The Early Church Fathers on
Baptism

Paul alludes to infant baptism when he tells us that baptism replaces circumcision (Colossians 2:11). This is why the early Christians baptized infants on the eighth day after birth. The eighth day after birth is when Jewish boys were circumcised. Those who contend that infants shouldn’t be baptized have a faulty understanding of what baptism is. With baptism there is an infusion of grace. Grace is what enables a child being raised in the faith to understand his or her need for God. Without grace there can be no salvation. That is why the Church links the sacrament of Baptism to it. While Baptism is no guarantee of Salvation the graces received can enable a person to accept God’s free gift. For as the Scripture says: “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). If you cannot even do that without the aid of God’s grace you surely can’t see your need for salvation without God’s grace. Note also that the early church administered baptism in three ways; by immersion, sprinkling and pouring.

The Didache

After the foregoing instructions, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living [running] water. If you have no living water, then baptize in other water, and if you are not able in cold, then in warm. If you have neither, pour water three times on the head, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Before baptism, let the one baptizing and the one to be baptized fast, as also any others who are able. Command the one who is to be baptized to fast beforehand for one or two days (Didache 7:1 [ca. A.D. 70]).

The Letter of Barnabas

Observe there how he describes both the water and the cross in the same figure. His meaning is, “Blessed are those who go down into the water with their hopes set on the cross.” Here he is saying that after we have stepped down into the water, burdened with sin and defilement, we come up out of it bearing fruit, with reverence in our hearts and the hope of Jesus in our souls (11[A.D. 74]).

Hermas

"I have heard, sir,” said I [to the Shepherd], “from some teacher, that there is no other repentance except that which took place when we went down into the water and obtained the remission of our former sins.” He said to me, “You have heard rightly, for so it is” (The Shepherd 4:3:1–2 [A.D. 80]).

Tertullian

When we are about to enter the water — no, just a little before — In the church and under the hand of the bishop, we solemnly profess that we renounce the devil and his pomps and his angels. Thereupon we are immersed three times (The Crown 3:2 [A.D. 211]).

Hippolytus

Where there is no scarcity of water the stream shall flow through the baptismal font or pour into it from above; but if water is scarce, whether on a constant condition or on occasion, then use whatever water is available. Let them remove their clothing. Baptize first the children, and if they can speak for themselves let them do so. Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them (The Apostolic Tradition 21:16 [A.D.215]).

Origen

The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants. The apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of divine sacraments, knew there is in everyone innate strains of [original] sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit (Commentaries on Romans 5:9 [A.D. 248]).

Cornelius I

As [the heretic Novatian] seemed about to die, he received baptism in the bed where he lay, by pouring. . . . (Letter to Fabius of Antioch 6:43 [A.D. 251]).

Cyprian

As to what pertains to the case of infants: You [Fidus] said that they ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, that the old law of circumcision must be taken into consideration, and that you did not think that one should be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day after his birth. In our council it seemed to us far otherwise. No one agreed to the course which you thought should be taken. Rather, we all judge that the mercy and grace of God ought to be denied to no man born" (Letters 64:2 [A.D. 253]).

In the saving sacraments, when necessity compels and when God bestows his pardon, divine benefits are bestowed fully upon believers, nor ought anyone be disturbed because the sick are poured upon or sprinkled when they receive the Lord's grace" (Letter to a Certain Magnus 69(76):12 [A.D. 254]).

Gregory Nazianzen

[Besides the baptisms associated with Moses, John, and Jesus] I know also a fourth baptism, that by martyrdom and blood, by which also Christ himself was baptized. This one is far more august than the others, since it cannot be defiled by later sins (Oration 39 On the Holy Lights 17 [A.D. 381]).

Have you an infant child? Do not let sin get any opportunity, but let him be sanctified from his childhood; from his very tenderest age let him be consecrated by the Spirit (Oration 40 On Baptism 17[A.D. 381]).

John Chrysostom

Thus those who are yet Catechumens, because they make this their object, (how they may defer baptism to the last,) give themselves no concern about leading an upright life: and those who have been baptized (fwtisqentes), whether it be because they received it as children, or whether it be that having received it in sickness, and afterwards recovered glory of God), so it is, that neither do these make an earnest business of it (Homily 23 on Acts 10 [A.D. 400]).

Apostolic Constitutions

Do you also baptize your infants, and bring them up in the nurture and admonition of God. For says He: "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not" (6:15 [A.D. 400]).

Jerome

One thing I will say and so end my discourse, that you ought either to give us a new creed, so that, after baptizing children into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you may baptize them into the kingdom of heaven; or, if you have one baptism both for infants and for persons of mature age, it follows that infants also should be baptized for the remission of sins after the likeness of the transgression of Adam (Against the Pelagians 3:19 [A.D. 417]).

Augustine

Who would not, then, in company with the infants presented for baptism, run to the grace of Christ, that so he might not be dismissed from the body? (City of God 8:4 [A.D. 413-427]).

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