Having looked at Baptism I am left with a number of impressions. On the one hand we hear everyone who is saved is baptised. On the other hand not everyone who is baptised is saved. What is more is that baptism takes a panoply of forms. It can be in the ark of Noah, in the circumcision, in the parting of the Red Sea, it can be immersion, it can be pouring, it can be affusion, it can be desire, and it can be blood. It is in the name of the Trinity. Yet there is but one baptism and what that means exactly, and its implications, has been understood in a number of different ways. I have attempted to reach an understanding of all of this, to sort the good from the bad, and it is in this final part I will outline my conclusions thus far.
I started this exercise after realising quite how deeply my own convictions regarding the testimony of scripture on Baptism didn’t accord with the historic tradition I am a part of. I had been beginning to explore the idea of ordination, I had even had dreams about it, and I was looking at the prospect of becoming a father myself. It wasn’t just about me but my responsibility to that which was to be entrusted to me. Not just to baptise others, but to my own son. I began to wrestle, to struggle, and to find a way to bridge the divide. This series was part of that, it looked at theology, it looked at history, but the context in which it was written was just as important as the content itself. I knew tradition wouldn’t change so I had to ask myself whether or not could I? Should I?
I remember laying this all out to my minister and getting to the point where I said something along the lines of “Maybe I can put my own views on this up on shelf?” To which he laughed and responded something like “You can’t live like that.” Which, of course, he is right about. I thought, however, that was that, but it hasn’t been. Since this has been brought before me I see it everywhere and subsequent discussions, with both clergy and laity, within my own tradition have been less irenic even when laying out the issue as a matter of personal conscience. Some have had the opposite view to my minister. At such times I couldn’t help but reflect on this passage written by the late George Beasley-Murray on this same topic…
In our own time I find that a Lutheran pastor, when attacking a fellow-Lutheran who had the temerity to question infant baptism, pointed out that it was the Anabaptists who were responsible for this heretical teaching, and that their own forefathers had judged their views so seriously as to demand the death penalty for them; the spirit of his article conveyed the impression that it was unfortunate that the same penalty could not exacted today! Even now, in the more tolerant atmosphere of ecumenical conversation, it is possible for a Baptist to create an uproar if he has the temerity to express candidly his views on Christian initiation.
George R Beasley-Murray, Baptism Today and Tomorrow p 112-113
No one has ever suggested I should be drowned for the sake of my conscience. Yet it is this same conscience that at best marks me as heterodox at best and at worst outside of the tradition I was raised in altogether (which is quite an achievement in Anglicanism). Others from other traditions have used even stronger language implying that I was harming my child. This unfortunately struck home and such comments would linger in my mind when I would come home and hold, play or bathe my son. I guess that was why the words were said.
For the sake of transparency my son was dedicate shortly after birth. My minister said it was the first time in 33 years that anyone had requested him do either a baptism or dedication before the child was even born. To be frank it’s been a healing experience. As has the love from our church and neighbours who even now still shower our son in gifts. My own church, it turns out, is made up of, as so many Church of England churches are, people who come down on either side of this issue. Albeit I realise now this is to the consternation of a number of clergy.
In this final entry I will therefore outline my understanding of where I stand on baptism, and where I and my family find ourselves in light of this.
Neuhaus’s Law and Christening
I’ll presume to call it Neuhaus’s Law, or at least one of his several laws: Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed. Some otherwise bright people have indicated their puzzlement with that axiom but it seems to me, well, axiomatic. Orthodoxy, no matter how politely expressed, suggests that there is a right and a wrong, a true and a false, about things. When orthodoxy is optional, it is admitted under a rule of liberal tolerance that cannot help but be intolerant of talk about right and wrong, true and false. It is therefore a conditional admission, depending upon orthodoxy’s good behavior. The orthodox may be permitted to believe this or that and to do this or that as a matter of sufferance, allowing them to indulge their inclination, preference, or personal taste. But it is an intolerable violation of the etiquette by which one is tolerated if one has the effrontery to propose that this or that is normative for others.
The Unhappy Fate of Optional Orthodoxy, John Richard Neuhaus, First Things
Neuhaus when he wrote this was talking explicitly the ‘new’ orthodoxy of mainline traditions which incorporated ‘feminist and homosexual’ teaching. Something which affects my own Church of England and is exemplified by the floundering notion of ‘mutual flourishing’ it espouses. Neuhaus’s law is therefore predicated on a new orthodoxy supplanting an old one. To object that the ‘new’ orthodoxy isn’t orthodox is to miss the point, it is what is accepted as orthodox by the ecclesiarchy. This transition to where the new orthodoxy becomes such inevitably starts with a liberalising of the definition of orthodoxy. Then, once accepted, the new orthodoxy claims exclusivity at the expense of the old and supplants it. This has occurred again and again within Anglicanism and it is my contention that this is also a pattern we see emerge in the early church with regard to the normalisation of christening.
When we talk about the catholicity or apostolicity of christening it is always done so in exclusivist terms which mirrors its contemporary status of paedobaptist traditions in existence today. Yet it is unequivocal that whilst one might argue that infants were baptised one can also argue that a form of believers baptism was also practiced for the children of converts and was arguably more widespread for a time. In short we see both examples being exercised and extrapolate a universalising theology or dogma for each is an exercise in missing the reality that the early church lived with. I address the evidence for this in Part 2 of 4 and would affirm the words of Fr John A Peck here…
J.N.D. Kelly in Early Christian Doctrines noted while the sacraments of baptism, chrismation, and the Eucharist were universally practiced in the early Church there was very little evidence of a systematic sacramental theology at the time of the fourth and fifth centuries (p. 422 ff.). This points to the sacraments and Liturgy preceding theology in the early Church.
On Infant Baptism – Is it Biblical?, Fr John A Peck
I would also argue that practice varied considerably during this period. We see a variance in liturgies but I would also say in nascent theologies. A key example of this is…
- The ruling of councils like those chaired by Cyprian of Carthage insisting on the baptism of infants in the 3rd century.
- The continued practice of something resembling a believers baptism in places like Constantinople and Antioch in the 4th, evidenced by the biography of the Three Holy Hierarchs, and elsewhere up until the 6th.
- If the ruling of Cyprian’s North African Councils was universally accepted elsewhere each of the Three Holy Hierarchs would have been christened shortly after birth. This shows a variety of practice no longer theologically justifiable in either paedobaptist or credobaptist traditions.
So we have some jurisdictions, namely those of North Africa, explicitly advocated for the baptism of infants early on. Wherein with other regions we see more flexibility. Therefore it was common for regions of the church to differ in belief and practice and yet still be considered orthodox. I explore this, comparing it to debates around the dating of Easter and the baptism of heretics, the latter of which Cyprian was also caught up in, within Part 2 of 4. Therefore, whilst we hear of people making the argument of the apostolicity of christening we cannot say that it was apostolic practice to make such a thing mandatory or universal. Christening was then a permitted albeit not universal or mandated practice, an optional orthodoxy which supplanted the old orthodoxy as per Neuhaus’s law. We see this evidenced by what I cover in Part 3 of 4 and the progressive universalisation of christening.
The reason for this universalisation was the absence of what J.N.D Kelly called a ‘systematic sacramental theology’ or the lack a of universalised one during the early centuries. I believe that this change was galvinised and became universalised in response to Pelagius and his teachings. Augustine championed this response to Pelagius and did so in part by pointing to the precedent of infant baptism to undergird his theology. Augustine’s theology therefore became the ex post facto justification for the act of Christening. It became universalised and subsequently the dominant lens through which baptism and the faith writ large was understood, most particularly in the West. I will now expound on my own engagement on the impact of Augustine’s theology and his teachings regarding original sin and its impact on the human will.
Original Sin and Total Inability
Looking at the historical arguments for christening the role of original sin seems hard to overstate. Augustine said it most famously and nearly all theologians since, in the west, had differed more in tone than substance. Augustine’s views can be summarised (as best possible), in his own words, as…
If on this account, then, even the infants are, according to the true belief, born in sin, not actual but original, so that we confess they have need of grace for the remission of sins, certainly it must be acknowledged that in the same sense in which they are sinners they are also prevaricators of that law which was given in Paradise, according to the truth of both scriptures, I accounted all the sinners of the earth prevaricators, and Where no law is, there is no prevarication. And thus, be cause circumcision was the sign of regeneration, and the infant, on account of the original sin by which God’s covenant was first broken, was not undeservedly to lose his generation unless delivered by regeneration, these divine words are to be understood as if it had been said, Whoever is not born again, that soul shall perish from his people, because he has broken my covenant, since he also has sinned in Adam with all others.
City of God, Book 16, Chapter 27
Faith, then, as well in its beginning as in its completion, is God’s gift; and let no one have any doubt whatever, unless he desires to resist the plainest sacred writings, that this gift is given to some, while to some it is not given. But why it is not given to all ought not to disturb the believer, who believes that from one all have gone into a condemnation, which undoubtedly is most righteous; so that even if none were delivered therefrom, there would be no just cause for finding fault with God. Whence it is plain that it is a great grace for many to be delivered, and to acknowledge in those that are not delivered what would be due to themselves; so that he that glories may glory not in his own merits, which he sees to be equalled in those that are condemned, but in the Lord.
On the Predestination of the Saints, Chapter 16
Some one will say: How then are mere infants called to repentance? How can such as they repent of anything? The answer to this is: If they must not be called penitents because they have not the sense of repenting, neither must they be called believers, because they likewise have not the sense of believing. But if they are rightly called believers, because they in a certain sense profess faith by the words of their parents, why are they not also held to be before that penitents when they are shown to renounce the devil and this world by the profession again of the same parents? The whole of this is done in hope, in the strength of the sacrament and of the divine grace which the Lord has bestowed upon the Church. But yet who knows not that the baptized infant fails to be benefited from what he received as a little child, if on coming to years of reason he fails to believe and to abstain from unlawful desires? If, however, the infant departs from the present life after he has received baptism, the guilt in which he was involved by original sin being done away, he shall be made perfect in that light of truth, which, remaining unchangeable for evermore, illumines the justified in the presence of their Creator. For sins alone separate between men and God; and these are done away by Christ’s grace, through whom, as Mediator, we are reconciled, when He justifies the ungodly.
On Merit, Forgiveness of Sins and Baptism” Book 1 Chapter 25
We see, therefore, that Augustine linked baptism to circumcision as a means of regeneration in itself. We also see that Augustine saw faith as purely achieved by the beneficence of God himself and not bestowed upon all. At the same time a baptised child participates in the faith of a parent by the work of the Church.
So whilst Augustine’s teaching came to shape our views on baptism we will see that his views jarr at a point with the writings of his predecessors. Particularly on original sin and its impact in us coming to faith. This, I believe, is indicative of the context in which he was writing in an effort to engage with the teachings of Pelagius.
Whilst infant baptism predates Augustine his assertion regarding the capacity for salvation and faith to be achieved without exercise of a free will to be contentious. If anything the neglect of the will in such an exercise is to eject terms like faith of their accepted meaning and impose a new one, this is a tension (among others) I see at the heart of the Reformation. I say these things because of the following statements by other Fathers on the topic that I will now mention without comment and summarise at the end.
Earlier Fathers and the autonomy of the human will
Clement of Rome, 80-140 AD
And the men who were with them there for the first time were eager to do the like. Thus, although we are born neither good nor bad, we become one or the other; and having formed habits, we are with difficulty drawn from them. But when irrational animals fell short, these bastard men tasted also human flesh. For it was not a long step to the consumption of flesh like their own, having first tasted it in other forms.
8th Clementine Homily, Chapter 26
Justin Martyr, 110-165 AD
But lest some suppose, from what has been said by us, that we say that whatever happens, happens by a fatal necessity, because it is foretold as known beforehand, this too we explain. We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, and chastisements, and good rewards, are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Since if it be not so, but all things happen by fate, neither is anything at all in our own power. For if it be fated that this man, e.g., be good, and this other evil, neither is the former meritorious nor the latter to be blamed. And again, unless the human race have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions, of whatever kind they be. But that it is by free choice they both walk uprightly and stumble, we thus demonstrate. We see the same man making a transition to opposite things. Now, if it had been fated that he were to be either good or bad, he could never have been capable of both the opposites, nor of so many transitions. But not even would some be good and others bad, since we thus make fate the cause of evil, and exhibit her as acting in opposition to herself; or that which has been already stated would seem to be true, that neither virtue nor vice is anything, but that things are only reckoned good or evil by opinion; which, as the true word shows, is the greatest impiety and wickedness. But this we assert is inevitable fate, that they who choose the good have worthy rewards, and they who choose the opposite have their merited awards. For not like other things, as trees and quadrupeds, which cannot act by choice, did God make man: for neither would he be worthy of reward or praise did he not of himself choose the good, but were created for this end; nor, if he were evil, would he be worthy of punishment, not being evil of himself, but being able to be nothing else than what he was made.
First Apology, Chapter 43
Neither do we affirm that it is by fate that men do what they do, or suffer what they suffer, but that each man by free choice acts rightly or sins; and that it is by the influence of the wicked demons that earnest men, such as Socrates and the like, suffer persecution and are in bonds, while Sardanapalus, Epicurus, and the like, seem to be blessed in abundance and glory. The Stoics, not observing this, maintained that all things take place according to the necessity of fate. But since God in the beginning made the race of angels and men with free-will, they will justly suffer in eternal fire the punishment of whatever sins they have committed. And this is the nature of all that is made, to be capable of vice and virtue. For neither would any of them be praiseworthy unless there were power to turn to both [virtue and vice]. And this also is shown by those men everywhere who have made laws and philosophized according to right reason, by their prescribing to do some things and refrain from others. Even the Stoic philosophers, in their doctrine of morals, steadily honour the same things, so that it is evident that they are not very felicitous in what they say about principles and incorporeal things. For if they say that human actions come to pass by fate, they will maintain either that God is nothing else than the things which are ever turning, and altering, and dissolving into the same things, and will appear to have had a comprehension only of things that are destructible, and to have looked on God Himself as emerging both in part and in whole in every wickedness; or that neither vice nor virtue is anything; which is contrary to every sound idea, reason, and sense.
Second Apology, Chapter 7
Theophilus of Antioch ???-184 AD
But some one will say to us, Was man made by nature mortal? Certainly not. Was he, then, immortal? Neither do we affirm this. But one will say, Was he, then, nothing? Not even this hits the mark. He was by nature neither mortal nor immortal. For if He had made him immortal from the beginning, He would have made him God. Again, if He had made him mortal, God would seem to be the cause of his death. Neither, then, immortal nor yet mortal did He make him, but, as we have said above, capable of both; so that if he should incline to the things of immortality, keeping the commandment of God, he should receive as reward from Him immortality, and should become God; but if, on the other hand, he should turn to the things of death, disobeying God, he should himself be the cause of death to himself. For God made man free, and with power over himself. That, then, which man brought upon himself through carelessness and disobedience, this God now vouchsafes to him as a gift through His own philanthropy and pity, when men obey Him. For as man, disobeying, drew death upon himself; so, obeying the will of God, he who desires is able to procure for himself life everlasting. For God has given us a law and holy commandments; and every one who keeps these can be saved, and, obtaining the resurrection, can inherit incorruption.
To Autolycus, Book 2 Chapter 27
Irenaeus of Lyon, 120-202 AD
This expression [of our Lord], How often would I have gathered your children together, and you would not, (Matthew 23:37) set forth the ancient law of human liberty, because God made man a free [agent] from the beginning, possessing his own power, even as he does his own soul, to obey the behests (ad utendum sententia) of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God. For there is no coercion with God, but a good will [towards us] is present with Him continually. And therefore does He give good counsel to all. And in man, as well as in angels, He has placed the power of choice (for angels are rational beings), so that those who had yielded obedience might justly possess what is good, given indeed by God, but preserved by themselves. On the other hand, they who have not obeyed shall, with justice, be not found in possession of the good, and shall receive condign punishment: for God did kindly bestow on them what was good; but they themselves did not diligently keep it, nor deem it something precious, but poured contempt upon His super-eminent goodness. Rejecting therefore the good, and as it were spuing it out, they shall all deservedly incur the just judgment of God, which also the Apostle Paul testifies in his Epistle to the Romans, where he says, But do you despise the riches of His goodness, and patience, and long-suffering, being ignorant that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? But according to your hardness and impenitent heart, you store to yourself wrath against the day of wrath, and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God. But glory and honour, he says, to every one that does good. God therefore has given that which is good, as the apostle tells us in this Epistle, and they who work it shall receive glory and honour, because they have done that which is good when they had it in their power not to do it; but those who do it not shall receive the just judgment of God, because they did not work good when they had it in their power so to do.
But if some had been made by nature bad, and others good, these latter would not be deserving of praise for being good, for such were they created; nor would the former be reprehensible, for thus they were made [originally]. But since all men are of the same nature, able both to hold fast and to do what is good; and, on the other hand, having also the power to cast it from them and not to do it — some do justly receive praise even among men who are under the control of good laws (and much more from God), and obtain deserved testimony of their choice of good in general, and of persevering therein; but the others are blamed, and receive a just condemnation, because of their rejection of what is fair and good. And therefore the prophets used to exhort men to what was good, to act justly and to work righteousness, as I have so largely demonstrated, because it is in our power so to do, and because by excessive negligence we might become forgetful, and thus stand in need of that good counsel which the good God has given us to know by means of the prophets.
Man has received the knowledge of good and evil. It is good to obey God, and to believe in Him, and to keep His commandment, and this is the life of man; as not to obey God is evil, and this is his death. Since God, therefore, gave [to man] such mental power (magnanimitatem) man knew both the good of obedience and the evil of disobedience, that the eye of the mind, receiving experience of both, may with judgment make choice of the better things; and that he may never become indolent or neglectful of God’s command; and learning by experience that it is an evil thing which deprives him of life, that is, disobedience to God, may never attempt it at all, but that, knowing that what preserves his life, namely, obedience to God, is good, he may diligently keep it with all earnestness. Wherefore he has also had a twofold experience, possessing knowledge of both kinds, that with discipline he may make choice of the better things. But how, if he had no knowledge of the contrary, could he have had instruction in that which is good? For there is thus a surer and an undoubted comprehension of matters submitted to us than the mere surmise arising from an opinion regarding them. For just as the tongue receives experience of sweet and bitter by means of tasting, and the eye discriminates between black and white by means of vision, and the ear recognises the distinctions of sounds by hearing; so also does the mind, receiving through the experience of both the knowledge of what is good, become more tenacious of its preservation, by acting in obedience to God: in the first place, casting away, by means of repentance, disobedience, as being something disagreeable and nauseous; and afterwards coming to understand what it really is, that it is contrary to goodness and sweetness, so that the mind may never even attempt to taste disobedience to God. But if any one do shun the knowledge of both these kinds of things, and the twofold perception of knowledge, he unawares divests himself of the character of a human being.
Athenagorus of Athens, 133-190 AD
Just as with men, who have freedom of choice as to both virtue and vice (for you would not either honour the good or punish the bad, unless vice and virtue were in their own power; and some are diligent in the matters entrusted to them by you, and others faithless), so is it among the angels
A Plea For the Christians, Chapter 24
Clement of Alexandria 150-215 AD
For the individual whose life is framed as ours is, may philosophize without Learning, whether barbarian, whether Greek, whether slave — whether an old man, or a boy, or a woman. For self-control is common to all human beings who have made choice of it. And we admit that the same nature exists in every race, and the same virtue. As far as respects human nature, the woman does not possess one nature, and the man exhibit another, but the same: so also with virtue. If, consequently, a self-restraint and righteousness, and whatever qualities are regarded as following them, is the virtue of the male, it belongs to the male alone to be virtuous, and to the woman to be licentious and unjust. But it is offensive even to say this. Accordingly woman is to practice self-restraint and righteousness, and every other virtue, as well as man, both bond and free; since it is a fit consequence that the same nature possesses one and the same virtue. We do not say that woman’s nature is the same as man’s, as she is woman. For undoubtedly it stands to reason that some difference should exist between each of them, in virtue of which one is male and the other female. Pregnancy and parturition, accordingly, we say belong to woman, as she is woman, and not as she is a human being. But if there were no difference between man and woman, both would do and suffer the same things. As then there is sameness, as far as respects the soul, she will attain to the same virtue; but as there is difference as respects the peculiar construction of the body, she is destined for child-bearing and housekeeping.
The Stromata, Chapter 8
Hippolytus of Rome 170 – 235 AD
But man, from the fact of his possessing a capacity of self-determination, brings forth what is evil, that is, accidentally; which evil is not consummated except you actually commit some piece of wickedness. For it is in regard of our desiring anything that is wicked, or our meditating upon it, that what is evil is so denominated. Evil had no existence from the beginning, but came into being subsequently. Since man has free will, a law has been defined for his guidance by the Deity, not without answering a good purpose. For if man did not possess the power to will and not to will, why should a law be established? For a law will not be laid down for an animal devoid of reason, but a bridle and a whip; whereas to man has been given a precept and penalty to perform, or for not carrying into execution what has been enjoined. For man thus constituted has a law been enacted by just men in primitive ages.
Against all Heresies, Book 10 Chapter 29
Origen 185 – 253 AD
Let us begin, then, with those words which were spoken to Pharaoh, who is said to have been hardened by God, in order that he might not let the people go; and, along with his case, the language of the apostle also will be considered, where he says, Therefore He has mercy on whom He will, and whom He will He hardens. For it is on these passages chiefly that the heretics rely, asserting that salvation is not in our own power, but that souls are of such a nature as must by all means be either lost or saved; and that in no way can a soul which is of an evil nature become good, or one which is of a virtuous nature be made bad. And hence they maintain that Pharaoh, too, being of a ruined nature, was on that account hardened by God, who hardens those that are of an earthly nature, but has compassion on those who are of a spiritual nature. Let us see, then, what is the meaning of their assertion; and let us, in the first place, request them to tell us whether they maintain that the soul of Pharaoh was of an earthly nature, such as they term lost. They will undoubtedly answer that it was of an earthly nature. If so, then to believe God, or to obey Him, when his nature opposed his so doing, was an impossibility.
De Principiis, Book 3 Chapter 8
Cyril of Jerusalem 312-386 AD
And learn this also, that the soul, before it came into this world, had committed no sin, but having come in sinless, we now sin of our free-will. Listen not, I pray you, to any one perversely interpreting the words, But if I do that which I would not (Romans 7:16): but remember Him who says, If you be willing, and hearken unto Me, you shall eat the good things of the land: but if you be not willing, neither hearken unto Me, the sword shall devour you, etc. (Isaiah 1:19-20): and again, As you presented your members as servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity, even so now present your members as servants to righteousness unto sanctification. (Romans 6:19) Remember also the Scripture, which says, Even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge (Romans 1:28): and, That which may be known of God is manifest in them (Romans 1:19); and again, their eyes they have closed. (Matthew 13:15) Also remember how God again accuses them, and says, Yet I planted you a fruitful vine, wholly true: how are you turned to bitterness, thou the strange vine (Jeremiah 2:21)?
The soul is immortal, and all souls are alike both of men and women; for only the members of the body are distinguished. There is not a class of souls sinning by nature, and a class of souls practising righteousness by nature : but both act from choice, the substance of their souls being of one kind only, and alike in all. I know, however, that I am talking much, and that the time is already long: but what is more precious than salvation? Are you not willing to take trouble in getting provisions for the way against the heretics? And will you not learn the bye-paths of the road, lest from ignorance thou fall down a precipice? If your teachers think it no small gain for you to learn these things, should not thou the learner gladly receive the multitude of things told you?
The soul is self-governed: and though the devil can suggest, he has not the power to compel against the will. He pictures to you the thought of fornication: if you will, you accept it; if you will not, you reject. For if you were a fornicator by necessity, then for what cause did God prepare hell? If you were a doer of righteousness by nature and not by will, wherefore did God prepare crowns of ineffable glory? The sheep is gentle, but never was it crowned for its gentleness: since its gentle quality belongs to it not from choice but by nature.
Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 4 Chapters 19-21
Augustine’s view in light of Earlier Fathers
I could have continued but it seems, from the above, the early church fathers believed in a free will that differs enough to be substantial compared to the writings of Augustine and his later inheritors. Now, as already mentioned, christening predates Augustine so this isn’t an argument against the practice but for how the practice was later understood. More importantly I think it lends strength to the argument of those like Everett Ferguson who posit that Augustine utilised the practice of christening to, in-part, formulate his theology. The impact of which we see in the transition of the language and liturgy of baptism from the earliest centuries of the church, to that of the later middle ages and the church of the Reformation which were substantially informed by Augustine’s theology. The main difference is that with Augustine’s theology there are no grounds to withhold baptism, and the grace that comes with it, from infants. Wherein with the earlier fathers, as already evidenced, we see a much more nuanced picture before us.
One criticism of this view is that Augustine was providing a systematic theology wherein earlier fathers hadn’t. Therefore, the early church fathers who were being baptised as adults should have been baptised as infants if the Church was being properly consistent in its application of theology. To put this another way the optional orthodoxy should have a mandatory one from the beginning if they were being consistent. The problem with such an approach is that whilst the earlier church asserted the regenerative properties of baptism that Augustine taught there was a dual and even predominant emphasis on the conversion and education of the individual before baptism and this was maintained across a plurality of voices in contrast to Augustine. Augustine was the innovator in this regard and the consensus was against him. We also know that there were contemporaries to Augustine and Pelagius who did not accept the extremes of either position, as evidenced by the writings of those like John Cassian which I will now expound.
John Cassian on Human Will
John Cassian wrote at the same time as Augustine and Pelagius and whilst maintaining the necessity and agency of God’s grace in the life of man said…
It may be still clearer that through the excellence of nature which is granted by the goodness of the Creator, sometimes first beginnings of a good will arise, which however cannot attain to the complete performance of what is good unless it is guided by the Lord, the Apostle bears witness and says: For to will is present with me, but to perform what is good I find not. (Romans 7:18)
Conference 13, Chapter 9
Cassian also expounded on the relationship between the grace of God and Man’s free will explaining the harmony between the two. That far from one supplanting the other the two are distinct and yet enjoined in the process of sanctification.
These two then; viz., the grace of God and free will seem opposed to each other, but really are in harmony, and we gather from the system of goodness that we ought to have both alike, lest if we withdraw one of them from man, we may seem to have broken the rule of the Church’s faith: for when God sees us inclined to will what is good, He meets, guides, and strengthens us: for At the voice of your cry, as soon as He shall hear, He will answer you; and: Call upon Me, He says, in the day of tribulation and I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me. And again, if He finds that we are unwilling or have grown cold, He stirs our hearts with salutary exhortations, by which a good will is either renewed or formed in us.
Conference 13, Chapter 11
He maintained that all may do some good, via an exercise of the will, we could say this is according to natural law but it is only via the act of God’s grace and direct revelation in concert with the will that man may draw close to him. Cassian aligned the highest good with the act of drawing near to him such as to be able to assert that none may seek God, and therefore the good, without the agency of his spirit.
For we should not hold that God made man such that he can never will or be capable of what is good: or else He has not granted him a free will, if He has suffered him only to will or be capable of evil, but neither to will or be capable of what is good of himself. And, in this case how will that first statement of the Lord made about men after the fall stand: Behold, Adam has become as one of us, knowing good and evil? (Genesis 3:22) For we cannot think that before, he was such as to be altogether ignorant of good. Otherwise we should have to admit that he was formed like some irrational and insensate beast: which is sufficiently absurd and altogether alien from the Catholic faith.
Conference 13, Chapter 12
Cassian also rebukes the position of those who framed that salvation was dependant on man’s capacity for faith devoid of grace. Asserting instead that it is the agency of God via his grace to supervene even the hearts of recalcitrant men.
But let no one imagine that we have brought forward these instances to try to make out that the chief share in our salvation rests with our faith, according to the profane notion of some who attribute everything to free will and lay down that the grace of God is dispensed in accordance with the desert of each man: but we plainly assert our unconditional opinion that the grace of God is superabounding, and sometimes overflows the narrow limits of man’s lack of faith.
Conference 13, Chapter 16
Cassian also consciously placed himself within the catholic tradition whilst asserting the agency of the will in each man to choose the good. Yet at every step maintained the agency of the will reflected in the writings of the earlier fathers.
Therefore it is laid down by all the Catholic fathers who have taught perfection of heart not by empty disputes of words, but in deed and act, that the first stage in the Divine gift is for each man to be inflamed with the desire of everything that is good, but in such a way that the choice of free will is open to either side: and that the second stage in Divine grace is for the aforesaid practices of virtue to be able to be performed, but in such a way that the possibilities of the will are not destroyed: the third stage also belongs to the gifts of God, so that it may be held by the persistence of the goodness already acquired, and in such a way that the liberty may not be surrendered and experience bondage. For the God of all must be held to work in all, so as to incite, protect, and strengthen, but not to take away the freedom of the will which He Himself has once given. If however any more subtle inference of man’s argumentation and reasoning seems opposed to this interpretation, it should be avoided rather than brought forward to the destruction of the faith (for we gain not faith from understanding, but understanding from faith, as it is written: Unless you believe, you will not understand (Isaiah 7:9)) for how God works all things in us and yet everything can be ascribed to free will, cannot be fully grasped by the mind and reason of man.
Conference 13, Chapter 18
I would posit that Cassian more fully inhabits the patristic consensus than Augustine and is easily reconcilable with a plain reading of scripture. Cassian himself elsewhere highlights how scripture itself shows examples of God intervening to bestow faith on individuals (Paul) wherein in other cases these people can come to faith of their own accord (Zaccheus). Yet in all this Cassian maintained that will and grace weren’t a dichotomy but a harmony.
The views of Cassian took root more deeply in the East of the Church rather than the West that looked to Augustine. Yet the East universalised the practice of christening in accord with that of the West, albeit how this was articulated in regard to baptism differed. In the West one was changed from one state to another, damnation to salvation, wherein in the East the first state was progressively redeemed as it achieved union with God. This is why we see figures associated with the East, like John Chrysostom, state “We do baptise infants, although they are not guilty of any sins” (Instructions to Catechumens) which wouldn’t have been possible to say in the West later on without the heavy application of nuance. It is also worth reminding ourselves that when Chrysostom said this in the 4th century that Christening was not yet an exclusive practice, his own late-adolescent baptism is evidence of this.
Whilst many benefit from Augustine’s theology I am ultimately convinced that the justification for christening, and its ubiquity, aren’t as fully representative of the teaching of the earlier fathers nor reflective of their practices with regard to baptism. The earlier fathers themselves ultimately being closer to the standard of the apostles and scripture. Despite this we still see the imposition of christening as universal in the East, albeit I would say at a slower pace (Severus of Antioch being an example of this). The reason for this change I think is inevitably the influence of the West, since at this point the two authorities are still united, the increasingly centralised nature of church governance (which would inevitably exacerbate tensions in other areas like the dating of Easter in successive centuries), and finally the growing influence on secular authorities by the church meant that decisions made were more rigorously enforced and maintained than in prior centuries. This isn’t meant by any means as a critique of those things but as a reflection and possible explanation for the rapid changes that occured in the 5th-6th centuries within the church on this topic. In closing I would say that whilst the East did not ultimately embrace a full-throated Augustinian theology its influence was still felt within the church, which was at this time still united to the West.
My own views on baptism
I will now attempt to articulate where this leaves my own views on baptism. I will do so with reference to statements and quotations of the early church fathers.
It is my view that the early church fathers believed in baptismal regeneration. The early church looked to the baptism of Jesus as the archetype of their own. The descent of the Holy Spirit on Christ after baptism was seen as something which occured to the catechumen in the baptismal ritual itself. Baptism as a result is frequently understood as the only means of regeneration for those that hold to it. However, the regeneration is shown in scripture not to be always attached to baptism, especial we look at: Cornelius’s household, the Thief on the cross, Judas, and Simon Magus. Baptism is therefore the ordinary or ordained means by which we are regenerate, albeit it is not guaranteed and may in fact go in advance of it depending on the individual. Baptism as a result isn’t optional but something that when done right transforms an individual. The question I guess is then what does it mean to do baptism right?
Even Simon Magus once came to the Laver : he was baptized, but was not enlightened; and though he dipped his body in water, he enlightened not his heart with the Spirit: his body went down and came up, but his soul was not buried with Christ, nor raised with Him. Now I mention the statements of (men’s) falls, that you may not fall: for these things happened to them by way of example, and they are written for the admonition of those who to this day draw near. Let none of you be found tempting His grace, lest any root of bitterness spring up and trouble you. Let none of you enter saying, Let us see what the faithful are doing: let me go in and see, that I may learn what is being done. Do you expect to see, and not expect to be seen? And do you think that while you are searching out what is going on, God is not searching your heart?
Cyril of Jerusalem, Procatechesis 2
Let no one then suppose that Baptism is merely the grace of remission of sins, or further, that of adoption; as John’s was a baptism conferring only remission of sins: whereas we know full well, that as it purges our sins, and ministers to us the gift of the Holy Ghost, so also it is the counterpart of the sufferings of Christ. For this cause Paul just now cried aloud and said, Or are you ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus, were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into His death. These words he spoke to some who were disposed to think that Baptism ministers to us the remission of sins, and adoption, but has not further the fellowship also, by representation, of Christ’s true sufferings.
Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 20:6
Matthew alone adds the words “to repentance,” teaching that the benefit of baptism is connected with the intention of the baptized person; to him who repents it is salutary, but to him who comes to it without repentance it will turn to greater condemnation. … Regeneration did not take place with John, but with Jesus through His disciples it does so, and what is called the laver of regeneration takes place with renewal of the Spirit; for the Spirit now comes in addition since it comes from God and is over and above the water and does not come to all after the water. So far, then, our examination of the statements in the Gospel according to Matthew.
Origen, Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IX, Origen on John, Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of John, Book VI: Chapter 17
This articulation by Origen of baptism being connected to the intention of the baptised person I find powerful. I see it echoed in Anglican receptionist theology of communion. His note that regeneration does not come to all ‘after the water’ assumes that it normally does. This is affirmed by Cyril of Jerusalem’s invoking the example of Simon Magus. Yet it is also predicated by the ability of the individual to respond to what God is doing in their life. This shows that the normative emphasis of baptism is framed as occurring to people of a certain age or ability (albeit not exclusively which I will cover later). Origen here also mirrors Paul in Acts 2:38 with his command to “Repent and be baptised” which brings me to my next point…
Repentance in advance of baptism
Origen, and many of the other fathers, talk about preparation in advance of baptism. This might be hearing, assent or an extensive period of catechism. Clement of Alexandria on this wrote…
This is the one grace of illumination, that our characters are not the same as before our washing. And since knowledge springs up with illumination, shedding its beams around the mind, the moment we hear, we who were untaught become disciples. Does this, I ask, take place on the advent of this instruction? You cannot tell the time. For instruction leads to faith, and faith with baptism is trained by the Holy Spirit.
Clement of Alexandria, The Paedagogus, Chapter 6. The Name Children Does Not Imply Instruction in Elementary Principles
This last sentence from Clement here is particularly powerful for me and I believe accords with Origen’s articulation of baptism. He hear, we obey, we possess faith and are baptised.
Our own faith brings us to baptism
This faith is our own and not that of a biological or geographic community. Cyril of Jerusalem in his catechetical lectures said…
For God seeks nothing else from us, save a good purpose. Say not, How are my sins blotted out? I tell you, By willing, by believing. What can be shorter than this? But if, while your lips declare you willing, your heart be silent, He knows the heart, who judges you. Cease from this day from every evil deed. Let not your tongue speak unseemly words, let your eye abstain from sin, and from roving after things unprofitable.
Cyril of Jerusalem, Protocatechesis, 8
I believe this further underscored by Clement of Rome’s writing when he says…
For thus also says the Scripture in Ezekiel, If Noah, Job, and Daniel should rise up, they should not deliver their children in captivity. Now, if men so eminently righteous are not able by their righteousness to deliver their children, how can we hope to enter into the royal residence of God unless we keep our baptism holy and undefiled? Or who shall be our advocate, unless we be found possessed of works of holiness and righteousness?
2 Clement Chapter 6
Clement here invokes the prophet Ezekiel. The reference in full actually reads…
The word of the Lord came again to me, saying: “Son of man, when a land sins against Me by persistent unfaithfulness, I will stretch out My hand against it; I will cut off its supply of bread, send famine on it, and cut off man and beast from it. Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness,” says the Lord God.
“If I cause wild beasts to pass through the land, and they empty it, and make it so desolate that no man may pass through because of the beasts, even though these three men were in it, as I live,” says the Lord God, “they would deliver neither sons nor daughters; only they would be delivered, and the land would be desolate.
Clement links this to baptism and the need to keep it ‘holy and undefiled’ indicating that we cannot rest on the faith, or the good works, of others. Moreso, that faith doesn’t exist devoid of action but necessitates ‘works of holiness and righteousness’ as its fruit following baptism.
Catechism and newborns
Baptism does something of its own accord but, as John Cassian pointed out, our will is in harmony with this grace that God bestows upon us. This is reflected in the instruction of the liturgy and explanations of the fathers in the opening centuries. Even relatively later on we see Cyril of Jerusalem explain…
Let me give you this charge also. Study our teachings and keep them forever. Think not that they are the ordinary homilies ; for though they also are good and trustworthy, yet if we should neglect them today we may study them tomorrow. But if the teaching concerning the laver of regeneration delivered in a consecutive course be neglected today, when shall it be made right? Suppose it is the season for planting trees: if we do not dig, and dig deep, when else can that be planted rightly which has once been planted ill? Suppose, pray, that the Catechising is a kind of building: if we do not bind the house together by regular bonds in the building, lest some gap be found, and the building become unsound, even our former labour is of no use. But stone must follow stone by course, and corner match with corner, and by our smoothing off inequalities the building must thus rise evenly. In like manner we are bringing to you stones, as it were, of knowledge. You must hear concerning the living God, you must hear of Judgment, must hear of Christ, and of the Resurrection. And many things there are to be discussed in succession, which though now dropped one by one are afterwards to be presented in harmonious connection. But unless thou fit them together in the one whole, and remember what is first, and what is second, the builder may build, but you will find the building unsound.
These lectures present baptism as the fruit of a process of catechism described as the planting of a tree, and the building of a house. Whilst the process of catechism by Cyril’s day had become more rigorous and systematic it was still the same fundamental approach we see in earlier centuries and scripture itself. This was normative and if so what are we to make of infant baptism?
It is my view that infant baptism originated in relation to infant mortality. I addressed the evidence of this in Part 2 of 4. I can affirm this in myself that if my son became really sick I would want him baptised. If he recovered, however, I would be concerned for him later in life. That he would not truly appreciate the gift that had been given to him in ignorance. That being able to remember and recall the act, and its preparation has an existential power that engages the will in a way not possible when done to an infant. Cyril touches on the significance of properly being prepared for baptism below…
Great is the Baptism that lies before you : a ransom to captives; a remission of offenses; a death of sin; a new-birth of the soul; a garment of light; a holy indissoluble seal; a chariot to heaven; the delight of Paradise; a welcome into the kingdom; the gift of adoption! But there is a serpent by the wayside watching those who pass by: beware lest he bite you with unbelief. He sees so many receiving salvation, and is seeking whom he may devour. You are coming in unto the Father of Spirits, but you are going past that serpent. How then may you pass him? Have your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace ; that even if he bite, he may not hurt you. Have faith in-dwelling, stedfast hope, a strong sandal, that you may pass the enemy, and enter the presence of your Lord. Prepare your own heart for reception of doctrine, for fellowship in holy mysteries. Pray more frequently, that God may make you worthy of the heavenly and immortal mysteries. Cease not day nor night: but when sleep is banished from your eyes, then let your mind be free for prayer. And if you find any shameful thought rise up in your mind, turn to meditation upon Judgment to remind you of Salvation. Give your mind wholly to study, that it may forget base things. If you find any one saying to you, Are you then going in, to descend into the water? Has the city just now no baths? Take notice that it is the dragon of the sea who is laying these plots against you. Attend not to the lips of the talker, but to God who works in you. Guard your own soul, that thou be not ensnared, to the end that abiding in hope you may become an heir of everlasting salvation.
Cyril points to the importance of a personal faith in guarding oneself against the ‘serpent of unbelief’ which catechism fortifies against in advance of baptism. Yet over successive centuries we see the normalisation of infant baptism to such a degree that it becomes impossible to properly speak of baptism in ways not predicated on the predominance of infant baptism. This is reflected more explicitly in the theology of later traditions.
Infant baptism was still baptism, it is still baptism, but to those who go on to live long lives what place does catechism have? History tells us it is one of progressive relegation and neglect despite formal assertions otherwise. How many have entered into baptism before time with their tree in shallow soil? How many have lived in houses shoddily built? How many have lived in ignorance and neglect of that which was indiscriminately bestowed upon them during the long centuries of Christendom? Too many. We cannot explain the later baptism of the holy men of the church in the earliest centuries if not for the desire to be properly catechised before baptism and cognisant of the responsibility that comes with so great a gift. Infant baptism therefore whilst permissible, especially in cases of impending morality, is not to be considered a default mode in other circumstances and places of a heavier burden on all involved. It is not to be considered a means to de facto attain salvation for our loved ones. This is to squander the gift and to neglect the giver. For once bestowed it cannot be given again, the house we live in cannot be rebuilt once we have come to occupy it. By grace of God it can be improved but, to use another analogy, once the car is running we cannot then decide to rebuild it.
Definitions of rebaptism
It is my own view that any baptism done in the name of the Trinity is to be considered a valid baptism with disregard to their tradition. The name of the Trinity spoken over someone cannot be revoked once given. If someone changes a tradition they are to be reconciled to the church via the imposition of hands. Ideally from a bishop. Personally I think the tract On Rebaptism that emerged during Cyprian’s debate with Stephen of Rome on the baptism of Heretics rings true on this account…
For when the apostle said that there was one baptism, (Ephesians 4:5) it must needs have been by the continued effect of the invocation of the name of Jesus, because, once invoked, it cannot be taken away by any man, even although we might venture, against the decision of the apostles, to repeat it by giving too much, yea, by the desire of superadding baptism. If he who returns to the Church be unwilling again to be baptized, the result will be that we may defraud him of the baptism of the Spirit, whom we think we must not defraud of the baptism of water.
On Rebaptism, Chapter 10
Thus, cleaving to the baptism of men, the Holy Spirit either goes before or follows it; or failing the baptism of water, it falls upon those who believe. We are counselled that either we ought duly to maintain the integrity of baptism, or if by chance baptism is given by any one in the name of Jesus Christ, we ought to supplement it, guarding the most holy invocation of the name of Jesus Christ, as we have most abundantly set forth; guarding, moreover, the custom and authority which so much claim our veneration for so long a time and for such great men.
On Rebaptism, Chapter 14
Cyprian of Carthage was infamous for demanding the rebaptism of heretics wherein Stephen of Rome seemed to hold a position reminiscent of this tract. The argument being that the baptism of the heretics was no baptism and therefore one can demand rebaptism by negating the first. Cyril of Jerusalem said on the topic…
We may not receive Baptism twice or thrice; else it might be said, Though I have failed once, I shall set it right a second time: whereas if you fail once, the thing cannot be set right; for there is one Lord, and one faith, and one baptism : for only the heretics are re-baptized , because the former was no baptism.
I agree with Cyril here if we are talking of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Oneness Pentecostals and the like. However, the argument rests on the question where does the agency of God reside? Does it “fall upon those who believe” or is it the exclusive domain of a bishop in the right community? I do not feel convinced that baptism is dependant on the charismata of a bishop or priest but rather the Holy Spirit itself. In the wake of so many contemporary abuse scandals amidst clergy the idea that they wield ex opere operato charismata, independent of their own state I find deeply disturbing. Rather it is the right ordering of the conscience and the faith of the recipient. I say this based on Luke 9:49-50. This is sadly ironic because the Councils of Carthage presided over by Cyprian instead chose to draw on Matthew 12:30. One Bishop said at the Seventh Council…
Are heretics Christians or not? If they are Christians, why are they not in the Church of God? If they are not Christians, how come they to make Christians? Or whither will tend the Lord’s discourse, when He says, He that is not with me is against me, and he who gathers not with me scatters? (Matthew 12:30) Whence it appears plain that upon strange children, and on the offspring of Antichrist, the Holy Ghost cannot descend only by imposition of hands, since it is manifest that heretics have not baptism.
Secundinus of Carpi, Seventh Council of Carthage
So I will be plain and say I think this is wrong. Moreso, that the pastoral example evidenced by Eusebius in his history (Chapter 7:9 details the case of Bishop of Alexandria Dionysius – I cite it in Part 2 of 4) shows that some evidently did not think rebaptism was required if the will and conscience brought into reconciliation with the church where it had once been estranged. I believe this further underscored by the account of Athanasius’s own baptism of his friends whilst still a child himself.
The young Athanasius, whom the children designated as “bishop”, performed the Baptism, precisely repeating the words he heard in church during this sacrament. Patriarch Alexander observed all this from a window. He then commanded that the children and their parents be brought to him. He conversed with them for a long while, and determined that the Baptism performed by the children was done according to the Church order. He acknowledged the Baptism as real and sealed it with the sacrament of Chrismation. From this moment, the Patriarch looked after the spiritual upbringing of Athanasius and in time brought him into the clergy, at first as a reader, and then he ordained him as a deacon.
Even though Athanasius wasn’t at this time ordained his baptism of his friends was considered valid. It was received by the bishop as such and didn’t require repetition by an authorised body. Which is more than Dionysius of Alexandria expected of the man in his own congregation years later. I see this as concordant with the tract ‘On Rebaptism’ that challenged the position of the Seventh Council of Carthage on this topic.
In this light I think the Seventh Council of Carthage argued for rebaptism and could be called anabaptists. For just as Hubmaier rejected the label, for he rejected the validity of those baptisms done of infants, as did the council of those they deemed heretics. The same logic is employed by both parties, let them both be therefore considered anabaptists irregardless. Bishop Adelphius of Thasvalte stated at the Seventh Council “Certain persons without reason impugn the truth by false and envious words, in saying that we rebaptize, when the Church does not rebaptize heretics, but baptizes them.” and such words could have been said by Hubmaier equally in all sincerity. If one states the Seventh Council of Carthage weren’t preaching Anabaptism then neither strictly was Hubmaier a millennium later.
Against confirmation and in favour of paedocommunion
It is also my view that the requirement of confirmation as an act distinct from baptism is something we do not see in scripture nor in the witness of the earliest centuries of the church. The idea that someone might be baptised and ‘unconfirmed’ in it I think is an impossibility and is rooted in the breaking apart of earlier baptismal liturgies which consisted of a baptism, a chrismation and/or laying on of hands and then participation in communion. They were part of the same process as we see in the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus and the Catechetical Lectures of Cyril of Jerusalem which show an order of: Preparation/Exorcism, Baptism, Chrismation, and Communion. This is a process largely unchanged in the Eastern Churches and introduced into the Western ones partly given views on the ability to ‘confirm’ a baptismal candidate as the exclusive domain of a bishop, which I covered in Parts 3 of 4. It was also segmented, I believe, to somehow maintain some element of the previously normative practice of catechism or education in advance of baptism. All of these reflecting later theological developments that come into play from the 5th century onwards.
Confirmation has also subsequently gone hand in hand with the withholding of communion from infants. Something I do not see as justifiable to anyone baptised, no matter the age, unless on grounds of discipline. If one might be baptised without knowledge, one might participate in communion too using the same grounds. The introduction of both these practices is symptomatic of a theology not in accord with the earliest centuries of the church.
One Baptism. Against strict Credobaptism or Paedobaptism
In reflecting on all of this the very idea of the strict categories of paedobaptism or credobaptism would be alien to the Apostles and their earliest inheritors. By this I mean the exclusivism each position has been known for in our own age. I firmly believe the onus and normative practice of the early Christians was a position most closely resembling credobaptism but despite this they permitted the baptism of infants who were likely sickly or expected to die. There is a difference between this position and that of Hubmaier, the Anabaptist, who would still baptise infants in similar circumstances, however, the difference is not as great as some would like to make out. I would also think they would have been unlikely to refuse parents who requested it for their children generally.
This is the view I come to when we see the maintenance of confessional language and a personal faith in baptismal liturgy, the late baptism of many fathers and yet writing stating the early church does baptise infants. The term infants itself I believe denoting not merely newborns but prepubescent children at a range of ages. The fact that we even have the dichotomy of terms regarding the two conceptions of baptism I think is symptomatic of the normalisation and widespread adoption of paedobaptist theology. So much so that I believe many credobaptists still unconsciously think in paedobaptist categories. Credobaptism itself is a protestation against the problematic aspects of a the normalisation of Paedobaptism, not present in the earliest centuries but all too visible in later ones.
It is my belief therefore that most catholic and orthodox understanding of the timing of baptism is of a ‘mixed use’ approach to baptising adults and children. Where this differs from paedobaptist traditions is that the baptism of infants is not to be mandated, nor anywhere required if absent of immediate risk, and the onus of liturgical and theological writing on the topic is to be, like in scripture and earliest centuries afterwards, on the regeneration and conversion of the individual. The grace of God and the human will in harmony together.
Where this leaves me
This section has been probably the hardest for me to write. In talking to others about this exploration I’ve been doing I’ve been told reassured repeatedly that my views were, if wrong, not exclusicionary for a member of the laity to hold. Maybe it’s just a matter of my personality, or the fact that I was actually exploring ordination when this came up but the whole experience had been pretty unsettling for me. It has introduced a level of cognitive dissonance that has been hard to reconcile and put to rest. To know your views aren’t in accord with the theology of the tradition you find yourself in is disturbing, for me atleast. I will now try and parse where this leaves me with regard to my own tradition.
The Church of England and Anglicanism
For a long time, it feels, I had been fully embracing my Anglican heritage, but since exploring this topic, and the birth of my son, something has changed. I don’t feel the affinity for it in the way I once did, the warmth I felt when I thought about its theology and practice has gone from me. I think this is partly down to the response I’ve seen from many Anglicans I’ve talked to about this. Even as someone who would have previously called himself Reformed I stumbled over the view that there wasn’t some form of regeneration that occurs at Baptism. I also realised that I just found the explanatory power of Reformed Covenental theology consistently lacking. Despite this my views on Communion still sit somewhere between Calvin and Luther, with the former looking in the direction of the latter.
The other thing I’ve become aware of in all of this is how deliberately obtuse it is to actually nail down what constitutes Anglican theology today. There is a deliberate obscurity that whilst not done with malicious intent makes it hard for me to have faith in the long term health of the tradition. Let me be plain, I believe the Church of England is dying in the UK. Jesus was talking about a different topic but the principle “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” Rings in my ears when I think of the Church of England. The Anglican house is split into many facets; Reformed, Anglo-Catholic, Evangelical, Charismatic, and Progressive. A great many clergy occupy what they call the “muddy middle” which is that they incorporate elements of each according to their own preference. Which can be tough on the laity. I cannot help but place the lion’s share of the blame at the feet of the Anglo-Catholic movement which via their argumentation and the subsequent institutional facilitation have set up a means for abuse which has been adopted by subsequent movements since. There is a deliberate recasting of history, of liturgy, of the formularies and of theology that can be at times totally disparate from one parish to another. To me this comes across as a dishonesty unbefitting of Christians. Disagree and argue if you must but do not say yes when you mean no. If McLuhan’s saying is true that “The Medium is the Message” then the institutional medium of the Church of England writ large is hierarchical and factious relativism.
I don’t know if I can call myself an Anglican anymore. I want to. I still draw on the 1662 prayer book and many of the Divines, I still read and refer to Jeremy Taylor’s Holy Living and Dying, but I don’t see much of it reflected in the contemporary Church of England. Nor am I convinced that John Cassian’s teaching on free will seems reconcilable with Anglican theology, which seems notably Augustinian to me. Despite that, I affirm the idea of episcopal governance and much of the institutional, historical, theological and political fabric which I associate with Anglicanism. The problem is I don’t believe such a tradition exists outside of my mind.
Me and my family are still involved in our local Church of England Church. I can’t imagine going anywhere else, but we are also consciously aware that we will need to move home in the medium term and won’t be able to keep attending beyond that short of a miracle. Where would we go after that? In principle, I don’t know. If my son was baptised in the Church of England I don’t believe in confirmation as a justifiably distinct nor do I believe in delaying baptism once desired till they can be done together. I also believe in paedocommunion for those infants who are baptised. None of this is possible in the Church of England, at least licitly.
None of this hasn’t been done in a vacuum, this has been written in the opening weeks of my son’s life. It’s hard to explain what his birth, and the subsequent weeks, has meant for us as a family. From before he was born I have wanted to do right by him and reading around on the topic and timing of baptism has been a big part of that. Nothing is more important for a child, in my mind, than to be brought up in the knowledge and love of God and to be brought into his Church (with thanksgiving). I’ve had multiple people criticise me for not baptising him already into their own respective tradition. So I guess the question is what will I do instead?
In my mind my son is a catechumen. He will be raised in the faith and taught about it. I pray over him, we pray together as a family every day before I leave for work, sing hymns and the doxology for him, after we wash him I massage his limbs with oil and sign the cross upon him. I will continue to do this. As soon as he is able to understand I will talk to him about baptism, what it means, and the importance of communion. God willing he will come, in his time ordained by God, to his own faith and desire baptism. The sooner the better but the age matters less than his disposition regarding its reception. The question hovering over all of this now is in what tradition? If I have no home in the Church of England it will take some time to know where to turn.
If you’ve read one or all of these entries I just want to say thank you. I am no theologian and I am no historian. I wrote this to try and process my own thinking on the topic and if nothing else from being lead to read a lot of the writings of a great many people better lettered than I. I’ve tried to squeeze this in between work and getting to grips with being a new dad so please forgive me if the scholarly rigour isn’t what some had hoped. God bless.