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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.

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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.

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

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