the baptized to fast
for one or two days before.1

This is much the same as that which we are told of the practice
at Rome in the middle of the second century. Justin Martyr
writes as follows:

All those who are persuaded, and believe that these things are true
which are taught and spoken by us, and promise that they can live
accordingly, are taught to pray and, with fasting, to ask of God
remission of their former sins, the while we pray and fast along with
them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are made
regenerate with that manner of regeneration with which we ourselves
were made regenerate: that is, in the name of God, the Father and
Lord of all, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Ghost,
they at that point make their washing in the water; for Christ it was
who said, Except ye be regenerate ye shall by no means enter into the
kingdom of heaven.

A little later, after further explanation, he resumes:

Upon one who has chosen to be made regenerate, and has repented of
his sinful acts, there is named in the water the name of God the Lord
and Father of all. He who brings to the washing the one who is washed
pronounces over him no more than this; for none can give a name to
the ineffable God, and if any were bold enough to say there was one,
he is mad beyond measure. Now this washing is called 'enlighten-
ment', because those who learn these things become enlightened in
mind. Also the person enlightened is washed in the name of Jesus

1 Didache  7.


Christ who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the
Holy Ghost who by the prophets proclaimed beforehand all the things
concerning Jesus.1

        This was followed immediately by the Eucharist, which began
on this occasion with the pax and the offertory.2

        This allusive account is evidently accommodated to the limits
of imperial comprehension: the reason given for the term
'enlightenment' is by no means the right one, but is as much as
the emperors are likely to understand. Apart from that we have
the trinitarian formula, at first slightly expanded, and afterwards
extended into the form of a creed. The account is somewhat
muddled by the interposition of explanations, and it is not clear
in what relation these two forms stand to each other: certainly
the shorter one was pronounced (the verb is e)pile/goutoj) by the
officiant, and there seems to be as yet no indication of the sub-
sequent conversion of the formula into interrogation and response,
such as we find in Tertullian's Roman contemporary Hippolytus,
and probably in Tertullian himself.

        Hippolytus describes the practice of the Roman church as it
had been (one may presume) towards the end of the second
century, and as he would wish it to continue.3 The reconstructed

          1 Justin Martyr, Apol.1. 61.
        2 The Sunday Eucharist, described by Justin shortly afterwards, began with
the preliminary service of scripture, prayer, and instruction.
        3 The so-called Egyptian Church Order was shown by E. Schwartz (Strass-
burg,191o)and R. H. Connolly (Cambridge,1910) to be none other than the
lost a)postolikh\ para/dosij of Hippolytus. Doubt might arise whether some
of the details are due to the author himself or are supposed improvements by
Coptic and other editors: though it seems safe to assume that the Verona Latin
fragments represent, as nearly as makes no difference, the work of Hippolytus.
On Hippolytus too some questions arise. He may have been bishop of one
of the suburbicarian sees, or (just possibly) of the Greek-speaking Christians
of Rome: or he may have been an anti-pope, for he was clearly no friend of
Zephyrinus and Callistus, his contemporaries: he himself seems to claim to be
pope, and regards the other two as in some sense usurpers. Whoever he was,
he was without doubt inportant and influential in his own generation, and one
whom the Roman church found it convenient very quickly to forget. If
Zephyrinus and Callistus were responsible for changing the language of



Apostolic Tradition has a long section on the scrutinizing of the
sincerity and the moral and occupational suitability of such as
apply for admission to instruction:1 so many professions, so
many pursuits, ipso facto disqualify for baptism that persons
accepted must have regarded themselves as highly privileged.2
The course of instruction lasts for three years, though if a man is
a good scholar his time may be shortened. Catechumens are not
to pray with the believers3 nor to join in the pax. After each
instruction and prayer the teacher lays his hand on the cate-
chumen. A catechumen who becomes a martyr must not be
doubtful of his testimony, for he will be justified.4

        When the day for baptism approaches, those who have been
accepted and are ready for baptism are to examine their life:
they hear the Gospel, and the hand is laid upon them, every day:
the bishop takes an oath of them that they are pure. They are
to wash and be exorcized on the fifth day of the last week, and
are to fast on the Friday. On the Saturday all assemble into one
place, with prayer and prostration: the bishop lays his hand upon
them, exorcizes them, breathes on them, reads to them, and
efforts them. They are to wear no golden ornaments.

worship at Rome from Greek to Latin (a change which seems to have been made
about this time) and if at the same time they made other changes in the church,
services, of which Hippolytus disapproved, his purpose in writing things down
may have been to preserve, for restoration in better days, the memory of
church practices which he was distressed to have seen abandoned.
        1 Statutes of the Apostles, §§ 28 sqq.; Horner, p. 147.
        2 These are to be rejected: panders, makers of images or pictures, frequenters
of the Circus, schoolmasters, those who engage in idolatrous worship, those
who hunt, fight, or drive horses, or who teach such things: also heathen
priests, soldiers, star-gazers and magicians, magistrates, an adulteress, a man
without pity, one given to unnatural lusts, an interpreter of dreams, a sooth-
sayer, a maker of potions. The concubine of one man is to be accepted; a man
who keeps a concubine is to marry her, or to be rejected. This last regulation
seems to mark the list as of the fourth century or later: at an earlier date
disparitas status would have precluded a civil marriage. Compare this with
Tertullian's ch. 18.
        3 So, by implication, Tertullian, ch. 20 ad fin.
        4 Cf. Tertullian, ch. 16, and ch. 18 ad fin., fides integra secura est de salute.


At cockcrow prayer is said over the water,1  and the bishop
gives thanks over the mystic oil, and then takes other oil and
exorcizes it: the two oils are to be held by deacons on the right
and on the left of the presbyter. Each candidate says, 'I renounce
thee, Satan, and all thy angels and all thy unclean work', and
thereupon is anointed with the exorcized off: he is then handed
over to the bishop or presbyter, naked,2 and the deacon goes
down with him into the water and teaches him the Creed.3 The
baptism follows. The presbyter lays his hand on the candidate's
head, as they stand in the water, and asks him, 'Dost thou believe
in God the Father Almighty?' He answers, 'I do', and the pres-
byter4 keeping his hand on his head baptizes him (it says) for the
first time. The impression given is that his head is pressed down
into the water, though the affusion of water upon him is a
possibility. The account continues, 'Dost thou believe in Christ
Jesus the Son of God, who was born by the Holy Ghost of the
virgin Mary and was crucified under Pontius Pilate and died and
was buried and rose again the third day alive from the dead and
ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of the
Father and will come to judge the quick and the dead?' He
answers, 'I do', and is baptized a second time. Again he is asked,
'Dost thou believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy church, and the
resurrection of the flesh?' He answers, 'I do', and is baptized a
third time.

        As he comes up from the water the presbyter anoints him with
the mystic oil, saying, 'I anoint thee with holy oil in the name of

        1 In our text this is in a tank, but there are variant readings which
suggest that the original indicated a running stream. Tertullian, ch. 4, invocato
        2 There is much insistence on this nakedness: they were evidently somewhat
self-conscious about it, and possibly objections had been raised.
        3 The words of the Creed are given: 'I believe in one God the Father Al-
mighty, and in his only Son Jesus Christ (our Lord and Saviour) and the Holy
Spirit [giver of life to all creation, the Trinity equal in godhead, one Lord and
one kingdom and one faith] and one baptism in the holy [catholic] church,
[and life eternal]. Amen.' The bracketed phrases are evidently later additions:
the rest may very well be a second-century creed.
        4 At this point begins the Latin of the Verona palimpsest.


Jesus Christ'.1 Each one wipes himself dry, and when they are
come into the church the bishop lays his hand upon them one
by one and prays,

O Lord God, who hast made these persons worthy to obtain remission
of sins by the washing of regeneration of the Holy Ghost,2 send upon
them thy grace, that they may serve thee according to thy will:
because throe is the glory, Father and Son, with Holy Spirit, in the
holy church both now and for evermore. Amen.

He now pours sanctified oil from his hand and lays it (presum-
ably, his hand) severally upon each one's head, saying, 'I anoint
thee with holy oil in the Lord the Father Almighty and Christ
Jesus and the Holy Spirit':3 and finally he signs each one on the
forehead, and gives him the kiss, saying,'The Lord be with you',
and receiving the usual answer. Then at length, the narrative says,
they may pray along with all the people, for none may pray with
the faithful except they have first received all these benefits.4

        The Eucharist apparently follows, as in Justin, but with the
addition of milk and honey in token of entrance into the promised
land. The narrative concludes, 'And when all this has been done,
let each one hasten to perform the good work'.5

        1  Ungueo te oleo sancto in nomine Jesu Christi. This looks like a duplication of
the bishop's anointing which shortly follows. Tertullian has nothing about a
double anointing at this point, though as his account is allusive rather than
descriptive the possibility cannot be ruled out. The bishop's pouring of the oil
from his open hand perhaps accounts for the intensative preposition in Ter-
tullian's ch. 7, egressi de lavacro perunguimur benedicta unctione: perunguimur can
hardly mean, as some editors have thought, 'are anointed all over'.
        2 Evidently an inaccurate reminiscence of Titus 3. 5, dia\ loutrou~ palig-
genesi/aj kai\ a)nakainw&sewj pneu&matoj a(gi/ou.
        3 So Tertullian, ch. 7, egressi de lavacro perunguimur, etc., and ch. 8, dehinc
manus imponitur per benedictionem, advocans et invitans spiritum sanctum
        4 Non primum orantes cum fidelibus nisi omnia haec fuerint consecuti. So Tertul-
lian, ch. 20 ad fin.
        5 cum vero haec fuerint,festinet unusquisque operam bonam facere, perhaps with
reference (a little misapplied) to Philippians 1. 6, o#ti o( e)narca&menoj e)n u(mi~n
e@rgon a)gaqo_n e)pitele&sei a@xrij h(me&raj 'Ihsou~ Xristou~ , as though it meant
'that he among you who bath begun a good work' etc.



Tertullian's references to the ceremonies observed at baptism are,
both elsewhere and in the present treatise, allusive rather than
descriptive. Even so, we are able to discover the outlines of a
service of much the same shape as that described by Hippolytus
and his copyists, and affording at least the possibility of some
coincidences of phrase. The following references, for the most
part incidental, in his other works confirm the allusions of De
and fill out a few of its omissions.

        At De Corona 3, arguing against those who demand scriptural
authority for every moral or disciplinary requirement, he says
that there are a considerable number of observances which are
customary and traditional, yet have no express warrant in

In short, to begin with baptism, when on the point of coming to the
water we then and there, as also somewhat earlier in church under the
bishop's control, affirm that we renounce the devil and his pomp and
his angels. After this we are thrice immersed, while we answer
interrogations rather more extensive than our Lord has prescribed in
the gospel. Made welcome then (into the assembly) we partake of
a compound of milk and honey, and from that day for a whole week
we abstain from our daily bath.1

He goes on to mention certain usages (not very clearly described)
in connection with the Eucharist, and oblations for the dead on
their anniversaries, and adds that no fasting or kneeling is per-
mitted on Sundays or during the period of Pentecost, that we
are careful not to let crumbs or drops even of ordinary food and
drink fall to the ground, and that we sign ourselves with the cross
before every employment or activity. None of these have any

        1 De Corona 3, Denique ut a baptismate ingrediar, aquam adituri ibidem,
sed et aliquanto prius in ecclesia sub antistitis manu, contestamur nos renuntiare
diabolo et pompae et angelis eius. dehinc ter mergitamur, amplius aliquid re-
spondentes quam dominus in evangelio determinavit. inde suscepti lactis et mellis
concordiam praegustamus, exque eo die lavacro quotidiano peg totam hebdomadem


scriptural authority: their origin was tradition, they are confirmed
by custom, and observed by faith.1

        The triple immersion, with the expanded baptismal formula,
is again referred to at Adversus Praxean 26. Tertullian is arguing
that so far from God the Son being identically the same with
God the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ throughout the Gospel, and
finally at Matthew 28. 19, carefully insists on the distinction: and
this distinction we too emphasize, 'for not once only, but thrice
are we baptized into each of the three Persons at each of theseveral
names '.2

        At De Praescriptione Haereticorum 36, speaking of matters in
which the apostolic churches agree, to the exclusion of heretical
innovations, Tertullian says that 'the Roman church, like that of
Carthage, acknowledges one Lord God, the Creator of the
universe, and Christ Jesus, of the virgin Mary, the Son of God
the Creator, and the resurrection of the flesh: it combines the
law and the prophets with the evangelical and apostolic writings:
from them it imbibes (or, with them it refreshes) its faith: that
faith it seals with water, clothes with the Holy Spirit, feeds with
the Eucharist, exhorts to martyrdom: in opposition to this
constitution it accepts no man's person.'3

        The two clauses which refer, to baptism and its sequel the
reception of the Holy Spirit perhaps owe their inclusion here to
the fact that, like the other matters referred to, they had been
subject to heretical denial or distortion: they do however, indicate
once more that bare faith is not sufficient, but needs the sign or
seal of water.

        1 Traditio tibi praetendetur auctrix, consuetudo confirmatrix, et fides observatrix.
Evidently traditio does not mean the acceptance of a custom from one person,
or one generation, by another (for that is consuetudo),butitsfirstdeliverance by
an apostle or other authority: and fides is the fidelity which stands by its
Christian obligations and submits to established custom.
        2 Nam nec semel sed ter, ad singula nomina in personas singulas tinguimur.
        3 De Praesc. Haer. 36, unum deum dominum novit creatorem universitatis, et
Christum Iesum ex virgine Maria filium dei creatoris, et carnis resurrectionem: legem
et prophetas cum evangelicis et apostolicis litteris miscet: inde potat fidem, eam aqua
signal, sancto spiritu vestit, eucharistia pascit, martyrium exhortatur, et ita adversus
hanc institutionem neminem recipit


        At Adversus Marcionem I. 14 Tertullian is arguing that Marcion
is in many respects inconsistent with himself. He has invented a
superior god, the enemy and opponent of the Creator, who has
sent Christ his son to deliver mankind from the power of the
Creator; yet as Marcion himself has retained certain catholic
practices, so Marcion's superior god, to accomplish his alleged
redemptive acts, continues to make use of the contents of the
Creator's world:

He in fact [sc. that lord of yours, that better sort of god has not up
to now rejected the Creator's water, for in it he washes his own; nor
the oil with which he anoints them, nor the compound of milk and
honey on which he weans them, nor the Creator's bread by which he
makes manifest his own body. Even in his own rites and ceremonies
he cannot do without things begged and borrowed from the Creator.1

Unless Marcionites subsequent to Marcion were continuing to
copy some of the more recent liturgical usages of the catholic
churches, if (that is to say) Marcionite practice at the end of the
second century was derived exclusively from Marcion himself,
it seems that (in spite of Justin's silence about them) the supple
mentary ceremony of unction, and the provision of milk and
honey, were in use at least as early as the fourth decade of that

        At De Resurrectione Carnis 8 Tertullian argues that the flesh
must not be despised as a thing of no value, as of no account in
the sight of God: caro salutis est cardo, the flesh is the pivot round
which salvation turns, or (perhaps) the hinge upon which the
gate of salvation hangs:

The flesh is washed that the soul may be made spotless: the flesh is
anointed that the soul may be consecrated: the flesh is signed <With
the cross> that the soul too may be protected: the flesh is overshadowed


        1 Adv. Marc. I. 14, sed ille quidem [sc. tuus dominus,ille deus melior] usque nunc
nec aquam reprobavit qua suos abluit, nec oleum quo suos unguit, nec mellis et lactis
societatem qua suos infantat, nec panem quo ipsum corpus suum repraesentat, etiam in
sacramentis propriis egens mendicitatibus creatoris
. Here societas takes the place of
concordia in the similar passage from De Corona.



by the imposition of the hand that the soul may also be illumined by
the Spirit: the flesh feeds on the Body and Blood of Christ so that the
soul as well may be replete with God.1

Here we have the same series of acts as before, but with the addi-
tion of a signing or sealing with the cross, of which we have not
hitherto heard. This seems to be not the customary signing with
the cross at every common act (referred to at De Corona 3), but
part of the baptismal ceremony, in some sort of connection with
the anointing and the imposition of the hand.2

        From these allusions it appears that the series of acts which
Tertullian has in mind takes form as follows.

        The natural assumption that there was some previous instruc-
tion is confirmed by his remark (referring in this case to children,
but obviously of wider application), 'Let them come when they
learn, when they are informed what it is they are coming to'
(ch. 18). That this instruction was sometimes perfunctorily
received, even if not perfunctorily given, is evident from Tertul-
lian's remarks (ch. 1) about reasons unexamined and faith open
to temptation. It was accompanied by fasting, prayer, and vigil,
and by such confession of sins as could be made in private (ch.20).3
At some point before the actual baptism the candidates, in church
in the bishop's presence, made their renunciation of the devil, his
pomp, and his angels, a renunciation which apparently was

        1 De Res. Carn. 8, caro abluitur ut anima emaculetur, caro unguitur ut anima
consecretur, caro signatur ut et anima muniatur, caro manus impositione adumbratur ut
et anima spiritu illuminetur, caro corpore et sanguine Christi vescitur ut et anima de deo
        2 The double ceremony is retained to this day in the form of confirmation:
consigno te signo crucis et confirmo te chrismate salutis, in nomine, etc. The English
book Of 1549 had, 'I sign thee with the sign of the cross, and lay my hand upon
thee, in the name', etc.
        3 De Bapt. 20, where non publice confitemur is probably the correct text, and
certainly the only one which can claim authority. Lupton's statement that
'Tertullian was inclined to recommend fasting after the reception of the
Sacrament, but does not press the point' (p. xx) is a misreading of Tertullian's
words: the suggestion was made by someone else (dicet aliquis) and is mildly
but definitely rejected.


repeated outside the church at the place of baptism: it included
also, it appears, a renunciation of the world.1

        Whether the washing with water took place at the entrance of
the church or (as was the case with Justin and Hippolytus) at some
point outside, Tertullian does not say. Certainly prayer was made
for the sanctifying of the water.2 Sponsors were present, appar-
ently as witnesses, but possibly also as sureties.3 Baptism was by
triple immersion accompanied by a slightly expanded form of the
trinitarian formula.4 There the angel who is the mediator of
baptism prepares the way for the Holy Spirit who is next to come
upon them: he does so by such wiping out of sins as faith lays
claim to when signed and sealed in the Father, the Son, and the
Holy Spirit, to whose names is appended a mention of the
Church. In this connection Tertullian has used the expression
spiritui sancto praeparamur, 'we are made ready for the Holy
Spirit': it would however be wrong to press unduly the word
praeparamur as though the washing with water were merely
preparatory for more important things to come: he was well
aware (ch. 7 ad fin.) that ipse baptismus, the essence of baptism, was
immersion in water.

        Coming out from the fonts the neophytes pass through a

        1 De Corona 3, sed et aliquanto prius in ecclesia sub antistitis manu contestamur
nos renuntiare diabolo et pompae et angelis eius: Ad Martyras
2, Christianus etiam
extra carcerem saeculo renuntiavit, ín carcere autem carceri
        2 De Bapt. 4, aquae ...sacramentum sanctficationis consequuntur invocato deo. So
also Cyprian, Ep. 70, oportet ergo mundari et sanctificari aquam prius a sacerdote ut
possit baptismo suo peccata hominis qui baptizatur abluere
--a sentence which calls
for some comment, for which this is not the place.
        3 De Bapt. 18 makes what appears to be the earliest mention of sureties
though there could hardly have been any earlier: perhaps there is a veiled
reference to them also in ch. 6, sponsores salutis. In Hippolytus there are appar-
ently no sponsors, except that inarticulate children are answered for by their
parents or near relations.
        4 De Bapt. 2, homo in aquam demissus et inter pauca verba tinctus; also De Corona
3: Adv. Prax. 26(quoted above). The Hippolytean form (above, p.xxi) is in full
agreement with the indications Tertullian gives, De Bapt. 6.
        5 De Bapt. 7, egressi de lavacro. At De Corona 3 the word suscepti indicates
that someone was there to welcome them, in however informs a manner.



complicated ceremony which depends, as Tertullian claims, on
church tradition and custom, and not on scriptural warrant. There
was first an anointing with the blessed oil.1 Tertullian does not
expressly say (as the commentators have thought) that they were
anointed 'all over', or that they were anointed 'to the Christian
priesthood': the former is a possible deduction from his words,
the latter was probably not in his mind.2 Possibly this anointing
was accompanied by the signing or sealing with the cross,
alluded to elsewhere:3 it was followed by an imposition of the
hand (by the bishop, no doubt, or the officiating presbyter) in
invitation and welcome of the Holy Spirit as he brings from
heaven the peace of God upon these whose sins have just been
washed away. What was the precise significance of these post
baptismal ceremonies is not clearly stated: perhaps, as Fr Refoulé
remarks of one of them, they were ceremonies still in quest of
their own meaning. If the actual baptism, outside the church,
or at the door, was done by presbyters and deacons as the bishop's
representatives, the least that can be said is that these additional
episcopal acts are the bishop's confirmation, perhaps of the newly
baptized, but certainly of his subordinates' act in baptizing them.

        After baptism, immediately or without undue delay, the newly
baptized are permitted to join in the church prayers, presumably
at the Eucharist, with those whose brethren they are now become
(ch. 20 ad fin.). The additional ceremony, the foretaste of the milk
and honey of the Promised Land, is not mentioned here but is
attested elsewhere by Tertullian, as by others: we are not told
when it was done, but his omission to mention it now may mean
that it came not at once after the baptism but after the baptismal
or paschal eucharist.4

        1 De Bapt.7. The oil must of course have been previously, or then and there,
blessed: Tertullian says nothing of this, nor does he, as Hippolytus does, men
tion the neophytes' wiping of themselves dry and entering into the church.
       2 The revised text and improved punctuation of ch.7 make a new interpreta-
tion advisable.
       3 De Res. Carn. 8, caro signatur ut et anima muniatur.
       4 At De Corona 3 it seems to come immediately after the baptism, inde
suscepti lactis et mellis concordiam praegustamus
: a mention of the eucharist 



The spiritual effects which Tertullian conceives to result from
these ceremonies are seen to be as manifold and complicated as
the ceremonies themselves. It may not be necessary to follow
him in his attempt, not very convinced or convincing, to assign
each several effect, each several grace of God, to its own particular
ceremony: the one all-inclusive act of washing in water with the
spoken word of the trinitarian formula may be supposed to effect
not only the removal of sins and regeneration to newness of life,
but also to carry with it those further graces of which the sub-
sidiary ceremonies may have been (in their origin) illustrative
tokens rather than effective signs. However that may be, it
remains evident that by the end of the second century, if not
fifty years earlier, the doctrine of baptism (even without the aid
of controversy to give it precision) was so fully developed that
subsequent ages down to our own have found nothing significant
to add to it.

        Tertullian's references to this doctrine, once more, are allusive
rather than systematic, and are often to be discerned in a casual
word or turn of phrase. His most comprehensive reference is to
be found Adversus Marcionem I. 28. Marcion in his revised version
of Christianity had retained both the Christian sacraments.
Tertullian had already objected1 that he was inconsistent with
himself in that in the service of his superior god he made use of
the works of the Creator of whose acts that god was supposed
to disapprove. He now adds that the spiritual gifts conveyed by
baptism are not such as that superior god would find it needful,
profitable, or possible to grant. It may of course be the case that
Marcion,in retaining the sacraments, gave them a revised signi-
ficance such as would not be inconsistent with the main principles
of his doctrine: all that Tertullian is sure of doing is to state one
by one the benefits of baptism as he himself knows them, and to

follows. But this is not the baptismal eucharist, and between inde suscepti and
the concord of milk and honey the whole series of post-baptismal ceremonies
has been passed over.

        1 Adv.Marc.I.14,quoted above,page xxv.


show that these are alien to the mind and character of Marcion's
better sort of god.

To what purpose is baptism as well (as faith) required of his adherents?
If there is remission of sins, how shall one be found to remit sins who,
as it appears, does not retain them? He could only retain them by
judging them. If there is a loosing of the bonds of death, how should
one let loose from death who has never held any in bondage to death?
He could only have had them in bondage if he had condemned them
from the beginning. If there is man's second birth, how does one
grant a second birth who has not yet given a first birth? Repetition
of an act is beyond the power of one who has not done the act to begin
with. If there is reception of the Holy Spirit, how can he impart the
Spirit when he has not first supplied a soul? For soul is in some sort
that which spirit takes for foundation. Thus he sets his seal upon the
man who has never been transferred to his possession, he washes a
man whom he has never held to be defiled, and into this whole
sacrament of salvation he plunges the flesh which has no part or lot in

As far as Marcion was concerned this need be no more than
special pleading; but from Tertullian's point of view we have here
set forth four aspects or facets of the divine grace which baptism
confers. They are the remission of sins, deliverance from death,
a second birth to newness of life, and endowment with the Holy
Spirit. These are acknowledged, not by Tertullian alone but by
the common consciousness of his Christian contemporaries, to
be the gifts which baptism conveys: he never argues for their
acceptance, but takes them for granted, mentions them in casual
allusion, and refers them to types which are illustrations rather

        1 Adv. Marc. I. 28, cui autem rei baptisma quoque apud eum (sc. Marcionis deum
benignum) exigitur? si remissio delictorum est, quomodo videbitur delicta remittere qui
non videbitur retinere? quia retineret si iudicaret. si absolutio mortis est, quomodo
absolveret a morte qui non devinxit ad mortem ? devinxisset enim si a primordio
damnasset. si regeneratio est hominis, quomodo regenerat qui non generavit? iteratio
enim non competit ei a quo quid nec semel factum est. si consecutio est spiritus sancti,
quomodo spiritum attribuet qui animam non prius contulit? quia suffectura est quo-
dammodo spiritus anima. signat igitur hominem nunquam apud se resignatum, lavai
hominem nunquam apud se coinquinatum, et in hoc totum salutis sacramentum carnem
mergit exsortem salutis


than proofs. Moreover the efficacy of baptism derives not from
the washing itself but from the passion and resurrection of Christ.
His baptism, as distinguished from that of John, could not be
given even by his own disciples during his earthly presence, since
the efficacy of the washing was not yet ensured through his passion
and resurrection: our death could not be nullified except by his
passion, nor our life restored apart from his resurrection. Conse-
quently Easter is the most appropriate season for baptism, because
then was fulfilled the passion of Christ in which we are baptized.
On the recipient's side also faith is expected, the faith which
believes in Christ's nativity, passion, and resurrection: it is those
who believe in his blood who are really washed by the water.1

        So certain was it that remission of sins is fundamental to the
grace of baptism that it was possible for certain ill-advised per-
sons, to whom Tertullian refers, while waiting to be baptized,
to filch the intervening time as a period of licence for sinning
instead of (as it ought to be) a time of exercise in not sinning.2
Nor does remission remain merely an external act or transaction:
the water of baptism brings not only forgiveness but cleansing,
when the sins of our pristine blindness are washed away:3 and
forasmuch as we are defiled by sins as it were by filth, we are
made clean in the waters, for in the waters our spirit is corporally
washed and in those same waters our flesh is spiritually cleansed.4

        The consequence of this is deliverance from death, for as the
guilt is removed, so is its penalty, and man is restored to God, to
that image and likeness which he had lost by sinning.5 Deliver
ance moreover is not only from death but from subservience to

        1 De Bapt. 11 ad fin. Also ibid. 19, cum et passio domini in qua tinguimur
adimpleta est
: ibid. 13, ubi fides aucta est credendi in nativitatem, passionem, resurrec-
tionemque eius
: ibid. 16, quatenus qui in sanguinem eius crederent aqua lavarentur.
       2 De Paenitentia 6: certi enim indubitatae veniae delictorum, medium tempus
interim furantur, et commeatum sibi faciunt delinquendi quam eruditionem non

       3 De Bapt. 1, ablutis delictis pristinae caecitatis.
       4 De Bapt. 4, ut quoniam vice sordium delictis inquinamur, aquis abluamur...
spiritus in aquis corporaliter diluitur et caro in eisdem spiritaliter mundatur.

       5 De Bapt. 5, exempto reatu eximitur et poena: ita restituitur homo deo ad simi-
litudinem eius qui retro ad imaginem dei fuerat


the devil: commenting on the apostle's statement that Christ was
for this purpose made manifest, that he might destroy the works
of the devil, Tertullian explains that he destroys these when by
the washing he sets the man free, giving release from 'the hand
writing of death'.1 And the ground of this is that Christ has
broken the adamantine bars of hell,2 having redeemed man from
the angels which are rulers of this world, from the spiritual hosts
of wickedness, from the darkness of this age, from eternal judge-
ment and from everlasting death.3

        A further consequence or concomitant of this is a new birth to
everlasting life. In the water we are born anew according to
Jesus Christ: in the water we are remoulded, in similar manner
(it appears) to that original moulding at the hands of God: for
in Christ there is a new nativity by which man is born in God
since the time when God was born in man.4 It follows that the
health which the waters bring is not, like that at Bethesda, of a
temporary sort but, as the grace of God has since that time made
progress, has become salvation which is eternal.5

        Baptism also confers or conveys the Holy Spirit. Tertullian
does not carefully distinguish between the specific gifts of
baptism and of what we now call confirmation; nor does he
connect the collation of the Holy Spirit with the unction which
is given on emergence from the water, but with the laying on of
the hand shortly afterwards in benediction.6 He seems at this
stage to be unaware of, or uninterested in, the idea (which to
Irenaeus was of great significance) of the Holy Spirit as the

        1 De Pudicitia 19, nam et solvit liberans hominem per lavacrum, donato ei chiro-
grapho mortis
: cf. 1 John 3. 9, Col. 2. 14.
        2 De Res. Carn. 44, Portas adamantinas mortis et aeneas seras inferorum infregit.
        3 De Fuga 12, et dominus quidem illum redemit ab angelis munditenentibus
potestatibus, a spiritualibus nequitiae, a tenebris huius aevi, a iudicio aeterno, a morte
        4 De Bapt. 1, secundum Iesum Christum in aqua nascimur: ibid. 3, aqua reformari:
De Carne Christi 17, haec est nativitas nova dum homo nascitur in deo ex quo in
homine deus natus est
, etc.
        5 De Bapt. 5, qui temporalem operabantur salutem nunc aeternam reformant.
        6 De Bapt. 8, dehinc manus imponitur per benedictionem advocans et invitans
spiritum sanctum


formative influence in Christian conduct and character:1 all he
can say is (though this implies more than it says) that as we come
out from the washing the Holy Spirit comes down upon bodies
cleansed and blessed, as he came down upon our Lord at his
baptism in the form of a dove, bringing to us the peace of God,
as did the dove which flew back to Noah's ark.2

        By this series of acts the devil, our ancient tyrant, is left drowned
in the waters, as Pharaoh with his host was drowned in the Red
Sea.3 Foreseeing (or already aware of) his overthrow, he renews
his attacks both before and after baptism, and from these we
ought to protect ourselves by frequent prayers, fasting, and vigils.4
It follows from all this that baptism is so necessary a thing, so
essential to salvation, that to withhold it in case of emergency
is to destroy a man:5 and withal it is so serious a matter, that it must
neither be too easily granted nor too inconsiderately sought.6

        If Tertullian does not expressly say that baptism is the gate of
admission into the Church, that may be because from the day of
Pentecost onwards this has been so universally acknowledged that
he has no need to insist on it. He does however observe that
baptism gives admission into the congregation assembled for
worship in their mother's house,7 and these are the local mani-
festation of that universal Church which is of such high import
ance as to be included in the Creed along with the threefold
Name of God.8


In estimating the influence of this work upon posterity we have
to begin with a distinction between the particular influence of
the book itself on those who read it and echoed or copied its
language, and that more general influence of the ideas contained

        1 Irenaeus, Haer.III.xviii, V.i, vi, ix, and xxxvi, per huiusmodi gradus proficere,
et per spiritum quidem ad filium, per filium autem ascendere ad patrem
        2 De Bapt. 8, columba sancti spiritus advolat pacem dei adferens.
        3 De Bapt. 9.                           4 De Bapt. 20.
        5 De Bapt. 17, reus erit perditi hominis si supersederit praestare quod libere potuit.
        6 De Bapt. 18.
        7 De Bapt. 20.                         8 De Bapt. 6, 8 and 11.


in it which speedily became the common property of Christen-
dom, or perhaps were common property even before Tertullian
wrote them down. It is, for example, well understood that St
Cyprian, bishop of Carthage in the next generation, was a great
admirer of Tertullian and an assiduous reader of his works: but
of echoes of his language there is in Cyprian's writings surprisingly
little. The bishop certainly shared Tertullian's views on the in-
validity of heretical baptism: but here it may be that both the
one and the other were inheritors of an even older practice and
conviction of the African church. Cyprian also agreed with
Tertullian on the question of flight in time of persecution, though
on the first occasion he thought (and rightly thought) that the
future good of the Church demanded his survival.

        Of writers who echo or copy Tertullian's language there are
three to be mentioned, the first of them being Didymus the
Blind, head of the Alexandrian catechetical school, who died
about A.D. 398 in his eighty-fifth year. As he was blind from the
age of five onwards, his reading must have been done for him
and as the Greeks were as a rule in contented ignorance of Latin
it is the more surprising that he should have known Tertullian's
work. In his treatise on the Holy Trinity we note:

(a) that the dove is a simple (or harmless) creature, and is devoid of
    (b) that Noah's ark, which saved those who went into it, is a figure
of the holy Church: that the olive-branch was a symbol of peace;
    (c) that the whole -story of the exodus from Egypt was a type of the
salvation that is in baptism;
    (d) that the pool of Bethesda [thus written, and not as by Tertullian]
is admittedly an image of baptism, though not the very truth of it:
for the image had a temporary effect (or purpose) whereas the truth is
marked off for eternity;
    (e) certain persons, because of the chrism, are designated christs (but
the word is mis-spelled, with eta for iota).1

        1 Didymus,De Trinitate II.14 (Migne, cols. 692 sqq.): to_ zw~|on tou~to a)ke&raio&n
te& e)sti kai\ xole~j e)ste&rhtai
(quoting Matt. 10. 16), kai\ h( kibwto_j au)th_
sw&sasa tou_j e)p' au)th~| ei0sfrh&santaj ei0kw_n th~j septh~j e)tu&gxanen e)kklhsi/aj
su&mbolon ga_r h( e)lai/a th~j ei0rh&nhj
... kai\ pa~sa de\ h( u(po&qesij th~j a)po_ Ai0gu&ptou
au)tw~n o(dou~ tu&poj h}n th~j e)n tw~| baptismw~| swthri/aj
, with other details


Perhaps half a century later, in a long letter on the subject of
baptism, St Jerome, along with much that is his own or has come
to him from other sources, has these echoes of Tertullian's

    from Tertullian, ch s. 3, 4: de schola rhetorum aquarum laudes et baptismi
praedicemus ... extruitur firmamentum et aquae quae super
caelo sunt in laudes domini separantur

    from Tertullian, chs. 8, 9: along with other Old Testament types
not referred to by Tertullian, there is a mention of Noah's ark, of the
escape from Pharaoh, and of the waters of Marra (written merra): also,
that our Lord primum signum ex aquis fecit, and by him Samaritana
vocatur ad puteum
and sitientes invitantur a poculum ;

    from Tertullian, chs 1, and 5: reguli et scorpiones arentia quaeque
sectantur et postquam ad aquas venerint hyrophobas et lymphaticos faciunt

    also, misunderstanding (or altering incorrectly) Tertullian ch. 10 and
in agreement with ch. 15: qui Ioannis acceperant baptisma, quia spiritum
sanctum nesciebant, iterum baptizantur, ne quis putaret e gentibus aut 
Iudaeis aquas sine spiritu sancto ad salutem posse sufficere

    A long series of quotations is made by St Isid ore, bishop of
Seville (600 to 636).2 This most learned scholar is thought to have


not in Tertullian: Bethesda o(mologoume&nwj ei0kw_na tou~ bapti/smatoj, a)ll'
ou)k au)th_n tugxa&nousan th_n a)lh&qeian: h( ga_r ei0kw_n pro_j kaipo_n h( de_ a)lh&qeia
ei0j ai0wno&thtakri/netai
: and (Migne, col, 712) oi9 e)piklhqe&ntej a)po tou~ xri/smatoj

        1 Jerome, Epistle 69, Ad Oceanum.
        2 In the work called Origenes or Etimologiae, a fascinating compendium of all
learning, sacred and profane much after the manner of Pliny's Natural History,
and for the most part copied almost verbally from older writings, including
Pliny's.  It would seem to be unsafe to use Isidore's quotations as evidence for
the text of our treatise.  His citations of other classical authors are often inexact,
and frequently enough disfigured by false concords: he has little sense of pro-
sody, and his quotations from Virgil, for example, will not always scan.  He
might perhaps be called as evidence for the barbarous form baptismum (nomina-
tive) except that in the same sentence (VI. 19. 47) he makes elementum mascu-
line.  He did in fact either rely on an exceptionally comprehensive and accurate
memory, or else not too carefully copy what lay in the books before him.
The places where Isidore copies Tertullian are these: Etym. VI. 19. 41-58:
VII. 2. 2, 3, 22: 3. 29: 14. 1: XII. 4. 8: 7. 61.  The section VI. 19. 59-67 is
copied from Tertullian, De oratione: and one sentence, XX. 4 4, from De
Carne Christi.


the credit of collecting and saving for posterity the treatises con-
tained in the Cluny group of manuscripts (Montepessulanus,
Paterniacensis, etc.), which do not, however, include the present
work or De Oratione. To copy all out at length would take too
much space: the following is given as illustrating the manner in
which Isidore copies his authorities and occasionally adds a little
of his own, or something remembered from elsewhere.

It is called chrism in Greek, unction in Latin: and from this word
Christ has his name, and a man is sanctified after baptism. For as in
the baptism there is granted remission of sins, so by the unction there
is added sanctification of spirit: this in accordance with the ancient
practice by which they used to be anointed for priesthood or kingship,
since the time when Aaron was anointed by Moses. And while this
unction is a carnal act it is of spiritual advantage, just as in the grace of
baptism itself there is a visible act, that we are submerged in water,
but a spiritual effect, that we are cleansed of sins. This is the significance
of that ointment which, in scripture, was poured on the feet of Jesus
by the woman that was a sinner; and that which was poured upon his
head by the woman who is said not to have been a sinner.1


De Baptismo was not contained in the earliest editions of Tertul-
lian's works, those made by Rhenanus in 1521, 1528, and 1539.
It was first printed in 1545 by Mesnart at Paris, from a manuscript
now lost. For a second edition, by Gelenius at Basle in 1550, its
editor consulted a manuscript of English origin (probably from
Malmesbury) supplied to him by John Leland the antiquary: he
also records in his margin the readings of an unidentified manu-
script which, if not identical with the Troyes MS. (to be men-
tioned later) had at least very close affinities with it. As this

        1 Isidore, Etym. VI. 19. 50-3, chrisma graece latine unctio nominatur: ex
cuius nomine et Christus dicitur et homo post lavacrum sanctificatur. nam sicut in
baptismo peccatorum remissio datur, ita per unctionem sanctificatio spiritus adhibetur:
et hoc de pristina disciplina qua ungui in sacerdotium et in regnum solebant ex quo
Aaron a Moyse unctus est: quae dum carnaliter fit spiritaliter proficit: quomodo et
in ipsa baptismi gratia visibilis actus good in aqua mergimur, sed spiritalis effectus
quod delictis mundamur. hoc significat illud unguentuni quod peccatrix mulier super
pedes, et ea quae dicitur non fuisse peccatrix super captit lesu fudisse scribuntur


manuscript remained unknown until 1916, subsequent editors
took Mesnart as their primary authority; such textual revision as
they, made was by conjecture based on him. Pamelius (Paris,
1579) claims to have had access to a manuscript, also from
England, belonging to John Clement, but this does not seem to
have contained our present work. Of modern editions (after those
of the great scholars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries)
that of Oehler (1853) and Reifferscheid (1890) call for mention.
The small edition of Lupton (Cambridge, 1908), valuable for its
introduction and explanatory notes, for the most part reproduces
Reifferscheid's text.

        The situation was thoroughly changed by the discovery by
Dom Wilmart in 1916 of a twelfth-century manuscript, formerly
at Clairvaux but now at Troyes, which contains this and four
other of Tertullian's works. Its copyist, in addition to the usual
number of careless and illiterate mistakes, failed to notice that
the manuscript from which he copied was dislocated: the section
from 10. 6 -ficit [he writes -fecisse] to 15. 2 iam nobis in Graeco, has
changed places with the section from 15. 2 digestum est to 17. 5 in
Asia presbyter
[he writes presbites]. The manuscript also lacks the
last two chapters and a half: it ends in the middle of a sentence at
18. 2 with scriptum ipsius fidei and a formal explicit. In spite of
these faults (which are easily corrected) this manuscript is of the
highest importance: it is the only extant manuscript of this
treatise: it presents also a text in many places so different from
that of Mesnart as to amount to a different recension, a text which
(on careful comparison of the places where the two authorities
disagree) is as a rule manifestly preferable. Editions which make
use of this manuscript are those of d'Alès (Rome, 1933), Borleffs
(The Hague, 1948: Turnholt, 1952) and Refoulé (Paris, 1952).
Fr Refoulé has a very learned introduction and notes, with a lucid
and accurate translation into French. Dr Borleffs has himself
collated the Troyes MS.: he records all the manuscript variants,
with such conjectures as have any verisimilitude and importance,
including some brilliant ones of his own: the brief critical annota-
tions at the foot of the pages of the present edition are borrowed
from him, with this grateful acknowledgement.


The text here given therefore follows the Troyes MS., except
where its reading is manifestly impossible. It must however be
added that the Mesnart text is often quite readable, and only
rarely differs in ultimate meaning from the other. In a few places
the present editor has offered suggestions of his own, but only in
two places has he presumed to print them in his text.


It is still occasionally alleged that Tertullian does not use the word
sacramentum in the sense of 'sacrament', though the idea was
exploded by Bethune-Baker as long ago as 1903.1 Evidently
at De Baptismo 1, by sacramentum aquae nostrae Tertullian means
the sacrament of baptism. At Adv. Marc. IV. 35 the word is used
comprehensively of both the sacraments (in the singular, as
though the two were one: which in effect they were when the
eucharist immediately followed baptism): Marcion, it says, nec
alibi coniunctos
(married persons) ad sacramentum baptismatis et
eucharistiae admittens nisi inter se coniuraverint adversus fructum
. So also De Corona 3, eucharistiae sacramentum de
aliorum manu quam praesidentium sumimus
: and again De Exhort.
Cast. 7, omnes nos deus ita vult dispositos esse ut ubique sacramentis
obeundis apti simus
, where there are in the context references to
both the sacraments (digamus tinguis, digamus offers?). At De
Praesc. Haer.
40 we read that the devil ipsas quoque res sacramentorum
divinorum idolorum mysteriis aemulatur
(where there follows a
reference to baptism, expositio delictorum: to confirmation,
Mithra signat in frontibus milites suos: and the eucharist, panis
): and again (ibid.) ipsas res de quibus sacramenta Christi
. Here it would seem that res sacramentorum are
what we are accustomed to call the outward and visible sign or
form: in which case the sacramenta will be the act, or the series of
acts, in which these are put to divine use.

        So in De Baptismo we have: ch. 1, sacramentum aquae nostrae:
ch. 3, non esse dubitandum si materiam (i.e. water) quam in omnibus
rebus et operibus suis deus disposuit etiam in sacramentis propriis parere

        1 Early History of Christian Doctrine, p. 377.


fecit, si quae vitam terrenam gubernat etiam caelestia procurat (from
which it appears that to Tertullian the sacrament was not a mere
token of grace concurrently received, but an effective means of
its conveyance and reception): ch.12, ut destruant aquae sacramentum:
ch. 9, quae figura manifestior in baptismi sacramento ? (i.e. is there
anywhere a more evident type of baptism than the escape of
Israel by the Red Sea, with the destruction of Pharaoh?--perhaps
the ablative here, as often elsewhere after in, stands for the
accusative). At ch. 13, Abraham nullius aquae nisi fidei Sacramento
deo placuit
, possibly what Tertullian's adversaries actually said was,
nullius aquae sacramento sed sola fide deo placuit. In all these places
sacramentum means 'sacrament' in at least one of the modern
senses of that word, that is, of the whole sacred act in which
material things are used for a spiritual purpose: but not, as it
seems, in that other sense in which we refer to the eucharistic
Elements after consecration as 'the blessed Sacrament'. At ch. 13,
addita est ampliato sacramento obsignatio baptismi (if this is the correct
text) it seems easiest to take ampliato sacramento as an ablative
absolute, and translate, 'by an extension of the sacred rite there
was added (to faith the seal of baptism'.

        Tertullian also uses the word in other, though kindred, senses.
Oehler's index gives as possible meanings iusiurandum, res sacrae,
doctrina sacra, mysterium, figura, aenigma, all of which could be
illustrated from the references there given. For the soldier's oath
cf. De Spect. 24, sacramenta principis sui, and Scorp. 5 sacramento
consignatus miles
. The Bithynian Christians (or lapsed Christians)
interviewed by the younger Pliny probably spoke Greek: if the
word they used was musth&rion it would be an interesting specula-
tion who can have told him that its Latin equivalent was sacra-
-which (until it was explained) he took to mean the oath
taken on entry into a criminal conspiracy. It really meant the
Sunday eucharist, and it is mere prejudice which has prevented
that obvious fact from being admitted: the other, non-sacramental,
service later in the day was the agape.

        The general sense of this word (and of musth&rion)in Christian
usage seems to be of a sacred act, or an act or event with a sacred
(and perhaps for that reason secret) significance: or, by an extension


of meaning, the sacred, secret, or mystical significance of an
act. So Ad Nat. I. 16, de sacramentis nostrae religionis (those
alleged sacred rites of infanticide, cannibalism, etc.) sunt
paria vestris etiam non sacramentis
(acts with nothing sacred about
them, such as exposure of female infants, sexual promiscuity,
etc.). Adv. Iud. II, huius signi sacramentum variis modis praedicatum
(the sacred or mystic or typical significance of the letter tau):
ibid. 13, hoc enim lignum (the tree mentioned at Joel 2. 22) tunc in
Sacramento erat quo Moyses aquam amaram edulcavit
(the mystical act
or type, as explained in some detail in the context: cf. De Bapt. 9
and Exodus 15. 23). At Adv. Val. 39, quoniam ipsum Patrem (the
Valentinian aeon of that name) pro magni nominis sacramento
Hominem appellare praesumpserint
, the original in Irenaeus is to_
me&ga kai\ a)po&krufon musth&rion
: and at De Anima 18 we have, in
a similar sense, haereticarum idearum sacramenta, those Valentinian
adaptations of the Platonic doctrine of ideas, which they equate
with veritatem illam arcanam et supernam et apud pleroma constitutam
(where arcana and superna taken together give a complete key to
the meaning).

        So in De Baptismo we find: ch. 5, annon et alias sine ullo sacra-
mento immundi spiritus aquis incubant
? (i.e., apart from any sacred
rite, and without any spiritual effect or religious significance):
ch. 8, de veteri sacramento quo nepotes suos Iacob benedixit (that
ancient sacred act which is a type of the Cross). From all of which
it appears that though Tertullian often enough uses the word in
a more general sense, of any religious or symbolical act or type,
he can make it mean a sacrament when he wishes, and this he
quite frequently does.

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Edited and translated by Canon Ernest Evans, 1964 and published by SPCK
Transcribed by Roger Pearse, 2001
Reproduced by permission of SPCK.

Greek text is rendered using the Scholars Press
SPIonic font, free from here.

This page has been online since 30th March 2001.

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