Paedobaptism, Affusion, Aspersion, Pædobaptism

General Information

Baptism is a Sacrament of the Christian church in which candidates are immersed in water or water is poured over them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is derived from the practice of John the Baptist, who baptized Jesus, and probably from the Jewish tebilah (a ritual bath). Matthew 28:19 calls upon Christians to make disciples and to baptize them.

In the early church, baptism was administered after a period of preparation (catechumenate), preferably at Easter. It was performed in conjunction with the rites later called confirmation and Eucharist. The effects of baptism were believed to be union with Jesus in his death and Resurrection, forgiveness of sin, the gift of the Holy Spirit, membership in the church, and rebirth to new life in Christ. Some scholars believe infants were included among the candidates from the beginning; others believe that infant baptism began in the 3d century. Today Baptists and Disciples of Christ do not practice infant baptism and do insist on immersion. Most other churches baptize infants and permit the pouring of water. A few Protestant groups, such as the Quakers, reject outward baptism altogether. The Christian rite is in some ways similar to rites of purification used in other religions.

BELIEVE Religious Information Source - By Alphabet Our List of 2,300 Religious Subjects
L L Mitchell

G R Beasley - Murray, Baptism in the New Testament (1973); A T Eastman, The Baptizing Community (1982); M Fahey, ed., Catholic Perspectives on Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry (1986); A Schmemann, Of Water and the Spirit (1974); G Wainwright, Christian Initiation (1969).


Editor's Notes

In the normal process of things, one's Salvation is accomplished entirely separately from the Sacrament of Baptism. A person proceeds through Regeneration and Justification and becomes Saved. The subject of Baptism is a little different. (And then the lifelong process of Sanctification follows.)

There are even some different attitudes toward Baptism. The very fact that this presentation needs to include around twenty different articles indicates that different Churches have different understandings regarding exactly what is required of a Baptism and what is meant by it.

The actual most "correct" one is called "Believer's Baptism". [An entire article about Believer's Baptism is below, and most of these articles refer to it.] This is where, once a person IS Saved, whether as a 'new' Christian or a life-long Church attendee, a (public) Baptism is LATER performed, for that new Believer. This Believer's Baptism is certainly actually the Sacrament that Jesus instituted. It is an after-the-fact public acknowledgement and demonstration that a person has been Saved.

There are many Churches and many Christians who consider Baptism to be a sort of "help" toward being Saved. "Infant Baptism" [see the article below] fits in this category, where a child clearly does not yet fully comprehend all the significance of being Saved or the Sacrament. There can easily be such value, mostly in a psychological basis, but that concept seems clearly somewhat different from what Jesus intended Baptism to represent.

Since the only people who would receive a Believer's Baptism are those who have been ALREADY Saved, such people are expected to clearly and fully understand the difference between right and wrong. Such people also now recognize and understand the many "sins" they had done prior to becoming Saved as a Christian.

The Baptism therefore represents a "washing away" of those past sins (forgiveness for them), allowing the new Christian to have a "clean slate" (called tabula rasa after the Latin for it) without carrying countless earlier guilts and sins. In addition, the "washing" of the Baptism implies a new "cleanness and purity" suitable for the entrance of a new Indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Holy Ghost) in that individual.

The newly Saved Christian (or newly committed or re-committed Christian) therefore benefits from the Baptism regarding both his/her past (forgiveness) and future (guidance by the Spirit).

The combination of all these effects represents a public indication that the person has fully and totally committed to a Christian Faith. A Church considers this Sacrament to represent a transition to becoming a "full" member of the Church. Where an individual was generally considered a "Seeker" before, now he/she is a Christian, and can take his/her rightful place in the structure of the Church.

The Sacrament of Baptism reflects on the other of the Two Sacraments that most Protestant Churches administer, the Eucharist. Prior to Baptism, nearly all Churches deny participation in the Eucharist to those present in the Church. It is believed that the Eucharist is explicitly intended only for Christians who have been Baptized.

Virtually ALL Christian Churches follow this Sacrament. It is quite important to all Christian Churches, since Jesus Himself instituted it.

There seem to be two central themes regarding the various disagreements of Churches regarding Baptism, whether young children should be Baptized and the method to be used. Regarding young children, the concern is regarding the implications regarding a young child if he/she dies very young. The argument for Paedo-Baptism (child Baptism) is to assure that such a child would be Saved and then go to Heaven. However, the early Christian Church had instituted "Household Salvation" [a separate presentation in BELIEVE] which concludes that ALL babies and young children of Christian parents are "automatically" protected (Saved) UNTIL they attain an age at which they are able to make an informed choice for themselves.

As to the precise method to be used in a Baptism Rite, the Bible does not really offer much information. Each Church has had to make their own assumptions regarding the interpretations or meanings of certain words in the Bible, and in this way, they have arrived at different procedures. In fact, there is a story in the early Christian Church that accentuates this matter. It seems that a group of men were in the desert, around the second century after Christ, one of whom was a Christian Priest. An elderly man in the group was not yet a Christian and he began to die, and he asked the Christian Priest to Baptize him. The Priest agreed but there was no water available. Due to necessity, the Priest felt that he had to use desert sand in the Baptism Rite! He therefore did, and the man soon died. When the Priest got back to his Church leaders, he Confessed to them that he had done a Sin in performing a Baptism without water, and they then had extensive discussion regarding whether the "sand Baptism" had actually Saved the man or not and whether the Priest should be condemned. They eventually concluded that the Priest had done the right thing and that the sand Baptism had been valid and effective. However, they also made clear that water MUST be used in Baptisms except for such extreme circumstances.

Many modern Churches have NO tolerance of any procedure other than the one that they perform in their Church. This situation has resulted in many schisms among Protestant Churches which use the different methods described below. Our [BELIEVE and A Christ Walk Church] attitude involves noting that the Lord is Compassionate and Loving, and we are tempted to think that He recognizes as valid ALL Baptisms which are done with the proper solemnity and attitudes of the participants. For example, if a Church insists on immersion Baptism and the situation is regarding an Eskimo in a desolate area of northern Alaska, we think that the Lord would know the potential danger of fully immersing a person in ice-cold water there and that He would recognize as valid a pouring or sprinkling FOR THAT SITUATION. This would not alter that Church's official position but would simply apply Christian Compassion, which we believe the Lord would endorse.

Finally, we would note that in the region where Jesus lived, there was not an abundance of water! Other than the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea and a very few rivers, available water was limited to what was raised from the few wells in the region. For early Baptisms that were not near one of those natural bodies of water, it seems hard to imagine that sufficient water for an immersion would always be brought up from wells! (In the hot and dry climate, a font of water would soon evaporate, so it probably could not be re-used for any extended period without fully replacing the water.) So, even though we might want to believe that all early Baptisms were by full immersion, practical issues seem to sometimes preclude that.

I will add a personal thought here, as Editor. It seems to me that the event of a Salvation, and then the event of a (public) Baptism acknowledging the first event, really only needs to involve that one individual and the Lord. The attending Members, and the Priest or Minister, and the Church, certainly all want to believe that their participation is important, but it seems likely that they are all secondary. We can certainly count on the Lord to have the proper mindset regarding the Solemnity of the event. That seems to leave it entirely to the attitude of the person being Baptized regarding the effectiveness of a Baptism. For this reason, our small Non-Denominational Church always asks that individual if there is a preference for the method of Baptism. We therefore are willing to perform a Trine Baptism for one person, an Immersion for another, and a Pouring for a third. We fee that OUR attitude is really not that important, even though we are the ones performing the Rite! As long as the Lord and the individual both agree of the great importance of the Baptism Rite, all the critically important things are provided for. (Our Church is aware that we have a very unusual approach to this subject!) If no preference is indicated, we generally mention a Pouring Baptism to the individual, but for extremely elderly or ill individuals, we may mention a Sprinkling Baptism. We feel that our function is really quite simple, that we are responsible for performing an immensely important Rite for the Lord and for that individual.

Christian Baptism

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Christian Baptism is an ordinance immediately instituted by Christ (Matt. 28: 19, 20), and designed to be observed in the church, like that of the Supper, "till he come." The words "baptize" and "baptism" are simply Greek words transferred into English. This was necessarily done by the translators of the Scriptures, for no literal translation could properly express all that is implied in them. The mode of baptism can in no way be determined from the Greek word rendered "baptize." Baptists say that it means "to dip," and nothing else. That is an incorrect view of the meaning of the word. It means both (1) to dip a thing into an element or liquid, and (2) to put an element or liquid over or on it. Nothing therefore as to the mode of baptism can be concluded from the mere word used.

The word has a wide latitude of meaning, not only in the New Testament, but also in the LXX Version of the Old Testament, where it is used of the ablutions and baptisms required by the Mosaic law. These were effected by immersion, and by affusion and sprinkling; and the same word, "washings" (Heb. 9:10, 13, 19, 21) or "baptisms," designates them all. In the New Testament there cannot be found a single well-authenticated instance of the occurrence of the word where it necessarily means immersion. Moreover, none of the instances of baptism recorded in the Acts of the Apostles (2:38-41; 8:26-39; 9:17, 18; 22:12-16; 10:44-48; 16:32-34) favours the idea that it was by dipping the person baptized, or by immersion, while in some of them such a mode was highly improbable.

The gospel and its ordinances are designed for the whole world, and it cannot be supposed that a form for the administration of baptism would have been prescribed which would in any place (as in a tropical country or in polar regions) or under any circumstances be inapplicable or injurious or impossible. Baptism and the Lord's Supper are the two symbolical ordinances of the New Testament. The Supper represents the work of Christ, and Baptism the work of the Spirit.

As in the Supper a small amount of bread and wine used in this ordinance exhibits in symbol the great work of Christ, so in Baptism the work of the Holy Spirit is fully seen in the water poured or sprinkled on the person in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. That which is essential in baptism is only "washing with water," no mode being specified and none being necessary or essential to the symbolism of the ordinance.

The apostles of our Lord were baptized with the Holy Ghost (Matt. 3:11) by his coming upon them (Acts 1:8). The fire also with which they were baptized sat upon them. The extraordinary event of Pentecost was explained by Peter as a fulfilment of the ancient promise that the Spirit would be poured out in the last days (2:17). He uses also with the same reference the expression shed forth as descriptive of the baptism of the Spirit (33). In the Pentecostal baptism "the apostles were not dipped into the Spirit, nor plunged into the Spirit; but the Spirit was shed forth, poured out, fell on them (11:15), came upon them, sat on them." That was a real and true baptism. We are warranted from such language to conclude that in like manner when water is poured out, falls, comes upon or rests upon a person when this ordinance is administered, that person is baptized.

Baptism is therefore, in view of all these arguments "rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling water upon the person."

The subjects of baptism.

This raises questions of greater importance than those relating to its mode.

(from: The Church, by Professor Binnie, D.D.).

(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)


Advanced Information

Deriving from the Greek baptisma, "baptism" denotes the action of washing or plunging in water, which from the earliest days (Acts 2:41) has been used as the rite of Christian initiation. Its origins have been variously traced to the OT purifications, the lustrations of Jewish sects, and parallel pagan washings, but there can be no doubt that baptism as we know it begins with the baptism of John. Christ himself, by both precedent (Matt. 3:13) and precept (Matt. 28:19), gives us authority for its observance. On this basis it has been practiced by almost all Christians, though attempts have been made to replace it by a baptism of fire or the Spirit in terms of Matt. 3:11.

In essence the action is an extremely simple one, though pregnant with meaning. It consists in a going in or under the baptismal water in the name of Christ (Acts 19:5) or more commonly the Trinity (Matt. 28:19). Immersion was fairly certainly the original practice and continued in general use up to the Middle Ages. The Reformers agreed that this best brought out the meaning of baptism as a death and resurrection, but even the early Anabaptists did not think it essential so long as the subject goes under the water. The type of water and circumstances of administration are not important, though it seems necessary that there should be a preaching and confession of Christ as integral parts of the administration (cf. Acts 8:37). Other ceremonies may be used at discretion so long as they are not unscriptural and do not distract from the true action, like the complicated and rather superstitious ceremonial of the medieval and modern Roman Church.

Discussion has been raised concerning the proper ministers and subjects of the action.

In the first instance there may be agreement with Augustine that Christ himself is the true minister ("he shall baptize you," Matt. 3:11). But Christ does not give the external baptism directly; he commits this to his disciples (John 4:2). This is taken to mean that baptism should be administered by those to whom there is entrusted by inward and outward calling the ministry of word and sacrament, though laymen have been allowed to baptize in the Roman Church, and some early Baptists conceived the strange notion of baptizing themselves. Normally baptism belongs to the public ministry of the church.

As concerns the subjects, the main difference is between those who practice the baptism of the children of confessing Christians and those who insist upon a personal confession as a prerequisite. This point is considered in the two separate articles devoted to the two positions [Editor: presented below] and need not detain us in this exposition of positive baptismal teaching. It may be noted, however, that adult baptisms continue in all churches, that confession is everywhere considered important, and that Baptists often feel impelled to an act of dedication of children. Among adults it has been a common practice to refuse baptism to those unwilling to leave doubtful callings, though the attempt of one sect to impose a minimum age of thirty years did not meet with common approval. In the case of children, there has been misgiving concerning the infants of parents whose profession of Christian faith is very obviously nominal or insincere. The special case of the mentally impaired demands sympathetic treatment, but there is no warrant for prenatal or forced baptisms, and even less for baptism of inanimate objects such as was practiced in the Middle Ages.

A clue to the meaning of baptism is given by three OT types: the flood (I Pet. 3:19-20), the Red Sea (I Cor. 10:1-2), and circumcision (Col. 2:11-12). These all refer in different ways to the divine covenant, to its provisional fulfillment in a divine act of judgment and grace, and to the coming and definitive fulfillment in the baptism of the cross. The conjunction of water with death and redemption is particularly apt in the case of the first two; the covenantal aspect is more particularly emphasized in the third.

When we come to the action itself, there are many different but interrelated associations. The most obvious is that of washing (Titus 3:5), the cleansing water being linked with the blood of Christ on the one side and the purifying action of the Spirit on the other (see I John 5:6, 8), so that we are brought at once to the divine work of reconciliation. A second is that of initiation, adoption, or, more especially, regeneration (John 3:5), the emphasis again being placed on the operation of the Spirit in virtue of the work of Christ.

These various themes find common focus in the primary thought of baptism (in the destructive, yet also life-giving, power of water) as a drowning and an emergence to new life, i.e., a death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-4). But here again the true witness of the action is to the work of God in the substitutionary death and resurrection of Christ. This identification with sinners in judgment and renewal is what Jesus accepts when he comes to the baptism of John and fulfills when he takes his place between two thieves on the cross (Luke 12:50). Here we have the real baptism of the NT, which makes possible the baptism of our identification with christ and underlies and is attested by the outward sign. Like preaching and the Lord's Supper, "baptism" is an evangelical word telling us that Christ has died and risen again in our place, so that we are dead and alive again in him, with him, and through him (Rom. 6:4, 11).

Like all preaching, however, baptism carries with it the call to that which we should do in response or correspondence to what Christ has done for us. We, too must make our movement of death and resurrection, not to add to what Christ has done, nor to complete it, nor to compete with it, but in grateful acceptance and application. We do this in three related ways constantly kept before us by our baptism: the initial response of repentance and faith (Gal. 2:20); the lifelong process of mortification and renewal (Eph. 4:22-23); and the final dissolution and resurrection of the body (I Cor. 15). This rich signification of baptism, which is irrespective of the time or manner of baptism, is the primary theme that ought to occupy us in baptismal discussion and preaching. But it must be emphasized continually that this personal acceptance or entry is not independent of the once for all and substitutionary work of Christ, which is the true baptism.

It is forgetfulness of this point which leads to misunderstanding of the so-called grace of baptism. This may be by its virtual denial. Baptism has no grace apart from its psychological effects. It is primarily a sign of something that we do, and its value may be assessed only in explicable religious terms. The fact that spiritual gifts and even faith itself are true gifts of the Holy Spirit, with an element of the mysterious and incalculable, is thus denied.

On the other hand, it may be by distortion or exaggeration. Baptism means the almost automatic infusion of a mysterious substance which accomplishes a miraculous but not very obvious transformation. It is thus to be regarded with awe, and fulfilled as an action of absolute necessity to salvation except in very special cases. The true mystery of the Holy Spirit yields before ecclesiastical magic and theological sophistry.

But when baptismal grace is brought into proper relationship to the work of God, we are helped on the way to a fruitful understanding.

First, and above all, we remember that behind the external action there lies the true baptism, which is that of the shed blood of Christ. Baptismal grace is the grace of this true reality of baptism, i.e., of the substitutionary work of Christ, or of Christ himself. Only in this sense can we legitimately speak of grace, but in this sense we can and must.

Second, we remember that behind the external action there lies the inward operation of the Spirit moving the recipient to faith in Christ's work and accomplishing regeneration to the life of faith. Baptismal grace is the grace of this internal work of the Spirit, which cannot be presumed (for the Spirit is sovereign) but which we dare to believe where there is a true calling on the name of the Lord.

Third, the action itself is divinely ordained as a means of grace, i.e., a means to present Christ and therefore to fulfill the attesting work of the Spirit. It does not do this by the mere performance of the prescribed rite; it does it in and through its meaning. Nor does it do it alone; its function is primarily to seal and confirm, and therefore it does it in conjunction with the spoken and written word. It need not do it at the time of administration; for, under the gracious sovereignty of the Spirit, its fruition may come at a much later date. It does not do it automatically; for, whereas Christ is always present and his grace remains, there are those who respond to neither word nor sacrament and therefore miss the true and inward meaning and power.

When we think in these terms, we can see that there is and ought to be a real, though not a magical, baptismal grace which is not affected greatly by the detailed time or mode of administration. The essentials are that we use it (1) to present Christ, (2) in prayer to the Holy Spirit, (3) in trustful dependence upon his sovereign work, and (4) in conjunction with the spoken word. Restored to this evangelical use, and freed especially from distorting and unhelpful controversy, baptism might quickly manifest again its power as a summons to live increasingly, or even to begin to live, the life which is ours in Christ crucified and risen for us.

(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

G.W. Bromiley, Baptism and the Anglican Reformers; J. Calvin, Institutes 4; W.F. Flemington, The NT Doctrine of Baptism; Reports on Baptism in the Church of Scotland; G.R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the NT; A. Oepke, TDNT, I, 529-46.

Baptism (noun)

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Baptism, consisting of the processes of immersion, submersion and emergence (from bapto, "to dip"), is used (a) of John's "baptism," (b) of Christian "baptism," see B. below; (c) of the overwhelming afflictions and judgments to which the Lord voluntarily submitted on the cross, e.g., Luke 12:50; (d) of the sufferings His followers would experience, not of a vicarious character, but in fellowship with the sufferings of their Master. Some mss. have the word in Matt. 20:22-23; it is used in Mark 10:38-39, with this meaning.

Baptism (noun)

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as distinct from baptisma (the ordinance), is used of the "ceremonial washing of articles," Mark 7:4, 8, in some texts; Heb. 9:10; once in a general sense, Heb. 6:2.

Baptism, Baptize (verb)

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"to baptize," primarily a frequentative form of bapto, "to dip," was used among the Greeks to signify the dyeing of a garment, or the drawing of water by dipping a vessel into another, etc. Plutarchus uses it of the drawing of wine by dipping the cup into the bowl (Alexis, 67) and Plato, metaphorically, of being overwhelmed with questions (Euthydemus, 277 D). It is used in the NT in Luke 11:38 of washing oneself (as in 2 Kings 5:14, "dipped himself," Sept.); see also Isa. 21:4, lit., "lawlessness overwhelms me." In the early chapters of the four Gospels and in Acts 1:5; 11:16; 19:4, it is used of the rite performed by John the Baptist who called upon the people to repent that they might receive remission of sins. Those who obeyed came "confessing their sins," thus acknowledging their unfitness to be in the Messiah's coming kingdom.

Distinct from this is the "baptism" enjoined by Christ, Matt. 28:19, a "baptism" to be undergone by believers, thus witnessing to their identification with Him in death, burial and resurrection, e.g., Acts 19:5; Rom. 6:3-4; 1 Cor. 1:13-17; 12:13; Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:12. The phrase in Matt. 28:19, "baptizing them into the Name" (RV; cf. Acts 8:16, RV), would indicate that the "baptized" person was closely bound to, or became the property of, the one into whose name he was "baptized." In Acts 22:16 it is used in the middle voice, in the command given to Saul of Tarsus, "arise and be baptize," the significance of the middle voice form being "get thyself baptized." The experience of those who were in the ark at the time of the Flood was a figure or type of the facts of spiritual death, burial, and resurrection, Christian "baptism" being an antitupon, "a corresponding type," a "like figure," 1 Pet. 3:21.

Likewise the nation of Israel was figuratively baptized when made to pass through the Red Sea under the cloud, 1 Cor. 10:2. The verb is used metaphorically also in two distinct senses: firstly, of "baptism" by the Holy Spirit, which took place on the Day of Pentecost; secondly, of the calamity which would come upon the nation of the Jews, a "baptism" of the fire of divine judgment for rejection of the will and word of God, Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16.


Believers Baptism

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Where the gospel is first preached or Christian profession has lapsed, baptism is always administered on confession of penitence and faith. In this sense believers' baptism, i.e., the baptism of those who make a profession of faith, has been an accepted and persistent phenomenon in the church. Yet there are powerful groups among Christians who think that we should go further than this. Believers' baptism as they see it is not merely legitimate; it is the only true baptism according to the NT, especially, though not necessarily, in the form of immersion.

This is seen first from the precept which underlies its institution. When Jesus commanded the apostles to baptize, he told them first to make disciples and said nothing whatever about infants (Matt. 28:19). In other words, preaching must always precede baptism, for it is by the word and not the sacrament that disciples are first made. Baptism can be given only when the recipient has responded to the word in penitence and faith, and it is to be followed at once by a course of more detailed instruction.

That the apostles understood it in this way is evident from the precedents which have come down to us in Acts. On the day of Pentecost, for example, Peter told the conscience-stricken people to repent and be baptized; he did not mention any special conditions for infants incapable of repentance (Acts 2:38). Again, when the Ethiopian eunuch desired baptism, he was told that there could be no hindrance so long as he believed, and it was on confession of faith that Philip baptized him (Acts 8:36ff.). Even when whole households were baptized, we are normally told that they first heard the gospel preached and either believed or received an endowment of the Spirit (cf. Acts 10:45; 16:32-33). In any case, no mention is made of any other type of baptism.

The meaning of baptism as developed by Paul in Rom. 6 supports this contention. It is in repentance and faith that we are identified with Jesus Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection. To infants who cannot hear the word and make the appropriate response, it thus seems to be meaningless and even misleading to speak of baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ. The confessing believer alone knows what this means and can work it out in his life. In baptism, confessing his penitence and faith, he has really turned his back on the old life and begun to live the new life in Christ. He alone can look back to a meaningful conversion or regeneration and thus receive the confirmation and accept the challenge that comes with baptism. To introduce any other form of baptism is to open the way to perversion or misconception.

To be sure, there is no direct prohibition of infant baptism in the NT. But in the absence of direction either way it is surely better to carry out the sacrament or ordinance as obviously commanded and practiced than to rely on exegetical or theological inference for a different administration. This is particularly the case in view of the weakness or irrelevance of many of the considerations advanced.

Christ's blessing of the children, for example, shows us that the gospel is for little ones and that we have a duty to bring them to Christ, but it says nothing whatever about administering baptism contrary to the acknowledged rule (Mark 10:13ff.). Again, the fact that certain characters may be filled with the Spirit from childhood (Luke 1:15) suggests that God may work in infants, but it gives us no warrant to suppose that he normally does so, or that he does so in any given case, or that baptism may be given before this work finds expression in individual repentance and faith. Again, the children of Christians enjoy privileges and perhaps even a status which cannot be ascribed to others. They are reckoned in some sense "holy" by God (I Cor. 7:14). But here too there is no express connection with baptism or the baptismal identification with Jesus Christ in death and resurrection.

Reference to the household baptisms of Acts is of no greater help. The probability may well be that some of these households included infants, yet this is by no means certain. Even if they did, it is unlikely that the infants were present when the word was preached, and there is no indication that any infants were actually baptized. At very best this could only be a hazardous inference, and the general drift of the narratives seems to be in a very different direction.

Nor does it serve to introduce the OT sign of circumcision. There is certainly a kinship between the signs. But there are also great differences. The fact that the one was given to infant boys on a fixed day is no argument for giving the other to all children some time in infancy. They belong, if not to different covenants, at least to different dispensations of the one covenant: the one to a preparatory stage, when a national people was singled out and its sons belonged naturally to the people of God; the other to the fulfillment, when the Israel of God is spiritual and children are added by spiritual rather than natural regeneration. In any case, God himself gave a clear command to circumcise the male descendants of Abraham; he has given no similar command to baptize the male and female descendants of Christians.

Theologically, the insistence upon believers' baptism in all cases seems better calculated to serve the true significance and benefit of baptism and to avoid the errors which so easily threaten it. Only when there is personal confession before baptism can it be seen that personal repentance and faith are necessary to salvation through Christ, and that these do not come magically but through hearing the word of God. With believers' baptism the ordinance achieves its significance as the mark of a step from darkness and death to light and life. The recipient is thus confirmed in the decision which he has taken, brought into the living company of the regenerate, which is the true church, and encouraged to walk in the new life which he has begun.

This means that in believers' baptism faith is given its proper weight and sense. The need for faith is recognized, of course, in infant baptism. It is contended that infants may believe by a special work of the Spirit, or that their present or future faith is confessed by the parents or sponsors, or that the parents or sponsors exercise vicarious faith, or even that faith is given in, with, or under the administration. Some of these notions are manifestly unscriptural. In others there is a measure of truth. But none of them meets the requirement of a personal confession of personal faith as invariably fulfilled in believers' baptism.

Again, believers' baptism also carries with it a genuine, as opposed to a spurious, baptismal grace. The expression of repentance and faith in baptism gives conscious assurance of forgiveness and regeneration and carries with it an unmistakable summons to mortification and renewal. Properly understood, this may also be the case with infant baptism, as in the Reformed churches. But a good deal of embarrassed explanation is necessary to make this clear, and there is always the risk of a false understanding, as in the medieval and Romanist view of baptismal regeneration. Baptism on profession of faith is the only effective safeguard against the dangerous notion that baptism itself can automatically transfer the graces which it represents.

To the exegetical and theological considerations there may also be added some less important but noteworthy historical arguments. First, there is no decisive evidence for a common Jewish practice of infant baptism in apostolic times. Second, the patristic statements linking infant baptism with the apostles are fragmentary and unconvincing in the earlier stages. Third, examples of believers' baptism are common in the first centuries, and a continuing, if supressed, witness has always been borne to this requirement. Fourth, the development of infant baptism seems to be linked with the incursion of pagan notions and practices. Finally, there is evidence of greater evangelistic incisiveness and evangelical purity of doctrine where this form of baptism is recognized to be the baptism of the NT.

G W Bromiley

(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

K. Barth, The Teaching of the Church Regarding Baptism and Church Dogmatics IV/4; A. Booth, Paedobaptism Examined; A. Carson, Baptism in Its Modes and Subjects; J. Gill, Body of Divinity; J. Warns, Baptism; K. Aland, Did the Early Church Baptize Infants? D. Moody, The World of Truth.


Infant Baptism, Paedobaptism, or Pædobaptism

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In a missionary situation the first subjects of baptism are always converts. But throughout Christian history, attested as early as Irenaeus and Origen with a reference back to the apostles, it has also been given to the children of professing believers. This has not been solely on grounds of tradition, or in consequence of a perversion, but for what have been regarded as scriptural reasons.

To be sure, there is no direct command to baptize infants. But there is also no prohibition. Again, if we have no clear-cut example of an infant baptism in the NT, there may well have been such in the household baptisms of Acts, and there is also no instance of the children of Christians being baptized on profession of faith. In other words, no decisive guidance is given by direct precept or precedent.

Yet there are two lines of biblical study which are thought to give convincing reasons for the practice. The first is a consideration of detailed passages or statements from the OT and NT. The second is a consideration of the whole underlying theology of baptism as it comes before us in the Bible.

To begin with the detailed passages, we naturally turn first to the types of baptism found in the OT. All these favor the view that God deals with families rather than individuals. When Noah is saved from the flood, his whole family is received with him into the ark (cf. 1 Pet. 3:20-21). When Abraham is given the covenant sign of circumcision, he is commanded to administer it to all the male members of his house (Gen. 17; cf. Col. 2:11-12 for the connection between baptism and circumcision). At the Red Sea it is all Israel (men, women, and children) which passes through the waters in the great act of redemption that foreshadows not only the sign of baptism but the work of God behind it (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1-2).

In the NT the ministry of our Lord is particularly rich in relevant statements. He himself becomes a child, and as such is conceived of the Holy Spirit. The Baptist, too, is filled with the Spirit from his mother's womb, so that he might have been a fit subject for baptism no less than circumcision very early in life. Later, Christ receives and blesses the little ones (Matt. 19:13-14) and is angry when his disciples rebuff them (Mark 10:14). He says that the things of God are revealed to babes rather than the wise and prudent (Luke 10:21). He takes up the statement of Ps. 8:2 about the praise of sucklings (Matt. 21:16). He warns against the danger of offending against little ones that believe in him (Matt. 18:6), and in the same context says that to be Christians we have not to become adults but to become as children.

In the first preaching in Acts it is noticeable that Peter confirms the covenant procedure of the OT with the words: "The promise is unto you, and to your children." In the light of the OT background and the similar procedure in proselyte baptisms, there is little reason to doubt that the household baptisms would include any children who might belong to the families concerned.

In the epistles children are particularly addressed in Ephesians, Colossians, and probably 1 John. We also have the important statement in 1 Cor. 7:14 in which Paul speaks of the children of marriages that have become "mixed" by conversion as "holy." This cannot refer to their civil status, but can only mean that they belong to the covenant people, and therefore will obviously have a right to the covenant sign.

It will be noted that in different ways all these statements bring before us the covenant membership of the children of professing believers. They thus introduce us directly to the biblical understanding of baptism that provides the second line of support for baptizing infants.

As the Bible sees it, baptism is not primarily a sign of repentance and faith on the part of the baptized. It is not a sign of anything that we do at all. It is a covenant sign (like circumcision, but without blood-shedding), and therefore a sign of the work of God on our behalf which precedes and makes possible our own responsive movement.

It is a sign of the gracious election of the Father who plans and establishes the covenant. It is therefore a sign of God's calling. Abraham no less than his descendants was first chosen and called by God (Gen. 12:1). Israel was separated to the Lord because he himself had said: "I will be your God, and ye shall be my people" (Jer. 7:23). Of all disciples it must be said: "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you" (John 15:16). The elective will of God in Christ extends to those who are far off as well as nigh, and the sign of it may be extended not only to those who have responded, but to their children growing up in the sphere of the divine choice and calling.

But baptism is also a sign of the substitutionary work of the Son in which the covenant is fulfilled. As a witness of death and resurrection, it attests the death and resurrection of the One for the many without whose vicarious action no work even of repentance and faith can be of any avail. It preaches Christ himself as the One who is already dead and risen, so that all are dead and risen in him (II Cor. 5:14; Col. 3:1) even before the movements of repentance and faith which they are summoned to make in identification with him. This substitutionary work is not merely for those who have already believed. It may and must be preached to all, and the sign and seal given both to those who accept it and to the children who will be brought up with the knowledge of what God has already done for them once for all and all-sufficiently in Christ.

Finally, baptism is a sign of the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit by which individuals are brought into the covenant in the responsive movement of repentance and faith. But the Holy Spirit is sovereign (John 3:8). He works how and when and in whom he pleases. He laughs at human impossibilities (Luke 1:37). He is often present before his ministry is perceived, and his operation is not necessarily coextensive with our apprehension of it. He does not disdain the minds of the undeveloped as fit subjects for the beginning, or if he so disposes the completion, of his work. So long as there is prayer to the Spirit, and a readiness to preach the evangelical word when the opportunity comes, infants may be regarded as within the sphere of this life-giving work which it is the office of baptism to sign and seal.

Where infant baptism, or paedobaptism, or pædobaptism, as it is sometimes called, is practiced, it is right and necessary that those who grow to maturity should make their own confession of faith. But they do so with the clear witness that it is not this which saves them, but the work of God already done for them before they believed. The possibility arises, of course, that they will not make this confession, or do so formally. But this cannot be avoided by a different mode of administration. It is a problem of preaching and teaching. And even if they do not believe, or do so nominally, their prior baptism as a sign of the work of God is a constant witness to call or finally to condemn them.

On the mission field adult baptism will naturally continue. In days of apostasy it can and will be common even in evangelized lands. Indeed, as a witness to the fact that our response is really demanded it is good for the church that there should always be a Baptist section within it. But once the gospel has gained an entry into a family or community, there is good scriptural and theological ground that infant baptism should be the normal practice.

G W Bromiley

(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

G. W. Bromiley, The Baptism of Infants; J. Calvin, Institutes 4.16; O. Cullmann, Baptism in the NT; P.C. Marcel, The Biblical Doctrine of Infant Baptism; Reports on Baptism in the Church of Scotland; W. Wall, The History of Infant Baptism; J. Jeremias, Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries; H. Thielicke, The Evangelical Faith, III.


Lay Baptism

Advanced Information

The NT affords neither precept nor precedent for the administration of baptism except by an ordained minister. From an early period, however, laymen did give baptism where ministers were not available. The custom was defended by Tertullian and later theologians on the ground that what is received may be passed on, that the sacrament is more important than order, and that the rule of love permits it. Some early authorities insisted on certain qualifications (e.g., monogamy or confirmation), and the medieval church drew up an order of precedence.

Luther approved of the practice, seeing in it an exercise of the priesthood of the laity. But the Reformed school rejected and suppressed it on the ground that it is not scriptural, destroys good order, and is linked with the false idea of an absolute necessity of baptism. Baptism by midwives was particularly disliked. The practice was fully debated in the Church of England, and eventually discontinued after the Hampton Court Conference in 1604.

G W Bromiley

(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

J. Bingham, Works, VIII; G.W. Bromiley, Baptism and the Anglican Reformers.



Advanced Information

During the second century, the church in Asia Minor, faced with considerable heresy, refused to recognize the validity of heretical baptism. Converts to the orthodox faith from heretical groups were accordingly rebaptized. The church at Rome, however, took the position that the rite was valid when properly performed, i.e., with the correct formula and with the right intention, despite the erroneous views of its administrator. In North Africa, Tertullian, then Cyprian, would not recognize the baptism of heretics. Cyprian carried on a bitter controversy with Stephen, bishop of Rome, on this issue. An anonymous writing, De rebaptismate, set forth the position of the church at Rome. It made a distinction between water baptism and Spirit baptism. When a heretic was admitted to the church by the laying on of hands, the Spirit was conveyed, making further application of water unnecessary.

The Roman position was endorsed by the Council of Arles (314) and was championed by Augustine in his controversy with the Donatists. Its advocates could point to the fact that Scripture contained no instance of rebaptism, that the analogous rite of circumcision was not repeatable, and that the questioning of the legitimacy of heretical baptism made the efficacy of the rite depend upon man rather than God. The Council of Trent, in its fourth canon on baptism, reaffirmed the Catholic position.

In Reformation times the Anabaptists insisted on baptism for those who had been baptized in infancy, and this has continued to be the position of the Baptist churches. The Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England practice what is known as conditional baptism in cases where there is doubt as to the validity of prior baptism. The formula used in the Church of England begins, "If thou art not already baptized, I baptize thee."

E F Harrison
Elwell Evangelical Dictionary

E. W. Benson, Cyprian; Blunt; H. G. Wood in HERE.


Modes of Baptism

Advanced Information

There are, generally speaking, two opinions regarding the proper manner of administering baptism: that only immersion is lawful and that the mode is a matter of indifference. It would not be correct to identify the immersionist as the Baptist position, for some Baptists do not accept the necessity of immersion. The early Anabaptists as a rule baptized by pouring, and still today certain writers who strongly condemn infant baptism are indifferent as to mode (e.g., Karl Barth).

The immersionist position is founded on three arguments.

The second position is essentially a negative one.

It denies the immersionist insistence that baptism is rightly administered only by immersion; instead, it contends that in the NT baptism, in its external form, is simply a washing, a cleansing, which can as well be effected by pouring (affusion) or sprinkling (aspersion) as by immersion.

While there is widespread agreement that baptizein in classical Greek means "to immerse," because baptizein has become a technical theological term in the NT it is maintained that the classical and secular usage cannot by itself be normative. The term diatheke, for example, universally means "testament" in the Greek of the NT period, but it cannot be given that meaning in its NT usage. That in its biblical and theological use baptizein has come to mean simply "to wash" or "to purify with water" is indicated by certain occurrences of the term in the LXX and NT where baptizein cannot mean immerse (Sir. 34:25; Luke 11:38; Acts 1:5; 2:3-4, 17; 1 Cor. 10:1-2; Heb. 9:10-23). The last text in particular is a reminder that the purificatory water rites of the OT, the biblical antecedents of baptism, were never immersions. It is further maintained that it is at least implausible that certain baptisms recorded in the NT were immersions (Acts 2:41; 10:47-48; 16:33). Nor, it is contended, can appeal be made to the use of the prepositions "in" and "into" which are ambiguous and, if pressed, in Acts 8:38 would require the immersion of both subject and minister.

While baptism certainly signifies union with Christ in his death and resurrection, it is denied that this has relevance for the mode. In Rom. 6:6 union with Christ in his crucifixion and in Gal. 3:27 being clothed with Christ are included in the signification of baptism, but no mode illustrates these aspects of the symbolism of baptism. Further, water is a singularly unlikely symbol for the earth into which one is buried, as the immersionist contends. Actually, sprinkling is as well established in Ezek. 36:25 and Heb. 9:10, 13-14; 10:22.

It is conceded that immersion was the primary mode in the early church, but it is pointed out that other modes were permitted (cf. Didache 7; Cyprian, Epistle to Magnus 12), the earliest artistic representations depict baptism by pouring (affusion), and that some of the influences contributing to the popularity of immersion well may not have been healthy. In general, the nonimmersionist contends that rigor in matters of form is contrary to the spirit of NT worship, contrary to the universal indifference to the mode of celebrating the Lord's Supper, and subject to the scandal that, in principle, the immersionist depopulates the church of most of its membership and most of its finest sons and daughters.

R S Rayburn

A. Carson, Baptism, Its Mode and Its Subjects; T.J. Conant, The Meaning and Use of Baptizein; J. Warns, Baptism; J. Gill, Body of Divinity; A.H. Strong, Systematic Theology; A. Oepke, TDNT, I, 529, 46; B.B. Warfield, "How Shall We Baptize?" in Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, II; W.G.T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology; R.L. Dabney, Lectures in Systematic Theology; R. Watson, Theological Institutes; R.G. Rayburn, What About Baptism? J. Murray, Christian Baptism.


Trine (Triune) Immersion Baptism

One popular aspect of Baptizing a Christian involves a triple Baptism, called a Trine Baptism or a Triune Baptism. In contrast with a single immersion or a single sprinkling of water, this involves three quickly successive immersions or sprinklings.

Historical Practice

There is no evidence that the Jews practiced trine immersion, nor had they doctrinal reason to do so. A threefold scheme is sometimes detected in the sequence of circumcision, baptism and sacrifice, but this sequence is reflected rather in the baptism, confirmation, and first communion of the early Church.

The NT neither commands trine immersion nor provides any example of it. The only possible connection is with the trinity (Mt. 28:19), but single immersion might equally well be deduced from the reported baptizing in the name of Christ.

Yet trine immersion is undoubtedly early and seems to have established itself quickly as the common practice, though with no apparent appeal to the Apostles. Thus the Didache speaks of trine immersion (or affusion): "But if thou hast neither [cold or warm running water], pour water three times [Gk. tris] on the head 'in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit'" (7:3). Justin Martyr, too, seems to have hinted at trine immersion (Apol. i.61), and it is plainly attested by Tertullian: "And indeed it is not once only, but three times, that we are immersed into the Three Persons, at each several mention of Their names" (nam nec semel, sed ter, ad singula nomina. in personas singulas, tinguimur; Adv. Prax. 26; cf. also De corona 3). The Apostolic Constitutions reiterate: "if any bishop or presbyter does not perform the three immersions of the one admission, but one immersion, which is given into the death of Christ, let him be deprived" (xlvii. 50).

At a later stage Gregory allowed single immersion, in Spain, thus giving rise to the famous Toledo ruling much cited by the Reformers. This ruling seems to have been in opposition to a false Arian conception of the three persons and to emphasize their essential oneness in deity. In both Western and Eastern Churches trine immersion has continued to be the common practice.

Reformation Teaching

The Reformers did not object in principle to trine immersion. For Luther it was a neutral matter. Calvin, too, argued for liberty in the matter, although he did not practice trine baptism; he also permitted either immersion or sprinkling (Inst. iv.15.19). The principle of a primary conformity to what is actually found in Scripture probably influenced Calvin's own practice.

In England the Sarum Use prescribes dipping, "first on the right side, then the left, then the face." In 1549 the first Book of Common Prayer maintains trine immersion; in the 1552 edition dipping remains, but the three dippings are abandoned as of no true moment. T. Becon (ca. 1511-1567) granted that the trine practice is ancient, but he listed it among things indifferent, since "Christ left the manner of baptism free in the church" (Works, 2, ed. J. Ayre for Parker Society [1843-44]). Later opinion tended to harden against the practice. Thus J. Calfhill (ca. 1530-1576), almost certainly erroneously, dismissed it as a "strange invention of Tertullian" (Works, 213, ed. Parker Society). Reformation teaching and practice was generally biased against the custom on the ground that it was an addition with no biblical sanction or true theological weight. A principle of liberty was not abandoned, however, except by the narrower Puritans.

The Reformation view seems on the whole to be the most satisfactory. Since trine immersion lacks direct biblical support, it is not a binding obligation. A different baptismal practice does not affect the sacrament and may be preferred by churches that try to exclude what is not biblically enjoined. Nevertheless, trine immersion has impressive historical attestation. It is not devoid of helpful signification and does not corrupt the sacrament. A liberty of judgment may thus be conceded to Churches that maintain the practice. In other words, it belongs to the sphere where each church may and should decide for itself the most appropriate form of fulfilling the scriptural ordinance.

Strong's Definitions for (Greek) Biblical Baptism words

907 baptizo {bap-tid'-zo}

from a derivative of 911; TDNT - 1:529,92; verb

AV - baptize (76), wash 2, baptist 1, baptized + 2258 1; 80

1) to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk)
2) to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water, to wash one's self, bathe
3) to overwhelm

Not to be confused with 911, bapto. The clearest example that shows the meaning of baptizo is a text from the Greek poet and physician Nicander, who lived about 200 B.C. It is a recipe for making pickles and is helpful because it uses both words. Nicander says that in order to make a pickle, the vegetable should first be 'dipped' (bapto) into boiling water and then 'baptised' (baptizo) in the vinegar solution. Both verbs concern the immersing of vegetables in a solution. But the first is temporary. The second, the act of baptising the vegetable, produces a permanent change.

When used in the New Testament, this word more often refers to our union and identification with Christ than to our water baptism. e.g. Mark 16:16. 'He that believes and is baptised shall be saved'. Christ is saying that mere intellectual assent is not enough. There must be a union with him, a real change, like the vegetable to the pickle!

Bible Study Magazine, James Montgomery Boice, May 1989.

908 baptisma {bap'-tis-mah}

from 907; TDNT - 1:545,92; n n

AV - baptism 22; 22

1) immersion, submersion
1a) of calamities and afflictions with which one is quite overwhelmed
1b) of John's baptism, that purification rite by which men on confessing their sins were bound to spiritual reformation, obtained the pardon of their past sins and became qualified for the benefits of the Messiah's kingdom soon to be set up. This was valid Christian baptism, as this was the only baptism the apostles received and it is not recorded anywhere that they were ever rebaptised after Pentecost.
1c) of Christian baptism; a rite of immersion in water as commanded by Christ, by which one after confessing his sins and professing his faith in Christ, having been born again by the Holy Spirit unto a new life, identifies publicly with the fellowship of Christ and the church.

In Rom. 6:3 Paul states we are "baptised unto death" meaning that we are not only dead to our former ways, but they are buried. To return to them is as unthinkable for a Christian as for one to dig up a dead corpse! In Moslem countries a new believer has little trouble with Moslems until he is publicly baptised. It is then, that the Moslems' know he means business, and then the persecution starts. See also discussion of baptism under No. 907.

909 baptismos {bap-tis-mos'}

from 907; TDNT - 1:545,92; n m

AV - washing 3, baptism 1; 4

1) a washing, purification effected by means of water
1a) of washing prescribed by the Mosaic law (Heb 9:10) which seems to mean an exposition of the difference between the washings prescribed by the Mosaic law and Christian baptism

910 Baptistes {bap-tis-tace'}

from 907; TDNT - 1:545,92; n m

AV - Baptist 14; 14

1) a baptiser
2) one who administers the rite of baptism
3) the surname of John, the forerunner of Christ

911 bapto {bap'-to}

a primary word; TDNT - 1:529,92; v

AV - dip 3; 3

1) to dip, dip in, immerse
2) to dip into dye, to dye, colour

Not to be confused with 907, baptizo. The clearest example that shows the meaning of baptizo is a text from the Greek poet and physician Nicander, who lived about 200 B.C. It is a recipe for making pickles and is helpful because it uses both words. Nicander says that in order to make a pickle, the vegetable should first be 'dipped' (bapto) into boiling water and then 'baptised' (baptizo) in the vinegar solution. Both verbs concern the immersing of vegetables in a solution. But the first is temporary. The second, the act of baptising the vegetable, produces a permanent change.


Catholic Information

One of the Seven Sacraments of the Christian Church; frequently called the "first sacrament", the "door of the sacraments", and the "door of the Church".

The subject will be treated under the following headings:

I. Authoritative Statement of Doctrine

II. Etymology

III. Definition

IV. Types

V. Institution of the Sacrament

VI. Matter and Form of the Sacrament

VII. Conditional Baptism

VIII. Rebaptism

IX. Necessity of Baptism

X. Substitutes for the Sacrament

XI. Unbaptized Infants

XII. Effects of Baptism

XIII. Minister of the Sacrament

XIV. Recipient of Baptism

XV. Adjuncts of Baptism

XVI, Ceremonies of Baptism

XVII. Metaphorical Baptism


At the outset we think it advisable to give two documents which express clearly the mind of the Church on the subject of baptism. They are valuable, also, as containing a summary of the main points to be considered in the treatment of this important matter. Baptism is defined positively in the one and negatively in the other.

(1) The Positive Document: "The Decree for the Armenians"

"The Decree for the Armenians", in the Bull "Exultate Deo" of Pope Eugene IV, is often referred to as a decree of the Council of Florence. While it is not necessary to hold this decree to be a dogmatic definition of the matter and form and minister of the sacraments, it is undoubtedly a practical instruction, emanating from the Holy See, and as such, has full authenticity in a canonical sense. That is, it is authoritative. The decree speaks thus of Baptism:

Holy Baptism holds the first place among the sacraments, because it is the door of the spiritual life; for by it we are made members of Christ and incorporated with the Church. And since through the first man death entered into all, unless we be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, we can not enter into the kingdom of Heaven, as Truth Himself has told us. The matter of this sacrament is true and natural water; and it is indifferent whether it be cold or hot. The form is: I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. We do not, however, deny that the words: Let this servant of Christ be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost; or: This person is baptized by my hands in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, constitute true baptism; because since the principal cause from which baptism has its efficacy is the Holy Trinity, and the instrumental cause is the minister who confers the sacrament exteriorly, then if the act exercised by the minister be expressed, together with the invocation of the Holy Trinity, the sacrament is perfected. The minister of this sacrament is the priest, to whom it belongs to baptize, by reason of his office. In case of necessity, however, not only a priest or deacon, but even a layman or woman, nay, even a pagan or heretic can baptize, provided he observes the form used by the Church, and intends to perform what the Church performs. The effect of this sacrament is the remission of all sin, original and actual; likewise of all punishment which is due for sin. As a consequence, no satisfaction for past sins is enjoined upon those who are baptized; and if they die before they commit any sin, they attain immediately to the kingdom of heaven and the vision of God.

(2) The Negative Document: "De Baptismo"

The negative document we call the canons on baptism decreed by the Council of Trent (Sess. VII, De Baptismo), in which the following doctrines are anathematized (declared heretical):

The baptism of John (the Precursor) had the same efficacy as the baptism of Christ, True and natural water is not necessary for baptism, and therefore the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ "Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost" are metaphorical. The true doctrine of the sacrament of baptism is not taught by the Roman Church, Baptism given by heretics in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost with the intention of performing what the Church performs, is not true baptism, Baptism is free, that is, not necessary for salvation. A baptized person, even if he wishes it, can not lose grace, no matter how much he sins, unless he refuses to believe. Those who are baptized are obliged only to have faith, but not to observe the whole law of Christ. Baptized persons are not obliged to observe all the precepts of the Church, written and traditional, unless of their own accord they wish to submit to them.

All vows made after baptism are void by reason of the promises made in baptism itself; because by these vows injury is done to the faith which has been professed in baptism and to the sacrament itself. All sins committed after baptism are either forgiven or rendered venial by the sole remembrance and faith of the baptism that has been received. Baptism although truly and properly administered, must be repeated in the case of a person who has denied the faith of Christ before infidels and has been brought again to repentance. No one is to be baptized except at the age at which Christ was baptized or at the moment of death.

Infants, not being able to make an act of faith, are not to be reckoned among the faithful after their baptism, and therefore when they come to the age of discretion they are to be rebaptized; or it is better to omit their baptism entirely than to baptize them as believing on the sole faith of the Church, when they themselves can not make a proper act of faith. Those baptized as infants are to be asked when they have grown up, whether they wish to ratify what their sponsors had promised for them at their baptism, and if they reply that they do not wish to do so, they are to be left to their own will in the matter and not to be forced by penalties to lead a Christian life, except to be deprived of the reception of the Eucharist and of the other sacraments, until they reform.

The doctrines here condemned by the Council of Trent, are those of various leaders among the early reformers. The contradictory of all these statements is to be held as the dogmatic teaching of the Church.


The word Baptism is derived from the Greek word, bapto, or baptizo, to wash or to immerse. It signifies, therefore, that washing is of the essential idea of the sacrament. Scripture uses the term baptize both literally and figuratively. It is employed in a metaphorical sense in Acts 1:5, where the abundance of the grace of the Holy Ghost is signified, and also in Luke 12:50, where the term is referred to the sufferings of Christ in His Passion. Otherwise in the New Testament, the root word from which baptism is derived is used to designate the laving with water, and it is employed, when speaking of Jewish lustrations, and of the baptism of John, as well as of the Christian Sacrament of Baptism (cf. Hebrews 6:2; Mark 7:4). In ecclesiastical usage, however, when the terms Baptize, Baptism are employed without a qualifying word, they are intended to signify the sacramental washing by which the soul is cleansed from sin at the same time that water is poured upon the body. Many other terms have been used as descriptive synonyms for baptism both in the Bible and Christian antiquity, as the washing of regeneration, illumination, the seal of God, the water of eternal life, the sacrament of the Trinity, and so on. In English, the term christen is familiarly used for baptize. As, however, the former word signifies only the effect of baptism, that is, to make one a Christian, but not the manner and the act, moralists hold that "I christen" could probably not be substituted validly for "I baptize" in conferring the sacrament.


The Roman Catechism (Ad parochos, De bapt., 2, 2, 5) defines baptism thus: Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration by water in the word (per aquam in verbo). St. Thomas Aquinas (III:66:1) gives this definition: "Baptism is the external ablution of the body, performed with the prescribed form of words." Later theologians generally distinguish formally between the physical and the metaphysical defining of this sacrament. By the former they understand the formula expressing the action of ablution and the utterance of the invocation of the Trinity; by the latter, the definition: "Sacrament of regeneration" or that institution of Christ by which we are reborn to spiritual life.

The term "regeneration" distinguishes baptism from every other sacrament, for although penance revivifies men spiritually, yet this is rather a resuscitation, a bringing back from the dead, than a rebirth. Penance does not make us Christians; on the contrary, it presupposes that we have already been born of water and the Holy Ghost to the life of grace, while baptism on the other hand was instituted to confer upon men the very beginnings of the spiritual life, to transfer them from the state of enemies of God to the state of adoption, as sons of God.

The definition of the Roman Catechism combines the physical and metaphysical definitions of baptism. "The sacrament of regeneration" is the metaphysical essence of the sacrament, while the physical essence is expressed by the second part of the definition, i.e. the washing with water (matter), accompanied by the invocation of the Holy Trinity (form). Baptism is, therefore, the sacrament by which we are born again of water and the Holy Ghost, that is, by which we receive in a new and spiritual life, the dignity of adoption as sons of God and heirs of God's kingdom.


Having considered the Christian meaning of the term "baptism", we now turn our attention to the various rites which were its forerunners before the New Dispensation.

Types of this sacrament are to be found among the Jews and Gentiles. Its place in the sacramental system of the Old Law was taken by circumcision, which is called by some of the Fathers "the washing of blood" to distinguish it from "the washing of water". By the rite of circumcision, the recipient was incorporated into the people of God and made a partaker in the Messianic promises; a name was bestowed upon him and he was reckoned among the children of Abraham, the father of all believers.

Other forerunners of baptism were the numerous purifications prescribed in the Mosaic dispensation for legal uncleannesses. The symbolism of an outward washing to cleanse an invisible blemish was made very familiar to the Jews by their sacred ceremonies. But in addition to these more direct types, both the New Testament writers and the Fathers of the Church find many mysterious foreshadowings of baptism. Thus St. Paul (1 Corinthians 10) adduces the passage of Israel through the Red Sea, and St. Peter (1 Peter 3) the Deluge, as types of the purification to be found in Christian baptism. Other foreshadowings of the sacrament are found by the Fathers in the bathing of Naaman in the Jordan, in the brooding of the Spirit of God over the waters, in the rivers of Paradise, in the blood of the Paschal Lamb, during Old Testament times, and in the pool of Bethsaida, and in the healing of the dumb and blind in the New Testament. How natural and expressive the symbolism of exterior washing to indicate interior purification was recognized to be, is plain from the practice also of the heathen systems of religion. The use of lustral water is found among the Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Hindus, and others. A closer resemblance to Christian baptism is found in a form of Jewish baptism, to be bestowed on proselytes, given in the Babylonian Talmud (Döllinger, First Age of the Church).

But above all must be considered the baptism of St. John the Precursor. John baptized with water (Mark 1) and it was a baptism of penance for the remission of sins (Luke 3). While, then, the symbolism of the sacrament instituted by Christ was not new, the efficacy which He joined to the rite is that which differentiates it from all its types. John's baptism did not produce grace, as he himself testifies (Matthew 3) when he declares that he is not the Messias whose baptism is to confer the Holy Ghost. Moreover, it was not John's baptism that remitted sin, but the penance that accompanied it; and hence St. Augustine calls it (De Bapt. contra Donat., V) "a remission of sins in hope". As to the nature of the Precursor's baptism, St. Thomas (III:38:1) declares: The baptism of John was not a sacrament of itself, but a certain sacramental as it were, preparing the way (disponens) for the baptism of Christ." Durandus calls it a sacrament, indeed, but of the Old Law, and St. Bonaventure places it as a medium between the Old and New Dispensations. It is of Catholic faith that the Precursor's baptism was essentially different in its effects from the baptism of Christ, It is also to be noted that those who had previously received John's baptism had to receive later the Christian baptism (Acts 19).


That Christ instituted the Sacrament of Baptism is unquestionable. Rationalists, like Harnack (Dogmengeschichte, I, 68), dispute it, only by arbitrarily ruling out the texts which prove it. Christ not only commands His Disciples (Matthew 28:19) to baptize and gives them the form to be used, but He also declares explicitly the absolute necessity of baptism (John 3): "Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he can not enter into the Kingdom of God." Moreover, from the general doctrine of the Church on the sacraments, we know that the efficacy attached to them is derivable only from the institution of the Redeemer.

When, however, we come to the question as to when precisely Christ instituted baptism, we find that ecclesiastical writers are not agreed. The Scriptures themselves are silent upon the subject. Various occasions have been pointed out as the probable time of institution, as when Christ was Himself baptized in the Jordan, when He declared the necessity of the rebirth to Nicodemus, when He sent His Apostles and Disciples to preach and baptize.

The first opinion was quite a favorite with many of the Fathers and Schoolmen, and they are fond of referring to the sanctification of the baptismal water by contact with the flesh of the God-man. Others, as St. Jerome and St. Maximus, appear to assume that Christ baptized John on this occasion and thus instituted the sacrament. There is nothing, however, in the Gospels to indicate that Christ baptized the Precursor at the time of His own baptism. As to the opinion that it was in the colloquy with Nicodemus that the sacrament was instituted, it is not surprising that it has found few adherents. Christ's words indeed declare the necessity of such an institution, but no more. It seems also very unlikely that Christ would have instituted the sacrament in a secret conference with one who was not to be a herald of its institution.

The more probable opinion seems to be that baptism, as a sacrament, had its origin when Christ commissioned His Apostles to baptize, as narrated in John 3 and 4. There is nothing directly in the text as to the institution, but as the Disciples acted evidently under the instruction of Christ, He must have taught them at the very outset the matter and form of the sacrament which they were to dispense. It is true that St. John Chrysostom (Hom., xxviii in Joan.), Theophylactus (in cap. iii, Joan.), and Tertullian (De Bapt., c. ii) declare that the baptism given by the Disciples of Christ as narrated in these chapters of St. John was a baptism of water only and not of the Holy Ghost; but their reason is that the Holy Ghost was not given until after the Resurrection. As theologians have pointed out, this is a confusion between the visible and the invisible manifestation of the Holy Spirit. The authority of St. Leo (Ep. xvi ad Episc. Sicil.) is also invoked for the same opinion, inasmuch as he seems to hold that Christ instituted the sacrament when, after His rising from the dead, He gave the command (Matthew 28): "Go and teach . . . baptizing"; but St. Leo's words can easily be explained otherwise, and in another part of the same epistle he refers to the sanction of regeneration given by Christ when the water of baptism flowed from His side on the Cross; consequently, before the Resurrection. All authorities agree that Matthew 28, contains the solemn promulgation of this sacrament, and St. Leo does not seem to intend more than this. We need not delay on the arguments of those who declare baptism to have been necessarily established after Christ's death, because the efficacy of the sacraments is derived from His Passion. This would prove also that the Holy Eucharist was not instituted before His death, which is untenable. As to the frequent statement of the Fathers that the sacraments flowed from the side of Christ upon the Cross, it is enough to say that beyond the symbolism found therein, their words can be explained as referring to the death of Christ, as the meritorious cause or perfection of the sacraments, but not necessarily as their time of institution.

All things considered, we can safely state, therefore, that Christ most probably instituted baptism before His Passion. For in the first place, as is evident from John 3 and 4, Christ certainly conferred baptism, at least by the hands of His Disciples, before His Passion. That this was an essentially different rite from John the Precursor's baptism seems plain, because the baptism of Christ is always preferred to that of John, and the latter himself states the reason: "I baptize with water . . . [Christ] baptizeth with the Holy Ghost" (John 1). In the baptism given by the Disciples as narrated in these chapters we seem to have all the requisites of a sacrament of the New Law:

the external rite,

the institution of Christ, for they baptized by His command and mission, and

the conferring of grace, for they bestowed the Holy Ghost (John 1).

In the second place, the Apostles received other sacraments from Christ, before His Passion, as the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper, and Holy orders (Conc. Trid., Sess. XXVI, c. i). Now as baptism has always been held as the door of the Church and the necessary condition for the reception of any other sacrament, it follows that the Apostles must have received Christian baptism before the Last Supper. This argument is used by St. Augustine (Ep. clxiii, al. xliv) and certainly seems valid. To suppose that the first pastors of the Church received the other sacraments by dispensation, before they had received baptism, is an opinion with no foundation in Scripture or Tradition and devoid of verisimilitude. The Scriptures nowhere state that Christ Himself conferred baptism, but an ancient tradition (Niceph., Hist. eccl, II, iii; Clem. Alex. Strom., III) declares that He baptized the Apostle Peter only, and that the latter baptized Andrew, James, and John, and they the other Apostles.


(1) Matter

In all sacraments we treat of the matter and the form. It is also usual to distinguish the remote matter and the proximate matter. In the case of baptism, the remote matter is natural and true water. We shall consider this aspect of the question first.

(a) Remote matter

It is of faith (de fide) that true and natural water is the remote matter of baptism. In addition to the authorities already cited, we may also mention the Fourth Council of the Lateran (c. i).

Some of the early Fathers, as Tertullian (De Bapt., i) and St. Augustine (Adv. Hær., xlvi and lix) enumerate heretics who rejected water entirely as a constituent of baptism. Such were the Gaians, Manichians, Seleucians, and Hermians. In the Middle Ages, the Waldensians are said to have held the same tenet (Ewald, Contra Walden., vi). Some of the sixteenth century reformers, while accepting water as the ordinary matter of this sacrament, declared that when water could not be had, any liquid could be used in its place. So Luther (Tischr., xvii) and Beza (Ep., ii, ad Till.). It was in consequence of this teaching that certain of the Tridentine canons were framed. Calvin held that the water used in baptism was simply symbolic of the Blood of Christ (Instit., IV, xv).

As a rule, however, those sects which believe in baptism at the present time, recognize water as the necessary matter of the sacrament.

Scripture is so positive in its statements as to the use of true and natural water for baptism that it is difficult to see why it should ever be called in question. Not only have we the explicit words of Christ (John 3:5) "Unless a man be born again of water", etc., but also in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of St. Paul there are passages that preclude any metaphorical interpretation. Thus (Acts 10:47) St. Peter says "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized?" In the eighth chapter of the Acts is narrated the episode of Philip and the eunuch of Ethiopia, and in verse 36 we read: "They came to a certain water; and the eunuch said: See, here is water: what doth hinder me from being baptized?"

Equally positive is the testimony of Christian tradition. Tertullian (op. cit.) begins his treatise: "The happy sacrament of our water". Justin Martyr (Apol., I) describes the ceremony of baptism and declares: Then they are led by us to where there is water . . . and then they are laved in the water". St. Augustine positively declares that there is no baptism without water (Tr. xv in Joan.). The remote matter of baptism, then, is water, and this taken in its usual meaning. Theologians tell us consequently that what men would ordinarily declare water is valid baptismal material, whether it be water of the sea, or fountain, or well, or marsh; whether it be clear or turbid; fresh or salty; hot or cold; colored or uncolored. Water derived from melted ice, snow, or hail is also valid. If, however, ice, snow, or hail be not melted, they do not come under the designation water. Dew, sulfur or mineral water, and that which is derived from steam are also valid matter for this sacrament. As to a mixture of water and some other material, it is held as proper matter, provided the water certainly predominates and the mixture would still be called water. Invalid matter is every liquid that is not usually designated true water. Such are oil, saliva, wine, tears, milk, sweat, beer, soup, the juice of fruits, and any mixture containing water which men would no longer call water. When it is doubtful whether a liquid could really be called water, it is not permissible to use it for baptism except in case of absolute necessity when no certainly valid matter can be obtained.

On the other hand, it is never allowable to baptize with an invalid liquid. There is a response of Pope Gregory IX to the Archbishop of Trondhjem in Norway where beer (or mead) had been employed for baptism. The pontiff says: "Since according to the Gospel teaching, a man must be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, those are not to be considered validly baptized who have been baptized with beer" (cervisia). It is true that a statement declaring wine to be valid matter of baptism is attributed to Pope Stephen II, but the document is void of all authority (Labbe, Conc., VI).

Those who have held that "water" in the Gospel text is to be taken metaphorically, appeal to the words of the Precursor (Matthew 3), "He shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and fire". As "fire" must certainly be only a figure of speech here, so must "water" in the other texts. To this objection, it may be replied that the Christian Church, or at least the Apostles themselves, must have understood what was prescribed to be taken literally and what figuratively. The New Testament and church history prove that they never looked on fire as a material for baptism, while they certainly did require water. Outside of the insignificant sects of Seleucians and Hermians, not even heretics took the word "fire" in this text in its literal meaning. We may remark, however, that some of the Fathers, as St. John Damascene (Orth. Fid., IV, ix), concede this statement of the Baptist to have a literal fulfillment in the Pentecostal fiery tongues. They do not refer it, however, literally to baptism. That water alone is the necessary matter of this sacrament depends of course on the will of Him Who instituted it, although theologians discover many reasons why it should have been chosen in preference to other liquids. The most obvious of these is that water cleanses and purifies more perfectly than the others, and hence the symbolism is more natural.

(b) Proximate matter

The proximate matter of baptism is the ablution performed with water. The very word "baptize", as we have seen, means a washing.

Three forms of ablution have prevailed among Christians, and the Church holds them all to be valid because they fulfill the requisite signification of the baptismal laving. These forms are immersion, infusion, and aspersion. The most ancient form usually employed was unquestionably immersion. This is not only evident from the writings of the Fathers and the early rituals of both the Latin and Oriental Churches, but it can also be gathered from the Epistles of St. Paul, who speaks of baptism as a bath (Ephesians 5:26; Romans 6:4; Titus 3:5). In the Latin Church, immersion seems to have prevailed until the twelfth century. After that time it is found in some places even as late as the sixteenth century. Infusion and aspersion, however, were growing common in the thirteenth century and gradually prevailed in the Western Church. The Oriental Churches have retained immersion, though not always in the sense of plunging the candidate's entire body below the water. Billuart (De Bapt., I, iii) says that commonly the catechumen is placed in the font, and then water is poured upon the head. He cites the authority of Goar for this statement.

Although, as we have said, immersion was the form of baptism that generally prevailed in the early ages, it must not thereby be inferred that the other forms of infusion and aspersion were not also employed and held to be valid. In the case of the sick or dying, immersion was impossible and the sacrament was then conferred by one of the other forms. This was so well recognized that infusion or aspersion received the name of the baptism of the sick (baptismus clinicorum). St. Cyprian (Epistle 75) declares this form to be valid. From the canons of various early councils we know that candidates for Holy orders who had been baptized by this method seem to have been regarded as irregular, but this was on account of the culpable negligence supposed to be manifested in delaying baptism until sick or dying. That such persons, however, were not to be rebaptized is an evidence that the Church held their baptism to be valid. It is also pointed out that the circumstances under which St. Paul (Acts 16) baptized his jailer and all his household seem to preclude the use of immersion. Moreover, the acts of the early martyrs frequently refer to baptizing in prisons where infusion or aspersion was certainly employed.

By the present authorized ritual of the Latin Church, baptism must be performed by a laving of the head of the candidate. Moralists, however, state that in case of necessity, the baptism would probably be valid if the water were applied to any other principal part of the body, as the breast or shoulder. In this case, however, conditional baptism would have to be administered if the person survived (St. Alphonsus, no. 107). In like manner they consider as probably valid the baptism of an infant in its mother's womb, provided the water, by means of an instrument, would actually flow upon the child. Such baptism is, however, later to be repeated conditionally, if the child survives its birth (Lehmkuhl, n. 61).

It is to be noted that it is not sufficient for the water to merely touch the candidate; it must also flow, otherwise there would seem to be no real ablution. At best, such a baptism would be considered doubtful. If the water touches only the hair, the sacrament has probably been validly conferred, though in practice the safer course must be followed. If only the clothes of the person have received the aspersion, the baptism is undoubtedly void.

The water to be employed in solemn baptism should also be consecrated for the purpose, but of this we shall treat in another section of this article. It is necessary in baptizing to make use of a threefold ablution in conferring this sacrament, by reason of the prescription of the Roman ritual. This necessarily refers, however, to the liceity, not to the validity of the ceremony, as St. Thomas (III:66:8) and other theologians expressly state.

The threefold immersion is unquestionably very ancient in the Church and apparently of Apostolic origin. It is mentioned by Tertullian (De cor. milit., iii), St. Basil (De Sp. S., xxvii), St. Jerome (Dial. Contra Luc., viii), and many other early writers. Its object is, of course, to honor the three Persons of the Holy Trinity in whose name it is conferred. That this threefold ablution was not considered necessary to the validity of the sacrament, however, is plain. In the seventh century the Fourth Council of Toledo (633) approved the use of a single ablution in baptism, as a protest against the false trinitarian theories of the Arians, who seem to have given to the threefold immersion a significance which made it imply three natures in the Holy Trinity. To insist on the unity and consubstantiality of the three Divine Persons, the Spanish Catholics adopted the single ablution and this method had the approval of Pope Gregory the Great (I, Ep. xliii). The Eunomian heretics used only one immersion and their baptism was held invalid by the First Council of Constantinople (can. vii); but this was not on account of the single ablution, but apparently because they baptized in the death of Christ. The authority of this canon is, moreover, doubtful at best.

(2) Form

The requisite and sole valid form of baptism is: "I baptize thee (or This person is baptized) in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." This was the form given by Christ to His Disciples in the twenty-eighth chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel, as far, at least, as there is question of the invocation of the separate Persons of the Trinity and the expression of the nature of the action performed. For the Latin usage: "I baptize thee", etc., we have the authority of the Council of Trent (Sess. VII, can. iv) and of the Council of Florence in the Decree of Union. In addition we have the constant practice of the whole Western Church. The Latins also recognize as valid the form used by the Greeks: "This servant of Christ is baptized", etc. The Florentine decree acknowledges the validity of this form and it is moreover recognized by the Bull of Leo X, "Accepimus nuper", and of Clement VII, "Provisionis nostrae." Substantially, the Latin and Greek forms are the same, and the Latin Church has never rebaptized Orientals on their return to unity. At one time some Western theologians disputed the Greek form, because they doubted the validity of the imperative or deprecatory formula: "Let this person be baptized" (baptizetur). As a matter of fact, however, the Greeks use the indicative, or enuntiative, formula: "This person is baptized" (baptizetai, baptizetur). This is unquestionable from their Euchologies, and from the testimony of Arcudius (apud Cat., tit. ii, cap. i), of Goar (Rit. Græc. Illust.), of Martène (De Ant. Eccl. Rit., I) and of the theological compendium of the schismatical Russians (St. Petersburg, 1799). It is true that in the decree for the Armenians, Pope Eugene IV uses baptizetur, according to the ordinary version of this decree, but Labbe, in his edition of the Council of Florence seems to consider it a corrupt reading, for in the margin he prints baptizatur. It has been suggested by Goar that the resemblance between baptizetai and baptizetur is responsible for the mistake. The correct translation is, of course, baptizatur.

In administering this sacrament it is absolutely necessary to use the word "baptize" or its equivalent (Alex. VIII, Prop. damn., xxvii), otherwise the ceremony is invalid. This had already been decreed by Alexander III (Cap. Si quis, I, x, De Bapt.), and it is confirmed by the Florentine decree. It has been the constant practice of both the Latin and Greek Churches to make use of words expressing the act performed. St. Thomas (III:66:5) says that since an ablution may be employed for many purposes, it is necessary that in baptism the meaning of the ablution be determined by the words of the form. However, the words: "In the name of the Father", etc., would not be sufficient by themselves to determine the sacramental nature of the ablution. St. Paul (Colossians 3) exhorts us to do all things in the name of God, and consequently an ablution could be performed in the name of the Trinity to obtain restoration of health. Therefore it is that in the form of this sacrament, the act of baptism must be expressed, and the matter and form be united to leave no doubt of the meaning of the ceremony.

In addition to the necessary word "baptize", or its equivalent, it is also obligatory to mention the separate Persons of the Holy Trinity. This is the command of Christ to His Disciples, and as the sacrament has its efficacy from Him Who instituted it, we can not omit anything that He has prescribed. Nothing is more certain than that this has been the general understanding and practice of the Church. Tertullian tells us (De Bapt., xiii): "The law of baptism (tingendi) has been imposed and the form prescribed: Go, teach the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." St. Justin Martyr (Apol., I) testifies to the practice in his time. St. Ambrose (De Myst., IV) declares: "Unless a person has been baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, he can not obtain the remission of his sins," St. Cyprian (Ad Jubaian.), rejecting the validity of baptism given in the name of Christ only, affirms that the naming of all the Persons of the Trinity was commanded by the Lord (in plena et adunata Trinitate). The same is declared by many other primitive writers, as St. Jerome (IV, in Matt.), Origen (De Princ., i, ii), St. Athanasius (Or. iv, Contr. Ar.), St. Augustine (De Bapt., vi, 25). It is not, of course, absolutely necessary that the common names Father, Son, and Holy Ghost be used, provided the Persons be expressed by words that are equivalent or synonymous. But a distinct naming of the Divine Persons is required and the form: "I baptize thee in the name of the Holy Trinity", would be of more than doubtful validity.

The singular form "In the name", not "names", is also to be employed, as it expresses the unity of the Divine nature. When, through ignorance, an accidental, not substantial, change has been made in the form (as In nomine patriâ for Patris), the baptism is to be held valid.

The mind of the Church as to the necessity of serving the trinitarian formula in this sacrament has been clearly shown by her treatment of baptism conferred by heretics. Any ceremony that did not observe this form has been declared invalid. The Montanists baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and Montanus and Priscilla (St. Basil, Ep. i, Ad Amphil.). As a consequence, the Council of Laodicea ordered their rebaptism. The Arians at the time of the Council of Nicæa do not seem to have tampered with the baptismal formula, for that Council does not order their rebaptism. When, then, St. Athanasius (Or. ii, Contr. Ar.) and St. Jerome (Contra Lucif.) declare the Arians to have baptized in the name of the Creator and creatures, they must either refer to their doctrine or to a later changing of the sacramental form. It is well known that the latter was the case with the Spanish Arians and that consequently converts from the sect were rebaptized. The Anomæans, a branch of the Arians, baptized with the formula: "In the name of the uncreated God and in the name of the created Son, and in the name of the Sanctifying Spirit, procreated by the created Son" (Epiphanius, Hær., lxxvii).

Other Arian sects, such as the Eunomians and Aetians, baptized "in the death of Christ". Converts from Sabellianism were ordered by the First Council of Constantinople (can. vii) to be rebaptized because the doctrine of Sabellius that there was but one person in the Trinity had infected their baptismal form. The two sects sprung from Paul of Samosata, who denied Christ's Divinity, likewise conferred invalid baptism. They were the Paulianists and Photinians. Pope Innocent I (Ad. Episc. Maced., vi) declares that these sectaries did not distinguish the Persons of the Trinity when baptizing. The Council of Nicæa (can. xix) ordered the rebaptism of Paulianists, and the Council of Arles (can. xvi and xvii) decreed the same for both Paulianists and Photinians. There has been a theological controversy over the question as to whether baptism in the name of Christ only was ever held valid. Certain texts in the New Testament have given rise to this difficulty. Thus St. Paul (Acts 19) commands some disciples at Ephesus to be baptized in Christ's name: "They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." In Acts 10, we read that St. Peter ordered others to be baptized "in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ". Those who were converted by Philip. (Acts 8) "were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ", and above all we have the explicit command of the Prince of the Apostles: "Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins (Acts 2).

Owing to these texts some theologians have held that the Apostles baptized in the name of Christ only. St. Thomas, St. Bonaventure, and Albertus Magnus are invoked as authorities for this opinion, they declaring that the Apostles so acted by special dispensation. Other writers, as Peter Lombard and Hugh of St. Victor, hold also that such baptism would be valid, but say nothing of a dispensation for the Apostles. The most probable opinion, however, seems to be that the terms "in the name of Jesus", "in the name of Christ", either refer to baptism in the faith taught by Christ, or are employed to distinguish Christian baptism from that of John the Precursor. It seems altogether unlikely that immediately after Christ had solemnly promulgated the trinitarian formula of baptism, the Apostles themselves would have substituted another. In fact, the words of St. Paul (Acts 19) imply quite plainly that they did not. For, when some Christians at Ephesus declared that they had never heard of the Holy Ghost, the Apostle asks: "In whom then were you baptized?" This text certainly seems to declare that St. Paul took it for granted that the Ephesians must have heard the name of the Holy Ghost when the sacramental formula of baptism was pronounced over them.

The authority of Pope Stephen I has been alleged for the validity of baptism given in the name of Christ only. St. Cyprian says (Ep. ad Jubaian.) that this pontiff declared all baptism valid provided it was given in the name of Jesus Christ. It must be noted that the same explanation applies to Stephen's words as to the Scriptural texts above given. Moreover, Firmilian, in his letter to St. Cyprian, implies that Pope Stephen required an explicit mention of the Trinity in baptism, for he quotes the pontiff as declaring that the sacramental grace is conferred because a person has been baptized "with the invocation of the names of the Trinity, Father and Son and Holy Ghost".

A passage that is very difficult of explanation is found in the works of St. Ambrose (Lib. I, De Sp. S., iii), where he declares that if a person names one of the Trinity, he names all of them: "If you say Christ, you have designated God the Father, by whom the Son was anointed, and Him Who was anointed Son, and the Holy Ghost in whom He was anointed." This passage has been generally interpreted as referring to the faith of the catechumen, but not to the baptismal form. More difficult is the explanation of the response of Pope Nicholas I to the Bulgarians (cap. civ; Labbe, VIII), in which he states that a person is not to be rebaptized who has already been baptized "in the name of the Holy Trinity or in the name of Christ only, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles (for it is one and the same thing, as St. Ambrose has explained)". As in the passage to which the pope alludes, St. Ambrose was speaking of the faith of the recipient of baptism, as we have already stated, it has been held probable that this is also the meaning that Pope Nicholas intended his words to convey (see another explanation in Pesch, Prælect. Dogm., VI, no. 389). What seems to confirm this is the same pontiff's reply to the Bulgarians (Resp. 15) on another occasion when they consulted him on a practical case. They inquired whether certain persons are to be rebaptized on whom a man, pretending to be a Greek priest, had conferred baptism? Pope Nicholas replies that the baptism is to be held valid "if they were baptized, in the name of the supreme and undivided Trinity". Here the pope does not give baptism in the name of Christ only as an alternative. Moralists raise the question of the validity of a baptism in whose administration something else had been added to the prescribed form as "and in the name of the Blessed Virgin Mary". They reply that such baptism would be invalid, if the minister intended thereby to attribute the same efficacy to the added name as to the names of the Three Divine Persons. If, however, it was done through a mistaken piety only, it would not interfere with the validity (S. Alph., n. 111).


From the foregoing it is evident that not all baptism administered by heretics or schismatics is invalid. On the contrary, if the proper matter and form be used and the one conferring the sacrament really "intends to perform what the Church performs" the baptism is undoubtedly valid. This is also authoritatively stated in the decree for the Armenians and the canons of the Council of Trent already given. The question becomes a practical one when converts to the Faith have to be dealt with. If there were one authorized mode of baptizing among the sects, and if the necessity and true significance of the sacrament were uniformly taught and put in practice among them, there would be little difficulty as to the status of converts from the sects. But there is no such unity of teaching and practice among them, and consequently the particular case of each convert must be examined into when there is question of his reception into the Church. For not only are there religious denominations in which baptism is in all probability not validly administered, but there are those also which have a ritual sufficient indeed for validity, but in practice the likelihood of their members having received baptism validly is more than doubtful. As a consequence converts must be dealt with differently. If it be certain that a convert was validly baptized in heresy, the sacrament is not repeated, but the ceremonies which had been omitted in such baptism are to be supplied, unless the bishop, for sufficient reasons, judges that they can be dispensed with. (For the United States, see Conc. Prov. Balt., I.) If it be uncertain whether the convert's baptism was valid or not, then he is to be baptized conditionally. In such cases the ritual is: "If thou art not yet baptized, then I baptize thee in the name", etc. The First Synod of Westminster, England, directs that adult converts are to be baptized not publicly but privately with holy water (i.e. not the consecrated baptismal water) and without the usual ceremonies (Decr. xvi). Practically, converts in the United States are almost invariably baptized either absolutely or conditionally, not because the baptism administered by heretics is held to be invalid, but because it is generally impossible to discover whether they had ever been properly baptized. Even in cases where a ceremony had certainly been performed, reasonable doubt of validity will generally remain, on account of either the intention of the administrator or the mode of administration. Still each case must be examined into (S. C. Inquis., 20 Nov., 1878) lest the sacrament be sacrilegiously repeated.

As to the baptism of the various sects, Sabetti (no. 662) states that the Oriental Churches and the "Old Catholics" generally administer baptism accurately; the Socinians and Quakers do not baptize at all; the Baptists use the rite only for adults, and the efficacy of their baptism has been called in question owing to the separation of the matter and the form, for the latter is pronounced before the immersion takes place; the Congregationalists, Unitarians and Universalists deny the necessity of baptism, and hence the presumption is that they do not administer it accurately; the Methodists and Presbyterians baptize by aspersion or sprinkling, and it may be reasonably doubted whether the water has touched the body and flowed upon it; among the Episcopalians many consider baptism to have no true efficacy and to be merely an empty ceremony, and consequently there is a well-grounded fear that they are not sufficiently careful in its administration. To this may be added, that Episcopalians often baptize by aspersion, and though such a method is undoubtedly valid if properly employed, yet in practice it is quite possible that the sprinkled water may not touch the skin. Sabetti also notes that ministers of the same sect do not everywhere follow a uniform method of baptizing.

The practical method of reconciling heretics with the Church is as follows:-- If baptism be conferred absolutely, the convert is to make no abjuration or profession of faith, nor is he to make a confession of his sins and receive absolution, because the sacrament of regeneration washes away his past offences. If his baptism is to be conditional, he must first make an abjuration of his errors, or a profession of faith, then receive the conditional baptism, and lastly make a sacramental confession followed by conditional absolution. If the convert's former baptism was judged to be certainly valid, he is only to make the abjuration or the profession of faith and receive absolution from the censures he may have incurred (Excerpta Rit. Rom., 1878). The abjuration or profession of faith here prescribed is the Creed of Pius IV, translated into the vernacular. In the case of conditional baptism, the confession may precede the administration of the rite and the conditional absolution be imparted after the baptism. This is often done as a matter of fact, as the confession is an excellent preparation for the reception of the sacrament (De Herdt, VI, viii; Sabetti, no. 725).


To complete the consideration of the validity of baptism conferred by heretics, we must give some account of the celebrated controversy that raged around this point in the ancient Church. In Africa and Asia Minor the custom had been introduced in the early part of the third century of rebaptizing all converts from heresy. As far as can be now ascertained, the practice of rebaptism arose in Africa owing to decrees of a Synod of Carthage held probably between 218 and 222; while in Asia Minor it seems to have had its origin at the Synod of Iconium, celebrated between 230 and 235. The controversy on rebaptism is especially connected with the names of Pope St. Stephen and of St. Cyprian of Carthage. The latter was the main champion of the practice of rebaptizing. The pope, however, absolutely condemned the practice, and commanded that heretics on entering the Church should receive only the imposition of hands in paenitentiam. In this celebrated controversy it is to noted that Pope Stephen declares that he is upholding the primitive custom when he declares for the validity of baptism conferred by heretics.

Cyprian, on the contrary, implicitly admits that antiquity is against his own practice, but stoutly maintains that it is more in accordance with an enlightened study of the subject. The tradition against him he declares to be "a human and unlawful tradition". Neither Cyprian, however, nor his zealous abettor, Firmilian, could show that rebaptism was older than the century in which they were living. The contemporaneous but anonymous author of the book "De Rebaptismate" says that the ordinances of Pope Stephen, forbidding the rebaptism of converts, are in accordance with antiquity and ecclesiastical tradition, and are consecrated as an ancient, memorable, and solemn observance of all the saints and of all the faithful. St. Augustine believes that the custom of not rebaptizing is an Apostolic tradition, and St. Vincent of Lérins declares that the Synod of Carthage introduced rebaptism against the Divine Law (canonem), against the rule of the universal Church, and against the customs and institutions of the ancients. By Pope Stephen's decision, he continues, antiquity was retained and novelty was destroyed (retenta est antiquitas, explosa novitas). It is true that the so-called Apostolic Canons (xlv and xlvi) speak of the non-validity of baptism conferred by heretics, but Döllinger says that these canons are comparatively recent, and De Marca points out that St. Cyprian would have appealed to them had they been in existence before the controversy. Pope St. Stephen, therefore, upheld a doctrine already ancient in the third century when he declared against the rebaptism of heretics, and decided that the sacrament was not to be repeated because its first administration had been valid, This has been the law of the Church ever since.


Theologians distinguish a twofold necessity, which they call a necessity of means (medii) and a necessity of precept (præcepti). The first (medii) indicates a thing to be so necessary that, if lacking (though inculpably), salvation can not be attained. The second (præcepti) is had when a thing is indeed so necessary that it may not be omitted voluntarily without sin; yet, ignorance of the precept or inability to fulfill it, excuses one from its observance. Baptism is held to be necessary both necessitate medii and præcepti. This doctrine is rounded on the words of Christ. In John 3, He declares: "Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he can not enter into the kingdom of God." Christ makes no exception to this law and it is therefore general in its application, embracing both adults and infants. It is consequently not merely a necessity of precept but also a necessity of means.

This is the sense in which it has always been understood by the Church, and the Council of Trent (Sess, IV, cap, vi) teaches that justification can not be obtained, since the promulgation of the Gospel, without the washing of regeneration or the desire thereof (in voto). In the seventh session, it declares (can. v) anathema upon anyone who says that baptism is not necessary for salvation. We have rendered votum by "desire" for want of a better word. The council does not mean by votum a simple desire of receiving baptism or even a resolution to do so. It means by votum an act of perfect charity or contrition, including, at least implicitly, the will to do all things necessary for salvation and thus especially to receive baptism.

The absolute necessity of this sacrament is often insisted on by the Fathers of the Church, especially when they speak of infant baptism. Thus St. Irenæus (II, xxii): "Christ came to save all who are reborn through Him to God - infants, children, and youths" (infantes et parvulos et pueros). St. Augustine (III De Anima) says "If you wish to be a Catholic, do not believe, nor say, nor teach, that infants who die before baptism can obtain the remission of original sin." A still stronger passage from the same doctor (Ep. xxviii, Ad Hieron.) reads:"Whoever says that even infants are vivified in Christ when they depart this life without the participation of His Sacrament (Baptism), both opposes the Apostolic preaching and condemns the whole Church which hastens to baptize infants, because it unhesitatingly believes that otherwise they can not possibly be vivified in Christ," St. Ambrose (II De Abraham., c. xi) speaking of the necessity of baptism, says:" No one is excepted, not the infant, not the one hindered by any necessity."

In the Pelagian controversy we find similarly strong pronouncements on the part of the Councils of Carthage and Milevis, and of Pope Innocent I. It is owing to the Church's belief in this necessity of baptism as a means to salvation that, as was already noted by St. Augustine, she committed the power of baptism in certain contingencies even to laymen and women. When it is said that baptism is also necessary, by the necessity of precept (praecepti), it is of course understood that this applies only to such as are capable of receiving a precept, viz. adults.

The necessity in this case is shown by the command of Christ to His Apostles (Matthew 28): "Go and teach all nations, baptizing them", etc. Since the Apostles are commanded to baptize, the nations are commanded to receive baptism. The necessity of baptism has been called in question by some of the Reformers or their immediate forerunners. It was denied by Wyclif, Bucer, and Zwingli. According to Calvin it is necessary for adults as a precept but not as a means. Hence he contends that the infants of believing parents are sanctified in the womb and thus freed from original sin without baptism. The Socinians teach that baptism is merely an external profession of the Christian faith and a rite which each one is free to receive or neglect.

An argument against the absolute necessity of baptism has been sought in the text of Scripture: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you" (John 6). Here, they say, is a parallel to the text: "Unless a man be born again of water". Yet everyone admits that the Eucharist is not necessary as a means but only as a precept. The reply to this is obvious. In the first instance, Christ addresses His words in the second person to adults; in the second, He speaks in the third person and without any distinction whatever.

Another favorite text is that of St. Paul (1 Corinthians 7): "The unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife; and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the believing husband; otherwise your children should be unclean; but now they are holy." Unfortunately for the strength of this argument, the context shows that the Apostle in this passage is not treating of regenerating or sanctifying grace at all, but answering certain questions proposed to him by the Corinthians concerning the validity of marriages between heathens and believers. The validity of such marriages is proved from the fact that children born of them are legitimate, not spurious. As far as the term "sanctified" is concerned, it can, at most, mean that the believing husband or wife may convert the unbelieving party and thus become an occasion of their sanctification. A certain statement in the funeral oration of St. Ambrose over the Emperor Valentinian II has been brought forward as a proof that the Church offered sacrifices and prayers for catechumens who died before baptism. There is not a vestige of such a custom to be found anywhere. St. Ambrose may have done so for the soul of the catechumen Valentinian, but this would be a solitary instance, and it was done apparently because he believed that the emperor had had the baptism of desire. The practice of the Church is more correctly shown in the canon (xvii) of the Second Council of Braga: "Neither the commemoration of Sacrifice [oblationis] nor the service of chanting [psallendi] is to be employed for catechumens who have died without the redemption of baptism." The arguments for a contrary usage sought in the Second Council of Arles (c. xii) and the Fourth Council of Carthage (c. lxxix) are not to the point, for these councils speak, not of catechumens, but of penitents who had died suddenly before their expiation was completed. It is true that some Catholic writers (as Cajetan, Durandus, Biel, Gerson, Toletus, Klee) have held that infants may be saved by an act of desire on the part of their parents, which is applied to them by some external sign, such as prayer or the invocation of the Holy Trinity; but Pius V, by expunging this opinion, as expressed by Cajetan, from that author's commentary on St. Thomas, manifested his judgment that such a theory was not agreeable to the Church's belief.


The Fathers and theologians frequently divide baptism into three kinds: the baptism of water (aquæ or fluminis), the baptism of desire (flaminis), and the baptism of blood (sanguinis). However, only the first is a real sacrament. The latter two are denominated baptism only analogically, inasmuch as they supply the principal effect of baptism, namely, the grace which remits sins. It is the teaching of the Catholic Church that when the baptism of water becomes a physical or moral impossibility, eternal life may be obtained by the baptism of desire or the baptism of blood.

(1) The Baptism of Desire

The baptism of desire (baptismus flaminis) is a perfect contrition of heart, and every act of perfect charity or pure love of God which contains, at least implicitly, a desire (votum) of baptism. The Latin word flamen is used because Flamen is a name for the Holy Ghost, Whose special office it is to move the heart to love God and to conceive penitence for sin. The "baptism of the Holy Ghost" is a term employed in the third century by the anonymous author of the book "De Rebaptismate". The efficacy of this baptism of desire to supply the place of the baptism of water, as to its principal effect, is proved from the words of Christ. After He had declared the necessity of baptism (John 3), He promised justifying grace for acts of charity or perfect contrition (John 14): "He that loveth Me, shall be loved of my Father: and I will love him and will manifest myself to him." And again: "If any one love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and will make our abode with him." Since these texts declare that justifying grace is bestowed on account of acts of perfect charity or contrition, it is evident that these acts supply the place of baptism as to its principal effect, the remission of sins. This doctrine is set forth clearly by the Council of Trent. In the fourteenth session (cap. iv) the council teaches that contrition is sometimes perfected by charity, and reconciles man to God, before the Sacrament of Penance is received. In the fourth chapter of the sixth session, in speaking of the necessity of baptism, it says that men can not obtain original justice "except by the washing of regeneration or its desire" (voto). The same doctrine is taught by Pope Innocent III (cap. Debitum, iv, De Bapt.), and the contrary propositions are condemned by Popes Pius V and Gregory XII, in proscribing the 31st and 33rd propositions of Baius.

We have already alluded to the funeral oration pronounced by St. Ambrose over the Emperor Valentinian II, a catechumen. The doctrine of the baptism of desire is here clearly set forth. St. Ambrose asks: "Did he not obtain the grace which he desired? Did he not obtain what he asked for? Certainly he obtained it because he asked for it." St. Augustine (IV, De Bapt., xxii) and St. Bernard (Ep. lxxvii, ad H. de S. Victore) likewise discourse in the same sense concerning the baptism of desire. If it be said that this doctrine contradicts the universal law of baptism made by Christ (John 3), the answer is that the lawgiver has made an exception (John 14) in favor of those who have the baptism of desire. Neither would it be a consequence of this doctrine that a person justified by the baptism of desire would thereby be dispensed from seeking after the baptism of water when the latter became a possibility. For, as has already been explained the baptismus flaminis contains the votum of receiving the baptismus aquæ. It is true that some of the Fathers of the Church arraign severely those who content themselves with the desire of receiving the sacrament of regeneration, but they are speaking of catechumens who of their own accord delay the reception of baptism from unpraiseworthy motives. Finally, it is to be noted that only adults are capable of receiving the baptism of desire.

(2) The Baptism of Blood

The baptism of blood (baptismus sanquinis) is the obtaining of the grace of justification by suffering martyrdom for the faith of Christ. The term "washing of blood" (lavacrum sanguinis) is used by Tertullian (De Bapt., xvi) to distinguish this species of regeneration from the "washing of water" (lavacrum aquæ). "We have a second washing", he says "which is one and the same [with the first], namely the washing of blood." St. Cyprian (Ep. lxxiii) speaks of "the most glorious and greatest baptism of blood" (sanguinis baptismus). St. Augustine (De Civ. Dei, XIII, vii) says: "When any die for the confession of Christ without having received the washing of regeneration, it avails as much for the remission of their sins as if they had been washed in the sacred font of baptism."

The Church grounds her belief in the efficacy of the baptism of blood on the fact that Christ makes a general statement of the saving power of martyrdom in the tenth chapter of St. Matthew: "Every one therefore that shall confess me before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven" (verse 32); and: "He that shall lose his life for me shall find it" (verse 39). It is pointed out that these texts are so broadly worded as to include even infants, especially the latter text. That the former text also applies to them, has been constantly maintained by the Fathers, who declare that if infants can not confess Christ with the mouth, they can by act. Tertullian (Adv. Valent., ii) speaks of the infants slaughtered by Herod as martyrs, and this has been the constant teaching of the Church.

Another evidence of the mind of the Church as to the efficacy of the baptism of blood is found in the fact that she never prays for martyrs. Her opinion is well voiced by St. Augustine (Tr. lxxiv in Joan.): "He does an injury to a martyr who prays for him." This shows that martyrdom is believed to remit all sin and all punishment due to sin. Later theologians commonly maintain that the baptism of blood justifies adult martyrs independently of an act of charity or perfect contrition, and, as it were, ex opere operato, though, of course, they must have attrition for past sins. The reason is that if perfect charity, or contrition, were required in martyrdom, the distinction between the baptism of blood and the baptism of desire would be a useless one. Moreover, as it must be conceded that infant martyrs are justified without an act of charity, of which they are incapable, there is no solid reason for denying the same privilege to adults. (Cf. Francisco Suárez, De Bapt., disp. xxxix.)


The fate of infants who die without baptism must be briefly considered here. The Catholic teaching is uncompromising on this point, that all who depart this life without baptism, be it of water, or blood, or desire, are perpetually excluded from the vision of God. This teaching is grounded, as we have seen, on Scripture and tradition, and the decrees of the Church. Moreover, that those who die in original sin, without ever having contracted any actual sin, are deprived of the happiness of heaven is stated explicitly in the Confession of Faith of the Eastern Emperor Michael Palæologus, which had been proposed to him by Pope Clement IV in 1267, and which he accepted in the presence of Gregory X at the Second Council of Lyons in 1274. The same doctrine is found also in the Decree of Union of the Greeks, in the Bull "Lætentur Caeli" of Pope Eugene IV, in the Profession of Faith prescribed for the Greeks by Pope Gregory XIII, and in that authorized for the Orientals by Urban VIII and Benedict XIV. Many Catholic theologians have declared that infants dying without baptism are excluded from the beatific vision; but as to the exact state of these souls in the next world they are not agreed.

In speaking of souls who have failed to attain salvation, these theologians distinguish the pain of loss (paena damni), or privation of the beatific vision, and the pain of sense (paena sensus). Though these theologians have thought it certain that unbaptized infants must endure the pain of loss, they have not been similarly certain that they are subject to the pain of sense. St. Augustine (De Pecc. et Mer., I, xvi) held that they would not be exempt from the pain of sense, but at the same time he thought it would be of the mildest form. On the other hand, St. Gregory Nazianzen (Or. in S. Bapt.) expresses the belief that such infants would suffer only the pain of loss. Sfondrati (Nod. Prædest., I, i) declares that while they are certainly excluded from heaven, yet they are not deprived of natural happiness. This opinion seemed so objectionable to some French bishops that they asked the judgment of the Holy See upon the matter. Pope Innocent XI replied that he would have the opinion examined into by a commission of theologians, but no sentence seems ever to have been passed upon it. Since the twelfth century, the opinion of the majority of theologians has been that unbaptized infants are immune from all pain of sense. This was taught by St. Thomas Aquinas, Scotus, St. Bonaventure, Peter Lombard, and others, and is now the common teaching in the schools. It accords with the wording of a decree of Pope Innocent III (III Decr., xlii, 3): "The punishment of original sin is the deprivation of the vision of God; of actual sin, the eternal pains of hell." Infants, of course, can not be guilty of actual sin.

Other theologians have urged that, under the law of nature and the Mosaic dispensation, children could be saved by the act of their parents and that consequently the same should be even more easy of attainment under the law of grace, because the power of faith has not been diminished but increased. Common objections to this theory include the fact that infants are not said to be deprived of justification in the New Law through any decrease in the power of faith, but because of the promulgation by Christ of the precept of baptism which did not exist before the New Dispensation. Nor would this make the case of infants worse than it was before the Christian Church was instituted. While it works a hardship for some, it has undoubtedly improved the condition of most. Supernatural faith is now much more diffused than it was before the coming of Christ, and more infants are now saved by baptism than were justified formerly by the active faith of their parents. Moreover, baptism can more readily be applied to infants than the rite of circumcision, and by the ancient law this ceremony had to be deferred till the eighth day after birth, while baptism can be bestowed upon infants immediately after they are born, and in case of necessity even in their mother's womb. Finally it must be borne in mind that unbaptized infants, if deprived of heaven, would not be deprived unjustly. The vision of God is not something to which human beings have a natural claim. It is a free gift of the Creator who can make what conditions He chooses for imparting it or withholding it. No injustice is involved when an undue privilege is not conferred upon a person. Original sin deprived the human race of an unearned right to heaven. Through the Divine mercy this bar to the enjoyment of God is removed by baptism; but if baptism be not conferred, original sin remains, and the unregenerated soul, having no claim on heaven, is not unjustly excluded from it.

As to the question, whether in addition to freedom from the pain of sense, unbaptized infants enjoy any positive happiness in the next world, theologians are not agreed, nor is there any pronouncement of the Church on the subject. Many, following St. Thomas (De Malo, Q. v, a. 3), declare that these infants are not saddened by the loss of the beatific vision, either because they have no knowledge of it, and hence are not sensible of their privation; or because, knowing it, their will is entirely conformed to God's will and they are conscious that they have missed an undue privilege through no fault of their own. In addition to this freedom from regret at the loss of heaven, these infants may also enjoy some positive happiness. St. Thomas (In II Sent., dist. XXXIII, Q. ii, a. 5) says: "Although unbaptized infants are separated from God as far as glory is concerned, yet they are not separated from Him entirely. Rather are they joined to Him by a participation of natural goods; and so they may even rejoice in Him by natural consideration and love," Again (a. 2) he says: "They will rejoice in this, that they will share largely in the divine goodness and in natural perfections." While the opinion, then, that unbaptized infants may enjoy a natural knowledge and love of God and rejoice in it, is perfectly tenable, it has not the certainty that would arise from a unanimous consent of the Fathers of the Church, or from a favorable pronouncement of ecclesiastical authority.

[Editor's note: On this subject, the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them," allows us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism."]

We may add here some brief remarks on the discipline of the Church in regard to unbaptized persons. As baptism is the door of the Church, the unbaptized are entirely without its pale. As a consequence:

Such persons, by the ordinary law of the Church, may not receive Catholic funeral rites. The reason of this regulation is given by Pope Innocent III (Decr., III, XXVIII, xii): "It has been decreed by the sacred canons that we are to have no communion with those who are dead, if we have not communicated with them while alive." According to Canon Law (CIC 1183), however, catechumens "are to be considered members of the Christian faithful" as regard funeral rites. The Plenary Council of Baltimore also decrees (No. 389) that the custom of burying the unbaptized relatives of Catholics in the family sepulchers may be tolerated. [Editor's note: The 1983 Code of Canon Law excepts an unbaptized child of Catholic parents, if the parents had intended to have him baptized.]

A Catholic may not marry an unbaptized person without dispensation, under pain of nullity. This impediment, as far as illiceity is concerned, is derived from the natural law, because in such unions the Catholic party and the offspring of the marriage would, in most cases, be exposed to the loss of faith. The invalidity of such marriage, however, is a consequence only of positive law. For, in the beginning of Christianity, unions between the baptized and unbaptized were frequent, and they were certainly held valid. When, then, circumstances arise where the danger of perversion for the Catholic party is removed, the Church dispenses in her law of prohibition, but always requires guarantees from the non-Catholic party that there will be no interference with the spiritual rights of the partner of the union. (See IMPEDIMENTS OF MATRIMONY.)

In general, we may state that the Church claims no authority over unbaptized persons, as they are entirely without her pale. She makes laws concerning them only in so far as they hold relations with the subjects of the Church.


This sacrament is the door of the Church of Christ and the entrance into a new life. We are reborn from the state of slaves of sin into the freedom of the Sons of God. Baptism incorporates us with Christ's mystical body and makes us partakers of all the privileges flowing from the redemptive act of the Church's Divine Founder. We shall now outline the principal effects of baptism. (1) The Remission of All Sin, Original and Actual This is clearly contained in the Bible. Thus we read (Acts 2:38): "Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins; and you shall receive the Holy Ghost. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, whomsoever the Lord our God shall call." We read also in the twenty-second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles (verse 16):

Be baptized, and wash away thy sins." St. Paul in the fifth chapter of his Epistle to the Ephesians beautifully represents the whole Church as being baptized and purified (5:25 sq.): "Christ loved the Church, and delivered Himself up for it: that he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the washing of water in the word of life: that he might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

The prophecy of Ezechiel (36:25) has also been understood of baptism: "I will pour upon you clean water, and you shall be cleansed from all your filthiness (inquinamentis), where the prophet is unquestionably speaking of moral defilements.

This is also the solemn teaching of the Church. In the profession of faith prescribed by Pope Innocent III for the Waldensians in 1210, we read: We believe that all sins are remitted in baptism, both original sin and those sins which have been voluntarily committed." The Council of Trent (Sess. V., can. v) anathematizes whomsoever denies that the grace of Christ which is conferred in baptism does not remit the guilt of original sin; or asserts that everything which can truly and properly be called sin is not thereby taken away. The same is taught by the Fathers. St. Justin Martyr (Apol., I, Ixvi) declares that in baptism we are created anew, that is, consequently, free from all stain of sin. St. Ambrose (De Myst., iii) says of baptism: "This is the water in which the flesh is submerged that all carnal sin may be washed away. Every transgression is there buried." Tertullian (De Bapt., vii) writes: "Baptism is a carnal act in as much as we are submerged in the water; but the effect is spiritual, for we are freed from our sins." The words of Origen (In Gen., xiii) are classic: "If you transgress, you write unto yourself the handwriting [chirographum] of sin. But, behold, when you have once approached to the cross of Christ and to the grace of baptism, your handwriting is affixed to the cross and blotted out in the font of baptism." It is needless to multiply testimonies from the early ages of the Church. It is a point on which the Fathers are unanimous, and telling quotations might also be made from St. Cyprian, Clement of Alexandria, St. Hilary, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Basil, St. Gregory Nazianzen, and others.

(2) Remission of Temporal Punishment

Baptism not only washes away sin, it also remits the punishment of sin. This was the plain teaching of the primitive Church. We read in Clement of Alexandria (Pædagog., i) of baptism: "It is called a washing because we are washed from our sins: it is called grace, because by it the punishments which are due to sin are remitted." St. Jerome (Ep. lxix) writes: "After the pardon (indulgentiam) of baptism, the severity of the Judge is not to be feared." And St. Augustine (De Pecc. et Mer., II, xxviii) says plainly: "If immediately [after baptism] there follows the departure from this life, there will be absolutely nothing that a man must answer for [quod obnoxium hominem teneat], for he will have been freed from everything that bound him." In perfect accord with the early doctrine, the Florentine decree states: "No satisfaction is to be enjoined upon the baptized for past sins; and if they die before any sin, they will immediately attain to the kingdom of heaven and to the vision of God." In like manner the Council of Trent (Sess. V) teaches: "There is no cause of damnation in those who have been truly buried with Christ by baptism . . . Nothing whatever will delay their entrance into heaven."

(3) Infusion of Supernatural Grace, Gifts, and Virtues

Another effect of baptism is the infusion of sanctifying grace and supernatural gifts and virtues. It is this sanctifying grace which renders men the adopted sons of God and confers the right to heavenly glory. The doctrine on this subject is found in the seventh chapter on justification in the sixth session of the Council of Trent. Many of the Fathers of the Church also enlarge upon this subject (as St. Cyprian, St. Jerome, Clement of Alexandria, and others), though not in the technical language of later ecclesiastical decrees.

(4) Conferral of the Right to Special Graces

Theologians likewise teach that baptism gives man the right to those special graces which are necessary for attaining the end for which the sacrament was instituted and for enabling him to fulfill the baptismal promises. This doctrine of the schools, which claims for every sacrament those graces which are peculiar and diverse according to the end and object of the sacrament, was already enunciated by Tertullian (De Resurrect., viii). It is treated and developed by St. Thomas Aquinas (III:62:2). Pope Eugene IV repeats this doctrine in the decree for the Armenians. In treating of the grace bestowed by baptism, we presume that the recipient of the sacrament puts no obstacle (obex) in the way of sacramental grace. In an infant, of course, this would be impossible, and as a consequence, the infant receives at once all the baptismal grace. It is otherwise in the case of an adult, for in such a one it is necessary that the requisite dispositions of the soul be present.

The Council of Trent (Sess. VI, c. vii) states that each one receives grace according to his disposition and co-operation. We are not to confound an obstacle (obex) to the sacrament itself with an obstacle to the sacramental grace. In the first case, there is implied a defect in the matter or form, or a lack of the requisite intention on the part of minister or recipient, and then the sacrament would be simply null. But even if all these essential requisites for constituting the sacrament be present, there can still be an obstacle put in the way of the sacramental grace, inasmuch as an adult might receive baptism with improper motives or without real detestation for sin. In that case the person would indeed be validly baptized, but he would not participate in the sacramental grace. If, however, at a later time he made amends for the past, the obstacle would be removed and he would obtain the grace which he had failed to receive when the sacrament was conferred upon him. In such a case the sacrament is said to revive and there could be no question of rebaptism.

(5) Impression of a Character on the Soul

Finally, baptism, once validly conferred, can never be repeated. The Fathers (St. Ambrose, Chrysostom, and others) so understand the words of St. Paul (Hebrews 6:4), and this has been the constant teaching of the Church both Eastern and Western from the earliest times. On this account, baptism is said to impress an ineffaceable character on the soul, which the Tridentine Fathers call a spiritual and indelible mark. That baptism (as well as Confirmation and Holy orders) really does imprint such a character, is defined explicitly by the Council of Trent (Sess. VII, can. ix). St. Cyril (Præp. in Cat.) calls baptism a "holy and indelible seal", and Clement of Alexandria (De Div. Serv., xlii), "the seal of the Lord". St. Augustine compares this character or mark imprinted upon the Christian soul with the character militaris impressed upon soldiers in the imperial service. St. Thomas treats of the nature of this indelible seal, or character, in the Summa (III:63:2).

The early leaders of the so-called Reformation held very different doctrines from those of Christian antiquity on the effects of baptism. Luther (De Captiv. Bab.) and Calvin (Antid. C. Trid.) held that this sacrament made the baptized certain of the perpetual grace of adoption. Others declared that the calling to mind of one's baptism would free him from sins committed after it; others again, that transgressions of the Divine law, although sins in themselves, would not be imputed as sins to the baptized person provided he had faith. The decrees of the Council of Trent, drawn up in opposition to the then prevailing errors, bear witness to the many strange and novel theories broached by various exponents of the nascent Protestant theology.


The Church distinguishes between the ordinary and the extraordinary minister of baptism. A distinction is also made as to the mode of administration. Solemn baptism is that which is conferred with all the rites and ceremonies prescribed by the Church, and private baptism is that which may be administered at any time or place according to the exigencies of necessity. At one time solemn and public baptism was conferred in the Latin Church only during the paschal season and Whitsuntide. The Orientals administered it likewise at the Epiphany.

(1) Ordinary Minister

The ordinary minister of solemn baptism is first the bishop and second the priest. By delegation, a deacon may confer the sacrament solemnly as an extraordinary minister.

Bishops are said to be ordinary ministers because they are the successors of the Apostles who received directly the Divine command: "Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost."Priests are also ordinary ministers because by their office and sacred orders they are pastors of souls and administrators of the sacraments, and hence the Florentine decree declares: "The minister of this Sacrament is the priest, to whom it belongs to administer baptism by reason of his office." As, however, bishops are superior to priests by the Divine law, the solemn administration of this sacrament was at one time reserved to the bishops, and a priest never administered this sacrament in the presence of a bishop unless commanded to do so. How ancient this discipline was, may be seen from Tertullian (De Bapt., xvii):

The right to confer baptism belongs to the chief priest who is the bishop, then to priests and deacons, but not without the authorization of the bishop.

Ignatius (Ep. ad Smyr., viii): "It is not lawful to baptize or celebrate the agape without the bishop." St. Jerome (Contra Lucif., ix) witnesses to the same usage in his days: "Without chrism and the command of the bishop, neither priest nor deacon has the right of conferring baptism."

Deacons are only extraordinary ministers of solemn baptism, as by their office they are assistants to the priestly order. St. Isidore of Seville (De Eccl, Off., ii, 25) says: "It is plain that baptism is to be conferred by priests only, and it is not lawful even for deacons to administer it without permission of the bishop or priest." That deacons were, however, ministers of this sacrament by delegation is evident from the quotations adduced. In the service of ordination of a deacon, the bishop says to the candidate: "It behooves a deacon to minister at the altar, to baptize and to preach." Philip the deacon is mentioned in the Bible (Acts 8) as conferring baptism, presumably by delegation of the Apostles.

It is to be noted that though every priest, in virtue of his ordination is the ordinary minister of baptism, yet by ecclesiastical decrees he can not use this power licitly unless he has jurisdiction. Hence the Roman Ritual declares: The legitimate minister of baptism is the parish priest, or any other priest delegated by the parish priest or the bishop of the place." The Second Plenary Council of Baltimore adds: "Priests are deserving of grave reprehension who rashly baptize infants of another parish or of another diocese." St. Alphonsus (n. 114) says that parents who bring their children for baptism without necessity to a priest other than their own pastor, are guilty of sin because they violate the rights of the parish priest. He adds, however, that other priests may baptize such children, if they have the permission, whether express, or tacit, or even reasonably presumed, of the proper pastor. Those who have no settled place of abode may be baptized by the pastor of any church they choose.

(2) Extraordinary Minister

In case of necessity, baptism can be administered lawfully and validly by any person whatsoever who observes the essential conditions, whether this person be a Catholic layman or any other man or woman, heretic or schismatic, infidel or Jew.

The essential conditions are that the person pour water upon the one to be baptized, at the same time pronouncing the words: "I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." Moreover, he must thereby intend really to baptize the person, or technically, he must intend to perform what the Church performs when administering this sacrament.

The Roman Ritual adds that, even in conferring baptism in cases of necessity, there is an order of preference to be followed as to the minister. This order is: if a priest be present, he is to be preferred to a deacon, a deacon to a subdeacon, a cleric to a layman, and a man to a woman, unless modesty should require (as in cases of childbirth) that no other than the female be the minister, or again, unless the female should understand better the method of baptizing. The Ritual also says that the father or mother should not baptize their own child, except in danger of death when no one else is at hand who could administer the sacrament. Pastors are also directed by the Ritual to teach the faithful, and especially midwives, the proper method of baptizing. When such private baptism is administered, the other ceremonies of the rite are supplied later by a priest, if the recipient of the sacrament survives.

This right of any person whatsoever to baptize in case of necessity is in accord with the constant tradition and practice of the Church. Tertullian (De Bapt., vii) says, speaking of laymen who have an opportunity to administer baptism: "He will be guilty of the loss of a soul, if he neglects to confer what he freely can," St. Jerome (Adv. Lucif., ix): "In case of necessity, we know that it is also allowable for a layman [to baptize]; for as a person receives, so may he give," The Fourth Council of the Lateran (cap. Firmiter) decrees: "The Sacrament of Baptism . . . no matter by whom conferred is available to salvation," St. Isidore of Seville (can. Romanus de cons., iv) declares: "The Spirit of God administers the grace of baptism, although it be a pagan who does the baptizing," Pope Nicholas I teaches the Bulgarians (Resp, 104) that baptism by a Jew or a pagan is valid.

Owing to the fact that women are barred from enjoying any species of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, the question necessarily arose concerning their ability to bestow valid baptism. Tertullian (De Bapt., xvii) strongly opposes the administration of this sacrament by women, but he does not declare it void. In like manner, St. Epiphanius (Hær., lxxix) says of females: "Not even the power of baptizing has been granted to them", but he is speaking of solemn baptism, which is a function of the priesthood. Similar expressions may be found in the writings of other Fathers, but only when they are opposing the grotesque doctrine of some heretics, like the Marcionites, Pepuzians, and Cataphrygians, who wished to make Christian priestesses of women. The authoritative decision of the Church, however, is plain. Pope Urban II (c. Super quibus, xxx, 4) writes, "It is true baptism if a woman in case of necessity baptizes a child in the name of the Trinity." The Florentine decree for the Armenians says explicitly: "In case of necessity, not only a priest or a deacon, but even a layman or woman, nay even a pagan or heretic may confer baptism."

The main reason for this extension of power as to the administration of baptism is of course that the Church has understood from the beginning that this was the will of Christ. St. Thomas (III:62:3) says that owing to the absolute necessity of baptism for the salvation of souls, it is in accordance with the mercy of God, who wishes all to be saved, that the means of obtaining this sacrament should be put, as far as possible, within the reach of all; and as for that reason the matter of the sacrament was made of common water, which can most easily be had, so in like manner it was only proper that every man should be made its minister. Finally, it is to be noted that, by the law of the Church, the person administering baptism, even in cases of necessity, contracts a spiritual relationship with the child and its parents. This relationship constitutes an impediment that would make a subsequent marriage with any of them null and void unless a dispensation were obtained beforehand. See AFFINITY.


Every living human being, not yet baptized, is the subject of this sacrament.

(1) Baptism of Adults

As regards adults there is no difficulty or controversy. Christ's command excepts no one when He bids the Apostles teach all nations and baptize them.

(2) Baptism of Infants

Infant baptism has, however, been the subject of much dispute. The Waldenses and Cathari and later the Anabaptists, rejected the doctrine that infants are capable of receiving valid baptism, and some sectarians at the present day hold the same opinion.

The Catholic Church, however, maintains absolutely that the law of Christ applies as well to infants as to adults. When the Redeemer declares (John 3) that it is necessary to be born again of water and the Holy Ghost in order to enter the Kingdom of God, His words may be justly understood to mean that He includes all who are capable of having a right to this kingdom. Now, He has asserted such a right even for those who are not adults, when He says (Matthew 19:14): "Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come to me: for the kingdom of heaven is for such." It has been objected that this latter text does not refer to infants, inasmuch as Christ says "to come to me". In the parallel passage in St. Luke (18:15), however, the text reads: "And they brought unto him also infants, that he might touch them"; and then follow the words cited from St. Matthew. In the Greek text, the words brephe and prosepheron refer to infants in arms.

Moreover, St. Paul (Colossians 2) says that baptism in the New Law has taken the place of circumcision in the Old. It was especially to infants that the rite of circumcision was applied by Divine precept. If it be said that there is no example of the baptism of infants to be found in the Bible, we may answer that infants are included in such phrases as: "She was baptized and her household" (Acts 16:15); "Himself was baptized, and all his house immediately" (Acts 16:33); "I baptized the household of Stephanus" (1 Corinthians 1:16). The tradition of Christian antiquity as to the necessity of infant baptism is clear from the very beginning. We have given many striking quotations on this subject already, in dealing with the necessity of baptism. A few, therefore, will suffice here.

Origen (in cap. vi, Ep. ad Rom.) declares: "The Church received from the Apostles the tradition of giving baptism also to infants". St. Augustine (Serm. xi, De Verb Apost.) says of infant baptism: "This the Church always had, always held; this she received from the faith of our ancestors; this she perseveringly guards even to the end." St. Cyprian (Ep. ad Fidum) writes: "From baptism and from grace . . . must not be kept the infant who, because recently born, has committed no sin, except, inasmuch as it was born carnally from Adam, it has contracted the contagion of the ancient death in its first nativity; and it comes to receive the remission of sins more easily on this very account that not its own, but another's sins are forgiven it."

St.Cyprian's letter to Fidus declares that the Council of Carthage in 253 reprobated the opinion that the baptism of infants should be delayed until the eighth day after birth.

The Council of Milevis in 416 anathematizes whosoever says that infants lately born are not to be baptized.

The Council of Trent solemnly defines the doctrine of infant baptism (Sess. VII, can. xiii). It also condemns (can. xiv) the opinion of Erasmus that those who had been baptized in infancy, should be left free to ratify or reject the baptismal promises after they had become adult.

Theologians also call attention to the fact that as God sincerely wishes all men to be saved, He does not exclude infants, for whom baptism of either water or blood is the only means possible. The doctrines also of the universality of original sin and of the all-comprehending atonement of Christ are stated so plainly and absolutely in Scripture as to leave no solid reason for denying that infants are included as well as adults.

To the objection that baptism requires faith, theologians reply that adults must have faith, but infants receive habitual faith, which is infused into them in the sacrament of regeneration. As to actual faith, they believe on the faith of another; as St. Augustine (De Verb. Apost., xiv, xviii) beautifully says: "He believes by another, who has sinned by another."

As to the obligation imposed by baptism, the infant is obliged to fulfill them in proportion to its age and capacity, as is the case with all laws. Christ, it is true, prescribed instruction and actual faith for adults as necessary for baptism (Matthew 28; Mark 16), but in His general law on the necessity of the sacrament (John 3) He makes absolutely no restriction as to the subject of baptism; and consequently while infants are included in the law, they can not be required to fulfill conditions that are utterly impossible at their age. While not denying the validity of infant baptism, Tertullian (De Bapt., xviii) desired that the sacrament be not conferred upon them until they have attained the use of reason, on account of the danger of profaning their baptism as youths amid the allurements of pagan vice. In like manner, St. Gregory Nazianzen (Or. xl, De Bapt.) thought that baptism, unless there was danger of death, should be deferred until the child was three years old, for then it could hear and respond at the ceremonies. Such opinions, however, were shared by few, and they contain no denial of the validity of infant baptism. It is true that the Council of Neocæsarea (can. vi) declares that an infant can not be baptized in its mother's womb, but it was teaching only that neither the baptism of the mother nor her faith is common to her and the infant in her womb, but are acts peculiar to the mother alone.

(3) Baptism of Unborn Infants

This leads to the baptism of infants in cases of difficult delivery. When the Roman Ritual declares that a child is not to be baptized while still enclosed (clausus) in its mother's womb, it supposes that the baptismal water can not reach the body of the child. When, however, this seems possible, even with the aid of an instrument, Benedict XIV (Syn. Diaec., vii, 5) declares that midwives should be instructed to confer conditional baptism. The Ritual further says that when the water can flow upon the head of the infant the sacrament is to be administered absolutely; but if it can be poured only on some other part of the body, baptism is indeed to be conferred, but it must be conditionally repeated in case the child survives its birth, It is to be noted that in these last two cases, the rubric of the Ritual supposes that the infant has partly emerged from the womb. For if the fetus was entirely enclosed, baptism is to be repeated conditionally in all cases (Lehmkuhl, n, 61).

In case of the death of the mother, the fetus is to be immediately extracted and baptized, should there be any life in it. Infants have been taken alive from the womb well after the mother's death. After the Cæsarean incision has been performed, the fetus may be conditionally baptized before extraction if possible; if the sacrament is administered after its removal from the womb the baptism is to be absolute, provided it is certain that life remains. If after extraction it is doubtful whether it be still alive, it is to be baptized under the condition: "If thou art alive". Physicians, mothers, and midwives ought to be reminded of the grave obligation of administering baptism under these circumstances. It is to be borne in mind that according to the prevailing opinion among the learned, the fetus is animated by a human soul from the very beginning of its conception. In cases of delivery where the issue is a mass that is not certainly animated by human life, it is to be baptized conditionally: "If thou art a man."

(4) Baptism of Insane Persons

The perpetually insane, who have never had the use of reason, are in the same category as infants in what relates to the conferring of baptism, and consequently the sacrament is valid if administered.

If at one time they had been sane, baptism bestowed upon them during their insanity would be probably invalid unless they had shown a desire for it before losing their reason. Moralists teach that, in practice, this latter class may always be baptized conditionally, when it is uncertain whether or not they had ever asked for baptism (Sabetti, no. 661). In this connection it is to be remarked that, according to many writers, anyone who has a wish to receive all things necessary to salvation, has at the same time an implicit desire for baptism, and that a more specific desire is not absolutely necessary.

(5) Foundlings

Foundlings are to be baptized conditionally, if there is no means of finding out whether they have been validly baptized or not. If a note has been left with a foundling stating that it had already received baptism, the more common opinion is that it should nevertheless be given conditional baptism, unless circumstances should make it plain that baptism had undoubtedly been conferred. O'Kane (no. 214) says that the same rule is to be followed when midwives or other lay persons have baptized infants in case of necessity.

(6) Baptism of the Children of Jewish and Infidel Parents

The question is also discussed as to whether the infant children of Jews or infidels may be baptized against the will of their parents. To the general query, the answer is a decided negative, because such a baptism would violate the natural rights of parents, and the infant would later be exposed to the danger of perversion. We say this, of course, only in regard to the liceity of such a baptism, for if it were actually administered it would undoubtedly be valid. St. Thomas (III:68:10) is very express in denying the lawfulness of imparting such baptism, and this has been the constant judgment of the Holy See, as is evident from various decrees of the Sacred Congregations and of Pope Benedict XIV (II Bullarii). We say the answer is negative to the general question, because particular circumstances may require a different response. For it would undoubtedly be licit to impart such baptism if the children were in proximate danger of death; or if they had been removed from the parental care and there was no likelihood of their returning to it; or if they were perpetually insane; or if one of the parents were to consent to the baptism; or finally, if, after the death of the father, the paternal grandfather would be willing, even though the mother objected. If the children were, however, not infants, but had the use of reason and were sufficiently instructed, they should be baptized when prudence dictated such a course.

In the celebrated case of the Jewish child, Edgar Mortara, Pius IX indeed ordered that he should be brought up as a Catholic, even against the will of his parents, but baptism had already been administered to him some years before when in danger of death.

(7) Baptism of the Children of Protestant Parents

It is not licit to baptize children against the will of their Protestant parents; for their baptism would violate parental right, expose them to the danger of perversion, and be contrary to the practice of the Church. Kenrick also strongly condemns nurses who baptize the children of Protestants unless they are in danger of death.

(8) Baptism with the Consent of Non-Catholic Parents

Should a priest baptize the child of non-Catholic parents if they themselves desire it? He certainly can do so if there is reason to hope that the child will be brought up a Catholic (Conc. Prov, Balt., I, decr, x). An even greater security for the Catholic education of such child would be the promise of one or both parents that they themselves will embrace the Faith.

(9) Baptism of the Dead

Concerning baptism for the dead, a curious and difficult passage in St. Paul's Epistle has given rise to some controversy. The Apostle says: "Otherwise what shall they do that are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not again at all? Why are they then baptized for them?" (1 Corinthians 15:29). There seems to be no question here of any such absurd custom as conferring baptism on corpses, as was practiced later by some heretical sects. It has been conjectured that this otherwise unknown usage of the Corinthians consisted in some living person receiving a symbolic baptism as representing another who had died with the desire of becoming a Christian, but had been prevented from realizing his wish for baptism by an unforeseen death. Those who give this explanation say that St. Paul merely refers to this custom of the Corinthians as an argumentum ad hominem, when discussing the resurrection of the dead, without approving the usage mentioned.

Archbishop MacEvilly in his exposition of the Epistles of St. Paul, holds a different opinion. He paraphrases St. Paul's text as follows: "Another argument in favor of the resurrection. If the dead will not arise, what means the profession of faith in the resurrection of the dead, made at baptism? Why are we all baptized with a profession of our faith in their resurrection?" The archbishop comments, as follows:

It is almost impossible to glean anything like certainty as to the meaning of these very abstruse words, from the host of interpretations that have been hazarded regarding them (see Calmet's Dissertation on the matter). In the first place, every interpretation referring the words 'baptized', or 'dead' to either erroneous or evil practices, which men might have employed to express their belief in the doctrine of the resurrection, should be rejected; as it appears by no means likely that the Apostle would ground an argument, even though it were what the logicians call an argumentum ad hominem, on either a vicious or erroneous practice.

Besides, such a system of reasoning would be quite inconclusive. Hence, the words should not be referred to either the Clinics, baptized at the hour of death, or to the vicarious baptisms in use among the Jews, for their departed friends who departed without baptism.

The interpretation adopted in the paraphrase makes the words refer to the Sacrament of Baptism, which all were obliged to approach with faith in the resurrection of the dead as a necessary condition. 'Credo in resurrectionem mortuorum'. This interpretation -- the one adopted by St. Chrysostom -- has the advantage of giving the words 'baptized' and 'dead' their literal signification.

The only inconvenience in it is that the word resurrection is introduced. But, it is understood from the entire context, and is warranted by a reference to other passages of Scripture. For, from the Epistle of the Hebrews (6:2) it appears that a knowledge of the faith of the resurrection was one of the elementary points of instruction required for adult baptism; and hence the Scriptures themselves furnish the ground for the introduction of the word. There is another probable interpretation, which understands the words 'baptism' and 'dead' in a metaphorical sense, and refers them to the sufferings which the Apostles and heralds of salvation underwent to preach the Gospel to the infidels, dead to grace and spiritual life, with the hope of making them sharers in the glory of a happy resurrection. The word 'baptism' is employed in this sense in Scripture, even by our divine Redeemer Himself -- 'I have a baptism wherewith to be baptized', etc. And the word 'dead' is employed in several parts of the New Testament to designate those spiritually dead to grace and justice. In the Greek, the words 'for the dead', uper ton nekron that is, on account of or, in behalf of the dead, would serve to confirm, in some degree, this latter interpretation.

These appear to be the most probable of the interpretations of this passage; each, no doubt, has its difficulties. The meaning of the words was known to the Corinthians at the time of the Apostle. All that can be known of their meaning at this remote period, can not exceed the bounds of probable conjecture.

(loc. cit., chap. xv; cf. also Cornely in Ep. I Cor.)


(1) Baptistery

According to the canons of the Church, baptism except in case of necessity is to be administered in churches (Conc. Prov. Balt., I, Decree 16). The Roman Ritual says: "Churches in which there is a baptismal font, or where there is a baptistery close to the church". The term "baptistery" is commonly used for the space set aside for the conferring of baptism. In like manner the Greeks use photisterion for the same purpose -- a word derived from St. Paul's designation of baptism as an "illumination".

The words of the Ritual just cited, however, mean by "baptistery", a separate building constructed for the purpose of administering baptism. Such buildings have been erected both in the East and West, as at Tyre, Padua, Pisa, Florence, and other places. In such baptisteries, besides the font, altars were also built; and here the baptism was conferred. As a rule, however, the church itself contains a railed-off space containing the baptismal font. Anciently fonts were attached only to cathedral churches, but at the present day nearly every parish church has a font. This is the sense of the Baltimore decree above cited. The Second Plenary Council of Baltimore declared, however, that if missionaries judge that the great difficulty of bringing an infant to church is a sufficient reason for baptizing in a private house, then they are to administer the sacrament with all the prescribed rites.

The ordinary law of the Church is that when private baptism is conferred, the remaining ceremonies are to be supplied not in the house but in the church itself. The Ritual also directs that the font be of solid material, so that the baptismal water may be safely kept in it. A railing is to surround the font, and a representation of St. John baptizing Christ should adorn it. The cover of the font usually contains the holy oils used in baptism, and this cover must be under lock and key, according to the Ritual.

(2) Baptismal Water

In speaking of the matter of baptism, we stated that true, natural water is all that is required for its validity. In administering solemn baptism, however the Church prescribes that the water used should have been consecrated on Holy Saturday or on the eve of Pentecost. For the liceity (not validity) of the sacrament, therefore, the priest is obliged to use consecrated water. This custom is so ancient that we can not discover its origin. It is found in the most ancient liturgies of the Latin and Greek Churches and is mentioned in the Apostolic Constitutions (VII, 43). The ceremony of its consecration is striking and symbolic. After signing the water with the cross, the priest divides it with his hand and casts it to the four corners of the earth. This signifies the baptizing of all the nations. Then he breathes upon the water and immerses the paschal candle in it.

Next he pours into the water, first the oil of catechumens and then the sacred chrism, and lastly both holy oils together, pronouncing appropriate prayers. But what if during the year, the supply of consecrated water should be insufficient? In that case, the Ritual declares that the priest may add common water to what remains, but only in less quantity. If the consecrated water appears putrid, the priest must examine whether or not it is really so, for the appearance may be caused only by the admixture of the sacred oils. If it has really become putrid, the font is to be renovated and fresh water to be blessed by a form given in the Ritual. In the United States, the Holy See has sanctioned a short formula for the consecration of baptismal water (Conc. Plen. Balt., II).

(3) Holy Oils

In baptism, the priest uses the oil of catechumens, which is olive oil, and chrism, the latter being a mixture of balsam and oil. The oils are consecrated by the bishop on Maundy Thursday. The anointing in baptism is recorded by St. Justin, St. John Chrysostom, and other ancient Fathers. Pope Innocent I declares that the chrism is to be applied to the crown of the head, not to the forehead, for the latter is reserved to bishops. The same may be found in the Sacramentaries of St. Gregory and St. Gelasius (Martene, I, i). In the Greek Rite the oil of catechumens is blessed by the priest during the baptismal ceremony.

(4) Sponsors

When infants are solemnly baptized, persons assist at the ceremony to make profession of the faith in the child's name. This practice comes from antiquity and is witnessed to by Tertullian, St. Basil, St. Augustine, and others. Such persons are designated sponsores, offerentes, susceptores, fidejussores, and patrini. The English term is godfather and godmother, or in Anglo-Saxon, gossip.

These sponsors, in default of the child's parents, are obliged to instruct it concerning faith and morals. One sponsor is sufficient and not more than two are allowed. In the latter case, one should be male and the other female. The object of these restrictions is the fact that the sponsor contracts a spiritual relationship to the child and its parents which would be an impediment to marriage. Sponsors must themselves be baptized persons having the use of reason and they must have been designated as sponsors by the priest or parents. During the baptism they must physically touch the child either personally or by proxy. They are required, moreover, to have the intention of really assuming the obligations of godparents. It is desirable that they should have been confirmed, but this is not absolutely necessary. Certain persons are prohibited from acting as sponsors. They are: members of religious orders, married persons in respect to each other, or parents to their children, and in general those who are objectionable on such grounds as infidelity, heresy, excommunication, or who are members of condemned secret societies, or public sinners (Sabetti, no. 663). Sponsors are also used in the solemn baptism of adults. They are never necessary in private baptism.

(5) Baptismal Name

From the earliest times names were given in baptism. The priest is directed to see that obscene, fabulous, and ridiculous names, or those of heathen gods or of infidel men be not imposed. On the contrary the priest is to recommend the names of saints. This rubric is not a rigorous precept, but it is an instruction to the priest to do what he can in the matter. If parents are unreasonably obstinate, the priest may add a saint's name to the one insisted upon.

(6) Baptismal Robe

In the primitive Church, a white robe was worn by the newly baptized for a certain period after the ceremony (St. Ambrose, De Myst., c. vii). As solemn baptisms usually took place on the eves of Easter or Pentecost, the white garments became associated with those festivals. Thus, Sabbatum in Albis and Dominica in Albis received their names from the custom of putting off at that time the baptismal robe which had been worn since the previous vigil of Easter. It is thought that the English name for Pentecost -- Whitsunday or Whitsuntide, also derived its appellation from the white garments of the newly baptized. In our present ritual, a white veil is placed momentarily on the head of the catechumen as a substitute for the baptismal robe.


The rites that accompany the baptismal ablution are as ancient as they are beautiful. The writings of the early Fathers and the antique liturgies show that most of them are derived from Apostolic times.

The infant is brought to the door of the church by the sponsors, where it is met by the priest. After the godparents have asked faith from the Church of God in the child's name, the priest breathes upon its face and exorcises the evil spirit. St. Augustine (Ep. cxciv, Ad Sixtum) makes use of this Apostolic practice of exorcising to prove the existence of original sin. Then the infant's forehead and breast are signed with the cross, the symbol of redemption. Next follows the imposition of hands, a custom certainly as old as the Apostles. Some blessed salt is now placed in the mouth of the child. "When salt", says the Catechism of the Council of Trent "is put into the mouth of person to be baptized, it evidently imports that, by the doctrine of faith and the gift of grace, he should be delivered from the corruption of sin, experience a relish for good works, and be delighted with the food of divine wisdom."

Placing his stole over the child the priest introduces it into the church, and on the way to the font the sponsors make a profession of faith for the infant. The priest now touches the ears and nostrils of the child with spittle. The symbolic meaning is thus explained (Cat. C. Trid.) "His nostrils and ears are next touched with spittle and he is immediately sent to the baptismal font, that, as sight was restored to the blind man mentioned in the Gospel, whom the Lord, after having spread clay over his eyes, commanded to wash them in the waters of Siloe; so also he may understand that the efficacy of the sacred ablution is such as to bring light to the mind to discern heavenly truth." The catechumen now makes the triple renunciation of Satan, his works and his pomps, and he is anointed with the oil of catechumens on the breast and between the shoulders: "On the breast, that by the gift of the Holy Ghost, he may cast off error and ignorance and may receive the true faith, 'for the just man liveth by faith' (Galatians 3:11); on the shoulders, that by the grace of the Holy Spirit, he may shake off negligence and torpor and engage in the performance of good works; 'faith without works is dead' (James 2:26)", says the Catechism. The infant now, through its sponsors, makes a declaration of faith and asks for baptism. The priest, having meantime changed his violet stole for a white one, then administers the threefold ablution, making the sign of the cross three times with the stream of water he pours on the head of the child, saying at the same time: "N___, I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." The sponsors during the ablution either hold the child or at least touch it. If the baptism be given by immersion, the priest dips the back part of the head three times into the water in the form of a cross, pronouncing the sacramental words. The crown of the child's head is now anointed with chrism, "to give him to understand that from that day he is united as a member to Christ, his head, and engrafted on His body; and therefore he is called a Christian from Christ, but Christ from chrism" (Catech.). A white veil is now put on the infant's head with the words: "Receive this white garment, which mayest thou carry without stain before the judgment seat of Our Lord Jesus Christ, that thou mayest have eternal life. Amen." Then a lighted candle is placed in the catechumen's hand, the priest saying: "Receive this burning light, and keep thy baptism so as to be without blame. Observe the commandments of God; that, when Our Lord shall come to His nuptials, thou mayest meet Him together with all the Saints and mayest have life everlasting, and live for ever and ever. Amen." The new Christian is then bidden to go in peace.

In the baptism of adults, all the essential ceremonies are the same as for infants. There are, however, some impressive additions. The priest wears the cope over his other vestments, and he should be attended by a number of clerics or at least by two. While the catechumen waits outside the church door, the priest recites some prayers at the altar. Then he proceeds to the place where the candidate is, and asks him the questions and performs the exorcisms almost as prescribed in the ritual for infants. Before administering the blessed salt, however, he requires the catechumen to make an explicit renunciation of the form of error to which he had formerly adhered, and he is then signed with the cross on the brow, ears, eyes, nostrils, mouth, breast, and between the shoulders. Afterwards, the candidate, on bended knees, recites three several times the Lord's Prayer, and a cross is made on his forehead, first by the godfather and then by the priest. After this, taking him by the hand, the priest leads him into the church, where he adores prostrate and then rising he recites the Apostles' Creed and the Lord's Prayer. The other ceremonies are practically the same as for infants. It is to be noted that owing to the difficulty of carrying out with proper splendor the ritual for baptizing adults, the bishops of the United States obtained permission from the Holy See to make use of the ceremonial of infant baptism instead. This general dispensation lasted until 1857, when the ordinary law of the Church went into force. (See COUNCILS OF BALTIMORE.) Some American dioceses, however, obtained individual permissions to continue the use of the ritual for infants when administering adult baptism.


The name "baptism" is sometimes applied improperly to other ceremonies.

(1) Baptism of Bells

This name has been given to the blessing of bells, at least in France, since the eleventh century. It is derived from the washing of the bell with holy water by the bishop, before he anoints it with the oil of the infirm without and with chrism within. A fuming censer is then placed under it. The bishop prays that these sacramentals of the Church may, at the sound of the bell, put the demons to flight, protect from storms, and call the faithful to prayer.

(2) Baptism of Ships

At least since the time of the Crusades, rituals have contained a blessing for ships. The priest begs God to bless the vessel and protect those who sail in it, as He did the ark of Noah, and Peter, when the Apostle was sinking in the sea. The ship is then sprinkled with holy water.

Publication information Written by William H.W. Fanning. Transcribed by Charles Sweeney, S.J.. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York


Jewish Viewpoint Information

A religious ablution signifying purification or consecration. The natural method of cleansing the body by washing and bathing in water was always customary in Israel (see Ablution, Bathing). The washing of their clothes was an important means of sanctification enjoined on the Israelites before the Revelation on Mt. Sinai (Ex. xix. 10). The Rabbis connect with this the duty of bathing by complete immersion ("ṭebilah," Yeb. 46b; Mek., Baḥodesh, iii.); and since sprinkling with blood was always accompanied by immersion, tradition connects with this immersion the blood lustration mentioned as having also taken place immediately before the Revelation (Ex. xxiv. 8), these three acts being the initiatory rites always performed upon proselytes, "to bring them under the wings of the Shekinah" (Yeb. l.c.).

With reference to Ezek. xxxvi. 25, "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean," R. Akiba, in the second century, made the utterance: "Blessed art thou, O Israel! Before whom dost thou cleanse thyself? and who cleanses thee? Thy Father in heaven!" (Yoma viii. 9). Accordingly, Baptism is not merely for the purpose of expiating a special transgression, as is the case chiefly in the violation of the so-called Levitical laws of purity; but it is to form a part of holy living and to prepare for the attainment of a closer communion with God. This thought is expressed in the well-known passage in Josephus in which he speaks of John the Baptist ("Ant." xviii. 5, § 2): "The washing would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away of some sins, but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness."

John symbolized the call to repentance by Baptism in the Jordan (Matt. iii. 6 and parallel passages); and the same measure for attaining to holiness was employed by the Essenes, whose ways of life John also observed in all other respects. Josephus says of his instructor Banus, an Essene, that he "bathed himself in cold water frequently, both by night and by day" ("Vita," § 2), and that the same practise was observed by all the Essenes ("B. J." ii. 8, § 5). The only conception of Baptism at variance with Jewish ideas is displayed in the declaration of John, that the one who would come after him would not baptize with water, but with the Holy Ghost (Mark i. 8; John i. 27). Yet a faint resemblance to the notion is displayed in the belief expressed in the Talmud that the Holy Spirit could be drawn upon as water is drawn from a well (based upon Isa. xii. 3; Yer. Suk. v. 1, 55a of Joshua b. Levi). And there is a somewhat Jewish tinge even to the prophecy of the evangelists Matthew (iii. 11) and Luke (iii. 16), who declare that Jesus will baptize with fire as well as with the Holy Ghost; for, according to Abbahu, true Baptism is performed with fire (Sanh. 39a). Both the statement of Abbahu and of the Evangelists must of course be taken metaphorically. The expression that the person baptized is illuminated (φωτισθείς, Justin, "Apologiæ," i. 65) has the same significance as is implied in telling a proselyte to Judaism, after his bath, that he now belongs to Israel, the people beloved of God (Yeb. 47a; Gerim i.).

According to rabbinical teachings, which dominated even during the existence of the Temple (Pes. viii. 8), Baptism, next to circumcision and sacrifice, was an absolutely necessary condition to be fulfilled by a proselyte to Judaism (Yeb. 46b, 47b; Ker. 9a; 'Ab. Zarah 57a; Shab. 135a; Yer. Kid. iii. 14, 64d). Circumcision, however, was much more important, and, like baptism, was called a "seal" (Schlatter, "Die Kirche Jerusalems," 1898, p. 70). But as circumcision was discarded by Christianity, and the sacrifices had ceased, Baptism remained the sole condition for initiation into religious life. The next ceremony, adopted shortly after the others, was the imposition of hands, which, it is known, was the usage of the Jews at the ordination of a rabbi. Anointing with oil, which at first also accompanied the act of Baptism, and was analogous to the anointment of priests among the Jews, was not a necessary condition. The new significance that Christianity read into the word "Baptism," and the new purpose with which it executed the act of Baptism, as well as the conception of its magical effect, are all in the line of the natural development of Christianity. The original form of Baptism-frequent bathing in cold water-remained in use later among the sects that had a somewhat Jewish character, such as the Ebionites, Baptists, and Hemerobaptists (compare Ber. iii. 6); and at the present day the Sabeans and Mandeans deem frequent bathing a duty (compare Sibyllines, iv. 164, in which, even in Christian times, the heathens are invited to bathe in streams).

Baptism was practised in ancient (Ḥasidic or Essene) Judaism, first as a means of penitence, as is learned from the story of Adam and Eve, who, in order to atone for their sin, stood up to the neck in the water, fasting and doing penance-Adam in the Jordan for forty days, Eve in the Tigris for thirty-seven days (Vita Adæ et Evæ, i. 5-8). According to Pirḳe R. El. xx., Adam stood for forty-nine days up to his neck in the River Gihon. Likewise is the passage, "They drew water and poured it out before the Lord and fasted on that day, and said, 'We have sinned against the Lord'" (I Sam. vii. 6), explained (see Targ. Yer. and Midrash Samuel, eodem; also Yer. Ta'anit ii. 7, 65d) as meaning that Israel poured out their hearts in repentance; using the water as a symbol according to Lam. ii. 19, "Pour out thine heart like water before the Lord." Of striking resemblance to the story in Matt. iii. 1-17 and in Luke iii. 3, 22, is the haggadic interpretation of Gen. i. 2 in Gen. R. ii. and Tan., Buber's Introduction, p. 153: "The spirit of God (hovering like a bird with outstretched wings), manifested in the spirit of the Messiah, will come [or "the Holy One, blessed be He! will spread His wings and bestow His grace"] upon Israel," owing to Israel's repentance symbolized by the water in accordance with Lam. ii. 19. To receive the spirit of God, or to be permitted to stand in the presence of God (His Shekinah), man must undergo Baptism (Tan., Meẓora', 6, ed. Buber, p. 46), wherefore in the Messianic time God will Himself pour water of purification upon Israel in accordance with Ezek. xxxvi. 25 (Tan., Meẓora', 9-17, 18, ed. Buber, pp. 43, 53). In order to pronounce the name of God in prayer in perfect purity,the Essenes () underwent Baptism every morning (Tosef., Yad. ii. 20; Simon of Sens to Yad. iv. 9; and Ber. 22a; compare with Ḳid. 70a, "The Name must be guarded with purity"). Philo frequently refers to these acts of purification in preparation for the holy mysteries to be received by the initiated ("De Somniis," xiv.; "De Profugis," vii.; "Quis Rerum Divinarum Heres Sit?" xviii. xxiii.; "Quod Deus Sit Immutabilis," ii.; "De Posteritate Caini," xiv., xxviii.).

The Baptism of the proselyte has for its purpose his cleansing from the impurity of idolatry, and the restoration to the purity of a new-born man. This may be learned from the Talmud (Soṭah 12b) in regard to Pharaoh's daughter, whose bathing in the Nile is explained by Simon b. Yoḥai to have been for that purpose. The bathing in the water is to constitute a rebirth, wherefore "the ger is like a child just born" (Yeb. 48b); and he must bathe "in the name of God"-"leshem shamayim"-that is, assume the yoke of Gcd's kingdom imposed upon him by the one who leads him to Baptism ("maṭbil"), or else he is not admitted into Judaism (Gerim. vii. 8). For this very reason the Israelites before the acceptance of the Law had, according to Philo on the Decalogue ("De Decalogo," ii., xi.), as well as according to rabbinical tradition, to undergo the rite of baptismal purification (compare I Cor. x. 2, "They were baptized unto Moses [the Law] in the clouds and in the sea").

The real significance of the rite of Baptism can not be derived from the Levitical law; but it appears to have had its origin in Babylonian or ancient Semitic practise. As it was the special service administered by Elisha, as prophetic disciple to Elijah his master, to "pour out water upon his hands" (II Kings iii. 11), so did Elisha tell Naaman to bathe seven times in the Jordan, in order to recover from his leprosy (II Kings v. 10). The powers ascribed to the waters of the Jordan are expressly stated to be that they restore the unclean man to the original state of a new-born "little child." This idea underlies the prophetic hope of the fountain of purity, which is to cleanse Israel from the spirit of impurity (Zech. xiii. 1; Ezek. xxxvi. 25; compare Isa. iv. 4). Thus it is expressed in unmistakable terms in the Mandean writings and teachings (Brandt, "Mandäische Religion," pp. 99 et seq., 204 et seq.) that the living water in which man bathes is to cause his regeneration. For this reason does the writer of the fourth of the Sibylline Oracles, lines 160-166, appeal to the heathen world, saying, "Ye miserable mortals, repent; wash in living streams your entire frame with its burden of sin; lift to heaven your hands in prayer for forgiveness and cure yourselves of impiety by fear of God!" This is what John the Baptist preached to the sinners that gathered around him on the Jordan; and herein lies the significance of the bath of every proselyte. He was to be made "a new creature" (Gen. R. xxxix). For the term φωτιςθεῖς (illuminated), compare Philo on Repentance ("De Pœnitentia," i.), "The proselyte comes from darkness to light." It is quite possible that, like the initiates in the Orphic mysteries, the proselytes were, by way of symbolism, suddenly brought from darkness into light. For the rites of immersion, anointing, and the like, which the proselyte has or had to undergo, see Proselyte, Ablution, and Anointing. K.

Kaufmann Kohler, Samuel Krauss
Jewish Encyclopedia, published between 1901-1906.


: E. G. Bengel, Ueber das Alter der Jüd. Proselytentaufe, Tübingen, 1814; M. Schneckenburger, Ueber das Alter der Jüd. Proselytentaufe, Berlin, 1828; E. Renan, Les Evangiles, 2d ed., p. 167; idem, Les Apôtres, p. 96; idem, Marc-Aurèle, p. 527; Schechter, in Jewish Quarterly Review, 1900, xii. 421; Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., iii. 129; Edersheim, The Jewish Messiah, ii. 745.K. S. Kr.


Orthodox Viewpoint Information

Prayers for the New Born

Upon the birth of a child, the parish priest should be invited to the home or hospital to offer prayers for the mother and child. It is the responsibility of the father or the grandparents to notify the priest at the time of birth. Your parish priest depends upon your courtesy so that he may make the proper visitation. On the fortieth day after birth, the mother brings the child to church where the priest conducts the service of "40-Day Blessing" or "Sarantismos" for the mother and child. "The ritual of the 'churching of women after childbirth has its origin in the Middle Ages. This was the time when the liturgical life of the Church was beginning to expand and develop in imitation of the Biblical patterns. The "Church" must not be understood in an antiquated way (from the Old Testament) in the sense of a legalistic practice. (For further Old Testament knowledge, read the Book of Leviticus, Chapter 12). Rather, the ceremony of churching marks the time when the mother, having recovered physically and emotionally from the birth of her child, and having re-ordered her life around the child's care, will resume her life in the community of the Church again. She comes to the church with her child (and accompanied by her husband) to offer her thanksgiving for her child, and coming to contact with the life-giving glory of God, she asks for the forgiveness of her sins, despite her human weakness, so that she may be 'worthy to partake, uncondemned, of the Holy Mysteries," (that is Holy Communion) once again.

This ceremony, in imitation of the Old Testament ceremony to which the Mother of God submitted, was done on the fortieth day after the child's birth, but may also take place as close to the fortieth day as possible. Some request that this take place prematurely to facilitate their personal needs and desire to attend social engagements. God in His wisdom ordained that a period of six weeks lapse following childbirth before the mother resumes her life. Good advice is not to hasten this process. During the churching, the priest, in imitation of the elder Simeon (Luke, Chapter 2), takes the child up to the sanctuary, making the sign of the Cross with it and reciting the prayer of St. Simeon (Luke 2:28-32). Again, inspired by the example of Simeon's encounter with the infant Messiah, for each child has the potential to be great in the sight of the Lord, the act of churching recognizes this and also serves, as with the mother, to introduce the child to the community of faith."

On the day of churching, the parents and the child are invited to wait in the narthex of the church where they will be greeted by the priest. This takes place after the antidoron has been distributed following the Divine Liturgy. A call to the church office will help things run smoothly.


In the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, a person is incorporated into the crucified, resurrected, and glorified Christ and is reborn to participate in the divine life. Baptism is necessary for salvation (Mark 16:15-16) and in accordance with Holy Tradition must be performed by triple immersion in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20), according to the rubrics in the Prayer Book. It is conferred only once.


Orthodox Information

(This information may not be of the scholastic quality of the other articles in BELIEVE. Since few Orthodox scholarly articles have been translated into English, we have had to rely on Orthodox Wiki as a source. Since the Wikipedia collections do not indicate the author's name for articles, and essentially anyone is free to edit or alter any of their articles (again, without any indication of what was changed or who changed it), we have concerns. However, in order to include an Orthodox perspective in some of our subject presentations, we have found it necessary to do this. At least until actual scholarly Orthodox texts are translated from the Greek originals!)

Christian Baptism is the mystery of starting anew, of dying to an old way of life and being born again into a new way of life, in Christ. In the Orthodox Church, baptism is "for the remission of sins" (cf. the Nicene Creed) and for entrance into the Church; the person being baptized is cleansed of all sins and is united to Christ; through the waters of baptism he or she is mysteriously crucified and buried with Christ, and is raised with him to newness of life, having "put on" Christ (that is, having been clothed in Christ). The cleansing of sins includes the washing away of the ancestral sin.

Orthodox teaching on baptism

"We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins." These words, found in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, simply and yet boldly declare Orthodox teaching on baptism. The baptismal experience is often considered the fundamental Christian experience.

Immersion in water

The word baptize derives from baptizo, the transliterated form of the Greek word βάπτειν or baptivzw. In a historical context, it means "to dip, plunge, or immerse" something entirely, e.g. into water. Although commonly associated with Christian baptism, the word is known to have been used in other contexts. For instance, a 2nd century author named Nicander wrote down a pickle recipe which illustrates the common use of the word. He first says that the pickle should be dipped (bapto) into boiling water, followed by a complete submersion (baptizo) in a vinegar solution. The word was also used to explain the process of submerging cloth into a colored dye. The Christian ritual of water baptism traces back to Saint John the Forerunner, who the Bible says baptized many, including Jesus. Certain forms of baptism were practiced in the Old Testament. Additionally, baptism was practiced in some pagan religions as a sign of death and rebirth.

Baptism as a Mystery

In contrast to a common Protestant viewpoint, baptism is more than just a symbolic act of burial and resurrection, but an actual supernatural transformation. Baptism is believed to impart cleansing (remission) of sins and union with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection (see Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12, 3:1-4).

Full immersion is a hallmark of an Orthodox baptism.

Baptism is normally performed by the three-fold immersion of a person in the name of the Holy Trinity; in other words, a person is immersed "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," with one immersion at the mention of each person of the Holy Trinity. Baptism by pouring of water, instead of by full immersion, is not the norm for baptism in the Orthodox Church as it is in the Roman Catholic and in some Protestant churches, except in cases of necessity, where no alternative exists (please see below). Baptism is immediately followed by chrismation and Holy Communion at the next Divine Liturgy, regardless of age. Although baptism is a separate mystery (sacrament) from chrismation, normally when it is said that someone "has been baptized" this is understood to include not only baptism but chrismation as well. In some practices, first communion is also administered at once.


Adults are baptized after they have completed their time as a catechumen.

Infant Baptism

The Orthodox also practice infant baptism on the basis of various texts (e.g. Matthew 19:14) which are interpreted to condone full Church membership for children. This is generally based on a confession of faith for a child by his or her godparents. The Orthodox Church baptizes infants for the same reasons and with the same results as she baptizes adults.

Validity of a baptism

Because the Mystery of Baptism has actual spiritual and salvific effects, certain criteria must be complied with for it to be valid (i.e., to actually have those effects). Baptism in water is assumed. Violation of some rules regarding baptism render the baptism illicit (i.e., a violation of the church's laws, and a sin for those who willingly and knowingly participate in it), and yet still valid. For example, if a priest introduces some unauthorized variation in the ceremony, the baptism is still valid so long as certain key criteria are still met, even though the priest has violated the church's law and thus sinned, and so have the other participants if they know the priest's behaviour is illict.

Normally baptism is by triple immersion, and a licit baptism must be performed by a priest or a deacon. But in case of necessity, as in clinical or other settings where there is a risk of imminent death and baptism by immersion is impractical, or where a deep pool of water is really unavailable, a person may properly be baptized by an Orthodox Christian clergyman or layman by pouring water three times on the head in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The proper formula must be recited: "The servant of God [Name] is baptized in the name of the Father [immerse, or pour]. Amen. And of the Son [immerse, or pour]. Amen. And of the Holy Spirit [immerse, or pour]. Amen"; other acceptable forms include "Let this servant of Christ be baptized..." or "This person is baptized by my hands..." Roman Catholics use the form "I baptize you..." However, neither church repeats baptisms performed by the other. The Catholic Church teaches that the use of the verb "baptize" is essential.

Sprinkling, however, is not allowed under any circumstances. There is disagreement about this, however, with some theologians arguing that sprinkling -- even sprinking on a part of the body other than the head -- in an emergency would also be valid.

It is also considered essential that the Trinitarian formula is used. Baptisms from non-Trinitarian churches, such as Oneness Pentecostal, are generally not considered valid. There was an ancient controversy over baptism using the formula that Oneness Pentecostals use, with some ancient authorities holding it to be valid. However, this was motivated by the apparent use of that formula at some places in scripture, not by anti-Trinitarian considerations (which might well invalidate the baptism even if that formula is valid). The most significant part, some theologians have argued, is not so much the Trinitarian wording, as the Trinitarian intention, and the recognition that the baptism involves all three Persons.

A person, once baptized, cannot be baptized again. There was an ancient practice in some areas of rebaptizing those who had returned to the church from heresy, but that practice has been universally rejected, except in cases where their previous "baptism" was deficient - for example, they were not baptized in the name of the Trinity.

Baptism by non-Orthodox

The Orthodox Church makes no judgment concerning the efficacy or validity of baptisms performed by other denominations, as regards people who are members of those respective denominations. The precise status and significance of such baptisms has not been revealed by God to the Orthodox Church; however, as a practical matter, they are treated as non-efficacious unless and until the person joins the Orthodox Church. Persons coming to Orthodoxy from other denominations, and who had been baptized with water in the name of the Trinity, are generally not received by holy baptism, but instead through holy chrismation, after which their former baptism is deemed to be efficacious. The final decision as to the mode of reception to be used in each case rests with the bishop. When there is doubt as to whether or how the person was previously baptized, a conditional baptism is employed, in which the officiant says something of the form of "if you are not yet baptized, I baptize you..." The need for conditional baptisms is motivated not only by factual uncertainties regarding the original baptism, but also by the uncertainty of some of the baptismal theology regarding the precise conditions for the validity of baptism. (The Church holds that one cannot be certain that opinions which are offered by pious theologians, but on which the Church has not made an authoritative pronouncement, are correct, and even authoritative pronouncements can have multiple interpretations which the Church has neither definitively endorsed or rejected.)

Certain types of non-Orthodox (i.e. heretics, in the language of the Church Fathers) are received into the Orthodox Church through baptism; others through chrismation, and others through profession of faith. These provisions are spelled out in the canons of two of the Ecumenical Councils regarding the reception of heretics.

Jewish Background

The ritual of baptism is prefigured in the purification rites of Jewish law and tradition. In the Tanakh and tradition of the teachers of the Torah, a ritual bath for purification from uncleanness used to be required under specified circumstances in order to be restored to a condition of ritual purity. For example, women after menses, and after a number of blood-free days following child-birth, were washed in a ritual bath, called a mikvah. Those who became ritually defiled by contact with something infectious, would also use the mikveh as part of their healing. Washing was also required for converts. Through practices such as these, immersion in the mikveh came to represent purification and restoration, and qualification for full religious participation in the life of the community (Book of Numbers Chapter 19). Traditional conversion to Judaism also requires a mikvah, so for converts Jewish initiation is in some ways similar to Christian initiation, although the term baptism is not used to describe the Jewish conversion.

Baptism in the Gospels

St. John the Forerunner

A preliminary understanding of baptism starts with St. John the Forerunner, the cousin of Jesus. John spoke of a baptism of repentance in preparation for the coming of the Messiah.

"And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God." (Luke 3:3-6 KJV, also see Matthew 3:1-6, Mark 1:1-5)

In regards to his relationship to the coming Messiah, John also spoke of another kind of baptism.

"John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable." (Luke 3:16-17 KJV, also see Matthew 3:7-12, Mark 1:6-8)

Baptism of Christ (Theophany)

During John's earthly ministry Jesus came to receive baptism from John: "And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God." (John 1:32-34 KJV, also see Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11)

There also seems to be some reference to Jesus and/or his disciples baptizing individuals, before His death on the cross (see John 3:22-26, John 4:1-3).

The Great Commission

After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples and spoke to them saying,

"...All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen." (Matthew 28:18-20 KJV, also see Mark 16:14-20, Acts 2:38)

The commandment of the Lord to baptize "in the name of Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" was the practice of the early Church and is still the Orthodox method for baptizing today. (see Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5). Church Fathers on Baptism

"...Concerning the water, indeed, it is written, in reference to the Israelites, that they should not receive that baptism which leads to the remission of sins, but should procure another for themselves..." (The Epistle of Barnabas, Chapter 11, Roberts-Donaldson)

"Blessed are they who, placing their trust in the cross, have gone down into the water...we indeed descend into the water full of sins and defilement, but come up, bearing fruit in our heart, having the fear [of God] and trust in Jesus in our spirit." (The Epistle of Barnabas, Chapter 11, Roberts-Donaldson) "He was born and baptized, that by His passion He might purify the water." (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, Chapter 18, Roberts-Donaldson)

Protestants on Baptism

Many protestants through the ages have de-emphasized the role of baptism in the Christian faith. In reality, a number of the people involved in the Protestant Reformation came out of the Roman Catholic Church with a reverence for the holy mysteries and apostolic tradition.

Martin Luther placed a great importance on baptism. Luther states in The Large Catechism of 1529 AD,

"To put it most simply, the power, effect, benefit, fruit, and purpose of Baptism is to save. No one is baptized in order to become a prince, but as the words say, to 'be saved.' To be saved, we know, is nothing else than to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil and to enter into the kingdom of Christ and live with him forever."

External links

The Service of Holy Baptism (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America)
Baptism The Orthodox Faith by Fr. Thomas Hopko
The Baptism of Christ - Uncovering Bethany beyond the Jordan; includes interviews with various Eastern Orthodox representatives, incl. Greek Orthodox Bishop Vindictus of Jordan

Baptism and Ecumenism

Becoming a Christian: The Ecumenical Implications of Our Common Baptism Archimandrite Ambrosius (Pogodin). On the Question of the Order of Reception of Persons into the Orthodox Church, Coming to Her from Other Christian Churches. Transl. from the Russian by Alvian N. Smirensky. Vestnik Russkogo Khristianskogo Dvizheniya (Messenger of the Russian Christian Movement). Paris-New York-Moscow, Nos. 173 (I-1996) and 174 (II-1996/I-1997).

Also, see:

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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