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The most devout among the Jews went and received baptism from the hands of the prophets most venerated by the people. Hence it was that they flocked to St. John, who baptised in the Jordan.
Jesus Christ himself, who never baptised any one, deigned to receive baptism from St. John. This custom, which had long been an accessory of the Jewish religion, received new dignity, new value from our Saviour, and became the chief rite, the principal seal of Christianity. However, the first fifteen bishops of Jerusalem were Jews. The Christians of Palestine long continued to circumcise. St. John's Christians never received baptism from Christ.
Several other Christian societies applied a cautery to the baptised, with a red-hot iron, being determined to the performance of this extraordinary operation by the words of St. John the Baptist, related by St. Luke "I baptise you with water; but he that cometh after me shall baptise you with fire."
This was practised by the Seleucians, the Herminians, and some others. The words "he shall baptise you with fire," have never been explained. There are several opinions concerning the baptism by fire, which is mentioned by St. Luke and St. Matthew. Perhaps the most likely opinion is, that it was an allusion to the ancient custom of the devotees to the Syrian goddess, who, after plunging into water, imprinted characters on their bodies with a hot iron. With miserable man, all was superstition; but Jesus substituted for these ridiculous superstitions, a sacred ceremony-a divine and efficacious symbol.*
In the first ages of Christianity, nothing was more
*These stigmata were imprinted chiefly on the neck and on the wrist, in order that, from these apparent marks, it might be the better known that the individuals were initiated and belonged to the goddess. See the chapter on the goddess of Syria, written by one of the initiated, and inserted in Lucian. Plutarch, in his Treatise on Superstition, says that this goddess punished such as ate forbidden meats with sores in the calves of their legs. This may have some relation with Deuteronomy, which, after forbidding the eating of griffon, camel, eel, &c., says-If thou dost not observe these commandments, "cursed
common than to postpone the receiving of baptism until the last agony. Of this the example of the emperor Constantine is a very strong proof. St. Andrew had not been baptised when he was made bishop of Milan. The custom of deferring the use of the sacred bath until the hour of death, was soon abolished.
Baptism of the Dead.
The dead also were baptised. This is established by the passage of St. Paul to the Corinthians.—“ If we rise not again, what shall they do that receive baptism from the dead?" Here is a point of fact. Either the dead themselves were baptised, or baptism was received in their names, as indulgences have since been received for the deliverance of the souls of friends and relatives out of purgatory.
St. Epiphanius and St. Chrysostom inform us, that it was a custom in some Christian societies, and principally among the Marcionites, to put a living man under the dead man's bed; he was then asked, if he would be baptised; the living man answered, yes; and the corpse was taken and plunged into a tub of water. This custom was soon condemned. St. Paul mentions it, but he does not condemn it; on the contrary, he cites it as an invincible argument to prove resurrection.
Baptism by Aspersion.
The Greeks always retained baptism by immersion. The Latins, about the close of the eighth century, hav
shalt thou be. The Lord shall smite thee in the knees and in the legs with a sore that cannotbe healed."* Thus was the Syrian falsehood the shadow of Hebrew truth, which has itself given place to a truth still more luminous.
Baptism by fire-in other words, these stigmata, were everywhere practised. We read in Ezekiel-"Slay utterly old and young, both maids and little children, and women; but come not near any man upon whom is the mark;" and in the Apocalypse "Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the tree, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. And there were sealed a hundred and fifty-four thousand.
* Chap. xxviii. v. 35. † Chap. xi. v. 9. + Chap. vii. v. 4, 5,
ing extended their religion into Gaul and Germany, and seeing that immersion might be fatal to infants in cold countries, substituted simple aspersion, and thus drew upon themselves frequent anathemas from the Greek church.
St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, was asked, if those were really baptised who had only had their bodies sprinkled all over. He answers, in his seventy-sixth letter, that several churches did not believe the sprinkled to be Christian; that, for his own part, he believes that they are so, but that they have infinitely less grace than those who have been thrice dipped, according to custom.
A person was initiated among the Christians as soon as he was dipped; until then he was only a catechumen. To be initiated, it was necessary to have sponsors, to answer to the Church for the fidelity of the new Christians, and that the mysteries should not be divulged. Hence it was, that in the first ages, the Gentiles had, in general, as little knowledge of the Christian mysteries as the Christians had of the mysteries of Isis and the Eleusinian Ceres.
Cyril of Alexandria, in his writing against the Emperor Julian, expresses himself thus-" I would speak of baptism, but that I fear my words would reach them who are not initiated." At that time there was no worship without its mysteries, its associations, its catechumens, its initiated, and its professed. Each sect required new virtues, and recommended to its penitents a new life" initium novæ vitæ,"-whence the word initiation. The initiation of Christians, whether male or female, consisted in their being plunged quite naked into a tub of cold water, to which sign was attached the remission of all their sins. But the difference between Christian baptism and the Greek, Syrian, Egyptian, and Roman ceremonies, was the difference between truth and falsehood. Jesus Christ was the high-priest of the new law.
In the second century, infants began to be baptised: it was natural that the Christians should desire their children, who would have been damned without this
sacrament, to be provided with it. It was at length concluded that they must receive it at the expiration of eight days, because that was the period at which, among the Jews, they were circumcised. In the Greek church, this is still the custom.
Such as died in the first week were damned, according to the most rigorous Fathers of the Church. But Peter Chrysologos, in the fifth century, imagined limbo, a sort of mitigated hell, or properly the border, the outskirt of hell, whither all infants dying without baptism go, and where the patriarchs remained until Jesus Christ's descent into hell. So that the opinion that Jesus Christ descended into limbo, and not into hell, has since then prevailed.
It was agitated, whether a Christian, in the desarts of Arabia, might be baptised with sand; this was answered in the negative. It was asked if rose-water might be used; it was decided that pure water would be necessary, but that muddy water might be made use of. It is evident that all this discipline depended on the discretion of the first pastors who established it.
The anabaptists, and some other communions out of the pale, have thought that no one should be baptised without a thorough knowledge of the merits of the You require, say they, a promise to be of the Christian society; but a child can make no engagement. You give it a sponsor; but this is an abuse of an ancient custom. The precaution was requisite in the first establishment. When strangers, adult men and women, came and presented themselves to be received into the society and share in the alms, there was need of a guarantee to answer for their fidelity; it was necessary to make sure of them; they swore they would be Jews; but an infant is in a diametrically opposite case. It has often happened that a child baptised by Greeks at Constantinople, has afterwards been circumcised by Turks: a Christian at eight days old, and a Mussulman at thirty years, he has betrayed the oaths of his godfather. This is one reason which the anabaptists might allege; it would hold good in Turkey, but it has never been admitted in Christian
countries, where baptism ensures a citizen's condition. We must conform to the rites and laws of our country.
The Greeks re-baptise such of the Latins as pass from one of our Latin communions to the Greek communion. In the last century, it was the custom for these catechumens to pronounce the following words—“ I spit upon my father and my mother, who had me ill baptised." This custom still exists, and will, perhaps, long continue to exist in the provinces.
Notions of rigid Unitarians concerning Baptism.
"It is evident, to whosoever is willing to reason without prejudice, that baptism is neither a mark of grace conferred, nor a seal of alliance, but simply a mark of profession.
"That baptism is not necessary, neither by necessity of precept, nor by necessity of means.
"That it was not instituted by Christ; and that it may be omitted by the Christian, without his suffering any inconvenience therefrom.
"That baptism should be administered neither to children, nor to adults, nor, in general, to any individual whatsoever.
"That baptism might be of service in the early infancy of Christianity, to those who quitted paganism, in order to make their profession of faith public, and give an authentic mark of it; but that now it is absolutely useless and altogether indifferent."
Baptism, immersion in water, abstersion, purification by water, is of the highest antiquity. To be cleanly, was to be pure before the Gods. No priest ever dared to approach the altar with a soil upon his body. The natural inclination to transfer to the soul that which appertains to the body, led to the belief that lus-trations and ablutions took away the stains of the soul, as they removed those of the garments, and that washing the body washed the soul also. Hence the ancient custom of bathing in the Ganges, the waters of which