Ordinances

II. -- ORDINANCES.


1. BAPTISM.--A high significance was attached to baptism in the early Church. This was due, in some degree, to the circumstances of the times, as well as to the essential importance of baptism as the seal of discipleship, and the rite of initiation into the Church of Christ. To men of heathen antecedents, baptism could appear as nothing less than the boundary-line, in crossing which they renounced all that was old or customary to them, and entered upon a life emphatically new. It signified a transition such as those nurtured in Christianity from childhood cannot easily apprehend. The rite was much the same to these early converts that it is to the Hindu convert in the present, to whom it often means death to his old ties and associations, and a life in entirely new relations. With the first growth of ceremonialism, therefore, it might be expected that an exaggerated estimate of the virtue of baptism would find place. Something of this occurred within the first period of Christian history. In the time of Tertullian, there were those whose estimate of the absolving power of baptism manifestly verged upon superstition; and the Church generally, in his day, looked upon the rite as the consummation of repentance, the seal of the remission of sins, a means of gracious benefits, as well as a sign of grace already received. At the same time, there were strong protests from men of high standing against the idea that an adult candidate could reap any substantial benefit from this rite, apart from an exercise of genuine repentance and faith.


The stress laid upon baptismal absolution led to certain practical results. Some were inclined to delay the reception or the administration of the rite. They argued, that since baptism was not to be repeated, and any grievous sin would forfeit the baptismal absolution, it was better to practise delay than to run the risk of losing so valuable a grace. It was precisely this view of the case which led Tertullian to deprecate the baptism of infants and children, and also to advise unmarried and widowed adults to defer the ordinance "until they either marry, or else be more fully strengthened for continence." [De Baptismo, xviii.] Another result of centring the expectation of absolution upon baptism was a special incentive toward a system of penance. Since for sins committed after baptism no sacramental cleansing was provided, it was easily argued that rigorous inflictions must be imposed upon the transgressor in order to secure the pardon of these.


The form in which baptism was administered in the early Church is not without interest as a subject of historical inquiry, but it has little to do with deciding present obligation. The essence of Christianity is not so far embraced in outward rites that one unvarying form is alone valid. As the Church of to-day is at liberty to vary from the form of church government prevalent in the first centuries, tend from the manner of administering the eucharist most in vogue at that time, so it is at liberty to vary as respects the externals of baptism, only fulfilling the requirements of Christ that one should be born of water and the Spirit.


The principal evidences that the early Church baptized by sprinkling or pouring are the following: (1) The great number said to have been baptized on the Day of Pentecost; (2) occasions in apostolic history where no mention is made of leaving the house for the rite; (3) representations of Christ's baptism found in the Catacombs and ancient mosaics, which picture Him as standing in the Jordan, and having the water poured upon His head by the Baptist, also other instances of a kindred significance. "In the Roman Church, and the other churches of Italy," says Kraus, "in the third and fourth centuries, baptism was administered by a kind of union of immersion with pouring or sprinkling. The sprinkling of the head and the whole body [the candidate standing in the water] forms the
main feature in the pictures at Rome." [Die Römischen Katakomben, Buch IV., cap. vi.]


On the side of immersion the following evidences may be quoted: (1) The New-Testament description of baptism as an instrument of burial and resurrection (Rom. vi. 4; Col. ii. 12); an image, however, whose force is somewhat neutralized by the representation of baptism as an outpouring (Acts i. 5, compared with ii. 16-18). (2) The modern and long-standing practice of the Oriental and Greek Churches. [It should be noticed that in the Coptic, Armenian, and Nestorian Churches the validity of aspersion has been recognized. (A. J. Butler, Ancient Coptic Churches, ii. 267, 268.)] (3) Certain sentences in the writings of the early Fathers in which baptism is described as an immersion. One of the clearest of these is the following from Tertullian: "When we are going to enter the water, but a little before, in the presence of the congregation and under the hand of the president, we solemnly profess that we disown the devil and his pomp and his angels. Hereupon we are thrice immersed (mergitamur or mersitamur), making a somewhat ampler pledge than the Lord has appointed in the gospel." [De Corona, iii. Compare Adv. Prax., xxvi.; Cons. Apost., iii. 16, 17; Canones Apost., 1.] (4) The statement of distinguished historians, like Neander, that immersion was the prevalent mode of baptism in the early Church. [Various writers have concluded that the candidate was immersed in a nude state; but it is to be noticed that the evidence that is quoted belongs to a later date then the present period, Ambrose being among the earliest to whom appeal is made. It may be questioned also whether such statements upon the point as are found imply complete nudity, or the dispensing with a cincture.]


A comparison of these different lines of evidence can hardly fail to suggest that diversities as to the mode of administering baptism early found place in the Church. It is, perhaps, too much to affirm that practice was uniform even through the whole of the apostolic age. It is certain that we cannot add a very long space to that age without discovering more or less of variety. Surely many of the stanchest advocates of immersion will hesitate to believe that the triple immersion mentioned by Tertullian was continuously and universally practised in the Church frorn the Day of Pentecost down to his time. There is a certain intrinsic improbability that so elaborate a rite had its origin in the days of apostolic simplicity. But if there was a departure in this respect, there may have been in other respects also.


Whether immersion was the prevalent form of baptism in the first three centuries, or not, it certainly was not regarded throughout this period as of the essence of baptism. This appears from the following statement in the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles: "Now, concerning baptism, thus baptize ye: having first uttered all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in running water. But if thou hast not running water, baptize in other water; and if thou canst not in cold, then in warm. But if thou hast neither, pour water upon the head thrice, into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit." [Chap. vii.] The case of the clinics, or those baptized by sprinkling on a sick-bed, supplies equally decisive evidence. To be sure, there was more or less of objection to the clinics; but in the intelligent verdict of the Church this was based, not upon the mode, but upon the doubtful religious conditions, of their baptism. The objection was substantially the same as that which is now frequently expressed against sick-bed repentance. Thus the Council of Neo-Cæsarea (A.D. 314) objected in general to promoting clinics to the office of presbyter, for the reason that a Confession of faith which is first made on a sick-bed is more likely to be the offspring of necessity than of free choice. [Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, § 17. The council allowed that a person so baptized might, in virtue of conspicuous zeal and faith, or by reason of the lack of others equally well fitted for the office, be made priest.] The council, however, did not assume to deny that clinic baptism is real baptism. A still more liberal verdict seems to have been rendered by Cyprian more than half a century earlier. "It ought not to trouble any one," says he, "that sick people seem to be sprinkled or affused, when they obtain the Lord's grace, when Holy Scripture speaks by the mouth of the prophet Ezekiel, and says, 'Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean.' Whence it appears that the sprinkling also of water prevails equally with the washing of salvation; and that when this is done in the Church [that is, not among schismatics and heretics], where the faith both of receiver and giver is sound, all things bold, and may be consummated and perfected by the majesty of the Lord and the truth of faith." [Epist., lxxv. 12, Ad Magnum.] Cyprian maintains that persons so baptized are just as legitimate Christians, and just as truly partakers of the Holy Spirit, as are others, and decides that they ought not to be re-baptized. This decision has all the more weight from the fact that Cyprian insisted upon re-baptism in cases where a large portion of the Church of his day did not require it.


Other representations may also be adduced, which, if not so decisive as the above, still indicate that baptism was not strictly identified with immersion in the thought of the early Church. One such appears in the current designation of martyrdom as the baptism of blood, and in the belief that it was a perfect substitute for all other baptism. "This," says Tertullian, "is the baptism which both stands in lieu of the fontal bathing when that has not been received, and restores it when lost." [De Baptismo, xvi.] Cyprian speaks to the same effect, declaring that catechumens who hold the true faith, and do battle for the Church, are not deprived of the sacrament of baptism, in case of death in this standing, since they are "baptized with the most glorious and greatest baptism of blood." [Epist., Ixxii. 22, Ad Jubaianum.] Now, the nature of this baptism precludes all idea of immersion, and the most artificial freak of the imagination would hardly be able to connect with it any image of immersion. The blood of a martyr might be sprinkled or poured upon his body, but that he should be actually immersed in it is simply impossible. Again, Tertullian, whatever his writings may contain in favor of immersion, speaks of sprinkling as a possible mode of consummating baptism. Referring to the supposition that the apostles in the ship, and Peter attempting to walk on the waves, were sufficiently baptized, he remarks: "It is one thing to be sprinkled (adspergi) or intercepted by the violence of the sea, another thing to be baptized in obedience to the discipline of religion." [De Baptismo, xii.] In another instance, speaking of one disposed to shirk the hardship of the repentance which ought to precede baptism, he asks: "Who will grant you, a man of so faithless repentance, one single sprinkling (asperginem) of any water whntever?" [De Pœnit, vi.] Finally, the selection of words to denote the rite, on the part of Tertullian and others, is highly significant. Had the earliest Fathers who wrote in the Latin language believed that immersion was an accurate and complete expression for Christian baptism, it would seem that there should have been no hesitation on their part to choose this as the standard term for the rite. Being accustomed to the verbs mergo and immergo in their mother tongue, they ought to have fixed at once upon immersio as being a word whose import their readers would perfectly comprehend. But what did they do? Tertullian, the oldest Christian writer of any note to use the Latin language, as a rule simply transfers the Greek word to his pages, and for baptism writes baptismus (occasionally baptisma. In his brief treatise on baptism he uses this word no less than fifty times. To be sure, the corresponding verb is with him tinguo rather than baptizo; still, he makes use of the latter, and quite as often, we should judge, as of the verb mergo, which is an exceptional term in his references to this sacrament. Cyprian, the next Latin writer who refers to the subject at ally length, borrows, as a rule, both the Greek noun and verb, and writes baptismus and baptizo. The voice of Christian antiquity is therefore clearly against the use of the word "immersion" as an exact and adequate substitute for the word "baptism."


As respects infant baptism, history records nothing explicit for or against it till near the close of the second century. The language of Irenæus is thought to be indicative of its practice. "He came," he says, "to save all through means of Himself; all, I say, who through Him are born again to God, -- infants and children and boys and youths; and old men." [Cont. Hær., ii. 22. 4.] Since in another connection [Ibid., iii; 17. 1.] he speaks of baptism as the means by which men are "born again to God," it is argued, with a fair show of probability, that in the above sentence he designed to include a reference to infant baptism. Tertullian's opposition to it but a little later shows that the baptism of infants was practised more or less in that age; while his basing of his opposition on expediency indicates that it was not thought that any absolute impropriety pertained to the rite, or that infants were from their very nature incompetent to be candidates. It seemed to him needless and ill-advised to place children in their comparative innocence under the heavy responsibilities of the baptismal covenant. Cyprian, on the other hand, speaking in the name of a North African council, urged among other things the comparative innocence of children as a reason why they ought not to be refused so great a blessing as the initiatory rite of the Church and kingdom of Christ. In his view, and in that of his colleagues, baptism was evidently the common duty of parents to their newly born children. [Epist., lviii., Ad Fidum.] Origen is a witness to the same effect from the Eastern branch of the Church. He makes several references to infant baptism in his writings, and declares its administration a matter of apostolic tradition. [Comm in Epist., ad Rom., v. 9; In Lev. Hom., viii.] This is a very significant testimony; for even if the grounds upon which he based his verdict were not entirely conclusive, still it is not to be thought that a man of such thorough honesty as Origen, and such general carefulness in his statement of facts, would have made this statement without very considerable grounds. He must, at least, have known that infant baptism was no innovation of his age, and had evidence that it had been practised for several generations.


As respects re-baptism, there seems to have been a common agreement in the Church that valid baptism was not to be repeated. The only question provoking controversy, in this relation, was whether baptism administered by heretics should be acknowledged as such, in case those baptized by such authority should apply for admission to the Catholic Church. Cyprian answered in the negative, the Roman bishop in the affirmative. Each had his following for the time being, but in the end the Roman principle gained the ascendency; and it became the policy of the Church to receive without re-baptism those who had been baptized, even though it were among heretics, according to the regular trinitarian formula. Exception, however, was made against the baptism of certain classes of heretics. Thus the Council of Nicæa pronounced the baptism administered by the followers of Paul of Samosata invalid, [Canon 19.] though, according to Athanasius, these anti-trinitarians actually used the trinitarian formula.


The time for baptism was evidently, in the first stage of Christian history, immediately after conversion to the Christian faith. But, with increasing numbers and more complicated relations, the need of caution was apprehended, and a period was appointed for the instruction and proving of candidates for church-membership. The length of this varied according to place and circumstances. By the Council of Elvira, two years were prescribed to the catechumens as the term preparatory to the reception of baptism. [Canon 42.] According to the Apostolic Constitutions, three years should be the regular term, though the time might be shortened for a worthy candidate. [viii. 32.]


2. CONFIRMATION. -- Originally laying on of hands and anointing with oil were closely connected with baptism, and were significant of the impartation of the Holy Spirit. Gradually this ceremonial acquired the force of an independent rite, and under the name of confirmation was celebrated some time after baptism. It was not, however, till the thirteenth century that the practice of separating confirmation from baptism became universal in the Latin Church, and in the Greek Church the two remained closely associated. By the rule of the former Church, confirmation was made the prerogative of the bishop alone; in the latter, both presbyters and deacons had power to confirm.


3. THE EUCHARIST. --In the first centuries the eucharist was made a part of the regular service. It was, therefore, celebrated primarily at least once a week, and in some instances more frequently. The partaking of the elements was preceded by the kiss of brotherly love, by the presentation of the offerings of the congregation, and by prayer and thanksgiving. In the North African Church, in the time of Cyprian, even young children were permitted to taste the wine of the communion. The deacons were expected to carry the elements to those unable to meet with the congregation. Tertullian speaks of communicants reserving portions of the consecrated elements, apparently for the purpose of enjoying them in their sacramental virtue at home. [De Orat., xix.] A mystical presence and virtue were early connected with the eucharist; but it is only by an arbitrary reading of preconceived theories into the rhetorical phrases of a few writers, that any assertion of transubstantiation or of an actual repetition of Christ's sacrifice can be found in the writings of this period. Some ill-guarded expressions may have been indulged which served in a measure as a foundation for these dogmas; but, in the light of other expressions, it may confidently be affirmed that the Church of the first three centuries consciously entertained no such dogmas. [Not a single one of the passages cited by Alzog proves that its author entertained the Romish dogmas. (Kirchengeschichte, § 92.) As near an approach as any, probably, was Cyprian's interpretation of the eucharistic sacrifice. The fuller treatment of the subject belongs to the history of dootrine.]