Baptism in the Early Church

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JML

Puritan Board Junior
Who are some post-apostolic groups in the early church (1st or 2nd century) or early church fathers that were anti-paedobaptistic? From what I have seen, most, if not all were paedobaptists. Although most were not very good ones as they had some odd views on baptism.
 

steadfast7

Puritan Board Junior
during the early period you describe, would it have been realistic to have stern anti-paedobaptists? No. Most likely, the church would either have been credobaptist or paedobaptist - united - passing whatever tradition the apostles practiced without much division. If you want to go very early, the credobaptist can argue that the didache, mid to late 2nd century, does not have any instructions for baptizing infants, suggesting it was not the practice of the earliest Palestinian church. That's an argument from silence, however. We know that the earliest anti-paedo view probably comes from Tertullian, mid 3rd century or so (?), and a reaction against infant baptism that went on during through to the 4th century. Such Fathers like Basil the Great and Jerome were not baptized as infants.
 

bug

Puritan Board Freshman
"Baptism in the early church" by Stander and Louw published by carey is the best overview of the early churches thoughts on this matter. Written by convinced peadobaptist scholars the findings are quite remarkable and if nothing else this book points one to where they need to be in the EFC fathers to find out what they really thought.
 

steadfast7

Puritan Board Junior
Good book recommendation, Bug. I read it too and found it to be intriguing, and all the more convincing since it was written by paedobaptists and concluding that infant baptism was NOT the practice of the earliest churches. I wish they went on to explain why they happened to remain paedobaptist by conviction.
 

Marrow Man

Drunk with Powder
I read it too and found it to be intriguing, and all the more convincing since it was written by paedobaptists and concluding that infant baptism was NOT the practice of the earliest churches. I wish they went on to explain why they happened to remain paedobaptist by conviction.

That is an interesting question. Perhaps it has something to do with the realization that just because something was practiced (or not practiced) in the early church, that does not mean it was practiced (or not practiced) for biblical reasons. The early church was simply a mixed bag. There were some unorthodox ideas floating around. The NT canon was not available to all (e.g., Justin Martyr never quotes from the Pauline corpus, which suggests that he may not even have been aware of the letters of Paul!). And sometimes folks are selective in what they read from the Early Church Fathers.

For example, Tertullian is often cited as an example of being an anti-paedobaptist. But in the same paragraph that he speaks against paedobaptism (for reasons different from the arguments of antipaedobaptists today), he also speaks against unmarried adult men being baptized! This also speaks to the hit-and-run nature of these arguments in our day; I don't care how many times I see Tertullian raised as an opponent of baptism, I rarely see the same folks note his theology on the efficacy of baptism nor point out that he was also an opponent of credobaptism when it came to single men.
 

JML

Puritan Board Junior
during the early period you describe, would it have been realistic to have stern anti-paedobaptists

I am not referring to stern anti-paedobaptists. I have just been on the Puritan Board long enough to know that Presbyterians are credo-baptists as well and that is why I did not use the term. :D I have never met a Presbyterian would not baptize someone who made a credible profession of faith. The only difference (in subjects) is that baptists will not baptize infants or small children in the household of those who made a credible profession of faith, thus the term anti-paedobaptists.
 

Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
I agree with Tim's basic perspective here. The early church fathers are often a garbled and thus ultimately an unreliable source by which to try and gauge apostolic/biblical belief and practice. The most that can objectively be said about Tertullian's writings on this subject is that they contain the earliest definitive (universally acknowledged) reference to infant baptism (c.202 AD).
 

Marrow Man

Drunk with Powder
I agree with Tim's basic perspective here. The early church fathers are often a garbled and thus ultimately an unreliable source by which to try and gauge apostolic/biblical belief and practice. The most that can objectively be said about Tertullian's writings on this subject is that they contain the earliest definitive (universally acknowledged) reference to infant baptism (c.202 AD).

:up:

Again, we have to be really careful and discerning in reading the early church writings. If we stick to the area of the sacraments/ordinances, it would be entirely possible in our readings to come away with a view that resembles baptismal regeneration and a view of the Lord's Supper that would be closer to Medieval transubstantiation that the quasi-neo-Zwinglian view in many churches today. After reading such evidence, what is one to do? Reject Protestantism and flee to Rome? Of course not. The early church can be helpful in many ways, but the biblical record must be our standard.
 

steadfast7

Puritan Board Junior
But at the same time Tim, isn't it also true that the Reformation was an attempt to return to the early church? Calvin was more than willing to engage the ECFs for his reasons for thinking the way he did. And so, we should not "bite the hand that feeds us" as it were. Regarding Tertullian, his comments against baptizing of single men need not lead one to throw everything he says about baptism out the window. One thing, at the very least, we can infer from his writing on baptism was that it was a debatable point. What he wrote shocks us in our day when our theology of baptism has already become so developed, however in his day it seems it was much more malleable. This challenges the assertion of many on both camps that baptismal practice (whether paedo or anti paedo) was an unbroken and unquestioned practice of the early church from the time of the apostles.

Tertullian shows this to be an overstatement, in my opinion. He wrote against paedobaptism and the baptism of single men because he felt he COULD without being totally lambasted as a heretic. And in fact, we know him to be a heretic not for anything in particular he said about baptism as far as I know. Would he, or any church father, have written anything so controversial or unorthodox about the eucharist? Surely not. Eucharistic theology, for the most part, is quite resilient and unchanging through much of the early church, demonstrating that its doctrine was much more esteemed and handled with care. Only really during the medieval era, does it undergo its gross transformation.

this is not to downplay the significance of baptism to the early church. The Didache's instructions for baptism are a tall order indeed. But in terms of the subjects of baptism, there may have been more leeway in the EC than we assume.
 

Marrow Man

Drunk with Powder
I wouldn't quite put it that way. The Reformation was a return to the Bible, not the early church. It is true enough that Calvin references the ECF; in the preface to The Institutes, he does make the point to the King of France that it was the Roman church, not the Reformers, who distorted and corrupted the ancient faith, and he does work to show where the Reformers were consistent with the early church.

As far as Tertullian goes, he was a lone voice, and his view on baptism was unorthodox. His whole reason for writing as he did (against children, not necessarily infants alone) as well as the unwed was because of the fear of post-baptismal sin. Because of teachings like this, some would be led to delay baptism until the death bed (I believe this was true of Constantine, for instance). This is not a teaching you or I would hold to, of course. An interesting question (one I do not know the answer to) is whether Tertullian would have held this position for a dying infant/child. However, he also seems to have denied original sin (admittedly, before the doctrine was hammered out by Augustine), so he may have viewed them to be "sinless" in some sense.
 

CharlieJ

Puritan Board Junior
Really, though, Tertullian is of little use to modern anti-pedobaptists. His argument assumes that infant baptisms are indeed valid and efficacious baptisms.

Baptism in the early church cannot be discussed outside one of the major doctrinal disputes of the day: what to do with post-baptismal sins. The stricter side of the Church, represented by Tertullian among others, argued that there could be no repentance, or at maximum 1 repentance, for certain post-baptismal sins. Apostasy was final. This led to the widespread practice of delaying baptism, thereby decreasing a person's chance of blowing it. However, that doesn't mean they were anti-pedobaptist in the sense of thinking that baptizing infants was unbiblical or invalid. The same people who urged delay would in fact baptize their children if they were in mortal danger. Augustine, for example, was not baptized as a child, but he almost was when he became very ill one time. They waited a bit longer and he recovered.

The final resolution to this issue came with the doctrine of penance. Now that there is a way for people to get back in after post-baptismal sins, the need to delay baptism evaporates. That, plus the doctrine of baptism infusing grace, actually led to a strong push for universal infant baptism.
 

steadfast7

Puritan Board Junior
It is significant that he was a lone voice amidst many and yet denounced by the church or apologists for his views. This shows, again, that the church probably did not speak with one voice on this issue, as they had regarding the eucharist. I suspect that Stander and Louw's argument would be that infant baptism need not have been the practice of the early church for it to be done in our day. The selling point is the theology of baptism, which is most important. Early church baptism was probably frought with theological problems as Charlie points out. But now, covenant theology has provided a defense of infant baptism. If it's true that early church practice isn't the be all and end all of our practice, this would put an end to many debates regarding oikos baptisms, mode, Jewish cleansing rites, etc.

but, I'm still left with the assumption, which I think is still a strong one, that earlier Christian communities would have been more privy to the teaching and practices handed down by the apostles themselves, no?
 

JML

Puritan Board Junior
But now, covenant theology has provided a defense of infant baptism.

So are you saying that the reason the early church practiced infant baptism was not covenant theology but that covenant theology later provided justification for the early church's error in the practice of infant baptism?
 

steadfast7

Puritan Board Junior
Pretty much yes. Covenant theology could not have been developed to what we know now. Their view of baptism was somewhat mystical. can we deny that they were convinced the water actually did something? But we do not fault them for that because their world view was very different from ours. im not convinced they baptised because they believed baptism had replaced circumcision. Jews continued to circumcise and baptise concurrently.
 

Marrow Man

Drunk with Powder
It is significant that he was a lone voice amidst many and yet denounced by the church or apologists for his views. This shows, again, that the church probably did not speak with one voice on this issue, as they had regarding the eucharist. ... but, I'm still left with the assumption, which I think is still a strong one, that earlier Christian communities would have been more privy to the teaching and practices handed down by the apostles themselves, no?

Origen (not a good example of orthodoxy) wrote in the mid 200s, "For this also it was that the church had from the Apostles a tradition to give baptism even to infants. For they to whom the divine mysteries were committed knew that there is in all persons a natural pollution of sin which must be done away by water and the Spirit." In contrast to a "lone voice," the Council of Carthage in 254 A.D. (66 voices) concluded that infants were not to be hindered from baptism. The controversy (seen in the writings of Cyprian) was not over whether paedobaptism was permissible, but whether to baptize at birth or wait until the 8th day. To the best of my knowledge, you don't have anything remotely approaching an antipaedo position like we see today.
 

CharlieJ

Puritan Board Junior
Dennis, I think you make a lot of good points. There was no Systematic Theology of the Apostles available in the early church. They did not have developed doctrines of ... well, anything. They had the story of Jesus, a handful of pastoral letters, and the practices of the church. Everything after that is theological reflection. Even in the New Testament you have theological reflection. Paul understands how the gospel relates to the Gentiles better than the Jerusalem apostles do, and they have to work it out. They don't just intuitively know what to do.

That said, infant baptism is, as far as I can tell, universally recognized by the Church, even if they can't always articulate why. Even Tertullian doesn't say it's invalid, inefficacious, or a novel idea proposed by heretics. Origen, who is roughly contemporary with Tertullian, says that infant baptism was passed down by the apostles. He also speaks of it as the normal custom of the church. Now, surely he couldn't make a claim like that if it wasn't just about universal in his area, and if it hadn't been so even a generation or 2 before him. Yet, his comment about apostolic tradition may point to his inability to explain exactly why they are baptizing infants. His own explanation at times seems a bit forced, fitting awkwardly in his own theological framework. Yet, despite the difficulties, he doesn't dare deny it.

In my opinion, infant baptism was practiced quite early on, and by 200 was nearly universally understood as the norm. However, at about that time, the Novatian schism and the Montanist presence turned the theological reflection about baptism in the direction of post-baptismal sin. This turn effectively de-railed the conversation and truncated the view of baptism merely to getting rid of sin.

Gregory of Nazianzus, coming later in the East, will explain baptism not just as forgiveness of original sin (a dodgy concept in the East), but as a transferring of the child into the kingdom of God. While still more ontological than we, this concept is not so far removed from covenantal pedobaptism.

In short, pedobaptism was, for much of the early church era, a practice looking for a justification. But that's what makes the evidence for its early date so strong. They practiced it even when they weren't sure why.
 

steadfast7

Puritan Board Junior
Charlie, I think that is definitely a very fair assessment what was going on in the early church. Cyprians remark about the 8th day does not mean covenant theology was undergirding the practice, only that he saw a corelation between what was happening to infants. I still think that the didache, earlier than the previous fathers, is noteworthy in its silence on the issue after having said so much about adult baptism, but I realize that arguing from silence is not helpful. If it is indeed true that baptism was a practice looking for a justification then that certainly leaves some room for mobility and alternate interpretations. Thus my point stands that although the apostles practice was 1 thing, the dogma behind it was not set in stone yet. Perhaps then the dogma is still open to conversation?
 

Marrow Man

Drunk with Powder
Dennis, I think if we can all agree with Charlie's fair assessment (and I think he has stated it extremely well), then I think that goes a long way into opening up discussions among paedos and non-paedos regarding these issues. :2cents:
 
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