The following is a list of quotes from the church fathers of the first five centuries all of whom affirm that John 3:5 refers to water baptism, and that it is in water baptism that God grants spiritual regeneration and forgiveness of transgressions by the Holy Spirit. I will also cite a few sources that, though not mentioning John 3:5, nonetheless affirm that spiritual renewal/birth and remission of sins take place at water baptism by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
LETTER ATTRIBUTED TO BARNABAS
Chapter 11. Baptism and the cross prefigured in the Old Testament
Let us further inquire whether the Lord took any care to foreshadow the water [of baptism] and the cross. Concerning the water, indeed, it is written, in reference to the Israelites, that they should not receive that baptism which leads to the remission of sins, but should procure another for themselves. The prophet therefore declares, Be astonished, O heaven, and let the earth tremble at this, because this people has committed two great evils: they have forsaken Me, a living fountain, and have hewn out for themselves broken cisterns. Is my holy hill Zion a desolate rock? For you shall be as the fledglings of a bird, which fly away when the nest is removed. Isaiah 16:1-2 And again says the prophet, I will go before you and make level the mountains, and will break the brazen gates, and bruise in pieces the iron bars; and I will give you the secret, hidden, invisible treasures, that they may know that I am the Lord God. Isaiah 45:2-3 And He shall dwell in a lofty cave of the strong rock. Furthermore, what says He in reference to the Son? His water is sure; you shall see the King in His glory, and your soul shall meditate on the fear of the Lord. Isaiah 33:16-18 And again He says in another prophet, The man who does these things shall be like a tree planted by the courses of waters, which shall yield its fruit in due season; and his leaf shall not fade, and all that he does shall prosper. Not so are the ungodly, not so, but even as chaff, which the wind sweeps away from the face of the earth. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in judgment, nor sinners in the counsel of the just; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish. Mark how He has described at once both the water and the cross. For these words imply, Blessed are they who, placing their trust in the cross, have gone down into the water; for, says He, they shall receive their reward in due time: then He declares, I will recompense them. But now He says, Their leaves shall not fade. This means, that every word which proceeds out of your mouth in faith and love shall tend to bring conversion and hope to many. Again, another prophet says, And the land of Jacob shall be extolled above every land. Zephaniah 3:19 This means the vessel of His Spirit, which He shall glorify. Further, what says He? And there was a river flowing on the right, and from it arose beautiful trees; and whosoever shall eat of them shall live forever. Ezekiel 47:12 This means, that we indeed descend into the water full of sins and defilement, but come up, bearing fruit in our heart, having the fear [of God] and trust in Jesus in our spirit. And whosoever shall eat of these shall live for ever, This means: Whosoever, He declares, shall hear you speaking, and believe, shall live forever. (Epistle of Barnabas)
RECOGNITIONS OF CLEMENT OF ROME
Chapter 8. Necessity of Baptism.
But now I lead you to understanding by the same paths. For you see that all things are produced from waters. But water was made at first by the Only-begotten; and the Almighty God is the head of the Only-begotten, by whom we come to the Father in such order as we have stated above. But when you have come to the Father you will learn that this is His will, that you be born anew by means of waters, which were first created. For he who is regenerated by water, having filled up the measure of good works, is made heir of Him by whom he has been regenerated in incorruption. Wherefore, with prepared minds, approach as sons to a father, that your sins may be washed away, and it may be proved before God that ignorance was their sole cause. For if, after the learning of these things, you remain in unbelief, the cause of your destruction will be imputed to yourselves, and not to ignorance. And do you suppose that you can have hope towards God, even if you cultivate all piety and all righteousness, but do not receive baptism. Yea rather, he will be worthy or greater punishment, who does good works not well; for merit accrues to men from good works, but only if they be done as God commands. Now God has ordered every one who worships Him to be sealed by baptism; but if you refuse, and obey your own will rather than God’s, you are doubtless contrary and hostile to His will.
Chapter 9. Use of Baptism.
But you will perhaps say, What does the baptism of water contribute towards the worship of God? In the first place, because that which has pleased God is fulfilled. In the second place, because, when you are regenerated and born again of water and of God, the frailty of your former birth, which you have through men, is cut off, and so at length you shall be able to attain salvation; but otherwise it is impossible. For thus has the true prophet testified to us with an oath: ‘Verily I say to you, That unless a man is born again of water, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ 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 he 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 be vouchsafed him of the sins which he has committed in ignorance. Therefore all should hasten to be born again to God without delay, because the end of every one’s life is uncertain. (Book VI)
THE SHEPHERD OF HERMAS
And I said to him, I should like to continue my questions. Speak on, said he. And I said, I heard, sir, some teachers maintain that there is no other repentance than that which takes place, when we descended into the water and received remission of our former sins. He said to me, That was sound doctrine which you heard; for that is really the case. For he who has received remission of his sins ought not to sin any more, but to live in purity. Since, however, you inquire diligently into all things, I will point this also out to you, not as giving occasion for error to those who are to believe, or have lately believed, in the Lord. For those who have now believed, and those who are to believe, have not repentance for their sins; but they have remission of their previous sins. For to those who have been called before these days, the Lord has set repentance. For the Lord, knowing the heart, and foreknowing all things, knew the weakness of men and the manifold wiles of the devil, that he would inflict some evil on the servants of God, and would act wickedly towards them. The Lord, therefore, being merciful, has had mercy on the work of His hand, and has set repentance for them; and He has entrusted to me power over this repentance. And therefore I say to you, that if any one is tempted by the devil, and sins after that great and holy calling in which the Lord has called His people to everlasting life, he has opportunity to repent but once. But if he should sin frequently after this, and then repent, to such a man his repentance will be of no avail; for with difficulty will he live. And I said, Sir, I feel that life has come back to me in listening attentively to these commandments; for I know that I shall be saved, if in future I sin no more. And he said, You will be saved, you and all who keep. (SECOND COMMANDMENT — ON AVOIDING EVIL-SPEAKING, AND ON GIVING ALMS IN SIMPLICITY., Commandment 4 On Putting One’s Wife Away for Adultery.)
Explain to me a little further, sir, I said. What is it that you desire? he asked. Why, sir, I said, did these stones ascend out of the pit, and be applied to the building of the tower, after having borne these spirits? They were obliged, he answered, to ascend through water in order that they might be made alive; for, unless they laid aside the deadness of their life, they could not in any other way enter into the kingdom of God. Accordingly, those also who fell asleep received the seal of the Son of God. For, he continued, before a man bears the name of the Son of God he is dead; but when he receives the seal he lays aside his deadness, and obtains life. The seal, then, is the water: they descend into the water dead, and they arise alive. And to them, accordingly, was this seal preached, and they made use of it that they might enter into the kingdom of God. Why, sir, I asked, did the forty stones also ascend with them out of the pit, having already received the seal? Because, he said, these apostles and teachers who preached the name of the Son of God, after falling asleep in the power and faith of the Son of God, preached it not only to those who were asleep, but themselves also gave them the seal of the preaching. Accordingly they descended with them into the water, and again ascended. [But these descended alive and rose up again alive; whereas they who had previously fallen asleep descended dead, but rose up again alive. ] By these, then, were they quickened and made to know the name of the Son of God. For this reason also did they ascend with them, and were fitted along with them into the building of the tower, and, untouched by the chisel, were built in along with them. For they slept in righteousness and in great purity, but only they had not this seal. You have accordingly the explanation of these also. (NINTH SIMILITUDE — THE GREAT MYSTERIES IN THE BUILDING OF THE MILITANT AND TRIUMPHANT CHURCH, Similitude 9. The Great Mysteries in the Building of the Militant and Triumphant Church.)
Chapter 61. Christian baptism
I will also relate the manner in which we dedicated ourselves to God when we had been made new through Christ; lest, if we omit this, we seem to be unfair in the explanation we are making. As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, Unless you be born again, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. John 3:5 Now, that it is impossible for those who have once been born to enter into their mothers’ wombs, is manifest to all. And how those who have sinned and repent shall escape their sins, is declared by Esaias the prophet, as I wrote above; he thus speaks: Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from your souls; learn to do well; judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow: and come and let us reason together, says the Lord. And though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white like wool; and though they be as crimson, I will make them white as snow. But if you refuse and rebel, the sword shall devour you: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it. Isaiah 1:16-20
And for this [rite] we have learned from the apostles this reason. Since at our birth we were born without our own knowledge or choice, by our parents coming together, and were brought up in bad habits and wicked training; in order that we may not remain the children of necessity and of ignorance, but may become the children of choice and knowledge, and may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed, there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe; he who leads to the laver the person that is to be washed calling him by this name alone. For no one can utter the name of the ineffable God; and if any one dare to say that there is a name, he raves with a hopeless madness. And this washing is called illumination, because they who learn these things are illuminated in their understandings. And in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Ghost, who through the prophets foretold all things about Jesus, he who is illuminated is washed. (First Apology)
And dipped himself, says [the Scripture], seven times in Jordan. 2 Kings 5:14 It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but [it served] as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions; being spiritually regenerated as new-born babes, even as the Lord has declared: Unless a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. John 3:5. (Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeus)
Chapter 12. Of the Necessity of Baptism to Salvation
When, however, the prescript is laid down that without baptism, salvation is attainable by none (chiefly on the ground of that declaration of the Lord, who says, Unless one be born of water, he has not life ), there arise immediately scrupulous, nay rather audacious, doubts on the part of some, how, in accordance with that prescript, salvation is attainable by the apostles, whom — Paul excepted — we do not find baptized in the Lord? Nay, since Paul is the only one of them who has put on the garment of Christ’s baptism, either the peril of all the others who lack the water of Christ is prejudged, that the prescript may be maintained, or else the prescript is rescinded if salvation has been ordained even for the unbaptized. I have heard — the Lord is my witness— doubts of that kind: that none may imagine me so abandoned as to excogitate, unprovoked, in the licence of my pen, ideas which would inspire others with scruple.
And now, as far as I shall be able, I will reply to them who affirm that the apostles were unbaptized. For if they had undergone the human baptism of John, and were longing for that of the Lord, then since the Lord Himself had defined baptism to be one; (saying to Peter, who was desirous of being thoroughly bathed, He who has once bathed has no necessity to wash a second time; John 13:9-10 which, of course, He would not have said at all to one not baptized; even here we have a conspicuous proof against those who, in order to destroy the sacrament of water, deprive the apostles even of John’s baptism. Can it seem credible that the way of the Lord, that is, the baptism of John, had not then been prepared in those persons who were being destined to open the way of the Lord throughout the whole world? The Lord Himself, though no repentance was due from Him, was baptized: was baptism not necessary for sinners? As for the fact, then, that others were not baptized— they, however, were not companions of Christ, but enemies of the faith, doctors of the law and Pharisees. From which fact is gathered an additional suggestion, that, since the opposers of the Lord refused to be baptized, they who followed the Lord were baptized, and were not like-minded with their own rivals: especially when, if there were any one to whom they clave, the Lord had exalted John above him (by the testimony) saying, Among them who are born of women there is none greater than John the Baptist.
Others make the suggestion (forced enough, clearly that the apostles then served the turn of baptism when in their little ship, were sprinkled and covered with the waves: that Peter himself also was immersed enough when he walked on the sea. It is, however, as I think, one thing to be sprinkled or intercepted by the violence of the sea; another thing to be baptized in obedience to the discipline of religion. But that little ship did present a figure of the Church, in that she is disquieted in the sea, that is, in the world, by the waves, that is, by persecutions and temptations; the Lord, through patience, sleeping as it were, until, roused in their last extremities by the prayers of the saints, He checks the world, and restores tranquillity to His own.
Now, whether they were baptized in any manner whatever, or whether they continued unbathed to the end — so that even that saying of the Lord touching the one bath does, under the person of Peter, merely regard us— still, to determine concerning the salvation of the apostles is audacious enough, because on them the prerogative even of first choice, and thereafter of undivided intimacy, might be able to confer the compendious grace of baptism, seeing they (I think) followed Him who was wont to promise salvation to every believer. Your faith, He would say, has saved you; and, Your sins shall be remitted you, on your believing, of course, albeit you be not yet baptized. If that was wanting to the apostles, I know not in the faith of what things it was, that, roused by one word of the Lord, one left the toll-booth behind for ever; Matthew 9:9 another deserted father and ship, and the craft by which he gained his living; Matthew 4:21-22 a third, who disdained his father’s obsequies, fulfilled, before he heard it, that highest precept of the Lord, He who prefers father or mother to me, is not worthy of me. Matthew 10:37. (On Baptism)
- But give me now your best attention, I prayyou, for I wish to go back to the fountain of life, and to view the fountain that gushes with healing. The Father of immortalitysent the immortal Son and Word into the world, who came to man in order to wash him with water and the Spirit; and He, begetting us again to incorruption of soul and body, breathed into us the breath (spirit) of life, and endued us with an incorruptible panoply. If, therefore, man has become immortal, he will also be God. And if he is made God by water and the Holy Spirit after the regeneration of the laver he is found to be also joint-heir with Christ after the resurrection from the dead. Wherefore I preach to this effect: Come, all you kindreds of the nations, to the immortality of the baptism. I bring good tidings of life to you who tarry in the darkness of ignorance. Come into liberty from slavery, into a kingdom from tyranny, into incorruption from corruption. And how, says one, shall we come? How? By water and the Holy Ghost. This is the water in conjunction with the Spirit, by which paradise is watered, by which the earth is enriched, by which plants grow, by which animals multiply, and (to sum up the whole in a single word) by which man is begotten again and endued with life, in which also Christ was baptized, and in which the Spirit descended in the form of a dove. (Discourse on the Holy Theophany)
CYPRIAN OF CARTHAGE
- Cyprian and others, to Stephen their brother, greeting. We have thought it necessary for the arranging of certain matters, dearest brother, and for their investigation by the examination of a common council, to gather together and to hold a council, at which many priestswere assembled at once; at which, moreover, many things were brought forward and transacted. But the subject in regard to which we had chiefly to write to you, and to confer with your gravity and wisdom, is one that more especially pertains both to the priestlyauthority and to the unity, as well as the dignity, of the Catholic Church, arising as these do from the ordination of the divine appointment; to wit, that those who have been dipped abroad outside the Church, and have been stained among heretics and schismatics with the taint of profane water, when they come to us and to the Church which is one, ought to be baptized, for the reason that it is a small matter to lay hands on them that they may receive the Holy Ghost, unless they receive also the baptism of the Church. For then finally can they be fully sanctified, and be the sons of God, if they be born of each sacrament; since it is written, Unless a man be born again of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. For we find also, in the Acts of the Apostles, that this is maintained by the apostles, and kept in the truth of the saving faith, so that when, in the house of Cornelius the centurion, the Holy Ghost had descended upon the Gentiles who were there, fervent in the warmth of their faith, and believing in the Lord with their whole heart; and when, filled with the Spirit, they blessed God in various tongues, still none the less the blessed Apostle Peter, mindful of the divine precept and the Gospel, commanded that those same men should be baptized who had already been filled with the Holy Spirit, that nothing might seem to be neglected to the observance by the apostolic instruction in all things of the law of the divine precept and Gospel. But that that is not baptism which the heretics use; and that none of those who oppose Christ can profit by the grace of Christ; has lately been set forth with care in the letter which was written on that subject to Quintus, our colleague, established in Mauritania; as also in a letter which our colleagues previously wrote to our fellow bishops presiding in Numidia, of both which letters I have subjoined copies. (Epistle 71)
- Can the power of baptismbe greater or of more avail than confession, than suffering, when one confesses Christ before men and is baptizedin his own blood? And yet even this baptism does not benefit a heretic, although he has confessed Christ, and been put to death outside the Church, unless the patrons and advocates of heretics declare that the heretics who are slain in a false confession of Christ are martyrs, and assign to them the glory and the crown of martyrdom contrary to the testimony of the apostle, who says that it will profit them nothing although they were burnt and slain. 1 Corinthians 13:3 But if not even the baptism of a public confession and blood can profit a heretic to salvation, because there is no salvation out of the Church, how much less shall it be of advantage to him, if in a hiding-place and a cave of robbers, stained with the contagion of adulterous water, he has not only not put off his old sins, but rather heaped up still newer and greater ones! Wherefore baptism cannot be common to us and to heretics,to whom neither God the Father, nor Christ the Son, nor the Holy Ghost, nor the faith, nor the Church itself, is common. And therefore it behooves those to be baptized who come from heresy to the Church, that so they who are prepared, in the lawful, and true, and only baptism of the holy Church, by divine regeneration, for the kingdom of God, may be born of both sacraments, because it is written, Unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (Epistle 72)
Nemesianus of Thubunae said: That the baptism which heretics and schismatics bestow is not the true one, is everywhere declared in the Holy Scriptures, since their very leading men are false Christs and false prophets, as the Lord says by Solomon: He who trusts in that which is false, he feeds the winds; and the very same, moreover, follows the flight of birds. For he forsakes the ways of his own vineyard, he has wandered from the paths of his own little field. But he walks through pathless places, and dry, and a land destined for thirst; moreover, he gathers together fruitless things in his hands. And again: Abstain from strange water, and from the fountain of another do not drink, that you may live a long time; also that the years of life may be added to you. Proverbs 9:19 And in the Gospel our Lord Jesus Christ spoke with His divine voice, saying, Unless a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. John 3:5 This is the Spirit which from the beginning was borne over the waters; for neither can the Spirit operate without the water, nor the water without the Spirit. Certain people therefore interpret for themselves ill, when they say that by imposition of the hand they receive the Holy Ghost, and are thus received, when it is manifest that they ought to be born again in the Catholic Church by both sacraments. Then indeed they will be able to be sons of God, as says the apostle: Taking care to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, as you have been called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God. Ephesians 4:3-6 All these things speaks the Catholic Church. And again, in the Gospel the Lord says: That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit; because God is a Spirit, and he is born of God. John 3:6 Therefore, whatsoever things all heretics and schismatics do are carnal, as the apostle says: For the works of the flesh are manifest, which are, fornications, uncleannesses, incest, idolatries, witchcrafts, hatreds, contentions, jealousy, anger, divisions, heresies, and the like to these; concerning which have told you before, as I also foretell you now, that whoever do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 And thus the apostle condemns, with all the wicked, those also who cause division, that is, schismatics and heretics. Unless therefore they receive saving baptism in the Catholic Church, which is one, they cannot be saved, but will be condemned with the carnal in the judgment of the Lord Christ. (The Seventh Council of Carthage, On the Baptism of Heretics)
- Therefore, my beloved, we also have received of the Spirit of Christ, and Christ dwells in us, as it is written that the Spirit said this through the mouth of the Prophet: — I will dwell in them and will walk in them. Leviticus 21:12Therefore let us prepare our temples for the Spirit of Christ, and let us not grieve it that it may not depart from us. Remember the warning that the Apostle gives us:— Grieve not the Holy Spiritwhereby you have been sealed unto the day of redemption. For from baptism do we receive the Spirit of Christ. For in that hour in which the priests invoke the Spirit, the heavens open and it descends and moves upon the waters. Genesis 1:2 And those that are baptized are clothed in it; for the Spirit stays aloof from all that are born of the flesh, until they come to the new birth by water, and then they receive the Holy Spirit. For in the first birth they are born with an animal souls which is created within man and is not thereafter subject to death, as he said:— Adam became a living soul. Genesis 2:7 But in the second birth, that through baptism, they received the Holy Spirit from a particle of the Godhead, and it is not again subject to death. For when men die, the animal spirit is buried with the body, and sense is taken away from it, but the heavenly spirit that they receive goes according to its nature to Christ. And both these the Apostle has made known, for he said:— The body is buried in animal wise, and rises again in spiritual wise. 1 Corinthians 15:44 The Spirit goes back again to Christ according to its nature, for the Apostle said again:— When we shall depart from the body we shall be with our Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:8 For the Spirit of Christ, which the spiritual receive, goes to our Lord. And the animal spirit is buried in its nature, and sense is taken away from it. Whosoever guards the Spirit of Christ in purity, when it returns to Christ it thus addresses him:— The body into which I went, and which put me on from the water of the baptism, has kept me in holiness. And the Holy Spirit will be earnest with Christ for the resurrection of that body which kept Him with purity, and the Spirit will request to be again conjoined to it that that body may rise up in glory. And whatever man there is that receives the Spirit from the water (of baptism) and grieves it, it departs from him until he dies, and returns according to its nature to Christ, and accuses that man of having grieved it. And when the time of the final consummation shall have come, and the time of the Resurrection shall have approached, the Holy Spirit, that was kept in purity, receives great power from its nature and comes before Christ and stands at the door of the tombs, where the men are buried that kept it in purity, and awaits the (resurrection) shout. And when the Watchers shall have opened the doors of heaven before the King, 1 Thessalonians 4:16 then the cornet shall summon, and the trumpets shall sound, and the Spirit that waits for the (resurrection) shout shall hear, and quickly shall open the tombs, and raise up the bodies and whatsoever was buried in them, and shall put on the glory that comes with it. And (the Spirit) shall be within for the resurrection of the body, and the glory shall be without for the adornment of the body. And the animal spirit shall be swallowed up in the heavenly Spirit, and the whole man shall become spiritual, since his body is possessed by it (the Spirit). And death shall be swallowed up in life, 2 Corinthians 5:4 and body shall be swallowed up in Spirit. And by the power of the Spirit, that man shall fly up to meet the King and He shall receive him with joy, and Christ shall give thanks for the body that has kept His Spirit in purity. (Demonstration VI Of Monks)
That We Ought Not to Rebaptize, Nor to Receive that Baptism Which is Given by the Ungodly, Which is Not Baptism, But a Pollution.
- Be likewise contented with one baptismalone, that which is into the death of the Lord; not that which is conferred by wickedheretics, but that which is conferred by unblameable priests, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Matthew 28:19 and let not that which comes from the ungodly be received by you, nor let that which is done by the godly be disannulled by a second. For as there is one God, one Christ, and one Comforter, and one death of the Lord in the body, so let that baptism which is unto Him be but one. But those that receive polluted baptism from the ungodly will become partners in their opinions. For they are not priests. For God says to them: Because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you from the office of a priest to me. Nor indeed are those that are baptized by them initiated, but are polluted, not receiving the remission of sins, but the bond of impiety. And, besides, they that attempt to baptize those already initiated crucify the Lord afresh, slay Him a second time, laugh at divine and ridicule holy things, affront the Spirit, dishonour the sacred blood of Christ as common blood, are impious against Him that sent, Him that suffered, and Him that witnessed. Nay, he that, out of contempt, will not be baptized, shall be condemned as an unbeliever, and shall be reproached as ungrateful and foolish. For the Lord says: Unless a man be baptized of water and of the Spirit, he shall by no means enter into the kingdom of heaven. John 3:5 And again: He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be damned. Mark 16:16 But he that says, When I am dying I will be baptized, lest I should sin and defile my baptism, is ignorant of God, and forgetful of his own nature. For do not delay to turn unto the Lord, for you know not what the next day will bring forth. Do you also baptize your infants, and bring them up in the nurture and admonition of God. For says He: Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not. Matthew 19:14. (Book VI, Section 3. The Heresies Attacked by the Apostles)
- Who will not admire this? Or who will not agree that such a thing is trulydivine? For if the works of the Word’s Godhead had not taken place through the body, man had not been deified; and again, had not the properties of the flesh been ascribed to the Word, man had not been thoroughly delivered from them ; but though they had ceased for a little while, as I said before, still sinhad remained in him and corruption, as was the case with mankind before Him; and for this reason:— Many for instance have been made holy and clean from all sin; nay, Jeremiah was hallowed even from the womb, and John, while yet in the womb, leapt for joy at the voice of Mary Bearer of God ; nevertheless ‘death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression Romans 5:14;’ and thus man remained mortal and corruptible as before, liable to the affections proper to their nature. But now the Word having become man and having appropriated what pertains to the flesh, no longer do these things touch the body, because of the Word who has come in it, but they are destroyed by Him, and henceforth men no longer remain sinners and dead according to their proper affections, but having risen according to the Word’s power, they abide ever immortal and incorruptible. Whence also, whereas the flesh is born of Mary Bearer of God , He Himself is said to have been born, who furnishes to others an origin of being; in order that He may transfer our origin into Himself, and we may no longer, as mere earth, return to earth, but as being knit into the Word from heaven, may be carried to heaven by Him. Therefore in like manner not without reason has He transferred to Himself the other affections of the body also; that we, no longer as being men, but as proper to the Word, may have share in eternal life. For no longer according to our former origin in Adam do we die; but henceforward our origin and all infirmity of flesh being transferred to the Word, we rise from the earth, the curse from sin being removed, because of Him who is in us , and who has become a curse for us. And with reason; for as we are all from earth and die in Adam, so being regenerated from above of water and Spirit, in the Christ we are all quickened; the flesh being no longer earthly, but being henceforth made Word , by reason of God’s Word who for our sake ‘became flesh.’ (Against the Arians, Discourse III)
BASIL THE GREAT
Reply to the suggested objection that we are baptized into water. Also concerning baptism.
- What more? Verily, our opponents are well equipped with arguments. We are baptized, they urge, into water, and of course we shall not honourthe water above all creation, or give it a share of the honourof the Father and of the Son. The arguments of these men are such as might be expected from angry disputants, leaving no means untried in their attack on him who has offended them, because their reason is clouded over by their feelings. We will not, however, shrink from the discussion even of these points. If we do not teach the ignorant, at least we shall not turn away before evil doers. But let us for a moment retrace our steps.
- The dispensation of our God and Saviour concerning man is a recall from the fall and a return from the alienation caused by disobedience to close communion with God. This is the reason for the sojourn of Christ in the flesh, the pattern life described in the Gospels, the sufferings, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection; so that the man who is being saved through imitation of Christ receives that old adoption. 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. Philippians 3:10-11How then are we made in the likeness of His death? Romans 6:4-5In 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; John 3:3 for the regeneration, as indeed the name shows, 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, you 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. Colossians 2:11-12 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, You shall 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. In three immersions, then, and with three invocations, the great mystery of baptism is performed, to the end that the type of death may be fully figured, and that by the tradition of the divine knowledge the baptized may have their souls enlightened. It follows that if there is any grace in the water, it is not of the nature of the water, but of the presence of the Spirit. For baptism is not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God. 1 Peter 3:21 So in training us for the life that follows on the resurrection the Lord sets out all the manner of life required by the Gospel, laying down for us the law of gentleness, of endurance of wrong, of freedom from the defilement that comes of the love of pleasure, and from covetousness, to the end that we may of set purpose win beforehand and achieve all that the life to come of its inherent nature possesses. If therefore any one in attempting a definition were to describe the gospel as a forecast of the life that follows on the resurrection, he would not seem to me to go beyond what is meet and right. Let us now return to our main topic. (De Spiritu Sancto)
AMBROSE OF MILAN
- Therefore read that the three witnesses in baptism, the water, the blood, and the Spirit, 1 John 5:7are one, for if you take away one of these, the Sacrament of Baptism does not exist. For what is water without the crossof Christ? A common element, without any sacramental effect. Nor, again, is there the Sacrament of Regeneration without water: For except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. John 3:5 Now, even the catechumen believes in the cross of the Lord Jesus, wherewith he too is signed; but unless he be baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, he cannot receive remission of sins nor gain the gift of spiritual grace. (On the Mysteries, Chapter 4)
The statement of the Apostle, that all things are of the Father by the Son, does not separate the Spirit from Their company, since what is referred to one Person is also attributed to each. So those baptized in the Name of Christ are held to be baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Holy Spirit, if, that is, there is belief in the Three Persons, otherwise the baptism will be null. This also applies to baptism in the Name of the Holy Spirit. If because of one passage the Holy Spirit is separated from the Father and the Son, it will necessarily follow from other passages that the Father will be subordinated to the Son. The Son is worshipped by angels, not by the Spirit, for the latter is His witness, not His servant. Where the Son is spoken of as being before all, it is to be understood of creatures. The great dignity of the Holy Spirit is proved by the absence of forgiveness for the sin against Him. How it is that such sin cannot be forgiven, and how the Spirit is one…
- So they were baptizedin the Name of Jesus Christ, and baptismwas not repeated in their case, but administered differently, for there is but one baptism. But where there is not the complete sacrament of baptism, there is not considered to be a commencement nor any kind of baptism. But baptism is complete if one confess the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. If you deny One you overthrow the whole. And just as if you mention in words One only, either the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Spirit, and in your belief do not deny either the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit, the mystery of the faith is complete, so, too, although you name the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and lessen the power of either the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit, the whole mystery is made empty. And, lastly, they who had said: We have not heard if there be any Holy Spirit, were baptized afterwards in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. And this was an additional abundance of grace, for now through Paul’s preaching they knew the Holy Spirit…
- Let us now consider whether as we read that the sacrament of baptismin the Name of Christwas complete, so, too, when the Holy Spirit alone is named, anything is wanting to the completeness of the mystery. Let us follow out the argument that he who has named One has signified the Trinity. If you name Christ, you imply both God the Father by Whom the Son was anointed, and the Son Himself Who was anointed, and the Holy Spirit with Whom He was anointed. For it is written: This Jesus of Nazareth, Whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit. Acts 10:38 And if you name the Father, you denote equally His Son and the Spirit of His mouth, if, that is, you apprehend it in your heart. And if you speak of the Spirit, you name also God the Father, from Whom the Spirit proceeds, and the Son, inasmuch as He is also the Spirit of the Son.
- Wherefore that authority may also be joined to reason Scripture indicates that we can also be rightly baptizedin the Spirit, when the Lord says: But you shall be baptizedin the Holy Spirit. Acts 1:5 And in another place the Apostle says: For we were all baptized in the body itself into one Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:13 The work is one, for the mystery is one; the baptism one, for there was one death on behalf of the world; there is, then, a oneness of working, a oneness of setting forth, which cannot be separated…
- There are, however, many who, because we are baptizedwith water and the Spirit, think that there is no difference in the offices of water and the Spirit, and therefore think that they do not differ in nature. Nor do they observe that we are buried in the element of water that we may rise again renewed by the Spirit. For in the water is the representation of death, in the Spiritis the pledge of life, that the body of sin may die through the water, which encloses the body as it were in a kind of tomb, that we, by the power of the Spirit, may be renewed from the death of sin, being born again in God. (On the Holy Spirit, Book I)
- For if any one will consider how great a thing it is for one, being a man, and compassed with flesh and blood, to be enabled to draw near to that blessed and pure nature, he will then clearly see what great honorthe graceof the Spirit has vouchsafed to priests; since by their agency these rites are celebrated, and others nowise inferior to these both in respect of our dignity and our salvation. For they who inhabit the earth and make their abode there are entrusted with the administration of things which are in Heaven, and have received an authority which God has not given to angels or archangels. For it has not been said to them, Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven. Matthew 18:18 They who rule on earth have indeed authority to bind, but only the body: whereas this binding lays hold of the soul and penetrates the heavens; and what priests do here below God ratifies above, and the Master confirms the sentence of his servants. For indeed what is it but all manner of heavenly authority which He has given them when He says, Whose sins ye remit they are remitted, and whose sins ye retain they are retained? John 20:23 What authority could be greater than this? The Father has committed all judgment to the Son? John 5:22 But I see it all put into the hands of these men by the Son. For they have been conducted to this dignity as if they were already translated to Heaven, and had transcended human nature, and were released from the passions to which we are liable. Moreover, if a king should bestow this honor upon any of his subjects, authorizing him to cast into prison whom he pleased and to release them again, he becomes an object of envy and respect to all men; but he who has received from God an authority as much greater as heaven is more precious than earth, and souls more precious than bodies, seems to some to have received so small an honor that they are actually able to imagine that one of those who have been entrusted with these things will despise the gift. Away with such madness! For transparent madness it is to despise so great a dignity, without which it is not possible to obtain either our own salvation, or the good things which have been promised to us. For if no one can enter into the kingdom of Heaven except he be regenerate through water and the Spirit, and he who does not eat the flesh of the Lord and drink His blood is excluded from eternal life, and if all these things are accomplished only by means of those holy hands, I mean the hands of the priest, how will any one, without these, be able to escape the fire of hell, or to win those crowns which are reserved for the victorious?
- These verily are they who are entrusted with the pangs of spiritual travail and the birth which comes through baptism: by their means we put on Christ, and are buried with the Son of God, and become members of that blessed Head. Wherefore they might not only be more justlyfeared by us than rulers and kings, but also be more honoredthan parents; since these begot us of blood and the will of the flesh, but the others are the authors of our birth from God, even that blessed regeneration which is the true freedom and the sonship according to grace… (On the Priesthood, Book III)
GREGORY OF NYSSA
- He further very appositely expounds the meaning of the term Only-Begotten, and of the term First born, four times used by the Apostle.
The mighty Paul, knowing that the Only-begotten God, Who has the pre-eminence in all things , is the author and cause of all good, bears witness to Him that not only was the creation of all existent things wrought by Him, but that when the original creation of man had decayed and vanished away , to use his own language, and another new creation was wrought in Christ, in this too no other than He took the lead, but He is Himself the first-born of all that new creation of men which is effected by the Gospel. And that our view about this may be made clearer let us thus divide our argument. The inspired apostle on four occasions employs this term, once as here, calling Him, first-born of all creation Colossians 1:15, another time, the first-born among many brethren Romans 8:29, again, first-born from the dead , and on another occasion he employs the term absolutely, without combining it with other words, saying, But when again He brings the first-born into the world, He says, And let all the angels of God worship Him Hebrews 1:6 . Accordingly whatever view we entertain concerning this title in the other combinations, the same we shall in consistency apply to the phrase first-born of all creation. For since the title is one and the same it must needs be that the meaning conveyed is also one. In what sense then does He become the first-born among many brethren? in what sense does He become the first-born from the dead? Assuredly this is plain, that because we are by birth flesh and blood, as the Scripture says, He Who for our sakes was born among us and was partaker of flesh and blood , purposing to change us from corruption to incorruption by the birth from above, the birth by water and the Spirit, Himself led the way in this birth, drawing down upon the water, by His own baptism, the Holy Spirit; so that in all things He became the first-born of those who are spiritually born again, and gave the name of brethren to those who partook in a birth like to His own by water and the Spirit. But since it was also meet that He should implant in our nature the power of rising again from the dead, He becomes the first-fruits of them that slept 1 Corinthians 15:20 and the first-born from the dead Colossians 1:18, in that He first by His own act loosed the pains of death , so that His new birth from the dead was made a way for us also, since the pains of death, wherein we were held, were loosed by the resurrection of the Lord. Thus, just as by having shared in the washing of regeneration He became the first-born among many brethren, and again by having made Himself the first-fruits of the resurrection, He obtains the name of the first-born from the dead, so having in all things the pre-eminence, after that all old things, as the apostle says, have passed away , He becomes the first-born of the new creation of men in Christ by the two-fold regeneration, alike that by Holy Baptism and that which is the consequence of the resurrection from the dead, becoming for us in both alike the Prince of Life , the first-fruits, the first-born. This first-born, then, has also brethren, concerning whom He speaks to Mary, saying, Go and tell My brethren, I go to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God. In these words He sums up the whole aim of His dispensation as Man. For men revolted from God, and served them which by nature were no gods , and though being the children of God became attached to an evil father falsely so called. For this cause the mediator between God and man having assumed the first-fruits of all human nature , sends to His brethren the announcement of Himself not in His divine character, but in that which He shares with us, saying, I am departing in order to make by My own self that true Father, from whom you were separated, to be your Father, and by My own self to make that true God from whom you had revolted to be your God, for by that first-fruits which I have assumed, I am in Myself presenting all humanity to its God and Father. (Against Eunomius, Book III)
Chapter 10 [IX.]— Another Error of Victor’s, that Infants Dying Unbaptized May Attain to the Kingdom of Heaven. Another, that the Sacrifice of the Body of Christ Must Be Offered for Infants Who Die Before They are Baptized.
But when he wished to answer with respect, however, to those infants who are prevented by death from being first baptized in Christ, he was so bold as to promise them not only paradise, but also the kingdom of heaven — finding no way else of avoiding the necessity of saying that God condemns to eternal death innocent souls which, without any previous desert of sin, He introduces into sinful flesh. He saw, however, to some extent what evil he was giving utterance to, in implying that without any grace of Christ the souls of infants are redeemed to everlasting life and the kingdom of heaven, and that in their case original sin may be cancelled without Christ’s baptism, in which is effected the forgiveness of sins: observing all this, and into what a depth he had plunged in his sea of shipwreck, he says, I am of opinion that for them, indeed, constant oblations and sacrifices must be continually offered up by holy priests. You may here behold another danger, out of which he will never escape except by regret and a recall of his words. For who can offer up the body of Christ for any except for those who are members of Christ? Moreover, from the time when He said, Unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven; John 3:5 and again, He that loses his life for my sake shall find it; Matthew 10:39 no one becomes a member of Christ except it be either by baptism in Christ, or death for Christ. (On the Soul and Its Origin, Book I)
- But the possibility of regeneration through the office rendered by the willof another, when the child is presented to receive the sacred rite, is the work exclusively of the Spirit by whom the child thus presented is regenerated. For it is not written, Unless a man be born again by the willof his parents, or by the faith of those presenting the child, or of those administering the ordinance, but, Unless a man be born again of water and of the Spirit. John 3:5 By the water, therefore, which holds forth the sacrament of grace in its outward form, and by the Spirit who bestows the benefit of grace in its inward power, cancelling the bond of guilt, and restoring natural goodness [reconcilians bonum naturæ], the man deriving his first birth originally from Adam alone, is regenerated in Christ alone. Now the regenerating Spirit is possessed in common both by the parents who present the child, and by the infant that is presented and is born again; wherefore, in virtue of this participation in the same Spirit, the will of those who present the infant is useful to the child. But when the parents sin against the child by presenting him to the false gods of the heathen, and attempting to bring him under impious bonds unto these false gods, there is not such community of souls subsisting between the parents and the child, that the guilt of one party can be common to both alike. For we are not made partakers of guilt along with others through their will, in the same way as we are made partakers of grace along with others through the unity of the Holy Spirit; because the one Holy Spirit can be in two different persons without their knowing in respect to each other that by Him grace is the common possession of both, but the human spirit cannot so belong to two individuals as to make the blame common to both in a case in which one of the two sins, and the other does not sin. Therefore a child, having once received natural birth through his parents, can be made partaker of the second (or spiritual) birth by the Spirit of God, so that the bond of guilt which he inherited from his parents is cancelled; but he that has once received this second birth by the Spirit of God cannot be made again partaker of natural birth through his parents, so that the bond once cancelled should again bind him. And thus, when the grace of Christ has been once received, the child does not lose it otherwise than by his own impiety, if, when he becomes older, he turn out so ill. For by that time he will begin to have sins of his own, which cannot be removed by regeneration, but must be healed by other remedial measures. (Letter 98 (408) From Augustine to Boniface)
Chapter 7.— Of the Death Which the Unbaptized Suffer for the Confession of Christ.
For whatever unbaptized persons die confessing Christ, this confession is of the same efficacy for the remission of sins as if they were washed in the sacred font of baptism. For He who said, Unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God, John 3:5 made also an exception in their favor, in that other sentence where He no less absolutely said, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven; Matthew 10:32 and in another place, Whosoever will lose his life for my sake, shall find it. Matthew 16:25 And this explains the verse, Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. For what is more precious than a death by which a man’s sins are all forgiven, and his merits increased an hundredfold? For those who have been baptized when they could no longer escape death, and have departed this life with all their sins blotted out have not equal merit with those who did not defer death, though it was in their power to do so, but preferred to end their life by confessing Christ, rather than by denying Him to secure an opportunity of baptism. And even had they denied Him under pressure of the fear of death, this too would have been forgiven them in that baptism, in which was remitted even the enormous wickedness of those who had slain Christ. But how abundant in these men must have been the grace of the Spirit, who breathes where He lists, seeing that they so dearly loved Christ as to be unable to deny Him even in so sore an emergency, and with so sure a hope of pardon! Precious, therefore, is the death of the saints, to whom the grace of Christ has been applied with such gracious effects, that they do not hesitate to meet death themselves, if so be they might meet Him. And precious is it, also, because it has proved that what was originally ordained for the punishment of the sinner, has been used for the production of a richer harvest of righteousness. But not on this account should we look upon death as a good thing, for it is diverted to such useful purposes, not by any virtue of its own, but by the divine interference. Death was originally proposed as an object of dread, that sin might not be committed; now it must be undergone that sin may not be committed, or, if committed, be remitted, and the award of righteousness bestowed on him whose victory has earned it. (City of God, Book 13 In this book it is taught that death is penal, and had its origin in Adam’s sin.)