Catholic Teachings in the Early Church : Part 4 Baptism


[Quotes below are listed in Rod Bennett’s book Four Witnesses]

Today’s Catholic Teaching:

The sacrament of Baptism confers first sanctifying grace by which original sin is washed away, as well as all actual sin if any such exists; it remits all punishment due on account of such sins; it imprints the character of a Christian; it makes us children of God, members of the Church, and heirs to Paradise, and enables us to receive the other sacraments.

~A.D. 1908: Catechism of St. Pius X

Catholic Teaching in the Early Church:

Baptize as follows: after first explaining all these points, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, in running water.  But if you have no running water, baptize in other water; and if you cannot in cold, then in warm.  But if you have neither, pour water on the head three times in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit….

Let no one ear of drink of your Eucharist but those baptized in the name of the Lord; for concerning this also did the Lord say: “Do not give to dogs what is sacred.”

~Ca. A.D. 70: The Didache, in the DidacheThe Epistle of BarnabasThe Epistle and the Martyrdom of ST. PolycarpThe Fragments of PapiasThe Epistle to Diognetus, trans. James A Kleist, ACW vol. 6 (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1948), pp.19, 20.

What else does [God] say? “And there was a river flowing on the right, and beautiful trees grew beside it, and whoever shall eat of them shall live forever” [cf. Ezek 47:1-12].  In this way He says that we descend in the water full of sins and foulness, and we come up bearing fruit in our heart, having fear and hope in Jesus in the spirit.

~Ca. A.D. 79: The Epistle of Barnabas, chap. 11, no. 10 in FEF 1:15, no. 34.

Let your baptism be your armour; for your faith, your helmet, your love, your spear; your patient endurance, your panoply.  Your deposits should be your works, that you may receive your savings to the exact amount.

~CA. A.D. 107: Ignatius of AntiochEpistle to Polycarp, in The Epistle of ST. Clement of Rome and ST. Ignatius of Antioch, trans. James A. Kleist, ACW, vol. 1(Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1948), p.98.

“They had need,” [the shepherd] said, “to come up through the water, so that they might be made alive; for they could not otherwise enter into the kingdom of God, except by putting away the mortality of their former life.  These also, then, who had fallen asleep, received the seal of the Son of God, and entered into the kingdom of God.  For,” he said, “before a man bears the name of the Son of God, he is dead.  But when her receives the seal, he puts mortality aside and again receives life.  The seal, therefore, is the water.  They go down into the water dead, and come out of it alive.”

~CA. A.D. 140: Hermas, The Shepherd, par. 9, 16, 2, in FEF 1:36, no.92.

Moreover, those things which were created from the waters were blessed by God, so that this might also be a sign that men would at a future time receive repentance and remission of sins through water and the bath of regeneration – all who proceed to the truth and are born again and receive a blessing from God.

~Ca. A.D. 180: Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus, bk. 2, no. 16, in FEF 1:75, no. 181.

And again, giving the disciples the power of regenerating in God, He said to them: “Go and teach all nations, and baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” [Mt 28:19]…. The Lord promised to send us the Paraclete, who would make us ready for God.  Just as dry wheat without moisture cannot become one dough or one loaf, so also, we who are many cannot be made one in Christ Jesus, without the eater from heaven. Just as dry earth cannot bring forth fruit unless it receive moisture, so also we, being at first a dry tree, can never bring forth fruit unto life, without the voluntary rain from above.  Our bodies achieve unity through the washing which leads to incorruption; our souls, however, through the Spirit.  Both, then, are necessary, for both lead us on to the life of God.

~Ca. A.D. 180: Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, bk. 3, chap. 17, nos. 1-2, in FEF 1:92, nos. 219-20.

Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life!

~Ca. A.D. 200: Tertullian of Carthage, On Baptism, chap. 1, trans. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, in ANF 2:669.

Formerly there was Baptism, in an obscure way, in the cloud and in the sea; now however, in full view, there is regeneration in water and in the Holy Spirit.

~A.D. 244: Origen, Homily on Numbers, hom. 7, no. 2, in FEF 1:206, no. 491.

And I myself was bound fast, held by so many errors of my past life, from which I did not believe that I could extricate myself.  I was disposed, therefore, to yield to my clinging vices; and, despairing of better ways, I indulged my sins as if they were actually part and parcel of myself.  But afterwards, when the stain of my past life had been washed away by means of the water of re-birth, a light from above poured itself upon my chastened and now pure heart; afterwards through the Spirit which is breathed from heaven, a second birth made of me a new man.  And then in a marvelous manner, doubts immediately clarified themselves, the closed opened, the darkness became illuminated, what before had seemed difficult offered a way of accomplishment, and what had been through impossible was able to be done.  Thus it had to be acknowledged that what was of the earth and was born of the flesh and had lived submissive to sins, had now begun to be of God, as the Holy Spirit was animating it.

~A.D. 246/247: Cyprian of Carthage, To Donatus 4, in FEF 1:217, no. 548.

Since man is of a twofold nature, composed of body and soul, the purification also is twofold: the corporeal for the corporeal and the incorporeal for the incorporeal.  The water cleanses the body, and the Spirit seals the soul.  Thus, having our heart sprinkled by the Spirit and our body washed with pure water, we may draw near to God.  When you go down into the water, then, regard not simply the water, but look for salvation through the power of the Holy Spirit.  For without both you cannot attain to salvation.  It is not I who say this, but the Lord Jesus Christ, who has the power in this matter.  And He says, “Unless a man be born again” – and He adds the words “of water and of the Spirit – he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” [Jn 3:5].

~Ca. A.D. 350: Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, lec.3 no. 4, in FEF 1:348-49, no. 810a.

The Church was redeemed at the price of Christ’s blood. Jew or Greek, it makes no difference; but if he has believed, he must circumcise himself from his sins so that he can be saved…for no one ascends into the kingdom of heaven except through the Sacrament of Baptism.

~A.D. 387: Ambrose of Milan, Abraham, bk. 2, chap. 11, no. 79, in FEF 2:169, no. 1323.

Let no one say: “I did that; perhaps I will not be forgiven.” Because you did it? How great is the sin you committed?  Tell me what you have done, something serious, something horrible, something terrifying even to think about.  Whatever you might have done, did you kill Christ?  There is nothing worse than having done that, because is nothing better than Christ.  How great a wrong is it to kill Christ?  But he Jews killed Him; and afterwards many of them believed in Him and drank His Blood; and the sin which they had committed was forgiven them.  When you shall have been baptized, keep to a good life in the commandments of God, so that you may preserve your Baptism to the very end.  I do not tell you that you will live here without sin, but they are venial sins which this life is never without.  Baptism was instituted for all sins; for light sins, without which we cannot live, prayer was instituted.  What does the prayer say?  “Forgive us our debts as we too forgive our debtors.”  We are cleansed once by Baptism; by prayer we are cleansed daily.  But do not commit those sins on account of which you would have to be separated from the Body of Christ; perish the thought! For those whom you see doing penance have committed crimes, either adultery or some other enormities: that is why they are doing penance.  If their sins were light, daily prayer would suffice to blot them out.  In the Church, therefore, there are three ways in which sins are forgive: in Baptism, in prayer, and in the greater humility of penance; yet, God does not forgive sins except to the baptized.

~Ca. A.D. 395: Augustine of Hippo, Sermon to Catechumens 7, no. 15, in FEF 3:35, no. 1536.

Part 5 will focus on the The Lords Supper.

[FEF: The Faith of the Early Fathers by William A. Jurgen]


About Rob Brock

A Catholic convert with a fire for discipleship, catechesis, and formation that leads to transformed lives in Christ. View all posts by Rob Brock

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