Saturday, April 4, 2009

Use of a Proper Name

In Acts iv. 7, the rulers and priests of the Jews summon Peter and inquire by what power or in what name he has healed the lame. Here a belief is assumed which pervades ancient magic and religion. Only so far as we can get away from the modern view that a person's name is a trifling accident, and breathe the atmosphere which broods over ancient religions, can we understand the use of the name in baptisms, exorcisms, prayers, purifications and consecrations. For a name carried with it, for those who were so blessed as to be acquainted with it, whatever power and influence its owner wielded in heaven or on earth or under the earth. A vow or prayer formulated in or through a certain name was fraught with the prestige of him whose name it was. Thus the psalmist addressing Jehovah cries (Ps. liv. 1): "Save me, O God, by Thy name, and judge me in Thy might." And in Acts iii. 16, it is the name itself which renders strong and whole the man who believed therein.

In Acts xviii. 15, the Jews assail Paul because he has trusted and appealed to the name of a Messiah whom they regard as an overthrower of the law; for Paul believed that God had invested Jesus with a name above all names, potent to constrain and overcome all lesser powers, good or evil, in heaven or earth or under earth. Baptism then in the name or through the name or into the name of Christ placed the believer under the influence and tutelage of Christ's personality, as before he was in popular estimation under the influence of stars and horoscope. Nay, more, it imported that personality into him, making him a limb or member of Christ's body, and immortal as Christ was immortal. Nearly all the passages in which the word name is used in the New Testament become more intelligible if it be rendered personality. In Rev. xi. 13, the revisers are obliged to render it by persons, and should equally have done so in iii. 4: "Thou hast a few names (i.e. persons) in Sardis which did not defile their garments."

Friday, April 3, 2009

Baptism for the Dead

Paul, in 1 Cor. xv. 29, glances at this as an established practice familiar to those whom he addresses. Three explanations are possible: (1) The saints before they were quickened or made alive together with Christ, were dead through their trespasses and sins. In baptism they were buried with Christ and rose, like Him, from the dead. We can, therefore, paraphrase v. 29 thus: "Else what shall they do which are baptized for their dead selves?" &c. It is in behalf of his own sinful, i.e. dead self, that the sinner is baptized and receives eternal life. (2) Contact with the dead entailed a pollution which lasted at least a day and must be washed away by ablutions, before a man is re-admitted to religious cult. This was the rule among the Jews. Is it possible that the words "for the dead" signify "because of contact with the dead"? (3) Both these explanations are forced, and it is more probable that by a make-believe common in all religions, and not unknown in the earliest church, the sins of dead relatives, about whose salvation their survivors were anxious, were transferred into living persons, who assumed for the nonce their names and were baptized in their behalf, so in vicarious wise rendering it possible for the sins of the dead to be washed away. The Mormons have this rite. The idea of transferring sin into another man or into an animal, and so getting it purged through him or it, was widespread in the age of Paul and long afterwards. Chrysostom says that the substitutes were put into the beds of the deceased, and assuming the voice of the dead asked for baptism and remission of sins. Tertullian and others attest this custom among the followers of Cerinthus and Marcion.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Christian Baptism: Relation to Repentance

Baptism justified the believer, that is to say, constituted him a saint whose past sins were abolished. Sin after baptism excluded the sinner afresh from the divine grace and from the sacraments. He fell back into the status of a catechumen, and it was much discussed from the 2nd century onwards whether he could be restored to the church at all, and, if so, how. A rite was devised, called exhomologesis, by which, after a fresh term of repentance, marked by austerities more strict than any Trappist monk imposes on himself to-day, the persons lapsed from grace could re-enter the church. In effect this rite was a repetition of baptism, the water of the font alone being omitted. Such restoration could in the earlier church only be effected once. A second lapse from the state of grace entailed perpetual exclusion from the sacraments, the means of salvation. As has been remarked above, the terror of post-baptismal sin and the fact that only one restoration was allowable influenced many as late as the 4th century to remain catechumens all their lives, and, like Constantine, to receive baptism on the deathbed alone. The same scruples endured among the medieval Cathars.

Triene Immersion

We first find in Tertullian trine immersion explained from the triple invocation, Nam nec semel, sed ter, ad singula nomina in personas singulas tinguimur: "Not once, but thrice, for the several names, into the several persons, are we dipped" (adv. Prax. xxvi.). And Jerome says: "We are thrice plunged, that the one sacrament of the Trinity may be shown forth." On the other hand, in numerous fathers of East and West, e.g. Leo of Rome, Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, Theophylactus, Cyril of Jerusalem and others, trine immersion was regarded as being symbolic of the three days' entombment of Christ; and in the Armenian baptismal rubric this interpretation is enjoined, as also in an epistle of Macarius of Jerusalem addressed to the Armenians (c. 330). In Armenian writers this interpretation is further associated with the idea of baptism into the death of Christ.

Trine immersion then, as to the origin of which Basil confesses his ignorance, must be older than either of the rival explanations. These are clearly aetiological, and invented to explain an existing custom, which the church had adopted from its pagan medium. For pagan lustrations were normally threefold; thus Virgil writes (Aen. vi. 229): Ter socios pura circumtulit unda. Ovid (Met. vii. 189 and Fasti, iv. 315), Persius (ii. 16) and Horace (Ep. i. 1. 37) similarly speak of trine lustrations; and on the last mentioned passage the scholiast Acro remarks: "He uses the words thrice purely, because people in expiating their sins, plunge themselves in thrice." Such examples of the ancient usage encounter us everywhere in Greek and Latin antiquity.

Christian Baptism: Immersion

The Didachē bids us "pour water on the head," and Christian pictures and sculptures ranging from the 1st to the 10th century represent the baptizand as standing in the water, while the baptizer pours water from his hand or from a bowl over his head. Even if we allow for the difficulty of representing complete submersion in art, it is nevertheless clear that it was not insisted on; nor were the earliest fonts, to judge from the ruins of them, large and deep enough for such an usage. The earliest literary notices of baptism are far from conclusive in favour of submersion, and are often to be regarded as merely rhetorical. The rubrics of the MSS., it is true, enjoin total immersion, but it only came into general vogue in the 7th century, "when the growing rarity of adult baptism made the Gr. word βαπτίζω) patient of an interpretation that suited that of infants only." The Key of Truth, the manual of the old Armenian Baptists, archaically prescribes that the penitent admitted into the church shall advance on his knees into the middle of the water and that the elect one or bishop shall then pour water over his head.

The Status of the Baptizer

Ignatius (Smyrn. viii.) wrote that it is not lawful to baptize or hold an agapē (Lord's Supper) without the bishop. So Tertullian (de Bapt. xvii.) reserves the right of admitting to baptism and of conferring it to the summus sacerdos or bishop, Cyprian (Epist. lxxiii. 7) to bishops and priests. Later canons continued this restriction; and although in outlying parts of Christendom deacons claimed the right, the official churches accorded it to presbyters alone and none but bishops could perform the confirmation or seal. In the Montanist churches women baptized, and of this there are traces in the earliest church and in the Caucasus. Thus St Thekla baptized herself in her own blood, and St Nino, the female evangelist of Georgia, baptized king Mirian (see "Life of Nino," Studia Biblica, 1903). In cases of imminent death a layman or a woman could baptize, and in the case of new-born children it is often necessary.

The Use of Baptismal Fonts

The New Testament, the Didachē, Justin, Tertullian and other early sources do not enjoin the use of a font, and contemplate in general the use of running or living water. It was a Jewish rule that in ablutions the water should run over and away from the parts of the body washed. In acts of martyrdom, as late as the age of Decius, we read of baptisms in rivers, in lakes and in the sea. In exceptional cases it sufficed for a martyr to be sprinkled with his own blood. But a martyr's death in itself was enough. Nearchus (c. 250) quieted the scruples of his unbaptized friend Polyeuctes, when on the scaffold he asked if it were possible to attain salvation without baptism, with this answer: "Behold, we see the Lord, when they brought to Him the blind that they might be healed, had nothing to say to them about the holy mystery, nor did He ask them if they had been baptized; but this only, whether they came to Him with true faith. Wherefore He asked them, Do ye believe that I am able to do this thing?"

Tertullian (c. 200) writes (de Bapt. iv.) thus: "It makes no difference whether one is washed in the sea or in a pool, in a river or spring, in a lake or a ditch. Nor can we distinguish between those whom John baptized (tinxit) in the Jordan and those whom Peter baptized in the Tiber." The custom of baptizing in the rivers when they are annually blessed at Epiphany, the feast of the Lord's baptism, still survives in Armenia and in the East generally. Those of the Armenians and Syrians who have retained adult baptism use rivers alone at any time of year.

The church of Tyre described by Eusebius (H.E. x. 4) seems to have had a font, and the church order of Macarius, bishop of Jerusalem (c. 311-335), orders the font to be placed in the same building as the altar, behind it and on the right hand; but the same order lays down that a font is not essential in cases of illness for "the Holy Spirit is not hindered by want of a vessel."