Church Fathers and Baptismal Regeneration

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An interesting discussion. I think that it is safe to say that the writings of the ECF allow for a great deal of anachronism. In my reading of the Fathers I have frequently found myself asking "what are they actually saying?" as at times their wording is not completely clear. To say that St. Augustine taught that the water of baptism regenerates is easy to maintain if you ignore his definition of a sacrament as being a visible sign of an inward grace. It seems that he certainly taught that the Spirit of God worked through the waters of baptism but then that is foundational sacramentology.

I did some reading of Calvin last night and in brief it seems to me that he argues for an objective presentation of Christ in baptism that, when recieved with faith, conveys that which it signifies, arguing that "we never have naked and empty symbols, except when our ingratitude and wickedness hinder the working of divine beneficence".

Such a view could only be held if he viewed regeneration as a life long process.

It is interesting to think about Calvin's view of the Lord's supper. In that Christ is really held forth objectively and recieved by all who eat with faith.

The Geneva Catechism:

M. You think, then. that the power and efficacy of a sacrament is not contained in the outward element, but flows entirely from the Spirit of God?
I think so; viz., that the Lord hath been pleased to exert his energy by his instruments, this being the purpose to which he destined them: this he does without detracting in any respect from the virtue of his Spirit.

M. How, then, and when does the effect follow the use of the sacraments?
When we receive them in faith, seeking Christ alone and his grace in them.

M. Whence is Regeneration derived?
From the Death and Resurrection of Christ taken together. His death hath this efficacy, that by means of it our old man is crucified, and the vitiosity of our nature in a manner buried, so as no more to be in rigor in us. Our reformation to a new life, so as to obey the righteousness of God, is the result of the resurrection.

M. How are these blessings bestowed upon us by Baptism?
If we do not render the promises there offered unfruitful by rejecting them, we are clothed with Christ, and presented with his Spirit.

M. What must we do in order to use Baptism duly?
The right use of Baptism consists in faith and repentance; that is, we must first hold with a firm heartfelt reliance that, being purified from all stains by the blood of Christ, we are pleasing to God: secondly, we must feel his Spirit dwelling in us, and declare this to others by our actions, and we must constantly exercise ourselves in aiming at the mortification of our flesh, and obedience to the righteousness of God.

M. If these things are requisite to the legitimate use of Baptism, how comes it that we baptize Infants?
It is not necessary that faith and repentance should always precede baptism. They are only required from those whose age makes them capable of both. It will be sufficient, then, if, after infants have grown up, they exhibit the power of their baptism.

M. Can you demonstrate by reason that there is nothing absurd in this?
Yes; if it be conceded to me that our Lord instituted nothing at variance with reason. For while Moses and all the Prophets teach that circumcision was a sign of repentance, and was even as Paul declares the sacrament of faith, we see that infants were not excluded from it. (Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4; Romans 4:11.)

M. But are they now admitted to Baptism for the same reason that was valid in circumcision?
The very same, seeing that the promises which God anciently gave to the people of Israel are now published through the whole world.

M. But do you infer from thence that the sign also is to be used?
He who will duly ponder all things in both ordinances, will perceive this to follow. Christ in making us partakers of his grace, which had been formerly bestowed on Israel, did not condition, that it should either bemore obscure or in some respect less abundant. Nay, rather he shed it upon as both more clearly and more abundantly.

M. Do you think that if infants are denied baptism, some thing is thereby deducted from the grace of God, and it must be said to have been diminished by the coming of Christ?
That indeed is evident; for the sign being taken away, which tends very much to testify the mercy of God and confirm the promises, we should want an admirable consolation which those of ancient times enjoyed.

M. Your view then is, that since God, under the Old Testament, in order to show himself the Father of infants, was pleased that the promise, of salvation should be engraven on their bodies by a visible sign, it were unbecoming to suppose that, since the advent of Christ, believers have less to confirm them, God having intended to give us in the present day the same promise which was anciently given to the Fathers, and exhibited in Christ a clearer specimen of his goodness.
That is my view. Besides, while it is sufficiently clear that the force, and so to speak, the substance of Baptism are common to children, to deny them the sign, which is inferior to the substance, were manifest injustice.

M. On what terms then are children to be baptized?
To attest that they are heirs of the blessing promised to the seed of believers, and enable them to receive and produce the fruit of their Baptism, on acknowledging its reality after they have grown up.
A case can be made that the ECFs adopted the sacramental language of the NT Scriptures and didn't teach baptismal regeneration per se.

The case may be made, but In my humble opinion it's far from convincing. The ECF so very clearly tied the actual moment of regeneration and forgiveness with the historical action of baptism itself. This is undeniable.

We just have to admit the ECF taught baptismal regeneration no matter how uncomfortable it is.

Brother Marty:

Why would this be uncomfortable? THe ecf's quickly departed from certain points of apostolic doctrine, and BR is one of them.

Justin Martyr (First Apology; ca 155 A.D.)

As many are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to live accordingly, are instructed to entreat God with fasting...then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we ourselves were...For Christ also said :"'Unless you be born-again, you cannot see the kingdom of God".

St. Irenaeus Fragment 34
And dipped himself," says [the Scripture], "seven times in Jordan." It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but [it served] as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions; being spiritually regenerated as new-born babes, even as the Lord has declared: "Except a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven

Council of Mileum II Canon 3 [-]
[W]hoever says that infants fresh from their mothers? wombs ought not to be baptized, or say that they are indeed baptized unto the remission of sins, but that they draw nothing of the original sin of Adam, which is expiated in the bath of regeneration . . . let him be anathema [excommunicated]. Since what the apostle [Paul] says, ?Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so passed to all men, in whom all have sinned? [Rom. 5:12], must not be understood otherwise than the Catholic Church spread everywhere has always understood it. For on account of this rule of faith even infants, who in themselves thus far have not been able to commit any sin, are therefore truly baptized unto the remission of sins, so that that which they have contracted from generation may be cleansed in them by regeneration

But you will perhaps say, 'What does the baptism of water contribute toward the worship of God?' In the first place, because that which has pleased God is fulfilled. In the second place, because when you are regenerated and born again of water and of God, the frailty of your former birth, which you have through men, is cut off, and so . . . you shall be able to attain salvation; but otherwise it is impossible. For thus has the true prophet [Jesus] testified to us with an oath: "Verily, I say to you, that unless a man is born again of water . . . he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Recognitions of Clement 6:9 [A.D. 221]).


[l]t behooves those to be baptized . . . so that they are prepared, in the lawful and true and only baptism of the holy Church, by divine regeneration, for the kingdom of God . . . because it is written "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (Epistles 72 [73]: 21 [A.D. 252]).

There are so many examples.
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