Crossed The Tiber

An Evangelical Converts to Catholicism

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Location: Pennsylvania, United States

I was born into the Catholic faith. At 14, I was "born again" and found Jesus personally but lost His Church. After thirty years as an evangelical protestant, I have come full circle to find that He has been there all the time, in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I wish others to find the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith as I have found.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Protestant Church Historians' View of Baptism in the Early Church

On facebook, I am presenting a summary of what Protestant theologians have said regarding the view of the early Church fathers on baptism.  I have attempted to look online for the past two days for Protestant sources of the fathers that would reveal a Church Father that stated baptism is symbolic, but have not found any myself. It seems to me that if the early Church believed that baptism was only symbolic and not regenerative, there would be significant volumes of writings enunciating that.
This information is taken from Phil Porvaznik's Apologetic pages

 Here is three well known Protestant Scholars: (note the relevent sections on Baptism in Reformed/Presbyterian scholar Philip Schaff's History of the Christian Church, Anglican scholar J.N.D. Kelly's Early Christian Doctrines, and Lutheran scholar Jaroslav Pelikan's The Christian Tradition).
Philip Schaff (Presbyterian/Reformed) --

"This ordinance [Baptism] was regarded in the ancient church as the sacrament of the new birth or regeneration, and as the solemn rite of initiation into the Christian Church, admitting to all her benefits and committing to all her obligations....Its effect consists in the forgiveness of sins and the communication of the Holy Spirit.
"Justin [Martyr] calls baptism 'the water-bath for the forgiveness of sins and regeneration,' and 'the bath of conversion and the knowledge of God.' "It is often called also illumination, spiritual circumcision, anointing, sealing, gift of grace, symbol of redemption, death of sins, etc. Tertullian describes its effect thus: 'When the soul comes to faith, and becomes transformed through regeneration by water and power from above, it discovers, after the veil of the old corruption is taken away, its whole light. It is received into the fellowship of the Holy Spirit; and the soul, which unites itself to the Holy Spirit, is followed by the body.' ...."From John 3:5 and Mark 16:16, Tertullian and other fathers argued the necessity of baptism to salvation....The effect of baptism...was thought to extend only to sins committed before receiving it. Hence the frequent postponement of the sacrament [Procrastinatio baptismi], which Tertullian very earnestly recommends...." (History of the Christian Church, volume 2, page 253ff)
"The views of the ante-Nicene fathers concerning baptism and baptismal regeneration were in this period more copiously embellished in rhetorical style by Basil the Great and the two Gregories, who wrote special treatises on this sacrament, and were more clearly and logically developed by Augustine. The patristic and Roman Catholic view on regeneration, however, differs considerably from the one which now prevails among most Protestant denominations, especially those of the more Puritanic type, in that it signifies not so such a subjective change of heart, which is more properly called conversion, but a change in the objective condition and relation of the sinner, namely, his translation from the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of Christ....Some modern divines make a distinction between baptismal regeneration and moral regeneration, in order to reconcile the doctrine of the fathers with the fact that the evidences of a new life are wholly wanting in so many who are baptized. But we cannot enter here into a discussion of the difficulties of this doctrine, and must confine ourselves to a historical statement." [patristic quotes follow] "In the doctrine of baptism also we have a much better right to speak of a -consensus patrum-, than in the doctrine of the Holy Supper." (History of the Christian Church, volume 3, page 481ff, 492)
Paul Enns (Dispensational/Baptist, Th.D. Dallas Theological Seminary) --
"Justin Martyr suggests Isaiah 1:16-20 refers to Christian baptism, apparently suggesting that this rite produces the new birth (1 Apol 61).....Very early in the Christian church, prominence was given to the rite of baptism so that many, in effect, taught baptismal regeneration. Justin Martyr taught that, to obtain the remission of sins, the name of the Father should be invoked over the one being baptized (1 Apol 61)...Although this concept was not as emphatic among the apostolic Fathers, it became increasingly so in the following centuries. Augustine, for instance, taught that original sin and sins committed before baptism were washed away through baptism. For that reason he advocated baptism for infants." (The Moody Handbook of Theology [1989], page 415, 427)
J.N.D. Kelly (Anglican patristic scholar) --
"From the beginning baptism was the universally accepted rite of admission to the Church; only 'those who have been baptized in the Lord's name' may partake of the eucharist [Didache 9:5]....As regards its significance, it was always held to convey the remission of sins....the theory that it mediated the Holy Spirit was fairly general....The Spirit is God Himself dwelling in the believer, and the resulting life is a re-creation...."
"Speculation about baptism in the third century revolves around its function, universally admitted hitherto, as the medium of the bestowal of the Spirit. Infant baptism was now common, and this fact, together with the rapid expansion of the Church's numbers, caused the administration of the sacrament to be increasingly delegated by bishops to presbyters....We observe a tendency to limit the effect of baptism itself to the remission of sins and regeneration, and to link the gift of the Spirit with these other rites [Chrismation, Confirmation, and the laying on of hands -- detailed analysis from the ante-Nicene Fathers on Baptism follows].....
"From these general considerations we turn to the particular sacraments. Cyril of Jerusalem provides a full, if not always coherent, account of the conception of baptism which commended itself to a fourth-century theologian in Palestine. The name he applies to the rite is 'baptism' or 'bath' [Greek provided along with references]. It is 'the bath of regeneration' in which we are washed both with water and with the Holy Spirit. Its effects can be summarized under three main heads. First, the baptized person receives the remission of sins, i.e. all sins committed prior to baptism. He passes from sin to righteousness, from filth to cleanliness; his restoration is total....Secondly, baptism conveys the positive blessing of sanctification, which Cyril describes as the illumination and deification of the believer's soul, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the putting on of the new man, spiritual rebirth and salvation, adoption as God's son by grace, union with Christ in His resurrection as in His suffering and death, the right to a heavenly inheritance....Thirdly, and closely connected with this, baptism impresses a seal [Greek provided] on the believer's soul. Just as the water cleanses the body, the Holy Spirit seals [Greek] the soul. This sealing takes place at the very moment of baptism....and as a result of it the baptized person enjoys the presence of the Holy Spirit....These ideas are fairly representative of Greek and Latin teaching about baptism in the fourth and fifth centuries." [detailed analysis from the post-Nicene Fathers on Baptism follows] (Early Christian Doctrines, page 193ff, 207ff, 428ff)
Jaroslav Pelikan (Lutheran patristic scholar) --
"Although references to the doctrine of baptism are scattered throughout the Christian literature of the second and third centuries, only one extant treatise from the period is devoted exclusively to the subject, that of Tertullian. And the most succinct statement by Tertullian on the doctrine of baptism actually came, not in his treatise on baptism, but in his polemic against Marcion....Tertullian argued that none of the four basic gifts of baptism could be granted if that dualism [of Marcion] were maintained. The four gifts were: the remission of sins, deliverance from death, regeneration, and bestowal of the Holy Spirit...It is noteworthy that Tertullian, regardless of how much a Montanist he may have been at this point, was summarizing what the doctrine of the church was at his time -- as well as probably before his time and certainly since his time. Tertullian's enumeration of the gifts of baptism would be difficult to duplicate in so summary a form from other Christian writers, but those who did speak of baptism also spoke of one or more of these gifts. Baptism brought the remission of sins; the doctrine of baptism was in fact the occasion for many of the references to forgiveness of sins in the literature of these centuries [references to Cyprian, Hippolytus, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr, Hermas]."
"With deliverance from death came a new life and regeneration. The phrase 'washing of regeneration' in Titus 3:5 was synonymous with 'the baptism of regeneration.' [references to Methodius of Olympus, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Origen]."
"Tertullian's summary of these four gifts makes it clear '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' [citing Evans]." (The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, volume 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition 100-600, pages 163ff)

William Webster, a former Catholic turned Evangelical, in his 1995 book The Church of Rome at the Bar of History, freely admits the unanimous position of the Church Fathers as to what is called "baptismal regeneration":
"The doctrine of baptism is one of the few teachings within Roman Catholicism for which it can be said that there is a universal consent of the Fathers....From the early days of the Church, baptism was universally perceived as the means of receiving four basic gifts: the remission of sins, deliverance from death, regeneration, and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit." (Webster, page 95-96)


Blogger Magister Christianus said...

Unbelievable, and yet not surprising. It is not surprising that these authors could find in the Fathers nothing other than the doctrine of baptism taught in the Catholic Church today. What is unbelievable is that any other view could hold within Protestant world, especially when such Protestant scholars are fully aware of the antiquity of this understanding of baptism.

Thank you for sharing this!

January 19, 2011 5:11 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Yet despite such overwhelming evidence, my protestant fb friends continue to insist that baptism is just an outward sign of an inward reality.

I think a certain number of them just assume the early church was wrong about sacraments and didn't get it correct until the late reformers. So sad, because it invariably makes the Holy Spirit out to be impotent in leading the Church in all truth.

January 19, 2011 7:02 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Here is a great article about the Chruch Fathers and baptismal regeneration from

January 22, 2011 11:35 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Brian, I actually read that article and it was perhaps the most comprehensive detailing of the early church father's views on baptism. Very impressive, than you.

I know that there is a few fathers that make statements that perhaps could be construed as taking the body and blood of Christ symbolically, but I have not seen any sites that show any of the fatherr's who viewed baptism as symbolic, have you?
I tried to reason with a guy on fb and he kept saying that several fathers considered it symbolic.
He produced a writing from Cyril of Jerusalem that stated " not only is baptism for the forgivenss of sins but has a symbolism to it as well etc etc"
The way I see it, baptismal regeneration was the only view in the early Church. LEt me know if you find andything to the contrary.
God bless and thanks

January 23, 2011 12:06 PM  
Blogger Quantumleap42 said...

Hi, I just came across your blog and I hope you won't mind me putting in my two cents.

Today in my Sunday School we were discussing the baptism of Jesus as recorded in the book of Matthew and I noticed how Jesus insisted that John baptize him "to fulfil all justice", or "to fulfil all righteousness" in other translations. Now if Jesus, being holy, had to be baptized to fulfil all righteousness, how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized? If baptism is merely a symbolic, but fundamentally unnecessary act, then why was Jesus baptized to "fulfil all righteousness"? This would seem to indicate that there is something more to baptism, as you have explained, than an outward expression of faith. While there is a symbolic aspect to baptism, to say that it is only symbolic is to imply that nothing is required for our salvation, or to enjoy the communion of saints, than to express belief, without ever repenting of our sins, and being reborn (see John 3).

Thanks for your comments and the quotes provided. They gave me something to think about.

January 23, 2011 4:26 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

If baptism is merely a symbolic, but fundamentally unnecessary act, then why was Jesus baptized to "fulfil all righteousness"?

good point QL!
thanks for visiting, hopefully my blog has some topics that may interest you. Unfortunately they aren't organized. just do a search looking for the terms you are interested in. Thanks again

January 23, 2011 6:55 PM  

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