We have a profound regard for the theology of John Calvin, and for many of his utterances. We view his declaration, "The word baptize, however, signifies to immerse, and it is certain that immersion was observed by the ancient church,"* as displaying sound learning, an accurate knowledge of church history, and fidelity
* Ipsum baptizandi verbum mergere significat, et mergendi, ritum veteri ecclesiae observatum fuisse constat. Institutes of the Christian Religion, lib. iv. cap. 15, sect. 19. London, 1576.
to truth. No man fully acquainted with the facts upon which the opinion of the great Genevan was based, could speak otherwise and maintain fidelity to the truth. Luther says, "Baptism is a Greek word; in Latin it can be translated immersion, as when we plunge something into water that it may be completely covered with water."* Luther and Calvin translate the Greek word baptism as it was understood by those who used the language of which it was a part, before Christ's days, and ever afterwards. In the sense of immersion it is employed in the New Testament. The whole church of Christ practised immersion for at least twelve centuries of our era, and several nations baptize in that manner still.
Tertullian, in the end of the second century, writes, "The act of baptism itself belongs to the flesh, because we are immersed in water."** Jerome, in his notes on Ephesians 4:5, says, "We are immersed three times+ to receive the one baptism of Christ." Ambrose, expounding the baptismal death in Romans 6:3, says, "The death, therefore, is a figurative, not a real bodily death, for when you are immersing you present a likeness of death and burial."++ Pope Leo the Great, speaking of baptism in the fifth century, says, "Trine immersion is an imitation of the three days' burial (of Christ), and the Emersion out of the waters is a figure (of the Saviour) rising from the grave." x
According to Bede, who died in 735, Paulinus, the apostle of the north of England, "washed" some of his converts "in the river Glen," baptized others "in the river Swale" of Yorkshire, and a "great multitude in the river Trent."xx Laufranc, archbishop of Canterbury in the eleventh century, commenting on Philippians 3:10, says, "Being made conformable unto his death in baptism, for as Christ lay for three days in the sepulchre, so let there be a trine immersion in baptism."# St. Bernard, the most prominent ecclesiastic in France in the twelfth century, in his sermon on the Lord's Supper, says, "Baptism is the first of all the sacraments, in which we are planted together in the likeness of his (Christ's) death. Hence trine immersion represents the three days we are about to celebrate."$
There are many baptisteries in Italy that were
* Latine potest verti mersio, cum immergimus aliquid in aquam ut totum tegatur aqua.
, 1. p. 319. 1564.
** In aqua mergimur. Do Baptismo, cap. 7, pars ii. p. 37. Lipsia, 1839.
+ Ter mergimur, tome ix. p. 109. Basle, 1516.
++ Cum enim mergis, mortis suscepis et sepultarae similitudinem. Do Sacramentis, lib. ii. cap. 7.
x Trina demersio, ep. 16, vol. liv. p. 699, Patrl. Lat.
xx In fluvio Gleni - in Sualo fluvio. In fluvio Treenta. Riot. Eccles., ii. 14, p. 104; ii. 16, p. 107. Oxonii, 1846.
# Sic in baptismate trina sit.
$ Trina mersio.
used for centuries for the immersion of candidates for baptism. The most remarkable of these is in the catacomb of San Ponziano, Rome. It is on the right side of the Via Ostiensis, and at a short distance beyond the Porta Portese. Through this cemetery a stream of water runs, the channel of which is diverted into a reservoir, which was used for administering baptism by immersion from the first to the fourth centuries;* and within a few years candidates for primitive baptism have been buried under its waters once more. Dr. Cote+ gives a list of sixty-seven of these baptisteries that exist in Italy now, some of them ready for service and others greatly changed. Not a few of the edifices reared to cover the baptismal pools are spacious and magnificent. The baptisteries above ground were erected from the fourth to the fourteenth century. The sacristan who shows the sacred structure has no hesitation in telling the visitor that the church formerly practised immersion. Until the beginning of the thirteenth century immersion was the mode of baptism of all Western Christendom, except in cases of sickness, and it was a common practice long afterwards in many parts of the papal dominions; it was the general usage in England until after the Reformation, and it was frequently observed down to the middle of the seventeenth century. There is a record of the immersion of Arthur and Margaret, the brother and sister of Henry VIII.,x and there is no doubt that immersion was the mode of baptism that prevailed all over his kingdom in Henry's day. William Wall, the learned Episcopalian writer, says, that "in 1536 the lower house of Convocation sent to the upper house a protestation, containing a catalogue of some errors and some profane sayings that began to be handed about among some people, craving the concurrence of the upper house in condemning them. Some of them are these: "'That it is as lawful to christen a child in a tub of water at home, or in a ditch by the way, as in a font-stone in the church.' "I think," says Wall, "it may probably be concluded from their expressions, that the ordinary way of baptizing at this time in England, whether in the church or out of it, was by putting the child into the water."# He then proceeds to give the others. In Tyndale's "Obedience of a Christian Man," published in 1528, he writes, "Ask the people what they understand by their baptism or washing, and
* Baptism and Baptisteries, p. 102. Amererican Bapist Publication Society.
+ Idem, 110-112.
x Cathcart's Baptism of the Ages, pp. 41-43. American Baptist Publication Society.
# History of Infant Baptism, p. 648. Nashville.
thou shalt see that they believe how that the very plunging into the water saveth them." - "Behold how narrowly the people look on the ceremony. If ought be heft out, or if the child be not altogether dipt in the water, or if, because the child is sick, the priest dare not plunge him into the water, but pour water on his head, how tremble they! how quake they! 'How say ye, Sir John' (the priest), say they, 'is this child christened enough? Hath it his full christendom."* They verily believe that the child is not christened." At this time plunging into water was the mode of baptism in England, and the exception of sick children was evidently unpopular; and the substitute for immersion, according to good William Tyndale, the translator of the English Bible, was regarded with grave suspicions.
The Book of Common Prayer, issued by the authority of Edward VI., in 1549, says, "Then the priest shall take the child in his hands, and ask the name. And naming the child, shall dip it in the water thrice. First, dipping the right side; second, the heft side; the third time dipping the face toward the font; so it be discreetly and warily done. And if the child be weak it shall suffice to pour water upon it."+ Immersion was still the custom as well as the law in England, with the exception for which the Prayer Book made provision.
On May 18, 1556, a complaint was made against a considerable number of persons who favored the gospel in Ipswich, before Queen Mary's council, sitting in commission at Beeches, in Suffolk. Among the charges preferred was a refusal to have children dipped in the fonts:
"Mother Fenkel, and Joan Ward, alias Bentley's wife, refused to have children dipped in the fonts. Mother Beriff, midwife, refused to have children dipped in the fonts."x
There is no hint given by Fox, who records the names and accusations of these servants of God, that they preferred sprinkling or pouring for the children. They were Baptists undoubtedly, and dipping in the font was still the common mode of baptism.
Mr. Blake, vicar of Tamworth, in Staffordshire, the author of a pamphlet published in 1645, entitled "Infant's Baptism Freed from Antichristianism," writes on the first page, "I have been an eye-witness of many infants dipped, and know it to have been the constant practice of many ministers in their places for many years together." Mr. Blake is supposed to have been forty-three years of age when he wrote his pamphlet.
* Doctrinal Treatises, 1. 276-77. Parker Society.
+ Liturgies of King Edward VI., pp. 111, 112. Parker Society.
x Acts and Monuments, viii. 599. London, 1839.
In the Westminster Assembly of Divines, on Aug. 7, 1644, according to Dr. John Lightfoot, when a vote was taken on the question, "The minister shall take water and sprinkle or pour it with his hand upon the face or forehead of the child," "it was voted so indifferently that we were glad to count names twice, for so many were unwilling to have dipping excluded that the vote came to an equality within one; for the one side was twenty-five, the other twenty-four, the twenty-four for the reserving of dipping and the twenty-five against it."* The question was finally decided against immersion the next day, and "it is said entirely by the influence of Dr. Lightfoot," as Ivimey states.+ It seems surprising that an assembly of Presbyterians should be nearly equally divided about retaining immersion as a mode of baptism, and that "so many (in it), though none of them were Baptists, were unwilling to have dipping excluded." Learned Roman Catholics and Episcopalians have no prejudices against immersion; but, in 1876, Rev. J. H. Clark, of the Lackawanna Presbytery, Pa., immersed an applicant for membership in his church, for which he was censured by his Presbytery. His appeal to the Synod of Philadelphia resulted in the following decision: "In view of the teachings and principles entering into the doctrine of baptism, we judge that the administration of baptism by Rev. J. H. Clark, in the case excepted to came within the possible limits of a permissible administration of the rite, and although without any sanction of command or fact in the Sacred Scriptures, yet did not involve a moral wrong. The mode of administration, however, not being accordant with the distinctive mode of baptism accepted and appointed by the Presbyterian Church, we do approve of the spirit of the exception of the Presbytery of Lackawanna, as,"x etc. The ministers composing the Synod of Philadelphia are men of broad culture and Christian integrity, but they differ widely from Mr. Coleman and Mr. Marshall and "many" others in the Westminster Assembly, who were "unwilling to have dipping excluded;" but the men of English birth who took part in framing the Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, in 1644, had seen immersions all around them in the state church, the older men in large numbers, the younger men less frequently; and many of them loved the baptism of their fathers and of the Founder of Christianity.
Mr. [Thomas] Crosby mentions that "many sober and pious people belonging to the congregations of the Dissenters about London were convinced that
* The Whole Works of Lightfoot, vol. xiii. 301. London, 1824.
+ History of the English Baptists, i. 183. London, 1811.
x Burrage's Act of Baptism, p. 210. Amererican Baptist Publication Society.
believers were the only proper subjects of baptism, and that it ought to be administered by immersion," and not being satisfied with the qualifications of any administrator in England, they sent Richard Blount to Holland, who received immersion there; and on his return he baptized according to the primitive mode Samuel Blacklock, a minister, and these baptized the rest of the company.* This event may have occurred, and if it did, it was probably about the beginning of the reign of Charles I.; no regular Calvinistical, Baptist minister may have been permitted to live in England by the oppressions of the king and Laud, and though large numbers of persons then living in that country had been immersed, in the majority of cases it was not after believing. Mr. Hutchinson, from whom Crosby quotes, says about these persons, "The great objection was the want of an administrator, which, as I have heard, was removed by sending certain messengers to Holland." Crosby himself says, "This agrees with an account given of the matter in an ancient manuscript, said to have been written by Mr. William Kiffin." We would not bear heavily on the testimony adduced by these good men.
The Rev. John Mason Neale, a learned Episcopalian, whose "History of the Holy Eastern Church" is an authority on most of the topics on which it treats, writes, "The Constantinopolitan (Greek Church) ritual says, 'The priest baptizes him, holding him upright, and facing the East, and saying, "The servant of God is baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," etc. At each sentence plunging and raising him up from the water.'
"The Coptic ritual says, 'He thrice immerses him, and after each immersion raises him up and breathes in his face.'
"The Armenian ritual says, 'Then the priest takes the child in his arms, and immerses him thrice in water, as an emblem of the three days' burial of Christ.'"+
In a celebrated Syriac liturgy it is written, "The priest stands by the font, and invokes the Spirit, who descendeth from on high, and rests on the waters, and sanctifies them, and makes new sons to God.
"When the child is plunged into the water the priest saith, 'N. is baptized for sanctity and salvation and a blameless life, and a blessed resurrection from the dead, in the name of the Father. Amen. And of the Son. Amen. And of the living and Holy Ghost for life everlasting. Amen.'"x "All the Syrian forms prescribe or assume trine immersion."#
* History of the English Baptists, 1. 161-63.
+ History of the Holy Eastern Church, p. 949. London, 1850.
x Neale's History of the Holy Eastern Church, pp. 992-93. London, 1850.
# Idem, 950.
Badger gives the baptismal ritual of the Nestorians, which says, "Then they shall take him (the child) to the priest, standing by the font, who shall place him therein, with his face to the East, and he shall dip him therein three times. - In dipping him he shall dip him up to the neck, and then put his hand upon him, so that his head may be submerged; then the priest shall take him out of the font and give him to the deacon."*
In Picart's description of Abyssinian baptism, we learn that "As soon as the benediction of the font is over the priest plunges the infant into it three times successively. At the first he dips one-third part of the infant's body into the water, saying, 'I baptize thee in the name of the Father;' he then dips him lower, about two-thirds, adding, 'I baptize thee in the name of the Son;' the third time he plunges him all over, saying, 'I baptize thee in the name of the Holy Ghost.'"+ The same author, as quoted by Burrage, describing the baptism of "the Rhynsburgers, or Collegiants, a branch of the Mennonites, originating in Holland," says, -
"The candidate for baptism makes publicly his profession of faith on a Saturday, in the morning, before an assembly of Rhynsburgers held for that purpose. A discourse is pronounced on the excellency and nature of baptism. The minister and candidate go together to a pond behind a house belonging to his sect (we might call it a hospital, since they received for nothing those who had not wherewithal to pay their hotel bills). In that pond the neophyte, catechumen, or candidate is baptized by immersion. If a man, he has a waistcoat and drawers; if a woman, a bodice and petticoat, with leads in the hem."x Picart's work was published in Amsterdam in 1736.
The Russian Church, the Greek Church in Turkey and in the little kingdom of Greece, the Armenian, Nestorian, Coptic, Abyssinian, and the other Christian communities of the East, have always practised immersion, and that is their usage at this hour. About a fourth of the whole Christian people on earth still immerse in baptism; and counting the centuries when immersion was the mode of baptism used by all Christendom, and the millions that employ it still, we are safe in affirming that a majority of all Christians, living and dead, were immersed in baptism.
* The Nestorians and their Rituals, pp. 207, 208. London, 1852.
+ Burrage's Act of Baptism, p. 182.
x Idem, p.180.
[William Cathcart, editor, The Baptist Encyclopedia, 1881; reprint 1988, pp. 569-572. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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