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The Baptism, Descent Into Hell, and Resurrection of Unity in Christ: Early Christian Ideas & Views on Baptism
By Kerry A. Shirts
I just purchased my Deseret CD-ROM, the "GospeLink " Reference Library and am quite excited about what it contains. Here is a rather large collection of Early Christian writings which have always intrigued me. So, I thought I would see just what the early Christians understood concerning baptism, what it meant to them, why they were baptized, who baptized them etc. What I found, I believe is of more than passing interest to Latter Day Saints. Here was an ordinance they firmly believed in, which shows, I believe, that their understanding of being saved by Grace is a far different thing than what todays Evangelical Christians believe. Mormonism, I think this paper will show, is far closer to Early Christian thinking than current day Christianity, which I believe also demonstrates that Mormonism is plausibly a restoration of ancient Christian conceptions. Nowhere is this so evident than with regards to the ideas concerning baptism. Lets take a look shall we? All references are taken from the CD-ROM which does not provide page numbers to the Early Christian Writings. The key words I used in my search were "baptism," "baptize," and "baptized." Ill identify the CD-ROM references with (CD). Other outside sources, Ill just include in the footnotes.
Ambrose demonstrated clearly that the Grace of Christ was bestowed on Christians as they performed the ordinances of salvation, physical baptism in water especially, since it had serious symbolic import, as well as literal physical import:
"...but we say that he who has been baptized in Christ ought not now to be esteemed a fornicator, but his life, whatever it is, is accepted of God, the Apostle has added "Not at all[meaning] with the fornicators of this world," and farther on, "If any that is named a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such an one not even to eat. For what have I to do with judging them that are without?" And to the Ephesians: "But fornication, and all uncleanness, and covetousness let it not even be named among you, as becometh saints." And immediately he adds: "For this ye know, that no immodest person, nor unclean, nor covetous, which is an idolator, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." It is clear that this is said of the baptized, for they receive the inheritance, who are baptized into the death of Christ and are buried together with Him, that they may rise again with Him. Therefore they are heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ: heirs of God, because the grace of Christ is conveyed to them; joint-heirs with Christ, because they are renewed into His life; heirs also of Christ; because to them is given by His death as it were the inheritance of the testator."
Ambrose also noted that Christ granted a redemption fro our sins, as we did something about ridding them from our souls. There is simply by no stretch of the imagination a simple concept of saved by grace with nothing to be done on our part to inherit the wonderful Grace of Christ. "Wherefore, then, does Auxentius hold that the faithful ought to be rebaptized, when they have been baptized in the name of the Trinity, when the Apostle says: "One faith, one baptism"? And wherefore does he say that he is man's enemy, not Christ's, seeing that he despises the counsel of God and condemns the baptism which Christ has granted us to redeem our sins." In other words, apparently there were some, such as Auxentius, who were saying there was no need of baptism. But Ambrose would have none of it. He noted clearly that baptism, which we were to undergo (and most all of the Early Christian Fathers note this), was what gave us a redemption from our sins. In other words, we were to do something to help us rid ourselves of our own sins, not simply believe and that was the end of it. The Early Christians were very much aware of the serious importance of the ordinances, and our necessity to try and have them performed by us in our lifetimes. Augustine also noted that "Whoever, therefore, desires to escape eternal punishment, let him not only be baptized, but also justified in Christ, and so let him in truth pass from the devil to Christ." Clearly then, Early Christians noted that baptism was one of the things that kept us from the devil, and helped us get to Christ.
The New Testament Pseudepigraphic text "The Revelation of St. John" also showed this awareness.
"And again I said: Lord, and what of those who have received baptism? And I heard a voice saying to me: Then the race of the Christians shall be examined, who have received baptism; and then the righteous shall come at my command, and the angels shall go and collect them from among the sinners, as the prophet David foretold: The Lord will not suffer the rod of the sinners in the lot of the righteous; and all the righteous shall be placed on my right hand, and shall shine like the sun." Obviously, the righteous were more than mere lip professing Christians of belief in their hearts. They were conscientiously applying baptism to themselves as "those who have received baptism." Nicanora in "The Acts of Philip," prayed for one Mariamme, in order to help her be baptized since through baptism, Christians felt they were freed "from the slavery of death." John Chrysostom demonstrates that once we have done our part, then and only then will the Grace of Christ do for us what we cannot do. But there are some things we can and ought to do in order to merit the Grace of Christ, one of which certainly was baptism: "For this cause they were straightway baptized, that what they were unable to accomplish by themselves, this might be effected by the grace of Christ. Neither then does repentance suffice for purification, but men must first receive baptism. At all events, it was necessary to come to baptism, having condemned the sins thereby and given sentence against them."
Moreover, there exist in the Early Christian literature many accounts of people who are actually healed from physical infirmities because they show their faith through baptism, and thus their very bodies are also washed and restored to health. It was a rather serious affair for the Early Christians to literally show God their faith by their actions, and hence also in turn, receive back Gods love through physical healing. And, rather than flaunt it around, they were sworn into the strictest secrecy and sacredness of the baptismal rites, regardless of how loud the world howled for demonstrations. Some things are not to be seen by profane eyes, but hidden in secret sacredness, exactly as with some aspects of Mormonism where the sacred and profane are likewise separated with them and the world.
Basil was rather adamant about the whole secret affair. In his "De Spiritu Sancto," he describes some reasons why ideas of baptism were simply not known to the outside world:
"Moreover we bless the water of baptism and the oil of the chrism, and besides this the catechumen who is being baptized. On what written authority do we do this? Is not our authority silent and mystical tradition? Nay, by what written word is the anointing of oil itself taught? And whence comes the custom of baptizing thrice? And as to the other customs of baptism from what Scripture do we derive the renunciation of Satan and his angels? Does not this come from that unpublished and secret teaching which oar fathers guarded in a silence out of the reach of curious meddling and inquisitive investigation? Well had they learnt the lesson that the awful dignity of the mysteries is best preserved by silence. What the uninitiated are not even allowed: to look at was hardly likely to be publicly paraded about in written documents. What was the meaning of the mighty Moses in not making all the parts of the tabernacle open to every one? The profane he stationed without the sacred barriers; the first courts he conceded to the purer; the Levites alone he judged worthy of being servants of the Deity; sacrifices and burnt offerings and the rest of the priestly functions he allotted to the priests; one chosen out of all he admitted to the shrine, and even this one not always but on only one day in the year, and of this one day a time was fixed for his entry so that he might gaze on the Holy of Holies amazed at the strangeness and novelty of the sight. Moses was wise enough to know that contempt stretches to the trite and to the obvious, while a keen interest is naturally associated with the unusual and the unfamiliar. In the same manner the Apostles and Fathers who laid down laws for the Church from the beginning thus guarded the awful dignity of the mysteries in secrecy and silence, for what is bruited abroad random among the common folk is no mystery at all. This is the reason for our tradition of unwritten precepts and practices, that the knowledge of our dogmas may not become neglected and contemned by the multitude through familiarity." John Chrysostom in the Homilies notes that baptism was no guarantee for Salvation, since the true Christian was to live a life of faith through actions of righteousness, i.e. the Gospel was a physically active thing in Christians lives, including making use of the ordinances God gave us to help save ourselves:
"Look not at this, that one who was baptized before thee, has turned out ill, and has fallen from his hope: since among soldiers also we see some not doing their duty by the service, while we see others distinguishing themselves, and we do not look only at the idle ones, but we emulate these, the men who are successful. But besides, consider how many, after their baptism, have of men become angels! Fear the uncertainty of the future. "As a thief in the night," so death comes: and not merely as a thief, but while we sleep it sets upon us, and carries us off while we are idling. To this end has God made the future uncertain, that we may spend Our time in the practice of virtue, because of the uncertainty of expectation. But He is merciful, say you. How long shall we hear this senseless, ridiculous talk? I affirm not only that God is merciful, but that nothing can be more merciful than He, and that He orders all things concerning us for our good. How many all their life do you see afflicted with the worst form of leprosy! (en elefantidiagontas), "Elephantiasis,") how many blind from their earliest youth even to old age! others who have lost their eyesight, others in poverty, others in bonds, others again in the mines, others entombed (katacwsqentas) together, others (slaughtered) in wars! These things say you, do not look like mercy. Say, could He not have prevented these things had He wished, yet He permits them? True, say you. Say, those who are blind from their infancy, why are they so? I will not tell you, until you promise me to receive baptism, and, being baptized, to live aright." Obviously, their actions was a major key in helping them to live aright, not mere lip confessions and words. Note again the secrecy. John Chrysostom in the Homilies was equally as emphatic on this point of secrecy because of the sacredness of Christian doctrine and ordinances:
"Say, those who are blind from their infancy, why are they so? I will not tell you, until you promise me to receive baptism, and, being baptized, to live aright. It is not right to give you the solution of these questions. The preaching is not meant just for amusement. For even if I solve this, on the back of this follows another question: of such questions there is a bottomless deep. Therefore do not get into a habit of looking to have them solved for you: else we shall never stop questioning. For look, if I solve this, I do but lead the way to question upon question, numberless as the snowflakes. So that this is what we learn, rather to raise questions, not to solve the questions that are raised. For even if we do solve them, we have not solved them altogether, but (only) as far as man's reasoning goes."
Augustine in the "Confessions" felt that it was through baptism that one joined the true church: "Simplicianus,' as he himself informed me," Let us go to the church; I wish to be made a Christian. " But he, not containing himself for joy, accompanied him. And having been admitted to the first sacraments of instruction, he not long after gave in his name, that he might be regenerated by baptism..." John Chrysostom, likewise, in the Homilies on the Epistle to the Romans noted that after baptism Christians were to walk in newness of life "That as Christ was raised up from the dead by the Glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." Likewise, Hermas says "there is no other repentance than this, that we go down into the water and receive the forgiveness of past sins." Baptism confers the forgiveness of sins. "With the forgiveness of sins man receives a new heart and also the obligation to live according to Christs commandments."
Baptism wasnt thought of as merely symbolic for us to contemplate in our minds. To the Early Christians there was a literal physical necessity involved in baptism. The water used was not a spiritual or a symbolic water, but the real stuff. John Chrysostom is quite clear on this aspect of the rite, that real water was used because it really did have physical effects on us, and for its symbolic value as well.
Ver. 3, 4. "Know ye not," he says, "my brethren, that so many of us as were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death? therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death."
What does being "baptized into His Death" mean? That it is with a view to our dying as He did. For Baptism is the Cross. What the Cross then, and Burial, is to Christ, that Baptism hath been to us, even if not in the same respects. For He died Himself and was buried in the Flesh, but we have done both to sin. Wherefore he does not say, planted together in His Death, but in the likeness of His Death. For both the one and the other is a death, but not of the same subject; since the one is of the Flesh, that of Christ; the other of sin, which is our own. As then that is real, so is this. But if it be real, then a what is of our part again must be contributed.  He also elaborates further in his Homies on the Gospel of John.
"That the need of water is absolute and indispensable, you may learn in this way. On one occasion, when the Spirit had flown down before the water was applied, the Apostle did not stay at this point, but, as though the water were necessary and not superfluous, observe what he says; "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?" (Acts x. 47.)
What then is the use of the water? This too I will tell you hereafter, when I reveal to you the hidden mystery. There are also other points of mystical teaching connected with the matter, but for the present I will mention to you one out of many. What is this one? In Baptism are fulfilled the pledges of our covenant with God; burial and death, resurrection and life; and these take place all at once. For when we immerse our heads in the water, the old man is buried as in a tomb below, and wholly sunk forever; then as we raise them again, the new man rises in its stead. As it is easy for us to dip and to lift our heads again, so it is easy for God to bury the old man, and to show forth the new. And this is done thrice, that you may learn that the power of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost fulfilleth all this. To show that what we say is no conjecture, hear Paul saying, "We are buried with Him by Baptism into death": and again, "Our old man is crucified with Him": and again, "We have been planted together in the likeness of His death." (Rom. vi. 4, 5, 6.) And not only is Baptism called a "cross," but the "cross" is called "Baptism." "With the Baptism," saith Christ, "that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized" (Mark x. 39): and, "I have a Baptism to be baptized with" (Luke xii. 50) (which ye know not); for as we easily dip and lift our heads again, so He also easily died and rose again when He willed or rather much more easily, though He tarried the three days for the dispensation of a certain mystery".
The Christian symbolism of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ also included his descent into hell! Jean Danielou has noted that not only was baptism called a garment (a regular term for the sacrament as well), but it was performed by immersion.  This was essential since the symbolism of immersing all the way under the water was a beautifully complete microlesson of the entire mission of Jesus Christ. In Early Christian and Jewish lore, the water was the infernal regions where the dead abide. Through baptism we descend with the Lord to the Infernal Regions and are raised, hence "Baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation." Why? Because "The water is both the baptismal water and the water of death, and the descent and rising are allusions to the baptismal rite." Danielou also reflects on Christs descent into hell to saved those there who will accept his Gospel.
Paedegogus noted that "He is perfected by the washingof baptismalone, and is sanctified by the descent of the Spirit? Such is the case. The same also takes place in our case, whose exemplar Christ became. Being baptized, we are illuminated; illuminated, we become sons; being made sons, we are made perfect; being made perfect, we are made immortal. "I," says He, "have said that ye are gods, and all sons of the Highest." This work is variously called grace, and illumination, and perfection, and washing..." Cyril in his lectures held to the same idea. " Jesus sanctified Baptism by being Himself baptized. If the Son of God was baptized, what godly man is he that despiseth Baptism? But He was baptized not that He might receive remission of sins, for He was sinless; but being sinless, He was baptized, that He might give to them that are baptized a divine and excellent grace. For since the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise partook of the same, that having been made partakers of His presence in the flesh we might be made partakers also of His Divine grace: thus Jesus was baptized, that thereby we again by our participation might receive both salvation and honour.
Tertullian likewise taught "Are ye ignorant that we who have been baptized in Christ have been baptized into His death? Buried with Him, then, we have been, through the baptism into the death, in order that, as Christ hath risen again from the dead, so we too may walk in newness of life. For if we have been buried together in the likeness of His death, why, we shall be (in that) of (His) resurrection too; knowing this, that our old man hath been crucified together with Him. But if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall live, too, with Him; knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, no more dieth, (that) death no more hath domination over Him. For in that He died to sin, He died once for all; but in that He liveth, to God He liveth. Thus, too, repute ye yourselves dead indeed to sin, but living to God through Christ Jesus." Basil, was ecstatic about what baptism meant for him as a Christian. "For perfection of life the imitation of Christ is necessary, not only in the example of gentleness, lowliness, and long suffering set us in His life, but also of His actual death. So Paul, the imitator of Christ, says, "being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead." How then are we made in the likeness of His death? In that we were buried with Him by baptism. What then is the manner of the burial? And what is the advantage resulting from the imitation? First of all, it is necessary that the continuity of the old life be cut. And this is impossible less a man be born again, according to the Lord's word; for the regeneration, as indeed the name shews, is a beginning of a second life. So before beginning the second, it is necessary to put an end to the first. For just as in the case of runners who turn and take the second course, a kind of halt and pause intervenes between the movements in the opposite direction, so also in making a change in lives it seemed necessary for death to come as mediator between the two, ending all that goes before, and beginning all that comes after. How then do we achieve the descent into hell? By imitating, through baptism, the burial of Christ. For the bodies of the baptized are, as it were, buried in the water. Baptism then symbolically signifies the putting off of the works of the flesh; as the apostle says, ye were "circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; buried with him in baptism."
Cyril also was quite profoundly impressed with the necessity of baptism, along with its symbolism of hope for us:
"After these things, ye were led to the holy pool of Divine Baptism, as Christ was carried from the Cross to the Sepulchre which is before our eyes And each of you was asked, whether he believed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and ye made that saving confession, and descended three times into the water, and ascended again; here also hinting by a symbol at the three days burial of Christ. For as our Saviour passed three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, so you also in your first ascent out of the water, represented the first day of Christ in the earth, and by your descent, the night; for as he who is in the night, no longer sees, but he who is in the day, remains in the light, so in the descent, as in the night, ye saw nothing, but in ascending again ye were as in the day. And at the self-same moment ye were both dying and being born; and that Water of salvation was at once your grave and your mother. And what Solomon spoke of others will suit you also; for he said, in that case, There is a time to bear and a time to die; but to you, in the reverse order, there was a time to die and a time to be born; and one and the same time effected both of these, and your birth went hand in hand with your death.
5. O strange and inconceivable thing! we did not really die, we were not really buried, we were not really crucified and raised again; but our imitation was in a figure, and our salvation in reality. Christ was actually crucified, and actually buried, and truly rose again; and all these things He has freely bestowed upon us, that we, sharing His sufferings by imitation, might gain salvation in reality. O surpassing loving-kindness! Christ received nails in His undefiled hands and feet, and suffered anguish; while on me without pain or toil by the fellowship of His suffering He freely bestows salvation.
6. 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 ye 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.
7. In order therefore that we might learn, that whatsoever things Christ endured, FOR US AND FOR OUR SALVATION He suffered them in reality and not in appearance, and that we also are made partakers of His sufferings, Paul cried with all exactness of truth, For if we have been planted together with the likeness of His death, we shall be also with the likeness of His resurrection."
Cyprian noted that Noah was a perfect symbol of baptism. "Peter also, showing this, set forth that the Church is one, and that only they who are in the Church can be baptized; and said, "In the ark of Noah, few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water; the like figure where-unto even baptism shall save you;" proving and attesting that the one ark of Noah was a type of the one Church. If, then, in that baptism of the world thus expiated and purified, he who was not in the ark of Noah could be saved by water, he who is not in the Church to which alone baptism is granted, can also now be quickened by baptism. Moreover, too, the Apostle Paul, more openly and clearly still manifesting this same thing, writes to the Ephesians, and says, "Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water." But if the Church is one which is loved by Christ, and is alone cleansed by His washing, how can he who is not in the Church be either loved by Christ, or washed and cleansed by His washing?...
But if any one is moved by this, that some of those who are baptized in sickness are still tempted by unclean spirits, let him know that the obstinate wickedness of the devil prevails even up to the saving water, but that in baptism it loses all the poison of his wickedness.
In the Catacombs as well, Noah was depicted as a figure of baptism, along with many other types and allusions from the Old Testament, from the Spirit hovering over the waters at creation, Moses crossing the Red Sea, the flood, the waters of Marah being sweetened, the Rock of Horeb, Elishas iron axehead floating on the River Jordan, thus showing the Early Christians earnest in belief in baptism. It is important to keep in mind that for the Early Christians, baptism was also the proper way for entry into the church. Once cleanesed from sins, they could go on living a righteous life in the church through service to God and their fellow man. Cyprian explained: "This, finally, in very fact also we experience, that those who are baptized by urgent necessity in sickness, and obtain grace, are free from the unclean spirit wherewith they were previously moved, and live in the Church in praise and honour, and day by day make more and more advance in the increase of heavenly grace by the growth of their faith. And, on the other hand, some of those who are baptized in health, if subsequently they begin to sin, are shaken by the return of the unclean spirit, so that it is manifest that the devil is driven out in baptism by the faith of the believer, and returns if the faith afterwards shall fail. Unless, indeed, it seems just to some, that they who, outside the Church among adversaries and antichrists, are polluted with profane water, should be judged to be baptized; while they who are baptized in the Church are thought to have attained less of divine mercy and grace; and so great consideration be had for heretics, that they who come from heresy are not interrogated whether they are washed or sprinkled, whether they be clinics or peripatetics; but among us the sound truth of faith is disparaged, and in ecclesiastical baptism its majesty and sanctity suffer derogation."
Cyprian also understood baptism as entrance into the Church. "But they who still abide in life should be baptized with the baptism of the Church, that they may obtain remission of sins, lest by the presumption of others they remain in their old error, and die without the completion of grace. But what a crime is theirs on the one hand who receive, or on the other, theirs who are received, that their foulness not being washed away by the layer of the Church, nor their sins put away..."
Basil to Amphilocius discussed the idea that apostates did not have authority to baptize others into the church: "and those who had apostatized from the Church had no longer on them the grace of the Holy Spirit, for it ceased to be imparted when the continuity was broken. The first separatists had received their ordination from the Fathers, and possessed the spiritual gift by the laying on of their hands. But they who were broken off had become laymen, and, because they are no longer able to confer on others that grace of the Holy Spirit from which they themselves are fallen away, they had no authority either to baptize or to ordain. And therefore those who were from time to time baptized by them, were ordered, as though baptized by laymen, to come to the church to be purified by the Church's true baptism."
John Chrysostom in the Homilies, not only shows that Early Christians did not believe in being saved by grace through lip confession alone, but that upon baptism, the Holy Spirit was confirmed on the newly baptized member. This was the Early Christian oneness, that is, all had been baptized and received the Holy Spirit, hence were unified in their belief and way of life.:
"Then Peter said unto them," etc.] (Recapitulation, v. 37.) What had been said was not enough. For those sayings indeed were sufficient to bring them to faith; but these are to show what things the believer behooves to do. And he said not, In the Cross, but, "In the name of Jesus Christ let every one of you be baptized." (v. 38.) And he does not put them continually in mind of the Cross, that he may not seem to reproach them, but he says simply, "Repent: and why? That we may be punished? No: "And let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins." And yet quite other is the law; of this world's tribunals: but in the case of the Gospel proclamation (khrulmatos); when the delinquent has confessed, then is he saved! Observe how Peter does not instantly hurry over this, but he specifies also the conditions, and adds, "Ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost;" an assertion accredited by the fact, that the Apostles themselves had received that gift. ["For the promise," etc.] (v. 39.) "The promise," i.e. the gift of the Holy Ghost. So far, he speaks of the easy part, and that which has with it a great gift; and then he leads them to practice: for it will be to them a ground of earnestness, to have tasted already of those so great blessings ["and with many other words did he testify," etc.] (v. 40). Since, however, the hearer would desire to learn what was the sum and, substance of these further words, he tells us this: ["Saying, save yourselves from this untoward generation."] ["They then, that gladly received his words," etc.] (v. 41) they approved of what had been said, although fraught with terror, and after their assent given, proceed at once to baptism. "And they continued" it is written, "steadfastly in the doctrine" (or, "teaching") "of the Apostles" (v. 42): for it was not for one day, no nor for two or three days that they were under teaching as being persons who had gone over to a different course of life. ["And they continued with one accord in the Apostles' doctrine," etc.] The expression is not, omou "together," but omoqumadon, "with one accord;" ("and daily," he says [afterwards], "they were continuing with one accord in the temple,") i. e. with one soul. And here again in his conciseness, he does not relate the teaching given; for as young children, the Apostles nourished them with spiritual food. "And fear came upon every soul" (v. 43): clearly, of those, as well, who did not believe; namely, upon seeing so great a change all at once effected, and besides in consequence of the miracles. ["And all that believed were together, and had all things in common," etc.] (v. 44.) They are all become angels on a sudden; all of them continuing in prayer and hearing, they saw that spiritual things are common, and no one there has more than other, and they speedily came together (epi to aito), to the same thing in common, even to the imparting to all. "And all the believing" (v. 44), it says, were epi ?o auto]. "All," it says: not one with the exception of another. This was an angelic commonwealth, not to call anything of theirs their own. Forthwith the root of evils was cut out. By what they did, they showed what they had heard: this was that which he said, "Save yourselves from this untoward generation." "And daily continuing with one accord in the temple." (v. 46.)
J.N.D. Kelly noted that the Early Christians upon being baptized were given the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands on the newly baptized members head, of either the bishops or elders. In fact, Tertullian thought of the Spirit as a material force in the water which physically extinguished the former sins and physically gives the spirit.
Our looking into the Early Christian thought on baptism has given us several significant items of interest. For one thing, baptism was absolutely essential, not just a possibility, that is, if one were to be a true Christian in Christs Church.
Secondly, the Christian life was to be lived in righteousness, and the Christian way of forgiveness of sins, gaining communion with the Father and the Son, and gaining Eternal Life was through baptism, not mere lip confession and believing they were saved by Christs grace. The Christians had to participate themselves in their own salvation, with Christ taking the lead, and they following with their own works as far as they could do so. This in no way nullified Christs grace, rather it gave it to them!
John Chrysostom, put it this way about living the Christ-like life: "In order to preserve our purity, it is not sufficient for us merely to have been baptized and to have believed, but we must if we will continually enjoy this brightness, display a life worthy of it. This then is God's work in us. To have been born the mystical Birth, and to have been cleansed from all our former sins, comes from Baptism; but to remain for the future pure, never again after this to admit any stain belongs to our own power and diligence."
In the Recognitions we read "if any one desires it, let him be baptized; that, stripped of his former evils, he may for the future, in consequence of his own conduct, become heir of heavenly blessings, as a reward for his good actions. Whosoever will, then, let him come to Zacchaeus and give his name to him, and let him hear from him the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. Let him attend to frequent fastings, and approve himself in all things, that at the end of these three months he may be baptized on the day of the festival. But every one of you shall be baptized in ever flowing waters..."
John Chrysostom also noted that Christians were to be wakeful and vigilent in living righteous lives, since they have been baptized as well as received the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.
"And of laying on of hands." For thus did they receive the Spirit, "when Paul had laid his hands on them" (Acts xix. 6), it is said.
"And of the resurrection of the dead." For this is both effected in baptism, and is affirmed in the confession.
"And of eternal judgment." But why does he say this? Because it was likely that, having already believed, they would either be shaken [from their faith], or would lead evil and slothful lives, he says, "be wakeful."
John Chrysostom also noted in his Homilies, "That as Christ was raised up from the dead by the Glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." It is a beautiful way to demonstrate the faith in Christ, to imitate his life, death, descent, burial, and resurrection through the appropriate symbolism, as well as the appropriate physical act. Speaking of Paul in the New Testament John Chrysostom also noted: "Here he hints, along with the duty of a careful walk, at the subject of the resurrection. In what way? Do you believe, he means, that Christ died, and that He was raised again? Believe then the same of thyself. For this is like to the other, since both Cross and Burial is thine. For if thou hast shared in Death and Burial, much more wilt thou in Resurrection and Life. For now the greater is done away with, the sin I mean, it is not right to doubt any longer about the lesser, the doing away of death." Baptism was the first key to union in Christ for the Early Christians. In fact, it, above all else was the key. Many of the early Christian leaders constantly tried to persuade their followers not to put off their day of baptism, since it was so vital to their salvation and union with Christ through grace. To give just three examples:
#1. John Damascene:
"We are baptized, then, according to the word of the Lord, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and thus the grace of the Holy Ghost dwelleth in the soul of the baptized, illuminating and making it God-like and renewing that which was made after his own image and likeness. And for the time to come we cast away all the old works of wickedness, and we make covenant with God of a second life and begin a purer conversation, that we may also become fellow-heirs with them that are born again to incorruption and lay hold of everlasting salvation. But without Baptism it is impossible to attain to that good hope, even though a man be more pious than piety itself. For thus spake God, the Word, who was incarnate for the salvation of our race, 'Verily I say unto you, except ye be born of water and of the Spirit, ye shall in no wise enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.' Wherefore before all things I require thee to receive faith within thy soul, and to draw near to Baptism anon with hearty desire, and on no account to delay herein, for delay is parlous, because of the uncertainty of the appointed day of death."
#2. John Chrysostom,
"Now God forbid that it should happen to us to fall into so great straits as to sin after baptism. However, even if aught such should happen, God is merciful, and has given us many ways of obtaining remission even after this. But just as those who sin after baptism are punished for this reason more severely than the Catechumens, so again, those who know that there are medicines in repentance, and yet will not make use of them, will undergo a more grievous chastisement. For by how much the mercy of God is enlarged, by so much does the punishment increase, if we do not duly profit by that mercy. What sayest thou, O man? When thou wast full of such grievous evils, and given over, suddenly thou becamest a friend, and wast exalted to the highest honor, not by labors of thine own, but by the gift of God: thou didst again return to thy former misconduct; and though thou didst deserve to be sorely punished, nevertheless, God did not turn away, but gave unnumbered opportunities of salvation, whereby thou mayest yet become a friend: yet for all this, thou hast not the will to labor. What forgiveness canst thou deserve henceforth? Will not the Gentiles with good reason deride thee as a worthless drone? For if there be power in that doctrine of yours, say they, what means this multitude of uninitiated persons? If the mysteries be excellent and desirable, let none receive baptism at his last gasp. For that is not the time for giving of mysteries but for making of wills; the time for mysteries is in health of mind and soundness of soul."
#3. Recognitions, Book 6, Chapter 9:
"Therefore make haste; for there is in these waters a certain power of mercy which was borne upon them at the beginning, and acknowledges those who are baptized under the name of the threefold sacrament, and rescues them from future punishments, presenting as a gift to God the souls that are consecrated by baptism. Betake yourselves therefore to these waters, for they alone can quench the violence of the future fire; and he who delays to approach to them, it is evident that the idol of unbelief remains in him, and by it be is prevented from hastening to the waters which confer salvation. For whether you be righteous or unrighteous, baptism is necessary for you in every respect: for the righteous, that perfection may be accomplished in him, and he may be born again to God; for the unrighteous, that pardon may he vouchsafed him of the sins which he has committed in ignorance. Therefore all should hasten to he horn again to God without delay, because the end of every one's life is uncertain."
To the Early Christians then, we see that salvation came by an active participation not only in their own beliefs towards Christ, but by their doing things on their own as they could, such as being baptized and receiving the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, etc. The symbolism was rich, deeply meaningful, and important to them to understand, once they entered into Christs Church and Gods Kingdom through baptism. They literally turned to Christ through their efforts (works) by applying the ordinances of baptism, the sacrament, confirmation into the Church, receiving the Holy Ghost through the laying on of hands, etc. As Nephi so aptly puts it "We are saved by grace after all we can do." Scholars have recognized this in Early Christian thought very clearly. "The first thing effected in man by grace is faith, as an acceptance of the doctrinal teaching of the Church. This beginning is effected through baptism, which works faith and forgives the guilt of antecedent sins..." (Gregory). The conjunction of our efforts with Christs grace was understood by Peter the Lombard also. "Christ delivers us from everlasting punishment by remitting our debt (relaxando debitum) and also from temporal punishment, which is remitted in baptism and ameliorated in repentance." The Early Christians knew that "Baptism accomplishes mans renewal by a putting off of vices (depositio vitium) and a contribution of virtues (collatio virtutum)." "Faith is not a simple belief about; it is rather participation in the reconciling and redemptive event itself. This accounts for the centrality both of baptism and of the Lords Supper in the Churchs worship."
So would it not be a logical premise that if todays Christians are going to be of the caliber of Christians as were such in Christs era, that today we believe what the Early Christians believed? This Mormonism has always done recognizing the marvelous work of redemption performed by the loving Christ. We also recognize that there is much we need to do to point ourselves to Christ literally, by being baptized, confirmed, and joining his Church. Works demonstrate faith in Christ as Early Christians and we Mormons have always understood. That the two systems of religion tie in so well, shows, we believe, that there has been a very proper and worthy restoration of Early Christianity through Christ himself, with his authority to perform proper baptisms as entry into his church and forgiveness of our sins, the ordinances pointing us, nay, joining us to Christ, in a very real sense, becoming true Christians.
1. Ambrose, To the Church at Vercellae. (CD)
2. Ambrose, Sermon Against Auxentius on the Giving up of the Basilicas. (CD)
3. Augustine, City of God, Book 21. (CD)
4. Revelation of John (N.T. Pseudepigrapha). (CD)
5. The Acts of Philip (New Testament Apocrypha, (CD)) - Nicanora having thus spoken, the Apostle Philip, along with Bartholomew and Mariamme and those with them, prayed for her to God, saying: Thou who bringest the dead to life, Christ Jesus the Lord, who hast freed us through baptism from the slavery of death, completely deliver also this woman from the error, the enemy; make her alive in Thy life, and perfect her in Thy perfection, in order that she may be found in the country of her fathers in freedom, having a portion in Thy goodness, O Lord Jesus.
6. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Epistle of the Hebrews. (CD) John Chrysostom, HOMILIES ON THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS "But this he leaves for the present to the conscience of his hearers to reason out, but himself, after the resurrection to come had been set before us, demands of us another, even the new conversation, which is brought about in the present life by a change of habits. When then the fornicator becomes chaste, the covetous man merciful, the harsh subdued, even here a resurrection has taken place, the prelude to the other. And how is it a resurrection? Why, because sin is mortified, and righteousness hath risen again, and the old life hath been made to vanish, and this new and angelic one is being lived in. But when you hear of a new life, look for a great alteration, a wide change."(CD)
7. Augustine, City of God, Book 22 (CD)
In the same city of Carthage lived Innocentia, a very devout woman of the highest rank in the state. She had cancer in one of her breasts, a disease which, as physicians say, is incurable. Ordinarily, therefore, they either amputate, and so separate from the body the member on which the disease has seized, or, that the patient's life may be prolonged a little, though death is inevitable even if somewhat delayed, they abandon all remedies, following, as they say, the advice of Hippocrates. This the lady we speak of had been advised to by a skillful physician, who was intimate with her family; and she betook herself to God alone by prayer. On the approach of Easter, she was instructed in a dream to wait for the first woman that came out from the baptistery after being baptized, and to ask her to make the sign of Christ upon her sore. She did so, and was immediately cured. The physician who had advised her to apply no remedy if she wished to live a little longer, when he had examined her after this, and found that she who, on his former examination, was afflicted with that disease was now perfectly cured, eagerly asked her what remedy she had used, anxious, as we may well believe, to discover the drug which should defeat the decision of Hippocrates. But when she told him what had happened, he is said to have replied, with reli- gious politeness, though with a contemptuous tone, and an expression which made her fear he would utter some blasphemy against Christ, "I thought you would make some great discovery to me." She, shuddering at his indifference, quickly replied, "What great thing was it for Christ to heal a cancer, who raised one who had been four days dead?" When, therefore, I had heard this, I was extremely indignant that so great a miracle wrought in that well-known city, and on a person who was certainly not obscure, should not be divulged, and I considered that she should be spoken to, if not reprimanded on this score. And when she replied to me that she had not kept silence on the subject, I asked the women with whom she was best acquainted whether they had ever heard of this before. They told me they knew nothing of it. "See," I said, "what your not keeping silence amounts to, since not even those who are so familiar with you know of it." And as I had only briefly heard the story, I made her tell how the whole thing happened, from beginning to end, while the other women listened in great astonishment, and glorified God.
A gouty doctor of the same city, when he had given in his name for baptism, and had been prohibited the day before his baptism from being baptized that year, by black woolly-halted boys who appeared to him in his dreams, and whom he understood to be devils, and when, though they trod on his feet, and inflicted the acutest pain he had ever yet experienced, he refused to obey them, but overcame them, and would not defer being washed in the layer of regeneration, was relieved in the very act of baptism, not only of the extraordinary pain he was tortured with, but also of the disease itself, so that, though he lived a long time afterwards, he never suffered from gout; and yet who knows of this miracle? We, however, do know it, and so, too, do the small number of brethren who were in the neighborhood, and to whose ears it might come.
An old comedian of Curubis was cured at baptism not only of paralysis, but also of hernia, and, being delivered from both afflictions, came up out of the font of regeneration as if he had had nothing wrong with his body. Who outside of Curubis knows of this, or who but a very few who might hear it elsewhere?
Augustine, Confessions, Book 4 - Talking of a friend he made:
For when, sore sick of a fever, he long lay unconscious in a death-sweat, and all despaired of his recovery, he was baptized without his knowledge; myself meanwhile little caring, presuming that his soul would retain rather what it had imbibed from me, than what was done to his unconscious body. Far different, however, was it, for he was revived and restored. We also read in The Avenging of the Savior (New Testament Apocrypha)
Then said the Emperor Tiberius to Velosianus: Velosianus, hast thou seen any of those men who saw Christ? Velosianus answered: I have. He said: Didst thou ask how they baptize those who believed in Christ? Velosianus said: Here, my Lord, we have one of the disciples of Christ himself. Then he ordered Nathan to be summoned to come to him. Nathan therefore came and baptized him in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Immediately the Emperor Tiberius, made whole from all his diseases, ascended upon his throne, and said: Blessed art Thou, O Lord God Almighty, and worthy to be praised, who hast freed me from the snare of death, and cleansed me from all mine iniquities; Cf also: John Damascene: Barlaam and Ioaseph
And they that were baptized not only received health in their souls, but indeed as many as were afflicted with bodily ailments and imperfections cast off all their trouble, and came up from the holy font pure in soul, and sound in body, reaping an harvest of health for soul and body alike.
Ecclesiastical History, Book 5
Theodosius, after erecting a trophy, hastened towards Constantinople, and arrived at Thessalonica. There he was taken dangerously ill, and expressed a desire to receive Christian baptism. Now he had been instructed in Christian principles by his ancestors, and professed the 'homoousian' faith. Becoming increasingly anxious to be baptized therefore, as his malady grew worse, he sent for the bishop of Thessalonica, and first asked him what doctrinal views he held? The bishop having replied, 'that the opinion of Arius had not yet invaded the provinces of Illyricum, nor had the novelty to which that heretic had given birth begun to prey upon the churches in those countries; but they continued to preserve unshaken that faith which from the beginning was delivered by the apostles, and had been confirmed in the Nicene Synod,' the emperor was most gladly baptized by the bishop Ascholius; and having recovered from his disease not many days after, he came to Constantinople on the twenty-fourth of November, in the fifth consulate of Gratian, and the first of his own?"(CD)
8. Basil, De Spiritu Sancto: Of the Origin of the word "With" And What Force it has: Also Concerning the Unwritten Law. (CD)
9. John Chrysostom: Homily on the Acts. (CD)
10. : Homilies on the Acts 10:23-24. (CD)
11. Augustine, Confessions. (CD)
12. : Homilies on the Epistle to the Romans. (CD)
13. Otto W. Heick, A History of Christian Thought, Vol. 1, Fortress Press, 1965, p. 54.
14. Homilies on the Epistle to the Romans. (CD)
15. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John (CD)
16. Jean Danielou, A History of Early Christian Doctrine, Vol. 2, Westminster Press, 1964, p. 323. For baptism as a garment, p. 326. Cf. Justo L. Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought, Vol. 1, pp. 68f, for baptism by immersion being the standard form in Early Christianity. On p. 184 he notes that Tertullian said baptism was being admitted into Eternal Life.
17. Danielou, Ibid., p. 237f, 239.
18. Paedegogus, Book 1:11(CD) Cf. John Chrysostom, HOMILIES ON THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS "For as Christ died on the cross, so do we in baptism, not as to the flesh, but as to sin. Behold two deaths. He died as to the flesh; in our case the old man was buried, and the new man arose, made conformable to the likeness of His death. If therefore it is necessary to be baptized [again], it is necessary that this same [Christ] should die again. For baptism is nothing else than the putting to death of the baptized, and his rising again."
19. Cyril Catechetical Lectures: On Baptism (CD)
20. Tertullian: On Modesty:(CD) Cf. Tertullian, On the Resurrection:
"Know ye not, that so many of us as are baptized into Jesus Christ, are baptized into His death? We are therefore buried with Him by baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised up from the dead, even so we also should walk in newness of life." And that you may not suppose that this is said merely of that life which we have to walk in the newness of, through baptism, by faith, the apostle with superlative forethought adds: " For if we have been planted together in the likeness of Christ's death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection." By a figure we die in our baptism, but in a reality we rise again in the flesh, even as Christ did, "that, as sin has reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness unto life eternal, through Jesus Christ our Lord."(CD)
21. De Spiritu Sancto, Reply to the suggested Objection that we are baptized into Water:(CD)
22. Cyril, CATECHETICAL LECTURES(CD)
23. Cyprian Epistles: To Magnus:(CD)
24. Jean Danielou, A History of Early Christian Doctrine, Vol. 3, 1977, p. 312-315.
25. Cyprian Epistles: To Magnus: (CD) Cf. DE SPIRITU SANCTO "And there is, as it were, a cleansing of the soul from the filth that has grown on it from the carnal mind, as it is written, "Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." On this account we do not, as is the fashion of the Jews, wash ourselves at each defilement, but own the baptism of salvation to be one. For there the death on behalf of the world is one, and one the resurrection of the dead, whereof baptism is a type. For this cause the Lord, who is the Dispenser of our life, gave us the covenant of baptism, containing a type of life and death, for the water fulfils the image of death, and the Spirit gives us the earnest of life. Hence it follows that the answer to our question why the water was associated with the Spirit is clear: the reason is because in baptism two ends were proposed; on the one hand, the destroying of the body of sin, that it may never bear fruit unto death; on the other hand, our living unto the Spirit, and having our fruit in holiness; the water receiving the body as in a tomb figures death, while the Spirit pours in the quickening power, renewing our souls from the deadness of sin unto their original life. This then is what it is to be born again of water and of the Spirit, the being made dead being effected in the water, while our life is wrought in us through the Spirit"(CD)
26. Cyprian, Epistles: To Fermilian:(CD)
27. Basil to Amphilocius(CD)
28. Homilies on Acts, 2:37(CD)
29. J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, Harper & Bros., 1958, p. 210f. Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought, Simon & Schuster, 1968, p. 49 noted that "Those who are baptized are called the "teleoi", the perfect ones.
30. Tillich, Ibid., p. 49.
31. Reinhold Seeberg, Text Book of the History of Doctrines, Lutheran Publication Society, 1905, Vol. 1, p. 78f, 331 note 1 where Jovinian (ca. A.D.390) said the only way the Father and Son make their abode in believers, is through baptism, so they remain free from sin and can live goodly lives.
32. John Chrysostom, Homily on the Gospel of John:(CD)
33. Recognitions, Book 3 (CD)
34. HOMILIES ON THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS (CD)
35. HOMILIES ON THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS (CD)
36. HOMILIES ON THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS (CD) Cf. J. F. Bethune-Baker, An Introduction to the Early History of Christian Doctrine, Methuen and Co.,Ltd., London, reprint, 1954, p. 23, "baptism was the only way into Christian society."
37. Bethune-Baker, Ibid., p. 25.
38. John Damascene: Barlaam and Ioaseph(CD)
39. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Acts, 1:1-2 (CD)
40. Recognitions, Book 6, Chapter 9: (CD)
41. Reinhold Seeberg, Text Book of the History of Doctrines, Vol. 2, 1905, p. 22.
42. Seeberg, p. 74.
43. Seeberg, p. 80.
44. Robert E. Cushman, Faith Seeking Understanding, Duke Univ. Press, 1981, p. 196.