The Church Fathers on Baptismal RegenerationJun 15th, 2010 | By Bryan Cross | Category: Featured Articles
According to PCA pastor Wes White, the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is “impossible in the Reformed system.”1 By noting this, he intends to show that we should reject the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. But if the evidence for the truth of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is stronger than the evidence for the truth of the “Reformed system,” then the incompatibility of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration and the Reformed system serves as evidence against the Reformed system. Here I present both Patristic and Scriptural evidence for the truth of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration.
The Baptism of the Neophytes
Masaccio (c. 1426-27)
Cappella Brancacci, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence
The only sacrament mentioned by name in the Creed is baptism. We confess in the Creed: “I believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” Because Protestants and Catholics share the same Trinitarian baptism, we share a certain real but imperfect unity. But baptism is also a point of disagreement not only between Protestants and Catholics, but also between various Protestant traditions. The Catholic Church has always believed and taught that the grace by which we are born again comes to us through the sacrament of baptism. A small percentage of Protestants agree with the Catholic Church that through baptism we are regenerated with the life of God, cleansed of all our sins, and brought into the Kingdom of God. But many other Protestants think that justification is not through baptism, but by “faith alone,” or by some kind of “sinner’s prayer.” Some Protestants believe that baptism is only a symbol, something not to be done until a person is old enough to understand the gospel for himself. Other Protestants believe that baptism is like circumcision in the Abrahamic covenant, not efficacious for rebirth and the reception of the grace of divine life but only a ‘confirmation’ or ‘seal’ of faith through which one is brought into the New Covenant family.
One way that we resolve these disagreements about what baptism is and what it does, is to consider what the Church Fathers believed and taught about baptism. Here I am only focusing on what the Church Fathers say about the relation between baptism and regeneration. I have kept my commentary to a minimum, providing only needed explanatory notes. After examining what the Church Fathers say about this subject, I then offer a brief summary of the New Testament teaching regarding the relation of baptism and regeneration.
In AD 107, St. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, wrote a letter to the Church at Ephesus, while being escorted by Roman soldiers to Rome to be martyred. In that letter he writes:
For our God, Jesus Christ, was, according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost. He was born and baptized, that by His passion He might purify the water. (Epistle to the Ephesians, 18)
This notion that Christ purified the waters is found in other Church Fathers as well, but this is the earliest record we have of the statement. Christ was not purified by being baptized, since Christ was already pure. Rather, in His baptism, the waters were purified for our sake, that when we are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, we are purified, not by the removal of dirt from the body, but by the forgiveness of sin and the reception of the Life of God within us.
Here is a selection from the eleventh chapter of the Epistle of Barnabas (A.D. 130) describing baptism:
“This means that we go down into the water full of sins and foulness, and we come up bearing fruit in our hearts, fear and hope in Jesus and in the Spirit.”
Baptism is here described as immediately removing sins and producing immediate fruit in the heart. The notion that baptism bears immediate fruit in the heart implies that baptism regenerates the baptized person.
Here is a selection from chapter 16 of the ninth Similitude of the Shepherd of Hermas (early second century):
They were obliged,” he answered, “to ascend through water in order that they might be made alive; for, unless they laid aside the deadness of their life, they could not in any other way enter into the kingdom of God. … For,” he continued, “before a man bears the name of the Son of God he is dead; but when he receives the seal he lays aside his deadness, and obtains life. The seal, then, is the water: they descend into the water dead, and they arise alive. And to them, accordingly, was this seal preached, and they made use of it that they might enter into the kingdom of God.” (Shepherd of Hermas)
Just as in the Epistle of Barnabas, the candidate is described as going into the water dead, and coming out alive. Not only that, but through baptism we are said to enter into the kingdom of God.
“I will also relate the manner in which we dedicated ourselves to God when we had been made new through Christ; lest, if we omit this, we seem to be unfair in the explanation we are making. As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. They then are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. . . . The reason for this we have received from the Apostles.” (Chapter 61)
And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. (Chapter 66)
Notice that Justin Martyr, writing about fifty years after the death of the Apostle John, claims that they received from the Apostles the doctrine that through baptism they receive “remission of sins that are past” [i.e. prior to baptism], and through baptism they are “regenerated” in the same manner that all Christians were regenerated (i.e. by baptism).
In his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, St. Justin contrasts Christian baptism with the Jewish baptism, writing:
By reason, therefore, of this laver of repentance and knowledge of God, which has been ordained on account of the transgression of God’s people, as Isaiah cries, we have believed, and testify that that very baptism which he announced is alone able to purify those who have repented; and this is the water of life. But the cisterns which you have dug for yourselves are broken and profitless to you. For what is the use of that baptism which cleanses the flesh and body alone? (ch. 14)
This [Jewish] circumcision is not, however, necessary for all men, but for you [Jews] alone, in order that, as I have already said, you may suffer these things which you now justly suffer. Nor do we receive that useless baptism of cisterns, for it has nothing to do with this baptism of life. Wherefore also God has announced that you have forsaken Him, the living fountain, and dug for yourselves broken cisterns which can hold no water. Even you, who are the circumcised according to the flesh, have need of our circumcision; but we, having the latter, do not require the former. ( ch. 19)
As, then, circumcision began with Abraham, and the Sabbath and sacrifices and offerings and feasts with Moses, and it has been proved they were enjoined on account of the hardness of your people’s heart, so it was necessary, in accordance with the Father’s will, that they should have an end in Him who was born of a virgin, of the family of Abraham and tribe of Judah, and of David; in Christ the Son of God, who was proclaimed as about to come to all the world, to be the everlasting law and the everlasting covenant, even as the forementioned prophecies show. And we, who have approached God through Him, have received not carnal, but spiritual circumcision, which Enoch and those like him observed. And we have received it through baptism, since we were sinners, by God’s mercy; and all men may equally obtain it. (ch. 43)
When the Fathers speak of the “laver” or the “laver of “repentance” or the “laver of regeneration,” they are speaking of baptism. Here, St. Justin is contrasting Christian baptism with Jewish baptisms. According to St. Justin, Christians receive spiritual circumcision through baptism.
Next consider the following quotation from St. Theophilus bishop of Antioch from 169-182:
On the fifth day [of creation] the living creatures which proceed from the waters were produced, through which also is revealed the manifold wisdom of God in these things; for who could count their multitude and very various kinds? Moreover, the things proceeding from the waters were blessed by God, that this also might be a sign of men’s being destined to receive repentance and remission of sins, through the water and laver of regeneration, — as many as come to the truth, and are born again, and receive blessing from God. (To Autolycus, Bk II)
And when we come to refute them [i.e. those heretics], we shall show in its fitting-place, that this class of men have been instigated by Satan to a denial of that baptism which is regeneration to God, and thus to a renunciation of the whole [Christian] faith. (A.H., I.21)
And again, giving to the disciples the power of regeneration into God, He said to them, “Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” (Matthew 28:19) … “The Lord also promised to send the Comforter, who should join us to God (St. John. 16:7). For as a compacted lump of dough cannot be formed of dry wheat without fluid matter, nor can a loaf possess unity, so, in like manner, neither could we, being many be made one in Christ Jesus without the water from heaven. And as dry earth does not bring forth unless it receive moisture, in like manner we also, being originally a dry tree, could never have brought forth fruit unto life without the voluntary rain from above. For our bodies have received unity among themselves by means of that laver which leads to incorruption; but our souls by means of the Spirit. Wherefore both are necessary, since both contribute towards the life of God.” (A.H., III.17)
Notice that we are “joined to God”, made “one in Christ” [that is, believers are made into one body, Christ’s Body] by the “the water from heaven,” by which we are made alive (i.e. regenerated) in order to bring forth fruit unto life. For St. Irenaeus, to be joined to Christ is to be joined to His Mystical Body (the Church) through baptism. St. Irenaeus calls baptism that “laver which leads to incorruption.” Through baptism our physical bodies are protected from eternal corruption, and our souls, by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the baptismal water, are made participants in the life of God. In Book Five of Against Heresies, he writes:
And inasmuch as man, with respect to that formation which, was after Adam, having fallen into transgression, needed the laver of regeneration, [the Lord] said to him [upon whom He had conferred sight], after He had smeared his eyes with the clay, “Go to Siloam, and wash;” John 9:7 thus restoring to him both [his perfect] confirmation, and that regeneration which takes place by means of the laver. And for this reason when he was washed he came seeing, that he might both know Him who had fashioned him, and that man might learn [to know] Him who has conferred upon him life. (A.H., V.15)
St. Irenaeus says elsewhere:
“Now, this is what faith does for us, as the elders, the disciples of the apostles, have handed down to us. First of all, it admonishes us to remember that we have received baptism for the remission of sins in the name of God the Father, and in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became incarnate and died and raised, and in the Holy Spirit of God; and that this baptism is the seal of eternal life and is rebirth unto God, that we be no more children of mortal men, but of the eternal everlasting God; and that the eternal and everlasting One is God, and is above all creatures, and that all things whatsoever are subject to Him; and that what is subject to Him was all made by Him; so that God is not ruler and Lord of what is another’s, but of His own, and all things are God’s; that God, therefore, is the Almighty, and all things whatsoever are from God.” (The Proof of Apostolic Preaching)
Notice that St. Irenaus says that the Christians receive baptism “for the remission of sins.” There can be no justification without the forgiveness of sins. And hence if baptism is for the forgiveness of sins, then it is through baptism that we are justified. In one of the fragments, St. Irenaeus writes:
“And dipped himself,” says [the Scripture], “seven times in Jordan.” (2 Kings 5:14) It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but [it served] as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions; being spiritually regenerated as new-born babes, even as the Lord has declared: “Unless a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (John 3:5) (Fragments, 34)
Next consider St. Clement of Alexandria (d. 215), in The Paedagogus ([Christ] the Educator):
Is it, then, that [Christ] was made perfect only in the sense of being washed, and that He was consecrated by the descent of the Holy Spirit? Such is the case. The same also takes place in our case, whose exemplar Christ became. Being baptized, we are illuminated; illuminated, we become sons; being made sons, we are made perfect; being made perfect, we are made immortal. “I,” says He, “have said that you are gods, and all sons of the Highest.” This work is variously called grace, and illumination, and perfection, and washing: washing, by which we cleanse away our sins; grace, by which the penalties accruing to transgressions are remitted; and illumination, by which that holy light of salvation is beheld, that is, by which we see God clearly. Finally, we call it ‘perfection’ as needing nothing further, for what more does he need who possesses the knowledge of God? It would indeed be out of place to call something that was not fully perfect a gift of God.” …
For what ignorance has bound ill, is by knowledge loosed well; those bonds are with all speed slackened by human faith and divine grace, our transgressions being taken away by one Pœonian medicine, the baptism of the Word. We are washed from all our sins, and are no longer entangled in evil. This is the one grace of illumination, that our characters are not the same as before our washing. And since knowledge springs up with illumination, shedding its beams around the mind, the moment we hear, we who were untaught become disciples. Does this, I ask, take place on the advent of this instruction? You cannot tell the time. For instruction leads to faith, and faith with baptism is trained by the Holy Spirit.
In the same way, therefore, we also, repenting of our sins, renouncing our iniquities, purified by baptism, speed back to the eternal light, children to the Father. (Book I, Chapter 6)
In chapter 12 of Book I, St. Clement writes:
He Himself formed man of the dust, and regenerated him by water; and made him grow by his Spirit; and trained him by His word to adoption and salvation, directing him by sacred precepts; in order that, transforming earth-born man into a holy and heavenly being by His advent, He might fulfil to the utmost that divine utterance, “Let Us make man in Our own image and likeness.” (Genesis 1:26) And, in truth, Christ became the perfect realization of what God spoke; and the rest of humanity is conceived as being created merely in His image. (Paedagogus, Bk I, Chapter 12)
In the next chapter he writes:
the transparent Word, by whom the flesh, regenerated by water, becomes precious. (Paedagogus, Chapter 13)
St. Clement teaches that in baptism we are cleansed, i.e. completely purified from our sins.
It ought to be known, then, that those who fall into sin after baptism are those who are subjected to discipline; for the deeds done before [baptism] are remitted, and those done after are purged. (Stromata, IV.24)
In baptism all the sins committed prior to baptism are remitted. But baptism cannot be repeated. So confession, prayer and penance are for sins committed after baptism. Elsewhere he writes:
For it is said, “Put on him the best robe,” which was his the moment he obtained baptism. I mean the glory of baptism, the remission of sins, and the communication of the other blessings, which he obtained immediately he had touched the font. (Fragments, Parable of the Prodigal Son)
Next consider Tertullian (c. 160- c. 240) in his work “On Baptism.” (written between 200 and 206):2
“Happy is the sacrament of our water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free, [and admitted] into eternal life! … But we, little fishes, after the example of our ΙΧΘΥΣ Jesus Christ, are born in water, nor have we safety in any other way than by permanently abiding in [that] water.” (chapter 1)
All waters, therefore, in virtue of the pristine privilege of their origin, do, after invocation of God, attain the sacramental power of sanctification; for the Spirit immediately supervenes from the heavens, and rests over the waters, sanctifying them from Himself; and being thus sanctified, they imbibe at the same time the power of sanctifying. Albeit the similitude may be admitted to be suitable to the simple act; that, since we are defiled by sins, as it were by dirt, we should be washed from those stains in waters. But as sins do not show themselves in our flesh (inasmuch as no one carries on his skin the spot of idolatry, or fornication, or fraud), so persons of that kind are foul in the spirit, which is the author of the sin; for the spirit is lord, the flesh servant. Yet they each mutually share the guilt: the spirit, on the ground of command; the flesh, of subservience. Therefore, after the waters have been in a manner endued with medicinal virtue through the intervention of the angel, the spirit is corporeally washed in the waters, and the flesh is in the same spiritually cleansed. (chapter 4)
And thus, when the grace of God advanced to higher degrees among men, (John 1:16-17) an accession of efficacy was granted to the waters and to the angel [who stirred the waters]. They who were wont to remedy bodily defects, now heal the spirit; they who used to work temporal salvation now renew eternal; they who did set free but once in the year, now save peoples in a body daily, death being done away through ablution of sins. The guilt being removed, of course the penalty is removed too. Thus man will be restored for God to His “likeness,” who in days bygone had been conformed to “the image” of God; (the “image” is counted (to be) in his form: the “likeness” in his eternity:) for he receives again that Spirit of God which he had then first received from His afflatus, but had afterward lost through sin. (chapter 5)
Thus, too, in our case, the unction [the anointing oil given in confirmation] runs carnally, (i.e. on the body,) but profits spiritually; in the same way as the act of baptism itself too is carnal, in that we are plunged in water, but the effect spiritual, in that we are freed from sins. (chapter 7)
And thus it was with the selfsame “baptism of John” that His disciples used to baptize, as ministers, with which John before had baptized as forerunner. Let none think it was with some other, because no other exists, except that of Christ subsequently; which at that time, of course, could not be given by His disciples, inasmuch as the glory of the Lord had not yet been fully attained, nor the efficacy of the font established through the passion and the resurrection; because neither can our death see dissolution except by the Lord’s passion, nor our life be restored without His resurrection. (chapter 11)
“When, however, the prescript is laid down that ‘without baptism, salvation is attainable by none’ (chiefly on the ground of that declaration of the Lord, who says, ‘Unless one be born of water, he has not life’ [Jn. 3:5]” (chapter 12)
Here, then, those miscreants provoke questions. And so they say, “Baptism is not necessary for them to whom faith is sufficient; for withal, Abraham pleased God by a sacrament of no water, but of faith.” But in all cases it is the later things which have a conclusive force, and the subsequent which prevail over the antecedent. Grant that, in days gone by, there was salvation by means of bare faith, before the passion and resurrection of the Lord. But now that faith has been enlarged, and has become a faith which believes in His nativity, passion, and resurrection, there has been an amplification added to the sacrament, viz., the sealing act of baptism; the clothing, in some sense, of the faith which before was bare, and which cannot exist now without its proper law. For the law of baptizing has been imposed, and the formula prescribed: “Go,” He says, “teach the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The comparison with this law of that definition, “Unless a man have been reborn of water and Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of the heavens,” has tied faith to the necessity of baptism. Accordingly, all thereafter who became believers used to be baptized. Then it was, too, that Paul, when he believed, was baptized; and this is the meaning of the precept which the Lord had given him when smitten with the plague of loss of sight, saying, “Arise, and enter Damascus; there shall be demonstrated to you what you ought to do,” to wit— be baptized, which was the only thing lacking to him. (chapter 13)
They who are about to enter baptism ought to pray with repeated prayers, fasts, and bendings of the knee, and vigils all the night through, and with the confession of all bygone sins, that they may express the meaning even of the baptism of John: “They were baptized,” says (the Scripture), “confessing their own sins.” To us it is matter for thankfulness if we do now publicly confess our iniquities or our turpitudes: for we do at the same time both make satisfaction for our former sins, by mortification of our flesh and spirit, and lay beforehand the foundation of defences against the temptations which will closely follow. … Therefore, blessed ones [i.e. Catechumens], whom the grace of God awaits, when you ascend from that most sacred font of your new birth, and spread your hands for the first time in the house of your mother, together with your brethren, ask from the Father, ask from the Lord, that His own specialties of grace and distributions of gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-12) may be supplied you. (Chapter 20)
Notice in the quotation from chapter 1 that Tertullian says that baptism washes away our sins, sets us free (from sin), and admits us into eternal life. In the second quotation he describes how the Spirit supervenes over the water, to work in us in baptism. His comment about the angel is a reference to the Gospel of John chapter 5 verses 2-4. This account is viewed by the Fathers as a prefiguring of baptism. In the quotation from chapter 7 we see the general view of the sacraments; they involve a physical principle, but the Holy Spirit operates spiritually through them. In the quotation from chapter 12, we see that Tertullian, like all the fathers, sees John 3:5 as teaching about baptism.
In chapter eight of his work titled “On the Resurrection of the Flesh,” Tertullian writes:
“[T]he flesh is the very condition on which salvation hinges. And since the soul is, in consequence of its salvation, chosen to the service of God, it is the flesh which actually renders it capable of such service. The flesh, indeed, is washed, in order that the soul may be cleansed; the flesh is anointed, that the soul may be consecrated; the flesh is signed (with the cross), that the soul too may be fortified; the flesh is shadowed with the imposition of hands, that the soul also maybe illuminated by the Spirit; the flesh feeds on the body and blood of Christ, that the soul likewise may fatten on its God. They cannot then be separated in their recompense, when they are united in their service.”
He goes into the other sacraments here, but with regard to baptism, notice that the soul is cleansed by the washing of the flesh with water.
St. Hippolytus of Rome, (d. 236), in his “Discourse on the Holy Theophany,” writes:
The Father of immortality sent the immortal Son and Word into the world, who came to man in order to wash him with water and the Spirit; and He, begetting us again to incorruption of soul and body, breathed into us the breath (spirit) of life, and endued us with an incorruptible panoply. If, therefore, man has become immortal, he will also be God. And if he is made God by water and the Holy Spirit after the regeneration of the laver he is found to be also joint-heir with Christ after the resurrection from the dead. Wherefore I preach to this effect: Come, all you kindreds of the nations, to the immortality of the baptism. I bring good tidings of life to you who tarry in the darkness of ignorance. Come into liberty from slavery, into a kingdom from tyranny, into incorruption from corruption. And how, says one, shall we come? How? By water and the Holy Ghost. This is the water in conjunction with the Spirit, by which paradise is watered, by which the earth is enriched, by which plants grow, by which animals multiply, and (to sum up the whole in a single word) by which man is begotten again and endued with life, in which also Christ was baptized, and in which the Spirit descended in the form of a dove.
This is the Spirit that at the beginning “moved upon the waters;” by whom the world moves; by whom creation consists, and all things have life; who also wrought mightily in the prophets, and descended in flight upon Christ. This is the Spirit that was given to the apostles in the form of fiery tongues. This is the Spirit that David sought when he said, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Of this Spirit Gabriel also spoke to the Virgin, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you.” By this Spirit Peter spoke that blessed word, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” By this Spirit the rock of the Church was established. This is the Spirit, the Comforter, that is sent because of you, that He may show you to be the Son of God.
Come then, be begotten again, O man, into the adoption of God. And how? Says one. If you practise adultery no more, and commit not murder, and serve not idols; if you are not overmastered by pleasure; if you do not suffer the feeling of pride to rule you; if you clean off the filthiness of impurity, and put off the burden of sin; if you cast off the armour of the devil, and put on the breastplate of faith, even as Isaiah says, “Wash, and seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow. And come and let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins be as scarlet, I shall make them white as snow; and though they be like crimson, I shall make them white as wool. And if you be willing, and hear my voice, you shall eat the good of the land.” Do you see, beloved, how the prophet spoke beforetime of the purifying power of baptism? For he who comes down in faith to the laver of regeneration, and renounces the devil, and joins himself to Christ; who denies the enemy, and makes the confession that Christ is God; who puts off the bondage, and puts on the adoption,— he comes up from the baptism brilliant as the sun, flashing forth the beams of righteousness, and, which is indeed the chief thing, he returns a son of God and joint-heir with Christ. (Discourse on the Holy Theophany)
In another work he writes:
For her [i.e. the Church’s] prow is the east, and her stern is the west, and her hold is the south, and her tillers are the two Testaments; and the ropes that stretch around her are the love of Christ, which binds the Church; and the net which she bears with her is the laver of the regeneration which renews the believing, whence too are these glories. (On Christ and Anti-Christ, para. 59)
Next consider a selection from Origen (185 – 254):
We next remark in passing that the baptism of John was inferior to the baptism of Jesus which was given through His disciples. Those persons in the Acts (Acts 19:2) who were baptized to John’s baptism and who had not heard if there was any Holy Ghost are baptized over again by the Apostle. Regeneration did not take place with John, but with Jesus through His disciples it does so, and what is called the laver of regeneration takes place with renewal of the Spirit. (Commentary on John, Bk VI.17)
Next consider St. Cyprian (c. 200 – 258), bishop of Carthage, in his First Epistle (To Donatus), he writes:
While I was still lying in darkness and gloomy night, wavering hither and thither, tossed about on the foam of this boastful age, and uncertain of my wandering steps, knowing nothing of my real life, and remote from truth and light, I used to regard it as a difficult matter, and especially as difficult in respect of my character at that time, that a man should be capable of being born again — a truth which the divine mercy had announced for my salvation, and that a man quickened to a new life in the laver of saving water should be able to put off what he had previously been; and, although retaining all his bodily structure, should be himself changed in heart and soul. (section 3)
For as I myself was held in bonds by the innumerable errors of my previous life, from which I did not believe that I could by possibility be delivered, so I was disposed to acquiesce in my clinging vices; and because I despaired of better things, I used to indulge my sins as if they were actually parts of me, and indigenous to me. But after that, by the help of the water of new birth, the stain of former years had been washed away, and a light from above, serene and pure, had been infused into my reconciled heart, after that, by the agency of the Spirit breathed from heaven, a second birth had restored me to a new man; then, in a wondrous manner, doubtful things at once began to assure themselves to me, hidden things to be revealed, dark things to be enlightened, what before had seemed difficult began to suggest a means of accomplishment, what had been thought impossible, to be capable of being achieved; so that I was enabled to acknowledge that what previously, being born of the flesh, had been living in the practice of sins, was of the earth earthly, but had now begun to be of God, and was animated by the Spirit of holiness. (section 4)
In his Fifty-first Epistle, he writes:
But I wonder that some are so obstinate as to think that repentance is not to be granted to the lapsed, or to suppose that pardon is to be denied to the penitent, when it is written, “Remember whence you are fallen, and repent, and do the first works,” (Revelation 2:5) which certainly is said to him who evidently has fallen, and whom the Lord exhorts to rise up again by his works, because it is written, “Alms do deliver from death,” Tobit 4:10 and not, assuredly, from that death which once the blood of Christ extinguished, and from which the saving grace of baptism and of our Redeemer has delivered us, but from that which subsequently creeps in through sins. (Epistle 51.22)
In his Fifty-fourth Epistle, he writes:
The highest degree of happiness is, not to sin; the second, to acknowledge our sins. In the former, innocence flows pure and unstained to preserve us; in the latter, there comes a medicine to heal us. Both of these they have lost by offending God, both because the grace is lost which is received from the sanctification of baptism, and repentance comes not to their help, whereby the sin is healed. (Epistle 54.13)
In his Fifty-eighth Epistle he writes:
“[H]ow much rather ought we to shrink from hindering an infant, who, being lately born, has not sinned, except in that, being born after the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of the ancient death at its earliest birth, who approaches the more easily on this very account to the reception of forgiveness of sins, that to him are remitted, not his own sins, but the sins of another.” (Epistle 58)
St. Cyprian is teaching here in this last quotation that in infant baptism, the infant receives forgiveness of original sin. In his sixty-second Epistle, St. Cyprian writes:
“If any man thirst, let him come and drink. He that believes in me, as the Scripture says, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” And that it might be more evident that the Lord is speaking there, not of the cup, but of baptism, the Scripture adds, saying, “But this spoke He of the Spirit, which they that believe in Him should receive.” For by baptism the Holy Spirit is received; and thus by those who are baptized, and have attained to the Holy Spirit, is attained the drinking of the Lord’s cup. And let it disturb no one, that when the divine Scripture speaks of baptism, it says that we thirst and drink, since the Lord also in the Gospel says, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness; ” (Matthew 5:6) because what is received with a greedy and thirsting desire is drunk more fully and plentifully. As also, in another place, the Lord speaks to the Samaritan woman, saying, “Whosoever drinks of this water shall thirst again; but whosoever drinks of the water that I shall give him, shall not thirst for ever.” (John 4:13-14) By which is also signified the very baptism of saving water, which indeed is once received, and is not again repeated. But the cup of the Lord is always both thirsted for and drunk in the Church. (Epistle 62)
In his seventy-third Epistle, St. Cyprian argued that baptism among the heretics was no baptism at all, and therefore that when such heretics were later received into the Catholic Church, they should be baptized. St. Cyprian was wrong about the invalidity of baptism among the heretics, but his reasoning shows what the Church believed about the nature of baptism. He writes:
Moreover, it is silly to say, that although the second birth is spiritual, by which we are born in Christ through the laver of regeneration, one may be born spiritually among the heretics, where they say that the Spirit is not. For water alone is not able to cleanse away sins, and to sanctify a man, unless he have also the Holy Spirit. Wherefore it is necessary that they [the heretics] should grant the Holy Spirit to be there, where they say that baptism is; or else there is no baptism where the Holy Spirit is not, because there cannot be baptism without the Spirit. (section 5)
But what a thing it is, to assert and contend that they who are not born in the Church can be the sons of God! For the blessed apostle sets forth and proves that baptism is that wherein the old man dies and the new man is born, saying, “He saved us by the washing of regeneration.” [Titus 3:5] But if regeneration is in the washing, that is, in baptism, how can heresy, which is not the spouse of Christ, generate sons to God by Christ? For it is the Church alone which, conjoined and united with Christ, spiritually bears sons; as the same apostle again says, “Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify it, cleansing it with the washing of water.” If, then, she is the beloved and spouse who alone is sanctified by Christ, and alone is cleansed by His washing, it is manifest that heresy, which is not the spouse of Christ, nor can be cleansed nor sanctified by His washing, cannot bear sons to God. (section 6)
But further, one is not born by the imposition of hands when he receives the Holy Ghost [in the sacrament of confirmation], but in baptism, that so, being already born, he may receive the Holy Spirit, even as it happened in the first man Adam. For first God formed him, and then breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. For the Spirit cannot be received, unless he who receives first have an existence. But as the birth of Christians is in baptism, while the generation and sanctification of baptism are with the spouse of Christ alone, who is able spiritually to conceive and to bear sons to God, where and of whom and to whom is he born, who is not a son of the Church, so as that he should have God as his Father, before he has had the Church for his Mother? (section 7)
In his seventy-fourth Epistle he writes on the same subject:
But if the baptism of heretics can have the regeneration of the second birth, those who are baptized among them must be counted not heretics, but children of God. For the second birth, which occurs in baptism, begets sons of God. … [Pope] Stephen, who announces that he holds by succession the throne of Peter, is stirred with no zeal against heretics, when he concedes to them, not a moderate, but the very greatest power of grace: so far as to say and assert that, by the sacrament of baptism, the filth of the old man is washed away by them, that they pardon the former mortal sins, that they make sons of God by heavenly regeneration, and renew to eternal life by the sanctification of the divine laver. … And this is observed among us, that whosoever dipped by them come to us are baptized among us as strangers and having obtained nothing, with the only and true baptism of the Catholic Church, and obtain the regeneration of the laver of life. (Epistle 74)
In his fourth Treatise, St. Cyprian writes:
After this we say, “Hallowed be Your name; “not that we wish for God that He may be hallowed by our prayers, but that we beseech of Him that His name may be hallowed in us. But by whom is God sanctified, since He Himself sanctifies? Well, because He says, “Be holy, even as I am holy,” (Leviticus 20:7) we ask and entreat, that we who were sanctified in baptism may continue in that which we have begun to be. And this we daily pray for; for we have need of daily sanctification, that we who daily fall away may wash out our sins by continual sanctification. And what the sanctification is which is conferred upon us by the condescension of God, the apostle declares, when he says, “neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor deceivers, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such indeed were you; but you are washed; but you are justified; but you are sanctified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9) He says that we are sanctified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit of our God. We pray that this sanctification may abide in us and because our Lord and Judge warns the man that was healed and quickened by Him, to sin no more lest a worse thing happen unto him, we make this supplication in our constant prayers, we ask this day and night, that the sanctification and quickening which is received from the grace of God may be preserved by His protection. (Treatise 4.12)
In his eighth Treatise, St. Cyprian writes:
The Holy Spirit speaks in the sacred Scriptures, and says, “By almsgiving and faith sins are purged.” Not assuredly those sins which had been previously contracted, for those are purged by the blood and sanctification of Christ. Moreover, He says again, “As water extinguishes fire, so almsgiving quenches sin.” (Sirach 3:30) Here also it is shown and proved, that as in the laver of saving water the fire of Gehenna is extinguished, so by almsgiving and works of righteousness the flame of sins is subdued. And because in baptism remission of sins is granted once for all, constant and ceaseless labour, following the likeness of baptism, once again bestows the mercy of God. The Lord teaches this also in the Gospel. For when the disciples were pointed out, as eating and not first washing their hands, He replied and said, “He that made that which is within, made also that which is without. But give alms, and behold all things are clean unto you; ” (Luke 11:41) teaching hereby and showing, that not the hands are to be washed, but the heart, and that the foulness from inside is to be done away rather than that from outside; but that he who shall have cleansed what is within has cleansed also that which is without; and that if the mind is cleansed, a man has begun to be clean also in skin and body. Further, admonishing, and showing whence we may be clean and purged, He added that alms must be given. He who is pitiful teaches and warns us that pity must be shown; and because He seeks to save those whom at a great cost He has redeemed, He teaches that those who, after the grace of baptism, have become foul, may once more be cleansed. (Treatise 8)
In his ninth Treatise he writes:
His immortality being in the meantime laid aside, He suffers Himself to become mortal, so that the guiltless may be put to death for the salvation of the guilty. The Lord is baptized by the servant; and He who is about to bestow remission of sins, does not Himself disdain to wash His body in the laver of regeneration. (Treatise 9)
In his tenth Treatise, he writes:
Let us, then, who in baptism have both died and been buried in respect of the carnal sins of the old man, who have risen again with Christ in the heavenly regeneration, both think upon and do the things which are Christ’s, even as the same apostle again teaches and counsels, saying: “The first man is of the dust of the earth; the second man is from heaven” (Treatise 10.14)
St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (213 – ca. 270) writes:
[S]ee John the Baptist as he baptizes One [i.e. Christ] who needs no baptism, and yet submits to the rite in order that He may bestow freely upon us the grace of baptism. Come, let us view the image of our regeneration, as it is emblematically presented in these waters. (On Christ’s Baptism)
In another work he writes:
He was baptized in Jordan, not as receiving any sanctification for Himself, but as gifting a participation in sanctification to others. (Twelve Topics on Faith, 12)
St. Pamphilus of Caesarea (d. 309), in his “Exposition on the Acts of the Apostles,” in which he summarizes the Acts of the Apostles, writes:
Of the divine descent of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost which lighted on them who believed. In this we have also the instruction delivered by Peter, and passages from the prophets on the subject, and on the passion and resurrection and assumption of Christ, and the gift of the Holy Ghost; also of the faith of those present, and their salvation by baptism; and, further, of the unity of spirit pervading the believers and promoting the common good, and of the addition made to their number.
St. Methodius, bishop of Olympus (d. 311), in his Discourse on the Resurrection, writes:
For while the body still lives, before it has passed through death, sin must also live with it, as it has its roots concealed within us even though it be externally checked by the wounds inflicted by corrections and warnings; since, otherwise, it would not happen that we do wrong after baptism, as we should be entirely and absolutely free from sin. But now, even after believing, and after the time of being touched by the water of sanctification, we are oftentimes found in sin. For no one can boast of being so free from sin as not even to have an evil thought. So that it has come to pass that sin is now restrained and lulled to sleep by faith, so that it does not produce injurious fruits, but yet is not torn up by the roots. For the present we restrain its sprouts, such as evil imaginations, “test any root of bitterness springing up trouble” (Hebrews 12:15) us, not suffering its leaves to unclose and open into shoots; while the Word, like an axe, cuts at its roots which grow below. But hereafter the very thought of evil will disappear. (Discourse on the Resurrection)
In his Oration on Simeon and Anna, he writes:
Wherefore with divine wisdom did he, who had foreknowledge of these events, oppose the bringing in of the thankful Anna to the casting out of the ungrateful synagogue. Her very name also pre-signifies the Church, that by the grace of Christ and God is justified in baptism. For Anna is, by interpretation, grace. (Oration on Simeon and Anna, 12)
In the third Discourse of his “Banquet of the Ten Virgins,” he writes:
[I]t was for this cause that the Word, leaving His Father in heaven, came down to be “joined to His wife; ” (Ephesians 5:31) and slept in the trance of His passion, and willingly suffered death for her, that He might present the Church to Himself glorious and blameless, having cleansed her by the laver, (Ephesians 5:26-27) for the receiving of the spiritual and blessed seed, which is sown by Him who with whispers implants it in the depths of the mind; and is conceived and formed by the Church, as by a woman, so as to give birth and nourishment to virtue. For in this way, too, the command, “Increase and multiply,” Genesis 1:18 is duly fulfilled, the Church increasing daily in greatness and beauty and multitude, by the union and communion of the Word who now still comes down to us and falls into a trance by the memorial of His passion; for otherwise the Church could not conceive believers, and give them new birth by the laver of regeneration, unless Christ, emptying Himself for their sake, that He might be contained by them, as I said, through the recapitulation of His passion, should die again, coming down from heaven, and being “joined to His wife,” the Church, should provide for a certain power being taken from His own side, so that all who are built up in Him should grow up, even those who are born again by the laver, receiving of His bones and of His flesh, that is, of His holiness and of His glory. (Banquet of the Ten Virgins, Discourse 3)
In the eighth Discourse of the Ten Virgins, he writes:
Now the statement … denotes the faith of those who are cleansed from corruption in the laver of regeneration, …. Whence it is necessary that she [i.e. the Church] should stand upon the laver, bringing forth those who are washed in it. And in this way the power which she has in connection with the laver is called the moon, because the regenerate shine being renewed with a new ray, that is, a new light. (Banquet of the Ten Virgins, Discourse 8)
Aphraates (280 – 367), a bishop in Syria, in his Sixth Demonstration, writes:
Therefore, my beloved, we also have received of the Spirit of Christ, and Christ dwells in us, as it is written that the Spirit said this through the mouth of the Prophet: I will dwell in them and will walk in them. Therefore let us prepare our temples for the Spirit of Christ, and let us not grieve it that it may not depart from us. Remember the warning that the Apostle gives us: Grieve not the Holy Spirit whereby you have been sealed unto the day of redemption. For from baptism do we receive the Spirit of Christ. For in that hour in which the priests invoke the Spirit, the heavens open and it descends and moves upon the waters. And those that are baptized are clothed in it; for the Spirit stays aloof from all that are born of the flesh, until they come to the new birth by water, and then they receive the Holy Spirit. For in the first birth they are born with an animal souls which is created within man and is not thereafter subject to death, as he said: Adam became a living soul. But in the second birth, that through baptism, they received the Holy Spirit from a particle of the Godhead, and it is not again subject to death. For when men die, the animal spirit is buried with the body, and sense is taken away from it, but the heavenly spirit that they receive goes according to its nature to Christ. And both these the Apostle has made known, for he said: The body is buried in animal wise, and rises again in spiritual wise. The Spirit goes back again to Christ according to its nature, for the Apostle said again: When we shall depart from the body we shall be with our Lord. For the Spirit of Christ, which the spiritual receive, goes to our Lord. And the animal spirit is buried in its nature, and sense is taken away from it. Whosoever guards the Spirit of Christ in purity, when it returns to Christ it thus addresses him: “The body into which I went, and which put me on from the water of the baptism, has kept me in holiness.” And the Holy Spirit will be earnest with Christ for the resurrection of that body which kept Him with purity, and the Spirit will request to be again conjoined to it that that body may rise up in glory. And whatever man there is that receives the Spirit from the water (of baptism) and grieves it, it departs from him until he dies, and returns according to its nature to Christ, and accuses that man of having grieved it.
Notice that according to Aphraates, we receive the Spirit in baptism.
My soul judged of Him as One Who, drawing us upward to partake of His own Divine nature, has loosened henceforth the bond of bodily observances Who, unlike the Symbolic Law, has initiated us into no rites of mutilating the flesh, but Whose purpose is that our spirit, circumcised from vice, should purify all the natural faculties of the body by abstinence from sin, that we being buried with His Death in Baptism may return to the life of eternity (since regeneration to life is death to the former life), and dying to our sins be born again to immortality, that even as He abandoned His immortality to die for us, so should we awaken from death to immortality with Him. (On the Trinity, Bk I)
In Book VIII of this same work he writes:
Again I ask, is the faith one or is there a second faith? One undoubtedly, and that on the authority of the Apostle himself, who proclaims one faith even as one Lord, and one baptism, and one hope, and one God. (Ephesians 4:4-5) If then it is through faith, that is, through the nature of one faith, that all are one, how is it that thou dost not understand a natural unity in the case of those who through the nature of one faith are one? For all were born again to innocence, to immortality, to the knowledge of God, to the faith of hope. And if these things cannot differ within themselves because there is both one hope and one God, as also there is one Lord and one baptism of regeneration; if these things are one rather by agreement than by nature, ascribe a unity of will to those also who have been born again into them. If, however, they have been begotten again into the nature of one life and eternity, then, inasmuch as their soul and heart are one, the unity of will fails to account for their case who are one by regeneration into the same nature. (On the Trinity, Bk VIII)
In Book IX of this same work he writes:
We are circumcised not with a fleshly circumcision but with the circumcision of Christ, that is, we are born again into a new man; for, being buried with Him in His baptism, we must die to the old man, because the regeneration of baptism has the force of resurrection. (On the Trinity, Bk IX)
In Book XII of this same work he writes:
Keep, I pray You, this my pious faith undefiled, and even till my spirit departs, grant that this may be the utterance of my convictions: so that I may ever hold fast that which I professed in the creed of my regeneration, when I was baptized in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. (On the Trinity, Bk 12)
St. Ephraim of Syria (306 – 373). In his Homily on our Lord, St. Ephraim writes:
Therefore, because the Spirit was with the Son, He came to John to receive from him baptism, that He might mingle with the visible waters the invisible Spirit; that they whose bodies should feel the moistening of the water, their souls should feel the gift of the Spirit; that even as the bodies outwardly feel the pouring of the water upon them, so the souls inwardly may feel the pouring of the Spirit upon them. (Homily on our Lord)
Next consider St. Cyril (315-386), bishop of Jerusalem. In the Prologue to his Catechetical Lectures (i.e. lectures to Catechumens) he writes to the Catechumens:
Great is the Baptism that lies before you: a ransom to captives; a remission of offenses; a death of sin; a new-birth of the soul; a garment of light; a holy indissoluble seal; a chariot to heaven; the delight of Paradise; a welcome into the kingdom; the gift of adoption!
In his third Catechetical Lecture, he writes the following to the Catechumens:
Regard not the Laver as simple water, but rather regard the spiritual grace that is given with the water. For just as the offerings brought to the heathen altars, though simple in their nature, become defiled by the invocation of the idols, so contrariwise the simple water having received the invocation of the Holy Ghost, and of Christ, and of the Father, acquires a new power of holiness. For since man is of twofold nature, soul and body, the purification also is twofold, the one incorporeal for the incorporeal part, and the other bodily for the body: the water cleanses the body, and the Spirit seals the soul; that we may draw near unto God, having our heart sprinkled by the Spirit, and our body washed with pure water. When going down, therefore, into the water, think not of the bare element, but look for salvation by the power of the Holy Ghost: for without both you can not possibly be made perfect. It is not I that say this, but the Lord Jesus Christ, who has the power in this matter: for He says, Except a man be born anew (and He adds the words) of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Neither does he that is baptized with water, but not found worthy of the Spirit, receive the grace in perfection; nor if a man be virtuous in his deeds, but receive not the seal by water, shall he enter into the kingdom of heaven. A bold saying, but not mine, for it is Jesus who has declared it: and here is the proof of the statement from Holy Scripture. Cornelius was a just man, who was honoured with a vision of Angels, and had set up his prayers and alms-deeds as a good memorial before God in heaven. Peter came, and the Spirit was poured out upon them that believed, and they spoke with other tongues, and prophesied: and after the grace of the Spirit the Scripture says that Peter commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ; in order that, the soul having been born again by faith, the body also might by the water partake of the grace. (sections 3-4)
If any man receive not Baptism, he has no salvation; except only Martyrs, who even without the water receive the kingdom. (section 10)
For you go down into the water, bearing your sins, but the invocation of grace, having sealed your soul, suffers you not afterwards to be swallowed up by the terrible dragon. Having gone down dead in sins, you come up quickened in righteousness. For if you have been united with the likeness of the Saviour’s death, you shall also be deemed worthy of His Resurrection. For as Jesus took upon Him the sins of the world, and died, that by putting sin to death He might rise again in righteousness; so thou by going down into the water, and being in a manner buried in the waters, as He was in the rock, art raised again walking in newness of life. (section 12)
In Lecture 18, he writes to the Catechumens, who are approaching the day of their baptism (i.e. the Easter vigil):
But now the holy day of the Passover is at hand, and you, beloved in Christ, are to be enlightened by the Laver of regeneration. You shall therefore again be taught what is requisite, if God so will; with how great devotion and order you must enter in when summoned, for what purpose each of the holy mysteries of Baptism is performed, and with what reverence and order you must go from Baptism to the Holy Altar of God, and enjoy its spiritual and heavenly mysteries; that your souls being previously enlightened by the word of doctrine, you may discover in each particular the greatness of the gifts bestowed on you by God. (Lecture 18)
In his Lecture 19, the first lecture given to the newly baptized believers in the time of mystatogy (i.e. between Easter and Pentecost), St. Cyril begins to explain to the new Catholics what happened to them at their baptism. He writes:
I have long been wishing, O true-born and dearly beloved children of the Church, to discourse to you concerning these spiritual and heavenly Mysteries; but since I well knew that seeing is far more persuasive than hearing, I waited for the present season; that finding you more open to the influence of my words from your present experience, I might lead you by the hand into the brighter and more fragrant meadow of the Paradise before us; especially as you have been made fit to receive the more sacred Mysteries, after having been found worthy of divine and life-giving Baptism. Since therefore it remains to set before you a table of the more perfect instructions, let us now teach you these things exactly, that you may know the effect wrought upon you on that evening of your baptism. … For our adversary the devil, as was just now read, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:9) But though in former times death was mighty and devoured, at the holy Laver of regeneration God has wiped away every tear from off all faces. For you shall no more mourn, now that you have put off the old man; but you shall keep holy-day, clothed in the garment of salvation (Isaiah 61:10), even Jesus Christ.
He continues to explain the significance of the exorcism and vows that take place immediately prior to baptism. Then, in Lecture 20, he writes:
After these things, you were led to the holy pool of Divine Baptism, as Christ was carried from the Cross to the Sepulchre which is before our eyes. And each of you was asked, whether he believed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and you made that saving confession, and descended three times into the water, and ascended again; here also hinting by a symbol at the three days burial of Christ. For as our Saviour passed three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, so you also in your first ascent out of the water, represented the first day of Christ in the earth, and by your descent, the night; for as he who is in the night, no longer sees, but he who is in the day, remains in the light, so in the descent, as in the night, you saw nothing, but in ascending again you were as in the day. And at the self-same moment you were both dying and being born; and that Water of salvation was at once your grave and your mother. And what Solomon spoke of others will suit you also; for he said, in that case, There is a time to bear and a time to die (Ecclesiastes 3:2); but to you, in the reverse order, there was a time to die and a time to be born; and one and the same time effected both of these, and your birth went hand in hand with your death.
Next consider St. Basil the Great (329-379). In the tenth chapter of his De Spiritu Sancto (On the Holy Spirit) he writes:
Whence is it that we are Christians? Through our faith, would be the universal answer. And in what way are we saved? Plainly because we were regenerate through the grace given in our baptism. How else could we be? And after recognising that this salvation is established through the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, shall we fling away “that form of doctrine” (Romans 6:17) which we received? Would it not rather be ground for great groaning if we are found now further off from our salvation “than when we first believed,” and deny now what we then received? …. For if to me my baptism was the beginning of life, and that day of regeneration the first of days, it is plain that the utterance uttered in the grace of adoption was the most honourable of all. Can I then, perverted by these men’s seductive words, abandon the tradition which guided me to the light, which bestowed on me the boon of the knowledge of God, whereby I, so long a foe by reason of sin, was made a child of God? But, for myself, I pray that with this confession I may depart hence to the Lord, and them I charge to preserve the faith secure until the day of Christ, and to keep the Spirit undivided from the Father and the Son, preserving, both in the confession of faith and in the doxology, the doctrine taught them at their baptism. (Chapter 10)
In the fifteenth chapter of this same work he writes:
For perfection of life the imitation of Christ is necessary, not only in the example of gentleness, lowliness, and long suffering set us in His life, but also of His actual death. So Paul, the imitator of Christ, says, “being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” How then are we made in the likeness of His death? In that we were buried with Him by baptism. What then is the manner of the burial? And what is the advantage resulting from the imitation? First of all, it is necessary that the continuity of the old life be cut. And this is impossible less a man be born again, according to the Lord’s word; for the regeneration, as indeed the name shows, is a beginning of a second life. So before beginning the second, it is necessary to put an end to the first. For just as in the case of runners who turn and take the second course, a kind of halt and pause intervenes between the movements in the opposite direction, so also in making a change in lives it seemed necessary for death to come as mediator between the two, ending all that goes before, and beginning all that comes after. How then do we achieve the descent into hell? By imitating, through baptism, the burial of Christ. For the bodies of the baptized are, as it were, buried in the water. Baptism then symbolically signifies the putting off of the works of the flesh; as the apostle says, you were “circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; buried with him in baptism.” And there is, as it were, a cleansing of the soul from the filth that has grown on it from the carnal mind, as it is written, “You shall wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” On this account we do not, as is the fashion of the Jews, wash ourselves at each defilement, but own the baptism of salvation to be one. For there the death on behalf of the world is one, and one the resurrection of the dead, whereof baptism is a type. For this cause the Lord, who is the Dispenser of our life, gave us the covenant of baptism, containing a type of life and death, for the water fulfils the image of death, and the Spirit gives us the earnest of life. Hence it follows that the answer to our question why the water was associated with the Spirit is clear: the reason is because in baptism two ends were proposed; on the one hand, the destroying of the body of sin, that it may never bear fruit unto death; on the other hand, our living unto the Spirit, and having our fruit in holiness; the water receiving the body as in a tomb figures death, while the Spirit pours in the quickening power, renewing our souls from the deadness of sin unto their original life. This then is what it is to be born again of water and of the Spirit, the being made dead being effected in the water, while our life is wrought in us through the Spirit. In three immersions, then, and with three invocations, the great mystery of baptism is performed, to the end that the type of death may be fully figured, and that by the tradition of the divine knowledge the baptized may have their souls enlightened. It follows that if there is any grace in the water, it is not of the nature of the water, but of the presence of the Spirit. (Chapter 15)
St. Gregory of Nazianzus (325-389). In his eighteenth Oration, St. Gregory of Nazianzus describes his own father’s baptism:
After a short interval, wonder succeeded wonder. I will commend the account of it to the ears of the faithful, for to profane minds nothing that is good is trustworthy. He was approaching that regeneration by water and the Spirit, by which we confess to God the formation and completion of the Christlike man, and the transformation and reformation from the earthy to the Spirit. He was approaching the laver with warm desire and bright hope, after all the purgation possible, and a far greater purification of soul and body than that of the men who were to receive the tables from Moses. Their purification extended only to their dress, and a slight restriction of the belly, and a temporary continence. The whole of his past life had been a preparation for the enlightenment, and a preliminary purification making sure the gift, in order that perfection might be entrusted to purity, and that the blessing might incur no risk in a soul which was confident in its possession of the grace. (Oration 18)
In his thirty-fourth Oration, he writes:
For my part I revere also the Titles of the Word, which are so many, and so high and great, which even the demons respect. And I revere also the Equal Rank of the Holy Ghost; and I fear the threat pronounced against those who blaspheme Him. And blasphemy is not the reckoning Him God, but the severing Him from the Godhead. And here you must remark that That which is blasphemed is Lord, and That which is avenged is the Holy Ghost, evidently as Lord. I cannot bear to be unenlightened after my Enlightenment, by marking with a different stamp any of the Three into Whom I was baptized; and thus to be indeed buried in the water, and initiated not into Regeneration, but into death. (Oration 34)
In his fortieth Oration, he writes:
And as Christ the Giver of it is called by many various names, so too is this Gift, whether it is from the exceeding gladness of its nature (as those who are very fond of a thing take pleasure in using its name), or that the great variety of its benefits has reacted for us upon its names. We call it, the Gift, the Grace, Baptism, Unction, Illumination, the Clothing of Immortality, the Laver of Regeneration, the Seal, and everything that is honourable. We call it the Gift, because it is given to us in return for nothing on our part; Grace, because it is conferred even on debtors; Baptism, because sin is buried with it in the water; Unction, as Priestly and Royal, for such were they who were anointed; Illumination, because of its splendour; Clothing, because it hides our shame; the Laver, because it washes us; the Seal because it preserves us, and is moreover the indication of Dominion. In it the heavens rejoice; it is glorified by Angels, because of its kindred splendour. It is the image of the heavenly bliss. We long indeed to sing out its praises, but we cannot worthily do so. (Oration 40)
Next consider St. Gregory of Nyssa (c 335 – after 394), in his work titled “On the Baptism of Christ,” wherein he writes:
I for my part rejoice over both—over you that are initiated, because you are enriched with a great gift: over you that are uninitiated, because you have a fair expectation of hope— remission of what is to be accounted for, release from bondage, close relation to God, free boldness of speech, and in place of servile subjection equality with the angels. For these things, and all that follow from them, the grace of Baptism secures and conveys to us. …
But Christ, the repairer of his evil-doing, assumes manhood in its fullness, and saves man, and becomes the type and figure of us all, to sanctify the first-fruits of every action, and leave to His servants no doubt in their zeal for the tradition. Baptism, then, is a purification from sins, a remission of trespasses, a cause of renovation and regeneration. By regeneration, understand regeneration conceived in thought, not discerned by bodily sight. For we shall not, according to the Jew Nicodemus and his somewhat dull intelligence, change the old man into a child, nor shall we form anew him who is wrinkled and gray-headed to tenderness and youth, if we bring back the man again into his mother’s womb: but we do bring back, by royal grace, him who bears the scars of sin, and has grown old in evil habits, to the innocence of the babe. For as the child new-born is free from accusations and from penalties, so too the child of regeneration has nothing for which to answer, being released by royal bounty from accountability. And this gift it is not the water that bestows (for in that case it were a thing more exalted than all creation), but the command of God, and the visitation of the Spirit that comes sacramentally to set us free. But water serves to express the cleansing. For since we are wont by washing in water to render our body clean when it is soiled by dirt or mud, we therefore apply it also in the sacramental action, and display the spiritual brightness by that which is subject to our senses.
Let us however, if it seems well, persevere in enquiring more fully and more minutely concerning Baptism, starting, as from the fountain-head, from the Scriptural declaration, “Unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. ” Why are both named, and why is not the Spirit alone accounted sufficient for the completion of Baptism? Man, as we know full well, is compound, not simple: and therefore the cognate and similar medicines are assigned for healing to him who is twofold and conglomerate:— for his visible body, water, the sensible element—for his soul, which we cannot see, the Spirit invisible, invoked by faith, present unspeakably. For “the Spirit breathes where He wills, and you hear His voice, but canst not tell whence He comes or whither He goes.” He blesses the body that is baptized, and the water that baptizes. Despise not, therefore, the Divine laver, nor think lightly of it, as a common thing, on account of the use of water. For the power that operates is mighty, and wonderful are the things that are wrought thereby. For this holy altar, too, by which I stand, is stone, ordinary in its nature, nowise different from the other slabs of stone that build our houses and adorn our pavements; but seeing that it was consecrated to the service of God, and received the benediction, it is a holy table, an altar undefiled, no longer touched by the hands of all, but of the priests alone, and that with reverence. The bread again is at first common bread, but when the sacramental action consecrates it, it is called, and becomes, the Body of Christ. So with the sacramental oil; so with the wine: though before the benediction they are of little value, each of them, after the sanctification bestowed by the Spirit, has its several operation. The same power of the word, again, also makes the priest venerable and honourable, separated, by the new blessing bestowed upon him, from his community with the mass of men. While but yesterday he was one of the mass, one of the people, he is suddenly rendered a guide, a president, a teacher of righteousness, an instructor in hidden mysteries; and this he does without being at all changed in body or in form; but, while continuing to be in all appearance the man he was before, being, by some unseen power and grace, transformed in respect of his unseen soul to the higher condition.
And so there are many things, which if you consider you will see that their appearance is contemptible, but the things they accomplish are mighty: and this is especially the case when you collect from the ancient history instances cognate and similar to the subject of our inquiry. The rod of Moses was a hazel wand. And what is that, but common wood that every hand cuts and carries, and fashions to what use it chooses, and casts as it will into the fire? But when God was pleased to accomplish by that rod those wonders, lofty, and passing the power of language to express, the wood was changed into a serpent. And again, at another time, he smote the waters, and now made the water blood, now made to issue forth a countless brood of frogs: and again he divided the sea, severed to its depths without flowing together again. Likewise the mantle of one of the prophets, though it was but a goat’s skin, made Elisha renowned in the whole world. And the wood of the Cross is of saving efficacy for all men, though it is, as I am informed, a piece of a poor tree, less valuable than most trees are. So a bramble bush showed to Moses the manifestation of the presence of God: so the remains of Elisha raised a dead man to life; so clay gave sight to him that was blind from the womb. And all these things, though they were matter without soul or sense, were made the means for the performance of the great marvels wrought by them, when they received the power of God. Now by a similar train of reasoning, water also, though it is nothing else than water, renews the man to spiritual regeneration, when the grace from above hallows it. And if any one answers me again by raising a difficulty, with his questions and doubts, continually asking and inquiring how water and the sacramental act that is performed therein regenerate, I most justly reply to him, “Show me the mode of that generation which is after the flesh, and I will explain to you the power of regeneration in the soul.” (On the Baptism of Christ)
Later in this work, St. Gregory of Nyssa goes into a survey of the Old Testament types of baptism. He writes:
But when we are aware of his attacks, we ought to repeat to ourselves the apostolic words, “As many of us as were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death (Romans 6:3).” Now if we have been conformed to His death, sin henceforth in us is surely a corpse, pierced through by the javelin of Baptism, as that fornicator was thrust through by the zealous Phinehas.
In his “Great Catechism,” he writes:
[W]hen, I say, they have heard this and the like from us, and are besides instructed as to the process—namely that it is prayer and the invocation of heavenly grace, and water, and faith, by which the mystery of regeneration is accomplished—they still remain incredulous and have an eye only for the outward and visible, as if that which is operated corporeally concurred not with the fulfilment of God’s promise. How, they ask, can prayer and the invocation of Divine power over the water be the foundation of life in those who have been thus initiated? (The Great Catechism, part III [The Sacraments])
In his work titled “Against Eunomius,” he writes:
[T]o speak briefly, as there are in us three births, whereby human nature is quickened, one of the body, another in the sacrament of regeneration, another by that resurrection of the dead for which we look …. (Against Eunomius, Bk IV)
In his second Letter, he writes:
Since, then, in the case of those who are regenerate from death to eternal life, it is through the Holy Trinity that the life-giving power is bestowed on those who with faith are deemed worthy of the grace, and in like manner the grace is imperfect, if any one, whichever it be, of the names of the Holy Trinity be omitted in the saving baptism— for the sacrament of regeneration is not completed in the Son and the Father alone without the Spirit: nor is the perfect boon of life imparted to Baptism in the Father and the Spirit, if the name of the Son be suppressed: nor is the grace of that Resurrection accomplished in the Father and the Son, if the Spirit be left out: — for this reason we rest all our hope, and the persuasion of the salvation of our souls, upon the three Persons, recognized by these names …. (Letter 2)
Next consider St. Pacian (d. 391), bishop of Barcelona. In his sermon on Baptism, he writes:
Thus Christ continues in the Church through his priests, as the same Apostles says: In Christ, I have begotten you. And so, the seed of Christ, that is, the Spirit of God, brings forth the new man, nourished in the womb of his mother, welcomed at his birth at the font through the hands of the priests, while faith presides over the ceremony. Christ must, therefore, be received in order to beget, for the apostles John says: To all who received him he gave the power to become sons of God. But these things cannot be accomplished except by the sacrament of the font, the chrism and the priest. For sin is washed away by the waters of the font; the Holy Spirit is poured forth in the chrism; and we obtain both of these gifts through the hands and the mouth of the priest. Thus the whole man is reborn and renewed in Christ. … And so when we come to the sign of the Lord in the sacrament of baptism we are freed of these chains and liberated by the blood of Christ and by his name. Therefore, beloved, we are washed clean but once; we are freed only once; we are received into the immortal kingdom once and for all. Once and for all are they happy whose sins are forgiven and whose stains are blotted out. Hold fast to what you have received; preserve it joyfully; sin no more. Keep yourselves as children cleansed by that sacrament and made spotless for the day of the Lord.
At this point we should not overlook the significance of the line in the Nicene Creed: “we acknowledge one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” This line was added at the Council of Constantinople in AD 381. When we see what the Fathers who were either contemporaneous with the Council or who attended the Council wrote about baptism, it shows that this line in the Creed means exactly what it says: our sins are forgiven in baptism.
Next consider St. Ambrose (340-397), bishop of Milan. In Book 1, chapter 8, of his work “On Repentance,” he writes to the Novatians (schismatics):
Why do you baptize if sins cannot be remitted by man? If baptism is certainly the remission of all sins, what difference does it make whether claim that this power is given to them in penance or at the font? In each the mystery is one.
The Novatians believed with the Catholics that baptism is the remission of all sins. But the Novatians denied that the priests had the authority to forgive sins in the sacrament of penance/reconciliation. In the second chapter of Book II of his “On Repentance,” St. Ambrose writes:
And that the writer [of Hebrews 6:4] was speaking of baptism is evident from the very words in which it is stated that it is impossible to renew unto repentance those who were fallen, inasmuch as we are renewed by means of the laver of baptism, whereby we are born again …. as we being dead in sin are through the Sacrament of Baptism born again to God, and created anew. … This, too, is plain, that in him who is baptized the Son of God is crucified, for our flesh could not do away sin unless it were crucified in Jesus Christ. And then it is written that: “All we who were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death.” And farther on: “If we have been planted in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing that our old man was fastened with Him to His cross.” And to the Colossians he says: “Buried with Him by baptism, wherein ye also rose again with Him.” … And indeed I might also say to any one who thought that this passage spoke of repentance, that things which are impossible with men are possible with God; and God is able whensoever He wills to forgive us our sins, even those which we think cannot be forgiven. And so it is possible for God to give us that which it seems to us impossible to obtain. For it seemed impossible that water should wash away sin, and Naaman the Syrian thought that his leprosy could not be cleansed by water. But that which was impossible God made to be possible, Who gave us so great grace.
Here St. Ambrose shows clearly that we are regenerated through baptism, and that are sins are washed away by the water of baptism. In his work “On the Mysteries,” he writes:
The water, then, is that in which the flesh is dipped, that all carnal sin may be washed away. All wickedness is there buried. … For what else are we daily taught in this sacrament but that guilt is swallowed up and error done away …. For water without the preaching of the Cross of the Lord is of no avail for future salvation, but, after it has been consecrated by the mystery of the saving cross, it is made suitable for the use of the spiritual laver and of the cup of salvation. As, then, Moses, that is, the prophet, cast wood into that fountain, so, too, the priest utters over this font the proclamation of the Lord’s cross, and the water is made sweet for the purpose of grace.” (chapter 3)
“That water does not cleanse without the Spirit is shown by the witness of John and by the very form of the administration of the sacrament. … Therefore read that the three witnesses in baptism, the water, the blood, and the Spirit, are one, for if you take away one of these, the Sacrament of Baptism does not exist. For what is water without the cross of Christ? A common element, without any sacramental effect. Nor, again, is there the Sacrament of Regeneration without water: “For except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Now, even the catechumen believes in the cross of the Lord Jesus, wherewith he too is signed; but unless he be baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, he cannot receive remission of sins nor gain the gift of spiritual grace.” (chapter 4)
After this white robes were given to you as a sign that you were putting off the covering of sins, and putting on the chaste veil of innocence, of which the prophet said: “You shall sprinkle me with hyssop and I shall be cleansed, You shall wash me and I shall be made whiter than snow.” For he who is baptized is seen to be purified both according to the Law and according to the Gospel: according to the Law, because Moses sprinkled the blood of the lamb with a bunch of hyssop; (Exodus 12:22) according to the Gospel, because Christ’s garments were white as snow, when in the Gospel He showed forth the glory of His Resurrection. He, then, whose guilt is remitted is made whiter than snow. So that God said by Isaiah: “Though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow.” (Isaiah 1:18) (Chapter 7)
The Church, having put on these garments through the laver of regeneration, says in the Song of Songs: “I am black and comely, O daughters of Jerusalem.” (Song of Songs 1:4) Black through the frailty of her human condition, comely through the sacrament of faith. And the daughters of Jerusalem beholding these garments say in amazement: “Who is this that comes up made white?” (Song of Songs 8:5) She was black, how is she now suddenly made white? … But Christ, beholding His Church, for whom He Himself, as you find in the book of the prophet Zechariah, had put on filthy garments, now clothed in white raiment, seeing, that is, a soul pure and washed in the laver of regeneration, says: “Behold, you are fair, My love, behold you are fair, your eyes are like a dove’s,” Song of Songs 4:1 in the likeness of which the Holy Spirit descended from heaven. (Chapter 7)
In Book III of his work “On the Holy Spirit,” St. Ambrose writes:
Nicodemus enquires about regeneration, and the Lord replies: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a man be born again by water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5) And that He might show that there is one birth according to the flesh, and another according to the Spirit, He added: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, because it is born of the flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit, because the Spirit is God.” Follow out the whole course of the passage, and you will find that God has shut out your impiety by the fullness of His statement: “Marvel not,” says He, “that I said, You must be born again. The Spirit breathes where He lists, and you hear His voice, but know not whence He comes or whither He goes, so is every one who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:7-8)
Who is he who is born of the Spirit, and is made Spirit, but he who is renewed in the Spirit of his mind? (Ephesians 4:23) This certainly is he who is regenerated by water and the Holy Spirit, since we receive the hope of eternal life through the laver of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5) And elsewhere the Apostle Peter says: “You shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 11:16) For who is he that is baptized with the Holy Spirit but he who is born again through water and the Holy Spirit? Therefore the Lord said of the Holy Spirit, Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a man be born again by water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (Bk III)
In his “Letters,” St. Ambrose writes:
Who is a God like you, who takes away iniquity and passes by wickedness?’ (Mic. 7:18) You have not been mindful of Your wrath, but have cast all our iniquities into the sea, like Egyptian lead”. (Letters, No. 70)
According to St. Ambrose, the phrase “cast our iniquities into the sea” refers to baptism.
St. John Chrysostom (347-407), bishop of Constantinople, wrote a work titled “Instructions to Catechumens,” in which he writes:
But I see that our discourse now constrains us to something more necessary to say what baptism is, and for what reason it enters into our life, and what good things it conveys to us.
But, if you will, let us discourse about the name which this mystic cleansing bears: for its name is not one, but very many and various. For this purification is called the laver of regeneration. “He saved us,” he says, “through the laver of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Titus 3:5) It is called also illumination, and this St. Paul again has called it, “For call to remembrance the former days in which after you were illuminated ye endured a great conflict of sufferings;” (Hebrews 10:32) and again, “For it is impossible for those who were once illuminated, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and then fell away, to renew them again unto repentance.” (Hebrews 6:4-6) It is called also, baptism: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27) It is called also burial: “For we were buried” says he, “with him, through baptism, into death.” (Romans 6:4) It is called circumcision: “In whom you were also circumcised, with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the sins of the flesh.” (Galatians 2:11) It is called a cross: “Our old man was crucified with him that the body of sin might be done away.” (Romans 6:6) It is also possible to speak of other names besides these, but in order that we should not spend our whole time over the names of this free gift, come, return to the first name, and let us finish our discourse by declaring its meaning; but in the meantime, let us extend our teaching a little further. There is that laver by means of the baths, common to all men, which is wont to wipe off bodily uncleanness; and there is the Jewish laver, more honorable than the other, but far inferior to that of grace; and it too wipes off bodily uncleanness but not simply uncleanness of body, since it even reaches to the weak conscience. For there are many matters, which by nature indeed are not unclean, but which become unclean from the weakness of the conscience. And as in the case of little children, masks, and other bugbears are not in themselves alarming, but seem to little children to be alarming, by reason of the weakness of their nature, so it is in the case of those things of which I was speaking; just as to touch dead bodies is not naturally unclean, but when this comes into contact with a weak conscience, it makes him who touches them unclean. For that the thing in question is not unclean naturally, Moses himself who ordained this law showed, when he bore off the entire corpse of Joseph, and yet remained clean. On this account Paul also, discoursing to us about this uncleanness which does not come naturally but by reason of the weakness of the conscience, speaks somewhat in this way, “Nothing is common of itself save to him who accounts anything to be common.” (Romans 14:14) Do you not see that uncleanness does not arise from the nature of the thing, but from the weakness of the reasoning about it? And again: “All things indeed are clean, howbeit it is evil to that man who eats with offense.” (Romans 14:20) Do you see that it is not to eat, but to eat with offense, that is the cause of uncleanness?
Such is the defilement from which the laver of the Jews cleansed. But the laver of grace, not such, but the real uncleanness which has introduced defilement into the soul as well as into the body. For it does not make those who have touched dead bodies clean, but those who have set their hand to dead works: and if any man be effeminate, or a fornicator, or an idolator, or a doer of whatever ill you please, or if he be full of all the wickedness there is among men: should he fall into this pool of waters, he comes up again from the divine fountain purer than the sun’s rays. And in order that you may not think that what is said is mere vain boasting, hear Paul speaking of the power of the laver, “Be not deceived: neither idolators, nor fornicators, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with men, nor covetous, not drunkards, not revilers, not extortioners shall inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) And what has this to do with what has been spoken? Says one, “for prove the question whether the power of the laver thoroughly cleanses all these things.” Hear therefore what follows: “And such were some of you, but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the spirit of our God.” We promise to show you that they who approach the laver become clean from all fornication: but the word has shown more, that they have become not only clean, but both holy and just, for it does not say only “you were washed,” but also “you were sanctified and were justified.” What could be more strange than this, when without toil, and exertion, and good works, righteousness is produced? For such is the lovingkindness of the Divine gift that it makes men just without this exertion. For if a letter of the Emperor, a few words being added, sets free those who are liable to countless accusations, and brings others to the highest honors; much rather will the Holy Spirit of God, who is able to do all things, free us from all evil and grant us much righteousness, and fill us with much assurance, and as a spark falling into the wide sea would straightway be quenched, or would become invisible, being overwhelmed by the multitude of the waters, so also all human wickedness, when it falls into the pool of the divine fountain, is more swiftly and easily overwhelmed, and made invisible, than that spark. And for what reason, says one, if the laver take away all our sins, is it called, not a laver of remission of sins, nor a laver of cleansing, but a laver of regeneration? Because it does not simply take away our sins, nor simply cleanse us from our faults, but so as if we were born again. For it creates and fashions us anew not forming us again out of earth, but creating us out of another element, namely, of the nature of water. For it does not simply wipe the vessel clean, but entirely remoulds it again. For that which is wiped clean, even if it be cleaned with care, has traces of its former condition, and bears the remains of its defilement, but that which falls into the new mould, and is renewed by means of the flames, laying aside all uncleanness, comes forth from the furnace, and sends forth the same brilliancy with things newly formed. As therefore any one who takes and recasts a golden statue which has been tarnished by time, smoke, dust, rust, restores it to us thoroughly cleansed and glistening: so too this nature of ours, rusted with the rust of sin, and having gathered much smoke from our faults, and having lost its beauty, which He had from the beginning bestowed upon it from himself, God has taken and cast anew, and throwing it into the waters as into a mould, and instead of fire sending forth the grace of the Spirit, then brings us forth with much brightness, renewed, and made afresh, to rival the beams of the sun, having crushed the old man, and having fashioned a new man, more brilliant than the former.
And speaking darkly of this crushing, and this mystic cleansing, the prophet of old said, “You shall dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” For that the word is in reference to the faithful, what goes before sufficiently shows us, “For you are my Son,” he says, “today have I begotten you, ask of me and I will give the heathen for three inheritance, the utmost parts of the earth for your possession.” Do you see how he has made mention of the church of the Gentiles, and has spoken of the kingdom of Christ extended on all sides? Then he says again, “You shall rule them with a rod of iron;” not grievous, but strong: “you shall break them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” Behold then, the laver is more mystically brought forward. For he does not say earthen vessels: but vessels of the potter. But, give heed: For earthen vessels when crushed would not admit of refashioning, on account of the hardness which was gained by them from the fire. But the fact is that the vessels of the potter are not earthen, but of clay; wherefore, also, when they have been distorted, they can easily, by the skill of the artificer, be brought again to a second shape. When, therefore, God speaks of an irremediable calamity, he does not say vessels of the potter, but an earthen vessel; when, for instance, he wished to teach the prophet and the Jews that he delivered up the city to an irremediable calamity, he bade him take an earthen wine-vessel, and crush it before all the people, and say, “Thus shall this city be destroyed, be broken in pieces.” (Jeremiah 19:11) But when he wishes to hold out good hopes to them, he brings the prophet to a pottery, and does not show him an earthen vessel, but shows him a vessel of clay, which was in the hands of the potter, falling to the ground: and brings him to it saying, “If this potter has taken up and remodelled his vessel which has fallen, shall I not much rather be able to restore you when you have fallen?” (Jeremiah 18:6) It is possible therefore for God not only to restore those who are made of clay, through the laver of regeneration, but to bring back again to their original state, on their careful repentance, those who have received the power of the Spirit, and have lapsed. But this is not the time for you to hear words about repentance, rather may the time never come for you to fall into the need of these remedies, but may you always remain in preservation of the beauty and the brightness which you are now about to receive, unsullied. In order, then, that you may ever remain thus, come and let us discourse to you a little about your manner of life.
In Baptismal Instruction (3:6) he writes:
Although many men think that the only gift [baptism] confers is the remission of sins, we have counted its honors to the number of ten. It is on this account that we baptize even infants, although they are sinless, that they may be given the further gifts of sanctification, justice, filial adoption, and inheritance, that they may be brothers and members of Christ, and become dwelling places of the Spirit.
In his Homily 12 on Matthew, St. Chrysostom writes:
“And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water; and lo! The heavens were opened unto Him.” (Matthew 3:16) Wherefore were the heavens opened? To inform you that at your baptism also this is done, God calling you to your country on high, and persuading you to have nothing to do with earth. And if you see not, yet never doubt it. For so evermore at the beginnings of all wonderful and spiritual transactions, sensible visions appear, and such-like signs, for the sake of them that are somewhat dull in disposition, and who have need of outward sight, and who cannot at all conceive an incorporeal nature, but are excited only by the things that are seen: that so, though afterward no such thing occur, what has been declared by them once for all at the first may be received by your faith. For in the case of the apostles too, there was a “sound of a mighty wind,” (Acts 2:2) and visions of fiery tongues appeared, but not for the apostles’ sake, but because of the Jews who were then present. Nevertheless, even though no sensible signs take place, we receive the things that have been once manifested by them. Since the dove itself at that time therefore appeared, that as in place of a finger (so to say) it might point out to them that were present, and to John, the Son of God. Not however merely on this account, but to teach you also, that upon you no less at your baptism the Spirit comes. But since then we have no need of sensible vision, faith sufficing instead of all. For signs are “not for them that believe, but for them that believe not.” (1 Corinthians 14:22) …
On this very account the Jewish baptism ceases, and ours takes its beginning. And what was done with regard to the Passover, the same ensues in the baptism also. For as in that case too, He acting with a view to both, brought the one to an end, but to the other He gave a beginning: so here, having fulfilled the Jewish baptism, He at the same time opens also the doors of that of the Church; as on one table then, so in one river now, He had both sketched out the shadow, and now adds the truth. For this baptism alone has the grace of the Spirit, but that of John was destitute of this gift. (Homily 12 on Matthew)
In his Homily 19 on Matthew, he writes:
Then forasmuch as it comes to pass that we sin even after the washing of regeneration, He, showing His love to man to be great even in this case, commands us for the remission of our sins to come unto God who loves man, and thus to say, “Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.” (Homily 19 on Matthew)
Commenting on John 1:12, “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God,” St. Chrysostom writes:
And as the element of fire, when it meets with ore from the mine, straightway of earth makes it gold, even so and much more Baptism makes those who are washed to be of gold instead of clay; the Spirit at that time falling like fire into our souls, burning up the “image of the earthy” (1 Corinthians 15:49), and producing “the image of the heavenly,” fresh coined, bright and glittering, as from the furnace-mould.
Why then did he say not that “He made them sons of God,” but that “He gave them power to become sons of God”? To show that we need much zeal to keep the image of sonship impressed on us at Baptism, all through without spot or soil; and at the same time to show that no one shall be able to take this power from us, unless we are the first to deprive ourselves of it. For if among men, those who have received the absolute control of any matters have nearly as much power as those who gave them the charge; much more shall we, who have obtained such honor from God, be, if we do nothing unworthy of this power, stronger than all; because He who put this honor in our hands is greater and better than all. At the same time too he wishes to show, that not even does grace come upon man irrespectively, but upon those who desire and take pains for it. For it lies in the power of these to become (His) children since if they do not themselves first make the choice, the gift does not come upon them, nor have any effect. (Homily 10 on the Gospel of John)
In his Homily 24 on the Gospel of John, St. Chrysostom writes:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Unless a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” That is, “Unless you are born again and receive the right doctrines, you are wandering somewhere outside, and are far from the Kingdom of heaven.” … Now the Jews, if these words had been addressed to them, would have derided Him and departed; but Nicodemus shows here also his desire of instruction. And this is why in many places Christ speaks obscurely, because He wishes to rouse His hearers to ask questions, and to render them more attentive. For that which is said plainly often escapes the hearer, but what is obscure renders him more active and zealous. Now what He says, is something like this: “If you are not born again, if you partake not of the Spirit which is by the washing of Regeneration, you can not have a right opinion of Me, for the opinion which you have is not spiritual, but carnal.” (Titus 3:5) (Homily 24 on the Gospel of John)
In Homily 25 on the Gospel of John he writes:
The first creation then, that of Adam, was from earth; the next, that of the woman, from his rib; the next, that of Abel, from seed; yet we cannot arrive at the comprehension of any one of these, nor prove the circumstances by argument, though they are of a most earthly nature; how then shall we be able to give account of the unseen generation by Baptism, which is far more exalted than these, or to require arguments for that strange and marvelous Birth? Since even Angels stand by while that Generation takes place, but they could not tell the manner of that marvelous working, they stand by only, not performing anything, but beholding what takes place. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, works all. Let us then believe the declaration of God; that is more trustworthy than actual seeing. The sight often is in error, it is impossible that God’s Word should fail; let us then believe it; that which called the things that were not into existence may well be trusted when it speaks of their nature. What then says it? That what is effected is a Generation. (Homily 25 on the Gospel of John)
In Homily 27 on the Gospel of John, he writes:
For after having spoken of the very great benefaction that had come to man by Baptism, He [Christ] proceeds to mention another benefaction, which was the cause of this, and not inferior to it; namely, that by the Cross. As also Paul arguing with the Corinthians sets down these benefits together, when he says, “Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul?” for these two things most of all declare His unspeakable love, that He both suffered for His enemies, and that having died for His enemies, He freely gave to them by Baptism entire remission of their sins. (Homily 27 on the Gospel of John)
In Homily 28 on the Gospel of John he writes:
[W]hen we had committed many and grievous sins, and had not ceased from youth to extreme old age to defile our souls with ten thousand evil deeds, for none of these sins did He demand from us a reckoning, but granted us remission of them by the washing of Regeneration, and freely gave us Righteousness and Sanctification. (Homily 28 on the Gospel of John)
Regarding the story of the pool at Bethsada in the fifth chapter of the gospel of John, St. Chrysostom writes:
What manner of cure is this? What mystery does it signify to us? For these things are not written carelessly, or without a purpose, but as by a figure and type they show in outline things to come, in order that what was exceedingly strange might not by coming unexpectedly harm among the many the power of faith. What then is it that they show in outline? A Baptism was about to be given, possessing much power, and the greatest of gifts, a Baptism purging all sins, and making men alive instead of dead. These things then are foreshown as in a picture by the pool, and by many other circumstances. And first is given a water which purges the stains of our bodies, and those defilements which are not, but seem to be, as those from touching the dead, those from leprosy, and other similar causes; under the old covenant one may see many things done by water on this account. However, let us now proceed to the matter in hand.
First then, as I before said, He causes defilements of our bodies, and afterwards infirmities of different kinds, to be done away by water. Because God, desiring to bring us nearer to faith in baptism, no longer heals defilements only, but diseases also. For those figures which came nearer [in time] to the reality, both as regarded Baptism, and the Passion, and the rest, were plainer than the more ancient; and as the guards near the person of the prince are more splendid than those before, so was it with the types. And “an Angel came down and troubled the water,” and endued it with a healing power, that the Jews might learn that much more could the Lord of Angels heal the diseases of the soul. Yet as here it was not simply the nature of the water that healed, (for then this would have always taken place,) but water joined to the operation of the Angel; so in our case, it is not merely the water that works, but when it has received the grace of the Spirit, then it puts away all our sins. (Homily 36 on the Gospel of John)
In his Homily 1 on the Acts of the Apostles he writes:
But why does Christ say, “You shall be baptized,” when in fact there was no water in the upper room? Because the more essential part of Baptism is the Spirit, through Whom indeed the water has its operation. (Homily 1 on the Acts of the Apostles)
In his Homily 40 on the Acts of the Apostles he writes:
We have the sum and substance of the good things: through baptism we received remission of sins, sanctification, participation of the Spirit, adoption, eternal life. What would ye more? (Homily 40 on the Acts of the Apostles)
In his Homily 11 on Romans, he writes:
For that our former sins were buried, came of His gift. But the remaining dead to sin after baptism must be the work of our own earnestness, however much we find God here also giving us large help. For this is not the only thing Baptism has the power to do, to obliterate our former transgressions; for it also secures against subsequent ones. As then in the case of the former, your contribution was faith that they might be obliterated, so also in those subsequent to this, show forth the change in your aims, that you may not defile yourself again. (Homily 11 on Romans)
In his Homily 15 on Romans he writes:
“Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified.” Now He justified them by the regeneration of the laver. “And whom He justified, them He also glorified” by the gift, by the adoption. (Homily 15 on Romans)
In his Homily 25 on Romans he writes:
Hath He not threatened you? Not come to your aid? not done things even without number for your salvation’s sake? Gave He you not the laver of Regeneration, and forgave He not all your former sins? Hath He not after this forgiveness, and the laver, also given you the succor of repentance if you sin? Hath He not made the way to forgiveness of sins, even after all this, easy to you? Hear then what He has enjoined: “If you forgive your neighbor, I also will forgive you” (Matthew 6:14), He says. (Homily 25 on Romans)
In his Homily 3 on First Corinthians, he writes:
“I thank God that I baptized none of you but Crispus and Gaius.” “Why are you elate at having baptized, when I for my part even give thanks that I have not done so!” Thus saying, by a kind of divine art (οἰκονομικῶς) he does away with their swelling pride upon this point; not with the efficacy of the baptism, (God forbid,) but with the folly of those who were puffed up at having been baptizers: first, by showing that the Gift is not theirs; and, secondly, by thanking God therefore. For Baptism truly is a great thing: but its greatness is not the work of the person baptizing, but of Him who is invoked in the Baptism: since to baptize is nothing as regards man’s labor, but is much less than preaching the Gospel. Yea, again I say, great indeed is Baptism, and without baptism it is impossible to obtain the kingdom. Still a man of no singular excellence is able to baptize, but to preach the Gospel there is need of great labor. (Homily 3 on First Corinthians)
In his Homily 7 on First Corinthians, he writes:
But you, too, says one, gave promises pertaining to this life. What then have we promised in this life? The forgiveness of sins and the laver of regeneration. Now in the first place, baptism itself has its chief part in things to come; and Paul exclaims, saying, Colossians 3:4 “For you died, and your life is hid with Christ in God: when your life shall be manifested, then shall you also with Him be manifested in glory.” But if in this life also it has advantages, as indeed it has, this also is more than all a matter of great wonder, that they had power to persuade men who had done innumerable evil deeds, yea such as no one else had done, that they should wash themselves clean of all, and they should give account of none of their offenses. So that on this very account it were most of all meet to wonder that they persuaded Barbarians to embrace such a faith as this, and to have good hopes concerning things to come; and having thrown off the former burden of their sins, to apply themselves with the greatest zeal for the time to come to those toils which virtue requires, and not to gape after any object of sense, but rising to a height above all bodily things, to receive gifts purely spiritual: yea, that the Persian, the Sarmatian, the Moor, and the Indian should be acquainted with the purification of the soul, and the power of God, and His unspeakable mercy to men, and the severe discipline of faith, and the visitation of the Holy Spirit, and the resurrection of bodies, and the doctrines of life eternal. For in all these things, and in whatever is more than these, the fishermen, initiating by Baptism various races of Barbarians, persuaded them (φιλοσοφεῖν) to live on high principles. (Homily 7 on First Corinthians)
In his Homily 40 on First Corinthians, he writes:
For to forgive sins is possible only with God. But rulers and kings, whether it is adulterers whom they forgive or homicides, release them indeed from the present punishment; but their sin they do not purge out. Though they should advance to offices them that have been forgiven, though they should invest them with the purple itself, though they should set the diadem upon their heads, yet so they would only make them kings, but could not free them from their sin. It being God alone who does this; which accordingly in the Laver of Regeneration He will bring to pass. For His grace touches the very soul, and thence plucks up the sin by the root. Here is the reason why he that has been forgiven by the king may be seen with his soul yet impure, but the soul of the baptized no longer so, but purer than the very sun-beams, and such as it was originally formed, nay rather much better than that. For it is blessed with a Spirit, on every side enkindling it and making its holiness intense. And as when you are recasting iron or gold you make it pure and new once more, just so the Holy Ghost also, recasting the soul in baptism as in a furnace and consuming its sins, causes it to glisten with more purity than all purest gold. (Homily 40 on First Corinthians)
In his Homily 2 on Second Corinthians, he writes:
“That He would count them worthy in due season of the regeneration of the laver, of the remission of sins.” For we ask some things to come now, some to come hereafter; and we expound the doctrine of the laver, and in asking instruct them to know its power. For what is said thenceforth familiarizes them to know already that what is there done is a regeneration, and that we are born again of the waters, just as of the womb; that they say not after Nicodemus, “How can one be born when he is old! Can he enter into his mother’s womb, and be born again?” (Homily 2 on Second Corinthians)
In his Homily 1 on Galatians, he writes:
And it is in no indulgent mood towards them that he calls God, “Father,” but by way of severe rebuke, and suggestion of the source whence they became sons, for the honor was vouchsafed to them not through the Law, but through the washing of regeneration. (Homily 1 on Galatians)
In the third of his Homilies on Philippians, he writes:
Weep for the unbelievers; weep for those who differ in nowise from them, those who depart hence without the illumination, without the seal! they indeed deserve our wailing, they deserve our groans; they are outside the Palace, with the culprits, with the condemned: for,”Verily I say unto you, Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven.”
The seal he refers to is baptism. In his Homily 9 on Hebrews, he writes:
“Impossible.”… if you have once been altogether enlightened, … and have fallen away, to renew them again unto repentance, seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh and put Him to an open shame.” “Renew them,” he says, “unto repentance,” that is, by repentance, for unto repentance is by repentance. What then, is repentance excluded? Not repentance, far from it! But the renewing again by the laver. For he did not say, “impossible” to be renewed “unto repentance,” and stop, but added how “impossible, [by] crucifying afresh.” To “be renewed,” that is, to be made new, for to make men new is [the work] of the laver only. (Homily 9 on Hebrews)
In his work titled “On the Priesthood,” he writes:
For if no one can enter into the kingdom of Heaven except he be regenerate through water and the Spirit, and he who does not eat the flesh of the Lord and drink His blood is excluded from eternal life, and if all these things are accomplished only by means of those holy hands, I mean the hands of the priest, how will any one, without these, be able to escape the fire of hell, or to win those crowns which are reserved for the victorious?
These verily are they who are entrusted with the pangs of spiritual travail and the birth which comes through baptism: by their means we put on Christ, and are buried with the Son of God, and become members of that blessed Head. Wherefore they might not only be more justly feared by us than rulers and kings, but also be more honored than parents; since these begot us of blood and the will of the flesh, but the others are the authors of our birth from God, even that blessed regeneration which is the true freedom and the sonship according to grace. (On the Priesthood, Bk III)
St. Jerome (347-420). In his Letter 123, he writes:
For if many wives in the lifetime of their husbands come to realize the truth of the apostle’s words: “all things are lawful unto me but all things are not expedient,” (1 Corinthians 6:12) and make eunuchs of themselves for the kingdom of heaven’s sake (Matthew 19:12) either by consent after their regeneration through the baptismal laver, or else in the ardour of their faith immediately after their marriage; why should not a widow, who by God’s decree has ceased to have a husband, joyfully cry again and again with Job: “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away,” (Job 1:21) and seize the opportunity offered to her of having power over her own body instead of again becoming the servant of a man. (Letter 123)
And in his Letter 144, he writes:
Of those engendered of the seed of Adam no man is born without sin, and it is necessary even for babes to be born anew in Christ by the grace of regeneration. (Letter 144)
St. Augustine (354-430), bishop of Hippo. In his “Confessions,” St. Augustine writes:
Whom, not long after our conversion and regeneration by Your baptism, he being also a faithful member of the Catholic Church, and serving You in perfect chastity and continency among his own people in Africa, when his whole household had been brought to Christianity through him, You released from the flesh….
And although she [St. Augustine’s mother Monica], having been “made alive” in Christ even before she was freed from the flesh had so lived as to praise Your name both by her faith and conversation, yet dare I not say that from the time You regenerated her by baptism, no word went forth from her mouth against Your precepts. (Confessions, IX)
In his work titled, “On Continence,” he writes:
And this fault indeed through the laver of regeneration the grace of God has already remitted unto the faithful; but under the hands of the same Physician nature as yet strives with its sickness. But in such a conflict victory will be entire soundness; and that, soundness not for a time, but for ever: wherein not only this sickness is to come to an end, but also none to arise after it. … He becomes propitious to our iniquities, when He pardons sins: He heals sicknesses when He restrains evil desires. He becomes propitious unto iniquities by the grant of forgiveness: He heals sicknesses, by the grant of continence. [This] was done in Baptism to persons confessing. (On Continence)
In his On the Proceedings Against Pelagius, he writes:
And who among us denies that in baptism the sins of all men are remitted, and that all believers come up spotless and pure from the laver of regeneration? … But between the laver, where all past stains and deformities are removed, and the kingdom, where the Church will remain for ever without any spot or wrinkle, there is this present intermediate time of prayer, during which her cry must of necessity be: “Forgive us our debts.” (On the Proceedings Against Pelagius, chapter 28)
In Book 1 of his “Against Two Letters of the Pelagians,” he writes:
I say that baptism gives remission of all sins, and takes away guilt, and does not shave them off; and that the roots of all sins are not retained in the evil flesh, as if of shaved hair on the head, whence the sins may grow to be cut down again. (chapter 26)
And this very concupiscence of the flesh is in such wise put away in baptism, that although it is inherited by all that are born, it in no respect hurts those that are born anew. And yet from these, if they carnally beget children, it is again derived; and again it will be hurtful to those that are born, unless by the same form it is remitted to them as born again, and remains in them in no way hindering the future life, because its guilt, derived by generation, has been put away by regeneration; and thus it is now no more sin, but is called so, whether because it became what it is by sin, or because it is stirred by the delight of sinning, although by the conquest of the delight of righteousness consent is not given to it. Nor is it on account of this, the guilt of which has already been taken away in the laver of regeneration, that the baptized say in their prayer, “Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors;” Matthew 6:12 but on account of sins which are committed, whether in consentings to it, when what is right is overcome by that which pleases, or when by ignorance evil is accepted as if it were good. (chapter 27)
Many baptized believers are without crime, but I should say that no one in this life is without sin, however much the Pelagians are inflated, and burst asunder in madness against me because I say this: not because there remains anything of sin which is not remitted in baptism; but because by us who remain in the weakness of this life such sins do not cease daily to be committed, as are daily remitted to those who pray in faith and work in mercy. (chapter 28)
In Book 2 of his “Against Two Letters of the Pelagians,” he writes:
Still, indeed, they alike [i.e. Manicheans and Pelagians] oppose the grace of Christ, they alike make His baptism of no account, they alike dishonour His flesh; but, moreover, they do these things in different ways and for different reasons. For the Manicheans assert that divine assistance is given to the merits of a good nature, but the Pelagians, to the merits of a good will. The former say, God owes this to the labours of His members; the latter say, God owes this to the virtues of His servants. In both cases, therefore, the reward is not imputed according to grace, but according to debt. The Manicheans contend, with a profane heart, that the washing of regeneration— that is, the water itself— is superfluous, and is of no advantage. But the Pelagians assert that what is said in holy baptism for the putting away of sins is of no avail to infants, as they have no sin; and thus in the baptism of infants, as far as pertains to the remission of sins, the Manicheans destroy the visible element, but the Pelagians destroy even the invisible sacrament. (Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, Bk II.3)
Then St. Augustine then quotes Pope Innocent writing against the Pelagians:
“For once,” he [i.e. Pope Innocent] said, “he [i.e. man] bore free will; but, using his advantage inconsiderately, and falling into the depths of apostasy, he was overwhelmed, and found no way whereby he could rise from thence; and, deceived for ever by his liberty, he would have lain under the oppression of this ruin, if the advent of Christ had not subsequently for his grace delivered him, and, by the purification of a new regeneration, purged all past sin by the washing of His baptism.” What could be more clear or more manifest than that judgment of the Apostolical See? … But among other things which had been uttered under his [i.e. Celestius’] name, the deacon Paulinus had objected to Celestius that he said “that the sin of Adam was prejudicial to himself alone, and not to the human race, and that infants newly born were in the same condition in which Adam was before his sin.” Accordingly, if he [i.e. Celestius] would condemn the views objected to by Paulinus with a truthful heart and tongue, according to the judgment of the blessed Pope Innocent, what could remain to him afterwards whence he could contend that there was no sin in infants resulting from the past transgression of the first man, which would be purged in holy baptism by the purification of the new regeneration? (Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, Bk II.6)
He again quotes Pope Innocent:
“And they who maintain this [i.e. eternal life] as being theirs without regeneration, appear to me to wish to destroy baptism itself, since they proclaim that these have that which we believe is not to be conferred on them without baptism.” (Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, Bk II.7)
In Book 3 of “Against Two Letters of the Pelagians,” St. Augustine writes:
Baptism, therefore, washes away indeed all sins— absolutely all sins, whether of deeds or words or thoughts, whether original or added, whether such as are committed in ignorance or allowed in knowledge; but it does not take away the weakness which the regenerate man resists when he fights the good fight, but to which he consents when as man he is overtaken in any fault . . . And there are innumerable passages with which the divine writings are filled, which alternately, either in exultation over God’s benefits or in lamentation over our own evils, are uttered by children of God by faith as long as they are still children of this world in respect of the weakness of this life; whom, nevertheless, God distinguishes from the children of the devil, not only by the laver of regeneration, but moreover by the righteousness of that faith which works by love, because the just lives by faith. … Have we not been regenerated, adopted, and redeemed by the holy washing? And yet there remains a regeneration, an adoption, a redemption, which we ought now patiently to be waiting for as to come in the end, that we may then be in no degree any longer children of this world. Whosoever, then, takes away from baptism that which we only receive by its means, corrupts the faith; but whosoever attributes to it now that which we shall receive by its means indeed, but yet hereafter, cuts off hope. For if any one should ask of me whether we have been saved by baptism, I shall not be able to deny it, since the apostle says, “He saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Titus 3:5) But if he should ask whether by the same washing He has already absolutely in every way saved us, I shall answer: It is not so. Because the same apostle also says, “For we are saved by hope; but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man sees, why does he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, we with patience wait for it.” (Romans 8:24-25) Therefore the salvation of man is effected in baptism, because whatever sin he has derived from his parents is remitted, or whatever, moreover, he himself has sinned on his own account before baptism; but his salvation will hereafter be such that he cannot sin at all. (Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, Bk III, chapter 5)
But this I say, that according to the Holy Scriptures original sin is so manifest, and that this is put away in infants by the laver of regeneration is confirmed by such antiquity and authority of the catholic faith, notorious by such a clear concurrent testimony of the Church, that what is argued by the inquiry or affirmation of anybody concerning the origin of the soul, if it is contrary to this, cannot be true. (Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, Bk III, chapter 26)
In Book 4 of “Against Two Letters of the Pelagians,” St. Augustine writes:
If reconciliation through Christ is necessary to all men, on all men has passed sin by which we have become enemies, in order that we should have need of reconciliation. This reconciliation is in the laver of regeneration and in the flesh and blood of Christ, without which not even infants can have life in themselves….
And in the epistle which he [i.e. St. Cyprian] wrote with sixty-six of his joint-bishops to Bishop Fidus, when he [i.e. St. Cyprian] was consulted by him [i.e. Bishop Fidus] in respect of the law of circumcision, whether an infant might be baptized before the eighth day, this matter is treated in such a way as if by a divine forethought the catholic Church would already confute the Pelagian heretics who would appear so long afterwards. For he who had consulted had no doubt on the subject whether children on birth inherited original sin, which they might wash away by being born again. For be it far from the Christian faith to have at any time doubted on this matter. But he was in doubt whether the washing of regeneration, by which he made no question but that original sin was put away, ought to be given before the eighth day. (Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, Bk IV)
In his “On the Creed: A Sermon to the Catechumens,” regarding the line in the Creed “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins,” St. Augustine writes:
“Forgiveness of sins.” You have [this article of] the Creed perfectly in you when you receive Baptism. … When you have been baptized, hold fast a good life in the commandments of God, that you may guard your Baptism even unto the end. I do not tell you that you will live here without sin; but they are venial, without which this life is not. For the sake of all sins was Baptism provided; for the sake of light sins, without which we cannot be, was prayer provided. What has the Prayer? “Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.” Once for all we have washing in Baptism, every day we have washing in prayer. Only, do not commit those things for which you must needs be separated from Christ’s body: which be far from you! For those whom you have seen doing penance, have committed heinous things, either adulteries or some enormous crimes: for these they do penance. Because if theirs had been light sins, to blot out these daily prayer would suffice. … In three ways then are sins remitted in the Church; by Baptism, by prayer, by the greater humility of penance; yet God does not remit sins but to the baptized. The very sins which He remits first, He remits not but to the baptized. When? When they are baptized. The sins which are after remitted upon prayer, upon penance, to whom He remits, it is to the baptized that He remits. For how can they say, “Our Father,” who are not yet born sons?
In his Tractates On the Gospel of St. John, St. Augustine writes:
Spiritual regeneration is one, just as the generation of the flesh is one. And Nicodemus said the truth when he said to the Lord that a man cannot, when he is old, return again into his mother’s womb and be born. He indeed said that a man cannot do this when he is old, as if he could do it even were he an infant. But be he fresh from the womb, or now in years, he cannot possibly return again into the mother’s bowels and be born. But just as for the birth of the flesh, the bowels of woman avail to bring forth the child only once, so for the spiritual birth the bowels of the Church avail that a man be baptized only once. (On the Gospel of John, Tractate 12)
It may perhaps surprise you why it is said, that “Jesus baptized more than John;” and after this was said, it is subjoined, “although Jesus baptized not, but His disciples.” What then? Was the statement made false, and then corrected by this addition? Or, are both true, viz. that Jesus both did and also did not baptize? He did in fact baptize, because it was He that cleansed; and He did not baptize, because it was not He that touched. The disciples supplied the ministry of the body; He afforded the aid of His majesty. Now, when could He cease from baptizing, so long as He ceased not from cleansing? Of Him it is said by the same John, in the person of the Baptist, who says, “This is He that baptizes.” Jesus, therefore, is still baptizing; and so long as we continue to be baptized, Jesus baptizes. Let a man come without fear to the minister below; for he has a Master above. But it may be one says, Christ does indeed baptize, but in spirit, not in body. As if, indeed, it were by the gift of another than He that any is imbued even with the sacrament of corporal and visible baptism. Would you know that it is He that baptizes, not only with the Spirit, but also with water? Hear the apostle: “Even as Christ,” says he, “loved the Church, and gave Himself for it, purifying it with the washing of water by the Word, that He might present to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.” Purifying it. How? “With the washing of water by the Word.” What is the baptism of Christ? The washing of water by the Word (Eph. 5:26). Take away the water, it is no baptism; take away the Word, it is no baptism. (On the Gospel of John, Tractate 15)
In the following statement St. Augustine sums up the gospel:
[I]n the fullness of time, when He knew that such had to be done, He sent His only-begotten Son, (Galatians 4:4) by whom He created all things, that He might become man while remaining God, and so be the Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus: (1 Timothy 2:5) that those who believe in Him, being absolved by the laver of regeneration from the guilt of all their sins—to wit, both of the original sin they have inherited by generation, and to meet which, in particular, regeneration was instituted, and of all others contracted by evil conduct—might be delivered from perpetual condemnation, and live in faith and hope and love while sojourning in this world, and be walking onward to His visible presence amid its toilsome and perilous temptations on the one hand, but the consolations of God, both bodily and spiritual, on the other, ever keeping to the way which Christ has become to them. (Tractates on the Gospel of John, 124)
In book 1 of his work, “On the Merits and Remission of Sin, And the Baptism of Infants,” St. Augustine writes:
Hence men are on the one hand born in the flesh liable to sin and death from the first Adam, and on the other hand are born again in baptism associated with the righteousness and eternal life of the second Adam. (chapter.21)
For what Christian is there who would allow it to be said, that any one could attain to eternal salvation without being born again in Christ—[a result] which He meant to be effected through baptism, at the very time when such a sacrament was purposely instituted for regenerating in the hope of eternal salvation? Whence the apostle says: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us by the laver of regeneration.” (Titus 3:5) (chapter 23)
Now, inasmuch as infants are not held bound by any sins of their own actual life, it is the guilt of original sin which is healed in them by the grace of Him who saves them by the laver of regeneration. (Chapter 24)
Now, inasmuch as infants are not held bound by any sins of their own actual life, it is the guilt of original sin which is healed in them by the grace of Him who saves them by the laver of regeneration. (chapter 25)
The Christians of Carthage have an excellent name for the sacraments, when they say that baptism is nothing else than “salvation” and the sacrament of the body of Christ nothing else than “life.” Whence, however, was this derived, but from that primitive, as I suppose, and apostolic tradition, by which the Churches of Christ maintain it to be an inherent principle, that without baptism and partaking of the supper of the Lord it is impossible for any man to attain either to the kingdom of God or to salvation and everlasting life? So much also does Scripture testify, according to the words which we already quoted. For wherein does their opinion, who designate baptism by the term salvation, differ from what is written: “He saved us by the washing of regeneration?” or from Peter’s statement: “The like figure whereunto even baptism does also now save us?” And what else do they say who call the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper life, than that which is written: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven;” and “The bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world;” and “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, you shall have no life in you?” (chapter 34)
In what class, then, do we place baptized infants but among believers, as the authority of the catholic Church everywhere asserts? They belong, therefore, among those who have believed; for this is obtained for them by virtue of the sacrament and the answer of their sponsors. And from this it follows that such as are not baptized are reckoned among those who have not believed. … This then is the way in which spiritual regeneration is effected in all who come to Christ from their carnal generation. He explained it Himself, and pointed it out, when He was asked, How these things could be? He left it open to no man to settle such a question by human reasoning, lest infants should be deprived of the grace of the remission of sins. (chapter 62)
The latter class [of Pelagians, i.e. those Pelagians who think infants have only actual sin, not original sin], indeed, by examining the Scriptures, and considering the authority of the whole Church as well as the form of the sacrament itself, have clearly seen that by baptism remission of sins accrues to infants; but they are either unwilling or unable to allow that the sin which infants have is original sin. (chapter 64)
In infants it is certain that, by the grace of God, through His baptism who came in the likeness of sinful flesh, it is brought to pass that the sinful flesh is done away. This result, however, is so effected, that the concupiscence which is diffused over and innate in the living flesh itself is not removed all at once, so as to exist in it no longer; but only that that might not be injurious to a man at his death, which was inherent at his birth. For should an infant live after baptism, and arrive at an age capable of obedience to a law, he finds there somewhat to fight against, and, by God’s help, to overcome, if he has not received His grace in vain, and if he is not willing to be a reprobate. For not even to those who are of riper years is it given in baptism (except, perhaps, by an unspeakable miracle of the almighty Creator), that the law of sin which is in their members, warring against the law of their mind, should be entirely extinguished, and cease to exist; but that whatever of evil has been done, said, or thought by a man while he was servant to a mind subject to its concupiscence, should be abolished, and regarded as if it had never occurred. The concupiscence itself, however, (notwithstanding the loosening of the bond of guilt in which the devil, by it, used to keep the soul, and the destruction of the barrier which separated man from his Maker,) remains in the contest in which we chasten our body and bring it into subjection, whether to be relaxed for lawful and necessary uses, or to be restrained by continence. (chapter 70)
In book 2 of this same work he writes:
And hence in the passage, “Whosoever is born of God does not sin, and he cannot sin, for His seed remains in him,” (1 John 3:9) and in every other passage of like import, they much deceive themselves by an inadequate consideration of the Scriptures. For they fail to observe that men severally become sons of God when they begin to live in newness of spirit, and to be renewed as to the inner man after the image of Him that created them. For it is not from the moment of a man’s baptism that all his old infirmity is destroyed, but renovation begins with the remission of all his sins, and so far as he who is now wise is spiritually wise. All things else, however, are accomplished in hope, looking forward to their being also realized in fact, even to the renewal of the body itself in that better state of immortality and incorruption with which we shall be clothed at the resurrection of the dead. For this too the Lord calls a regeneration—though, of course, not such as occurs through baptism, but still a regeneration wherein that which is now begun in the spirit shall be brought to perfection also in the body. “In the regeneration,” says He, “when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19:28) For however entire and full be the remission of sins in baptism, nevertheless, if there was wrought by it at once, an entire and full change of the man into his everlasting newness—I do not mean change in his body, which is now most clearly tending evermore to the old corruption and to death, after which it is to be renewed into a total and true newness—but, the body being excepted, if in the soul itself, which is the inner man, a perfect renewal was wrought in baptism, the apostle would not say: “Even though our outward man perishes, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16) Now, undoubtedly, he who is still renewed day by day is not as yet wholly renewed; and in so far as he is not yet wholly renewed, he is still in his old state. Since, then, men, even after they are baptized, are still in some degree in their old condition, they are on that account also still children of the world; but inasmuch as they are also admitted into a new state, that is to say, by the full and perfect remission of their sins, and in so far as they are spiritually-minded, and behave correspondingly, they are the children of God. Internally we put off the old man and put on the new; for we then and there lay aside lying, and speak truth, and do those other things wherein the apostle makes to consist the putting off of the old man and the putting on of the new, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. Ephesians 4:24 Now it is men who are already baptized and faithful whom he exhorts to do this—an exhortation which would be unsuitable to them, if the absolute and perfect change had been already made in their baptism. And yet made it was, since we were then actually saved; for “He saved us by the laver of regeneration.” (Titus 3:5) In another passage, however, he tells us how this took place. “Not they only,” says he, “but ourselves also, which have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope; for what a man sees, why does he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” (chapter 9)
But the sacrament of baptism is undoubtedly the sacrament of regeneration: Wherefore, as the man who has never lived cannot die, and he who has never died cannot rise again, so he who has never been born cannot be born again. From which the conclusion arises, that no one who has not been born could possibly have been born again in his father. Born again, however, a man must be, after he has been born; because, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” Even an infant, therefore, must be imbued with the sacrament of regeneration, lest without it his would be an unhappy exit out of this life; and this baptism is not administered except for the remission of sins. And so much does Christ show us in this very passage; for when asked, How could such things be? He reminded His questioner of what Moses did when he lifted up the serpent. Inasmuch, then, as infants are by the sacrament of baptism conformed to the death of Christ, it must be admitted that they are also freed from the serpent’s poisonous bite, unless we wilfully wander from the rule of the Christian faith. This bite, however, they did not receive in their own actual life, but in him on whom the wound was primarily inflicted. (chapter 43)
Now this is a consideration which, on account of the controversies that have arisen, and may still arise, on this subject, we ought to keep in our view and memory,— that a full and perfect remission of sins takes place only in baptism, that the character of the actual man does not at once undergo a total change, but that the first-fruits of the Spirit in such as walk worthily change the old carnal nature into one of like character by a process of renewal, which increases day by day, until the entire old nature is so renovated that the very weakness of the natural body attains to the strength and incorruptibility of the spiritual body. (chapter 44)
This law of sin, however, which the apostle also designates “sin,” when he says, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in the lusts thereof,” (Romans 6:12) does not so remain in the members of those who are born again of water and the Spirit, as if no remission thereof has been made, because there is a full and perfect remission of our sins, all the enmity being slain, which separated us from God; but it remains in our old carnal nature, as if overcome and destroyed, if it does not, by consenting to unlawful objects, somehow revive, and recover its own reign and dominion. There is, however, so clear a distinction to be seen between this old carnal nature, in which the law of sin, or sin, is already repealed, and that life of the Spirit, in the newness of which they who are baptized are through God’s grace born again, that the apostle deemed it too little to say of such that they were not in sin; unless he also said that they were not in the flesh itself, even before they departed out of this mortal life. … As long, then, as the law by concupiscence dwells in the members, although it remains, the guilt of it is released; but it is released only to him who has received the sacrament of regeneration, and has already begun to be renewed. (chapter 45)
You must not be surprised at what I have said, that although the law of sin remains with its concupiscence, the guilt thereof is done away through the grace of the sacrament. For as wicked deeds, and words, and thoughts have already passed away, and cease to exist, so far as regards the mere movements of the mind and the body, and yet their guilt remains after they have passed away and no longer exist, unless it be done away by the remission of sins; so, contrariwise, in this law of concupiscence, which is not yet done away but still remains, its guilt is done away, and continues no longer, since in baptism there takes place a full forgiveness of sins. Indeed, if a man were to quit this present life immediately after his baptism, there would be nothing at all left to hold him liable, inasmuch as all which held him is released. (chapter 46)
In Book 3 of this same work, he writes:
All the rest, however, of the passage in which these doubtful words occur, if its statements are carefully examined and treated, as I have tried my best to do in the first book of this treatise, will not (in spite of the obscurity of style necessarily engendered by the subject itself) fail to show the incompatibility of any other meaning than that which has secured the adhesion of the universal Church from the earliest times— that believing infants have obtained through the baptism of Christ the remission of original sin. (chapter 9)
For this is the point aimed at by the controversy, against the novelty of which we have to struggle by the aid of ancient truth: that it is clearly altogether superfluous for infants to be baptized. Not that this opinion is avowed in so many words, lest so firmly established a custom of the Church should be unable to endure its assailants. But if we are taught to render help to orphans, how much more ought we to labour in behalf of those children who, though under the protection of parents, will still be left more destitute and wretched than orphans, should that grace of Christ be denied them, which they are all unable to demand for themselves? (chapter 22)
One of St. Augustine’s longest and most well known works is titled the City of God. In Book 1 of the City of God, he writes:
There remains one reason for suicide which I mentioned before, and which is thought a sound one—namely, to prevent one’s falling into sin either through the blandishments of pleasure or the violence of pain. If this reason were a good one, then we should be impelled to exhort men at once to destroy themselves, as soon as they have been washed in the laver of regeneration, and have received the forgiveness of all sin. Then is the time to escape all future sin, when all past sin is blotted out. And if this escape be lawfully secured by suicide, why not then specially? Why does any baptized person hold his hand from taking his own life? (City of God, Bk I, chapter 27)
In Book 13 of the City of God, he writes:
Specially was this conspicuous in the holy martyrs, who could have had no victory, no glory, to whom there could not even have been any conflict, if, after the laver of regeneration, saints could not suffer bodily death….
For whatever unbaptized persons die confessing Christ, this confession is of the same efficacy for the remission of sins as if they were washed in the sacred font of baptism. For He who said, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” made also an exception in their favor, in that other sentence where He no less absolutely said, “Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven”. (City of God, Bk XIII)
In Book 20 of the City of God, St. Augustine writes:
As, then, there are two regenerations, of which I have already made mention, the one according to faith, and which takes place in the present life by means of baptism; the other according to the flesh, and which shall be accomplished in its incorruption and immortality by means of the great and final judgment, so are there also two resurrections, the one the first and spiritual resurrection, which has place in this life, and preserves us from coming into the second death; the other the second, which does not occur now, but in the end of the world, and which is of the body, not of the soul, and which by the last judgment shall dismiss some into the second death, others into that life which has no death.
This city [i.e. the Church] is said to come down out of heaven, because the grace with which God formed it is of heaven. Wherefore He says to it by Isaiah, “I am the Lord that formed you.” (Isaiah 45:8) It is indeed descended from heaven from its commencement, since its citizens during the course of this world grow by the grace of God, which comes down from above through the laver of regeneration in the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. (City of God, Bk XX)
In Book 21 of the City of God St. Augustine writes:
In short, the words of Scripture, “An heavy yoke is upon the sons of Adam, from the day that they go out of their mother’s womb till the day that they return to the mother of all things,” (Sirach 40:1) — these words so infallibly find fulfillment, that even the little ones, who by the laver of regeneration have been freed from the bond of original sin in which alone they were held, yet suffer many ills, and in some instances are even exposed to the assaults of evil spirits. (City of God, Bk XXI, chapter 14)
In his Exposition on Psalm 119, he writes:
The heart then of the members and the body of Christ is made unspotted, through the grace of God, by means of the very Head of that Body, that is, through Jesus Christ our Lord, by the “laver of regeneration,” (Titus 3:5) wherein all our past sins have been blotted out; through the aid of the Spirit, whereby we lust against the flesh, that we be not overcome in our fight; (Galatians 5:17) through the efficacy of the Lord’s Prayer, wherein we say, “Forgive us our trespasses.” (Matthew 6:12) Thus regeneration having been given to us, our conflict having been aided, prayer having been poured forth, our heart is made unspotted, so that we be not ashamed. (Luke 6:37-38) (Exposition on Psalm 119)
In Book I of “On Marriage and Concupiscence,” he writes:
Because, then, we affirm this doctrine [i.e. original sin], which is contained in the oldest and unvarying rule of the catholic faith, these propounders [i.e. Pelagians] of the novel and perverse dogma, who assert that there is no sin in infants to be washed away in the laver of regeneration, (Titus 3:5) in their unbelief or ignorance calumniate us, as if we condemned marriage, and as if we asserted to be the devil’s work what is God’s own work— the human being which is born of marriage. (chapter 1)
In like manner the soul of an apostate, which renounces as it were its marriage union with Christ, does not, even though it has cast its faith away, lose the sacrament of its faith, which it received in the laver of regeneration. It would undoubtedly be given back to him if he were to return, although he lost it on his departure from Christ. He retains, however, the sacrament after his apostasy, to the aggravation of his punishment, not for meriting the reward. (chapter 11)
Yet inasmuch as we are children of God, our inner man is renewed from day to day. (2 Corinthians 4:16) And yet even our outer man has been sanctified through the laver of regeneration, and has received the hope of future incorruption, on which account it is justly designated as “the temple of God.” (chapter 20)
Now the Christian faith unfalteringly declares, what our new heretics have begun to deny, both that they who are cleansed in the laver of regeneration are redeemed from the power of the devil, and that those who have not yet been redeemed by such regeneration are still captive in the power of the devil …. From this power of darkness, therefore, of which the devil is the prince—in other words, from the power of the devil and his angels—infants are delivered when they are baptized; and whosoever denies this, is convicted by the truth of the Church’s very sacraments, which no heretical novelty in the Church of Christ is permitted to destroy or change, so long as the Divine Head rules and helps the entire body which He owns— small as well as great. It is true, then, and in no way false, that the devil’s power is exorcised in infants, and that they renounce him by the hearts and mouths of those who bring them to baptism, being unable to do so by their own; in order that they may be delivered from the power of darkness, and be translated into the kingdom of their Lord. What is that, therefore, within them which keeps them in the power of the devil until they are delivered from it by Christ’s sacrament of baptism? What is it, I ask, but sin? Nothing else, indeed, has the devil found which enables him to put under his own control that nature of man which the good Creator made good. But infants have committed no sin of their own since they have been alive. Only original sin, therefore, remains, whereby they are made captive under the devil’s power, until they are redeemed therefrom by the laver of regeneration and the blood of Christ, and pass into their Redeemer’s kingdom,— the power of their enthraller being frustrated, and power being given them to become “sons of God” instead of children of this world. (chapter 22)
Now this concupiscence, this law of sin which dwells in our members, to which the law of righteousness forbids allegiance, saying in the words of the apostle, “Let not sin, therefore, reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in the lusts thereof; neither yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin:” (Romans 6:12-13) — this concupiscence, I say, which is cleansed only by the sacrament of regeneration, does undoubtedly, by means of natural birth, pass on the bond of sin to a man’s posterity, unless they are themselves loosed from it by regeneration. (chapter 25)
There will, however, be left no corruption at all in even carnal seed, when the same regeneration, which is now effected through the sacred laver, purges and heals all man’s evil to the very end. By its means the very same flesh, through which the carnal mind was formed, shall become spiritual, no longer having that carnal lust which resists the law of the mind, no longer emitting carnal seed. For in this sense must be understood that which the apostle whom we have so often quoted says elsewhere: “Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it by the washing of water by the word; that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.” It must, I say, be understood as implying, that by this laver of regeneration and word of sanctification all the evils of regenerate men of whatever kind are cleansed and healed, not the sins only which are all now remitted in baptism, but those also which after baptism are committed by human ignorance and frailty; not, indeed, that baptism is to be repeated as often as sin is repeated, but that by its one only ministration it comes to pass that pardon is secured to the faithful of all their sins both before and after their regeneration. For of what use would repentance be, either before baptism, if baptism did not follow; or after it, if it did not precede? Nay, in the Lord’s Prayer itself, which is our daily cleansing, of what avail or advantage would it be for that petition to be uttered, “Forgive us our debts,” unless it be by such as have been baptized? And in like manner, how great soever be the liberality and kindness of a man’s alms, what, I ask, would they profit him towards the remission of his sins if he had not been baptized? In short, on whom but on the baptized shall be bestowed the very felicities of the kingdom of heaven; where the Church shall have no spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; where there shall be nothing blameworthy, nothing unreal; where there shall be not only no guilt for sin, but no concupiscence to excite it? And thus not only all the sins, but all the ills of men of what kind soever, are in course of removal by the holiness of that Christian laver whereby Christ cleanses His Church, that He may present it to Himself, not in this world, but in that which is to come, as not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. (chapter 38)
Now the blessed Ambrose, bishop of Milan, by whose priestly office I received the washing of regeneration, briefly spoke on this matter …. (chapter 40)
In Book 2 of this same work (On Marriage and Concupiscence), St. Augustine writes:
“They [i.e. the Pelagians] deny that there is in infants any sin to be washed away in the laver of regeneration.” For all persons [i.e. all Catholics] run to church with their infants for no other reason in the world than that the original sin which is contracted in them by their first and natural birth may be cleansed by the regeneration of their second birth. (chapter 4)
In his “Sermons to Catechumens on the Creed,” regarding the line “Forgiveness of sins,” St. Augustine writes:
“Forgiveness of sins.” You have [this article of] the Creed perfectly in you when you receive Baptism. Let none say, “I have done this or that sin: perchance that is not forgiven me.” What have you done? How great a sin have you done? Name any heinous thing you have committed, heavy, horrible, which you shudder even to think of: have done what you will: have you killed Christ? There is not than that deed any worse, because also than Christ there is nothing better. What a dreadful thing is it to kill Christ! Yet the Jews killed Him, and many afterwards believed on Him and drank His blood: they are forgiven the sin which they committed. When you have been baptized, hold fast a good life in the commandments of God, that you may guard your Baptism even unto the end. I do not tell you that you will live here without sin; but they are venial, without which this life is not. For the sake of all sins was Baptism provided; for the sake of light sins, without which we cannot be, was prayer provided. What has the Prayer? “Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.” Once for all we have washing in Baptism, every day we have washing in prayer. Only, do not commit those things for which you must needs be separated from Christ’s body: which be far from you! For those whom you have seen doing penance, have committed heinous things, either adulteries or some enormous crimes: for these they do penance. Because if theirs had been light sins, to blot out these daily prayer would suffice.
In three ways then are sins remitted in the Church; by Baptism, by prayer, by the greater humility of penance; yet God does not remit sins but to the baptized. The very sins which He remits first, He remits not but to the baptized. When? When they are baptized. The sins which are after remitted upon prayer, upon penance, to whom He remits, it is to the baptized that He remits. For how can they say, “Our Father,” who are not yet born sons? (Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed, 15-16)
In his “Letter 98,” St. Augustine writes:
[I]n the holy union of the parts of the body of Christ, so great is the virtue of that sacrament, namely, of baptism, which brings salvation, that so soon as he who owed his first birth to others, acting under the impulse of natural instincts, has been made partaker of the second birth by others, acting under the impulse of spiritual desires, he cannot be thenceforward held under the bond of that sin in another to which he does not with his own will consent.
But the possibility of regeneration through the office rendered by the will of another, when the child is presented to receive the sacred rite, is the work exclusively of the Spirit by whom the child thus presented is regenerated. For it is not written, “Except a man be born again by the will of his parents, or by the faith of those presenting the child, or of those administering the ordinance,” but, “Except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit.” By the water, therefore, which holds forth the sacrament of grace in its outward form, and by the Spirit who bestows the benefit of grace in its inward power, canceling the bond of guilt, and restoring natural goodness [reconcilians bonum natur], the man deriving his first birth originally from Adam alone, is regenerated in Christ alone. Now the regenerating Spirit is possessed in common both by the parents who present the child, and by the infant that is presented and is born again.” …
Some, indeed, bring their little ones for baptism, not in the believing expectation that they shall be regenerated unto life eternal by spiritual grace, but because they think that by this as a remedy the children may recover or retain bodily health; but let not this disquiet your mind, because their regeneration is not prevented by the fact that this blessing has no place in the intention of those by whom they are presented for baptism. (Letter 98)
In his Sermon 6 on the New Testament, St. Augustine writes:
Although therefore all our sins were forgiven in the “laver of regeneration,” we should be driven into great straits, if there were not given to us the daily cleansing of the Holy Prayer. Alms and prayers purge away sins; only let not such sins be committed, for which we must necessarily be separated from our daily Bread. (Sermon 6 on the New Testament)
In his Sermon 8, he writes:
You knew then that you have repeated this in the Creed, because among the rest you have mentioned there “the remission of sins.” There is one remission of sins which is given once for all; another which is given day by day. There is one remission of sins which is given once for all in Holy Baptism; another which is given as long as we live here in the Lord’s Prayer. … [B]ut those great crimes which it is your blessing to have been forgiven in Baptism, and from which we ought to be ever free, are of one sort, and of another are those daily sins, without which a man cannot live in this world, by reason of which this daily prayer with its covenant and agreement is necessary; that as we say with all cheerfulness, “Forgive us our debts;” so we may say with all truth, “As we also forgive our debtors.” (Sermon 8)
In his Sermon 21 on the New Testament, he writes:
Some think that they only sin against the Holy Ghost, who having been washed in the laver of regeneration in the Church, and having received the Holy Spirit, as though unthankful for so great a gift of the Saviour, have plunged themselves afterwards into any deadly sin; as adultery, or murder, or an absolute apostasy, either altogether from the Christian name, or from the Catholic Church. But how this sense of it may be proved, I know not; since the place of repentance is not denied in the Church to any sins whatever; and the Apostle says that heretics themselves are to be reproved to this end, “If God perhaps will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.” (Sermon 21 on the New Testament)
In his work titled “On Nature and Grace,” he writes:
Whence they, who are not liberated through grace, either because they are not yet able to hear, or because they are unwilling to obey; or again because they did not receive, at the time when they were unable on account of youth to hear, that bath of regeneration, which they might have received and through which they might have been saved, are indeed justly condemned; because they are not without sin, either that which they have derived from their birth, or that which they have added from their own misconduct. “For all have sinned”— whether in Adam or in themselves— “and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) (On Nature and Grace, 4)
In Book 2 of his work titled “On the Soul and Its Origin,” he writes:
The new-fangled Pelagian heretics have been most justly condemned by the authority of catholic councils and of the Apostolic See, on the ground of their having dared to give to unbaptized infants a place of rest and salvation, even apart from the kingdom of heaven. This they would not have dared to do, if they did not deny their having original sin, and the need of its remission by the sacrament of baptism…. And so far from promising the abolition of original sin to any one who has not been regenerated in the laver of Christian faith, the apostle exclaims, “By the offense of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation.” (Romans 5:18) And as a counterbalance against this condemnation, the Lord exhibits the help of His salvation alone, saying, “He that believes, and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be damned.” (Mark 16:16) (On the Soul and Its Origin, Bk II, chapter 17)
In Book 3 of this same work he writes:
[T]he kingdom of heaven is one thing, into which none are permitted to enter, according to the Lord’s own true and settled sentence, unless they are washed in the laver of regeneration. … It is enough to find that no one can enter into the kingdom of God, except he be washed in the laver of regeneration. (Bk III, chapters 16-17)
In Book I of his work titled, “On the Predestination of the Saints,” he writes:
Thus also our being born again of water and the Spirit is not recompensed to us for any merit, but freely given; and if faith has brought us to the laver of regeneration, we ought not therefore to suppose that we have first given anything, so that the regeneration of salvation should be recompensed to us again …. (On the Predestination of the Saints, Bk 1, chapter 32)
In Book 2 of this same work he writes:
“Well, because He says, Be holy because I also am holy, we ask and entreat that we, who were sanctified in baptism, may persevere in that which we have begun to be.” (Bk II, chapter 4)
Is, therefore, the faith to be called in question or forsaken, which the catholic Church maintains against those very Pelagians, asserting as she does that it is original sin, the guilt of which, contracted by generation, must be remitted by regeneration? And if they confess this with us, so that we may at once, in this matter of the Pelagians, destroy error, why do they think that it must be doubted that God can deliver even infants, to whom He gives His grace by the sacrament of baptism, from the power of darkness, and translate them into the kingdom of the Son of His love? (Bk II, chapter 27)
In his work titled, “On Rebuke and Grace,” he writes:
And when, in the Lord’s Prayer, we say to God the Father, “Hallowed be Your name,” Matthew 6:9 what do we ask but that His name may be hallowed in us? And as this is already accomplished by means of the laver of regeneration, why is it daily asked by believers, except that we may persevere in that which is already done in us? For the blessed Cyprian also understands this in this manner, inasmuch as, in his exposition of the same prayer, he says: “We say, ‘Hallowed be Your name,’ not that we wish for God that He may be hallowed by our prayers, but that we ask of God that His name may be hallowed in us. But by whom is God hallowed; since He Himself hallows? Well, because He said, ‘Be holy, since I also am holy;’ we ask and entreat that we who have been hallowed in baptism may persevere in that which we have begun to be.” (On Rebuke and Grace, chapter 10)
In Book 2 of his work titled “On the Grace of Christ and on Original Sin,” he writes:
Next I beg of you, carefully to observe with what caution you ought to lend an ear, on the question of the baptism of infants, to men of this character, who dare not openly deny the laver of regeneration and the forgiveness of sins to this early age, for fear that Christian ears would not bear to listen to them; and who yet persist in holding and urging their opinion, that the carnal generation is not held guilty of man’s first sin, although they seem to allow infants to be baptized for the remission of sins. (Bk II, chapter 1)
You, of course, see that Cœlestius [the Pelagian] here conceded baptism for infants only in such a manner as to be unwilling to confess that the sin of the first man, which is washed away in the laver of regeneration, passes over to them. (Bk II, chapter 4)
The real objection against them [i.e. the Pelagians] is, that they refuse to confess that unbaptized infants are liable to the condemnation of the first man, and that original sin has been transmitted to them and requires to be purged by regeneration; their contention being that infants must be baptized solely for being admitted into the kingdom of heaven. (Bk II, chapter 19)
[W]hat we are discussing concerns the obliteration of original sin in infants. Let him clear himself on this point, since he refuses to acknowledge that there is anything in infants which the laver of regeneration has to cleanse. (Bk II, chapter 21)
To this blessed consummation advances are even now made by us, through the grace of that holy laver which we have put within our reach. The same regeneration which now renews our spirit, so that all our past sins are remitted, will by and by also operate, as might be expected, to the renewal to eternal life of that very flesh, by the resurrection of which to an incorruptible state the incentives of all sins will be purged out of our nature. But this salvation is as yet only accomplished in hope: it is not realized in fact; it is not in present possession, but it is looked forward to with patience. [XL.] And thus there is a whole and perfect cleansing, in the self-same baptismal laver, not only of all the sins remitted now in our baptism, which make us guilty owing to the consent we yield to wrong desires, and to the sinful acts in which they issue; but of these said wrong desires also, which, if not consented to by us, would contract no guilt of sin, and which, though not in this present life removed, will yet have no existence in the life beyond. The guilt, therefore, of that corruption of which we are speaking will remain in the carnal offspring of the regenerate, until in them also it be washed away in the laver of regeneration. (Bk II, chapter 44-45)
In his Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Charity, he writes:
And this is the meaning of the great sacrament of baptism which is solemnized among us, that all who attain to this grace should die to sin, as He is said to have died to sin, because He died in the flesh, which is the likeness of sin; and rising from the font regenerate, as He arose alive from the grave, should begin a new life in the Spirit, whatever may be the age of the body? For from the infant newly born to the old man bent with age, as there is none shut out from baptism, so there is none who in baptism does not die to sin. But infants die only to original sin; those who are older die also to all the sins which their evil lives have added to the sin which they brought with them. (Chapters 42-43)
Now, those who were baptized in the baptism of John, by whom Christ was Himself baptized, were not regenerated; but they were prepared through the ministry of His forerunner, who cried, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord,” for Him in whom only they could be regenerated. For His baptism is not with water only, as was that of John, but with the Holy Ghost also; so that whoever believes in Christ is regenerated by that Spirit, of whom Christ being generated, He did not need regeneration. (Chapter 49)
In Book 1 of his work titled “On Baptism: Against the Donatists,” he writes:
And what is regeneration in baptism, except the being renovated from the corruption of the old man? And how can he be so renovated whose past sins are not remitted? But if he be not regenerate, neither does he put on Christ; from which it seems to follow that he ought to be baptized again. For the apostle says, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ;” (Galatians 3:27) and if he has not so put on Christ, neither should he be considered to have been baptized in Christ. Further, since we say that he has been baptized in Christ, we confess that he has put on Christ; and if we confess this, we confess that he is regenerate. And if this be so, how does St. John say, “He that hates his brother remains still in darkness,” if remission of his sins has already taken place? Can it be that schism does not involve hatred of one’s brethren? Who will maintain this, when both the origin of, and perseverance in schism consists in nothing else save hatred of the brethren?
They think that they solve this question when they say: “There is then no remission of sins in schism, and therefore no creation of the new man by regeneration, and accordingly neither is there the baptism of Christ.” But since we confess that the baptism of Christ exists in schism, we propose this question to them for solution: Was Simon Magus endued with the true baptism of Christ? They will answer, Yes; being compelled to do so by the authority of holy Scripture. I ask them whether they confess that he received remission of his sins. They will certainly acknowledge it. So I ask why Peter said to him that he had no part in the lot of the saints. Because, they say, he sinned afterwards, wishing to buy with money the gift of God, which he believed the apostles were able to sell. (Bk 1, chapter 11)
In Book 3 of this same work, he writes:
But the baptism of Christ, consecrated by the words of the Gospel, is holy even though administered by adulterers to adulterers, even though they be unclean and unchaste; and the divine power accompanies its sacramentum either for the salvation of those who receive it worthily or for the ruin of those who receive it unworthily. (Bk 3, chapter 10)
In Book 4 of this same work, he writes:
[I]n Cornelius the spiritual sanctification came first in the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the sacrament of regeneration was added afterwards in the laver of baptism. … By all these considerations it is proved that the sacrament of baptism is one thing, the conversion of the heart another; but that man’s salvation is made complete through the two together. Nor are we to suppose that, if one of these be wanting, it necessarily follows that the other is wanting also; because the sacrament may exist in the infant without the conversion of the heart; and this was found to be possible without the sacrament in the case of the thief, God in either case filling up what was involuntarily wanting. But when either of these requisites is wanting intentionally, then the man is responsible for the omission. And baptism may exist when the conversion of the heart is wanting; but, with respect to such conversion, it may indeed be found when baptism has not been received, but never when it has been despised. (Bk IV, Chapter 25)
Council of Carthage (A.D. 419) The Council of Carthage was a local council that met to address the Pelagian heresy. Canon 110 from this council reads:
Likewise it seemed good that whosoever denies that infants newly from their mother’s wombs should be baptized, or says that baptism is for remission of sins, but that they derive from Adam no original sin, which needs to be removed by the laver of regeneration, from whence the conclusion follows, that in them the form of baptism for the remission of sins, is to be understood as false and not true, let him be anathema.
For no otherwise can be understood what the Apostle says, “By one man sin has come into the world, and death through sin, and so death passed upon all men in that all have sinned,” than the Catholic Church everywhere diffused has always understood it. For on account of this rule of faith (regulam fidei) even infants, who could have committed as yet no sin themselves, therefore are truly baptized for the remission of sins, in order that what in them is the result of generation may be cleansed by regeneration. (Canon 110)
St. John Cassian (360-435). In his work titled “On the Incarnation,” St. John Cassian wrote:
Whereas now, as you were born in a Catholic city, instructed in the Catholic faith, and regenerated with Catholic Baptism, how can I deal with you as with an Arian or Sabellian? … Acknowledge the sacraments of your salvation, by which you were initiated and regenerated. They are of no less use to you now than they were then; for they can now regenerate you by penance, as they then gave you birth through the Font. (Bk VI, chapter 5, 18)
St. Leo the Great (395-461), in his Fifteenth Letter, writes:
[T]he Catholic Faith … acknowledges every man to be formed by the Maker of the Universe in the substance of his body and soul, and to receive the breath of life within his mother’s womb: though that taint of sin and liability to die remains which passed from the first parent into his descendants; until the sacrament of Regeneration comes to succour him, whereby through the Holy Spirit we are re-born the sons of promise, not in the fleshly womb, but in the power of baptism. (section 9)
And because through the transgression of the first man the whole stock of the human race was tainted, no one can be set free from the state of the old Adam save through Christ’s sacrament of baptism …. (section 10)
In his Sixteenth Letter he writes:
[I]t is appropriate that the power of baptism should change the old into the new creature on the death-day of the Crucified and the Resurrection-day of the Dead: that Christ’s death and His resurrection may operate in the re-born, as the blessed Apostle says: “Are you ignorant that all we who were baptized in Christ Jesus, were baptized in His death? We were buried with Him through baptism into death; that as Christ rose from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with the likeness of His death, we shall be also (with the likeness) of His resurrection,” and the rest which the Teacher of the Gentiles discusses further in recommending the sacrament of baptism: that it might be seen from the spirit of this doctrine that that is the day, and that the time chosen for regenerating the sons of men and adopting them among the sons of God, on which by a mystical symbolism and form, what is done in the limbs coincides with what was done in the Head Himself, for in the baptismal office death ensues through the slaying of sin, and threefold immersion imitates the lying in the tomb three days, and the raising out of the water is like Him that rose again from the tomb. The very nature, therefore of the act teaches us that that is the recognized day for the general reception of the grace, on which the power of the gift and the character of the action originated. (Letter 16)
In Letter 166 he writes:
And so wherever the man himself who is anxious for the new birth does not recollect his baptism, and no one can bear witness about him being unaware of his consecration to God, there is no possibility for sin to creep in, seeing that, so far as their knowledge goes, neither the bestower or receiver of the consecration is guilty. … But if it is established that a man has been baptized by heretics, on him the mystery of regeneration must in no way be repeated, but only that conferred which was wanting before, so that he may obtain the power of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the Bishop’s hands. (Letter 166)
In his Sermon 9 he writes:
Men must not be allowed to lie hidden who do not believe that the law given through Moses, in which God is shown to be the Creator of the Universe, ought to be received: who speak against the Prophets and the Holy Ghost, dare in their damnable profanity to reject the Psalms of David which are sung through the universal Church with all reverence, deny the birth of the Lord Christ, according to the flesh, say that His Passion and Resurrection was fictitious, not true, and deprive the baptism of regeneration of all its power as a means of grace. (Sermon 9)
In his Sermon 24 he writes:
For the earth of human flesh, which in the first transgressor, was cursed, in this Offspring of the Blessed Virgin only produced a seed that was blessed and free from the fault of its stock. And each one is a partaker of this spiritual origin in regeneration; and to every one when he is re-born, the water of baptism is like the Virgin’s womb; for the same Holy Spirit fills the font, Who filled the Virgin, that the sin, which that sacred conception overthrew, may be taken away by this mystical washing. (Sermon 24, section III)
In Sermon 64 he writes:
It is He Who, born of the Virgin Mother by the Holy Ghost, fertilizes His unpolluted Church with the same blessed Spirit, that by the birth of Baptism an innumerable multitude of sons may be born to God …. It is He whose sufferings are shared not only by the martyrs’ glorious courage, but also in the very act of regeneration by the faith of all the new-born. For the renunciation of the devil and belief in God, the passing from the old state into newness of life, the casting off of the earthly image, and the putting on of the heavenly form— all this is a sort of dying and rising again, whereby he that is received by Christ and receives Christ is not the same after as he was before he came to the font, for the body of the regenerate becomes the flesh of the Crucified. (Sermon 63)
St. Gregory the Great (540-604). In Book 4 of his Epistles, St. Gregory the Great writes:
Now in those parts, so far as we have learned, the audacity of the Donatists has so increased that not only do they with pestiferous assumption of authority cast out of their churches priests of the Catholic faith, but fear not even to rebaptize those whom the water of regeneration had cleansed on a true confession. (Bk 4, Epistle 34)
In Book 11 he writes:
Whosoever says, then, that sins are not entirely put away in baptism, let him say that the Egyptians did not really die in the Red Sea. But, if he acknowledges that the Egyptians really died, he must needs acknowledge that sins die entirely in baptism, since surely the truth avails more in our absolution than the shadow of the truth. (Book 11, Epistle 45)
The unanimous position taught by the fathers is that that baptism not only signifies but also actually effects the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This is still the doctrine of the Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1215.
Here I will briefly consider some of the passages of Scripture pertaining to baptism. We see baptism prefigured in the Old Testament in various places. In Genesis 1 we see that the Spirit hovers over the water in creation. Similarly, the Spirit descended when Christ was baptized by John. And in the same way the Spirit descends upon the waters in our baptism. In 1 Peter we see that the story of Noah’s ark is a type of baptism. Peter writes:
“… when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:20-21)
Why does baptism give us a good conscience? Because in baptism all our sins are forgiven, and we are raised to new Life in Christ. The wood, the water, and the dove show the relation of the cross, the water, and the Spirit in baptism. Similarly, the crossing of the Red Sea also is a type of baptism, wherein our enemy (sin) is drowned and we pass into new life. Also, the bitter water that was sweetened by the wood at Marah is a type of baptism: the wood is the cross that brings the power of the Spirit to the water to give us life. The story of Naaman the Syrian is also a type of baptism. The seven dippings prefigure the seven sacraments, of which baptism is the gate. Naaman is cleansed not by water alone, for he had water in his own land. He is cleansed by the combination of the water and the word.
In the New Testament, we see baptism revealed in John 19:34, where water and blood pour from Christ’s side. From this water and blood that proceeds from the side of Christ, Christ’s bride is made. This is why Jesus says:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (St. John 3:5);
When refers to being “born again” (John 3:3), he is talking about being regenerated through baptism. Similarly Jesus says in the Gospel of Mark:
“He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.” (Mk. 16:16)
The Fathers all understand the following verse in Titus to be referring to baptism.
“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing [laver] of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5)
I have found not a single Church Father who thought that this verse does not refer to baptism.
Paul also writes the following to the Ephesians:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the Church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.” (Eph 5:25-27)
Here again, the washing of water with the word refers to baptism, since baptism is the combination of matter and form, i.e. washing with water [matter] accompanied by the invocation of the Holy Trinity [form], (i.e. the sacrament of regeneration through water and the word). Why is it called “washing” if it does not cleanse?
The Apostle Peter says on the day of Pentecost:
“Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)
Then in Acts 22:16, Ananias says to Paul:
“Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.”
In these three passages we find that our sins are washed away in baptism. These fit perfectly with what is said in the Fathers and in the Creed: “We acknowledge one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance; it was not a baptism of regeneration. (cf. Acts 19) Christ’s baptism was with water and the Spirit; in Christ’s baptism we receive the Spirit and become adopted sons and daughters of God.
Finally, baptism signifies and actually brings about our union with Christ in His death and resurrection. The Apostle Paul writes,
“Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection.” (Romans 6:3-5)
St. Paul tells us that we are “baptized into Christ Jesus.” We are baptized “into His death,” “buried with Him through baptism.” In Romans chapter six we see that through baptism we are united to Christ in His death and resurrection. This is not merely figurative language; in baptism we are ontologically united to Christ’s death and resurrection in such a way that the character effected in our soul by our baptism is indelible. (cf. Col 2:12)
In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul explains that Christ is the second Adam. In baptism we are immersed into the cleansing water that flowed from Christ’s side. We receive sanctifying grace and the Holy Spirit, and thus die to sin. This is what is meant by “dying with Christ.” We are thus buried with Him and reborn in His resurrection. The life we live is no longer only natural; it is a supernatural life, the Life of the Second Adam. This is why the baptism of Catechumens has historically taken place on Easter, for in baptism we are joined to Him in His death and resurrection.
One of the first Protestants, Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531), was so confident in his own interpretation of Scripture that he wrote, “In this matter of baptism—if I may be pardoned for saying it – I can only conclude that all the doctors have been in error from the time of the apostles.” What is good about Zwingli’s statement is that he at least saw the truth of the incompatibility of his theology of baptism with that of the Church Fathers. He saw that holding his position would entail that they were all wrong, and he was willing to bite that bullet. If as Wes White has said, the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is “impossible in the Reformed system,” and if the evidence in support of the truth of baptismal regeneration outweighs the evidence in support of the “Reformed system,” then the “Reformed system” cannot be retained. Either ecclesial deism is true, and all the Church Fathers fell into the ‘heresy’ of baptismal regeneration, or ecclesial deism is false, and the Fathers were right about baptismal regeneration. And if the Fathers were right about baptismal regeneration, and baptismal regeneration is “impossible in the Reformed system,” then there is at least a major error in the Reformed system. If we are to follow the Church and the Creed, then when we say we believe in “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins,” we must believe what the Church has always taught this to mean. The faith by which we are saved, is a faith that testifies that we are saved by baptism.
- See here and here and here. [↩]
- According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, this work “is directed against a female teacher of error belonging to the sect of Gaius (perhaps the Anti-Montanist). We learn that baptism was conferred regularly by the bishop, but with his consent could be administered by priests, deacons, or even laymen. The proper times were Easter and Pentecost. Preparation was made by fasting, vigils, and prayers.” [↩]