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Infant Baptism

It is a well-known fact that the Church administers the Sacrament of Baptism to both adults and
infants. She believes that adults as well as infants can receive the Sacrament of Baptism validly. However,
there are some Christian groups today who reject the Church practice of baptizing infants, insisting rather
that only adults can be validly baptized. For them, the practice of baptizing infants is unscriptural and a
deviation from the faith and practices of the early Church. In this section, we shall consider the objections
of these groups and provide an answer to them.
The first thing to make those who are opposed to infant Baptism understand is that all men, infant
as well as adults, are in need of the new life of sanctifying grace which Christ merited for man and which
is first given at Baptism. Opponents of infant Baptism would agree with us that Jesus Christ came into this
world to save all men, both adults and infants (Jn 3:17; Mt 1:21; Lk 2:11. 30-31; 19:10; I Tim 1:15). This
work of saving men for which Christ came on earth is what Catholics call the Redemption. But the question
may be asked: How did Christ redeem man? Christ redeemed us by meriting for us through His death on
the cross the new life of grace. Christ Himself had said describing the work which He came to do as ‘giving
men life’: “I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly.” (Jn 10:10). The same
Evangelist who recorded those words teaches in his First Epistle: “God hath sent his only begotten Son
into the world, that we may live by him.” (I Jn 4:9; Cf. 5:12; Jn 20:31 etc.). This new life of grace which
Christ merited for us is what Catholics call sanctifying grace (or the grace of Justification). Sanctifying grace
does several things to the soul. It makes us share in the nature of God Himself (II Cor 3:18; II Pt 1:4); it
makes us holy (I Cor 6:11; Eph 4:24; I Pt 2:9); it makes us friends of God (Eph 2:14; Rm 5:10); it makes us
adopted children of God and heirs of the kingdom of heaven (Rm 8:14-17; Gal 4:5; Eph 1:5; I Jn 3:1.2.9; Jn
1:12); it makes us temples of the Holy Spirit (Rm 5:5; 8:11; I Cor 3:16; 6:6.19). If Christ redeemed us by
meriting for us the new life of grace, then, in order to be saved we must receive the new life. This brings
to mind the statement of Christ to Nicodemus: “Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again,
he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (Jn 3:3) It is the new life of grace Christ is here talking about and He
clearly tells us in that passage that except we receive it we cannot be saved. This in turn gives rise to the
question: How do we receive this new life? The answer to that question is also found in the context of
that same passage where in responding to Nicodemus question, “How can a man be born when he is old?
Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb, and be born again?” (3:4) Christ answered: “Amen,
amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the
kingdom of God” (3:5) ‘Water and the Spirit’ means Baptism. Baptism is the Sacrament which first gives
to our soul the new life of grace.
Now, here is where one of the problems with opponents of infant Baptism lies. Opponent of infant
Baptism do not accept that the rebirth of man takes place in Baptism. For them it is by accepting
(intellectually) Jesus as personal Lord and Savior that an individual is born again. But if we look at Jn 3:5 it
does not say that it is by the intellectual acceptance of Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior that we
are born again. No, it says it is by the Sacrament of Baptism.
We know that ‘of water and the Spirit’ in Jn 3:5 must refer to Baptism; first, from the near context
of the passage where the term water was also used in reference to certain ritual rites of washing (see
1:26. 33-34; 3:23; cf. 3:22; 4:1). It is true that the term water has other meanings in the Johannine Gospel.
For example, in 7:39 where it is used as a symbol of the Spirit. But in 3:5 it could not have been used in
such a sense since in that text we are dealing with one birth (‘born again’ v. 3) that is effected by means
of two elements (‘of water and the spirit’ v. 5).1 The idea here is that the rebirth is brought about through

. Note the text does not read ‘born of water and born of the spirit.’ But ‘born of water and the spirit.’ This also
elimates all the two births interpretation which has been devised in recent times by those who attempt to erode the
traditional understanding of that text. The two births interpretation understands ‘water’ to refer to amniotic fluid
a ritual action which consist of the use of actual water to impart the Spirit. As American Catholic Biblical
Scholar Urban C. Von Wahlde, commenting on that texts, explained: “In the Gospel, ‘water’ has a variety
of meanings. There are a number of texts that associate baptizing in water with John the Baptist, who
asserts that he baptizes in water but there is another who baptizes with the Spirit. In this sense, baptism
with water is seen as a rite that is of comparatively little significance. Jesus repeatedly offers people ‘living
water’ (4:10-15; 7:37-39). In this sense, it is used as a symbol of the Spirit (cf. 7:39). But the usage here is
different than either of these. It is not water that symbolizes repentance, nor is it water that is the Gospel’s
chosen symbol for the Spirit. Rather the verses speaks of the necessity of being born of water and the
Spirit. In this sense, there is an emphasis on physical water as important in relation to birth from the Spirit.
This can only refer to a ritual use of water in the imparting of the Spirit.”2
Secondly, there are parallel passages not only in the Gospel of St. John but in other NT text where
Baptism and the Spirit are closely related (Jn 1:33, Mt 1:8, Acts 1:5, 2:28, 11:16, 19:2-6 etc.).
Thirdly, other NT texts and other early Christian writings outside the NT reveal that the early Church
used the analogies of begetting or birth for the saving event of the Sacrament of Baptism. Thus, St. Paul
in the Epistle to Titus, written about the year 62/63 AD, described Baptism as a regeneration and renewal:
“Not by the works of justice, which we have done, but according to his mercy, he saved us, by the laver of
regeneration, and renovation of the Holy Ghost.” (Tit 3:5) The same Apostle, often described Baptism as
the production of a new being, the production of a new creation. See the Epistle to the Romans written
about 56/57 A.D: “Know you not that all we, who are baptized in Christ Jesus, are baptized in his death?
For we are buried together with him by baptism into death; that as Christ is risen from the dead by the
glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life.” (Rom 6:3-4); and the Epistle to the Galatians
written between 54/56 A.D: “For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ.” (Gal
3:27; compare Col 3:9-10; Eph 2:15; 4:24). St. Peter was no exception. It has long been discovered by
Scriptural commentators, both ancient and modern, that the First Epistle of St. Peter is full of baptismal
allusions. This has made some to even suggest that First Peter is a homily delivered at a baptismal service.
Without going that far we can simply agree with Protestant scholar C.F.D. Moule in seeing First Peter “as
a noble recall to former baptismal vow and promises, addressed to Christians who, facing the threat of
persecution or actually undergoing it, needed just this bracing comfort.”3Now, one of the baptismal
allusions which can be gleaned from that Epistle is the teaching on the rebirth (1:3.23). It is precisely
because it is by Baptism that we receive the new birth that St. Peter could say elsewhere in that same
Epistle: “Baptism…now saves you.” (3:21) Turning to other early Christian writings outside the NT, the
early Church authors from the very beginning understood Baptism as a rebirth/regeneration. For brevity
sake, we shall here confine ourselves to the Church authors of the first three centuries and this by any
means is not even a complete list. Thus, St. Justin Martyr writing around the year 148 A.D and referring
to the candidate for Baptism, says: “Then they are led by us to a place where we ourselves were reborn:
in the name of God, the Lord and Father of all, and of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit [Mt
28:19], they receive the washing with water.”4 St. Theophilus of Antioch, writing around the year 181 A.D:

that breaks from the womb shortly before birth, and ‘spirit’ as a spiritual process that involve accepting Jesus as
ones Lord and Saviour. Apart from the fact that the Greek contsruction of that text agues against the two birth
interpretation, there are no ancient source that picture natural birth as ‘of water.’ Moreover, in verse v. 6 Christ
made a contrast between spirit and flesh in view of Nicodemus response in v. 4. What He used there to refer to
natural birth was ‘flesh.’ Natural birth was classed as something that belong to the natural order while the rebirth
belong to the supernatural order. But in verse v. 5 Christ did not contrast ‘of water’ with ‘the spirit.’ Rather those
two elements are connect with the rebirth that belong to the supernatural order. Therefore, ‘of water’ in v. 5 cannot
be understood as referring to natural birth.
. Urban C. Von Wahlde, The Gospel and Letters of John(William B. Eardmans: 2010), Vol. II, 116-117.
. C.F.D. Moule, The Birth of the New Testament, (Harper & Row, Publishers, 1962), P.27.
. St. Justin Martyr, First Apology, 61.
“Moreover, those things which were created from the waters were blessed by God, so that this might also
be a sign that men would at a future time receive repentance and remission of sins through water and the
bath of regeneration [Tit 3:5]—all who proceed to the truth and are born again and receives a blessing
from God.”5 St. Irenaeus of Lyons, writing around 190/200 A.D, says: “Now faith occasions this for us; even
as the Elders, the disciples of the Apostles, have handed down to us. First of all it bids us bear in mind that
we have received baptism for the remission of sins, in the name of God the Father, and in the name of
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was incarnate and died and rose again, and in the Holy Spirit of God.
And that this baptism is the seal of eternal life, and is the new birth unto God, that we should no longer
be the sons of mortal men, but of the eternal and perpetual God.”6Again: “for this reason the baptism of
our regeneration proceeds through these three points: God the Father bestowing on us regeneration
through His Son by the Holy Spirit.”7Tertullian writing between the years 200 and 206 A.D, says: “For it
was by ‘separating the waters’ [Cf. Gen 1:20] that He suspended ‘the firmament’ of heaven ‘in the middle’;
it was by placing the waters apart that He contrived to raise the dry land. Then, when the world had been
arranged in elements and was receiving inhabitants, ‘the waters’ first were commanded ‘to bring forth
living beings.’ [Cf. Gen 2:7]’Water’ first ‘gave forth what was to live’: do not then be surprised that in
Baptism waters are able to give life.”8 Again: “We little fish, like our Fish Jesus Christ, are born in water,
and it is only by remaining in water that we are safe.”9 St. Clement of Alexandria, in his Stromata written
sometime after 202 A.D, says: “For thus he wishes us to be converted and to become as children
acknowledging him who is truly our father, regenerated by water; and this is a different begetting than
that in creation.”10 Origen in the sixth book of his Commentaries on John written around 232 A.D, says:
“The bath of regeneration did not come with John but with Jesus through his disciples. It is called the ‘bath
of regeneration’ which takes place with ‘renewal of the Holy Spirit’ [Tit 3:5], which Spirit is even now
‘borne above the water’ [Gen 1:2], since it is from God but does not intervene in everyone after the
water.”11 Elsewhere in another work commenting on Ish 32:20, he says: “But what sort of ‘water’ is it in
which it is necessary to ‘sow’ the good ‘seed’? The baptismal water of rebirth. There ‘the ox and the ass
tread,’ the ox as what is pure and an Israelite, the ass as the impure one from the pagan nation. So these
animals are symbols of the word announced to the Israelites and proclaimed to the pagan nations.”12
Again: “All things are full of angels. Come, angel, receive an old man who has converted from his former
error, from the doctrine of demons [cf. 1 Tim 4:1], from ‘uttering iniquity on high" [Ps 73:8]. Receive him,
and like a good physician take care and establish him; he is a child, today an old man is born, a recent old
man is becoming a child again; and when you are received, give him the ‘baptism of the second birth’ [Tit
3:5], and summon to yourself other companions of your ministry, that you may instruct in the faith
everyone equally, who were once deceived. ‘For there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who does
penance than over ninety-nine just men for whom there is no need ofrepentance’ [Lk 15:7]”13The Roman
Priest Novatian, in his treatise on the Trinity written before the year 250 A.D., described our new birth in
Baptism as the work of the Holy Spirit: “He it is Who brings about the second birth, from water.”14St.
Cyprian of Carthage, attest to the same doctrine in his treatise to Donatus written in 246/247 A.D.: “But
afterwards, when the stain of my past life had been washed away by means of the water of re-birth, a

. St. Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus, 2, 16.
. St. Irenaeus, Presentation of the Apostolic Preaching, 3.
. Ibid, 7.
. Tertullian, On Baptism, 3.
. Ibid, 1.
. St. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, 3, 12, 87.
. Origen, Commentaries on John, 6, 33(17), 169.
. Ibid, Fragments from the Catena, 26.
. Ibid, Homilies on Ezekiel, 1, 7, 2.
. Novatian, On the Trinity, 29.
light from above poured itself upon my chastened and now pure heart: afterwards through the Spirit
which is breath from heaven, a second birth made of me a new man…Thus it had to be acknowledge that
what was of the earth and was born of the flesh and had lived submissive to sins, had now begun to be of
God, inasmuch as the Holy Spirit was animating it.”15
Lastly, the words of Christ recorded in that Johannine text from time immemorial has always been
understood in the Church as a reference to Baptism. Thus, Hermas, in his Shepherd written around 140
A.D, says: “It was necessary for them, said he, to ascend through the water that they might be made alive,
for they could not otherwise enter into the kingdom of God [Jn 3:5] unless they put away the mortality of
their former life. Accordingly these also who had fallen asleep received the seal of the son of God and
entered into kingdom of God. For before, said he, a man bears the name of the Son of God, he is dead.
But when he receives the seal he puts away mortality and receives life. The seal, then, is the water. They
descend then into the water dead, and ascend alive. Therefore to these also was the seal preached and
they made use of it to enter into the kingdom of God.”16 St. Justin Martyr writing around 148 A.D says:
“…they receive the washing with water. For Christ said, ‘Unless you be reborn, you shall not enter into the
kingdom of heaven’ [Jn 3:3].”17 St. Irenaeus in his treatise on the Presentation of the Apostolic Preaching:
“the apostles, who after (receiving) the power of the Holy Spirit were sent forth by Him into all the world,
and wrought the calling of the Gentiles, showing to mankind the way of life, to turn them from idols and
fornication and covetousness, cleansing their souls and bodies by the baptism of water and of the Holy
Spirit [Cf. Jn 3:5]; which Holy Spirit they had received of the Lord, and they distributed and imparted It to
them that believed; and thus they ordered and established the Churches. By faith and love and hope they
established that which was foretold by the prophets, the calling of the Gentiles.”18Tertullian in his treatise
on Baptism: “…the rule is laid down that salvation belongs to no one without Baptism, especially in
accordance with the declaration of the Lord, who says: ‘Except one be born of water, he hath not life,’[Jn
3:5]”19Again: “For the law of Baptism was enjoined and its ritual prescribed. ‘Go,’ he says, ‘teach the
nations, baptizing them in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.’ [Mt 28:19] The addition to this law
of the regulation: ‘Except one be born again of water and spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of
heaven,’ [Jn 3:5] bound faith to the necessity of Baptism. Consequently from that time all believers were
baptized.”20Origen writing sometime after the year 244 A.D.: “The one who has died to sin and is truly
baptized into the death of Christ, and is buried with him through baptism into death [Rom 6:3-4], he is
the one who is truly baptized in the Holy Spirit and with the water from above[Jn 3:5].”21Again: “Formerly,
there was Baptism, in an obscure way, in the cloud and in the sea; now however, in full view, there is
regeneration in water and in the Holy Spirit [Cf. Jn 3:5]”22
Now, if as we have shown, all men—both adults and infants—are in need of redemption (Rom
5:12.19; 3:23), and the work of Redemption which Christ came to accomplish on earth is for all men (I Jn
2:2; Jn 3:16-17; 11:51-52; II Cor 5: 15; I Tim 2:6)—both adults and infants—then, it follows that all men—
both adults and infants—can and should receive the fruits of the Redemption, i.e. the new life of grace.
But, we have already seen that this new life is first given to us through Baptism. Therefore, it stands to
reason that all men—both adults and infants—can and should be baptized. Certainly, the divine will to
save is not limited to certain age categories of human beings but extends to all without exception (I Tim

. St. Cyprian of Carthage, To Donatus, 4.
. Hermas, The Shepherd: Parables, 9, 16, 2-4.
. St. Justin Martyr, First Apology, 61.
. St. Irenaeus, Presentation of the Apostolic Preaching, 41.
. Tertullian, On Baptism, 12, 1.
.Ibid, 13,3.
.Origen, Commentaries on Romans, 5, 8, 3.
.Ibid, Homilies on Numbers, 7, 2.
2:4; Mt 19:14). Therefore, the rebirth which is brought about through water and the Spirit or Baptism can
be received by all without exception.
Let us again return to the Johannine text which as we have seen is a solemn declaration on the
necessity for human beings to be born from God (‘anew’ and ‘from above’) if they are to enter or see the
reign of God: “unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom
of God.” (Jn 3:5) Note ‘unless a man’ – this refers to the adult as well as the infant. There is no exception
to the rule: Whoever is born, must be reborn. Now, If, as our opponents understands that text, the rebirth
of man occurs at the moment an intellectual acceptance of Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior is
made by the individual, and not through Baptism; then it follows that infants cannot receive the rebirth
since they obviously are incapable of making such individual act of faith. If pushed to their logical
conclusion such position leads to the erroneous idea that God did not intend to include infants in His plan
of salvation. To escape reaching such conclusions some of our opponents’ stumble into a denial of the
Church’s teaching on Original sin by suggesting that the sinful deeds of Adam is imputed to his
descendants only when they in reaching an age of discretion imitate his bad example by committing
personal sins. But this position in turn if pushed to their logical conclusion leads to another erroneous idea
that infants do not need a savior or more still that man do not need a savior until he has reached the age
of discretion and thus capable of committing personal sin. If this were so, then Christ did not lay down His
life for all men but for some men of certain age category. Those who have not reached that age category
do not need Christ or the salvation He came to offer. And even when they reach that age category, the
works of Christ is not useful to them as long as they do not commit personal sin. What then does Christ’s
work of Redemption add to man? Because if, as our opponents say, the rebirth of man is only necessary
when he has reached the age of discretion and is guilty of individual sins, then it follows that man in the
state in which he was born can attain heaven without any help of any elevating or helping grace from God
and that man only alters that state when in reaching the age of discretion commits personal sin. Nothing
new then is added to the man who is being born anew of God that he did not have at the time of natural
birth. By being born anew he is only being restored to the state he formerly was at the time of natural
birth and which he lost through personal sin when he attained the age of discretion. Implicit here is the
idea that man without the merits of the Redeemer is already justified from birth and could attain heaven.
Obviously, the position of our opponents described above runs counter with several teachings of the
Church, some of which have been briefly touched on earlier in this section. We shall here elaborate more
on these teachings and use each of them to demonstrate the falsity of our opponents’ position.
The first is the universality of the deed of Redemption. The teaching that Christ died for all mankind
without exception is explicitly revealed in Scripture. St. John in his First Epistle says: “And he is the
propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” (I Jn 2:2) St. Paul in
the Epistle to the Romans: “Therefore, as by the offence of one, unto all men to condemnation; so also
by the justice of one, unto all men to justification of life.” (Rom 5:18) Elsewhere in another epistle: “Who
gave himself a redemption for all.” (I Tim 2:6) Again: “Christ died for all” (II Cor 5:15). Now, to use the
wordings of St. Augustine of Hippo Regius (now Annaba, Algeria), “If Christ is the savior of all he cannot
have saved only adults but infants as well.”23 Hence, the fruits of the Redemption can be applied not only
to those who have reached the age of discretion but to all without exception. Therefore, adults as well as
infant can ‘be born again of water and the Spirit.’
There is yet another way to look at it, and this takes us to the second which is the teaching on the
necessity of all men for redemption. If it is accepted that Christ died for all mankind, then it follows that
all mankind is in need of the Redemption. “For all have sinned,” says St. Paul in another passage, “and do
need the glory of God. Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption, that is in Christ Jesus”
(Rom 3:23-24). There is therefore need for all men—adults as well as infants—to be brought into union

. Cf. Tatha Wiley, Original Sin, 74.
with the Redeemer and made to share in His saving deeds, for “there is salvation in no one else, for there
is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). But since
this (i.e. union with Christ) is brought about through Baptism (i.e. Rom 6:3-7; Gal 3: 27-28), it follows that
not only adults but infants must be eligible candidates for Baptism.
But what was wrong with man that Christ had to die for him? This question takes us to the third point
which is the universality of Original sin. By the sin committed in paradise (cf. Gen 3) the first man Adam
lost for himself and for all his descendants the gift of sanctifying grace he had received from God. Thus,
all the descendants of Adam are born deprived of this gift of grace (cf. Ps 50[51]:7[5]: “For behold I was
conceived in iniquities; and in sins did my mother conceive me.”). This state of privation is what Catholics
call Original Sin. Pope St. John Paul II explained it this way: “Our first parents…, in the earthly paradise
(and therefore in the state of original justice and perfection) sinned gravely by transgressing the
commandment of God. Because of their sin they lost sanctifying grace; likewise they lost also the holiness
and justice in which they were ‘constituted’ from the beginning, drawing down upon themselves the anger
of God. The consequence of this sin was death as we now know it.”24He points out: “It was the sin of our
first parents but connected to it was a sinful condition which was passed on to all their descendants and
which is called original sin”25He then concludes: “In this context it is evident that original sin in Adam's
descendants has not the character of personal guilt. It is the privation of sanctifying grace in a nature
which through the fault of the first parents has been diverted from its supernatural end. It is a ‘sin of
nature’ and only analogically comparable to ‘personal sin.’”26
But God has been merciful to man. He sent His only-begotten Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, the second
Adam, into the world to restore to us what the first Adam lost. By His passion and death Our Lord merited
for us the new life of grace which blots out sin, and reconciled sinful man with God. St. Paul contrasting
our oneness in sin with Adam and our oneness in grace with Christ, says: “For by a man came death, and
by a man the resurrection of the dead. And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.” (I
Cor 15:21-22) Now, there is nothing in Scripture which suggest that as a general rule in the new order of
things we all come into existence in this world with the merits of the Redeemer already applied to us.
Rather, Scripture attest to quite the opposite. St. Paul in the Epistle to the Ephesian, comparing what we
were by nature with what we were by grace, says:
“And you, when you were dead in your offences, and sins, wherein in time past you walked
according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of this air, of the
spirit that now worketh on the children of unbelief: In which also we all conversed in time past,
in the desires of our flesh, fulfilling the will of the flesh and of our thoughts, and were by nature
children of wrath, even as the rest: But God, (who is rich in mercy,) for his exceeding charity
wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together in Christ,
(by whose grace you are saved,). And hath raised us up together, and hath made us sit together
in the heavenly places, through Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:1-6)
In whatever way we understand them, the words: ‘We were by nature children of wrath, even as the
rest,’ include necessarily all men without exception. Indeed, if ‘we’ denotes the Jews, according to the
common explanation, ‘the rest’ are the non-Jews—that is, all the Gentiles; and if ‘we’ denotes the
Christians, as certain commentators desire to prove, ‘the rest’ would be non-Christians—that is, all
unbelievers, whether Jews or Gentiles. In both cases the affirmation is universal.27 All men are born in a
fallen state and do need the saving grace of Christ. St. Paul has another passage in which he spoke of this
universal taint of original sin. In the fifth chapter of his Epistle to the Romans we read:

. Pope St. John Paul, Catechesis on Original Sin (General Audience, September 8-October 8, 1986), 4, 5.
. Ibid, 3, 1.
. Ibid, 5, 5.
. Cf. Fernand Prat, The Theology of Saint Paul, vol. II, pp. 61-62.
“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into this world, and through sin, death; so also
death was transferred to all men, to all who have sinned. For even before the law, sin was in the
world, but sin was not imputed while the law did not exist. Yet death reigned from Adam until
Moses, even in those who have not sinned, in the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a
figure of him who was to come. But the gift is not entirely like the offense. For though by the
offense of one, many died, yet much more so, by the grace of one man, Jesus Christ, has the grace
and gift of God abounded to many. And the sin through one is not entirely like the gift. For
certainly, the judgment of one was unto condemnation, but the grace toward many offenses is
unto justification. For though, by the one offense, death reigned through one, yet so much more
so shall those who receive an abundance of grace, both of the gift and of justice, reign in life
through the one Jesus Christ. Therefore, just as through the offense of one, all men fell under
condemnation, so also through the justice of one, all men fall under justification unto life. For, just
as through the disobedience of one man, many were established as sinners, so also through the
obedience of one man, many shall be established as just. Now the law entered in such a way that
offenses would abound. But where offenses were abundant, grace was superabundant. So then,
just as sin has reigned unto death, so also may grace reign through justice unto eternal life, through
Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rm 5:12-21)
The Apostle here draws a parallel between Adam, whom by disobedience brought sin and death on
all humanity, and Christ, whom by obedience has merited justice and life for all men (vv.12-14/18-21).
The consequence of this sin which Adam brought upon all humanity is death (v.12: “Therefore, just as
through one man sin entered into this world, and through sin, death; so also death was transferred to all
men, to all who have sinned”). Note ‘to all who have sinned.’ That this sin is not a personal sin which we
commit can be seen from the argument St. Paul builds on that passage on the case of those who haven’t
committed personal sin but do die. The Apostle speaks of a period from the time of Adam to Moses when
the “the law did not exist. Yet death reigned from Adam until Moses, even in those who have not sinned.”
(v.13-14a) Note ‘Those who have not sinned.’ Infants are incapable of sinning. But experience tells us that
they too are afflicted by death. Such deaths obviously cannot be as a result of their own personal sins.
Also, the Scriptures themselves are clear on the fact that personal sins were committed between the time
of Adam and Moses, and this fact was taken for granted by the Apostle in that passage. But in that period
those sins were not in themselves punishable by death, because they were not opposed to any positive
law then existing which imposed such a punishment. Yet death afflicted all even in that period. Therefore,
the sin in question in the statement ‘all who have sinned’, must be understood as a sin which owes its
origin to Adam and which comes down to all of us through our decent from him. The contraction of that
sin then cannot be by imitation of Adam’s sin but by propagation through natural generation. The sin
brought condemnation on us all. It separated man from God. Hence, the need for the Redeemer dying to
give us life. “Therefore, just as through the offense of one, all men fell under condemnation, so also
through the justice of one, all men fall under justification unto life. For, just as through the disobedience
of one man, many were established as sinners, so also through the obedience of one man, many shall be
established as just.” (v.18-19) It is Christ who has merited for us the life of grace which translates us from
the state of condemnation to the state of life; from the state of sin to the state of justification; from the
state of privation of grace to the state of friendship with God. Thus, in order to be saved all must receive
the new life of grace which Christ merited for us. But our rebirth or regeneration into this new life takes
place through Baptism (St. Paul points this out in the context of that passage, see 6:3-11). It stands to
reason therefore that all men—both adults and infants—can and should be baptized for the forgiveness
of sins.
Another point most of those who are opposed to infant Baptism seem to forget or probably do not
realize is that the unbaptized are not members of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church. This is the
constant teaching of the Church. The Council of Florence (1438-45) teaches that Baptism “is the door of
the spiritual life. By it we are made members of Christ and of his body, the Church.”28The Council of Trent
(1545-63) declared: “The Church exercises jurisdiction over nobody who has not previously entered the
Church through the gates of Baptism.”29 The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) teaches: “Incorporated
into the Church through baptism, the faithful are by the baptismal character given a place in the worship
of the Christian religion; and reborn as children of God they have an obligation to profess publicly the faith
they have received from God through the Church.”30This teaching is contained in both Scripture and
Tradition. Several passages from the Acts of the Apostles reveal that from the very beginning Baptism was
understood as the gate through which men entered the Church. See Acts 2:41: “They therefore that
received his word, were baptized; and there were added in that day about three thousand souls.” Cf. 8:12;
10: 11-48; 18:8; 19:1-7 etc. For the Apostle St. Paul, it is through Baptism that we are incorporated into
the body of Christ. See his statement in the Epistle to the Galatian (54/56 A.D.): “For as many of you as
have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor
free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:27); and in the First Epistle
to the Corinthian (54/55 A.D.): “For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or
Gentiles, whether bond or free.” (I Cor 12: 13) Turning from Scripture to Tradition. There is evidence from
the early Liturgical books or Church orders, that from the very beginning the unbaptized were not
permitted to partake of the Eucharistic meal-sacrifice viewed as a sign of the Church’s unity31since they
were not considered members of the Church. Thus, in the Didache written at the close of the first century
we find the following injunction: “Let no one eat or drink of the Eucharist with you except for those
baptized in the name of the Lord, for it was in reference to this that the Lord said: ‘Do not give that which
is holy to dogs’ [Mt 7:6].”32 Hermas, writing about 140 A.D. and using the symbol of the tower to designate
the Church, teaches that no one is received into the Church except by the reception of Baptism: “The
reason why the tower is built on water is this: Your life has been saved by water and will be so saved. The
tower has been put on a foundation by the omnipotent and glorious Word of the Name and it is held
together by the Lord’s invisible power.”33He pictured the unbaptized as being outside the tower and
pointed out that the only way they can enter into the tower is through the water, i.e. Baptism: “Do you
wish to know who are the other stones that have fallen near the waters and cannot roll there? They are
the ones who hear the word and wish to be baptized in the Name of the Lord, but then change their mind
when they recall the purity of the truth and return to their evil desires.”34; again: “Why sir, said I, did the
stones come up from the deep and were placed into the building of the tower, after they had borne these
spirits? It was necessary for them, said he, to ascend through the water that they might be made alive,
for they could not otherwise enter into the kingdom of God unless they put away the mortality of their
former life. Accordingly these also who had fallen asleep received the seal of the son of God and entered
into kingdom of God. For before, said he, a man bears the name of the Son of God, he is dead. But when
he receives the seal he puts away mortality and receives life. The seal, then, is the water. They descend
then into the water dead, and ascend alive. Therefore to these also was the seal preached and they made

. Council of Florence, Decree for the Armenians, November 22, 1439.
. Council of Trent, session 14, November 25, 1551.
.Second Vatican Council, Lumen gentium, 11(November 21, 1964)
.Cf. I Cor 10:16-20; Didache 9, 3-4: “And in connection with the breaking of bread, ‘We give Thee thanks, Our
Father, for the life and knowledge which Thou hast revealed to us through Jesus Thy Son; to Thee be glory forever.
As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountain tops and after being harvested was made one, so let Thy
Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom, for Thine is the glory and the power
through Jesus Christ forever.”
.Didache 9, 5.
.Hermas, The Shepherd: Visions, 3, 3, 5.
.Ibid, 3, 7, 3.
use of it to enter into the kingdom of God.”35Origen, in his commentaries on Genesis written before the
year 232 A.D., says: “Those who are being begotten again through divine baptism are placed in Paradise,
that is the church.”36Firmilian of Caesarea writing between the years 255/256 A.D, says: “There is no doubt
that they who are baptized make up the number of the Church.”37St. Cyprian, writing around 256 A.D,
says: “Since the birth of the Christian is accomplished in Baptism, and since the baptismal rebirth only
takes place with the one Bride of Christ, who is able spiritually to bring birth the sons of God, where could
he be born who is not the son of the Church.”38Here we find the following train of thought: the Church is
the mother of the sons of God; it is in baptism that she brings them forth. This connection between the
motherhood of the Church and Baptism is found early at the close of the second century in Tertullian’s
writings, notably in the treatise on Baptism: “You are blessed when you come out of the most holy bath
of the new birth, and when you pray for the first time beside your Mother and your brothers.”39St. Optatus
of Milevis, writing about 365 A.D., says: “For you cannot escape being our brothers—you whom together
with us one Mother Church has borne from the same bowels of her Mysteries, and whom God the Father
has received in the same manner as sons of adoption.”40; “one Mother Church has given us birth, one God
the Father has received us.”41St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), in one of his sermons for the recent
converts says: “The Church both brings forth children and is a virgin. And if you would give some
consideration to the matter, she brings forth Christ, because they who are baptized are His members.”42
Elsewhere in another work, the holy doctor says: “When we read that certain ones in the Body of Christ,
which is the Church [Col 1:24], belong to the kingdom of heaven, we must understand that this applies
only to the baptized.”43 St. Jerome (347-420) wrote: “They believe in the Church and begin life in the
Church, for unless they have been baptized, they are not sons of the Church. They, indeed, who have been
baptized in the Church call the Church ‘Mother.’”44These citations can be multiplied. However, from those
we have cited one could observe that Baptism has always been understood as an essential condition for
membership in the Church. Christian tradition knows nothing of unbaptized members of the Church.
Now if by Baptism we are incorporated into the Church then implied in the statement that infants
should not be baptized is the idea that infants should not be made members of the Church. But do our
opponents really believe that infants should not be made members of the Church? If they do not, then
they should abandon the position that baptism should not be administered to infants since it is by Baptism
that we become members of the Church. But there are some of them who actually believe that infants
should not be made members of the Church.45 Can such persons be right? Certainly not.
In the Old Covenant, the people of God were the community of the Jews, Israel (Dt 7:6: “Because
thou art a holy people to the Lord thy God. The Lord thy God hath chosen thee, to be his peculiar people
of all peoples that are upon the earth.” Cf. 4:7; Ex 19:5-6; Lev 26:11-13; Ish 1:3; Am 9:7-10). Children were
not excluded in her communion but were included in it. Thus, children were participants in the Old
Covenant (Gen 7:7; Dt 29:9-13) and were involved in the religious activities of Israel. See Joel 2: 15-16:
“Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call an assembly. Gather the people, sanctify the church, unite
the elders, gather together the little ones and infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom depart from his

.Ibid, The Shepherd: Parables, 9, 16, 1-4.
.Origen, Commentary on Genesis, 3, on Gen 2:15.
.Firmilian of Caeserea, in Cyprian letters, 75, 17.
.St. Cyprian, Letter 74[73],6[7]. Cf. Jean Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, p.47-48.
.Tertulian, On Baptism, 20. See also To the Martyrs, 1; Concerning Prayer, 2; On the Soul, 43.
.St. Optatus of Milevis, On the Schism of the Donatists, 4,2.
.Ibid, 4, 5.
.St. Augustine, Sermon, 213,7.
.Ibid, Letters, 265, 4.
.St. Jerome, Homily 18 on Psalm 86(87)
bed, and the bride from her bridal chamber.” Cf. Dt 31:12; Jos 8:35; II Par [II Chron] 20:13; 31:16. In the
New Covenant, the people of God is the Messianic community which is the Church (See I Pet 2:9-10 taking
over Ex 19:6 and LXX Is 43:20-21; Heb 4:9). Since the Old Covenant is a foreshadowing or prefiguration of
the New Covenant, we see no reason why the people of God in the New Covenant should be less inclusive
than the people of God in the Old Covenant and should not include children in her communion. In fact, in
the Messianic prophecies found in the OT, it is mentioned that both adults and infants will be participants
in the New Covenant (See Ish 59:20-21; Jer 31:33-34; 32:37-40) and that the Messianic community will
embrace all men—Jews and Gentiles, male and female, young and old, infants and adults (Ish 2:2-5; 54:13;
59:20-21; 60; 66:19-21; Ezech 17:22-23; Mic 4:1-5). So according to the prophecies which the Prophets
received from God, the Church will receive everyone in her communion. But since Baptism is the door by
which we enter the Church, it follows that Baptism can be received by everyone—adults as well as infants.
There are certain events during the earthly life of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, which are preserved in
the Gospels and which the Church from the earliest times understood to represent his mind upon the
question of the admission of infants in the Church/the Baptism of infants. In Mk 9:36-37 we are told that
“[Our Lord] took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them,
‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but
him who sent me.’” Note the following gestures ‘put him in the midst of them’ ‘taking him in his arm’ after
which comes the statement of receiving little children. It is true the Apostles are here being taught a lesson
on humility but it cannot be denied that behind that lesson also lies the idea that children have a place in
the community of the Messiah—the Church. Their status (i.e. littleness) does not make them insignificant
or irrelevant to the Church. They should not in any way be viewed as second-class citizens who have no
business with the Church. Rather, they too are meant to be received into it (v. 37a ‘whoever receives one
such child in my name receives me’). This in turn implies that Baptism can and should be administered to
little children since Baptism is where we are received into the Church. That scriptural passage becomes
more intelligible when read in connection with Mk 10:13-16.46In vv. 13-14, we read: “And they were
bringing children to him, that he might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw
it he was indignant, and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such
belongs the kingdom of God.’” In this episode also found in Matthew and Luke (Mt 19:13-15; LK 18: 15-
17) we hear of parents bringing their children to Jesus ‘that he might touch them’ (v.13b; the parallel
passage in Matthew has a more ecclesiastical flavor ‘that he might lay his hands on them and pray’ Mt.
19:13). Surprisingly, they were rebuked by the disciples and hindered in their access to Jesus. We are told
Jesus was ‘indignant’ at the disciples’ action (some other version reads ‘he took offence,’ ‘he was much
displeased’) and commanded them to stop hindering children from coming to Him. ‘Let the children come
to me,’ He says, ‘do not hinder them.’ Children are not a bothersome distraction to the Lord, an obstacle
in the way of more pressing concerns. On the contrary, His mission is to bring everyone into the embrace
of God’s Kingdom. This includes the youngest and smallest among us47, ‘for the kingdom,’ says Christ,
‘belong to such as these.’ Our Lord thus places no age restriction on receiving salvation. His kingdom
belongs as much to babies, toddlers, and preschoolers as well as to adults.48
Now, in reading passages such as these it should be remembered that most of the pericopae which
were included in the Gospels were selected because they had an important bearing on some urgent
question of faith or discipline in the primitive Church. We are not here saying that these events did not
actually occur during the earthly life of Christ and that the early Church invented them so as to promote

. Note Mk 9:36 and Mt 10:16 are the only places in the NT where the phrase “taking him in his arms” was used.
. In the parallel passage in St. Luke’s Gospel, we read: “Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might
touch them,” (LK 18:15a) and then follows the words cited in Mark. In the Greek original of Luke, the word translated
as ‘infant’ is bepha (βρέφη). The word means ‘babies,’ ‘very little children,’ ‘infants in arms.’
. Cf. Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: The Gospel of Matthew, P.244.
certain of her teachings and practices. That is far from the point. What we are here saying is that the
narratives of these events were transmitted because those who transmitted them saw that they could
somehow use these events (which actually occurred in the life of Christ) in their catechesis to support and
clarify certain point of doctrines and practices already held in the Church.49This is true of the pericope of
the blessing of the children by Jesus which is found in all the three synoptic Gospels. The following
questions naturally would have crossed the mind of parents coming over to the Christian faith in those
early years: Now that we are in Christ is it our responsibility to lead our children also to Him? Do our little
children have a place in the Messianic community just as little children do in the Old Covenant? Are they
meant to be included in the community of the faithful? What is the will of the Messiah on this matter?
The pericope of the blessing of the children by Jesus appears to have been transmitted to address such
questions and to serve as a sort of Catechism for Christian parents on the need to lead and bring their
children into union with Christ and this includes the little children who are unable to approach Him on
their own (see the Lucan text which used the expression βρέφη). Since it is in the baptismal waters that
one is brought into union with Christ, the pericope should be understood as supporting infant baptism.50
Certain internal and external details about the pericope support this conclusion. The first appears in
Mt 19:13, where the parents want Jesus to ‘lay his hands’ on their children and ‘pray’ for them. But the
laying of hands and prayer were closely connected with the rite of Baptism from the very beginning (See
in the NT, Acts 8: 15-17; 19:2-6; outside the NT: Tertullian, On Baptism, 8; St. Hippolytus, Apostolic
Tradition, 19-21 etc.). The second details have to do with the word ‘hinder’ used in Christ’s words of
rebuke to the disciples. Interesting, the Greek word for ‘hinder’ (Gk: κωλύετε=koluo) recurs regularly in
several baptismal episodes in the NT and is variously translated ‘hinder’ ‘forbid’ ‘withhold’ or ‘prevent’
(See in the NT, Acts 8:36; 10:47; 11:17; Mt 3:14). Thus koluo may have served as a technical term in
relation to the examination of candidates for Baptism. If candidates did not fulfil the required conditions,
they were hindered (koluo) from receiving the sacrament. But none should be hindered (koluo) because
they are children. The third details have to do with the close affinity which the saying of Christ in that
pericope (i.e. Mt 18:3=Mk 10:15=Lk 18:17) bears with another saying of Christ in the Johannine Gospel (Jn
3:5) which deals with Baptism. The words with which the sayings are introduced are similar: in the
Johannine Gospel “amen I say to thee”, in the Synoptic Gospels “Amen I say to you”; a negative condition
is found in the sayings: in the Johannine Gospel “unless”, in the Synoptic Gospels “unless” (Mt)
“whosoever shall not” (Mk, Lk); the apodosis has the same threatening sound in the sayings: in the
Johannine Gospel “cannot enter”, in the Synoptic Gospels “shall not enter”; and the place which the
individual shall be barred from entering is the same in the sayings: in the Johannine Gospel “kingdom of
God”, in the Synoptic Gospels “kingdom of heaven” (Mt), “kingdom of God” (Mk, Lk). The fourth and last
detail is external and this is based on the fact that the Christian people from the earliest period have
understood that pericope in connection with infant Baptism, evidence of which can be found as early as
the second century.51

.Joachim Jeremias commenting on this says: “Now every incident in the Synoptic Gospel has a twofold historical
place; the one is the unique concrete situation in the life of Jesus, and the other the preaching and teaching of the
primitive Church.” Infant Baptism in the First Four Century (Westminister Press: Philadelphia, 1962), P.50.
. “The saying of Jesus that children belong in the kingdom of heaven could hardly have been understood in any
other way than that children had equal right with adults to membership in the messianic community. If they did not
have this right they could not have belonged to the kingdom of heaven. The meaning and significance of the narrative
in Mk 10:13-16 can be understood only if we accept it as a defense of infant baptism.” Gustaf Aulen, The Faith of the
Christian Church, P.338.
. “The very first place in which our passage appears in early Christian literature (Tertullian, De Baptismo 18.5)
shows that about 200, the words of Jesus, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not forbid them’ (Matt. 19.14), were
generally understood as an injunction to let children be baptized, and even Tertullian, although in De Baptismo 18
he opposed a too early age for baptism, does not, as we shall see, try to escape from this interpretation of the
When examining this question of Church membership of infants in the early Church, the cultural
milieu of the ancients should also be taken into consideration. The Jews of the first century, it should be
recalled, were highly family conscious people. Thus, the Gentile father and mother, who embrace the
Jewish faith, were admitted with their children (including the little ones) into Judaism (see for example
the Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Kethuboth, folio 11a). The first heralds of our faith were Jews and they
came from that cultural background. If they had attempted a change of such understanding by keeping
children away from Church membership, considered now as the fellowship of the new people of God, and
welcoming only their parents or adult members of the family it would have led to a controversy like that
of the reception of Gentiles into the Church which would have left it marks in the NT. For a controversy
such as the reception of infant into the Church not to have featured in any of the documents which belong
to this period, must presumably be due to the fact that the Church in this period maintained a similar
standing like that already found and practiced in Judaism by embracing everyone—both adults and
infants—into her fold. It is in such context that those NT texts which speak of whole household having
being baptized should be understood. It is not a question here of determining whether or not each of the
households spoken of in those texts had any infants in their midst (after all none of those texts tell us
more precisely of whom the ‘households’ that are being welcomed into the Church were composed) but
in determining what that phrase ‘whole household’ implies when placed in the cultural setting of that
period and in their biblical context.
Let us now closely examine those texts themselves which speak of whole households receiving
Baptism. The texts are: Acts 16:15, where the Evangelist speaks of the Baptism of Lydia and all her
household by St. Paul: “she was baptized, and her household”; 16:13 where we are informed that the
Jailor “was baptized, and all his house” by Paul; 18:8 where we read: “Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue,
believed in the Lord, with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing, believed, and were
baptized”; compare Acts 10:48, which reads: “And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of
the Lord Jesus Christ,” with St. Peter’s speech in 11:13-14: “Send to Joppe, and call hither Simon, who is
surnamed Peter, who shall speak to thee words, whereby thou shalt be saved, and all thy house”; I Cor
1:16, where St. Paul speak of having baptized the household of Stephanus : “And I baptized also the
household of Stephanus.” To these may be added those texts in which St. Paul greeted the households
of several Christians. Rm 16:10: “Salute them that are of Aristobulus' household” “Salute them that are of
Narcissus' household, who are in the Lord”; Phil 4:21.22: “Salute ye every saint in Christ Jesus. The
brethren who are with me, salute you. All the saints salute you; especially they that are of Caesar's
household”; and II Tm 4:19: “Salute…the household of Onesiphorus.” In the case of ‘Caesar's household,’
it cannot be doubted that Caesar and his household were baptized since St. Paul considered them to be
part of the ‘saints in Christ’ i.e. members of the Church, and according to the same Paul it is by baptism
that one becomes a member of the Church (I Cor 12:13). But we have good reasons for thinking that the
household of Aristobulus, the household of Narcissus, and that of Onesiphorus were also baptized when
those individuals to whom the households belong accepted the faith. In reading the Pauline Epistles it
could be observed that in Paul’s farewell greetings found at the end of his epistles, it is his intention to
greet only those persons who have been received into the Church.
In any case, one would be mistaken in thinking that those households reported in the NT as having
received Baptism are the only instance in that period when such was practiced.52 Rather, what those texts

passage as applying to baptism. Similarly the Apostolic Constitutions base their claim that young children (νήπια)
should be baptized on the words ‘Forbid them not.’[VI 15.7] The application of the passage about the blessing of the
children to baptism was not first made at the end of the second century, but must be considerably older.” Joachim
Jeremias, Ibid.
. We know from I Cor 1:14 (“I give God thanks, that I baptized none of you but Crispus and Caius”) that the NT
authors sometimes spoke briefly when mentioning certain individuals who were baptized along with their
tell us is that it was common practice in that period when parents are converted to the faith to admit
them and their entire household into the Church through Baptism. In the cases preserved in the NT we
could see that this was already the practice of the Church in the 30s and 40s of the first century (i.e. the
case of Cornelius and that of Lydia). Now, as we have explained earlier, this manner of acting, of admitting
entire family into the household of God, was already being practiced in late Judaism and if the infant
Church as those text prove did not deviate from such custom but also admitted whole households into
her fold then there is no reason to doubt that if any of the households that was welcomed into the Church
in that period had any infant in their midst these too must have been baptized along with other members
of the family.
This idea of welcoming entire families into the fellowship of God’s people which we find in late
Judaism and which the infant Church continued has an OT root. In the OT God's saving action always
involve not only the individual whom God has called but the complete family: men, women, and children
including the suckling and toddlers if they were any amongst the children. For example, look at the
covenant established between God and Noah. Noah and his entire family were saved during the flood. It
was only one family that was saved in the ark and at the time of the flood all the members of this family
were already adults. There is no reason for thinking that had it been Noah’s children were much younger
and were in their early stages of infancy at the time of this event they would not have been admitted in
the ark. For God’s word to Noah was: “And I will establish my covenant with thee, and thou shalt enter
into the ark, thou and thy sons, and thy wife, and the wives of thy sons with thee.” (Gen 6:18) What was
in view here was the complete family. It was Noah that was found righteous in the sight of God but the
salvation was offered to him and his entire family: “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have
seen that you are righteous before me in this generation.” (Gn 7:1). Similarly, in the Epistle to the
Hebrews: “By faith Noah…constructed an ark for the saving of his household” (Heb 11:7). It is a scenario
similar to this that we so often find in the course of the Apostolic preaching. “Believe in the Lord Jesus,”
says Paul to the Jailor, “and then you will be saved, with your household.” (Acts 16:31) Also, the words of
the angel to Cornelius: “he [Peter] shall speak to you words, by which you shall be saved with your whole
house” (11:14). The thinking here is not so much about there being infants or not, but about children,
whatever age they may be. Salvation is for you and your house, no matter the number, no matter the sex
and no matter the age.
The same can be said of the covenant established between God and Abraham. Abraham was told by
“And I will establish my covenant between me and you, and with your offspring after you in their
generations, by a perpetual covenant: to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will
give to you and to your offspring, the land of your sojourn, all the land of Canaan, as an eternal
possession, and I will be their God…And you therefore shall keep my covenant, and your offspring
after you in their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall observe, between me and you,
and your offspring after you: All the males among you shall be circumcised. And you shall
circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, so that it may be a sign of the covenant between me and you.
An infant of eight days will be circumcised among you, every male in your generations. So also
servants born to you, as well as those bought, shall be circumcised, even those who are not of your
stock. And my covenant shall be with your flesh as an eternal covenant. The male, the flesh of
whose foreskin will not be circumcised, that soul shall be eliminated from his people. For he has
made my covenant void.” (Gen 17:7-14)

households. If not for the elaborate details provided elsewhere by St. Luke on the same individual we today would
not have known that that individual was baptized along with his household: “Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue,
believed in the Lord, with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing, believed, and were baptized” (Acts
Abraham came to faith as an adult and he received the sign of the covenant, i.e. circumcision, at a
very advance age along with his thirteen-year-old son Ishmael, “and all who were born in his house, and
all whom he had bought, every male among the men of his house” (17:23). His other son Isaac and his
descendants received the sign of the covenant in their infancy and were accepted into the community of
God’s people. The point here is that God’s covenant with Abraham included not only Abraham but his
household. It was Abraham that was called by God but the promise was not for him alone but for him and
his offspring. The word ‘offspring’ or ‘children’ is not limited to his descendants but includes his immediate
children during his time. The sons of Abraham in that period and in succeeding generations is that which
is in view here. It was a similar stance that the Apostles took in the course of the Apostolic preaching.
Hence we find St. Peter on the very day in which the Church was born saying about the grace received
during Christian initiation: “Do penance, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for
the remission of your sins: and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is to you, and
to your children, and to all that are far off, whomsoever the Lord our God shall call.” (Acts 2:38-39) Note
‘to you, and to your Children’— like in the OT that they were so used to and which was the only Scripture
for them, those words would have been understood by Peter and his Jewish hearers in the sense as
referring to the complete family. It should be recalled that the phrase to ‘you, and to your Children’ in
Biblical usage has an import similar to that of the other phrase ‘you, and your household’; and is
sometimes even used as an alternative version for it. Compare the Masoretic Text (=Hebrew Text) of Gen
45:11 which reads “Thou and thy household” and that of the Septuagint “Thou and thy sons.” The
salvation offered in Acts 2:38-39 is not only for the hearers of that message in isolation from their families.
It is for them and their entire family, ‘For the promise is to you, and to your children.’
Again, in the case of Moses when God led his people out of slavery in Egypt through the red sea, this
included the little ones (Ex 12:37). It was entire households that were here delivered.
It is interesting to note that these three events (i.e. the flood, circumcision, and the crossing of the
red sea) were already being viewed in the apostolic era by the Church as types of the salvation wrought
by God through the waters of Baptism. Thus, St. Paul, in his First Epistle to the Christian community at
Corinth, wrote presenting the march through the red sea as a figure of Baptism: “For I would not have you
ignorant, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea. And all in
Moses were baptized, in the cloud, and in the sea.” (I Cor 10:1-2) But like we have said it was entire
families, men, women and children, who were in slavery in Egypt that were led out of the land of slavery
through the red sea and thus became free from their former masters who held them in bondage.
Therefore, all—adults as well as infants—can be freed from the slavery of sin through the Sacrament of
Baptism and made heirs of the kingdom of God.53Elsewhere, in the Epistle to the Christians at Colossae,
St. Paul makes the following parallel between Baptism and circumcision: “In him also you were
circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the
circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism.” (Col 2:11-12) But in the OT, circumcision
was the seal of the Old Covenant and those males who were not circumcised were not counted among
the people of God. “If any male is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that man will be cut off from
his people; he has broken My covenant.” (Gen 17:14). Thus it was not only given to adults but to male
infants as well. But since according to St. Paul Baptism has replaced circumcision and Baptism is the means
whereby we are now incorporated into the people of God it stands to reason that in the New Covenant,
God would also want infants to be incorporated into His people through Baptism. Again, St. Peter, in his
First Epistle, saw in the event of the flood a figure of Baptism: “in the days of Noah while an ark was being
prepared. In it a few—that is, eight people—were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to
this, now saves you.” (I Pt 3:20-21) But like we have shown it was Noah’s family in its completeness that

. The Apostle of the Gentile is not unaware that Baptism cleanses us from sins. See Eph 5:26; I Cor 6:11; Rm 6:3-7
was saved during the flood. Therefore, the salvific grace of Baptism can be bestowed on the complete
families of parents converting to Christianity. These NT passages which point to several salvific events in
the OT as types of the Sacrament of Baptism do not only point to the efficacy of Baptism but demonstrate
that the Apostles who were Jews did not see a change in the New Covenant in God’s approach with His
people. Just as God’s saving action in the Old Covenant always included the complete family: men,
women, and children; so also in the New Covenant the saving event of Baptism is open to every member
of the family no matter the age.
The ideas of the Church as ‘People’ ‘Household’ ‘family’ (ideas which can be traced back to the NT
period I Pt 2:9-10; I Tim 3:15 etc.) themselves presupposes that the Church is meant to be all embracing
and would include even infants in her fold. For what household do you know of that never had babies?
What family do you know of that never accepts infants as its members? What people do you know of
exclude from their communion all infants because of their age? If we humans find it reasonable not to put
any age restriction on those we class as members of our respective families, why would anyone then think
that God does not want us to welcome infants in His family or does not want infants to become members
of His household? If the human society deems it fit not to place any age restriction on those she
considerers as her people, why would anyone then think that God does not want to include infants among
His people? Or do they mean to say we humans are now more considerate than God? The Bible itself as
we have earlier demonstrated from many examples knows nothing of any people or family that excludes
infants from their fold for any age reasons. As a matter of fact, when viewed from the familial aspect of
the Church the thought that infants should not be baptized because of their age is not only foreign to the
Biblical concept of the people of God but is also uncharitable.
There is nothing in the earliest records which suggest that the Church at one time did not baptized
infants. Rather all the evidence that has come down to us from the earliest periods leads to the conclusion
that infant Baptism was practiced from the very beginnings. We have already seen how several NT
documents, which were written between the 50s and the 80s of the first century and which testify to an
already existing practice of baptizing entire household, strongly suggests that infants were already being
baptized at that time. It is not surprising then when about a hundred and ninety years later we find the
Ecclesiastical writer Origen, who was well travelled and acquainted with the Christian traditions of not
only his own town Alexandria but other regions, speaking unequivocally of infant Baptism as a practice
that goes back to the Apostles: “The Church received from the Apostles the tradition of giving Baptism
even to infants. For the Apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of divine mysteries, knew that
there is in everyone the innate stains of sin, which must be washed away through water and the
Spirit.”54Elsewhere in his Homilies on Leviticus written in the 240s he says: “But if it pleases you to hear
what other saints also might think about this birthday, hear David speaking, ‘In iniquity I was conceived
and in sins my mother brought me forth,’ [Ps 50:7] showing that every soul which is born in flesh is
polluted by the filth ‘of iniquity and sin’; and for this reason we can say what we already have recalled
above, ‘No one is pure from uncleanness even if his life is only one day long.’ [Job 14:4-5] To these things
can be added the reason why it is required, since the baptism of the Church is given for the forgiveness of
sins, that, according to the observance of the Church, that baptism also be given to infants; since, certainly,
if there were nothing in infants that ought to pertain to forgiveness and indulgence, then the grace of
baptism would appear superfluous.”55Again, in his Homilies on Luke: “Little children are baptized ‘for the
remission of sins.’ Whose sins are they? When did they sin? Or how can this explanation of the baptismal
washing be maintained in the case of small children, except according to the interpretation we spoke of a
little earlier? ‘No man is clean of stain, not even if his life upon the earth had lasted but a single day’ [Job
14:4-5]. Through the mystery of baptism, the stains of birth are put aside. For this reason, even small

.Origen, Commentaries on Romans, 5, 9.
.ibid, Homilies on Leviticus, 8,3, 5.
children are baptized. For ‘Unless born of water and the Spirit one cannot enter the kingdom of heaven’
[Jn 3:5].”56
Some have tried to play down Origen’s statement about infant Baptism being of Apostolic origin. But
Origen could hardly have expressed himself thus if he himself had not been baptized as an infant or if he
had not grown up knowing other older men who before him were baptized as infants. Origen we should
recall was born about the year 185 A.D at Alexandria, the child of Christian parents. The early Ecclesiastical
writer and Church historian Eusebius informs us that Origen’s family had been Christians for several
generations (ἐκ πργόνων, ‘from his forefathers’; Rufinus translates ab avis atque atavis, ‘from his
grandfathers and great-grandfathers.’).57He was age seventeen when his father, St. Leonidas, was
martyred in the persecution of Septimius Severus in the year 202 A.D, and if Origen’s mother had not
hidden his clothes the youth, in his passionate desire for martyrdom, would have joined his father. In view
of his family background we can safely conclude that the other older men before him who were baptized
as infants and who he must have known while growing up would have included at least his father and
probable also his grandfather. ‘This means that the tradition of his family carries us back from the date of
his own baptism at least to the date of his father’s—i.e. to the middle of the second century, and probably
even to the baptism of his grandfather in the first half of that century.’58
The testimony of St. Hippolytus of Rome, a contemporary of Origen, also leads us to the same
conclusion. In his treatise the Apostolic Tradition written about the year 215 in which a description of the
baptismal practice of the Church of Rome is found, we read: “At dawn a prayer shall be offered over the
water. Where there is no scarcity of water the stream shall flow through the baptismal font or pour into
it from above; but if water is scarce, whether as a constant condition or on occasion, then use whatever
water is available. Let them remove their clothing. Baptise first the children; and if they can speak for
themselves, let them do so. Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them. Next, baptize
the men, and last the women. The latter must first let down their hair and put aside gold or silver
ornaments they may be wearing. Let no one take any foreign object into the water with them.”59Note
‘baptise first the children’ and these are classified into two groups: those who can speak for themselves
and those who cannot speak for themselves. Thus, toddlers and babies are here considered eligible
candidates for Baptism. It is important to note that Hippolytus intent of penning this work as he informs
us in its prologue was to record only forms and rites already traditional and customs already long
established. He wishes to write them down against innovations: “And now, though the love which He had
for all the saints [Eph 1:15], having come to our most important topic, we turn to the subject of the
Tradition which is proper for the Churches, in order that those who have been rightly instructed may hold
fast to the tradition which has continued until now, and fully understand it from exposition may stand and
more firmly therein. This is now the more necessary because of the apostasy of error which has recently
invented out of ignorance and because of certain ignorant men.”60 Thus, the Liturgy of Baptism described
by Hippolytus in this work is of a much older date and must have been in vogue at least in the Church of
Rome even in the second century. And this is true also of Baptismal customs such as infant Baptism,
infusion, threefold immersion etc. which were indicated in that Liturgy. Hippolytus clearly did not consider
the baptism of infants as an innovation or as something that was newly introduced in his time. Therefore,
it must have been practiced by Christians way before Hippolytus came into the scene.61 What this implies
is that the practice of baptizing infants must have been observed by Christians way before the second half

.ibid, Homilies on Luke, 14, 5 on Luke 2:22.
.Eusebius, Church History 6, 19, 10.
.Joachim Jeremias, Infant Baptism in the First Four Century (Westminister Press: Philadelphia, 1962), p. 66.
.St. Hippolytus of Rome, Apostolic Tradition, 21.
.Ibid, Prologue.
.St. Hippolytus was born sometime in the 180s or even in the 170s.
of the second century. Furthermore, regarding the baptismal interrogation which took place during the
baptismal ceremony, Hippolytus says concerning the little children who are unable to speak (i.e. answer
the baptismal questions) for themselves ‘let their parents or other relatives speak for them.’ There are
two possible inference that can be made here. One is that the children in question are being baptized
along with their parents and other members of their family and that at least one member of the family
who is old enough to speak and who also is about to be baptized with his family can speak in place of the
infant member of the family during the baptismal interrogation. The other is that the parents or other
members of the family are already Christians and that those already baptized members of the family who
are old enough to speak can speak in place of the infant candidate during the baptismal interrogation. The
first refers to a case of Gentile families coming over to the Church while the second refers to a case of
Christian families bringing their children that were born in Christian homes to the Church for Baptism.
Hippolytus possibly had the first in mind when he wrote those words although both could have been in
place. What this tells us is that the practice of baptizing entire households of which evidence are found in
the first century was continued well into the second century and that in the first half of the third century
it was still been observed in Rome. From this we could also see that in such household Baptism which
occurred in those early time if there happen to be any infants in the midst of the family they too were
baptized with other older members of the family.
What we have gathered so far from Hippolytus and Origen is confirmed by other Christian authors
who wrote at a much earlier date. St. Irenaeus of Lyons, writing between the years A.D. 180 and 199, says:
“He [Christ] came to save all through Himself, —all, I say, who through Him are reborn in God, —infants,
and children, and youths and old men. Therefore He passed through every age, becoming an infant for
infants, sanctifying infants; a child for children, sanctifying those that are of that age, and at the same time
becoming for them an example of piety, of righteousness, and of submission; a young man for youths,
becoming an example for youth and sanctifying them for the Lord. So also He became an old man for old
men so that He might be the perfect teacher in all things, —perfect not only in respect to the setting forth
of truth, but perfect also in respect to relative age, —sanctifying the elderly and at the same time
becoming an example to them. ”62Irenaeus here counts infants and children among those that were
‘reborn in God’ (some other version reads ‘born again in God’). But according to the language of the
Church in those times, the phase ‘rebirth’ or ‘born again’ denotes the regeneration granted in Baptism
(see above pp. for early Christian text before and after the period under discussion). Irenaeus himself
uses it so. For example, we find him in the same work saying elsewhere: “When in the proper place we
shall expose them [i.e. Gnostic Heretics], we shall tell how this false picture was injected by Satan in order
to deny the baptism of rebirth unto God, and to destroy the entire faith.”63In another work we read: “Now,
this is what faith does for us, as the elders, the disciples of the apostles, have handed down to us. First of
all, it admonishes us to remember that we have received baptism for the remission of sins in the name of
God the Father, and in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became incarnate and died and
raised, and in the Holy Spirit of God; and that this baptism is the seal of eternal life and is rebirth unto
God, that we be no more children of mortal men, but of the eternal everlasting God.”64Therefore, the fact
that Irenaeus mention that infants were born again in God indicate that he was familiar with the practice
of baptizing infants.65He takes it for granted that all men, no matter the age—be they infants, children,

.St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, 2, 22, 4.
.Ibid, 1,21,1.
.Ibid, Presentation of the Apostolic Preaching 3; See also 7; Against Heresies 3, 17, 1; 5, 15, 3.
. Greg Johnson wrote: “...infant baptism appears implied, for example, in Irenaeus' mention that infants and young
children were born again in God. His mention of this in a context of Christ's having passed through all the stages of
life does not negate the fact that Irenaeus said that infants were born again in God, that is, baptized. Noting, as
Aland does, that the statement was made as part of a broader theological context does not automatically negate
youth, or old men—can be born again in God, that is, baptized. When it is remembered that Irenaeus was
born between the years A.D 130 and 140; and that in his days as a child, he was nurtured in the faith of
the Church and was well acquainted with men such as St. Polycarp who were taught by the Apostles,66
we could further suggest that his familiarity with the practice of baptizing infants must have been since
his childhood in Asia in the first half of the second century and that ‘those taught by the Apostle
themselves’ were among the persons he must have seen in those times administering the Sacrament to
Tertullian writing a decade later says:
“According to circumstance and disposition and even age of the individual person, it MAY be better
to delay Baptism; and especially so in the case of little children. Why, indeed, is it necessary - if it
be not a case of necessity - that the sponsors to be thrust into danger, when they themselves may
fail to fulfill their promises by reason of death, or when they may be disappointed by the growth
of an evil disposition? Indeed the Lord says, ‘Do not forbid them to come to me’ [Matt 19:14; Luke
18:16]. Let them come, then, while they grow up, while they learn, while they are taught to whom
to come; let them become Christians when they will have been able to know Christ! Why does the
innocent age hasten to the remission of sins? ...For no less cause should the unmarried also be
deferred, in whom there is an aptness to temptation, - in virgins on account of their ripeness as
also in the widowed on account of their freedom, - until they are married or are better
strengthened for continence. Anyone who understands the seriousness of Baptism will fear its
reception more than its deferral. Sound faith is secure of its salvation!” 67
Some have tried to interpret Tertullian’s statement here as a denial of infant Baptism and that he
considered the practice as an innovation68 but if one looks at that passage carefully it would be discovered
that Tertullian accepted quite clearly that infants can be validly baptized but for practical reasons he
preferred the delay of such Baptism: ‘Why, indeed, is it necessary - if it be not a case of necessity - that
the sponsors to be thrust into danger, when they themselves may fail to fulfill their promises by reason
of death, or when they may be disappointed by the growth of an evil disposition?’ It is because he feared
that little children might grow up not fulfilling the promises made for them by their sponsors that was
why he encouraged the delay of the Baptism of infants but he allows that they could be baptized in case
of emergency (‘if it be not a case of necessity’). We can from this deduced that infant Baptism was already
being practice in this period. The fact that Tertullian prefers its postponement does not in any way argue
against an Apostolic origin for the practice of baptizing infants or the widespread of the practice in
Tertullian’s day. It should be recalled that Tertullian in that same passage held the same stands regarding
virgins and widows. He accepts that such persons could receive the Sacrament validly but he prefers its
delay in their case because he felt such persons were more prone to temptation (‘in whom there is an
aptness to temptation’). But which of the opponents of infant baptism has ever inferred from this that
the baptism of those in an unmarried state was an innovation in Tertullian’s day or was unknown in the
days of the Apostles? In fact, if as opponents of infant Baptism maintain Tertullian considered the practice
of baptizing infants as a recent innovation then we must ask why in that treatise he nowhere raised such
an argument. Tertullian was one who never overlooks such an argument whenever he considered a

the truth of the individual statement. An infant's being born again in God could only mean for Irenaeus its having
been baptized—and (within his broader theological context) thus sanctified through Christ, who himself sanctified
infancy by passing through infancy.” The Prevalence and Theology of Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries, East
and West (Saint Louis University: Spring 1999).
. In his letter to the Roman presbyter Florinus, St. Irenaeus says: “” (Eusebius, Church History, 5, 20).
.Tertullian, On Baptism, 18, 4-6.
.Even Catholic author Tatha Wiley, for instance, while agreeing that Tertullian’s treatise On Baptism “offers clear
evidence that infant baptism was practiced by this time” still went ahead to conclude that “Tertullian attacked the
custom as a novelty and rejected its necessity.” Original Sin (Paulist Press: New York, 2002), p.45.
practice a novelty or meant to condemn it. For instance, look at his treatment of the practice of female
teachers in that same treatise:
“But the impudence of that woman who assumed the right to teach is evidently not going to
arrogate to her the right to baptize as well—unless perhaps some new serpent appears, like that
original one, so that as that woman abolished baptism, some other should of her own authority
confer it. But if certain Acts of Paul, which are falsely so named, claim the example of Thecla for
allowing women to teach and to baptize, let men know that in Asia the presbyter who compiled
that document, thinking to add of his own to Paul's reputation, was found out, and though he
professed he had done it for love of Paul, was deposed from his position. How could we believe
that Paul should give a female power to teach and to baptize, when he did not allow a woman
even to learn by her own right? Let them keep silence, he says, and ask their husbands at home
[Cf. I Cor 14:35].”69
Tertullian we should note was converted to the Christian faith sometime in the year 193 A.D.
Christians who like St. Irenaeus and Polycrates could boast of a rich heritage that go back to the Apostles
and their disciples would also have been alive in the North Africa of Tertullian’s day and Tertullian would
have been acquainted with such Christians. Thus, if the practice of baptizing infants had been unknown
at the beginning of the African church or at one point in the second century Tertullian would have known
it and would have mentioned it. But he nowhere advances such an argument when dealing with that
practice, and his reasons must have been because the practice was an immemorial tradition even in North
Africa. The antiquity of the practice can even be deduced from Tertullian’s own argument in that treatise.
There it was indicated that there was already an organized baptismal ceremony with the role of sponsors
(i.e. godparents) for children. This in itself demonstrate that the practice of baptizing infants was already
an established practice in that period at least in Tertullian’s own town Carthage. Again, consideration
should be take on the way Tertullian tries to tackle the Scriptural passages in favor of infant Baptism most
especially Mt 19:14 (‘Do not forbid them to come to me’). ‘Indeed the Lord says, ‘Do not forbid them to
come to me’ [Matt 19:14; Luke 18:16]. Let them come, then, while they grow up, while they learn, while
they are taught to whom to come; let them become Christians when they will have been able to know
Christ!’ This statement from Tertullian demonstrate that that Scriptural text was already being used by
Christians to support the practice of baptizing little children. Tertullian himself does not attempt to argue
against the application of that Scriptural text to Baptism (Indeed the Lord says, ‘Do not forbid them to
come to me’) but tries to twist and extend it to accommodate his own idea of delaying the Baptism of
children (‘Let them come, then, while they grow up, while they learn, while they are taught to whom to
come’). Here we could notice in him the mark of an innovator attempting to stretch an already accepted
interpretation to include his own ideas.
As we shall later see, this tendency of delaying Baptism which is already present in Tertullian would
grow in the third and fourth centuries to such an extent that even children born in Christian homes had
Baptism put off for them until they had reached the age of adulthood or were in the danger of death. At
the moment it is well to inform the reader that Tertullian’s position did not inspire much influence in his
home town Carthage in North Africa. In a letter written by the Carthaginian synod which was held under
St. Cyprian in the year 251 or 253 we find the synodal fathers disapproving such tendencies of delaying
baptism for the newly born to the eighth day after birth:
“But as regards the case of infants, who you say should not be baptized within the second or third
day after their birth, and that respect should be had to the law of the ancient circumcision, whence
you think that one newly born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day, we all
in our council thought very differently. For no one agreed in what you thought was to be done; but
rather, we all judge, that the mercy and grace of God is to be denied to none born of man. For
since the Lord says in His Gospel, ‘The Son of Man is not come to destroy men lives, but to save

.ibid, 17, 4-5.
them,’ [Lk 9:56] as far as in us lies, if it can be, no soul must be lost. For what is wanting to one.
who has been once formed in the womb by the Hands of God? For to us and to our eyes, according
to the course of this world, they that are born appear to receive increase in growth; but
whatsoever things are made by God, are perfected by the majesty and operation of God their
Maker… But therein is the Divine and spiritual equality expressed, that all men are alike and equal,
in that they have been once made by God; and our age, in the growth of our bodies, may differ
according to the world, not according to God; unless indeed the very grace also, which is given to
the baptized, is granted, more or less, according to the age of the recipients; whereas the Holy
Ghost is not given by measure, but through the clemency and mercy of the Father, equally to all.
For ‘as God accepteth no man s person,’ [Gal 2:6] so neither, with well-weighed equality, any age;
but giveth Himself as a Father to all, for the attainment of heavenly grace. For whereas you say
that an infant during the first days after its birth bears traces of uncleanness, so that any one of us
would still shrink from kissing it, neither should this, we think, be a hindrance to giving it the
heavenly grace; for it is written, ‘Unto the pure all things are pure.’ [Tit 1:18] Nor ought any of us
to shrink from that which God hath vouchsafed to make. For although an infant is yet fresh from
its birth, yet it is not such that any one should shrink from kissing it in bestowing grace and in
making peace; for that, in the kiss of an infant, each of us should, for very piety, think of the recent
Hands of God, which we in a manner kiss, in the lately formed and recently born man, when we
embrace that which God has made. For in that in the Jewish circumcision of the flesh the eighth
day was observed, a mystery was given beforehand in a shadow and in a figure; but, when Christ
came, it was accomplished in reality. For because the eighth day, that is, the first after the Sabbath,
was to be that, whereon our Lord would rise again and quicken us and give us the spiritual
circumcision, this eighth day, that is, the first after the Sabbath, and the Lord s day, was promised
in a figure. Which figure ceased, when the reality afterwards came, and when the spiritual
circumcision was given to us. On which account we think that no one should by that law which was
before ordained be hindered from obtaining grace; nor should the spiritual circumcision be
hindered by the circumcision in the flesh, but everyone is by all means to be admitted to the grace
of Christ, inasmuch as Peter also in the Acts of the Apostles speaks and says, ‘The Lord hath Acts
shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.’ [Acts 10:28] But if anything could
hinder men from obtaining grace, much more might the more grievous sins hinder the adult and
grown and elder men. If then even to the most grievous offenders, and who had before sinned
much against God, when they afterwards believe, remission of sins is granted, and no one is
debarred from Baptism and grace, how much more ought not an infant to be debarred, who being
newly born has in no way sinned, except that being born after Adam in the flesh, he has by his first
birth contracted the contagion of the old death; who is on this very account more easily admitted
to receive remission of sins, in that not his own but another’s sins are remitted to him. And
therefore, dearest brother, this was our opinion in council, that no one should by us be debarred
from Baptism and the grace of God Who is merciful and gracious and loving to all. Which as it is to
be observed and maintained towards all, much more do we think it to be observed towards infants
and the newly born, who on this very account the more deserve our aid and the Divine mercy,
that, immediately on the very dawn of their birth, lamenting and weeping, they do nothing else
but entreat for pardon.”70
The situation here was such that Bishop Fidus was of the opinion that Baptism, like circumcision,
should be delayed for the new born until the eighth day after birth. The unanimous decision reached by
the sixty-seven fathers who were present in that synod and who represented the Church in Africa was
that baptism should not be delayed until the eighth day, but that children should be baptized immediately
after birth (‘the second or third day after their birth’). According to their judgment, ‘the mercy and grace
of God is to be denied to none born of man.’ What this tells us is that the practice of baptizing infant was
not only very strong but widespread at least in Africa. No one, not even Fidus, was saying that infants
cannot receive baptism. They all were in agreement that Baptism should be administered to infants but

.St. Cyprian, Letters 64, 2-5.
Fidus was of the opinion that the baptism of infants should be delayed by a few days by bringing the time
of baptism ‘into line with that of circumcision (administered on the eighth day).’71 The opinion of Fidus as
we have seen was disapproved. There should be no delay for even a couple of days.
Coming back to Tertullian, we could observe from his argument that the teaching that Baptism was
necessary for salvation was widespread in his day and as a result of this teaching Baptism was given to
the individual no matter the age when it was a case of emergency. Evidence of this can also be found in
ancient Christian grave inscriptions. There you will find several inscriptions beginning from the close of
the second century which shows that Baptism was readily given to adults as well as infants when there
was danger of death. Although the word ‘baptism’ is rarely used. The idea is expressed by ‘received grace,’
‘believer’ ‘faithful’ or ‘neophyte’ (= ‘newly baptized’). Below are a few examples:

“To the sacred dead. Florentius made this monument to his worthy son Appronianus, who lived
one year, nine months, and five days. Since he was dearly loved by his grandmother, and she saw
that he was going to die, she asked from the church that he might depart from the world a
believer.” [ILCV 1343, the third century]72

“Sweet Tyche lived one year, ten months, fifteen days, Received [grace] on the eighth day before
the Kalends. Gave up [her soul] on the same day.” [ILCV 1531, Catacomb of Priscilla, third century]

“Pastor, Titiana, Marciana, and Chreste made this for Marcianus, a well-deserving son in Christ the
Lord. He lived 12 years, 2 months, and…days. He received grace on September 20 when the consuls
were Marinianus and Paternus the second time. He gave up [his soul] on September 21. May you
live among the saints in eternity.” [ILCV 3315; dated 268. Form the Catacomb of Callixtus]

“For Flavia, dearest infant, who with sound mind obtained the grace of the glorious font on Easter
day and survived after holy baptism five months. She lived 3 years, 10 months, 7 days. The parents,
Flavian and Archelais, for their pious daughter. Burial on the 18th of August.” [ILCV 1523; Salona,
third century or fourth century]

“Irene who lived with her parents 10 months and 6 days received (grace) on April 7 and gave up
[her soul] on April 13.” [ILCV 1532; Rome, Catacomb of Priscilla, third century]

“For Proiectus, an infant neophyte, who lived 2 years, 7 months.” [ILCV 1484C; Ravenna]

“Postumius Eutenion, a believer, who obtained holy grace the day before his birthday at a very
late hour and died. He lived six years and was buried on the fifth of Ides of July [i.e. 11th of July] on
the day of Jupiter on which he was born. His soul is with the saints in peace. Felicissimus, Eutheria,
and Festa his grandmother to their worthy son Postumius.” (ILCV 1524; Catacomb of Gordianus
and Epimachus in Rome, early fourth century)

“For Julia Florentia, sweetest and most innocent infant, who was made a believer, her parents
placed this. She was born a pagan before it was light on March 6, under Zoilus, governor of the
province. Eighteen months and twenty-two days later, while dying, she was made a believer, at
the eight hour of the night. She lived another four hours, so that she received communion again,
and died at Hyble at the first hour of September 25. When both her parents were weeping for her
without ceasing, at night the voice of Divine Majesty was heard, forbidding lamentation for the
dead. Her body was buried in its coffin by the presbyter near the martyr’s tomb on October 9”
[ILCV 1549; dated 314]

.Jeremias, The Origins of Infant Baptism: A further study in reply to Kurt Aland, p.66.
.ILCV= E. Diehl, Inscriptiones Latinae Christianae Veteres, Vols 1-3.
“Here is laid Fortunia, who lived more or less 4 years. The parents set this up for their dearest
daughter. She obtained (grace) on July 27 . . . and died on July 25. 73 Gratian for the second time
and Probus were the consuls.” [ILCV 1525; Capua, AD 371]

“The boy Maurus, age five years and three months, was buried on the nones of August. He
obtained grace at two or three.” [ILCV 1527; Rome]

“Pisentus, an innocent soul, who lived five years, eight months, thirteen days, a neophyte, buried
on September 13 in peace.” [ILCV 1485C; Rome, Catacomb of Praetextatus]

“For the dear son Casiacinus who lived six years and three days, a neophyte, buried on May 5. Well
deserving, in peace.” [ILCV 1485D; Rome, Capitoline Museum]

“For Zosimus, who lived five years, eight months, thirteen days, neophyte in Christ. Donatus his
father and Justa his mother for their well-deserving son.” [ILCV 1487]

“For Romanus, well-deserving neophyte, who lived nine years, fifteen days. May he rest in the
Lord’s peace. Flavius Gratian Augustus for the second time and Petronius Probus consuls.” [ILCV
1478A; Rome, A.D. 371]

“Achillia, a neophyte, fell asleep in her first year, fifth month, on February 24.” [CIG IV. 9810] 74

“For Paulinus, a neophyte, in peace, who lived eight years.” [ILCV 1484B; Cemetery of Cyriaca in

“For Domitian, innocent neophyte, who lived three years, thirty days. Buried May 24.” [ILCV 1485A;
Rome, Catacomb of Pontianus]

“Flavius Aurelius, son of Leo, marvelously endowed with the innocence of generous goodness and
industry, who lived six years, eight months, eleven days. A neophyte, he rested (in peace) on July
2 in the consulship of Julius Philip and Sallias…” [ILCV 1477; Rome, St. Agnes outside the walls, AD

“Aristo, an innocent child, who lived eight months, a neophyte, departed on June 4, Timasius and
Promotus being consuls.” [ILCV 1481; Rome, AD 389]

For cases where it was an adult that received baptism in case of emergency see the following

“Junius Bassus, who lived 42 years and 2 months. In the very year in which he was prefect of the
city, he went to God, a neophyte, on the 23rd of August, A.D. 359."

“Blessed Crescentine, my dear sweet wife, who lived 33 years, 2 months. She received (grace) on
June 29 and was buried on October 27. Well-deserving.” [ILCV 1530; Rome]

“To the divine dead. For Euphrosune, dear wife of Kampano, who lived with him 12 full years, 2
months, 5 days. She passed away in her 35th year. After the day of her receiving (grace) she lived
57 days.” [ILCV 1535; Rome]

. Evidently the workman exchanged the dates.
.CIG= Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum, A. Boeckh et al.
“For the well-deserving Perpetuus in peace, who lived more or less 30 years . . . Buried April 13,
died a neophyte…” [ILCV 1478; Rome, AD 370]

“In the consulship of Flavius Arcadius and Baudone on the 22nd of June died Leontius a neophyte
who lived more or less 28 years, 5 months, 15 days. Well-deserving, in peace.” [1480; Rome, AD

“Innocentius a neophyte lived 23 years.” [ILCV 1484; Rome, Catacomb of Callistus]

“Mercury a neophyte is buried here. He lived 42 years, 2 months, 15 days. Eugenia while she lived
made this.” [ILCV 1485B; Rome, Catacomb of Praetextatus]

“For Felix, a well-deserving son, who lived 23 years, 10 days. He departed a virgin with reference
to the world and a neophyte in peace. His parents made this. Buried August 2.” [ILCV 2764; Rome,
Catacomb of Callistus]

“For the well-deserving Eugenia of happy memory who lived not 19 years, a neophyte.” [ILCV
1488B; Naples]

“For the well-deserving Simplicius who lived 51 years and after his reception (of grace) 27 days.
Buried on February 1 in peace.” [ILCV 1536a]

“In the consulship of Ursus and Polemius the girl named Felite, more or less 30 years old, obtained
(grace) on March 26 and died in peace after April 29 on the day of Mercury at the 9th hour.” [ILCV
1539; Rome, Catacomb of Domitilla, AD 338]

“For the well-deserving Antonia Cyriaceti who lived 19 years, 2 months, 26 days. Received (the
grace) of God and died a virgin on the fourth day. Julius Benedictus her father set this up for his
sweet and incomparable daughter. November 20.” [ILVC 1529; Rome]

Some scholars like Everett Ferguson have made the inference from these cases of emergency
Baptism that “in the third and fourth centuries infant baptism was abnormal’ and that the ‘new born were
not routinely baptized in the period of our early inscriptions.’ For him in the earliest period the position
of the Church was to baptized infants only when it was a case of emergency. At the time of Tertullian, the
argument continues, ‘there was pressure from some to extend the emergency measure to other
circumstances.’ With time, what formerly was bestowed on infants only in case of emergency became
‘regular practice.’ Ferguson suggest that this was what happened then.75
But Ferguson misses one point which he himself had earlier observed. As he says, “It is noteworthy
that all of the inscriptions which mention a time of baptism place this near the time of death.” But does
this necessarily warrant the inference that in those times people (infants and adults) were not baptized
except in case of emergency? Or that Baptism on one’s death bed was the norm? Of course not. What the
inscriptions that relate to Baptism simply tells us is that the early Christians in their funeral inscriptions
rarely mention the time the buried Christian had Baptism administered to him while he was alive unless

. Catholic archaeologist Orazio Maruchhi, who wrote several decades before Everett, appears to have held a similar
position: “The fact is that baptism was usually administered to adults only; young persons, much more babies, were
only baptized in the case of serious illness. And therefore a record of baptism in a sepulchral inscription is almost
exclusively confined to the case of the death of the baptized person (whether child or adult), shortly after receiving
that Sacrament: otherwise there was no reason for recording it.” Christian Epigraphy: An Elementary Treatise with
a Collection of Ancient Christian Inscriptions Mainly of Roman Origin (Cambridge: 1912), P.104
when such a person had received baptism in emergency.76Thus, if it so happen that there were cases in
those times where people (adults and infants) were baptized for some other reasons we should not expect
to find records of them in early Christian funeral inscriptions since it was rarely the methods of the early
Christians to record such cases in their funeral inscriptions. Therefore, it would be rash to conclude from
the mere fact that the examples of infant baptism found in early Christian funeral inscriptions are often
cases of ‘emergency baptism’ that the ‘new born were not routinely baptized in the period of our early
inscriptions.’ Anthony N.S. Lane made a similar observation in this regards when he wrote:
“There is no statement in the inscriptions that someone was baptized as a baby and died later.
Ferguson notes that ‘all of the inscriptions which mention a time of baptism place this near the
time of death’. It would be wrong to deduce from this that infants were baptised only in case of
emergency. All adults whose baptism is dated were baptized shortly before death. One cannot
deduce from this that adults were being baptised only at the point of death; rather that the date
of the baptism is only mentioned on the inscription when it occurred shortly before death. The
same is true for infants. Those infants whose baptism is not dated were probably baptised at an
earlier stage. This is not an arbitrary conclusion as the Apostolic Tradition, Tertullian and Cyprian
all bear witness to the practice of infant baptism outside of the emergency context. That the
inscriptions only record baptismal dates in the case of emergency/deathbed baptism in no way
proves that all baptisms were such, either for adults or for children.” 77
Moreover, the testimonies of St. Irenaeus, St. Hippolytus, St. Cyprian and Origen which we have
earlier cited strongly argues against the idea that in the period under discussion infants were ‘only
baptized’ in case of emergency and that ‘infant baptism was abnormal.’
Furthermore, if one looks at the early Christian inscriptions which have survived it would be
discovered that there are several funeral inscriptions in which it was indicated that the deceased had
received Baptism while they were alive or that the deceased was a Christian but do not in any way indicate
that Baptism was given to them in case of emergency. Such inscriptions can be found in Greek and Latin
even for individuals that died as infants. See below the following examples for infants and adults:

“His father Eutychus dedicated (this monument) on behalf of his son Eutychianus. He lived as a
servant of God for one year, 2 months, (and) 4 days. Jesus Christ…” [ILCV 1611; dated 200 A.D or
first decades of the third century]

“A believer from believers, Zosimus lies here. He lived two years, one month, twenty-five days.”
[CIG IV.9817]

. This was done probably because while the buried Christian was still in this world he would have been known as
an unbaptized and a non-member of the Church. Inscribing the fact that he was baptized was a way of saying to
those around that before he left this world he left as one of us and therefore should be accorded by all that which
is proper to a Christian after death.
. Anthony N.S. Lane, Did the Apostolic Church Baptise Babies?, Tyndale Bulletin 55.1 (2004),p.119. Ferguson after
quoting the last statement had written: “The difference, however, is that other evidence shows the normal practice
of baptism of believers at other ages of life; whereas, although there is evidence for baptism of babies in
nonemergency situations, there is none for it as a normal or routine practice until late fourth or fifth centuries. I
introduce the inscriptional evidence not to argue that infant baptism obtained only in emergency situations but to
offer an explanation of its origin.” Baptism in the Early Church, note.39; p.377. In response to Ferguson we may ask:
how was he able to deduce from ‘other evidence’ that the ‘practice of baptism of believers at other ages of life’ was
‘normal’? He admits that ‘there is evidence for baptism of babies in nonemergency situations.’ What prevents him
from deducing from such evidence that the baptism of babies was ‘a normal or routine practice’ in the second and
third century? If we were to follow the evidence from this period outside the inscriptions which are from St. Irenaeus,
Tertullian, St. Hippolytus, Origen, and St. Cyprian; they all lead to the conclusion that the baptism of babies was a
normal practice in the period of discussion.
“Here lies Macaria, daughter of John of the village Nikeratos. She lived 3 years, 3 months, 16 days.
She died a believer on the 24th of the month Sandikou in the 11th consulship of Honorius Augustus
and of Constantius.” [CIG IV. 9855]

“To the divine dead. For the well-deserving son Covoideonus who lived nine years, two months,
seven days. Buried December 28. He departed a believer in peace. His grieving parents made this
according to a vow.” [ILCV 1366; near Aquileia]

“Ermaiscus, light, mayest thou live in God the Lord Christ; (he lived) ten years seven months.”
[Lateran Museum]

“Here rests in peace the servant of Christ Rusticula, a maiden devoted to God, who lived more or
less thirteen years. Laid to rest on the sixth day of August.” [ILCV 1716, fourth or fifth century A.D.]

“Euphronia, daughter of Euphronius and her mother, killed in a shipwreck. Born November 1,
obtained (grace) April 11, died May 1.” [ILCV 1540]

“Septimus Praetextatus Caecilianus, the slave of God, having lived worthily. I do not repent that I
have served Thee thus, and I give thanks to Thy name. He gave up his soul to God aged thirty -
three years and six months.”

“Gentianus, a believer, in peace, who lived twenty-one years eight months sixteen days, and in thy
prayers ask for us, because we know that thou art in Christ.” [Lateran]

True, there is no reason to think that whenever there was a case of emergency baptism immediate
before the death of the individual this was always reported by the early Christians in the funeral inscription
of that individual. It is possible that they were cases where this was not done and the deceased were
simply said to have been baptized or were simply buried as Christians with Christian ideas, symbols or
emblems merely embellished on their graves. So it can be argued that the inscriptions which we cited
above in which the deceased were simply said to have been baptized or were simply treated as Christians
could as well have belonged to persons who were baptized in emergency. Hence there is no possibility of
telling from such inscriptions whether or not the buried Christian received Baptism when there was
danger of death. However, from such inscriptions we can see that both the baptized infants and the
baptized adults were referred to as ‘believer’ or ‘faithful’ or ‘servant of God.’ From this we can at least
make the following deductions: that Baptism was understood as an essential condition for membership
into the community of believers, i.e. the Church; that it was understood that infants and adults can be
incorporated into the Church; that it was understood that the baptized adults and the baptized infants
received the same Baptismal grace; that an age-limit rule for Baptism did not exist in the period of
discussion; that the idea that infants cannot be baptized validly because they are incapable of hearing and
believing in the Gospel was quite unknown and foreign to the thoughts of the early Christians.
Another point which Ferguson failed to observe is how the rigorist tendencies concerning post
baptismal sins which laid hold of some in the period under discussion could have had an adverse effect
on the practice of baptizing infants. It should be noted that from the middle of the second century to the
second half of the fourth century, there was a heated debate on the forgiveness of post-baptismal sins
and the scope of the Church’s power to forgive such sins. During this period ‘the reconciliation of
Christians who had committed particularly grace sins after Baptism (for example, idolatry, murder or
adultery) was tied to a very rigorous discipline, according to which penitents do public penance for their
sins, often for years, before receiving reconciliation. To this ‘order of penitent’ (which concerned only
certain grave sins), one was only rarely admitted and in certain regions only once in a life time.’78 On the
other hand, there were certain heretical sects like the Montanists and Novatianists which arouse in this
period and which attempted to limit the scope of the Church’s power to forgive sins by teaching that the
Church cannot forgive certain sins after Baptism. In such a climate it is not surprising that some arrived at
the thought of putting off Baptism to later stages in life and even to their death beds. It is in this historical
context that Tertullian’s preference for the delay of Baptism for children should be read.
Tertullian at the time he wrote the treatise on Baptism was still a Catholic and he held that baptized
sinners can be admitted to penance only once. This can be seen in his treatise on Repentance written in
the year 203 A.D. As he explains:
“[The devil’s] poisons are foreseen by God; and although the gate of repentance has already been
closed and barred by Baptism, still, He permits it to stand open a little. In the vestibule He has
stationed a second repentance, which He makes available to those who knock—but only once,
because it is already the second time, and never more, because further were in vain. Is not even
this once enough? You have that which you did not now deserve; for you have lost what you have
received. If the Lord’s indulgence grants you the means by which you might restore what you have
lost, be thankful for a benefit which has been repeated, and which has in fact been amplified. For
it is a greater thing to restore than it is to give, since it is worse to have lost than never to have
received at all.”79
There was a certain hesitation on his part to recommend this second penance for fear that some
might see this as a license to commit sin repeatedly:
“So long, Lord Christ, may the blessing of learning or hearing concerning the discipline of
repentance be granted to Thy servants, as is likewise behoves them, while learners, not to sin; in
other words, may they thereafter know nothing of repentance, and require nothing of it. It is
irksome to append mention of a second—nay, in that case, the last—hope; lest, by treating of a
remedial repenting yet in reserve, we seem to be pointing to a yet further space for sinning. Far
be it that any one so interpret our meaning, as if, because there is an opening for repenting, there
were even now, on that account, an opening for sinning; and as if the redundance of celestial
clemency constituted a licence for human temerity. Let no one be less good because God is more
so, by repeating his sin as often as he is forgiven. Otherwise be sure he will find an end of escaping,
when he shall not find one of sinning. We have escaped once: thus far and no farther let us commit
ourselves to perils, even if we seem likely to escape a second time.63 [5] Men in general, after
escaping shipwreck, thenceforward declare divorce with ship and sea; and by cherishing the
memory of the danger, honour the benefit conferred by God, —their deliverance, namely. I praise
their fear, I love their reverence; they are unwilling a second time to be a burden to the divine
mercy; they fear to seem to trample on the benefit which they have attained; they shun, with a
solicitude which at all events is good, to make trial a second time of that which they have once
learned to fear. Thus the limit of their temerity is the evidence of their fear.” 80
It was this fear of post-baptismal sins that led him into advocating for the postponement of Baptism
for children and unmarried persons. Later in his life Tertullian would succumb to an even more rigorist

.Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1447
.Tertullian, On Repentance, 7, 10-11. W. A. Jurgens wrote: “The treatise on Repentance was written in the year
203 or 204 A.D., and belongs to Tertullian’s Catholic period. While he insists strongly that post-Baptismal Penance
can be received only once, it is probable that he does so from pedagogical and psychological considerations, and not
on theological grounds, nor even as a matter of actual practice. He urges that after Baptism, this second repentance
ought never be necessary at all; and he fears to lead others into sin by suggesting that Penance may be received
more than once. Yet, he hints strongly that when necessary it may be repeated; for, after stressing the point of the
singularity of second repentance, he urges that one fall into sin he must not be ashamed to be set free again; and
then he declares…: ‘Medicine must be repeated for a repeated sickness.’” The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. I,
.Ibid, 7, 1-6.
position by aligning himself with the Montanists sects and adopting the idea that the Church cannot
forgive certain sins after Baptism. As he would go on to argue then: “‘But,’ you say, ‘the Church has the
power of forgiving sins.’ This I acknowledge. And I account it even more than you do, since I have the
Paraclete Himself, who says through the new prophets: ‘The Church is able to forgive sins; but I will not
do it, lest they might commit others too.’”81
In such a climate it is also not surprising that we began to hear in that period of Christians being
classed into two groups: those who since their Baptism have kept the baptismal seal undefiled, and those
who after they had committed post-baptismal sins and have been restored to grace had remained pure.
The former became a source of pride to many in that period and some Christian writers back then even
used it as argument in defense of the purity of the Christian faith in their disputation with pagans. It is in
this context that that the indirect testimony of St. Polycarp and St. Justin Martyr should be understood.
Starting with St. Polycarp. As he was being led to his place of martyrdom “the Proconsul urged him
and said: ‘Take the oath and I release you; revile Christ,’ Polycarp said: ‘Eighty-six years have I served Him,
and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”82 St. Polycarp was the
Bishop of the church in Smyrna, a city in Asia Minor (modern Izmir in Turkey). He was martyred on the
22nd of February in the year 156 A.D.83and in his earlier years was well acquainted with the Apostle St.
John and many others who had seen our Lord Jesus Christ during His earthly life. The statement ‘Eighty-
six years have I served Him’ suggest that at the time of Polycarp’s martyrdom he had been a Christian or
believer for eighty-six long years. This will place his Baptism in the year 69 A.D when some of the Apostles
were still alive. Now the question might be asked does this necessarily imply that Polycarp was at the very
early stages of his childhood at the time of his Baptism in the year 69. A.D? Such appears to be the natural
inference of that passage since Polycarp meant to point out with the length of his years that all his life he
has lived as a servant of Christ preserving in the faith. But there are some who have disputed this
suggesting in their turn that Polycarp was 18 years old at the time of his conversion in the year 69 A.D.
This would make him 104 years old at the time of his martyrdom but several details in that text and other
early Christian texts which belong to that period argues against such a supposition. A 104 years old man
would have been too weak to embark on the sort of tasks Polycarp was said to have carried out at the
time of his martyrdom. We are told that as they were about to burn him “he took off his upper garments,
loosened his belt, and tried to take of his shoes off, also, a thing he did not do in the past, because the
faithful were always eager to be the first to touch his flesh. For he had been treated with every regard on
account of his holy life even before his grey hair appeared.”84 Again, we read earlier that when the
persecution first broke out and this came to the ears of Polycarp “he was not disturbed, but desired to
stay in the city. However, the majority persuaded him to leave quietly, so he went out secretly to a farm
not a great distance from the city and, remaining with a few friends, night and day he did nothing but pray
for all his people and for all the Churches throughout the world, as was his custom at all times.”85It is
further related that “as the searchers continued after him, he went to another farm”86 “And late in the
evening they converged on Polycarp and found him resting in the upper room. Though it was still in his
power to get away to another locality, he did not wish to, saying: ‘The will of God be done’ [Acts
21:14].”87Again, St. Irenaeus who personally knew St. Polycarp informs us about a visit which the saintly
Bishop made to Rome during the time St. Anicetus was Bishop of that city. As Irenaeus tells us: “…when

.Ibid, On Modesty, 21, 7.
.The Martyrdom of Polycarp, 9, 3.
.The 23rd of February 155 A.D has also been brought up by some as the possible date of St. Polycarp’s martyrdom.
.Ibid, 13, 2.
.Ibid, 5, 1.
.Ibid, 6, 1.
.Ibid, 7, 1.
Blessed Polycarp paid a visit to Rome in Anicetus’ time, though they had minor differences on other
matters too, they at once made peace, having no desire to quarrel on this point. Anicetus could not
persuade Polycarp not to keep the day, since he had always kept it with John the disciple of our Lord and
the other apostles with whom he had been familiar; nor did Polycarp persuade Anicetus to keep it:
Anicetus said that he must stick to the practice of the presbyters before him. Though the position was
such, they remained in communion with each other, and in church Anicetus made way for Polycarp to
celebrate the Eucharist—out of respect, obviously.”88The pontificate of St. Anicetus is normally dated
between the years 155-166 A.D.89Thus, Polycarp’s visit to Rome would have occurred shortly before his
death. Now, it is hard to imagine a 104 years old man sneaking from one town to another as reported in
the case of Polycarp when the persecution broke out. It is also difficult to imagine one with such an
advance age (i.e. a hundred and something years) carrying out a journey from Smyrna to Rome and back.
The stress and fatigue would have been too much for even a man that was in his 90s. So whichever way
one looks at it, the only possible inference that can be made from that text with regards to the time
Polycarp was baptized was that he received Baptism as a baby or at the very least, as a toddler. But then,
as Jeremias rightly observed, his parents must have been Christians, or at least must have become
Christians very soon after his birth. ‘If his parents were pagans at his birth, he would have been baptized
with the ‘house’ at their conversion. But even if his parents were Christians, the words ‘service of Christ’
for eighty-six supports a baptism soon after his birth rather than one as a child ‘of mature years.’’90
Moving over to St. Justin Martyr, in the year 148/150 A.D we find him making the following remarks:
“Many men and women who were disciples of Christ from childhood remain pure at sixty or seventy years
of age: I am proud to say that I can cite examples from every nation. For what shall I say, too, of the
countless multitude of those who have reformed intemperate habits, and learned these things?”91The
‘many men and women’ of whom St. Justin here says he ‘can cite examples from every nation’ were born
between A.D. 80 and 95. From the contrast which he here makes between those ‘who were disciples of
Christ from childhood’ with ‘the countless multitude of those who have reformed intemperate habits, and
learned these things,’ we can see that he has in mind the duration in which these set of people had
become Christians. Some had become Christians from the very beginning of their existence while others
had become Christians at some point in their life when they abandoned the life of sin. The former certainly
would refer to the fact that some had been made Christians from infancy while the later will refer to the
fact that some had been made Christians when they were of maturer age. St. Justin was familiar with both
groups in the Church of his day. Thus, in the middle of the second century St. Justin could still point to
Christians who were born in the Apostolic era and who had been Christians from the start of their life and
had remained chaste up to their old age. But since it is in Baptism that we become Christians these ‘many
men and women’ would have been baptized as children in the Apostolic era.
Some have tried to explain away the testimony of St. Justin as being weak. For example, J.K. Howard
some decades ago wrote:
“The statement of Justin Martyr (about AD I50) that he could name ‘many, both men and women,
who were disciple from childhood to Christ (ek paidōn emathēteuthēsan tō( i) Christō(i)) remain
pure at the age of sixty or seventy years; and I boast I could produce such from every race of men’,
is not in any way a conclusive argument demonstrating the existence of infant baptism before AD
90. Although Justin uses the verb mathēteuō (to disciple), which seems to be derived ultimately

.St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Fragment of Letter to St. Victor Bishop of Rome preserved in Eusebius Church History, 5,
. The years 153-166 AD is also possible.
.Jeremias, The Origin of Infant Baptism: A further study in reply to Kurt Aland, p. 58. Cf. Infant Baptism in the First
Four Centuries, p. 63.
.St. Justin Martyr, First Apology 15, 6. It should be noted that the word enlightenment was already being used in
that period in reference to Baptism
from Matthew 28.19, as an equivalent to baptizō (to baptise) elsewhere, the most natural
explanation of the phrase we have quoted would seem to be that these people had been instructed
in the Christian faith from an early age, and had been brought up as members of a Christian family.
The most that can be said is that the expression is very ambiguous, and, taken in conjunction with
the silence of other writings of this age concerning the baptism of infants, it would be foolish to
build a case for the practice on this statement.”92
But J.K Howard does not explain how the idea ‘that these people had been instructed in the Christian
faith from an early age, and had been brought up as members of a Christian family’ is ‘the most natural
explanation’ of that phrase. He just merely made an assertion with nothing in the text to back it up or to
show for it. In fact, as we have already shown, the contrasts which St. Justin made in the context of that
passage does not merely demonstrate that ‘these people had been instructed in the Christian faith from
an early age’ but points to the fact that these people actually have been Christians for that duration of
time (i.e. from their early childhood up to the time of Justin when they were now old). Moreover, as
Howard himself admits, the phrase ‘were disciples’ [Gk: ὲμαθητεύθησαν] which St. Justin used in that text
is the same words that St. Matthew used when reporting the words our Lord said in given out the Great
Commission ‘make disciples of all nations.’ (Mt 28:19). We even have from this same St. Justin another
passage where those words are found and in it we can see that those words in Justin’s mind refers to one
becoming a Christian through Baptism. “It is small wonder,” says Justin to Trypho the Jew, “that you Jews
hate us Christians who have grasped the meaning of these truths, and take you to task for your stubborn
prejudice. Indeed, Elias, when interceding for you before God, spoke thus: ‘Lord, they have slain Your
prophets, and have destroyed Your altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life.’ And God answered:
‘I still have seven thousand men, whose knees have not been bowed before Baal’ [3Kgs 19:18]. Therefore,
just as God did not show His anger on account of those seven thousand men, so now He has not yet
exacted judgment of you, because He knows that every day some of you are forsaking your erroneous
ways to become disciples in the name of Christ, and this same name of Christ enlightens you to receive all
the graces and gifts according to your merits.”93 All this strengthens the position that St. Justin was not
merely thinking of the duration in which these people (i.e. the ‘Many men and women’) had been
instructed in the faith but the duration in which these people had been Christians and had belonged to
the Church.94 But this as we have said earlier necessarily would imply that they were made Christians
through Baptism sometime in the Apostolic era when they were little children.

.J.K. Howard, The New Testament Baptism, p. 85.
.Ibid, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, 39, 1-2.
. Jeremias responded to these same objection decades ago when it was then brought by Kurt Aland. Jeremias
wrote: ““Aland for his part asserts that ἐκ παίδων ἐμαθητϵύθησαν τῷ Χριστῷ ‘taken as it stands’ means ‘they had
been instructed in Christian faith from childhood’ (A 73). The wording makes this impossible. For the deponent
passive μαθητεύεσθαι does not mean ‘in Christian faith’. On the contrary the literal translation is: ‘who become
disciples of Christ from their childhood onwards’. We noticed here that the juxtaposition of a phrase expressing
duration ‘from childhood’ (ἐκ παίδων) with an ingressive one ‘they became disciples’ (ἐμαθητϵύθησαν) represents
a popular breviloquence, for which there are analogies in the New Testament, e.g. in Matt. 9.22b: εσώθη η γυνή
από της ώρας εκείνης (literally: ‘she was healed from that moment’, meaning ‘instantly’); similarly 15:28b: ιάθη η
θυγάτηρ αυτής από της ώρας εκείνης (‘her daughter was healed from that moment’); 17.18b: εθεραπεύθη ο παις
από της ώρας εκείνης (‘his son was healed from that hour’); John 11.53: απ΄ εκείνης ούν της ημέρας συν
εβουλεύσαντο ίνα αποκτείνωσιν αυτόν (‘from that day they decided to kill him’, meaning: ‘on that day’). In all these
cases the emphasis falls on the ingressive verbs; the phrase expressing duration indicates that the effect was lasting.
Accordingly, the phrase which is occupying us, οἳ ἐκ παίδων ἐμαθητϵύθησαν τῷ Χριστῷ, means ‘who became
disciples of Christ as children (and remained so ever since) …In Apol. I, 15.1-8, Justin is concerned with sexual
discipline (πϵρὶ σωφροσύνηϩ). In 15.6 and 7f. he adduces, as examples from life, two different groups in the Church
which he contrasts with each other: the one consists of those who ‘became disciples of Christ as children’ (ἐκ παίδων
ἐμαθητϵύθησαν τῷ Χριστῷ) and ‘remained uncorrupt’ up to their old age; the others are ‘the countless multitude
From the texts of the early Christian writers and ancient Christian inscription which we have cited so
far we can at least gather that there was already in the second century a well-established and widespread
practice of baptizing infants. This practice was never classed or looked upon as a deviation started at a
certain period of time by one heretical sect or by one who has recently fallen from the faith. Rather it was
understood as something that was in keeping with the faith of the Church, and whenever any early
Christian writer took the time to speak about its origin they classed it among the practices which the
Church has received from the Apostles. No one was saying that since infants have not reached the age of
reason they cannot be baptized. No one was saying that since infants are incapable of hearing the Gospel
and believing in it they cannot be made believers. Rather we find all agreeing that Baptism can validly be
received by infants and all understanding that both infants and adults receive the same baptismal grace
in the font.
Those who try to explain away the testimonies of the fathers in favor of an Apostolic origin for infant
Baptism seem to undermine the value of tradition in this matter. I for one was born in the late 1970s and
I grew up with my maternal grandmother (Alice) who was born in the 1920s (she is still alive today) and
was privilege on many occasion to meet my paternal great grandmother (Rebecca) who was born in the
1870s and died in the year 1996 at a very ripe age of a hundred and twenty something years old.95I also
saw my maternal great grandmother who was born in the 1880s and died at an advance age of a hundred
and eight years old while I was still a boy. Over the years and even till this day my maternal grandmother
keeps narrating tales to us of events that occurred in the olden days including those that occurring in the
mid nineteenth century during her grandfather’s (Ovie, i.e. King) life time.96 She was eyewitness to some
of those events and some she received directly from her mother, her mother’s relations, and even her
grandparents. My point is that even though I was born in the second half of the twentieth century and I
am writing in the first decades of twenty first century I still have been privilege to receive firsthand
information from eye witnesses of events that occurred in the early years of the twentieth century and
sometimes from these same witnesses I have received second hand information of events that stretch
back to the early and mid-nineteenth century, i.e. two hundred years ago. My point here is there were
information on the Apostles altitude on this matter available for Church authors like Origen, Tertullian, St.
Hippolytus, and St. Irenaeus who were all born sometime in the second century. People who were born
in the Apostolic era were still very much alive during the life time of some of these Church authors. People
who had first and second information about the events in the Apostolic era were still living then. True,
there is this likelihood that some members of the early congregation who listened to an Apostle’s sermon
might not rightly grab the sense of the message97 and might even forget certain details as the years go by;
but things like whether the Apostles as they went about preaching made believers off little children in the
rite of Christian initiation as they did in the case of adults can easily be remembered. Hence, when we find
some of these very same Church authors attesting that the practice of baptizing infants is of Apostolic
origin it is either they knew their facts or they simply intended to deceive. But why would anyone think

of those who broke away from licentiousness and came to learn this [sexual discipline]’ (τὸ ἀναρίθμητον πλῆθοϩ τῶν
ἐξ ἀκολασίαϩ μϵταβαλόντων καὶ ταῦτα μαθόντων). In other words Justin contrasts those born as Christians with
those who became Christians. In the case of the former the value of the evidence for the Christians’ superior morality
lies in their life-long σωφροσύνη; in the case of the latter it depends on the complete change in the manner of life.
Ἐκ παίδων, to which the dictionary gives considerable latitude, can apply in our passage, where it is being contrasted
with those converted as adults, only to early childhood.” The Origins of Infant Baptism: A further study in reply to
Kurt Aland, pp. 56-8.
. No one actually knew her exact date of birth but they used major event which occurred during her childhood in
her home town and of which she could remember to date her beginning of existence. Hence, she must have been
older than 120 years since she definitely had come to the use of reasoning when that event occurred.
. Her grandfather lived for over 120 years.
. The heresiarchs Simon Magus, and Cerinthus comes into mind here.
that these early Church author intend to be deceptive here? It was not like anyone in their day was
denying the validity of baptizing infants. It was not like the practice was a matter of dispute or controversy
in that period. So there is no reason for deception here. The fact is that to these early Church authors the
Church which they have come to know and which they too have been made members through Baptism
have always been a society which included both infants and adults in her fold. They know no time in the
life of the Church when she was formerly of the opinion that little children should be refused the
Sacrament of regeneration.
Now, like we have earlier pointed out due to the fear of post-baptismal sin there arise in this period
the tendency of delaying baptism to maturity or even to the end of life. In the fourth century this tendency
was so strong that we can find even Christian parents putting off Baptism for their children. A case which
best illustrate this is that of the great St. Augustine who was born on the 13th of November in the year 354
A.D at Tagaste in Numidia (modern day Algeria, North Africa). Although his father was a pagan, his mother
the sainted Monica was a Christian and was from a Christian family. St. Augustine Himself in his
Confessions tells us about an event relating to the topic of delaying Baptism which occurred during his
early childhood:
“Even as a boy I had heard of eternal life promised to us through the humility of the Lord our God
condescending to our pride, and I was signed with the sign of the cross, and was seasoned with His
salt even from the womb of my mother, who greatly trusted in You. You saw, O Lord, how at one
time, while yet a boy, being suddenly seized with pains in the stomach, and being at the point of
death— You saw, O my God, for even then You were my keeper, with what emotion of mind and
with what faith I solicited from the piety of my mother, and of Your Church, the mother of us all,
the baptism of Your Christ, my Lord and my God. On which, the mother of my flesh being much
troubled—since she, with a heart pure in Your faith, travailed in birth [Gal 4:19] more lovingly for
my eternal salvation—would, had I not quickly recovered, have without delay provided for my
initiation and washing by Your life-giving sacraments, confessing You, O Lord Jesus, for the
remission of sins. So my cleansing was deferred, as if I must needs, should I live, be further
polluted; because, indeed, the guilt contracted by sin would, after baptism, be greater and more
perilous. Thus I at that time believed with my mother and the whole house, except my father; yet
he did not overcome the influence of my mother's piety in me so as to prevent my believing in
Christ, as he had not yet believed in Him. For she was desirous that You, O my God, should be my
Father rather than he; and in this You aided her to overcome her husband, to whom, though the
better of the two, she yielded obedience, because in this she yielded obedience to You, who so
Another example is that of Constantine the Great who was attracted to Christianity in the year 314
A.D and did not seek Baptism until he lay dying on his deathbed in the year 337 A.D. His Son, too,
Constantius who favored the Christian religion and prohibited all pagan sacrifices in the Empire, was
baptized on his deathbed. St. Gregory of Nazianzen was born of Christian parents in the year 329 A.D and
was not baptized till about 360 A.D, “after a storm on the voyage from Alexandria to Athens had vividly
brought before him the danger of a sudden death without baptism.”99 The children born of Christian
parents whose Baptism were put off were as in the case of the young Augustine described above trained
and brought up in the Christian faith. In the second half of the fourth century the number of such cases
must have risen to a considerable amount, since many of the Christian teachers of this period, including
those who were not baptized as infants, took it upon themselves to instruct the people on the need not
to delay Baptism. Thus, for example, we find St. Basil in the 370s given the following exhortation to such
“you, I say, tarry, and hesitate, and put off. Although instructed in the divine word from your
infancy, have you still not yet yielded to truth? Always learning, have you not yet attained to

. St. Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions, 1, 17 (11).
.Jeremias, Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries, p.88.
knowledge? Through life an inquirer, a seeker even to old age, when will you become a Christian?
When shall we recognize you as our own? Last year you awaited the present time, and now again
you put off to a future season. Take care that your promises extend not beyond the term of your
life. You know not what the morrow will bring forth. Do not make promises concerning things not
subject to your control. We call you, O man, to life: why do you shun the call? We invite you to
partake of blessings: why do you disregard the gift? The kingdom of heaven lies open to you: he
that invites you cannot deceive: the path is easy: there is no need of length of time, of expense, of
toil: why do you delay? why do you refuse? why do you fear the yoke, as a heifer that never has
borne it? It is sweet: it is light: it does not hurt the neck; but it ornaments it: it is not a yoke put on
forcibly: it must be cheerfully assumed. Do you perceive that Ephraim is styled a wanton heifer,
because, spurning the yoke of the Law, she wanders far away? Bend then your stubborn neck:
submit to the yoke of Christ, lest rejecting the yoke, and leading a loose life, you become an easy
prey to wild beasts. ‘O taste and see that the Lord is sweet.’ How shall I make those who know it
not, sensible of the sweetness of honey? ‘Taste and see.’ Experience is more convincing than any
reasoning. The Jew does not delay circumcision, being mindful of the threat, that ‘every soul that,
is not circumcised on the eighth day, shall be destroyed out of her people:’ and you delay the
circumcision—not that which is made by hands, in the stripping of the flesh, but that which is
accomplished in baptism, while you hear the Lord Himself: ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a man
be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’ And in that ceremony
pain was endured, and an ulcer was caused: but in this the soul is refreshed with heavenly dew,
and the ulcers of the heart are healed. Do you adore Him who died for you? Suffer then yourself
to be buried with him by baptism. Unless you be planted together with him in the likeness of his
death, how will you become partner in his resurrection? Israel was baptized in Moses in the cloud,
and in the sea, presenting therein types for your instruction, and sensibly exhibiting the truth
which was to be shown in the latter days: and you shun baptism, not as typified in the sea, but
really perfected: not in the cloud, but in the Spirit: not in Moses, a fellow-servant, but in Christ,
our Creator. Had not Israel passed the sea, he would not have escaped Pharaoh; and if you pass
not through the water, you will not be delivered from the sad tyranny of the devil. Israel would not
have drunk of the spiritual rock, had he not been typically baptized: nor will any give you true drink,
unless you are truly baptized. He ate the bread of angels after baptism; and how will you eat the
living bread, unless you receive baptism previously? He entered into the land of promise, on
account of his baptism: how can you enter into paradise, if you are not sealed by baptism?”100
Here we see St. Basil relating the spiritual effect of Baptism so as to persuade certain persons not to
put off their Baptism any longer. Elsewhere, he warns them: “Take care, lest multiplying evils in the hope
of being ransomed, you increase sin, and miss pardon. ‘God is not mocked!’ Do not trade away grace.
Pleasure is the devil's hook, dragging us to ruin: pleasure is the mother of sin: and sin is the centre of
death.” He continues pointing out to them that no one knows when they would die. So why should one
then put off their Baptism until when they are on their deathbed: “Moreover, who has marked out for
you the limit of life? who has defined for you the length of old age? who is the surety on whom you rely
for what is to happen to you? Do you not see infants snatched away, and others in the age of manhood
carried off? Life has no fixed boundary. Why do you await that baptism should be for you as a gift brought
by a fever? Will you wait until you are unable to utter the saving words, and scarcely to hear them
distinctly, your malady having its seat in your head? You will not be able to raise your hands to heaven, or
to stand on your feet, or to bend your knee in adoration, or to receive suitable instruction, or to confess
accurately, or to enter into covenant with God, or to renounce the enemy; probably not even to follow
the sacred minister in the mystic rites; so that the bystanders may doubt whether you perceive the grace,
or are unconscious of what is done, and if even you do receive the grace consciously, you have but the
talent, without the increase.” The story about the encounter of the Eunuch and St. Philip as recorded in
the Acts of the Apostle was used by St. Basil as an example of not delaying Baptism: “Imitate the eunuch.

.St. Basil, Sermon 13:
He found an instructor on the road, and he did not spurn instruction; … when he had learned the gospel
of the kingdom, he embraced the faith with his heart, and did not delay to receive the seal of the Spirit.”
For those who think it is hard to persevere after Baptism, Basil has this to say to them:
“But you will say: the treasure is hard to be guarded. Be vigilant, then, brother: you have aids, if
you will— prayer as a night sentinel—fasting a house guard—psalmody a guide of your soul. Take
these along with you: they will keep watch with you, to guard your precious treasures. Tell me,
which is it better to be rich, and anxiously to guard our wealth, or not to have anything to preserve?
No one, through fear of being despoiled of his property, abandons it altogether. If men in each of
their pursuits considered the misfortunes that may ensue, all human enterprise would cease.
Agriculture is liable to the failure of the crops: shipwreck may defeat commerce: widowhood may
soon follow marriage: orphanage may prevent the education of children. We, however, embark in
each undertaking, cherishing the fairest hopes, and committing the realizing of them to God, who
regulates all things.”101
Similarly, St. Gregory of Nazianzen in his Oration on Baptism which he delivered at Constantinople
on the 6th of January 381 A.D, wrote:
“But are you afraid lest you should destroy the Gift, and do you therefore put off your cleansing,
because you cannot have it a second time? What? Would you not be afraid of danger in time of
persecution, and of losing the most precious Thing you have— Christ? Would you then on this
account avoid becoming a Christian? Perish the thought. Such a fear is not for a sane man; such an
argument argues insanity. O incautious caution, if I may so. O trick of the Evil One! Truly he is
darkness and pretends to be light; and when he can no longer prevail in open war, he lays snares
in secret, and gives advice, apparently good, really evil, if by some trick at least he may prevail, and
we find no escape from his plotting. And this is clearly what he is aiming at in this instance. For,
being unable to persuade you to despise Baptism, he inflicts loss upon you through a fictitious
security; that in consequence of your fear you may suffer unconsciously the very thing you are
afraid of; and because you fear to destroy the Gift, you may for this very reason fail of the Gift
altogether. This is his character; and he will never cease his duplicity as long as he sees us pressing
onwards towards heaven from which he has fallen. Wherefore, O man of God, do thou recognize
the plots of your adversary; for the battle is against him that has, and it is concerned with the most
important interests. Take not your enemy to be your counsellor; despise not to be and to be called
Faithful. As long as you are a Catechumen you are but in the porch of Religion; you must come
inside, and cross the court, and observe the Holy Things, and look into the Holy of Holies, and be
in company with the Trinity. Great are the interests for which you are fighting, great too the
stability which you need. Protect yourself with the shield of faith. He fears you, if you fight armed
with this weapon, and therefore he would strip you of the Gift, that he may the more easily
overcome you unarmed and defenceless. He assails every age, and every form of life; he must be
repelled by all.”102
St. John Chrysostom, too, addressed this concern in his Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles which
was delivered in the year 400 A.D while he was residing at Constantinople:
“True, say you, but I cannot keep (the gift). Has God commanded impossibilities? Hence it is that
all is clean reversed, hence that, all the world over, everything is marred— because nobody makes
it his mark to live after God. Thus those who are yet Catechumens, because they make this their
object, (how they may defer baptism to the last,) give themselves no concern about leading an
upright life: and those who have been baptized, whether it be because they received it as children,
or whether it be that having received it in sickness, and afterwards recovered they had no hearty
desire to live on , so it is, that neither do these make an earnest business of it: nay, even such as
received it in health, have little enough to show of any good impression, and warmly affected for
the time, these also presently let the fire go out. Why do you flee? Why do you tremble? What is
it you are afraid of? You do not mean to say that you are not permitted to follow your business? I

. Ibid.
. St. Gregory of Nazianzen, Oration 40, 16.
do not part you from your wife! No, it is from fornication that I bar you. I do not debar you from
the enjoyment of your wealth? No, but from covetousness and rapacity. I do not oblige you to
empty out all your coffers? No, but to give some small matter according to your means to them
that lack, your superfluities to their need, and not even this unrewarded. We do not urge you to
fast? We do but forbid you to besot yourselves with drunkenness and gormandizing. The things
we would retrench are but the very things which bring you disgrace; things which even here, on
this side of hell-fire, you yourselves confess to be things to be shunned and hated. We do not forbid
you to be glad and to rejoice? Nay, only rejoice not with a disgraceful and unbecoming
He then encourages: “Let us not recoil from the Divine Mysteries, I beseech you. Look not at this,
that one who was baptized before you, 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.”
St. Niceta of Remesiana, on his part, urges: “Are you weak and sick? Ask for a medicine from Him [i.e.
Jesus Christ], because He is a doctor. Especially, if you are still unbaptized, you may suffer from the ardors
of passion. Then hurry to the well of life to put out the flame and to gain for your soul eternal life.”104
In the Apostolic Constitution, compiled by a Syrian sometime in the last quarter of the fourth century,
we read: “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.’ [Jn 3:5] And again: ‘He that believes
and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be damned.’ [Mk 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’ [Mt 19:14]”105
However, it would be misleading if one were to infer from this crisis of delaying baptism that infant
Baptism was not regarded as normative in the fourth century or that the crisis affected the whole Christian
world. In the text from St. John Chrysostom cited above in denouncing the practice of delaying Baptism,
we could see him speaking of children Baptism as something that is quite normal: ‘whether it be because
they received it [i.e. Baptism] as children, or whether it be that having received it in sickness.’ Elsewhere
in a set of baptismal instructions which he delivered at Antioch in the year 388 he spoke of the practice of
infant Baptism as a regular practice: “You have seen how numerous are the gifts of Baptism. Although
many men think that the only gift it confers is the remission of sins, we have counted its honors to the
number ten. It is also on this account that we baptize even infants, although they are sinless, that they
may be given the further gifts of sanctification, justice, filial adoption, and inheritance, that they may be
brothers and members of Christ, and become dwelling places of the Holy Spirit.”106Again, in a series of
homilies on Genesis which he preached at Antioch about the same time, we read: “But our circumcision,
I mean the grace of baptism, gives cure without pain, and procures to us a thousand benefits, and fills us
with the grace of the Spirit: and it has no determinate time, as that had; but one that is in the very
beginning of his age, or one that is in the middle of it, or one that is in his old age, may receive this

. St. John Chrysostom, Homily 23 on the Acts of the Apostles.
.St. Niceta of Remesiana, The Names and Titles of Our Saviour.
.The Apostolic Constitution, 6, 15.
.St. John Chrysostom, Homily addressed to the Neophytes, 3, 6.
circumcision made without hands. In which there is no trouble to be undergone, but to throw off the load
of sins, and receive pardon for all foregoing offences.”107 For the saintly doctor Baptism can be received
at any time: in infancy, in middle age, or in old age.
Similarly, the Cappadocian father St. Basil in that same work from which we made several citations
above indicated that he knows no time in a man’s life in which Baptism cannot be received: “Let us be
buried together with Christ, who died for us, that we may arise again with Him, who proffers new life to
us. For other matters there is a time peculiarly appropriate: a time for sleeping and for waking, a time for
war and for peace: but the whole period of man's life is the time for baptism. For as the body cannot live
unless it breathe: can the soul live unless she know the Creator: for ignorance of God is death to the soul:
and he that is not baptized, is not enlightened; and without light neither can the eye perceive sensible
objects, nor the soul contemplate God.”108
The same train of thought is found in the African father St. Optatus, bishop of Milevis in Numidia
(modern day Algeria, North Africa). In a text which was written in the 360s109 and in which he indicated
that Baptism was being given to infants as well as adults in the Church of his day, we read: “For the Son
of God, Christ Himself, is the Bridegroom; He is also the Garment and the Tunic, that floats in the water,
to clothe many, yet awaits others innumerable and is never used up. And before anyone say that I have
been rash in calling the Son of God the Garment, let him read the words of the Apostle who says: ‘As many
of you as have been baptised in the Name of Christ, have put on Christ.’ [Gal 3:27] O tunic ever one and
unchangeable, which fitly clothes all ages and forms, which is not too loose in infants, nor stretched in
youth, nor changed in women! Assuredly the day will come, when the heavenly nuptials begin to be
celebrated. There without anxiety shall they sit down, who have preserved the one Baptism.”110
The position held by St. Gregory of Nazianzen was not quite different from the above fourth century
fathers. Although he advised that where there is no danger of death that the Baptism of an infant should
be delayed till the child reached the age of three (‘I give my advice to wait till the end of the third year),
he nonetheless maintained that Baptism should not be put off at whatever stage in one’s life since death
could strike at any time (‘it is far more profitable on all accounts to be fortified by the Font, because of
the sudden assaults of danger that befall us, stronger than our helpers’).111 Hence, we find him elsewhere
““Are you young? Stand against your passions; be numbered with the alliance in the army of God:
do valiantly against Goliath. [I Kgs (I Sam) 17:32] Take your thousands or your myriads; thus enjoy
your manhood; but do not allow your youth to be withered, being killed by the imperfection of
your faith. Are you old and near the predestined necessity? Aid your few remaining days. Entrust

. Ibid, Homilies on Genesis 40, 4.
. St. Basil the Great, Sermon 13.
. St. Augustine who lived not too far away was a boy at the time St. Optatus wrote this treatise.
. St. Optatus of Milevis, Against the Donatists, 5, 10.
. The passage in question reads: “Be it so, some will say, in the case of those who ask for Baptism; what have you
to say about those who are still children, and conscious neither of the loss nor of the grace? Are we to baptize them
too? Certainly, if any danger presses. For it is better that they should be unconsciously sanctified than that they
should depart unsealed and uninitiated. A proof of this is found in the Circumcision on the eighth day, which was a
sort of typical seal, and was conferred on children before they had the use of reason. And so is the anointing of the
doorposts, [Ex 12:22] which preserved the firstborn, though applied to things which had no consciousness. But in
respect of others I give my advice to wait till the end of the third year, or a little more or less, when they may be able
to listen and to answer something about the Sacrament; that, even though they do not perfectly understand it, yet
at any rate they may know the outlines; and then to sanctify them in soul and body with the great sacrament of our
consecration. For this is how the matter stands; at that time they begin to be responsible for their lives, when reason
is matured, and they learn the mystery of life (for of sins of ignorance owing to their tender years they have no
account to give), and it is far more profitable on all accounts to be fortified by the Font, because of the sudden
assaults of danger that befall us, stronger than our helpers.” Oration, 40, 28.
the purification to your old age. Why do you fear youthful passion in deep old age and at your last
breath? Or will you wait to be washed till you are dead, and not so much the object of pity as of
dislike? Are you regretting the dregs of pleasure, being yourself in the dregs of life? It is a shameful
thing to be past indeed the flower of your age, but not past your wickedness; but either to be
involved in it still, or at least to seem so by delaying your purification. Have you an infant child? Do
not let sin get any opportunity, but let him be sanctified from his childhood; from his very tenderest
age let him be consecrated by the Spirit. Fearest thou the Seal on account of the weakness of
nature? O what a small-souled mother, and of how little faith! Why, Anna even before Samuel was
born [I Kgs (I Sam) 1:10] promised him to God, and after his birth consecrated him at once, and
brought him up in the priestly habit, not fearing anything in human nature, but trusting in God.
You have no need of amulets or incantations, with which the Devil also comes in, stealing worship
from God for himself in the minds of vainer men. Give your child the Trinity, that great and noble
But there are other earlier testimonies from this century that demonstrates that the practice of
baptizing infants was a regular practice in this period. Asterius the Sophist, who died about the year 341
A.D and who during the Arian crisis was one of those that were sympathetic to the Arian course, wrote:
“If the circumcision of the Jews was given early and quickly, immediately after swaddling clothes, to the
infants, how much more ought the circumcision of Christ, who is by baptism, be given more quickly to the
infant for safety.”113Asterius it should be noted was a Cappadocian and wrote several decades before the
Cappadocian fathers (i.e. St. Basil and St. Gregory) whose works we have quoted above. The dispute
between the Arians and Catholics was Christological. Even after their errors the Arians continued to
uphold other doctrines and practices of the Church, and only when they perceive that any of these other
doctrines and practices seem to support the Catholic position on the Christological matter that was in
dispute do they abandon such doctrines or practices. This was the case with the Trinitarian formula of
Baptism. Since Catholics used it to support the doctrine of the Trinity certain Arian groups went head to
alter that formula. On other Church teachings relating to Baptism like the necessity of Baptism for
Salvation; Baptismal regeneration etc. the Arians continue to espouse them. Thus, one cannot limit
Asterius testimony in favor of infant Baptism to Arian circles. The Church of his day in Cappadocia already
must have been administering the Sacrament of Baptism to infants and Asterius was quite familiar with
Much earlier is the testimony from the council which met at Elvira in Spain in the year 300 A.D and
which was attended by nineteen bishops and twenty-six priests and deacons. The following canon was
enacted in that council in which consideration was made not only for adult Catholics but also for Catholics
who were in their early childhood: “If someone leaves the Catholic Church and goes over to a heresy, and
then returns again, it is determined that penance is not to be denied to such a one, since he has
acknowledged his sin. Let him do penance, then, for ten years, and after ten years he may come forward
to communion. If, indeed, there were children who were led astray, since they have not sinned of their
own fault, they may be received without delay.”114 Again: “Any one, who after faith in the baptism of
salvation, and being of adult years, shall have entered the temple of an idol [to commit idolatry] and shall
have sacrificed—this being a capital offence, because it involves supreme guilt—shall not receive
communion even at death.”115The impression from these canons is that before this time little children
and adults were received in the Catholic Church and in Spain the custom of welcoming little children into
the Church (this certain would have taken place through Baptism) must have been a regular practice since

.St. Geregory of Nazianzen, Oration 40, 17.
.Asterius the Sophist, Homilies 12 in Psalm 6.
. Council of Elvria, canon 22.
.Ibid, canon 1.
the council fathers at Elvira felt the need to take them into consideration when discussing about the issue
of reconciliation of those who had earlier lapsed from the Catholic faith.
To understand how regular and normal the practice of baptizing infants must have been in Spain in
this period we only need to compare this issue that led to the enactment of that canon with a similar issue
that confronted Catholics in northern Africa in the preceding century, in the same North Africa in last
quarter of the fourth century, and in southern France in the first half of the fifth century. Starting with the
later, Bishop Rusticus of Gallia Narbonensis (modern day Languedoc and Provence, in southern France)
had written to Pope St. Leo, bishop of Rome seeking his advice on certain issues. St. Leo in response to
Rusticus sent him a letter (about 428 A.D or 459) in which answers to the questions Rusticus had earlier
raised were provided. Some that relates to the issue we are here discussing reads:
“Question: Concerning those who have been left as infants by Christian parents, if no proof of their
baptism can be found whether they ought to be baptized?
Reply: If no proof exist among their kinsfolk and relations, nor among the clergy or neighbours
whereby those, about whom the question is raised, may be proved to have been baptized, steps
must be taken for their regeneration: lest they evidently perish; for in their case reason does not
allow that what is not shown to have been done should seem to be repeated.
Question: Concerning those who have been captured by the enemy and are not aware whether
they have been baptized but know they were several times taken to church by their parents,
whether they can or ought to be baptized when they come back to Roman territory?
Reply: Those who can remember that they used to go to church with their parents can remember
whether they received what used to be given to their parents. But if this also has escaped their
memory, it seems that that must be bestowed on them which is not known to have been bestowed
because there can be no presumptuous rashness where the most loyal carefulness has been
Question: Concerning those who have come from Africa or Mauretania and know not in what sect
they were baptized, what ought to be done in their case?
Reply: These persons are not doubtful of their baptism, but profess ignorance as to the faith of
those who baptized them: and hence since they have received the form of baptism in some way
or other, they are not to be baptized but are to be united to the Catholics by imposition of hands,
after the invocation of the Holy Spirit's power, which they could not receive from heretics.
Question: Concerning those who after being baptized in infancy were captured by the Gentiles, and
lived with them after the manner of the Gentiles, when they come back to Roman territory as still
young men, if they seek Communion, what shall be done?
Reply: If they have only lived with Gentiles and eaten sacrificial food, they can be purged by fasting
and laying on of hands, in order that for the future abstaining from things offered to idols, they
may be partakers of Christ's mysteries. But if they have either worshipped idols or been polluted
with manslaughter or fornication, they must not be admitted to communion, except by public
Just like in the case of the Spanish fathers, these questions from Rusticus would never have been
raised if infant Baptism was an abnormal or non-routine practice in the early centuries. See for example
the first of these questions which we cited: ‘Concerning those who have been left as infants by Christian
parents, if no proof of their baptism can be found whether they ought to be baptized?’ The idea here is
that a Christian parent would normally have ensured that their child was baptized in infancy. But there
are cases were as a result of death or outbreak of persecution or neglect the parents are no longer present
to tell if they had already done this or not. Hence, the origin of this first question. The second, third, and
fourth of these question presents us with a situation quite similar to that faced by the Spanish fathers at
Elvira a century earlier. It should be remembered that in those times there were cases of persecutions in
some regions whereby Catholics were banished or sent on exile either by heretical groups or pagans. Even

.St. Leo the Great, Letter 167, 3.
children of tender age were not spared in such a situation. See for instance the ordeal suffered by
Catholics in North Africa in the hands of the Arians and Vandals between the years 429 A.D and 484 A.D.
St. Victor of Vita has left us an eyewitness account of some of these events in his History of the Vandal
Persecution. As he informs us: “First of all the tyrant decreed, in a dreadful command, that no-one could
hold an office in his palace or carry out public duties without becoming an Arian. There was a great number
of people in these positions who, unconquered in their strength, abandoned temporal office so that they
would not lose their faith; afterwards they were cast out of their homes, despoiled of all their possessions,
and banished to the islands of Sicily and Sardinia.”117He continues, “He sent bishops, priests, deacons and
other members of the church, to the number of 4,966, to exile in the desert. Among them were very many
who had gout, and others who had lost their worldly sight through age.”118 “They were shut up in a place
of custody which, while unpleasant, was still fairly spacious, and we were able to go in and give the
brothers words of advice and celebrate the divine mysteries. There were many little children in that place,
and their mothers followed them with maternal affection, some rejoicing and others summoning their
children back; for some rejoiced that they had given birth to martyrs, while others strove to call back from
the confession of faith those who would die from the deluge of rebaptism. Nevertheless, their coaxing
words defeated no-one, and ties of the flesh made no-one bend to the ground. And it is with pleasure
that we give a brief account of what one old woman did then.”119 Some of these ‘little children’ were
already baptized Catholics as is evident in the words ‘those who would die from the deluge of rebaptism.’
Also, consider the story in the next verse:
“When we were making our way in the company of the army of God and generally advancing by
night because of the heat of the sun, we caught sight of a little woman carrying a little sack and
other garments, holding by the hand a little child whom she was encouraging with these words:
‘Run, my lord; you see how all the holy men are moving forward and hastening, full of gladness,
towards their crowns.’ And when we rebuked her, because she did not seem fit on the grounds of
her sex to be in the company of men or to be associated with the army of Christ, she replied: ‘Give
your blessing, give your blessing, and pray for me and this little grandson of mine, because even
though a sinner I am the daughter of a former bishop of the town of Zura.’ We said to her: ‘And
why do you walk in such a mean fashion, and why, as it appears, have you come on such a long
journey here?’ And she replied: ‘I am going into exile with this little one, your servant, lest the
enemy come upon him all alone and call him back from the way of truth to death.’ At these words
we were filled with tears and could say nothing other than ‘May God's will be done.’” 120
The little child held by his grandmother obviously must have been baptized and his grandmother
feared leaving him all alone in exile might result to him falling away from the Catholic faith. Again, look at
the story of the noble woman Dionysia and her only son narrated elsewhere:
“That beast, a thirst for the blood of the innocent, went further. At a time when those bishops had
not yet been sent into exile, he sent simultaneously through all the provinces of the land of Africa
most cruel torturers, so that there did not remain a single home or place free of wailing and
lamentations. They did not spare people of any age or either sex, except those who submitted to
their will. Some were tortured by being beaten, others by being hung, and others by the fire;
contrary to the laws of nature, women, especially the noble, were tortured entirely naked and in
full view of the public. Of these I shall mention one, our Dionysia, in a quick and concise manner.
When they saw that she was not only more courageous but also more beautiful than the other
married women, they set to work first on her, to strip her and get her ready for the clubs. Trusting
in her Lord she put up with these things and said: ‘Torture me however you like, but do not uncover
those parts which would cause me shame.’ They, behaving still more wildly, stripped off all her

.St. Victor of Vita, History of the persecution of the Vandals, 2, 23.
.Ibid, 2, 26.
.Ibid, 2, 28-29.
.Ibid, 2, 30.
clothes and made her stand up in a more prominent place, making a spectacle of her in front of
everyone. Amid the blows of the rods, and while streams of blood were already flowing over her
whole body, she spoke in a bold voice: ‘You servants of the Devil, what you think you are doing to
my shame is in fact to my praise.’ And because she had a full knowledge of the divine scriptures,
she strengthened others for their martyrdom, despite having been afflicted with punishments and
being already a martyr herself. By her holy example she set nearly the whole of her country free.
When she saw that her only son, who was still of tender years and rather delicate, was afraid and
in dread of the punishments, she strengthened him by casting wounding glances and threatening
him with her motherly authority to such an extent that he was turned into someone far stronger
than his mother. When he was in the midst of the cruel scourges she spoke to him in this way:
‘Remember, my son, that we have been baptized in the catholic mother in the name of the Trinity.
Let us not lose that garment of our salvation, in case the host, when he comes, does not find the
wedding garment and says to his servants: ‘Cast him into the outer darkness, where there will be
weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matt 22: 13) The punishment to be feared is the one which will
never end, and the life to be desired is the one which will be enjoyed forever.’ So it was that,
strengthening her son by words such as these, she quickly made a martyr of him.” 121
Dionysia’s son at the time of this event was of tender years and he was already a baptized Catholic.
Her words to him were, ‘Remember, my son, that we have been baptized in the catholic mother in the
name of the Trinity. Let us not lose that garment of our salvation.’ There are also cases were the separation
of such little children from their parents was done by these heretics with the aim of making their parents
breakdown and renounce their faith. St. Victor recalls such cases:
“I was looking on when a noble man's son, about seven years old, was separated from his parents
here at Carthage with violence of the same kind, on the orders of Cyrila. His mother, laying aside
womanly modesty, let down her hair and ran after the abductors through the whole city, while the
little child cried out as best he could: ‘I am a Christian! I am a Christian! By means of S Stephen, I
am a Christian!’ But they closed his mouth and plunged him, guiltless child that he was, into their
whirlpool. The same thing is known to have happened to the children of a well-regarded doctor,
Liberatus. For when the king commanded that he be sent into exile with his wife and children, in
their wickedness the Arians decided to separate the little children from their parents, seeking to
use the influence of love to overthrow the strength of the parents. The young children, those
tender pledges of their marriage, were separated from their parents. When Liberatus wanted to
cry, he was rebuked by the authority of his wife, and his tears immediately dried up in their very
ducts. For his wife said to him: ‘And are you going to lose your soul because of the children,
Liberatus? Consider them as not having been born, for Christ will claim them entirely for himself.
Don't you see them shouting and saying ‘We are Christians!’?” 122
In such scenario, the children who were forcefully taken away from their parents had Baptism
administered to them again by the heretics even though some of these children had earlier received
Baptism in the Catholic Church. Indeed, many parents and families would have resisted the persuasion of
the heretics123but we have no reason not to think that some parents would have succumbed and they

.Ibid, 3, 21-23.
Ibid, 3, 49-50.
.St. Victor spoke of several of such cases: “For their bishops and priests went round the villages and towns by
night with an armed band, and when these robbers of souls had forced open the doors they made their way in,
bearing water and the sword. Those whom they found at home, some of them lying asleep in bed, they besprinkled
with a fiery and destructive shower, shouting as if they were demons and calling them Christians of the same kind
as themselves, so demonstrating that their heresy is a game rather than any religion. The less intelligent and the
ignorant thought that because of this they were guilty of defilement from sacrilege, but the wiser rejoiced that it
had not harmed them, because it had been done against their will and while they were asleep. Many straightaway
scattered ashes on their heads, and others, in their sorrow at what had happened, clad themselves in hair shirts.
Some plastered themselves with filthy mud and tore into shreds the linen cloths [i.e. the garments in which the
would have been baptized again along with their children (including those children that were before now
baptized in the Catholic Church) by heretics. In such a climate, there would have been some who would
have fled the city with their families only to be captured by barbarians. In the third century, St. Dionysius
of Alexandria related such cases as having occurred in his time during the persecution of Christians under
Decius the Roman Emperor (249-251 A.D). As St. Dionysius informs us:
“It was not the imperial edict that set the persecution in motion against us: it had already been
going on for a whole year, and the nameless prophet and worker of mischief for this city was the
first to stir up and incite the heathen masses against us, fanning the flames of their local
superstition and working them up, till they seized on every available authority for their unholy
deeds and convinced themselves that the only true religion was this demon-worship—thirst for
our blood. First they seized an old man named Metras, and ordered him to utter blasphemous
words; when he refused, they beat him with cudgels, drove pointed reeds into his face and eyes,
took him to the suburbs, and stoned him to death. Next they took a female convert named Quinta
to the idol’s temple and tried to make her worship. When she turned her back in disgust they tired
her feet and dragged her right through the city over the rough paved road, bumping her on the
great stones and beating her as they went, till they arrived at the same place where they stoned
her to death. Then they all ran in a body to the houses of Christians, charged in by groups on those
they know as neighbours, raided, plundered, and looted. The more valuable of their possessions
they purloined; the cheaper wooden things they threw about, or they made a bonfire of them in
the streets, making the city look as if it had been captured by enemies. The Christians retired and
gradually withdrew…No road, no highway, no alley was open to us, either by night or by day;
always and everywhere, everybody was shouting that anyone who did not join in their
blasphemous chants must at once be dragged away and burnt…Anyway, terror was universal, and
of many public figures some at once came forward through fear, other who were in state
employment were induced by professional reasons, others were dragged forward by the mob.
Summoned by name, they approached the unclean, unholy sacrifices. Some came white-faced and
trembling, as if they were not going to sacrifice but to be sacrificed themselves as victims to idols,
so that the large crowd of spectators heaped scorn upon them and it was obvious the they were
utter cowards, afraid to die and afraid to sacrifice. Others ran more readily towards the alters,
trying to prove by their fearlessness that they had never been Christians…of the rest, some
followed each of these groups, others tried to get away; some were caught, and of these some
allowed themselves to be chained and imprisoned (in some cases remaining confined for weeks),
and then, even before coming into courts, renounced their faith, while others held out for a time
under torture but in the end gave up. But the unbending, blessed pillars of the Lord, strengthened
by Him and receiving power and endurance deservedly and in proportion to the vigorous faith that
was in them, proved wonderful martyr witnesses of His kingdom”
He then goes on to recount cases of many Christians who stood firm and died as martyrs. After which
he adds: “Need I speak of the vast number who wandered over deserts and mountains till hunger, thirst,
cold, sickness, bandits, or wild beasts destroyed them? The survivors pay tribute to those chosen to be
victors, but one incident I must bring to your notice as showing what kind of men they were. Chaeremon,
the very aged Bishop of Nilopolis, fled with his wife to the mountain region of Arabia. He never came back,
and despite a thorough search, the brethren failed to find either them or their remains. In that same
mountain region very many were enslaved by the half-civilized Saracens. Some of them with difficulty and
at great cost were ransomed; others never to this day.”124 In such turbulent times some Christian parents
who sacrificed would have done this along with their children. St. Cyprian was aware of such cases that
occurred during the persecution under the reign of Decius. In the treatise on the Lapsed, written in the

newly baptized were clad] which had been put on them by force, and with the hand of faith they threw them into
cesspits and foul places.” Ibid, 3, 48.
. St. Dionysius of Alexandria, Letter to Bishop Fabius of Antioch preserved in Eusebius’ History of the Church, 6,
year 251 A.D, the saintly bishop informs us: “But for many their own destruction was not enough. By
mutual exhortations people were driven to their destruction. Death was proposed for one and another in
the lethal cup. And that nothing might be lacking to cap the crime, infants also, placed in the arms of
parents or led by them, lost as little ones what they had gained at the very first beginning of their nativity.
When the day of judgment comes, will they not say: ‘We have done nothing; we have not abandoned the
Lord's bread and cup and of our own accord hastened to profane contaminations. The perfidy of others
has ruined us; we have found our parents parricides. They have denied us the Church as Mother, God as
Father, so that, while we still small and improvident and unaware of so great a crime were joined through
others into a sharing in the crimes, we were caught in the deceit of others’?”125There were also cases were
some Christian parents fled leaving their children in the care of others only for such children to be taken
to the temple to partake in idolatrous worship by those under whose care they have been kept:
“Hear what took place in my very presence and with me as a witness. Some parents in hasty flight,
with little consideration because of their fear, left their little daughter in the care of a nurse. The
nurse handed the abandoned girl over to the magistrates. There before the idol where the people
were gathering, because she was unable as yet to eat meat because of her age, they gave her
bread mixed with wine, which itself had been left over from the immolation of those who were
being destroyed. Afterwards the mother recovered her daughter. But the girl was unable to
mention and point out the crime that had been committed as she was unable previously to
understand and prevent it. Through ignorance, therefore, it came about that the mother brought
the child with her to us as we were offering the Sacrifice [i.e. the Christian Eucharistic Sacrifice].
Moreover, the girl having mingled with the holy people, being impatient of our supplication and
prayer, was now with weeping and was now tossed about by the vacillating motion of her mind;
as if under the compulsion of a torturer the soul of the girl still of tender years was trying to confess
with such signs as she was able a consciousness of the deed. But when the solemnities were
completed and the deacon began to offer the cup to those present, and when, as the rest were
receiving, her turn came, the little girl with an instinct of divine majesty turned her face away,
compressed her mouth with tightening lips, and refused the cup. The deacon, however, persisted
and poured into the mouth of the child, although resisting, of the sacrament of the cup. Then there
followed sobbing and vomiting. In the body and mouth which had been violated the Eucharist
could not remain; the draught consecrated in the blood of the Lord burst forth from the polluted
vitals. So great is the power of the Lord, so great His majesty. The secrets of the shades are
detected under His light, nor did hidden crimes deceive the priest of God.”126
It was in view of such offenders that the council fathers of Elvira enacted the canon earlier cited
where we read: “Any one, who after faith in the baptism of salvation, and being of adult years, shall have
entered the temple of an idol [to commit idolatry] and shall have sacrificed – this being a capital offence,
because it involves supreme guilt—shall not receive communion even at death.” Note ‘and being of adult
years.’ The idea here is that they were other baptized persons who were in their early years of childhood
and who could as well have participated in such idolatrous practices but the council fathers deemed it fit
to exclude them from the rule here, limiting it to baptized persons who were in their adult years.
St. Cyprian in both passages cited above speaks of infants in the arms who were already
communicants. It should be recalled that in the early centuries the sacraments of Christian initiation:
Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist were performed together in one single ceremony. Immediately
after the washing with water in the fonts, the anointing and imposition of hands takes place, after which
the candidates were led to the Eucharistic table and partake of the Eucharistic meal. Thus, from St.
Cyprian’s testimony we could learn that this was the rule for both adults and infants that were being
welcomed in the Church.127It was normal during the fix days for worship, for Christian parents to carry

. St. Cyprian of Cathage, De Lapsed, 9
. Ibid, 25.
. This is still the rule in the Eastern rite of the Catholic Church and also in the Greek Orthodox Church.
their baptized infants to Church and then along with their parents would partake of the Eucharist. St. Leo
the Great, in the text cited above had such altitude in mind when he said: “Those who can remember that
they used to go to church with their parents can remember whether they received what used to be given
to their parents.” If they could remember such event, then this would be proof in itself that they have
been baptized since only the baptized could partake of the Eucharist. But if their memory fails them and
they cannot even remember such event as having occurred in their infancy, then in such a case the holy
pontiff advices that Baptism should be bestowed on such persons: “But if this also has escaped their
memory, it seems that that must be bestowed on them which is not known to have been bestowed
because there can be no presumptuous rashness where the most loyal carefulness has been exercised.”
St. Dionysius also made mentioned of cases of many fleeing to the desert and mountains in times of
persecution only for them to be held captives and enslaved by the barbarians inhabiting such area. It is
with tears that he goes on to describe the fate of such Christians, ‘Some of them with difficulty and at
great cost were ransomed; others never to this day.’ This issue of redemption of captives was mentioned
by other early Christian authors (i.e. St. Cyprian of Carthage, St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Augustine of Hippo,
St. Victor of Vita etc.). Thus, apart from times of persecution, civilized areas were then constantly being
infested by barbarian who pounce on vulnerable preys and adduct them as captives. Children, parents,
young and old were victims of such circumstances. St. Cyprian relates one of such occurrence in his time:
“With the utmost grief of mind and not without tears I have read the letter, dearest brethren,
which from the anxiety of your affection you wrote to me concerning the captivity of our brethren
and sisters. For who would not grieve at such misfortunes, or who would not reckon his brother’s
sorrow as his own…Wherefore now too the captivity of the brethren is to be reckoned by us as our
own captivity: and the grief of those in peril is to be accounted as our grief: since in truth we are
joined into one body, and not affection only, but religion also ought to incite and encourage us to
redeem the members of the brethren…even if charity did not induce us to give assistance to the
brethren, yet here we should consider that they are the temples of God which have been made
captive ; and that we ought not, by long delay regardless of their sorrow, to allow the temples of
God to remain long captive; but should strive with our utmost strength, and with all speed
endeavour by our ready services to earn the favour of Christ our Judge, and Lord, and God…For
who that is mindful of humanity and reminded of mutual affection, if he be a father, will not now
reckon that his own sons are there? if he be a husband, will not with equal grief and shame for the
conjugal bond consider his own wife to be there held in captivity? But how great must be the
common grief and anxiety of us all, for the peril of the virgins who are there detained, for whom
not the loss of liberty only, but of modesty is to be lamented; nor are the bonds of barbarians to
be deplored, so much as the defilement of impure places and men; lest members dedicated to
Christ and for ever devoted by virtuous chastity to the praise of continence, should be polluted by
the lust and contamination of the insolent…In fine, we give you the most sincere thanks, for that
ye have been pleased to make us partners of your solicitude, and of so good and needful a work;
that ye have offered us fertile fields, in which we might sow the seeds of our hope, having to look
for a harvest of most abundant fruit, which will grow from this heavenly and saving culture. We
have therefore sent you an hundred thousand sesterces, which have been collected by the
contributions of the clergy and laity who are set here with us in the Church over which by the good
pleasure of the Lord we preside: this you will dispense according to your discretion. We wish
indeed that nothing of this sort may again happen, and that our brethren, being protected by the
Majesty of the Lord, may be kept safe from perils of this kind. If, however, for the searching out of
the charity of our dispositions, and the trial of the faith of our hearts, any such thing should
happen, on no account delay to write us word of it; being well assured that our Church and all the
brotherhood here entreat by their prayers that this may not again happen; yet that if it does
happen, they will cheerfully and bountifully contribute their aid.”128

.Ibid, Letters 62, 1-3.
In such situation, the captives would have been forced by their captors to partake in idolatrous
worship. It was such situation that prompt the following questions by Rusticus: ‘Concerning those who
after being baptized in infancy were captured by the Gentiles, and lived with them after the manner of
the Gentiles, when they come back to Roman territory as still young men, if they seek Communion, what
shall be done?’ The sixth council of Carthage held on the 13th of September 401 A.D. addressed a similar
issue in its seventh canon which reads: “It seemed good that whenever there were not found reliable
witnesses who could testify that without any doubt they [abandoned children] were baptized and when
the children themselves were not, on account of their tender age, able to answer concerning the giving
of the sacraments to them, all such children should be baptized without scruple, lest a hesitation should
deprive them of the cleansing of the sacraments. This was urged by the [North African] legates, our
brethren, since they redeem many such [abandoned children] from the barbarians.”129 But not only pagan
captors are known to have existed then. There are also cases where the captors belong to a heretical
Christian group as St. Victor of Vita made known. Rusticus may have included such captors in the phrase
‘captured by the enemy’ under the question ‘Concerning those who have been captured by the enemy
and are not aware whether they have been baptized but know they were several times taken to church
by their parents, whether they can or ought to be baptized when they come back to Roman territory.’
Again, there is no reason to think that it was only in times of persecution that some Catholics reverted to
paganism or when such persecution were from heretical camps embraced heretical doctrines. There is
evidence of Catholics moving for some other reasons over to the camps of heretical groups or even
reverting to paganism (i.e. the case of Julian the Apostate). In such a situation those who were parents
and with children would have moved over with their children to the heretical camps or paganism. It was
such situation that confronted the council fathers at Elvira and led to the enactment of the other canon
earlier cited. Again, some children would have been born and baptized in infancy when their parent were
members of certain heretical groups. Upon growing up such children might be attracted to the Catholic
faith. It was for such cases that Risticus asked the following question ‘Concerning those who have come
from Africa or Mauretania and know not in what sect they were baptized, what ought to be done in their
case.’ St. Leo’s reply was that ‘since they have received the form of baptism in some way or other, they
are not to be baptized but are to be united to the Catholics by imposition of hands, after the invocation
of the Holy Spirit's power.’ Earlier the third council of Carthage (397 A.D) in one of her canons (i.e. canon
48) had taken a similar stand regarding those coming over from the Donatists camp. This canon was later
reenacted in the fifth council of Carthage held on the 18th of June 401 A.D and which was presided by
Bishop Aurelius. The Acts of that council contains the following words from the presiding Bishop:
“My brethren, you, as well as I, are acquainted with the necessities of the Churches of Africa—, it
seems advisable that one among us should be appointed to go into Italy, and represent our wants
to our holy brother Anastasius, Bishop of the Apostolical See, and to our holy brother Venerius,
Bishop of Milan: for from these Sees proceeded the prohibition which they will see the necessity
of providing against. The scarcity of clergy is so general, and many Churches so neglected, that
they have not so much as even one illiterate Deacon; and we can no longer bear the daily
complaints of various destitute parishes, and the ruin of a multitude of souls, for whom we shall
have to give account to God. You remember that in the last Council it was decreed, that they who
were baptized in infancy by the Donatists, before they were able to see their error, and became
converts at years of discretion, on being better informed, might be admitted among the clergy,
provided they were of unblemished character; especially in so urgent a necessity. Now there are
some of the same sect, who desire to come over to us with their people, provided they may still
keep their rank: but I believe we must leave this point to our brethren, that after a more mature

.Sixth Council of Carthage (401 A.D), canon 7.
deliberation, they may give us their opinion. We only ask their consent for the ordination of those
who were baptized in infancy.”130
What we have done so far is but show through several cases that occurred at different times and
different regions how the situation in such cases were somewhat similar. From these somewhat similar
cases one could see that the idea of an infant believer was quite normal in these centuries. When St.
Cyprian in the third century or St. Leo in the fourth spoke of child believers that were being carried in the
arms of their mother to the Christian place of worship they were not relating any unusual or rare events.
Rather, they spoke of these events as something that was quite common in their day. Again, it should be
noted that when these men spoke of these events they were speaking from lifelong experiences. For
example, when the council fathers at Elvira spoke of little Catholic children being carried to heretical
camps by their parents or when the sixth council of Carthage and later Rusticus spoke of Children being
baptized in infancy that were later captured by Gentiles they were speaking from experience. Hence,
known cases of such events must have been occurring in the past. Therefore, the practice of welcoming
children into the Church through Baptism not only must have been common during the life time of these
men but must have been a long established custom in the territories they come from.
Another point that should be observed here is that even among heretical groups like the Arians and
the Donatists who had broken away from the Church in the first quarter of the fourth century infants were
likewise baptized. No one was saying that these heretics were the ones who introduced the practice when
they left the Church. No one was saying that those people who were baptized as infants in such heretical
groups should be baptized again. The Church recognized their Baptism as valid including those baptized
in infancy. The Church fathers who addressed this issue took it for granted that these heretics were doing
something that was quite normal and acceptable when they too baptize their infants. Thus, the authors
of these heretical groups must have been familiar with the practice of baptizing infants when they were
still in the Catholic fold and after they left the Church they continued to observe the practice. Therefore,
the practice must have been common before the start of the schism of those heretics. True, there were
cases of delaying Baptism but all understood that Baptism was necessary for salvation and as a result of
this understanding there was universal agreement that Baptism can be validly received at any time in a
man’s life: as an infant, as a youth, and as an aged person. This made them to give the Sacrament speedily
to those in danger of death at whatever stage in life they may be. Thus, infants as well as adult were
baptized in case of emergency.
Moreover, it appears that the tendency of delaying Baptism never really had a grip in places were a
much milder procedure of penance was in place and were there was strong opposition to the doctrine of
the Novatianists. Thus, for example, in Rome, Pope St. Siracius in a letter to Bishop Himerius of Tarragona
written about 385 A.D. says: “As we maintain that the observance of the holy Paschal time should in no
way be relaxed, in the same way we desire that infants who, on account of their age, cannot yet speak, or
those who, in any necessity, are in want of the water of holy baptism, be succored with all possible speed,
for fear that, if those who leave this world should be deprived of the life of the Kingdom for having been
refused the source of salvation which they desired, this may lead to the ruin of our souls. If those
threatened with shipwreck, or the attack of enemies, or the uncertainties of a siege, or those put in a
hopeless condition due to some bodily sickness, ask for what in their faith is their only help, let them
receive at the very moment of their request the reward of regeneration they beg for. Enough of past
mistakes! From now on, let all the priests observe the aforesaid rule if they do not want to be separated
from the solid apostolic rock on which Christ has built his universal Church.”131 Here we have echo of Jn
3:5 and the teaching which is alluded in it that Baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation. In Italy, we

. Dionysius Exiguus, The Code of Canons of the African Church (Codex Canonum Ecclesiæ Africanæ), 56-7.
.St. Siracius, Letter 1,3 . Cf. Fr. Jacques Dupuis, S.J. and Fr. Josef Neuner, S.J., The Christian Faith, Sixth Revised
and Enlarged Edition, Staten Island, NY: Alba House, 1996, p. 540.
find St. Ambrose of Milan expressing the same belief in one of his treatise written in the year 391 A.D.:
“For a very good reason does the law command the males to be circumcised in the beginning of infancy,
even the bondslave in the house: because as circumcision is from infancy, so is the disease. No time ought
to be void of the remedy, because none is void of guilt, …Neither a proselyte that is old, nor an infant born
in the house, is excepted; because every age is obnoxious to sin, and therefore every age is proper for the
sacrament.”132 That idea that even the new born is infected with Original sin is evident here. Elsewhere in
drawing a parallel between circumcision and Baptism, he says: “The meaning of the mystery [i.e.
circumcision on the eighth day] is plain. Those born in the house are the Jews, those bought with money
are the Gentiles that believed: for the church is bought with the price of Christ's blood. Therefore both
Jew and Gentile, and all that believe, must learn to circumcise themselves from sin, that they may be
saved. Both the home-born and the foreigner, the just and the sinful, must be circumcised by the
forgiveness of sins, so as not to practice sin any more: for no person comes to the kingdom of heaven but
by the sacrament of baptism.” Christ’s words in Jn 3:5 are then cited with the following comments on
them: “’Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.’
[Jn 3:5] No one is excepted: not the infant, not the one prevented by some necessity. They may, however,
have an undisclosed exemption from punishments; but I do not know whether they can have the honor
of the kingdom.”133 Still in Italy, St. Zeno of Verona, who was an earlier contemporary of St. Ambrose,
informs us that while circumcision was administered on the eight day after that birth of the child, Baptism
which imparts the gift of salvation can be given at any time from the cradle years to the final years of a
man’s life: “haec a cunis infantiae usque ad supremos exitus cuiusvis aetatis utrique generi salutare munus
impertit.”134The same belief of the necessity of Baptism for salvation is found in the writing of the
Alexandrian Didymus the Blind who died about the year 391 A.D: “No one not regenerated by the Holy
Spirit of God and marked with the seal of His sanctification has attained heavenly gifts, even though the
perfection of a faultless life in all the rest.”135In a synod held at Rome in the year 402 A.D, it was decreed
in one of the sixteen canons that ‘Persons baptized in childhood who have always remained chaste, or
those baptized as adults who have remained modest and only married once, may become ecclesiastics,
but not those who have (since their baptism) been unchaste. This is the practice of the Roman Church.’136
St. Jerome in his letter to Laeta written about the year 403 A.D:
“We read of Eli the priest that he became displeasing to God on account of the sins of his children;
and we are told that a man may not be made a bishop if his sons are loose and disorderly. [I Tim
3:4] On the other hand it is written of the woman that ‘she shall be saved in childbearing, if they
continue in faith and charity and holiness with chastity.’ If then parents are responsible for their
children when these are of ripe age and independent; how much more must they be responsible
for them when, still unweaned and weak, they cannot, in the Lord's words, ‘discern between their
right hand and their left:’ [Jonah 4:11] — when, that is to say, they cannot yet distinguish good
from evil? If you take precautions to save your daughter from the bite of a viper, why are you not
equally careful to shield her from ‘the hammer of the whole earth’? to prevent her from drinking
of the golden cup of Babylon? To keep her from going out with Dinah to see the daughters of a
strange land? [Gen 34] to save her from the tripping dance and from the trailing robe? No one
administers drugs till he has rubbed the rim of the cup with honey; so, the better to deceive us,
vice puts on the mien and the semblance of virtue. Why then, you will say, do we read: — ‘the son
shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son,’ but
‘the soul that sins it shall die’? [Ez 18:20] The passage, I answer, refers to those who have
discretion, such as he of whom his parents said in the gospel: — ‘he is of age...he shall speak for

. St. Ambrose, on Abraham, 2, 11, 81.
.Ibid, on Abraham, 2, 11, 84.
.St. Zeno of Verona, Tractatus, 1, 13, 11.
.Didymus the Blind, On Trinity, 2, 12.
.Council of Rome (402 A.D), canon 5. Cf. Hefele, History of the Councils, p. 344.
himself.’ [Jn 9:21] While the son is a child and thinks as a child and until he comes to years of
discretion to choose between the two roads to which the letter of Pythagoras points, his parents
are responsible for his actions whether these be good or bad. But perhaps you imagine that, if they
are not baptized, the children of Christians are liable for their own sins; and that no guilt attaches
to parents who withhold from baptism those who by reason of their tender age can offer no
objection to it. The truth is that, as baptism ensures the salvation of the child, this in turn brings
advantage to the parents. Whether you would offer your child or not lay within your choice, but
now that you have offered her, you neglect her at your peril.” 137
Laeta the person whom this letter was addressed to was the daughter-in-law of Paula a close
associate of St. Jerome. She (i.e. Laeta) had earlier written a letter to St. Jerome in which she sought his
advice on how she ought to bring up her infant daughter (also called Paula) as a virgin consecrated to
Christ. St. Jerome in the present letter instructs her in detail as to the child's training and education. In
the letter it is indicated that the infant Paula had already received Baptism. She was in Rome with her
mother at this time.
St. Augustine of Hippo, writing about the year 401 A.D. speaks of infant Baptism as an Apostolic
practice: “The custom of the Mother Church in baptizing infants is certainly not to be scorned, nor is it to
be regarded in any way as superfluous, nor is it to be believed that its tradition is anything except
Apostolic. The age of infancy also has a great weight of witness; for it was the infant age that first merited
to pour out its blood for Christ. [Mt 2:16]”138Elsewhere, in another work written a year earlier, he makes
mention of the role of Godparents for children in Baptism: “Since others respond for children, so that the
celebration of the Sacrament may be complete for them, it is certainly availing to them for their
consecration, because they themselves are not able to respond. But if someone were to respond on behalf
of a person who could make himself answer, it would not likewise be of avail.”139He speaks of the grace
which the Sacrament imparts on both infants and adults: “Christ’s saints imitate Him in order to pursue
justice…But besides this imitation, His grace also works within us our illumination and justification…For by
this grace baptized infants to are engrafted into His body, infants who certainly are not capable to imitate
anyone. Christ, in whom all are made alive, besides offering Himself as an example of righteousness for
those who imitate Him, give also the moat hidden grace of His Spirit to believers, grace which He secretly
infuse even into infants.”140 Again: “If anyone wonders why children born of the baptized should
themselves be baptized, let him attend briefly to this…The sacrament of baptism is most assuredly the
sacrament of regeneration.”141He attest to the fact that the Church regards the baptized adult and the
baptized infant equally as members of the Church: “In what class, then, do we place baptized infants but
amongst believers, as the authority of the Catholic Church everywhere asserts? They belong, therefore,
among those who have believed; for this is obtained for them by virtue of the sacrament and the answer
of their sponsors. And from this it follows that such as are not baptized are reckoned among those who
have not believed…This then is the way in which spiritual regeneration is effected in all who come to Christ
from their carnal generation. He explained it Himself, and pointed it out, when He was asked, How these
things could be? He left it open to no man to settle such a question by human reasoning, lest infants
should be deprived of the grace of the remission of sins. There is no other passage leading to Christ; no
man can be reconciled to God, or can come to God otherwise, than through Christ.”142 For Augustine, the
grace of Baptism is open to all: “For whether it be a newborn infant or a decrepit old man—since no one
should be barred from baptism—just so, there is no one who does not die to sin in baptism. Infants die to

.St. Jerome, Letters, 107, 6.
.St. Augustine of Hippo, The Literal Interpretation of Genesis, 10, 23, 39.
.Ibid, On Baptism: Against the Donatists, 4, 24, 31.
.Ibid, Forgiveness and the Just Deserts of Sins, and Baptism of Infants, 1, 9, 10.
.Ibid, 2, 27, 43.
.Ibid, 1, 62.
original sin only; adults, to all those sins which they have added, through their evil living, to the burden
they brought with them at birth.”143He asserts: “Because, then, we affirm this doctrine [i.e. original sin],
which is contained in the oldest and unvarying rule of the catholic faith, these propounders of the novel
and perverse dogma, who assert that there is no sin in infants to be washed away in the laver of
regeneration, [Titus 3:5] in their unbelief or ignorance calumniate us, as if we condemned marriage, and
as if we asserted to be the devil’s work what is God’s own work— the human being which is born of
marriage.”144 St. Augustine was here reacting to the teaching of Pelagius. Pelagius a British monk had
denied the existence of Original Sin and this logically would have led him into rejecting the practice of
baptizing children. But surprising he never rejected the practice and even attempt to defend it on some
other grounds. Thus, he maintained that the Baptism of children is administered, not for the remission of
sins, but as a sign of acceptance by the Church, and to enable men to reach the kingdom of heaven which
is distinct from ‘eternal life.’ In speaking of this altitude of the Pelagius and his followers, Augustine wrote:
“Now, seeing that they admit the necessity of baptizing infants,—finding themselves unable to contravene
that authority of the universal Church, which has been unquestionably handed down by the Lord and His
apostles,—they cannot avoid the further concession, that infants require the same benefits of the
Mediator, in order that, being washed by the sacrament and charity of the faithful, and thereby
incorporated into the body of Christ, which is the Church, they may be reconciled to God, and so live in
Him, and be saved, and delivered, and redeemed, and enlightened. But from what, if not from death, and
the vices, and guilt, and thraldom, and darkness of sin? And, inasmuch as they do not commit any sin in
the tender age of infancy by their actual transgression, original sin only is left.”145
During this period the teachings of Pelagius was officially condemned by the Church in 416 A.D in the
provincial councils of Carthage (sixty-three bishops) and Mileves (sixty bishops), and two years later in
another provincial council held at Carthage (about two hundred bishops). The last mentioned declared
against the Pelagians: “Likewise it seemed good that whosoever denies that infants newly from their
mother’s wombs should be baptized, or says that baptism is for remission of sins, but that they derive
from Adam no original sin, which needs to be removed by the laver of regeneration, from whence the
conclusion follows, that in them the form of baptism for the remission of sins, is to be understood as false
and not true, let him be anathema. For no otherwise can be understood what the Apostle says, ‘By one
man sin is come into the world, and death through sin, and so death passed upon all men in that all have
sinned,’ [Rom 5:12-13] than the Catholic Church everywhere diffused has always understood it. For on
account of this rule of faith even infants, who could have committed as yet no sin themselves, therefore
are truly baptized for the remission of sins, in order that what in them is the result of generation may be
cleansed by regeneration.”146
Pope St. Innocent I, in a letter to the fathers of the council of Milevis written on the 27 th of January
417 A.D., says: “But that which Your Fraternity asserts the Pelagians preach, that even without the grace
of Baptism infants are able to be endowed with the rewards of eternal life, is quite idiotic. For unless they
shall have eaten the Flesh of the Son of Man and shall have drunk His Blood, they shall not have life in
them [Jn 6:54]. But those who defend this for them without rebirth seem to me to want to quash Baptism
itself, when they preach that infants already have what is believed to be conferred on them only through
St. Jerome, likewise addressed the false teachings of the Pelagians in this period. In his Dialogue
Against the Pelagians, we read:

.Ibid, Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love, 43.
.Ibid, On Marriage and Concupiscence, 1, 1.
.Ibid, Forgiveness and the Just Deserts of Sins, and Baptism of Infants, 1, 39.
.Council of Carthage (418 A.D), canon 2.
.St. Innocent I, Letters, 30, 5.
“Critobulus: Tell me, pray, and rid me of all doubts, why little children are baptized.
Atticus. That their sins may be forgiven them in baptism.
Critobulus: What sin are they guilty of? How can anyone be set free who is not bound?
Atticus: You ask me! The Gospel trumpet will reply, the teacher of the Gentiles, the golden vessel
shining throughout the world: [Rom 5:] ‘Death reigned from Adam even unto Moses: even over
those who did not sin after the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a figure of Him that
was to come.’ And if you object that some are spoken of who did not sin, you must understand
that they did not sin in the same way as Adam did by transgressing God's command in Paradise.
But all men are held liable either on account of their ancient forefather Adam, or on their own
account. He that is an infant is released in baptism from the chain which bound his father. He who
is old enough to have discernment is set free from the chain of his own or another's sin by the
blood of Christ.”148
Critobulus represents the Pelagian position while Atticus represent the orthodox position. Atticus
continues: “One thing I will say and so end my discourse, that you ought either to give us a new creed, so
that, after baptizing children into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you may baptize them into
the kingdom of heaven; or, if you have one baptism both for infants and for persons of mature age, it
follows that infants also should be baptized for the remission of sins after the likeness of the transgression
of Adam.”149
In the treatise Quaestiones et Responsiones ad Orthodoxos which was classed among the works of
St. Justin but was written by an unknown author of Syrian decent who lived in the year 400 A.D., we read:
“Question: Since children that die in infancy have no praise nor no blame from anything that they
have done, what difference will be made at the resurrection between such of them as have been
by the means of others baptized but have done nothing themselves, and such as have not been
baptized and have likewise done nothing?
Answer: This will be the difference between those that have been baptized, and those that have
not: that baptized will be made partakers of the blessings granted by baptism; and the unbaptized
not. And these blessings of baptism are vouchsafed to them for the sake of the faith of those that
bring them to baptism.”150
St. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444): “And we must observe that, as Lazarus was lying dead, on his behalf
in a certain way the assent to the faith is demanded of the woman, that the type in this also may have
force among the Churches; for when a newborn babe is brought, either to receive the chrism of the
catechumenate, or that of the complete- [Christian] -condition at Holy Baptism the person who brings it
repeats aloud the ‘Amen’ on its behalf. And on behalf of those who are assailed by extreme sickness, and
on that account are going to be baptized, certain persons make the renunciation [of Satan] and the
declaration of attachment [to Christ], by an act of charity lending as it were their voices to those who are
disabled by sickness: a thing which we see to have been done in the case of Lazarus and his sister. And
Martha wisely and prudently first sows the confession of faith, that afterwards she may reap the fruit of
it.”151Elsewhere, he attest to the fact that both adults and children have been made members of the
Church: “Christ became our peace, too, and by quelling every war he caused the Church to be full of the
saints. In it are found people venerable for their wisdom and elect souls beyond counting, to whom the
wise John also writes in these words, ‘I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the
beginning,’ [Eph 2:14; I Jn 2:13] whereas children, like adolescents and young girls, are the more immature
mass of those recently converted, beautifying with their spiritual antics, as it were, the truly holy city, the
Church. To them you could also apply the saying, ‘Come, let us rejoice in the Lord, let us cry aloud to God
our Savior.’ [Ps 95:1] If, on the other hand, the old people were perhaps described as leaning on a stick,

.Ibid, Dialogues Against the Pelagians , 3,18.
.ibid, 3, 19.
. Pseudo-Justin, Quaestiones et Responsiones ad Orthodoxos, 56.
.St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 7.
you could understand that Christ supports both small and great, being the rod from Jesse, synonymous
with power, which the God and Father sent us from the Zion on high for us to rejoice in him and say, ‘Your
rod and your staff have consoled me.’ [Ish 11:1; Ps 110:2; 23:4]”152
St. John Cassian “But perhaps you say that you were a baby when you were regenerated, and so were
not then able to think or to contradict. It is true: that your infancy did prevent you from contradicting,
when if you had been a man you would have died for contradicting. For what if when in that most faithful
and devout Church of Christ the priest delivered the Creed to the Catechumen and the attesting people,
you had tried to hold your tongue at any point, or to contradict? Perhaps you would have been heard,
and not sent forth at once like some new kind of monster or prodigy as a plague to be expelled. Not
because that most earnest and religious people of God has any wish to be stained with the blood of even
the worst of men: but because especially in great cities the people inflamed with the love of God cannot
restrain the ardour of their faith when they see anyone rise up against their God. But be it so. As a baby,
if it be so, you could not contradict and deny the Creed. Why did you hold your tongue when you were
older and stronger. At any rate you grew up, and became a man, and were placed in the ministry of the
Church. Through all these years, through all the steps of office and dignity, did you never understand the
faith which you taught so long before? At any rate you knew that you were His deacon and priest. If the
rule of salvation was a difficulty to you, why did you undertake the honour of that, of which you disliked
the faith? But indeed you were a far sighted and simply devout man, who wished so to balance yourself
between the two, as to maintain both your wicked blasphemy, and the honour of Catholicity!”153
St. Caesarius of Arles (470-542 A.D), in one of his sermons says: “Although a man ought to fulfill
everything he promises if possible, that first excellent promise which we make to God at the time when
we are reborn in baptism we should especially safeguard with His help. We are asked at baptism whether
we will renounce the Devil, his pomps, and his works; we freely answer that we will renounce them. Since
infants can by no means confess this themselves, their parents stand as surety for them. Therefore, if we
faithfully observe what is the first and fundamental fact of the Christian religion, it is certain that with
God's help we will be able to do the rest.”154 He says elsewhere: “As each feast draws near, especially the
feast of the saints, those who want one of their children baptized should come to the church ten days, or
at least a week, in advance with those to be baptized and present them for the anointing of the oil and
the imposition of the hand…Although it is preferable to celebrate baptisms at the paschal solemnity,
nevertheless, because of human frailty and especially in the case of catechumens who are often ill, the
gift of baptism is not to be refused.”155Again: “If parents are willing to present their children for baptism
at the beginning of Lent and faithfully attend the vigils with them, their children will receive the sacrament
of baptism in a rightful manner and they themselves will win the forgiveness of their sins.”156
St. Fulgentius of Ruspe (467-532 A.D) writing between the years 523-537 A.D: “Hold most firmly and
never doubt that, with the exception of those who are baptized in their own blood for the name of Christ,
no one will receive eternal life who has not been converted from his sins through penance and faith, and
freed through the sacrament of faith and penance, i.e., through Baptism. For adults it is necessary both
to do penance for their sins and to hold the Catholic faith according to the rule of truth and to receive the
Sacrament of Baptism. For children, on the other hand, who are able neither to believe by their own will
nor to do penance for the sin which they contract at the beginning of life, the sacrament of faith and
penance, which is Holy Baptism, suffices for salvation, since their age is not yet capable of

. Ibid, Commentary on Zechariah, 8
. St. John Cassian, On the Incarnation, 6, 11..
.St. Caesarius of Arles, Sermons, 12, 3.
.Ibid, sermons, 225, 6.
.Ibid, sermons, 84, 6.
reason.”157Elsewhere: “Do we not believe rightly that only children, who we know are damned only
because of original sin, are saved by the faith of those who bring them? With the divine justice doing this
in marvelous ways so that in some way where one’s own, i.e., actual, sin is found not at all and one’s own
will is not required; but through the abundance of grace, through the faith of others, salvation is given to
those to whom guilt has been attributed.”158
Gennadius of Marseilles: “If there are little children or handicapped persons who cannot understand
the teaching, those who present them are to answer for them like someone answering for himself at
baptism; then, strengthened by the imposition of the hand and by chrism they are to be admitted to the
mysteries of the Eucharist.”159
St. Gregory the Great writing around 591 A.D, says: “But with respect to trine immersion in baptism,
no truer answer can be given than what you have yourself felt to be right; namely that, where there is
one faith, a diversity of usage does no harm to holy Church. Now we, in immersing thrice, signify the
sacraments of the three days' sepulture; so that, when the infant is a third time lifted out of the water,
the resurrection after a space of three days may be expressed.”160
Many more texts for the early Christian writers can be cited to the same effect. However, form those
we have cited so far it is evident that it was unanimously and universally held in the early Church that
infants can received the Sacrament of Baptism validly.
In the Medieval era, there were some sects such as the Henricians, Petrobusians, Cathars and
Waldesians, that rejected the Church’s practice of baptizing children who had not attain the use of reason.
Their insistence on the responsibility of the individual was what led them into adopting such a position.
According to these sects, it is the individual that should make an act of faith for himself; it is the individual
that should make renunciation for himself; it is the individual that should decide for himself whether he
wants Baptism. Since infants cannot do such things they conclude that Baptism should not be conferred
on infants.
However, the position of these medieval sects did not go unchallenged. It was refuted by many
Church authors of that period. They (i.e. the church authors) used the following arguments to support the
practice of infant Baptism. (i) that all men, adults as well as infants, are in need of the new life of grace
which Christ merited for us on the cross and which is first given to us by Baptism (ii) that all men, adults
as well as infants, have contacted the guilt of Original sin from the first man Adam, which needs to be
remitted by Baptism (iii) that Original sin, the sin for which the infant is baptized for the forgiveness of
sin, is contracted without consent and so is forgiven without consent through Baptism (iv) that the
Sacrament of Baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation (v) that in the administration of the Sacrament
of Baptism, if the candidate for Baptism is an adult for him to receive the Sacrament lawfully, this is
worthily, he must have faith and sorrow for his sins (Mk 16:10; Acts 2:28; 8:12-14 etc. are cited as
Scriptural proof). But if the candidate for Baptism is an infant, that faith he or she lacks is replaced by the
faith of the Church. Thus, Pope Innocent III in the letter Maiores Ecclesiae Causas written to Humbert,
Ashbishop of Burgundy, around the year 1201:
“(For) they assert that baptism is conferred uselessly on children…We respond that baptism has
taken the place of circumcision…Therefore as ‘the soul of the circumcised did not perish from the people’
[Gen. 17:4], so ‘he who has been reborn from water and the Holy Spirit will obtain entrance to the
kingdom of heaven;’ [Jn 3:5]…Although original sin was remitted by the mystery of circumcision, and the
danger of damnation was avoided, nevertheless there was no arriving at the kingdom of heaven, which
up to the death of Christ was barred to all. But through the sacrament of baptism the guilt of one made

.St. Fulgentius of Ruspe, The Rule of Faith, 73.
.Ibid, Letter, 11, 3.
.Gennadius of Marseilles, Liber siue definition ecclesiasticorum dogmatum 21.
. St. Gregory the Great, Letters 43.
red by the blood of Christ is remitted, and to the kingdom of heaven one also arrives, whose gate the
blood of Christ has mercifully opened for His faithful. For God forbid that all children of whom daily so
great a multitude die, would perish, but that also for these the merciful God who wishes no one to perish
has procured some remedy unto salvation…As to what opponents say, (namely), that faith or love or other
virtues are not infused in children, inasmuch as they do not consent, is absolutely not granted by most…,
some asserting that by the power of baptism guilt indeed is remitted to little ones but grace is not
conferred; and some indeed saying both that sin is forgiven and that virtues are infused in them as they
hold virtues as a possession not as a function, until they arrive at adult age…We say that a distinction must
be made, that sin is twofold: namely, original and actual: original, which is contracted without consent;
and actual which is committed with consent. Original, therefore, which is committed without consent, is
remitted without consent through the power of this sacrament; but actual, which is contracted with
consent, is not mitigated in the slightest without consent…The punishment of original sin is deprivation
of the vision of God, but the punishment of actual sin is the torments of everlasting hell.”161
St. Bonaventure (1221-1274), wrote:
“The disease in us which Baptism radically opposes is original sin. This disease denies to the soul the
life of grace; [it denies it] the enabling rectitude of all the virtues; it inclines the soul in a certain measure
toward every kind of sin. Being inherited, ‘it makes a child potentially concupiscent and a man actually
so,’ and also reduces the soul to diabolical servitude, submitting it to the power of the prince of darkness…
Now, because original sin, received from another, makes a child potentially concupiscent and an adult
actually so: therefore the adult must necessarily have personal faith and personal contrition, while the
child needs no more than the faith and contrition of another, that is, of the universal Church. And because
the purpose of Baptism is to deliver both children and adults from the power of the prince of darkness,
both should be exorcised, that the hostile spirits may be expelled, and both instructed, that the adults
may be delivered from the darkness of error and formed to the faith, and that the godparents
representing the children may learn what to teach them; lest the sacrament of Baptism be prevented by
human default from achieving its intended end.”162
St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), in his Summa Theological, under the title “Whether children should
be baptized,” wrote: “I answer that, as the Apostle says (Rom 5:17), ‘if by one man's offense death reigned
through one,’ namely Adam, ‘much more they who receive abundance of grace, and of the gift, and of
justice, shall reign in life through one, Jesus Christ.’ Now children contract original sin from the sin of
Adam; which is made clear by the fact that they are under the ban of death, which ‘passed upon all’ on
account of the sin of the first man, as the Apostle says in the same passage (Rom 5:12). Much more,
therefore, can children receive grace through Christ, so as to reign in eternal life. But our Lord Himself
said [Jn 3:5]: ‘Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom
of God.’ Consequently it became necessary to baptize children, that, as in birth they incurred damnation
through Adam so in a second birth they might obtain salvation through Christ. Moreover it was fitting that
children should receive Baptism, in order that being reared from childhood in things pertaining to the
Christian mode of life, they may the more easily persevere therein; according to Proverbs 22:5: ‘A young
man according to his way, even when he is old, he will not depart from it.’”163
Yet during the revolt of the Reformers against the Church in the sixteenth century, there arose a sect
known as the Anabaptist which revived the objections of those medieval sects, and even went further to
repeat Baptism for those adults joining them who in the earlier stages of their lives had been baptized as
infants. Hence the name ‘Anabaptists’ given to the sect which means re-baptizers. In that period the
position of the Anabaptists was clearly stated in the Schleithem confession, which grew out of a meeting

. Pope Innocent III, Maiores Ecclesiae Causas.
. St. Bonaventure, The Breviloquium, 6, 7, 5-6.
. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 68, 9.
of south German and Swiss Anabaptists, on February 24th, 1527. The first article of that confession reads:
“Observe concerning baptism: Baptism shall be given to all those who have learned repentance and
amendment of life, and who believe truly that their sins are taken away by Christ, and to all those who
walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and wish to be buried with Him in death, so that they may be
resurrected with Him, and to all those who with this significance request it [baptism] of us and demand it
for themselves. This excludes all infant baptism, the highest and chief abomination of the pope. In this
you have the foundation and testimony of the apostles. Mt 28; Mk 16; Acts 2; 8; 16; 19. This we wish to
hold simply, yet firmly and with assurance.”164As can be observed the argument which the Anabaptists
raised against the Baptism of Infants is similar to that of those medieval sects who a couple of centuries
before then had rejected the practice of baptizing infants. Baptism require faith and repentance, since
infants cannot do such things they cannot receive the sacrament of Baptism validly.
The objections of the Anabaptists were refuted by many Church authors of that period. They (i.e. the
Church authors) like the medieval Church authors before them who were faced with a similar opponent,
pointed out (i) that all men, adults as well as infants, are in need of the new life of grace which Christ
merited for us on the cross and which is first given to us by Baptism (ii) that all men, adults as well as
infants, have contacted the guilt of Original sin from the first man Adam, which needs to be remitted by
Baptism (iii) that the Sacrament of Baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation (iv) that the faith the
infant lack is replaced by the faith of the Church.
It is interesting to note that in that period, the Church at the Council of Trent (1545-63) rejected the
teaching of the Anabaptists of repeating Baptism after attaining the use of reason, and approved the
Baptism of infants. For instance, see below the following three canons enacted by the Council fathers at
“Canon 12. If anyone says that no one is to be baptized except at that age at which Christ was
baptized, or when on the point of death, let him be anathema.

Canon 13. If anyone says that children, because they have not the act of believing, are not after
having received baptism to be numbered among the faithful, and that for this reason are to be rebaptized
when they have reached the years of discretion; or that it is better that the baptism of such be omitted
than that, while not believing by their own act, they should be baptized in the faith of the Church alone,
let him be anathema.

Canon 14. If anyone says that those who have been thus baptized when children are, when they have
grown up, to be questioned whether they will ratify what their sponsors promised in their name when
they were baptized, and in case they answer in the negative, are to be left to their own will; neither are
they to be compelled in the meantime to a Christian life by any penalty other than exclusion from the
reception of the Eucharist and the other sacraments, until they repent, let him be anathema.”165
But the Catholics of the sixteenth century were not alone in denouncing the Anabaptists for rejecting
the Church’s practice of baptizing infants. Many who in that period had abandoned the old faith and had
embraced the new ideas of the Reformers opposed the Anabaptists for denying the validity of infant
Baptism. Even the Reformers themselves with their strong emphasis on salvation by faith, retained the
Church’s practice of infant Baptism and condemned in strong terms the Anabaptists for rebaptizing adults
who earlier had received Baptism in infancy.

. Schleithem confession (February 24th, 1527), Art. 1.
. Council of Trent, Canons on Baptism, 3rd March, 1547.
The Sacrament of Confirmation

The name “Confirmation” comes from the Latin confirmare, to make firm or to strengthen. By
Baptism we receive the life of grace. By Confirmation that life is strengthened so that we may be better
able to resist evil and to live as good Christians. It is strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit who
comes to dwell in our souls in a special way. Pope John Paul II in one of his weekly catechesis explains:
“The grace conferred by the Sacrament of Confirmation is more specifically a gift of strength. This gift
corresponds to the need for greater zeal in facing the ‘spiritual battle’ of faith and charity in order to resist
temptation and give the witness of Christian word and deed to the world with courage, fervor and
perseverance. This zeal is conferred by the Holy Spirit.”166
Confirmation is one of the Sacraments of the Church whose sacramental status was rejected by the
Protestant Reformers in the sixteenth century, and till this day it is not regarded as a true Sacrament by
the majority of those who belong to that heritage (i.e. of the Reformers) and some of them do not even
perform it. For instance, Reform theologian Loraine Boettner in his book Roman Catholicism, objecting to
the Catholic doctrine of Confirmation, says: “In the so-called sacrament of confirmation the bishop lays
his hands on the head of a person who previously has been baptized, for the purpose of conveying to him
the Holy Spirit. But no apostle or minister in the apostolic church performed that rite, and no man on
earth has the Holy Spirit at his command. Roman theologians are uncertain as to the time when this so-

.L'osservatore Romano, 8 Apr 92. Summa Theol. III, q.72, a.5
called sacrament was instituted. The ritual leads those confirmed to think they have received the Holy
Spirit, whereas all they have received is the word and ritual of fallible priests. Confirmation is also
practiced in the Protestant Episcopal Church, but they regard it only as a church ordinance, not as an
institution established by Christ.”167Boettner says ‘no apostle or minister in the apostolic church
performed that rite.’ Is he unaware of the two texts in the Acts of the Apostles which Catholics point to
as reference to the Sacrament of Confirmation? In one of the texts we read: “Now when the Apostles who
were in Jerusalem had heard that Samaria had received the Word of God, they sent Peter and John to
them. And when they had arrived, they prayed for them, so that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For he
had not yet come to any among them, since they were only baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then
they laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit”(Acts 8:14-17). In the other: “Upon
hearing these things, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had imposed his
hands on them, the Holy Spirit came over them. And they were speaking in tongues and
prophesying”(19:5-6). Here in these two NT texts we see the Apostles performing a rite consisting of
imposition of hands and prayer which confers the Holy Spirit.168 Now, If as Boettner says (and we agree
with him here) ‘no man on earth has the Holy Spirit at his command’ then he must recognize that the
Apostles could only have received the power to perform that rite which confers the Holy Spirit from the
God-Man Himself, Jesus Christ, since only God could institute such a sign. But this is exactly part of the
reason why Catholics believe that that rite performed by the Apostles is a true and proper Sacrament. In
Catholic theology a Sacrament is understood as “a thing perceptible to the senses, which on the ground
of Divine institution possess the power both of effecting and signifying sanctity and righteousness.”169
Thus, there are three elements in the concept of Sacrament: (α) ‘perceptible to the senses’—the outward
sign (β) the conferring of sanctifying grace (γ) the institution by God or, more accurately, by the God-Man
Jesus Christ. From the little discussion we have made so far one can see that all three elements are present
in that rite described by St. Luke in the passages cited above.170 Catholic tradition understands that rite to
be Confirmation. So rather than argue that ‘no apostle or minister in the apostolic church performed that
rite,’ what Boettner should have done is to try and demonstrate that the rite which the Apostles
performed in those NT texts either is not Confirmation or is not meant to be perpetuated. Boettner never
attempted any of this. But there are other Protestant authors who think they can. One of them is John M.
In a paper which was delivered to the joint Metro conference meeting in Pt. Washington, John M.
Brenner says at length concerning those texts:
“Do these accounts teach that Christians can expect an outpouring of the Holy Spirit
subsequent to baptism? Note that we have no command to repeat this ceremony of laying on
of hands. Nor is there any promise given us that the act of laying on of hands will impart the
Holy Spirit in the future. We have only an apostolic example which cannot even be
demonstrated to have been a consistent apostolic practice. Descriptive passages of Scripture
do not determine binding practices. Only prescriptive passages can. Rome falls into the same
theological error as Pentecostalism which draws binding principles from scriptural examples
rather than from divine commands. These two accounts are best understood in the light of a

.Loraine Boetter, Roman Catholicism
.According to Acts 8:18, a causal connection existed between the imposition of hands and the communication of
the Spirit.
.The Roman Catechism, II, I, 8.
.(α) its performance was by a procedure perceptible to the senses, consisting in laying on of hands and prayer (β)
the effect of this outward rite was the communication of the Holy Spirit, i.e., the Principle of inner sanctification (γ)
Only God, or the God-Man Jesus can by virtue of His Own authority, link up the communication of Divine grace with
an outward rite. The Apostles regarded themselves merely as “ministers of Christ, and dispensers of the mysteries
of God” (I Cor 4:1).
similar phenomenon recorded in Acts 10 and the gift of the Holy Spirit given to Cornelius during
Peter’s visit. This miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit was evidenced by Cornelius’s speaking in
tongues and was given prior to baptism (Ac 10:44-48). In each of these accounts we have an
outpouring of the Holy Spirit as the gospel is brought to a new group of people. In Acts 8 the
outpouring of the Holy Spirit signified that it was appropriate for the gospel to be proclaimed
to the Samaritans, a people whom the Jews considered to be inferior. In Acts 10 the outpouring
of the Holy Spirit on Cornelius was a demonstration to Peter and the other Jews that the gospel
was meant for Gentiles, too (Ac 10:34-36, 47; 15:7-9). Acts 19 records another outpouring of
the Holy Spirit at a crucial juncture in the early history of the church. On his second missionary
journey Paul had been prevented by the Holy Spirit from preaching the Word in the province
of Asia. God directed him instead to Europe through a vision of a man begging him to come to
Macedonia (Ac 16:6-10). On his third missionary journey, however, Paul conducted an
extensive ministry in Ephesus where he met a group who had not been properly instructed or
baptized. Paul gave them instruction, baptized them, and laid his hands on them. They received
a special gift of the Holy Spirit which enabled them to speak in tongues (Ac 19:1-7). This was a
demonstration that God was approving Paul’s ministry in Asia. Ephesus subsequently became
an important center of Christianity in that area of the world. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit
recorded in Acts happened at important turning points in the history of Christianity. They gave
God’s stamp of approval to the preaching of the gospel to different ethnic groups and
geographical areas according to the pattern Jesus revealed before he ascended— ‘You will
receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (Ac 1:8). On other occasions there
is no evidence of a laying-on-of-hands ceremony for the reception of the Holy Spirit following
baptism. To claim divine institution for confirmation or to give an impression that the rite of
confirmation or the laying on of hands conveys the Holy Spirit is contrary to Scripture.” 171
Brenner understanding of the texts from the Acts of the Apostles is similar to those expounded by
the sixteenth century Reformer John Calvin in his opposition to the Catholic understanding of
Confirmation. John Calvin commenting on Acts 8:16 wrote:
“We must note this, therefore, because, while the Papists will set up their feigned confirmation,
they are not afraid to break out into this sacrilegious speech, that they are but half Christians
upon whom the hands have not been as yet laid. This is not tolerable now because, whereas
this was a sign which lasted only for a time, they made it a continual law in the Church, as if
they had the Spirit in readiness to give to whomsoever they would. We know that when the
testimony and pledge of God’s grace is set before us in vain, and without the thing itself, it is
too filthy mockery; but even they themselves are enforced to grant that the Church was
beautified for a time only with these gifts; whereupon it followeth that the laying on of hands
which the apostles used had an end when the effect ceased. I omit that, that they added oil
unto the laying on of hands, [Mk 6:13] but this, as I have already said, was a point of too great
boldness, to prescribe a perpetual law to the Church, that that might be a general sacrament,
which was peculiarly used amongst the apostles, [Gal 3:7; Rom 6:6] that the sign might
continue still after that the thing itself was ceased; and with this they joined detestable
blasphemy, because they said that sins were only forgiven by baptism, and that the Spirit of
regeneration is given by that rotten oil which they presumed to bring in without the Word of
Calvin is not denying that the rite of laying on of hands described in Acts 8:16-17 is a Sacrament. He
agrees with us that it’s a Sacrament but he would not allow that such a rite is meant to be continued after
the Apostles’ time. And the argument he used to support this position is that the rite of laying on of hands

.John M. Brenner, A Brief Study of Confirmation: Historical Development, Theological Considerations, and
Practical Implication, P.17-18.
.John Calvin, Commentary on Acts of the Apostles 8:116). Cf. Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by
John King, [1847-50], at
mentioned in that passage confers the charismata only and since according to him the bestowal of the
charismata ceased after the Apostle’s time, the Sacrament used to convey it would also have ceased about
that time. He takes up this position again while commenting on Acts 19:1-7:
“Furthermore, as I confess that this laying on of hands was a sacrament, so I say that those fell
through ignorance who did continually imitate the same. For seeing that all men agree in this,
that it was a grace which was to last only for a time, which was showed by that sign, it is a
perverse and ridiculous thing to retain the sign since the truth is taken away. There is another
respect of baptism and the supper, wherein the Lord doth testify that those gifts are laid open
for us, which the Church shall enjoy even until the end of the world. Wherefore we must
diligently and wisely distinguish perpetual sacraments from those which last only for a time,
lest vain and frivolous visures [semblances] have a place among the sacraments. Whereas the
men of old time did use laying on of hands, that they might confirm the profession of faith in
those who were grown up, I do not mislike it; so that no man think that the grace of the Spirit
is annexed to such a ceremony, as doth Jerome against the Luciferians” 173
Calvin had felt that the importance of baptism had been weakened by the Catholic understanding of
Confirmation. He then proposed an alternate and radically different understanding of Confirmation
whereby this Sacrament is merely seen as a catechizing of adults who were baptized in infancy. In this
way Calvin attempt to answer the historical challenge faced by the Reformers. He had claimed that
Confirmation was a Sacrament in the Apostolic period and that it was not meant to be continued beyond
that period but he was full aware of the fact that the Church from time immemorial continue to administer
that Sacrament. Hence, he suggested that what is regarded as a continuation of the Sacrament of
Confirmation was at first merely a rite whereby the faith of those who were baptized as infants were later
confirmed when they had reached adulthood. This simple understanding of Confirmation, the claim
continues, was later in the course of the years eroded and corrupted by the Catholic understanding of
Confirmation. See, for instance, his commentary on Hebrews 6:2 ‘Of the doctrine of baptisms, and
imposition of hands’:
“With baptism he connects the laying on of hands; for as there were two sorts of catechumens,
so there were two rites. There were heathens who came not to baptism until they made a
profession of their faith. Then as to these, these, the catechizing was wont to precede baptism.
But the children of the faithful, as they were adopted from the womb, and belonged to the
body of the Church by right of the promise, were baptized in infancy; but after the time of
infancy, they having been instructed in the faith, presented themselves as catechumens, which
as to them took place after baptism; but another symbol was then added, the laying on of
hands. This one passage abundantly testifies that this rite had its beginning from the Apostles,
which afterwards, however, was turned into superstition, as the world almost always
degenerates into corruptions, even with regard to the best institutions. They have indeed
contrived the fiction, that it is a sacrament by which the spirit of regeneration is conferred, a
dogma by which they have mutilated baptism for what was peculiar to it, they transferred to
the imposition of hands. Let us then know, that it was instituted by its first founders that it
might be an appointed rite for prayer, as Augustine calls it. The profession of faith which youth
made, after having passed the time of childhood, they indeed intended to confirm by this
symbol, but they thought of nothing less than to destroy the efficacy of baptism. Wherefore
the pure institution at this day ought to be retained, but the superstition ought to be
Thus, Calvin wants the rite of Confirmation to be retained in the Reformed tradition but wants it to
be stripped off all its Catholic elements and be understood in a new sense. This new sense he thinks was

.Ibid, Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (6:2). Cf. Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 44: Hebrews, tr. by John
King, [1847-50], at
the original sense. The older sense which he himself before now had known he claims was not only a
corruption of the new sense he was proposing but a distortion of the doctrine of Baptism.
Another Reformer, Martin Luther, took the same line of argument only that he, unlike Calvin, did
not admit that Confirmation was a Sacrament even in the period of the Apostles. In his treatise the
Babylonian Captivity, written in the year 1520, he says:
“I do not say this because I condemn the seven sacraments, but because I deny that they can
be proved from the Scriptures. Would that there were in the church such a laying on of hands
as there was in apostolic times, whether we chose to call it confirmation or healing! But there
is nothing left of it now but what we ourselves have invented to adorn the office of bishops,
that they may not be entirely without work in the church. For after they relinquished to their
inferiors those arduous sacraments together with the Word as being beneath their attention
(since whatever the divine majesty has instituted must need be despised of men!) it was no
more than right that we should discover something easy and not too burdensome for such
delicate and great heroes to do, and should by no means entrust it to the lower clergy as
something common, for whatever human wisdom has decreed must be held in honour among
Luther in the above passage admits that a rite such as Confirmation was practice in the apostolic
times but that the original understanding of that rite was later corrupted with the Catholic understanding
of that rite; and that this was done in order ‘to adorn the office of bishops, that they may not be entirely
without work in the church.’ But Luther did not believe that Confirmation was a Sacrament even while it
was being observed in the times of the Apostles and understood in what he considered as the original
understanding. He appears not to have perceived that there were different impositions of hands in the
NT but conflates Confirmational imposition of hands with other imposition of hands mention in Scripture:
“It is amazing that it should have entered the minds of these men to make a sacrament of confirmation
out of the laying on of hands. We read that Christ touched the little children in that way [Mk 10:16], and
that by it the apostles imparted the Holy Spirit [Acts 8:17; 19:6], ordained presbyters [Acts 6:6], and cured
the sick [Mk 16:18]; as the Apostle writes to Timothy: ‘Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands’ [I Tm
5:22]. Why have they not also made a ‘confirmation’ out of the sacrament of bread? For it is written in
Acts 9 [:19]: ‘And he took food and was strengthened,’ and in Ps. 104 [:15]: ‘And bread to strengthen
man’s heart.’ Confirmation would thus include three Sacraments—the bread, ordination, and
confirmation itself. But if everything the apostles did is a sacrament, why have they not rather made
preaching a sacrament?”176His rejection of Confirmation as a Sacrament is based solely on Protestant
principles, i.e. the Reformers concept of Justification and their principle of sola Scriptural. This can be seen
from the following statement made by him in that same work:
“But instead of this we seek sacraments that have been divinely instituted, and among these
we see no reason for numbering confirmation. For to constitute there must be above all things
else a word of divine promise, by which faith may be exercised. But we read nowhere that
Christ ever gave a promise concerning confirmation, although he laid hands on many and
included the laying on of hands among the signs in the last chapter of Mark [16:18]: ‘They will
lay their hands on the sick; and they will recover.’ Yet no one has applied this to a sacrament,
for that is not possible. For this reason it is sufficient to regard confirmation as a certain
churchly rite or sacramental ceremony, similar to other ceremonies, such as the blessing of
water and the like. For if every other creature is sanctified by the Word and by prayer [I Tm
4:4-5], why should not man much rather be sanctified by the same means? Still, these things
cannot be called sacraments of faith, because they have no divine promise connected with

.Martin Luther, Babylonian Captivity. Cf. Three Treatises from the American Edition of Luther’s Works. Pp. 218-
.Ibid, p. 218.
them, neither do they save; but the sacraments do save those who believe the divine
Like Calvin, Luther felt that Confirmation should be retained as long as it is stripped of all its Catholic
elements and understood in what he felt was the original sense. Thus, we find him in the year 1522 saying:
“I would permit confirmation as long as it is understood that God knows nothing of it, and has said nothing
about it, and that what the bishops claim for it is untrue. They mock our God when they say that it is one
of God’s sacraments, for it is a purely human contrivance.”178His understanding of confirmation which he
felt was the original understanding is somewhat similar to that expounded by Calvin. This can be seen in
one of his sermons belonging to the year 1523: “Confirmation should not be observed as the bishops
desire it. Nevertheless we do not find fault if every pastor examines the faith of the children to see
whether it is good and sincere, lays hands on them, and confirms them.”179Philip Melanchthon, a close
associate and friend of Luther, in his Apology for the Augsburg Confession written in the year 1530, would
follow Luther’s lead and thus classify Confirmation in the following terms: “Confirmation and Extreme
Unction are rites received from the Fathers which not even the Church requires as necessary to salvation,
because they do not have God's command. Therefore it is not useless to distinguish these rites from the
former, which have God's express command and a clear promise of grace.”180
From what we have said so far about the Reformers it could be seen that Brenner is not presenting
anything new in his opposition to the Catholic understanding of Confirmation but rather repeating and
recycling the arguments of the Reformers. Brenner had asked an interesting question regarding the texts
from the Acts of the Apostles: “Do these accounts teach that Christians can expect an outpouring of the
Holy Spirit subsequent to baptism?” And to this he replied: “Note that we have no command to repeat
this ceremony of laying-on of hands. Nor is there any promise given us that the act of laying on of hands
will impart the Holy Spirit in the future. We have only an apostolic example which cannot even be
demonstrated to have been a consistent apostolic practice. Descriptive passages of Scripture do not
determine binding practices. Only prescriptive passages can.” Brenner is trying to be clever here. He does
not really provide an answer to the question he poses but tries to sidestep it by saying ‘we have no
command to repeat this ceremony of laying on of hands.’ But one can simply counter him by pointing out
that we have no command of not repeating that ceremony of laying-on of hands either. And if in the
earliest days of the life of the Church there existed a rite of laying-on of hands which conferred the Holy
Spirit as we find in the Acts of the Apostles, then where is it stated that such a rite is not meant to be
performed until the end of time? If the rite of laying-on of hands as Brenner admits is ‘an apostolic
example’, then why is this example given if the Church in subsequent ages is not meant to continue the
performance of that rite? The Acts of the Apostles was written in the last quarter of the first century
several decades after the events described in it and at what time most of the Apostles had passed away.
Now if, as Brenner wants us to think, the rite of laying-on of hands which conferred the Holy Spirit was
not meant to be continued then is it not strange that St. Luke writing at a later date says nothing about
this when describing that rite? Is it not strange that St. Luke writing on a later date still felt the need to
mention that rite on those separate occasion?
Those two texts from the Acts indeed demonstrate that a rite distinct from Baptism by which the
Holy Spirit was conferred on the faithful was in existence even at the time of the Apostles. In Act 8:16 it is
clearly pointed out that although the Samarian had received Baptism, the Holy Spirit “had not yet come

.Ibid, p. 219.
.Ibid, ‘The Estate of Marriage’, Luther's Works 45: The Christian in Society II, ed. J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T.
Lehmann (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 24-25.
.The Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XIII, para. 6, Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, ed. P. T.
McCain (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House), 2005.
to any among them.” Hence the Apostles Peter and John were sent to them. The Apostles “prayed for
them, so that they might receive the Holy Spirit” (v.15) “then they laid their hands on them, and they
received the Holy Spirit.” In Acts 19:6, the performance of that rite is mentioned again. Here too it is an
Apostle (i.e. St. Paul) that administered that rite: “when Paul had imposed his hands on them, the Holy
Spirit came over them.” St. Luke deemed it fit to mention that rite on two separate occasions in the Acts
yet for Brenner this is not consistent enough. Would he have the Evangelist repeat himself numerous
times before granting that it is “a consistent apostolic practice”?181 Yes the rite consisting of the laying on
of hands was not mentioned in the description of the Baptism of the jailer and his household (16:33), of
Lydia and her household (16:15), and of the Corinthians (18:8). But so also did St. Luke on these occasions
omit the fact that the Baptism these men received was Baptism in the name of Jesus (compare 2:38; 8:16;
10:48; 19:5).182 Yet it cannot be concluded from this that the Baptism which was administered to the Jailer
and his household or to Lydia and her household or to the Corinthians was not understood as Baptism in
the name of Jesus; or was different from Baptism in the name of Jesus. Thus, that argument is weak which
states that the rite consisting of the laying-on of hands and prayer mentioned in 8:16 and 19:6 cannot be
a consistent apostolic practice because it is not mentioned in some other instances in the Acts of the
Apostles which speak of the administration of Baptism to certain individuals.
It is well enough to remind men like Brenner that the Reformers approach in denying the sacramental
status of Confirmation is no less different from that taken today by rationalist in denying the sacramental
status of those other rites (i.e. Baptism and the Holy Eucharist) which are accepted as Sacraments in both

.What John Gwynn said many years ago about Protestant opposition to the Catholic interpretation of Mt 16:16-
19 applies here. Reacting to Dr Edersheim, who at a point in time lectured on Scripture in the University of Oxford,
assertion that “Its [i.e. the text Mt 16:16-19] absence in the Gospel of St. Mark and in the Gospel of St. Luke proves
that it could never have been intended as the foundation of so important a doctrine as that of the permanent
supremacy of St. Peter.” Gwynn says “So the fact that God says or reveals an important doctrine only once is a
proof—‘proves’ that He did not intend us to believe Him. To give credence to it, they would have him to repeat it,
three or four times. A very strange canon from one who represent those who have such respect for the Word of
God. If that text has not the meaning we Catholics ascribe to it, then if it were repeated fifty times it could not be
interpreted in that sense. Did the learned professor wish his readers to understand that if that text were repeated
in the Gospels of St. Luke and St. Mark, then they would have sufficient ground to hold that Peter was first Pope and
Vicar of Christ? Let us see does he and those for whom he speaks use this implied canon in treating of other
doctrines. I read in St. Matthew xxvi. 26: ‘This is My Body.’ I read in the Gospel of St. Mark xiv. 22, those same
identical words uttered by Christ: ‘This is My Body.’ I read them again in St. Luke xxii. 19: ‘This is My Body.’ I read
them once more in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians xi. 24: ‘This is My Body.’ Yet this fourfold repetition of a
Catholic doctrine does not gain the credence of the Oxford professor and his co-religionists. Is it unfair to conclude
that if the text in St. Matthew were found too in the other Evangelists it would meet the same fate. Hence we find
the Protestant position, at least as put forward by the Oxford professor, one which it would be hard to describe as
logical. They do not believe the text for the Primacy of Peter, giving as a proof that it is only stated once. They do
not believe the doctrine of the Real Presence, though it is stated expressly four times…All this I put before you, not
from any controversial spirit, but to show you to what absurdities the rejection of truth leads, that you may the more
highly value the truth you possess.” Why I am a Catholic, (Dublin: 1909), pp. 65-66.
.Note the progress the Church made in her expansion in the context of those passages which speak of Baptism in
the name of Jesus: The day the Church was born and the Gospel of the risen Christ was first preached publicly to the
Jewish people (Acts 2:1-47); the Church has begun to spread to other regions outside Jerusalem and the Gospel of
the risen Christ was preached to the inhabitants of those regions (8:1-40);the first time the Church preached the
Gospel of the risen Christ to the Gentiles and received them in her communion (10:1-48); the first time the Gospel
of the risen Christ was preached to the disciples of John the precursor of Jesus Christ (18:24-19:6). These are special
events during the Church’s expansion and it was only in these cases that St. Luke referred to the Baptism
administered by the Church as Baptism in the name of Jesus and it is only in these cases that he stressed that the
grace of Pentecost is meant to be perpetuated in the Church; and on two of these occasions (i.e. 8:17 and 19:6) he
was clear about the ordinary means used to convey that grace.
Reformed and Lutheran traditions. Look at Baptism for example. The rationalists deny that the Baptism
of the Church was instituted by Jesus. Working from the premises that there are several stages of
traditional developments in the NT, they claim the early stages of these developments contain no specific
directive from Jesus about baptism. For them, texts like Mt 28:19 belong to a later stage of development
and the words placed there on the lips of Jesus could not have been said by Him. Support for this is sort
in the claim that if that statement were made immediately after the resurrection in precisely those words,
the Book of Acts would become almost unintelligible, for then there would be no reason why Jesus’
followers should have had any doubt that he wanted disciples made among the Gentiles. But it is well
known that the debate over the acceptance of Gentiles dragged on for the first twenty years of Christianity
(e.g. Acts 10-11:18; 15:1-31 etc.). It is also said that if, as suggested by the Matthean text, such a developed
baptismal form as ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ was known from the
immediate days of the resurrection, the common expression that we find elsewhere in the NT of baptizing
in the name of Jesus (e.g. Acts 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; Rom 6:3; Gal 3:27 etc.) becomes very hard to
understand.183 So, they conclude that the words ascribe to Christ in Mt 28:19 is a reflection of the Liturgical
practices of the Matthean Church at the second half of the first century when the universal mission of the
Church had been fully understood and that these practices were read back into the life of Christ. Mk 16:16,
on the other hand, is said to be an addition by a later copyist to the book of Mark and that the book
originally ended abruptly with Mk 16:8 or that the original ending was lost. Evidence for this is sort in the
ancient mss. of the Gospel of St. Mark which bears witness to three different endings. So, Mk 16:16 like
Mt 28:19 are not words actually said by the historical Jesus but contain later developed beliefs which were
read back into the life of Christ. Having set aside those two NT texts, they then argue from the silentness
of other NT texts on an explicit statement of Christ on the commission to baptize, that the Baptism of the
Church does not owe its origin from Christ.
One could note the similarities between the position of the rationalists on the subject of Baptism
described above and those of the Reformers on the subject of Confirmation. Both stem from distrust on
the role played by the Church in expounding the deposit of faith, and from the principle of sola Scriptural.
The rationalists, like the Reformers, believe that the Church does not in every instance faithfully represent
the mind of Christ. According to both of them, she could err and even distort the actual message of Christ.
But while the Reformers limit this distortion to the centuries immediately succeeding the apostolic era,
the rationalist extends it to the apostolic era. But both build their arguments on the principle of sola
Actually, what the Reformers and modern rationalists fail to understand is that the NT authors never
intended to give a complete and exhaustive list of the doctrines and practices of the Church (see II Jn 12-
13; III Jn 13-14; Jn 20:30-31 etc.). Their writings were called into existence by particular events and
circumstances, and it was those doctrines and practices of the Church that related to the events and
circumstances that prompted them to write that they mainly touched on. And even in this case, some of
the practices and doctrines they touched on were only said in passing without elaborating on them fully,
and this is so because the people the various documents of the NT were addressed to already had
knowledge and were familiar with the doctrines and practices of the Church. These doctrines were
preached to them when they embraced the faith, these doctrines are preached when they meet each
time for communal worship, they behold before their very eyes the rites and practices of the Church as it
was done in their own day. So there is no rationale in demanding that the NT authors should repeat
themselves or even provide full details on any particular doctrine or practice of the Church most especially
when that doctrine or practice was never challenged or misinterpreted by anyone in their time. Hence,
the distinction between prescriptive and descriptive passages which men like Brenner attempt to
introduce in Scripture is unwarranted and even dangerous. What if one of the NT authors was merely

.Cf. Raymond E. Brown, Responses to 101 Questions on the Bible, Q.81, p. 108.
commenting in passing on a fundamental doctrine of the Church on a particular passage and that was the
only time in the entire NT that that doctrine was mentioned. Is this not the kind of passages in Scripture
those like Brenner would love to term ‘descriptive passages’? What if some parts of the teachings of Christ
were at first only expressed in the liturgical life of the Church and were at a much later date put down in
writing? Is this not the kind of later developments that the rationalists like to see as a distortion? The fact
is that the NT documents were written by men who belong to a living historical community, the Church.
Thus, it is in that same community that the NT should be read. Joseph Ratzinger said something about this
in the preface of his book Jesus of Nazareth:
“The [scriptural] author does not speak as a private, self-contained subject. He speaks in a living
community, that is to say, in a living historical movement not created by him, nor even by the
collective, but which is led forward by a greater power that is at work…Neither the individual
books of Holy Scripture nor the Scripture as a whole are simply a piece of literature. The
Scripture emerged from within the heart of a living subject—the pilgrim People of God—and
lives within the same subject. One could say that the books of Scripture involve three
interacting subjects. First of all, there is the individual author or group of authors to whom we
owe a particular scriptural text. But these authors are not autonomous writers in the modern
sense; they form part of a collective subject, the ‘people of God,’ from within whose heart and
to whom they speak. Hence, this subject is actually the deeper ‘author’ of the Scriptures. And
yet likewise, this people does not exist alone; rather, it knows that it is led, and spoken to, by
God himself, who—through men and their humanity—is at the deepest level the one
Therefore, not only should one not read each of the books contained in the NT in isolation when
investigating a particular doctrine or practice of the Church but the books contained in the NT should be
read within the living Tradition of the Church. With this in mind, we shall examine those two NT text again
and other early Christian writing which presuppose the existence of the rite of Confirmation or at least
seem to allude to it. From these sources we shall be able to gain an insight on how that rite was
understood in the first centuries of the Church’s life.
In Acts 8:14-17 and 19:1-6 mentions were made of a rite consisting of the imposition of hands and
prayer which confers the Holy Spirit on the subject of that rite. These texts were not what introduced that
rite. The Acts of the Apostles was written between the years 70 and 90 A.D but the events which St. Luke
narrated in those two passages occurred sometime in the 30s and in the 60s. In the case of the Samarians
which event took place in the 30s of the first century, it is made clear that although Baptism have been
administered to them the Holy Spirit ‘had not yet come down on any of them; they had only been baptized
in the name of the Lord Jesus’ (8.16). There is nothing in the Acts or elsewhere in the NT or in Christian
tradition which suggest that visible signs of charism always accompany the administration of Baptism and
so the preposition cannot be made that it was because visible signs of charism did not accompany the
Baptism administered to the Samarians that was why Ss. Peter and John were sent to them. There is
nothing in the passage that suggests that the Baptism of the Church was not properly administered to
them. In fact, Ss. Peter and John who came to visit them did not re-baptize them. Therefore, it is not a
question here of the grace of Baptism. The grace of Baptism was fully received when the Samarian were
baptized by the deacon Phillip. It follows from this that the grace of the Spirit here spoken off is distinct

.Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth, forward: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, xx-xxi. He
takes up this theme again elsewhere: “We read scripture in the living community of the church, and therefore on
the basis of the fundamental decisions thanks to which it has become historically efficacious, namely, those that laid
the foundations of the church. One must not separate the text from this living context. In this sense, scripture and
tradition form an inseparable whole, and it is this that Luther, at the dawn of the awakening of historical awareness,
could not see. He believed that a text could only have one meaning, but such univocity does not exist, and modern
historiography has long since abandoned the idea.” The Essential Pope Benedict XVI, John F. Thornton and Susan B.
Varenne, p.145.
from the grace of Baptism and that it is not by Baptism itself that this grace of the Spirit is bestowed. 185
Thus, a separate rite for its reception must have been in existence then. We see Ss. Peter and John during
their visit administering such a rite to the Samarians: “Then they laid their hands upon them, and they
received the Holy Ghost.” (v.17). In Acts 19:1-6, we find another mention of the administration of that
rite. In that passage the Apostle initially took it for granted that the Ephesians he had come across with
had already become believers, i.e. members of the Church through Baptism186, and thus asked if they had
been bestowed with the gift of the Holy Spirit (“Have you received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?”
19:2a). This question would not have risen if the grace of the Spirit St. Paul had in mind here was none
other than the grace we receive when we are incorporated into the Church through Baptism. The question
clearly implies two graces, though closely associated with each other but yet distinct. The question also
indicates that in the apostolic era it was not every member of the Church that had this grace of the Spirit
bestowed upon them at the time of reception into the Church through Baptism; that some had this grace
given to them later during their encounter with one with the Apostolic Office (see already the situation
with the Samarians above, 8:14-17). Upon close inquiry St. Paul learns that this Ephesians had not even
received the Baptism of the Church. They had been baptized only with the baptism of John (19: 2b-3). But
since the Baptism of the Church is different from the baptism of John, St. Paul first had the Baptism of the
Church administered to them and, immediately after this, he then administered to these same persons
the rite for the given of the grace of the Spirit: “And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit
came on them.” (19:6a).
It is important to consider in these two events the sense in which St. Luke speak of the baptized as
having received the Holy Spirit through the rite performed by the laying on of hands. St. Luke pointed out
in the two NT books written by him that Christ promised to give His followers the Holy Spirit for the special
purpose of strengthening them in the profession of their faith: “And when they will lead you to the
synagogues, and to magistrates and authorities, do not choose to be worried about how or what you will
answer, or about what you might say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you, in the same hour, what you must
say”(Lk 12:11-12); “But you shall receive the power of the Holy Spirit, passing over you, and you shall be
witnesses for me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth.”(Acts 1:8;
see also in Jn 14:16-17; 7:38-39). In Acts 2:1-4, we are informed about the fulfillment of that promise on
the Feast of Pentecost: “And when the days of Pentecost were completed, they were all together in the
same place. And suddenly, there came a sound from heaven, like that of a wind approaching violently,
and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them separate tongues, as
if of fire, which settled upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. And they
began to speak in various languages, just as the Holy Spirit bestowed eloquence to them.” But neither did
St. Luke nor the early Church conceived that the grace of Pentecost granted through the reception of the
Holy Spirit was something peculiar to those gathered in the upper room and was never to be perpetuated
in the Church (see already Peter’s statement in Acts 2:38ff).187 It was for this purpose that the events in
Acts 8:14-17, 10:44-48 and 19:1-6 are narrated to show that the grace of Pentecost is meant to be

.For convenient sake we have here used the phrase ‘grace of the Spirit’ to designated the grace produced by this
rite, later called Confirmation, so as to differentiate it from the grace produced by Baptism. This is not to say that
the Spirit is not given at Baptism. More explanation on this would be provided later on where we would then
abandon the term ‘grace of the Spirit’ for a more unambiguous phrase ‘grace of Pentecost’ for the same purpose.
.The phrase “since ye believed” means “since you received the Baptism of the Church”; Cf. Rom 13:11: “Now our
salvation is nearer than when we believed,” i.e. than at the time of our baptism.
.“But Peter said to them: Do penance, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the
remission of your sins: and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is to you, and to your children,
and to all that are far off, whomsoever the Lord our God shall call.” (Acts 2:38-39)
perpetuated in a certain way in the Church (See also Jn 7:38-39),188and in two of those texts St. Luke points
to a rite consisting of the laying on of hands and prayer as the ordinary means used by the Church to
bestow the grace of Pentecost on future generation of believers. Thus, the impression we get from the
Acts of the Apostles is that in the 30s of the first century there was a rite already in existence that was
used by the Church to bestow the grace of Pentecost on future generation of believers (Acts 8:14-17);
that this rite was still being administered in the Church and understood in this sense in the 60s (Acts 19:1-
6); that this rite consist of the laying on of hands and prayer (8:17; 19:6); that it is distinct and separable
from the rite of Baptism but was closely connected to it (8:16; 19:2); and that only those of certain ranks
in the Church leadership can administer it (8:14; 19:6).
Now we know that the Church in this period understood the supernatural event (i.e. rebirth,
cleansing of sins, entrance into the Church) which occur during the reception of Baptism as the work of
the Spirit. There are several passages in the Pauline corpus and Johannine corpus that testifies to this (e.g.
Jn 3:5-6, I Jn 5:6-7; Tit 3:5, I Cor 6:11, 12:13; Heb 10:22). But this does not mean that the Church in that
same period could not have connected the working of the Spirit to some other rite(s) of the Church (see
already in I Cor 12:13).189 St. Luke in those two passages in the Acts was not concerned with the effect of
the Spirit during Baptism. It is the effect of the Spirit in that other rite of the Church, later called
Confirmation or Unction or Chrismation in Christian tradition, which consists of the laying on of hands and
prayer and which is administered along with Baptism that he is concerned about.190 And because the
effect of the Spirit in Baptism is indeed different from that in Confirmation and because at Confirmation
the Spirit comes to dwell in the soul of the baptized in a special way, St. Luke could say of the Samarians

.It’s like St. Luke in recollecting those events was saying ‘the grace of Pentecost is not meant only for the Jews in
Jerusalem and the people that were present in the upper room but is also meant for everyone that will embrace the
faith of the Church, whether they are living outside Jerusalem (8:14-17) or are Gentiles (10:44-48) or are coming
over from another faith which worships the living God (19:1-6). Hence, the mention of the charisms by him in each
of those events to underscore that fact. See the explicit statement of the Prince of the Apostles in Acts 15:8-9: “God,
who knoweth the hearts, gave testimony, giving unto them the Holy Ghost, as well as to us; and put no difference
between us and them.”
.Some commentators take the phrase “and in one Spirit we have all been made to drink” (I Cor 12:13b) as a
reference to the Eucharist. But there are still some both ancient and modern like the Jesuit theologian Fernand Prat
who understands that phrase as a reference to Confirmation. As he explains: “Four reasons makes us think that this
infusion of the Spirit denotes the sacrament of Confirmation: the aorist (εποτίσθημεν) indicates neither a permanent
state nor an action often repeated, but a transitory rite analogous and parallel to that of baptism.—Further, we
cannot think of baptism itself, which has just been mentioned, nor of drinking the Eucharist, which cannot be
recognized under this figure.—Paul’s words describe the formation of the mystical body: by baptism the neophyte
is grafted on to Christ, immersed in Christ, incorporated into Christ; then intervenes the Holy Spirit, the soul of the
Church, in order to infuse a new life into it; the gift of the Holy Spirit completes the incorporation of baptism—In the
Old Testament as well as in the New, the mission of the Spirit of God is usually presented under the symbol of an
outpouring, a rain, or an exhalation [Is 12:3; 32:15; 44:3; Jer 2:13; Ez 47:1; Zach 12:10; 14:8; Joel 2:28, etc.—Jn
7:39.40; Acts 2:17.18.33; Tit 3:6, etc.], and can there be a more appropriate figure than this by which to designate
the sacred rite which renews and perpetuates in the bosom of the Church the miracle of Pentecost?” The Theology
of St. Paul, Vol. II, P. 263. See also quotation from the Greek father St. John Chrysostom later. Whether the phrase
refers to the Eucharist or Confirmation, the point we are making here still stand. And it is the fact that the connection
of the Spirit to Baptism did not prevent the early Church from connecting that same Spirit to other rite(s) of the
.Even when in Acts 2:38, we read: “Yet truly, Peter said to them: ‘Do penance; and be baptized, each one of you,
in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins. And you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” The
statement ‘and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ probably refer to the effect of the Holy Spirit in
Confirmation (which as we have pointed out is closely connected to Baptism in that period) and not to the effect of
the Holy Spirit in Baptism.
prior to Ss. Peter and John visit “He [the Holy Spirit] had not yet come down on any of them; they had
only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (8:16). ‘He had not yet come down on any of them,’ i.e.
in the sense that the Holy Spirit had not yet come to dwell in their souls to effect the grace of Pentecost.191
They had received Baptism from the deacon Philip but that is not the rite by which the grace of Pentecost
is given (“they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus,” v.16b). That grace is given by
another rite of the Church consisting of prayer and imposition of hands (“they laid their hands on them,
and they received the Holy Spirit,” v.17). That is all St. Luke or those who handed down the tradition
recorded in that passage intended to point out.
St. Luke, as we have already pointed out, was not the one who invented the rite consisting of the
laying on of hands and prayer which was shown in Acts of the Apostles as conferring the grace of
Pentecost. That rite as the texts from the Acts of the Apostles themselves indicate was well known and
was already being administered in the Church even before St. Luke wrote about it. Further proof of this is
found in the Epistle to the Hebrews written by another Churchman sometime in the 60s and which
predates the composition of the Acts of the Apostle. There we read: “Therefore let us leave the
elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from
dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the
resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in
the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared
in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come…”
(Heb 6:1-5). Here a distinction between Baptism and a rite consisting of the laying on of hands is made
(“instruction about washings, the laying on of hands,” v. 2a). This laying on of hands like Baptism is
understood as something that is experienced by all the faithful in their journey of the Christian life. Thus
it cannot refer to the laying on of hands during ordination (cf. Acts 6:6; I Tim 4:14; II Tim 1:6) or during
healing (cf. Mk 6:5; 16:18; Lk 4:40; Acts 28:8; 9:12) or during reconciliation (I Tim 5:22?) as these rites are
not administered to all the faithful.192 It must be identified with that rite which Christian tradition would
later refer to as Confirmation since it is the only rite of the Church consisting of the laying on of hands
which was closely associated with Baptism in Christian antiquity and like Baptism was administered to all
the faithful.193 And although the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews did not clearly connect the
communication of the gift of the Holy Spirit with this rite as we find in Acts 8:17 and 19:6, he was not
unaware of the fact that the Church communicates the gift of the Holy Spirit to all those she embrace in
her fold (“have shared in the Holy Spirit” v. 4c). It is taken for granted that the audience of the Epistle
were already familiar with this rite considered alongside Baptism, the resurrection of the dead, and the

.In the Gospel of John it is narrated that the risen Christ breathed on the Apostles and said “Receive the Holy
Spirit.” (Jn 20:22). Yet St. Luke informs us that the risen Christ said to the Apostle: “And I am sending the Promise of
my Father upon you. But you must stay in the city, until such time as you are clothed with power from on high.” (Lk
24:49). There is no contradiction or confusion here if it is understood that the way of acting of the Holy Spirit or the
purpose for which the Holy Spirit is given in the event described in John 20:22 is different from the event that
occurred at Pentecost.
.Note how the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews in enumerating these six fundamental principles of Christian
doctrine group them in pair: the first pair, Repentance and Faith; the second pair, the doctrine of Baptism and the
Laying on of hands; and the third pair, the doctrine of the Resurrection of the dead and of eternal judgment. The
first are conditions before entry into the Messianic community, the second are rites of initiation into the messianic
community, and the third are events on the last day. No one can say that repentance and faith are not distinct acts
even though they are prerequisites for entry into the Church. So also is the Resurrection of the dead distinct from
eternal judgment although both are events of the last day. Therefore, Baptism and the laying on of hands must have
been understood as two distinct rites even though they are both performed together during initiation.
.This would be later seen.
final judgment as belonging to the fundamental principles of Christian doctrine (v.1a). Thus, the rite must
have been well known about the time this Epistle was being composed in the 60s of the first century.
Elsewhere in the First Epistle of St. John written between the years 90 to 100 A.D, we read: “You have
the anointing of the Holy One, and you know everything… let the Anointing that you have received from
him abide in you. And so, you have no need of anyone to teach you. For his Anointing teaches you about
everything, and it is the truth, and it is not a lie. And just as his Anointing has taught you, abide in him” (I
Jn 2:20.27). St. John here says his Christian audiences have an “anointing”, a term used to symbolize the
giving of the Holy Spirit. For he says the anointing “abide” in them, imparts knowledge of the truth (v. 21)
and teaches them “about everything” (v. 27b). Here we should recall the promise of Jesus to His
followers—found elsewhere in the Johannine corpus—that He would send the Paraclate, “the Spirit of
Truth” (Jn 14:17; 15:26; 16:13) who would “abide” with them “for eternity” (Jn 14:16) and would teach
them “all things” (Jn 14:26; 16:13). In the present passage from the First Epistle the Christian audiences
are reminded that they are in possession of that Spirit (“you have” “abide in you” “it has taught you”).
And although, unlike St. Luke, St. John did not mention the time of the fulfillment of the promise of the
Holy Spirit or the means by which his audience originally received the Holy Spirit, it could at least be
gathered from the First Epistle of St. John that over 60 years after the event at Pentecost the Church was
still communicating the grace of Pentecost to all she welcomes into her fold.
In some of the early documents the Christian authors spoke of members of the Church as those who
have received the gifts of the Spirit without clearly distinguishing the grace received at Baptism from the
grace received at Confirmation or without directly hinting whether it is the grace received at Baptism or
that received at Confirmation that is meant. See for example St. Clement of Rome who wrote between
the years 80 and 90 A.D: “Why are there quarrels and ill will and dissensions and schism and fighting
among you? Do we not have one God and one Christ, and one Spirit of Grace poured out upon us? And is
there not one calling in Christ? [Eph 4:4-6] Why do we wrench and tear apart the members of Christ, and
revolt against our own body, and reach such folly as to forget that we are members one of another?”194
See even in the NT documents, i.e. St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians: “And grieve not the Holy Spirit of
God: whereby you are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Eph 4:30, cf. 1:13); and the First Epistle of St.
Peter: “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests
upon you.” (I Pt 4:14)195This is understandable since in the early period both Baptism and Confirmation
were usually performed together in a single ceremony of Christian initiation (see already in Acts 19:1-6).
Thus, all who had the Sacrament of Baptism administered to them also had the Sacrament of Confirmation
administered to them. Except of course in cases where a legitimate minister for Confirmation is lacking
(see already in Acts 8:14-17). But even in such rare cases the Sacrament of Confirmation was administered
to the baptized as soon as possible when the legitimate minister is available so as to complete the process
of Christian initiation (cf. Acts 8:16-17; also see St. Paul’s question in 19:2 to the Ephesians). Thus, all who
have been made Christian in that period have received the Holy Spirit in Baptism and in Confirmation. It
is one and the same Divine Spirit that is received in those two distinct rites administered together even
though the way of acting of that Spirit in one rite is different from the way of acting of that same Spirit in
the other rite. Hence, the general statements that Christians are in possession of the Spirit which are made
by Christian authors of this period cannot and should not be understood as reference to the reception of
the Divine Spirit during Baptism to the exclusion of Confirmation or vice versa. The fact that the two
Sacraments were conferred together may also be a contributing factor to the reason why we do not often
find Christian authors in this period making any explicit mention of Confirmation as distinct from Baptism.
However, a theology of the Sacrament of Confirmation began to take shape as early as the second half of

.St. Clement of Rome, Letter to the Corinthians, 46, 5-7.
. Compare with Christ words to His disciples in Mt 10:19-20; Lk 12:11-12 where it is stated that one of the roles
of the Holy Spirit which would be bestowed upon them is to strengthen them in the face of trail.
the second century when theologians of the Church began to reflect on the nature of this rite, its effect,
and its relation to Baptism. Thus, Tertullian, in his treatise on Baptism written between the years 200 A.D
and 206 A.D says: “Then, leaving the bath we are anointed all over with blessed unction according to the
primitive practice by which priests were wont to be anointed with olive oil from a horn. This custom
obtained ever since Aaron was anointed by Moses, whence he is called ‘anointed’ from the chrism, which
is anointing. This adapted the name to the Lord, when it became spiritual. For He was anointed with the
spirit by God the Father, as is stated in Acts: ‘For they were really gathered together in this city against
Thy holy Son, whom Thou didst anoint.’ So also in us the anointing takes its course in a material sense,
but it confers spiritual benefit, just as also the material act of Baptism itself, the fact that we are sunk in
the water, becomes spiritual, in that we are freed from our sins. Thereafter, a hand is laid on us by way of
blessing, summoning and inviting the Holy Spirit.”196 Earlier on in the same treatise Tertullian had said: “I
do not mean to say that we obtain the Holy Spirit in the water, but having been cleansed in the water, we
are being prepared under the angel for the Holy Spirit.”197 Again, in another treatise written between the
years 208 and 212 where he names the following initiation rites: “No soul whatever is able to obtain
salvation unless it has believed while it was in the flesh. Indeed, the flesh is the hinge of salvation…The
flesh, then, is washed [baptism] so that the soul may be made clean. The flesh is anointed so that the soul
may be dedicated to holiness. The flesh is signed so that the soul may be fortified. The flesh is shaded by
the imposition of hands [confirmation] so that the soul may be illuminated by the Spirit. The flesh feeds
on the body and blood of Christ [the Eucharist] so that the soul too may feed on God. They cannot, then,
be separated in their reward, when they are united in their works.”198 Tertullian clearly distinguishes
Baptism from the laying on of hands. He is likewise clear that the Holy Spirit is given through the laying on
of hands and prayer.
There are some who have found Tertullian theology here a bit confusing because, according to these
men, he seems to deny that the Spirit is received in Baptism. But those who hold on to such views about
Tertullian are not being fair to him.199 For Tertullian the rebirth of man takes place through Baptism:
“Happy mystery of our water, because the sins of our former blindness are washed away and we are freed
for everlasting life!...we little fish, like our Fish Jesus Christ, are born in water, and it is only by remaining
in water that we are safe”200; “Once and once only, therefore, we enter the bath, once for all are sins
washed away, because they must not be repeated…Happy water, which once for all cleanses, which is not
a sport for sinners, which not being stained by continual experience of filth, does not stain again those
whom it washes!”201He nowhere ascribes the rebirth to the laying on of hands but only to Baptism. But
the rebirth is the work of the Holy Spirit.202 Thus, from Tertullian’s theology it can be deduced that the
Holy Spirit is received during Baptism. But he understands the working of the Spirit in the rite of the laying
on of hands to be of a special kind, different from that received at Baptism. Hence, the form of expression

.Tertullian, On Baptism, 7-8.
.Ibid, 6.
.Tertullian, The Resurrection of the Dead, 8, 2-3.
.These men fail to perceive that the same Spirit can be conceived as working in various ways. Their thinking is
that the means used to convey the Holy Spirit is either Baptism or Confirmation. Thus, they find it confusing when
an early Church author on one occasion attest that the Spirit is given in Baptism, and on another occasion that the
same Spirit is conferred through Confirmational imposition of hands.
.Tertullian, On Baptism, 1
.Ibid, 15.
.The present author is fully aware that quite a few numbers of ancient authors understood the statement in Jn
3:5 as referring not only to Baptism but to Baptism and Confirmation which in those times were celebrated together.
These ancient authors sometimes speak of Christian being born in these two Sacraments but by this they do not
mean to deny the fact that Baptism is the work of the Spirit or that these rites are separable. See below the train of
thoughts of some of authors during the Baptism controversy in the third century.
in the sixth chapter of the treatise On Baptism (see above), which is somewhat similar to that earlier
encounter in Acts 8:16. Such form of expression used to explain the difference between Baptism and the
laying on of hands in the early years of the life of the Church can also be found in the letter of Pope St.
Cornelius to bishop Fabius of Antioch written in the year 251 where the following complain was made
about Novatian: “As [Novatian] seemed about to die, he received Baptism in the bed where he lay, by
pouring—if, indeed such a man can be said to have received it at all. And when he recovered from his
illness he did not receive the other things which, in accord with the law of the Church, it is necessary to
have; nor was he sealed by the Bishop. And since this was not done, how could he have the Holy Spirit?”203
Here we should remember that those who had been baptized in illness (i.e. clinical Baptism) were
considered in those times as unfit for the clerical state. But the method in which such persons received
Baptism (i.e. infusion or aspersion) was recognized as valid. This is evident in the fact that such persons
were never re-baptized and there is no evidence in Christian antiquity of anyone raising the argument
that Baptism should be repeated for such persons when they recover from their illness. But from St.
Cornelius statement we can see that although Baptism and Confirmation were usually conferred together,
in cases where the candidate for Baptism was seriously ill Baptism could separately be conferred (certainly
by a Presbyter or even a layman) on the candidate as a matter of urgency and if it so happens that he/she
later recovers from that illness it was necessary that such person receives Confirmation which was
administered by the bishop.
St. Hippolytus of Rome, who wrote before St. Cornelius, also attests to the Roman view on this point.
In his Commentary on Daniel written about 204 A.D, St. Hippolytus says:
“’And she said to her maids, Bring me oil.’[Dan 13:17; or in LXX, Sus 1:17] Indeed, faith and love
prepare oil and cleansing unguents for those who are washed. But what were these unguents
if not the commands of the Holy Word? And what was the oil, if not the power of the Holy
Spirit? It is with these, after the washing [i.e. Baptism], that believers are anointed as with a
sweet-smelling oil. All these things were prefigured through the blessed Susanna for our sakes,
so that we of the present time who believe in God, might not regard as strange the things which
now are done in the Church, and that we might believe that all of them have been set forth in
figures by the patriarchs of old, as the apostle also says: ‘Now these things happened unto
them for ensamples: and they were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the world
are come.’”204
Hippolytus here connects an anointing after Baptism with the working of the Spirit. That this
anointing was accompanied by an imposition of hands can be seen elsewhere in another work, his Church
order written around 215 A.D, where Hippolytus provides a more detailed report on the rite of
Confirmation. He informs us that after Baptism the individual “is anointed with the consecrated oil; and
the presbyter says: ‘I anoint you with the holy oil in the name of Jesus Christ.’ And so each one then drys
himself; and immediately they put on their cloths. Then they come into the church. The bishop, imposing
his hand on them, shall make an invocation, saying, ‘O Lord God, who made them worthy of the remission
of sins through the Holy Spirit’s washing unto rebirth, send into them your grace so that they may serve
you according to your will, for there is glory to you, to the Father and the Son with the Holy Spirit, in the
holy Church, both now and through the ages of ages. Amen.’ Then, pouring the consecrated oil into his
hand and imposing it on the head of the baptized, he shall say, ‘I anoint you with holy oil in the Lord, the
Father Almighty, and Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit.’ Signing them on the forehead, he shall kiss them
and say, ‘The Lord be with you.’ He that has been signed shall say, ‘And with your spirit.’ Thus shall he do
to each.”205

.St. Cornelius of Rome, Letter to Fabius of Antioch, fragment in Eusebius’ History of the Church, 6, 43, 14-15.
.St. Hippolytus, Commentary on Daniel, 6, 18.
.Ibid, Apostolic Tradition, 21, 19-24.
The passages from the fathers which we have quoted so far shows that at the time these men wrote
apart from the imposition of hands and prayer, the Sacrament of Confirmation was understood as also
consisting of an anointing with Chrism, a special perfumed oil. The gesture of the anointing with Chrism
no doubt was meant to symbolize the fact that by means of this sacrament (i.e. Confirmation) the Holy
Spirit is communicated to the individual.206 According to the Gospel tradition, after Jesus was baptized in
the Jordan, He experienced the Holy Spirit descending upon Him in the form of a dove (cf. Mt 3:16; Mk
1:10; Lk 3:21-22). In St. Peter’s description of this event found in the Acts of the Apostles, the descent of
the Holy Spirit on Christ is spoken of as an ‘anointing’: “For beginning from Galilee, after the baptism
which John preached, Jesus of Nazareth, whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power,
traveled around doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil. For God was with him” (Acts
10:37-38). The text from Acts and the use of ‘anointing’ as a metaphor for the giving of the Holy Spirit has
an OT background. In the book of Isaias we read concerning the coming Messiah: “The Spirit of the Lord
is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me” (Is 61:1; cf. 11:1-2). In the Gospel of Luke, also written by the
author of the Acts of the Apostles, the words of the prophet Isaias were explained as a reference to Jesus
(Lk 4:18-21). But it is also foretold in the OT that the Spirit of God would be communicated to all the
messianic people (cf. Joel 2:28f; Is 44:3-5; Ez 36:25-27; 39:29). In the Acts of the Apostles, we find St. Peter
interpreting the outpour of the Holy Spirit which they, the believing community of the Messiah,
experienced on the day of Pentecost as the fulfillment of such OT promises (Acts 2:17:18 the prophecy of
Joel is explicitly cited). Thus, it is not surprising that the oil of anointing would become an element of the
rite by which the grace of Pentecost is perpetuated. Has it been so always and everywhere? Certain NT
texts demonstrate that the sacred rite which perpetuates in the Church the grace of Pentecost consist of
the laying on of hands and prayer (see Acts 8:14-17; 19:1-6; Heb 6:2). There is in them no explicit mention
of an anointing with chrism as a constituent part of that sacred rite. But, it has been argued that it is
possible the metaphorical use of the term unction or anointing in the NT to underline the fact that
Christians are in possession of the Spirit (see I Jn 2:20. 27; 2 Cor 1:21) and the language/choice of those
Biblical texts cited above, could have been influenced by an actual usage of the oil of anointing in the
liturgical celebration of Confirmation. To be sure, this argument can be made the other way as well. Thus,
it may, with equal probability, be argued that the existence of these metaphorical terms in the NT
suggested, and rendered easy, the introduction of a literal rite of anointing at a very early date in the
history of the Church.207Whatever the case may have been we know from the apologetic work titled To
Autolycus written in the year 181 A.D by St. Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch, that the use of material oil in
the initiatory ceremony of the Church was already in vogue in his time:
“And about your laughing at me and calling me ‘Christian,’ you know not what you are saying.
First, because that which is anointed is sweet and serviceable, and far from contemptible. For

.Chrism or Myron is a mixture of oil of olives and balsam, a fragrant ointment extracted from certain trees.
Anointing with oil of olives was a common ceremony in the Old law for the consecration of priests and the coronation
of kings. Balsam was used to preserve from corruption whatever was anointed with it. We can see how suitable that
these two ingredients should be used in the anointing of confirmation. Oil of olives is used as a food and also as a
healing and strengthening ointment. It spreads over and penetrates anything to which it is applied. It therefore aptly
signifies the inward effect of the Holy Spirit on our souls, filling and strengthening them with grace, The balsam
signifies the sweetness of virtue which flows from grace and the power of the sacrament to preserve our souls from
.Pope John Paul II of blessed memory, says: “Since apostolic times the full communication of the gift of the Holy
Spirit to the baptized has been effectively signified by the laying on of hands. An anointing with perfumed oil, called
‘chrism’, was added very early, the better to express the gift of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, through Confirmation
Christians, consecrated by the anointing in Baptism, share in the fullness of the Spirit with whom Jesus is filled, so
that their whole life will spread the ‘aroma of Christ’ (2 Cor 2:15).” The Holy Spirit and the Sacrament of Confirmation,
3 (September 30, 1998).
what ship can be serviceable and seaworthy, unless it be first caulked [anointed]? Or what
castle or house is beautiful and serviceable when it has not been anointed? And what man,
when he enters into this life or into the gymnasium, is not anointed with oil? And what work
has either ornament or beauty unless it be anointed and burnished? Then the air and all that
is under heaven is in a certain sort anointed by light and spirit; and are you unwilling to be
anointed with the oil of God? Wherefore we are called Christians on this account, because we
are anointed with the oil of God."208
And when other Churchmen, like Tertullian and St. Hippolytus, that are contemporaries of St.
Theophilus, clearly made mention of it in the context of Confirmation their testimonies demonstrate that
the use of oil of anointing in the context of Confirmation was already an old aged custom in the second
half of the second century.
In the the Didascalia Apostolorum, a Church order which originated from Syria and which was written
in the first decades of the third century, we find the following exhortation to the faithful:
“For what hope at all is there for him who speaks evil of the bishop, or of the deacon? For if
one call a layman ‘fool, or raca, he is liable to the assembly’ [Mt 5:22], as one of those who rise
up against Christ: because that he calls 'empty' his brother in whom Christ dwells, who is not
empty but fulfilled; or (calls) him 'fool' in whom dwells the Holy Spirit of God, fulfilled with all
wisdom: as though he should become a fool by the very Spirit that dwells in him! If then one
who should say any of these things to a layman is found to fall under so great condemnation,
how much more if he should dare to say aught against the deacon, or against the bishop,
through whom the Lord gave you the Holy Spirit, and through whom you have learned the
word and have known God, and through whom you have been known of God [cf. Gal 4.9], and
through whom you were sealed [cf. Eph 1:13; 4:30], and through whom you became sons of
the light [cf. Jn 12:36; I Thess 5:5], and through whom the Lord in baptism, by the imposition
of hand of the bishop, bore witness to each one of you and uttered His holy voice, saying: ‘Thou
art my son: this day have begotten thee’ [Ps 2:7 (Lk 3:22)]”209
The above text shows that the Syrian tradition knows of an imposition of the bishop’s hands which
was closely connected with Baptism. The author elsewhere associates an anointing with an imposition of
hands when describing the role of a deaconess in Christian initiation:
“Wherefore, O bishop, appoint thee workers of righteousness as helpers who may co-operate
with thee unto salvation. Those that please thee out of all the people thou shalt choose and
appoint as deacons: a man for the performance of the most things that are required, but a
woman for the ministry of women. For there are houses whither thou canst not send a deacon
to the women, on account of the heathen, but mayest send a deaconess. Also, because in many
other matters the office of a woman deacon is required. In the first place, when women go
down into the water, those who go down into the water ought to be anointed by a deaconess
with the oil of anointing; and where there is no woman at hand, and especially no deaconess,
he who baptizes must of necessity anoint her who is being baptized. But where there is a
woman, and especially a deaconess, it is not fitting that women should be seen by men: but
with the imposition of hand do thou anoint the head only. As of old the priests and kings were
anointed in Israel, do thou in like manner, with the imposition of hand, anoint the head of those
who receive baptism, whether of men or of women; and afterwards—whether thou thyself
baptize, or thou command the deacons or presbyters to baptize—let a woman deacon, as we
have already said, anoint the women. But let a man pronounce over them the invocation of the
divine Names in the water. And when she who is being baptized has come up from the water,
let the deaconess receive her, and teach and instruct her how the seal of baptism ought to be
(kept) unbroken in purity and holiness. For this cause we say that the ministry of a woman
deacon is especially needful and important.”210

.St. Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus, 1, 12.
.Didascalia, II, 32.
.Didascalia, III, 12.
It has been argued by some scholars that the sequence here is: anointing/imposition of hands,
washing with water, Eucharist. But the text is far from being unambiguous on this matter. Should ‘in the
first place’ be understood as meaning ‘before the washing with water’ or should it be read in conjunction
with the preceding statement (‘because in many other matters the office of a woman deacon is required’)
and thus be understood as meaning ‘the foremost reason’ why the office of a deaconess is required? The
later seems to me the most likely.211 Hence, the author, after elaborating on the role which a deaconess
plays during the Baptism of women, could say: ‘For this cause we say that the ministry of a woman deacon
is especially needful and important.’ Another point that is not too clear is whether the statement ‘let a
man pronounce over them the invocation of the divine Names in the water,’ refers to the pronouncement
of the Trinitarian baptismal formula or to the prayer said during the anointing with oil which include an
invocation of the Trinity. We know from other documents which dates from this period that the prayer
said during the anointing with oil in the context of Christian initiation included an invocation of the divine
names. See, the passage from St. Hippolytus cited above. Also see, the Acts of Thomas: “And the apostle
took the oil and pouring it on their heads anointed and chrismed them, and began to say: ‘Come, holy
name of Christ that is above ever name…Come, Holy Spirit, and purify their reins and their heart. And give
them the added seal in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit.”212 For me I feel that the author
in that statement was not referring to the pronouncement of the Baptismal formula but to the prayer said
during the anointing with oil. He takes it for granted that the ordinary ministers of the rites of the Church
are male members of the clergy. But he argues that females, like males, should be appointed to assist the
bishop in his pastoral duties. One area where he finds the usefulness of females in assisting the bishop is
during the celebration of Christian initiation. In a case where the candidate for baptism was a woman, the
author advice that deaconess should for modesty’s sake be allowed to carry out part of the anointing
which occurred in the Baptismal pool (‘it is not fitting that women should be seen by men’). But even in
such cases, he still maintains that the prescribed prayer for the anointing should be said by a male. Those
who argue that that statement refers to the pronouncement of the baptismal formula fail to observe that
the discussion was never about the washing with water in the baptismal pool but the anointing with oil in
the baptismal pool. Unlike the anointing with oil, the author nowhere allowed that women including
deaconess could perform the act of washing with water.213How could it then be assumed that he was
clarifying that the forms of words (baptismal formula) said during the application of the water should be
recited by a male person alone when he had not in the first instance implied that the application of the
water can be performed by a female person? The application of the water and the Baptismal formula go
hand in hand. It is the same minister who does both—he recites the baptismal formula as he is applying
the water on the whole body of the candidate. Confusion on who would recite the baptismal formula
would only have risen if it was suggested or in any way implied that the application of the water on the
body of the candidate should and can be done by two different persons. But the author of the Didascalia
nowhere implied this in the case of the washing with water. It was in the case of the anointing with oil

.The author’s purpose in the entire passage was to present a case for the usefulness of a deaconess in the service
of the Church.
.Acts of Thomas, 27.
.Elsewhere the author disapproves of the practice of women baptizing: “That a woman should baptize, or that
one should be baptized by a woman, we do not counsel, for it is a transgression of the commandment, and a great
peril to her who baptizes and to him who is baptized. For if it were lawful to be baptized by a woman, our Lord and
Teacher Himself would have been baptized by Mary His mother, whereas He was baptized by John, like others of the
people. Do not therefore imperil yourselves, brethren and sisters, by acting beside the law of the Gospel.” Didascalia,
III, 9.
that he did suggest such. Hence the need for clarifying that the prayer which accompanies the anointing
should be said by male ministers still.214
Now, if one looks back at that passage with the position we have adopted the following
understanding of that passage would be arrived at: That the author in this instance was speaking of one
anointing with oil. This anointing was usually performed by male ministers of the Church in the baptismal
water. But in a situation where the candidate for Baptism was a woman, the male minister still performs
this anointing on the woman (‘he who baptizes must of necessity anoint her who is being baptized’) but
only now he anoints the head only (‘with the imposition of hand do thou anoint the head only’) and the
completion of the anointing on the rest of the naked body was left for the deaconess (‘and afterwards…
let a woman deacon, as we have already said, anoint the women) for the sake of modesty (‘it is not fitting
that women should be seen by men’).215 But even in such situation, a deaconess was not allowed to offer
the prescribed prayers said during the anointing. This was the privilege of male ministers alone.216
Whether this one anointing the author was concerned about precedes the washing with water or was
done immediately after the washing with water we cannot tell from the present text (There could even
have been another anointing which is not related to the role of deaconess and so the author did not make
mention of it).217 What is clear is that this anointing like the washing occurs in the water.218 Again, the
author connects this anointing with the washing in such a way that it is hard to determine whether the
anointing was simply part of the baptismal rite or whether it constitutes a separate sacrament. Again, it
seems that in the Syrian tradition no small importance was placed on the imposition of hand associated

. See Theodore of Mopsuestia statement a century later: “After you have taken off your garments, you are rightly
anointed all over your body with the holy Chrism…While you are receiving this anointing, the one who has been
found worthy of the honour of priesthood begins and says: ‘So-and-so is anointed in the name of the Father, and of
the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ And then the persons appointed for this service anoint all your body.”(Catechetical
Homilies) Note ‘While you are receiving this anointing, the one who has been found worthy of the honour of
priesthood begins and says.’ This indicates that the anointing on the whole body could be done by another minister
but the prayer which accompanies such anointing is reserved for ‘one who has been found worthy of the honour of
.We should remember that in early period the candidates for Baptism were usually naked inside the baptismal
pool, a symbolism which highlights the fact that in the baptismal waters the baptizand is stripped off the old man
and puts on the new (cf. Col 3:9f).
.It seems to me that in the earliest times the performance of this anointing in the baptismal pool was the privilege
of the bishop alone. But in later times the task of anointing the whole body was delegated to either a presbyter or a
deacon while the anointing on the forehead was reserved for the bishop. It was this later change that gave rise to
the preposition that the same privilege should be extended to deaconess in a situation where the candidate for
Baptism was a woman. The author of the Didascalia supports this standpoint.
.Theodore of Mopsuestia mentions two anointing, pre-baptismal anointing and post-baptismal anointing, in his
Catechetical Homilies (see below) and he connects the later with the gift of the Holy Spirit. The pre-baptismal
anointing in Theodore is similar to that which the author of the Didascalia was here discussing. The tradition
presented by Theodore is quite reconcilable with that presented by the author of the Didascalia.
.A sequence cannot be deduced from the following statement: “do thou in like manner, with the imposition of
hand, anoint the head of those who receive baptism, whether of men or of women; and afterwards—whether thou
thyself baptize, or thou command the deacons or presbyters to baptize—let a woman deacon, as we have already
said, anoint the women.” The point of discussion here is that the bishop should anoint the head of the candidate of
Baptism in regardless of the sex and the completion of this anointing should be left for the deaconess in a case where
the candidate was a woman. The statement ‘whether thou thyself baptize, or thou command the deacons or
presbyters to baptize,’ was merely introduced to stress the fact that this should be the rule even when the bishop
delegates the act of washing with water to other male ministers. ‘With the imposition of hand, anoint the head of
those who receive baptism’—this only highlights the fact that the imposition of hand was connected with the
anointing and that both actions was the privilege of the bishop. Whether the washing comes before or after these
acts (i.e. the anointing and the imposition of hand) is not clear.
with Baptism since it was distinctively referred to as ‘the imposition of hand of the bishop’: “through
whom the Lord in baptism, by the imposition of hand of the bishop.” The fact that it was so named also
seems to imply that it was performed by the bishop alone and was considered as a rite distinct from the
washing with water. But should we identify this imposition of hand which accompanied Baptism with the
imposition of hand which accompanied the anointing in water or were there two impositions of hands?219
This is quite difficult to tell from the present text. All we could safely say is that there was an imposition
of hands connected with the one anointing the author chose to discuss about in relation with the
deaconess. Whether it was the same with that connected to the bishop we cannot tell. However, one
could see that the tradition represented by the Didascalia like other traditions we have considered so far
had an imposition of hands that was closely connected with Baptism just as is found in the Acts of the
Apostles but whether or not the tradition represented by the Didascalia vary from those other traditions
in performing the imposition of hand before the washing220and not after it, is a question that cannot be
answered from the present text. Also, we cannot tell from the present text the significance which was
ascribed to the imposition of hands. However, from the first text which we cited from the Didascalia, the
imparting of the Holy Spirit was connected with a sacramental action performed by the bishop: “the
bishop, through whom the Lord gave you the Holy Spirit”. The same thought was again expressed by the
author a few lines away: “Wherefore, O man, know thy bishops, through whom thou wast made a son of
God, and the right hand, thy mother; and love him who is become, after God, thy father and thy mother:
for ‘whosoever shall revile his father or his mother, shall die the death’ [Ex 21:17; Mt 15:4]. But do you
honour the bishops, who have loosed you from sins, who by the water regenerated you, who filled you
with the Holy Spirit, who reared you with the word as with milk, who bred you up with doctrine, who
confirmed you with admonition, and made you to partake of the holy Eucharist of God, and made you
partakers and joint heirs of the promise of God.”221 We can here discern the sacramental acts in Christian
initiation as understood in other traditions: Baptism (‘who by the water regenerated you’); Confirmation
(‘who filled you with the Holy Spirit’); and Eucharist (‘made you to partake of the holy Eucharist of God’).
But whether the author of the Didascalia had already taken time to reflect on this matter like his
contemporaries had done and thus understood confirmation as a separate Sacrament, we cannot tell.
Origen, the great Alexandrian Ecclesiastical writer, in his Commentaries on Romans written after 244
A.D., says: “All of us may be baptized in the visible water and in a visible anointing, in accordance with the
form handed down to the Churches.”222This passage shows that Origen was aware of an anointing that
was closely connected with Baptism. Elsewhere in his Homilies on Leviticus, he comments:
“Moreover, see that here in the fifth purification flour is not taken, but this one who is cleansed
from sins already has ‘fine wheat flour.’ ‘Fine wheat flour’ is ascribed to him, whence he already
has a clean loaf and this ‘is covered with oil.’ But his ‘oil’ is also separated into two uses: one
with which ‘the fine wheat flour is covered’; the other from which the priest takes ‘a full
measure of the measure,’ [Lev 14:10] as it said. In this, as I perceive, his loaf is made fat for
mercy and the oil, with which true light and the fire of knowledge are lit, ‘is poured on his head
by the hand of the priest.’ [Cf. Lev 14:18] For thus it says, ‘And the priest who cleanses him will
establish him in the sight of the Lord at the door of the Tent of Witness.’[Lev 14:11] See that it
is for the priest ‘to establish’ the one who is converted from sin so that he can be steadfast and
not waver further nor ‘be moved by every wind of doctrine.’ [Cf. Eph 4:14] Therefore, he
established him not only within the camp but ‘at the door itself of the Tent of Witness before

.See comments in 52 above. Also see text from Theodore and the Apostolic Constitution below.
.Some have suggested that Acts 10:44-48—where the gift of the Holy Spirit precedes and leads to Baptism—is an
earlier form of such tradition. But as we shall show later even that text suggest that in the normal sequence of things
the bestowal of the Holy Spirit comes after the baptismal bath.
.Didascalia, II, 33.
.Origen, Commentaries on Romans, 5, 8, 3.
the Lord.’ And, according to the things which were said above, after the offerings for
purification are offered, it says, he also brings ‘a measure of oil’ and divides that ‘before the
lord.’ [Cf. Lev 14:10-11] ‘And the priest will take some of the blood and will place it upon the
end of his right ear and on the end of his right hand and on the end of his right foot.’ [Lev 14:14]
And after this, it says ‘the priest will take’ not the ladle itself of oil, but ‘from’ it and ‘will pour
it into his left hand, and the priest will dip his finger in the oil that is in his left hand, and he will
sprinkle it seven times before the Lord.’ [Lev 14:15-16] And again, ‘From what remains in his
left hand, he will place some upon the right ear of him who is cleansed and upon the end of his
right hand and upon the end of his right foot.’ [Lev 14:17] And next, ‘what was left from the oil,
the priest will place from his hand upon the head of the one who is cleansed.’[Lev 14:18] You
see how by the last and highest purification the ear is to be purified that the hearing may be
kept pure and clean; and the right hand, that our works may be clean and nothing unclean and
sordid mixed with these. But ‘the feet’ must also be purified that they may be directed only to
a good work and not commit farther the lapses of youth. Moreover, ‘the priest sprinkles some
of the oil before the Lord seven times.’[Cf. Lev 14:16] For after all these rites which were
celebrated for purification, after he was converted and reconciled to God, after the sacrifices
of offerings, the order was that he call the sevenfold virtue of the Holy Spirit upon him, as he
said, ‘Return to me the joy of your salvation and strengthen me with a princely spirit.’ [Ps 50:14]
Or at least since the Lord in the gospel testifies that the hearts of sinners are besieged by ‘seven
demons,’[Lk 11:26] ‘the priest’ appropriately ‘sprinkles seven times before the Lord’ in
purification that the expulsion ‘of the seven evil spirits’ from the heart of the person purified
may be shown by ‘the oil shaken seven times from the fingers.’ Thus therefore, to those
converted from sin, purification is indeed given through all this which we said above, but the
gift of the grace of the Spirit is designated through the image of ‘oil’ that this one who is
converted from sin, not only can attain cleansing but also be filled with the Holy Spirit by whom
he can receive the best ‘robe and ring’[Cf. Lk 15:22] and, having been reconciled with the
Father, can be restored to the place of a son, through our Lord Jesus Christ himself, ‘to whom
is glory and power forever and ever. Amen.’ [Cf. I Pt 4:11; Apoc 1:6]” 223
One can deduce from the imagery in the above passage that Origen was familiar with a rite of
anointing performed immediately after Baptism, and that he attributes to this rite the gift of the Holy
Spirit. Its seems that this rite in the Alexandrian tradition also consist of an imposition of hands because
in dealing with the texts from the Acts of the Apostles he interpreted it as implying that the Holy Spirit
was conferred through the imposition of hands after Baptism: “The Holy Spirit was bestowed through the
laying on of the apostles’ hands after the grace and renewal of baptism.”224Again: “Philip baptized in water
those being regenerated from water and the Holy Spirit, but Peter [baptized] in the Holy Spirit.”225
St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, writing between the years 254 and 256 assert that the laying on of
hand, i.e. Confirmation, confers the Holy Spirit:
“Some, however, say in regard to those who were baptized in Samaria, that when the apostles
Peter and John came there only hands were imposed on them so that they might receive the
Holy Spirit, and that they were not, however, re-baptized. But we see, dearest brother, that
this situation in no way pertains to the present case. Those in Samaria who had believed had
believed in the true faith, and it was by the deacon Philip, whom those same apostles had sent
there, that they had been baptized inside, in the Church, which is one, and in which alone it is
permitted to give the grace of Baptism and to absolve sins. For the reason, then, they had
already received a legitimate and ecclesiastical baptism, it was not necessary to baptize them

.Ibid, Homilies on Leviticus, 8, 11, 11-15.
.Ibid, First Principles, 1, 3, 7. See also 1, 3, 2: “Through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was
given in Baptism.” On Matthew, frag. 52 on Mt 3:13: “The one baptizing is not always superior to the one being
baptized. Ananias was not superior to Paul, and although Philip baptized, Peter gave the Holy Spirit through the
laying on of hand.” Cf. Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church, P. 427.
.Ibid, Commentary on I Corinthians 1:17.Cf. Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church, P. 408.
again. Rather, that only which was lacking was done by Peter and John. The prayer having been
made over them and hands having been imposed upon them, the Holy Spirit was invoked and
was poured out upon them. This is even now the practice among us, so that those who are
baptized in the Church then are brought to the prelates of the Church; and through our prayer
and the imposition of hands, they receive the Holy Spirit and are perfected with the seal of the
Here we find earlier strands of the teaching that the effect of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation is the
perfection of the supernatural life. Elsewhere in another letter: “[A]re not hands, in the name of the same
Christ, laid upon the baptized persons among them, for the reception of the Holy Spirit?”227Again: “[O]ne
is not born by the imposition of hands when he receives the Holy Ghost, but in baptism, that so, being
already born, he may receive the Holy Spirit, even as it happened in the first man Adam. For first God
formed him, and then breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. For the Spirit cannot be received, unless
he who receives first has an existence. But . . . the birth of Christians is in baptism.”228Here St. Cyprian
distinguishes Baptism from Confirmation. It is the former and not the latter that effects the rebirth into
the supernatural life. This passage should not be interpreted in an exclusive sense as denying the fact that
the Holy Spirit is received in Baptism. Rather, that passage demonstrates that St. Cyprian understood the
working of the Spirit in Confirmation to be different from that received at Baptism. See, his treatise to
Donatus, which demonstrates that St. Cyprian, understood that it is the Holy Spirit which effects the
rebirth in Baptism: “But afterwards, when the stain of my past life had been washed away by means of
the water of re-birth, a light from above poured itself upon my chastened and now pure heart: afterwards
through the Spirit which is breath from heaven, a second birth made of me a new man…Thus it had to be
acknowledge that what was of the earth and was born of the flesh and had lived submissive to sins, had
now begun to be of God, inasmuch as the Holy Spirit was animating it.”229
That there was a firm conviction that the imposition of hands which accompany Baptism was
separable and distinct from it can be seen from the controversy over the Rebaptism of heretics which
ensued in this period. Two letters, both dating from the year 255 A.D, were written by Pope St. Stephen
in the course of this controversy. The first to the Bishops of Asia minor threatened to excommunicate
those who re-baptize converts from heresy. The second to St. Cyprian of Carthage dealt with the same
question. The African hierarchy under the guidance of St. Cyprian held the sacrament invalid, if
administered by dissidents, and insisted upon re-conferring it upon converts. St. Stephen repudiates this
stand in the strongest terms as erroneous and against the faith, and declared that those baptized by
heretics were obliged merely to submit to penance. His words in this regard were: “If, therefore, someone
comes to you from any heresy whatsoever, let nothing be renewed except that which has been handed
down, namely, that hand be imposed on him in penance.”230Note St. Stephen did not say ‘the imposition
of hands…for the receiving of the Holy Spirit,” but rather, “let nothing be renewed except…that the hand
is to be imposed on him in penance.” Thus, St. Stephen not only does not advise repetition of
Confirmational imposition of hands but expressly forbids it by forbidding that anything of the baptismal
rite (remember Confirmation was closely connected with Baptism in this period) be renewed, while at the
same time he orders the penitential imposition of hands for reconciliation. However, this matter of
imposition of hands was then misunderstood by some of his contemporaries. Some, not thinking of the
imposition of hands which was part of the penitential rite but that which was part of the rite of
Confirmation, understood St. Stephen as implying that the imposition of hands which accompanied
Baptism was to be renewed while Baptism itself was not to be renewed. This misunderstanding would not

.St. Cyprian, Letter, 73 [72], 9.
.Ibid, 74[73], 5.
.Ibid, 74 [73], 7.
.ibid, On Donatus 4.
.St. Stephen of Rome, Letter to St. Cyprian of Carthage, fragment in St. Cyprian’s letters 74 [73], 1.
have occurred if there was not already in this period a firm belief that Baptism and the imposition of hands
which accompanied it are two separate and distinct Sacraments. See, for example, St. Cyprian statement
in the letter which he wrote against St. Stephen:
“Or if they attribute the effect of baptism to the majesty of the name, so that they who
are baptized anywhere and anyhow, in the name of Jesus Christ, are judged to be renewed and
sanctified; wherefore, in the name of the same Christ, are not hands laid upon
the baptized persons among them, for the reception of the Holy Spirit? Why does not the same
majesty of the same name avail in the imposition of hands, which, they contend, availed in the
sanctification of baptism? For if any one born out of the Church can become God's temple, why
cannot the Holy Spirit also be poured out upon the temple? For he who has been sanctified,
his sins being put away in baptism, and has been spiritually reformed into a new man, has
become fitted for receiving the Holy Spirit; since the apostle says, As many of you as have
been baptized into Christ have put on Christ [Gal 3:27]. He who, having been baptized among
the heretics, is able to put on Christ, may much more receive the Holy Spirit whom Christ sent.
Otherwise He who is sent will be greater than Him who sends; so that one baptized without
may begin indeed to put on Christ, but not to be able to receive the Holy Spirit, as if Christ could
either be put on without the Spirit, or the Spirit be separated from Christ. Moreover, it is silly
to say, that although the second birth is spiritual, by which we are born in Christ through the
layer of regeneration, one may be born spiritually among the heretics, where they say that
the Spirit is not. For water alone is not able to cleanse away sins, and to sanctify a man, unless
he have also the Holy Spirit. Wherefore it is necessary that they should grant the Holy Spirit to
be there, where they say that baptism is; or else there is no baptism where the Holy Spirit is
not, because there cannot be baptism without the Spirit.231”
Also, see Firmilian of Caesarea statement in the letter he wrote against St. Stephen in the year 255
“And as Stephen and those who agree with him contend that putting away of sins and second
birth may result from the baptism of heretics, among whom they themselves confess that
the Holy Spirit is not; let them consider and understand that spiritual birth cannot be without
the Spirit; in conformity with which also the blessed Apostle Paul baptized anew with
a spiritual baptism those who had already been baptized by John before the Holy Spirit had
been sent by the Lord, and so laid hands on them that they might receive the Holy Ghost. But
what kind of a thing is it, that when we see that Paul,
after John's baptism, baptized his disciples again, we are hesitating to baptize those who come
to the Church from heresy after their unhallowed and profane dipping. Unless,
perchance, Paul was inferior to the bishops of these times, so that these indeed can by
imposition of hands alone give the Holy Spirit to those heretics who come (to the Church),
while Paul was not fitted to give the Holy Spirit by imposition of hands to those who had
been baptized by John, unless he had first baptized them also with the baptism of
the Church.”232
This passage from Firmilian shows that third century Christians from the Palestinian tradition were
already familiar with the rite of the imposition of hands after Baptism for the giving of the Holy Spirit.
Elsewhere in the same work, the Catholic bishop wrote: “Moreover, what is the meaning of that
which Stephen would assert, that the presence and holiness of Christ is with those who
are baptized among heretics? For if the apostle does not speak falsely when he says, ‘As many of you as
are baptized into Christ, have put on Christ’ [Gal 3:27], certainly he who has been baptized among them
into Christ, has put on Christ. But if he has put on Christ, he might also receive the Holy Ghost, who was

.Ibid, Letters 74 [73], 5. This passage confirms what we have been saying all this while that the Church authors of
this period believed that the Rebirth in Baptism is the working of the Holy Spirit. Note the last statement: ‘there
cannot be baptism without the Spirit.’
.Firmilian of Caeserea, Letter to St. Cyprian, in St. Cyprian’s Letters, 75 [74],8
sent by Christ, and hands are vainly laid upon him who comes to us for the reception of the Spirit; unless,
perhaps, he has not put on the Spirit from Christ, so that Christ indeed may be with heretics, but the Holy
Spirit not be with them.”233Again: “But, says he, the name of Christ is of great advantage to faith and the
sanctification of baptism; so that whosoever is anywhere so-ever baptized in the name of Christ,
immediately obtains the grace of Christ: although this position may be briefly met and answered, that
if baptism without in the name of Christ availed for the cleansing of man; in the name of the same Christ,
the imposition of hands might avail also for the reception of the Holy Spirit; and the other things also
which are done among heretics will begin to seem just and lawful when they are done in the name
of Christ; as you have maintained in your letter that the name of Christ could be of no avail except in
the Church alone, to which alone Christ has conceded the power of heavenly grace.”234
Again, at the Carthaginian council of eighty-seven bishops (256 A.D), who supported St. Cyprian in
his attitude on the question of the re-baptism of heretics, Secundinus Bishop of Carpi said: “Whence it
appears plain that upon strange children, and on the offspring of Antichrist, the Holy Ghost cannot
descend only by imposition of hands, since it is manifest that heretics have not baptism.”235 On the same
occasion Nemesianus Bishop of Thubuni comments: “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.’ [Jn 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 [initiated] in the Catholic Church by both
sacraments.”236Still in that council, Successus of Abbir Germaniciana said: “Heretics can either do nothing,
or they can do all. If they can baptize, they can also bestow the Holy Spirit. But if they cannot give the Holy
Spirit, because they have not the Holy Spirit, neither can they spiritually baptize. Therefore we judge that
heretics must be baptized.”237
Again, in the treatise on Re-Baptism, written around 256 A.D by an unknown prelate probably of
African origin we read: “that it has been asked among the brethren what course ought specially to be
adopted towards the persons of those who, although baptized in heresy, have yet been baptized in the
name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and subsequently departing from their heresy, and fleeing as supplicants
to the Church of God, should repent with their whole hearts, and only now perceiving the condemnation
of their error, implore from the Church the help of salvation. The point is whether, according to the most
ancient custom and ecclesiastical tradition, it would suffice, after that baptism which they have received
outside the Church indeed, but still in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, that only hands should be laid
upon them by the bishop for their reception of the Holy Spirit, and this imposition of hands would afford
them the renewed and perfected seal of faith; or whether, indeed, a repetition of baptism would be
necessary for them, as if they should receive nothing if they had not obtained baptism afresh, just as if
they were never baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”238Elsewhere in the same work we read: “…by
imposition of the bishop's hands the Holy Spirit is given to everyone that believes, as in the case of the
Samaritans, after Philip's baptism, the apostles did to them by laying on of hands; in this manner also they
conferred on them the Holy Spirit.”239Again: “If a man be not baptized by a bishop, so as even at once to

.Ibid,75 [74], 12.
.Ibid, 75 [74], 18.
.Acts of the Council of Carthage, September 256.
.Ibid. This argument is meant to be a rebuttal of St. Stephen’s position which they understood as implying that
heretics can baptize but cannot confer the Holy Spirit through the imposition of hands.
.Psuedo-Cyprian, On Re-Baptism, 1.
.Ibid, 3.
have the imposition of hands, and should yet die before having received the Holy Spirit, should you judge
him to have received salvation or not? Because, indeed, both the apostles themselves and the disciples,
who also baptized others, and were themselves baptized by the Lord, did not at once receive the Holy
Spirit, for He had not as yet been given, because that Jesus had not as yet been glorified. And after His
resurrection no small interval of time elapsed before that took place,—even as also the Samaritans, when
they were baptized by Philip, did not receive the gift until the apostles invited from Jerusalem to Samaria
went down to them to lay hands upon them, and conferred on them the Holy Spirit by the imposition of
hands. Because in that interval of time any one of them who had not attained the Holy Spirit, might have
been cut off by death, and die defrauded of the grace of the Holy Spirit. And it cannot be doubted also,
that in the present day this sort of thing is usual, and happens frequently, that many after baptism depart
from this life without imposition of the bishop's hands, and yet are esteemed perfected
believers.”240Again: “if indeed baptism shall be given by us, let it be conferred in its integrity and with
solemnity, and with all those means which are written; and let it be administered without any
disconnection of anything. Or if, by the necessity of the case, it should be administered by an inferior
cleric, let us wait for the result, that it may either be supplied by us, or reserved to be supplied by the
Lord. If, however, it should have been administered by strangers, let this matter be amended as it can and
as it allows. Because outside the Church there is no Holy Spirit, sound faith moreover cannot exist, not
alone among heretics, but even among those who are established in schism. And for that reason, they
who repent and are amended by the doctrine of the truth, and by their own faith, which subsequently has
been improved by the purification of their heart, ought to be aided only by spiritual baptism, that is, by
the imposition of the bishop's hands, and by the ministration of the Holy Spirit.”241It is true that the author
of the treatise on Re-Baptism, from which several passages are cited above, in an attempt to fortify the
position of those opposed to the re-baptizing of converts from heresy and schism, used inadequate
expressions to distinguish Baptism from Confirmation. But even with these deficiencies, it can still be
gathered from that treatise that it was understood that the laying on of hands which was closely
associated with Baptism in this period was a rite separable and distinct from Baptism; that it confers the
Holy Spirit; and that the bishop is the ordinary minister of the rite.
From the testimonies of the African and Asians during the Baptism controversy which we have cited
above one could deduce from them that in the period under discussion the rite of laying-on of hands and
the anointing of candidates for Baptism was performed not only within the Catholic Church but was also
in vogue among heretics.242 That this was in fact the case is confirmed by various documents of heretical
character from that period and actual testimonies by early ecclesiastical writers in this regards. See, for
instance, St. Irenaeus Bishop of Lyons, statement of certain Gnostic sects in his masterpiece Against
Heretics written between 180/185 A.D: “Others, again, lead them to a place where water is, and baptize
them, with the utterance of these words, ‘Into the name of the unknown Father of the universe—into

.Ibid, 4.
.Ibid, 10.
.The question which the Africans and Asians all fall back on to support their position of re-baptizing heretics
against St. Stephen was that if it is granted that heretics could validly baptize for spiritual regeneration then it also
should be granted that they could validly impose hands for the communication of the Spirit. But if it is accepted that
they cannot validly impose hands for the communication of the Spirit then it also should be accepted that they
cannot validly baptize. Behind such line of reasoning is the thinking that the laying-on of hands (the means used by
the Church for the communication of the Holy Spirit during Christian initiation) was administered to heretics because
they have not the Holy Spirit. But if they have not the Holy Spirit how could they possibly perform valid Baptism
which is the work of the Spirit? The Africans and Asians of course were wrong in their position of rebaptizing heretics
and like we have pointed earlier they even seem not to have grasped St. Stephen’s position correctly but their
argument demonstrates that like the washing with water, the imposition of hands and anointing was practiced
among the heretics.
truth, the mother of all things—into Him who descended on Jesus—into union, and redemption, and
communion with the powers.’ Others still repeat certain Hebrew words, in order the more thoroughly to
bewilder those who are being initiated…After this they anoint the initiated person with balsam; for they
assert that this unguent is a type of that sweet odour which is above all things.”243See also in the Gospel
of Philip, a work of Syrian origin written by a member of the Valentinian Gnostic sect probably in the
second half of the 2nd century: “Through the Holy Spirit we are born again. But we are born through Christ
- (in baptism) with the two. We are anointed with the Spirit. When we were born, we were united. No one
can see himself either in water or in a mirror, without light; nor can you on the other hand see in the light
without water or mirror. Because of this it is necessary to baptise with the two, with the light and the
water. But the light is the chrism.”244 Elsewhere in the same work “Through water and fire the whole place
is purified - the visible through the visible, the hidden through the hidden. There are some things which
are hidden through what is visible. There is water in water; there is fire in a chrism.”245 In the above
passages, the Valentinian author was speaking of the rites of initiation as understood by the Gnostic sect
he belongs too. Although, the water and the anointing are connected with the Holy Spirit in one of those
passages, the Valentinians seem to have placed greater emphasis on the anointing as is evident from the
following passages: “The chrism is superior to baptism. For from the chrism we were called 'Christians',
not from the baptism. Christ also was (so) called because of the anointing. For the Father anointed the
Son. But the Son anointed the apostles. And the apostles anointed us. - He who is anointed possesses all
things. He has the resurrection, the light, the cross”246; again :“(So) it is fitting for those who have not only
obtained the names of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, but have obtained these very things <for
themselves>. If anyone does not obtain them for himself, the name also will be taken from him. - But one
receives them in the chrism with the bals[am] of the power of the cr[oss]. Th[is] (power) the apostles
called '[the r]ight and the left'. Such a one is no longer a [Christ]ian, but a Christ.”247The Chrism seem to
be after the Baptism but there were other rites like the Eucharist in their initiation process as the following
passage makes clear: “The Lord [did] everything in a mystery: baptism, chrism, eucharist, redemption and
bridal chamber.”248In another document of Syrian origin, the Acts of Thomas written in the first half of the
third century probably by a member of the sect of Bardesanes, we read of Baptism being administered to
certain persons. The sequence in these cases is usually anointing, washing with water, Eucharist. For
example, the Baptism of Mygdonia:
“Mygdonia stood before the apostle with her head bare; and he taking the oil poured it on her
head, saying: ‘Holy oil given to us for sanctification, hidden mystery in which the cross was shown
to us, thou art the straightener of the <crooked>limbs; thou art the humbler of hard works; thou
art he who shows the hidden treasures; thou art the shoot of goodness. Let thy power come; let
it be established upon thy servant Mygdonia; and heal her through this<unction>!’ And when
the oil had been poured out he bade the nurse unclothe her and gird a linen cloth about her.
Now there was there a spring of water, and going to it the apostle baptized Mygdonia in the
name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And when she was baptized and clothed, he
broke bread and took a cup of water, and made her partake in the body of Christ and the cup of
the son of God, and said: ‘Thou hast received the seal, and <obtained> for thyself eternal life.’” 249
Also, the Baptism of Vazan and certain women:

.St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1, 21, 3.
.Gospel of Philip, 74-75.
.Ibid, 25.
.Ibid, 95.
.Ibid, 67d.
.Ibid, 68.
.Acts of Thomas, 121.
“When the apostle had thus prayed for them, he said to Mygdonia: ‘Unclothe thy sisters!’ And
she unclothed them, girded them with girdles, and brought them. But Vazan had come forward
before, and they came after him. And Judas took oil in a silver cup, and spoke thus over it: ‘O
fruit fairer than the other fruits, with which no other con be compared at all; thou altogether
merciful; fervent with the force of the word; power of the tree which if men put on they
conquer their adversaries; thou that crownest the victors; symbol and joy of the weary; who
has brought to men glad tidings of their salvation; who dost show light to those in darkness;
who in thy leaves art bitter, <but in thy fruit most sweet>; who in appearance art rough, but
soft to the taste; who seemest weak, but by the greatness of thy power dost carry the power
that sees all things; <…> Jesus, let <thy> victorious power come, and <let it settle> in this oil as
then it settled in the wood that is its kin <…> and they who crucified thee did not endure its
word; let the gift also come by which, breathing upon <thine> enemies, thou didst make them
draw back and fall headlong, and let it dwell in this oil, over which we name thy holy name!’
And when the apostle had said this, he poured it first on Vazan’s head, then on the heads of
women, saying: ‘In thy name, Jesus Chtist, let it be to these souls for remission of sins, and for
the turning back of the adversary, and for salvation of their souls!’ And he commanded
Mygdonia to anoint them [the women], but he himself anointed Vazan. And when he had
anointed them he led them down to the water in the name of the Father and the Son and of
the Holy Spirit. But when they had come up from the water he took bread and a cup and
blessed…And breaking [the bread of] the Eucharist he gave to Vazan and Tertia and Mnesara
and Siphor’s wife and daughter.”250
There are some who have argued from the picture presented in the Acts of Thomas that this was the
general situation of things in the Syrian tradition in the period under discussion. Thus, they conclude that
the practice of unction before Baptism was in general use among Syriac-speaking Christians. Some even
go as far as suggesting that the post-baptismal anointing/imposition of hands was absent from the very
first among the Syrians. But there is need for caution here. St. Irenaeus who was a native of Asia Minor in
describing the rites of initiation practiced among the various Gnostics sects informs us that the unction
was after Baptism but he adds:
“But there are some of them who assert that it is superfluous to bring persons to the water,
but mixing oil and water together, they place this mixture on the heads of those who are to be
initiated, with the use of some such expressions as we have already mentioned. And this they
maintain to be the redemption. They, too, are accustomed to anoint with balsam. Others,
however, reject all these practices, and maintain that the mystery of the unspeakable and
invisible power ought not to be performed by visible and corruptible creatures, nor should that
of those [beings] who are inconceivable, and incorporeal, and beyond the reach of sense, [be
performed] by such as are the objects of sense, and possessed of a body. These hold that the
knowledge of the unspeakable Greatness is itself perfect redemption...Others still there are
who continue to redeem persons even up to the moment of death, by placing on their heads
oil and water, or the pre-mentioned ointment with water, using at the same time the above-
named invocations, that the persons referred to may become incapable of being seized or seen
by the principalities and powers, and that their inner man may ascend on high in an invisible
manner, as if their body were left among created things in this world, while their soul is sent
forward to the Demiurge…But since they differ so widely among themselves both as respects
doctrine and tradition, and since those of them who are recognised as being most modern make
it their effort daily to invent some new opinion, and to bring out what no one ever before
thought of, it is a difficult matter to describe all their opinions”251

.Ibid, 157-158. See the Baptism of Siphor in 131-133 as well.
.St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1, 21, 4-5. Italic mine.
Thus, the picture presented in the Acts of Thomas in those chapters cited above could have been one
among the diverse Gnostic traditions regarding that matter even in Syria.252This diversity can be detected
in the Acts of Thomas itself. For instance, there is a text from the Greek of that same work which makes
mention of the laying-on of hands as an element of the rites of initiation. The Eucharist comes after the
laying on of hands and no mention of the water was made: “But the woman besought him, saying: ‘Apostle
of the Most High, give me the seal, that that enemy may not return to me again!’ Then he made her come
near to him, and laying his hands upon her sealed her in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the
Holy Spirit. And many others also were sealed with her. And the apostle commanded his servant [deacon]
to set a table before them; and he set out a stool which they found there, and spreading a linen cloth
upon it set on the bread of blessing.”253See also, chapter 26-27 which has no reference of water in relation
with the oil.
“Being now well disposed to the apostle, King Gundaphorus and his brother Gad followed him,
departing from him not at all and themselves supplying those who were in need, giving to all
and refreshing all. And they besought him that they also might now receive the seal of the
word, saying to him: ‘Since our souls are at leisure and we are zealous for God, give us the seal!
For we have heard thee say that the God whom thou dost preach knows his own sheep by his
seal.’ But the apostle said to them: ‘I also rejoice and pray you to receive this seal, and to share
with me in this eucharist and [feast of] blessing of the Lord, and be made perfect in it. For this
is the Lord and God of all, Jesus Christ whom I preach, and he is the Father of truth in whom I
have taught you to believe.’ And he commanded them to bring oil, that through the oil they
might receive the seal. So they brought the oil, and lit many lamps; for it was night. And the
apostle arose and sealed them. But the Lord was revealed to them by a voice, saying: ‘Peace
be with you, brethren!’ But they heard his voice only, but his form they did not see; for they
had not yet received the additional sealing of the seal. And the apostle took the oil and pouring
it on their heads anointed and chrismed them, and began to say:
Come, holy name of the Christ that is above every name;
Come, power of the Most High and perfect compassion;
Come, thou highest gift;
Come, compassionate mother;
Come, fellowship of the male;
Come, thou [fem.] that dost reveal the hidden mysteries;
Come, mother of the seven houses, that thy rest may be in the eighth house;
Come, elder<messenger S>of the five members, understanding thought, prudence,
consideration, reasoning,
Communicate with these young men!
Come, Holy Spirit, and purify their reins and their heart.
And give them the added seal, in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Ghost.
And when they had been sealed there appeared to them a young man carrying a blazen torch,
so that the very lamps were darkened at the onset of its light. And going out he vanished from
their sight. But the apostle said to the Lord: ‘Beyond our comprehension, Lord, is thy light, and
we are not able to bear it; for it is greater than our sight.’ But when dawn came and it was light,
he broke bread and made them partakers in the eucharist of Christ. And they rejoiced and were
glad. And many others also, believing, were added [to the faithful] and came into the refuge of
the Saviour.”
Thus, the Acts of Thomas merely demonstrates that the initiation ceremony of Christian Gnostics was
similar to that of the Christian Church. But what was the actual sequence of the rite of Christian initiation

.See above the quotations from the Gospel of Philip another document of Syrian origin which shows a different
understanding in the matter from that presented in the Acts of Thomas.
.ibid, 49.
in the Syrian Church is something that should not be deduced from any of the diverse traditions found in
Gnostic documents.
There are some, on the other hand, who have argued that the Church’s concept of Confirmation
developed from those Gnostic traditions. To support this position, these men point to early Christian
writings such as the Didache and the first Apology of Justin Martyr which both contains a detailed
description of the early Christian liturgy of Baptism with no reference to a rite like Confirmation that the
Church in this period knew nothing of any rite such as the imposition of hands or unction or both that was
associated with Baptism. In refuting the argument of these men it should be remembered that at the time
men like St. Justin and the author of the Didache wrote, the doctrine of the Church on all the Sacraments
were still in their early stages of development, and the rites of Christian initiation were performed
together in a single ceremony. There was yet no technical term to designate the postbaptismal rite or
what we now call confirmation—terms like ‘seal’ ‘sign’ were at first used broadly to designate the whole
process and were not limited to the washing with water alone. 254 This can be seen from the fact that in
the second and third century when reflection on the nature of the Sacraments and their relationship with
each other was at the fore, those terms were still being used interchangeably for the washing with
water255 and for other acts (i.e. the sign of the cross, the anointing, imposition of hands etc.)256 closely
associated with it. In order words, these other acts could have been around in the earliest years when
those terms were still used broadly to designate the washing with water and other acts closely associated
with it which would explain why when we began to find clearer evidence for these other acts in later years
those terms were still being used to designate them.257 But the use of those terms in connection with the
transformation that occurs during Christian initiation goes back to the very beginnings of the Christian
religion. See, in the Pauline corpus which belong to the 50s of the first century, the Second Epistle to the

.Some, like Aidan Kavanagh, makes a somewhat similar case for the term Baptism in this period. See his statement:
“This should alert one to the probability that when the New Testament texts refer, especially in passing, to ‘baptism’
they mean something ritually larger and increasingly more sophisticated and complex than the water bath alone. If
this is not presumed, then it becomes impossible to account for how rites particularly related to the Spirit and in
closer ritual contact with the water bath than proclamation prior to it, suddenly appear as though from nowhere
during the second and third centuries. Nor does it explain why these rites quickly become accepted as traditional in
churches obsessed with fidelity to the gospel and apostolic tradition.” The Shape of Baptism: The Rite of Christian
Initiation (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991), P. 26. (Italic original).
. In an ancient homily which dates from the first half of the second century we read: “For, concerning those who
have not kept the seal, He says: ‘Their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be extinguished, and they shall be
a spectacle to all flesh’ [Ish 66:24; Mk 9:44].” Psuedo-Clement, Second letter to the Corinthians, 7, 6. Compare:
“…With what confidence shall we enter into the palace of God, if we do not keep our baptism pure and unspotted?”
(6, 9) “Keep the flesh pure and the seal undefiled that we may receive eternal life.” (8, 6). See also the story of the
Apostle St. John and the robber narrated by St. Clement of Alexandria in his treatise ‘Who is the Rich Man that is
saved?’: “After that he [i.e. Apostle St. John] departed to Ephesus; but the presbyter took home the youth who had
been handed over to him, and brought him up, made a companion of him, cherished him, and finally enlightened
him by baptism. After this he relaxed his special care and guardianship, thinking that he had set over him the perfect
guard, the seal of the Lord.” (42). See again, Tertullian, during his years as a Montanist: “Security in sin is likewise an
appetite for it. Therefore the apostate withal will recover his former ‘garment,’ the robe of the Holy Spirit; and a
renewal of the ‘ring,’ the sign and seal of baptism; and Christ will again be ‘slaughtered;’ and he will recline on that
couch from which such as are unworthily clad are wont to be lifted by the torturers, and cast away into darkness,—
much more such as have been stripped.” On Modesty, 9.
. See St. Clement of Alexandria, in his Stromata: “Where then, now, is his repentance who was once an unbeliever,
through which (repentance) is remission of sins? So, there is no longer a rational baptism; nor a blessed seal; nor the
Son, nor the Father” (2, 5).
.The use of the signing of the cross by the minister of the Church during the rites of Christian initiation could have
been what led to the broad usage of the term seal for the process of initiation as a whole.
Corinthians: “Now he that confirmeth us with you in Christ, and that hath anointed us, is God: Who also
hath sealed us, and given the pledge of the Spirit in our hearts” (II Cor 1:21-22); the Epistle to the
Ephesians: “In whom you also, after you had heard the word of truth, (the gospel of your salvation;) in
whom also believing, you were signed with the holy Spirit of promise” (Eph 1:13); “And grieve not the holy
Spirit of God: whereby you are sealed unto the day of redemption” (4:30). Also, see, in the Johannine
corpus, the Apocalypse of St. John written in the last quarter of the first century: “And I saw another angel
ascending from the rising of the sun, having the sign of the living God; and he cried with a loud voice to
the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, Saying: ‘Hurt not the earth, nor the
sea, nor the trees, till we sign the servants of our God in their foreheads’”(Apoc 7:2-3). See, outside the
NT the early Syraic Christian hymnal book the Odes of Solomon composed around 100 A.D.: “And before
they had existed, I recognized them; and imprinted a seal on their faces…And my righteousness goes
before them; and they will not be deprived of my name; for it is with them.”258
Another point that should be noted is that we do not possess all the writings of not only St. Justin
Martyr but other Christian authors who wrote during that same period. Now, if we look at someone like
Tertullian whose body of works were numerous and most have been preserved it would be discovered
that in the various times which he described the early Christian rite of Baptism it was only on certain
occasion that he reflected on the rite of Confirmation. See, for example, in his treatise on the Crown
written a decade after the treatise on Baptism: “Let me turn to Baptism. When we are about to enter the
water—no, just little before,—in the church and under the hand of the bishop we solemnly profess that
we renounce the devil and his pomps and his angels. Thereupon we are immersed three times, complying
somewhat amply with what the Lord enjoined in the Gospel. Then, when we are taken out, we taste first
of all a mixture of milk and honey; and from that day for a whole week we abstain from the daily bath.”259In
this passage in which a detailed description of the liturgy of Baptism is found Tertullian omit mention of
the gift of the Spirit mediated through the laying on of hands as we find elsewhere in the treatise on
Baptism, and in the treatise on the Resurrection of the dead (see above). What if Tertullian’s treatises in
which he reflected on the rite of Confirmation had not been preserved? Would not these men have made
the same argument from Tertullian’s silence in the treatise on the crown that he knew nothing of the gift
of the Holy Spirit mediated through the laying on of hands?260 Therefore, the fact that we do not at first
meet clear mentions of the Sacrament of Confirmation in the writings of the early Church authors does
not mean it was not used. It only means we do not happen to have any explicit record of it. Had it been

.Odes of Solomon, 8, 13.19.
.Tertullian, The Crown, 3, 2-3.
. See also in the treatise Against Marcion writing around 207 A.D where in refuting the novel ideas of Marcion,
Tertullian says: “He certainly has not even yet rejected the Creator's water, for in it he washes his own, nor the oil
with which he anoints them, nor the compound of milk and honey on which he weans them, nor the Creator's bread
by which he makes manifest his own body. Even in his own rites and ceremonies he cannot do without things begged
and borrowed from the Creator.” Against Marcion, 1, 14, 3. The imposition of hands is again omitted here when
mentioning the rites of initiation in passing. It is such argument from silence from certain texts of Syraic origin (the
Didacalia Apostolorium, first decades of the 3rd century; the Acts of Thomas, mid 3rd century; the History of John the
Son of Zebedee, second half of the 4 th century; Homilies of Nasai, 5th Century; Life of Rabbula, 5th century) that has
led to the general perception among scholars that the initiation rite of the Oriental Churches did not originally have
either an anointing or an imposition of hand after the washing with water. But when these same scholars are
confronted with other documents which originated from these same part of the world and which attest to the
existence of such post baptismal rites (the Catecheses of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, the canons of the council of Laodicea,
the Catecheses of Theodore of Mopsuestia, The Apostolic Constitution, The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy of Dionysius
the Areopagite) they attempt to explain them away or undermine the value of their testimony in this matter by
suggesting they do not reflect the actual practices of their regions. But such attempts apart from being one-sided
are usually filled with speculations most of which are not convincing.
suddenly invented later, there would have been an uproar, such as came when heresies arise. But there
is no such thing. At the time we began to notice clearer evidence for the Sacrament of Confirmation in the
writings of early Church authors there is nothing in these writings which suggest that this was a recent
innovation. There is no reason to doubt that when Tertullian less than a decade after his conversion to
Christianity wrote the treatise on Baptism, the process of Christian initiation described in that book was
that which he was acquainted with ever since his conversion (193 A.D) and it was the same process that
was undertaken when he was welcomed into the Church. Thus, the practice of laying-on of hands and
anointing of candidates for Baptism was already an old aged practice in the last decade of the second
century. St. Hippolytus, on his part, informs us in the prologue of his Apostolic Tradition that he intends
to record only forms and rites already traditional and customs already long established. He wishes to write
them down against innovations: “And now, though the love which He had for all the saints [Eph 1:15],
having come to our most important topic, we turn to the subject of the Tradition which is proper for the
Churches, in order that those who have been rightly instructed may hold fast to the tradition which has
continued until now, and fully understand it from exposition may stand and more firmly therein. This is
now the more necessary because of the apostasy of error which has recently invented out of ignorance
and because of certain ignorant men.”261 Thus, the Liturgy of Baptism/Confirmation described by
Hippolytus in this work is of a much older date and must have been in vogue even in the second century.
These men wrote from different parts of the ancient world (Carthage, Rome, Alexandria, Caesarea, etc.)
yet they all bear witness to the existence of the same rite even if there were slight differences in its
application. If at some point one of the local churches had adopted this rite from a Gnostic sect how come
it now spread across the whole Church at such an early date with no voice of opposition being raised
against it in any part of the Christian world? A study of the history of the Church reveals that the early
Catholics had a sense of aversion towards practices and beliefs invented by heretics to promote their
heretical doctrines. They regard such practices and beliefs as means which these heretics attempt to use
to falsify the doctrines of the Church. Surely the concept of the Sacrament of Confirmation would have
been considered a distortion of the doctrine of Baptism if it had derived from certain heretical sect(s) and
had not been hand down from the very beginning—so where are the records of early Catholics
condemning it? No such record ever existed, and this is because the concept of the Sacrament of
Confirmation must have had its root in the Tradition of the Apostles.
Here we must point out an inference from the early Church authors’ interpretation of the texts from
the Acts of the Apostles which has often been ignored by historians of dogma. St. Irenaeus Bishop of
Lyons, writing around 185 A.D and alluding to Acts 8:17, says: “The apostle had the power to give them
strong meat—for those upon whom the apostles laid hands received the Holy Spirit, who is the food of
life [eternal].”262 Origen, writing between the years 220/230 A.D and commenting on Acts 8:17 says: “The
Holy Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands after the grace and renewal of
baptism.”263See also St. Cyprian’s comment on that passage above. Some have tried to explain away some
of these texts as having no bearing on this topic. For example, J. N. D. Kelly, commenting on the passages
from Irenaeus agrees that he was “making an obvious allusion to Acts 8, 17,” and that “Irenaeus betrays
his recognition that the Spirit had been bestowed by the imposition of the apostles’ hands” but Kelly
quickly adds “but even here there is no hint that the contemporary Church was familiar with any such
practice.”264 But the question here should not be whether there is hint that the contemporary Church was
familiar with any such practice. But rather it should be whether these early Church authors would have
interpreted that NT text the way they did if the contemporary Church was not familiar with any such

.St. Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition
.St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against All Heresies, 4, 38, 2.
.Origen, First Principles, 1, 3, 7.
.J.N.D Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines(1977), P. 195.
practice. I do not think so. Take, for example, St. Paul’s statement of Baptism “for the dead” in I Cor 15:29.
In the second century, several heretical sects such as the Cerinthians and the Marcionites tried to find
support for their practice of vicarious Baptism from that NT text. But because the contemporary Church
was not familiar with any such practice, the early Church authors who felt the need to reflect on that text
never interpreted it as a reference to vicarious Baptism. In fact we find them in the same instance
condemning the practice of vicarious Baptism as something oppose to the faith of the Church and
objecting to the Cerinthians/Marcionites interpretation of that text.265 We would have expected the same
fate to have fallen on the interpretation of that text from the Acts of the Apostles as a reference to the
communication of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands if as some men think that the Church’s
teaching on Confirmation developed from Gnostic traditions and was not part of the deposit of faith
handed down from the very beginning. But there is no record of anyone in Christian antiquity rejecting
such interpretation. Rather, we find the early Church authors adapting the wordings of that text to fit the
practice of their day. Hence, the only possible inference that can be made from the fact that many features
of the Church’s rite of Confirmation are also found in Gnostic circles is that this rite must have been
present in the life of the Church in the earliest years before the authors of these Gnostic sects had any
contact with the Church. And when they finally began having contact with the Church these Gnostic sects
adopted the rite of Confirmation from the Church and continue to expound and perform it. But like with
every heretical group that leaves the Church or became separated from her, these Gnostic sects began to
attach their own meaning to it.266

.St. Epiphanius of Salamis, says concerning the followers of Cerinthus: “For their school reached its height in this
country, I mean Asia, and in Galatia as well. And in these countries I also heard of a tradition which said that when
some of their people died too soon, without baptism, others would be baptized for them in their names, so that they
would not be punished for rising unbaptized at the resurrection and become the subjects of the authority that made
the world. And the tradition I heard of says that this is why the same holy apostle said, ‘If the dead rise not at all,
why are they baptized for them?’ [I Cor 15:29] But others explain the text satisfactory by saying that, as long as they
are catechumens, the dying are allowed baptism before they die because of this hope, showing that the person who
has died will also rise, and therefore needs the forgiveness of his sins through baptism…Hence it can be observed at
every point that Cerinthus, with his supporters, is pathetically mistaken and has become responsible for the ruin of
others, since the sacred scriptures explain it all to us, clearly and in details.” (Panacea against All Heresies, 28, 6.4-
7.1). Tertullian, in his treatise Against Macion: “Let us now return to the resurrection, to the defense of which against
heretics of all sorts we have given indeed sufficient attention in another work of ours. But we will not be wanting (in
some defense of the doctrine) even here, in consideration of such persons as are ignorant of that little treatise.
‘What,’ asks he, ‘shall they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not?’ [I Cor 15:29] Now, never mind
that practice, (whatever it may have been.) The Februarian lustrations will perhaps answer him (quite as well), by
praying for the dead. Do not then suppose that the apostle here indicates some new god as the author and advocate
of this (baptism for the dead. His only aim in alluding to it was) that he might all the more firmly insist upon the
resurrection of the body, in proportion as they who were vainly baptized for the dead resorted to the practice from
their belief of such a resurrection. We have the apostle in another passage defining ‘but one baptism.’ To be
‘baptized for the dead’ therefore means, in fact, to be baptized for the body; for, as we have shown, it is the body
which becomes dead. What, then, shall they do who are baptized for the body, if the body rises not again? We stand,
then, on firm ground (when we say) that the next question which the apostle has discussed equally relates to the
body.” (5, 10, 1-2). See also his treatise On the Resurrection of the Body, 48; St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on I &II
Corinthians, 40. etc.
.Tertullian as early as the year 200 A.D already has this to say in this regards: “The question will arise, by whom is
to be interpreted the sense of the passages which make for heresies? By the devil, of course, to whom pertain those
wiles which pervert the truth, and who, by the mystic rites of his idols, vies even with the essential portions of the
sacraments of God. He, too, baptizes some—that is, his own believers and faithful followers; he promises the putting
away of sins by a layer (of his own); and if my memory still serves me, Mithra there, (in the kingdom of Satan,) sets
his marks on the foreheads of his soldiers; celebrates also the oblation of bread, and introduces an image of a
resurrection, and before a sword wreathes a crown. What also must we say to (Satan's) limiting his chief priest to a
From the fourth century onwards the testimonies regarding this Sacrament are naturally more
frequent and clear. In these periods we find several synodal decisions from various parts of the Christian
world, East and West, which show that the Christians in these regions were familiar with this Sacrament.
In Spain, we find the following canon from the Council of Elvira which was held around 300 A.D and
attended by 19 bishops along with 26 priests and deacons: “During a voyage at sea in a foreign place, or
when there is no church in the neighborhood, one of the faithful who has kept his Baptism unimpaired
and who is not twice-married is able to baptize a catechumen, when there is necessity occasioned by
illness, provided that, if such a one survives, he brings him to the bishop, so that it may be completed
through the imposition of his hand.”267In another canon by the same council: “If a deacon, ruling a people
without a bishop or presbyter, has baptized some of them, the bishop must bring them to the perfection
of it through his blessing. But if they depart from this world beforehand:- by reason of the faith in which
he believed, he is able to be justified.”268The idea here is that the bishop must administer confirmation to
those who have been baptized in his absence by a deacon. This suggests that the right to administer the
Sacrament of Confirmation was reserved to the bishop. Also, evident in that canon is the fact that
Confirmation was understood as the perfection of baptismal grace. However, just like Catholics today
believe, it was likewise understood by the Catholics in Spain back then that Baptism itself is sufficient for
entry into the Kingdom of God if there was an obstacle preventing one from completing the process of
initiation by receiving Confirmation before his or her death.
In France, we find the following canon from the Council of Arles which was convened in the year 314
A.D and attended by a large number of bishops across the Western world: “Concerning the Africans,
because they follow their own peculiar law and re-baptize: it is determined that if someone come to the
Church from heresy, let them ask him his creed; and if they see that he has been baptized in the Father
and the Son and the Holy Spirit, only is the hand to be imposed on him, so that he may receive the Holy
Spirit. But if, upon being interrogated, he does not respond with this Trinity, he is to be baptized.”269
Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, writing between the years 316 and 322 A.D says:
“And this very thing He proclaims to his Church as a great mystery expressed with prophetic
voice in the volume of the book. As we have received a memorial of this offering which we
celebrate on a table by means of symbols of His Body and saving Blood according to the laws
of the new covenant, we are taught again by the prophet David to say: ‘Thou hast prepared a
table before me in the face of my persecutors. Thou hast anointed my head with oil, and thy
cup cheers me as the strongest [wine].’ Here it is plainly the mystic Chrism and the holy
Sacrifices of Christ's Table that are meant, by which we are taught to offer to Almighty God
through our great High Priest all through our life the celebration of our sacrifices, bloodless,
reasonable, and well-pleasing to Him. And this very thing the great prophet Isaiah wonderfully

single marriage? He, too, has his virgins; he, too, has his proficients in continence. Suppose now we revolve in our
minds the superstitions of Numa Pompilius, and consider his priestly offices and badges and privileges, his sacrificial
services, too, and the instruments and vessels of the sacrifices themselves, and the curious rites of his expiations
and vows: is it not clear to us that the devil imitated the well-known moroseness of the Jewish law? Since, therefore
he has shown such emulation in his great aim of expressing, in the concerns of his idolatry, those very things of which
consists the administration of Christ's sacraments, it follows, of course, that the same being, possessing still the same
genius, both set his heart upon, and succeeded in, adapting to his profane and rival creed the very documents of
divine things and of the Christian saints —his interpretation from their interpretations, his words from their words,
his parables from their parables. For this reason, then, no one ought to doubt, either that ‘spiritual wickednesses,’
from which also heresies come, have been introduced by the devil, or that there is any real difference between
heresies and idolatry, seeing that they appertain both to the same author and the same work that idolatry does.”
(The Prescription Against Heresies, 40, 1-8).
.Council of Elvira, canon 38.
.Ibid, canon 77.
.Council of Arles, canon 8.
foreknew by the Holy Spirit, and foretold. And he therefore says thus: ‘O Lord, my God, I will
glorify thee, I will hymn thy name, for thou hast done marvellous things.’ And he goes on to
explain what these things so truly ‘wonderful’ are: ‘And the Lord of Sabaoth shall make a feast
for all the nations. They shall drink joy, they shall drink wine, they shall be anointed with myrrh
[on this mountain]. Impart thou all these things to the nations. For this is God's counsel upon
all the nations.’ These were Isaiah's ‘wonders’ the promise of the anointing with ointment of a
good smell, and with myrrh made not to Israel but to all nations. Whence not unnaturally
through the chrism of myrrh they gained the name of Christians. But he also prophesies the
‘wine of joy’ to the nations, darkly alluding to the sacrament of the new covenant of Christ,
which is now openly celebrated among the nations. And these unembodied and spiritual
sacrifices the oracle of the prophet also proclaims, in a certain place: ‘Offer to God the sacrifice
of praise, and give the Highest thy vows: And call upon me in the clay of thy affliction, and I will
deliver thee, and thou shall glorify me.’” 270
From the above passage it is evident that Chrismation like the Eucharist was seen as a distinct
sacramental rite which was also prefigured in the Old Testament and Divinely instituted in the New. That
it was part of the initiation process can be gleaned from the following statement, ‘through the chrism of
myrrh they gained the name of Christians.’ Although Eusebius did not go into details as per the actual
sequence of the initiation ceremony in the Palestinian tradition, he was not unaware of the Roman
tradition on this matter and referred to it as something quite natural (see above the passage from Pope
Cornelius which Eusebius preserved in his Church History). Moreover, Bishop Firmilian, one of his
predecessors who wrote many years before him demonstrated that the Palestinian tradition on this
matter was quite similar to that of the Romans and Africans.
In Phrygia (Phrygia Pacatiana), the Council of Laodicea held between 343 and 381 A.D clearly referred
to a post-baptismal anointing: “That those who have been illuminated are, after Baptism, to be anointed
with celestial chrism, and thus become partakers in the Kingdom of Christ.”271This canon should be read
in conjunction with the one which preceded it: “Those who have received Baptism during an illness, if
they recover, shall learn the creed by heart, and be made to understand that a divine gift has been
vouchsafed to them.”272 Thus, the reason for enacting canon 48 was not because the rite of Chrismation
after Baptism was before now unknown to the Oriental Churches and the council fathers were trying to
unify the tradition of the Orients with that of West (it is quite unreasonable to think that the council
fathers themselves would be the ones pushing for the abandonment of their own tradition that was so
dear to them). No, it was because the rite of Chrismation after Baptism which has always been observed
in the Oriental Churches has recently been neglected by some.273 One of the reasons for this neglect was
that some who had received emergency Baptism during illness did not bother upon recovery to complete
the process of initiation.274 Thus, the council fathers after emphasizing in canon 47 that those who had
received emergency Baptism during illness should be properly instructed on the Christian faith if it so
happens that they later recovered, felt the need to enact a separate canon in which the importance of
Chrismation after Baptism would be greatly emphasized. Elsewhere, the same council declared: “That
those who are converted from heresies, that is, from the Novatians, or, indeed, from the Photinians, or
Quartodecimans, be they catechumens or among those whom they call faithful, are not to be received

.Eusebius of Caesarea, Proof of the Gospel, 1, 10.
.Council of Laodicea, canon 48.
.Ibid, canon 47.
.It is important to point out here that synodal decisions are mainly conservative in nature. They are mainly enacted
to defend long existing beliefs and practices, and not to introduce new ones.
.They might still be other reasons. We know from the Acts of Thomas that there were certain Syrian Gnostic
Christian groups who appear not to have included a post-baptismal anointing in their initiation rite. The council
fathers might also be reacting to such tendencies and understanding of the Christian initiation ceremony by heretical
until they have anathematized every heresy, and especially that in which they were involved. And
thereafter, those who among them were called faithful, when they memorized the formula of faith and
have been anointed with the holy chrism, may participate in the Holy Mystery [i.e. Eucharist].”275
St. Aphraates the Persian Sage, who is considered as the oldest father of the Syrian Church, writing
in the year 345 A.D says: “A gate has been opened for seeking peace, whereby the mist has lifted from
the reason of the multitude; and light has dawned in the mind; and from the glistening olive, fruits are
put forth, in which there is a sign of the sacrament of life, by which Christians are perfected, as well as
priests and kings and prophets. It illuminates the darkness, anoints the sick, and leads back penitents in
its secret sacrament.”276From this passage one could see that olive oil was used in various sacramental
anointing in the Syrian Church and one of these anointing was for the perfection of Christians: ‘by which
Christians are perfected, as well as priest and kings and prophets.’ The allusion here is certainly to the
anointing which accompanies Baptism and from the phraseology of that statement it is difficult to escape
from the conclusion that the anointing in question was something that was administered after Baptism.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem in a set of lectures delivered to the candidates for Baptism during lent in the
year 350 A.D, says: “You note how everywhere, in Old Testament and New alike, there is this one symbolic
action. In Moses’ time the Spirit was given by the laying on of hands [cf. Deut 34:9]. Peter likewise gave
the Spirit by the laying on of hands [Acts 8:14-18]. Now this grace is shortly to come upon you when you
are baptized. I am not telling you just how, for I am not taking anything out of turn.” 277 St. Cyril here
implies that, in a later lecture, he will tell his audience how in the course of them being initiated into the
Christian mysteries a rite distinct from Baptism and consisting of the laying on of hands will bring to them
the gift of the Spirit. He expressed such intention to them again in another lecture delivered during that
same Lenten season:
“After the holy and salvation-bringing feast of Easter, beginning on the Monday, you shall, God
willing, hear further lectures, if you will come into the holy place of the resurrection each day
of Easter week after the liturgy. In these you will be instructed again in the reasons for each of
the things that took place. You will be given proofs from the Old and New Testaments, first, of
course, for the things that were done immediately before your Baptism, and next how you have
been made clean from your sins by the Lord ‘with the washing of water by the word,’ [Eph 5:26]
then how that you have entered into the right to be called ‘Christ’ in virtue of your ‘priesthood,’
then how you have been given the ‘sealing’ of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, then about the
mysteries of the altar of the new covenant which had their origin here [i.e. in Jerusalem], what
Holy Scripture tells us about them, with what virtue they are filled, then how these mysteries
are to be approached and when and how received.”278
Note “how that you have entered into the right to be called ‘Christ’ in virtue of your ‘priesthood,’”
this is an allusion to the anointing with oil after Baptism. From those two passages one could observe that
the Oriental Churches knew of a post-baptismal rite, which consisted of the laying on of hands and
anointing with oil, administered for the reception of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing in those passages
which suggest that we are here dealing with a recent innovation or with something that before now was
not part of the tradition of the Orientals. Rather, St. Cyril spoke of Confirmation in a way which suggests
that this was the accepted norm even in Jerusalem and that such belief was old aged. Among the post-
paschal lectures later delivered by St. Cyril, which has been preserved, there is one devoted to the
Sacrament of Confirmation entitled ‘On Unction.’ There we find the following statements: “And to you in
like manner, after you had come up from the pool of the sacred streams, there was given chrism, the

.Ibid, canon 7.
.St. Aphraates the Persian Sage, Treatise, 23, 3.
. St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 16, 26.
.Ibid, 18, 33.
antitype of that with which Christ was anointed: and this is the Holy Spirit.”279 A connection between the
Holy Spirit and post baptismal anointing is here made. Again: “Christ was not anointed by an oil or by a
physical perfume given by the hand of men. But the Father, Who established Him in advance as Savior of
the whole universe, anointed Him with the Holy Spirit, as Peter says ‘Jesus of Nazareth, whom God has
anointed with the Holy Spirit.’ [Acts 10:38] And in the same way as Christ was truly crucified, truly buried,
truly risen again, and as it has been granted to you in Baptism to be crucified with Him, buried with Him,
risen again with Him in a certain imitation, so it is with the Chrism. He was anointed with spiritual oil of
exultation, that is to say, with the Holy Spirit, called the Oil of Exultation because He is the source of
spiritual joy; and you, you have been anointed with perfumed oil, and become participants in
Christ.”280Again: “But beware of supposing that this is ordinary ointment. For just as the bread of the
Eucharist after the invocation of the Holy Spirit is simple bread no longer, but the body of Christ, so also
this ointment is no longer plain ointment, nor, so to speak, common, after the invocation. Further, it is
the gracious gift of Christ, and it is made fit for the imparting of his Godhead by the coming of the Holy
Spirit. This ointment is symbolically applied to your forehead and to your other senses; while your body is
anointed with the visible ointment, your soul is sanctified by the holy and life-giving Spirit. Just as Christ,
after his baptism, and the coming upon him of the Holy Spirit, went forth and defeated the adversary, so
also with you after holy baptism and the mystical chrism, having put on the panoply of the Holy Spirit, you
are to withstand the power of the adversary and defeat him, saying, ‘I am able to do all things in Christ,
who strengthens me.’ [Phil 4:13]”281 Again: “[David says,] ‘You have anointed my head with oil.’ [Ps
22(23):5] With oil he anointed your head, your forehead, in the God-given sign of the cross, so that you
may become that which is engraved on the seal, ‘a holy thing of the Lord.’ [Ex 28:36-38]”282 again:
“Moreover, you should know that in the old Scripture there lies the symbol of this Chrism. For what time
Moses imparted to his brother the command of God, and made him High-priest, after bathing in water,
he anointed him; and Aaron was called Christ or Anointed, evidently from the typical Chrism. So also the
High-priest, in advancing Solomon to the kingdom, anointed him after he had bathed in Gihon [I Kgs 1:39].
To them however these things happened in a figure, but to you not in a figure, but in truth; because you
were truly anointed by the Holy Spirit. Christ is the beginning of your salvation; for He is truly the First-
fruit, and you the lump; but if the First-fruit be holy, it is manifest that Its holiness will pass to the mass
also [Rom 11:16].”283
In the Sacramentary or Missal composed in the year 350 and which is ascribed to Serapion, Bishop
of Thmuis in Egypt, we find the following prayer said over the Chrism with which the baptized are
anointed: “‘God of powers, aid of every soul that turns to You and comes under Your powerful hand in
Your only-begotten. We beseech You, that through Your divine and invisible power of our Lord and Savior
Jesus Christ, You may effect in this chrism a divine and heavenly operation, so that those baptized and
anointed in tracing with it of the sign of the saving cross of the Only-begotten, through which cross Satan
and every adverse power is turned aside and conquered, as if reborn and renewed through the bath of

.Ibid, 21 [Mystagogic 3], 1.
.Ibid, 21[Mystagogic 3], 2. Commenting on this text Jean Danielou says: “This page is one of the most remarkable
in sacramental theology. First of all, it states clearly what a sacrament is: a real participation in the grace of Christ,
by a sacramental imitation of His life. And, secondly, it shows how this structure applies as well to the sacrament of
Confirmation as to that of Baptism. In the same way as Baptism configures us to Christ dead and risen again, so
Confirmation configures us to Christ anointed by the Holy Spirit. The Baptism of Christ, followed by the descent of
the Spirit, is thus seen to be a prefiguration of His death followed by His royal enthronement, of which the Christianin
turn partakes by means of the two sacraments of water and of the anointing.” The Bible and the Liturgy, P.118
.Ibid, 21[Mystagogic 3], 3-4.
.Ibid, 22 [Mystagogic 4], 7.
.Ibid, 21[Mystagogic], 6.
regeneration, may be made participants in the gift of the Holy Spirit, and confirmed by this seal, may
remain firm and immovable, unharmed and inviolate.’”284
St. Hilary of Poitiers writing between the years 353-355 A.D speaks of “the sacraments of baptism
and of the Spirit”285 and he says that “the favor and gift of the Holy Spirit were, when the work of the Law
ceased, to be given by the imposition of hands and prayer.”286
St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, in one of his letters to Serapion Bishop of Thmuis, says:
“Through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given to those who are being
In one of the works from the fourth century formerly included among the works of St. Athanasius but
actually written by an unknown author before the year 381, its author speaks of “all the saints having
received the Holy Spirit in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, through the
laying on of hands of the Priest of God.”288
St. Gregory of Nazianzus, in one of his Orations written on the occasion of his consecration as bishop
of Sasima in the year 372 A.D., recalled: “Spirit and chrism upon me again: and again I make my way bowed
down and in mourning [Ps 34:14(35:14)].”289The reference here is to the earlier reception of the Chrism
during initiation and the present during consecration as bishop. He understood both events as the work
of the Spirit.
St. Ephraim the Syrian, writing before the year 373 A.D and commenting on Joel 2:24, says: “’And
your floors shall be filled with wheat, and the presses shall overflow equally with wine and oil.’... This has
been fulfilled mystically by Christ, who gave to the people whom He had redeemed, that is, to His Church,
wheat and wine and oil in a mystic manner...the oil is the sweet unguent with which those who are
baptized are signed, being clothed in the armaments of the Holy Spirit.”290
St. Basil, Bishop of Caesarea, in his treatise on the Holy Spirit written around 375 A.D, says: “Indeed,
were we to try to reject unwritten customs as having no great authority, we would unwittingly injure the
Gospel in its vitals; or rather, we would reduce kerygma to a mere term. For instance, to take the first and
most general example, who taught us in writing to sign with the sign of the cross those who have trusted
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ?...Where is it written that we are to bless the baptismal water, the
oil of anointing, and even the one who is being baptized? Is it not from silent and mystical tradition?
Indeed, in what written word is even the anointing with oil taught? Where does it say that in baptizing
there is to be a triple immersion? And the rest of the things done at Baptism,—where is it written that we
are to renounce Satan and his angels? Does this not come from that secret and arcane teaching which our
Fathers guarded in silence not too curiously meddled with and not idly investigated, when they had
learned well that reverence for the mysteries is best preserved in silence…”291 Basil here mentions the
anointing associated with Baptism among the unwritten tradition handed down from the very beginning.
Elsewhere in another work, the saintly doctor commenting on Mt 6:17 and using the imagery of the rites
of the Church to exhort his audience on the ideal way to fast, exclaims: “The word calls to you in a mystery.
What is anointed is christened; what is washed is cleansed. Transfer this divine law to your inner life.
Thoroughly wash the soul of sins. Anoint your head with holy chrism so that you may be a partaker of
Christ, and then go forth to the fast.”292

.Serapion, The Sacramentary of Serapion, 21, 1-2.
.St. Hilary of Poitiers, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, 4, 27.
.Ibid, 24.
.St. Athanasius, Letters to Serapion, 1,6.
.Psuedo-Athanasius, De Trinitate et De Spiritu Sancto, 21; PG 26: 1217.
.Gregory of Nazianus, Oration 9, 1.
.St. Ephraim, Commentaries on Sacred Scripture: On Joel 2:24.
.St. Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, 27, 66.
. Ibid, Sermons on Fasting, 1, 2.
St. Epiphanius of Salamis, who was born in Palestine, in his Panacea against All Heresies written
between the years 374/377, says while commenting on Acts 8:18-19: “Simon made up to the apostles
and, together with many he too, like the others, was baptized by Philip. All except Simon waited for the
arrival of the chief apostles, and received the Holy Spirit through the laying on of their hands. (Philip, being
a deacon, did not have the faculty of the laying on of hands in order to give the Holy Spirit through
it).”293St. Epiphanius most probably have in mind here the belief that the administration of the rite of
laying on of hands for the bestowal of the Holy Spirit is the privilege of the successors of the Apostles (i.e.
Bishops) and not the lesser members of the clergy (i.e. deacon).
St. Pacian, Bishop of Barcelona, writing between the years 375-392 A.D, says:
“And so the seed of Christ, that is, the Spirit of God produces, by the hands of the Priests, the
new man conceived in the womb of our Mother, and received at the birth of the font, faith
presiding over the marriage rite. For neither will he seem to be engrafted into the Church, who
hath not believed, nor he to be born again of Christ, who hath not himself received the Spirit.
We must believe therefore that we can be born. For so saith Philip, ‘If thou believest…thou
mayest.’[] Christ therefore must be received that He may beget, for thus saith the Apostle John,
‘As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God.’[] But these
things cannot otherwise be fulfilled except by the Sacrament of the Laver, and of the Chrism,
and of the Bishop. For by the Laver sins are washed away, by Chrism the Holy Spirit is poured
out, but both these we obtain at the hand and the mouth of the Bishop. And so the whole man
is born again and renewed in Christ, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead, even so
we also should walk in newness of life; that is, that having laid aside the errors of our former
life, the serving of idols, cruelty, fornication, wantonness, and all other vices of flesh and blood,
we should through the Spirit follow new ways in Christ, faith, modesty, innocence, chastity.” 294
St. Pacian, in the above passage connects the rite of Chrismation with the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Elsewhere in another work the saintly bishop comments: “Why said He this, if it was not lawful for men
to bind and loose? Is this allowed to Apostles only? Then to them also only is it allowed to baptize, and to
them only to give the Holy Spirit, and to them only to cleanse the sins of the nations; for all this was
enjoined on none others but Apostles.”295 What Pacian is here saying is that if the argument is raised that
the power of binding and loosing ceased with the Apostles then such persons should logically conclude
that the power to baptized, and the power to communicate the Holy Spirit as well ceased with the
Apostles. But since it is accepted that the Apostles have handed down to their successors, i.e. the Bishops
of the Church, the power to baptized and the power to communicate the Holy Spirit, then it must be
accepted that the Apostles also handed down the power of binding and loosing to the Bishops of the
Church: “If, therefore, the power of the Laver, and of the Anointing, gifts far greater, descended thence
to Bishops, then the right of binding and of loosing was with them. Which although for our sins it be
presumptuous in us to claim, yet God, Who hath granted unto Bishops the name even of His only Beloved,
will not deny it unto them, as if holy and sitting in the chair of the Apostles.”296Again: “Therefore neither
the Anointing, nor Baptism, nor remission of sins, nor the renewing of the Body, were granted to his sacred
authority, because nothing was entrusted to him as assumed by himself, but the whole has descended in
a stream from the Apostolic privilege.”297Thus, St. Pacian believed that the rite of Chrismation like the rite
of Baptism is of Divine institution and that both goes back to the times of the Apostles.
Didymus, surnamed ‘the Blind,’ who was the head of the catechetical school of Alexandria, writing
between 381 and 392, says; “The sphragis of Christ on the brow, the reception of baptism, the

.St. Epiphanius of Salamis, Panacea against All Heresies, 21, 1, 4.
.St. Pacian of Barcelona, Sermon on Baptism, 7.
.Ibid, Epistle 1, 11.
.Ibid, 1, 13.
.Ibid, 1, 14.
confirmation by chrism.”298Elsewhere, he explained that those coming from heretical groups which
practice valid Trinitarian baptism “are to be anointed because they do not have holy chrism, for only a
bishop by means of heavenly grace consecrates chrism.”299
In St. Jerome’s Dialogue between a Luciferian300 and an Orthodox Christian, written either at Antioch
in 379 A.D. or at Rome in 382 A.D, the following question was posed by the Luciferian Christian:
“Don't you know that the laying on of hands after baptism and then the invocation of the Holy
Spirit is a custom of the Churches? Do you demand Scripture proof? You may find it in the Acts
of the Apostles. And even if it did not rest on the authority of Scripture the consensus of the
whole world in this respect would have the force of a command. For many other observances
of the Churches, which are due to tradition, have acquired the authority of the written law, as
for instance the practice of dipping the head three times in the layer, and then, after leaving
the water, of tasting mingled milk and honey in representation of infancy; and, again, the
practices of standing up in worship on the Lord's day, and ceasing from fasting every Pentecost;
and there are many other unwritten practices which have won their place through reason and
custom. So you see we follow the practice of the Church, although it may be clear that a person
was baptized before the Spirit was invoked.”301
To this question the Orthodox Christian responded: “I do not deny that it is the practice of the
Churches in the case of those who, living far from the larger cities, have been baptized by the presbyters
and deacons, for the bishop to come to them to invoke the Holy Spirit upon them by the imposition of his
hands.”302Before the year 379, apart from Dalmatia where he was born, St. Jerome had been to Rome
where he began his education, to Gaul where he embraced ascetical life and associated himself with a
group of monks, and to Antioch where he lived as a hermit from 375 to 378 and was later ordained to the
priesthood by Paulinus of Antioch. Thus, he was quite familiar with the tradition of not only the Syrian
church, but of the universal Church. Yet in the words which he puts in the mouth of the Luciferian Christian
he stated that the ‘laying on of hands after baptism and then the invocation of the Holy Spirit is a custom
of the Churches’ and that there was a ‘consensus of the whole world’ regarding the observance of that
custom. And this statement the Orthodox Christian in the same work did not deny but seconded and
St. John Chrysostom, in a set of catechetical instructions which was delivered at Antioch during Lent
in 390 A.D., we find the following description of Baptism:
“After this anointing, the priest makes you go down into the sacred waters, burying the old
man and at the same time raising up the new, who is renewed in the image of his Creator. It is
at this moment that, through the words and hand of the priest, the Holy Spirit descends upon
you. Instead of the man who descended into the water, a different man comes forth, one who
wiped away all the filth of his sins, who puts off the old garment of sin and has put on the royal
robe. That you may also learn from this that the substance of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
is one, baptism is conferred in the following manner. When the priest says: ‘So-and-so is
baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’, he puts your head
down into the water three times and three times he lifts it up again, preparing you by this
mystic rite to receive the descent of the Spirit. For it is not only the priest who touches the
head, but also the right hand of Christ, and this is shown by the words of the one baptizing. He
does not say: ‘I baptize so-and-so’, but: ‘So-and-so is baptized’, showing that he is only the
minister of grace and merely offers his hand because he has been ordained to this end by the
Spirit. The one fulfilling all things is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, the undivided
Trinity. It is faith in this Trinity which gives the grace of remission from sin; it is this confession

.Didymus the Blind, On the Trinity, 2, 14. (PG 39, 712).
.Ibid, 2, 15. (PG 39, 720-22).
. A Schismatic group named after Lucifer (d. 371) Bishop of Cagliari in Sardinia
.St. Jerome, Dialogue between a Luciferian and an Orthodox Christian, 8.
.Ibid, 9.
which gives us the gift of filial adoption. What follows suffices to show from what those who
have been judged worthy of this mystic rite have been set free, and what they have gained. As
soon as they come forth from those sacred waters, all who are present embrace them, greet
them, kiss them, rejoice with them, and congratulate them, because those who were
heretofore slaves and captives have suddenly become free men and sons and been invited to
the royal table. For straightway after they come up from the waters, they are led to the
awesome table heavy laden with countless favours, where they taste of the Master’s body and
blood, and become a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. Since they have put on Christ himself,
wherever they go they are like angels on earth, rivaling the brilliance of the rays of the sun.” 303
Now the position of St. John Chrysostom in determining the sequence of the rites of Christian
initiation in the Syrian Church is a subject that is very much debated among scholars. Some starting from
the assumption that the third century Acts of Thomas (where as we have earlier seen the following
sequence is found: anointing, washing, Eucharist) represents an older view of the Syrian Church conclude
from St. John Chrysostom’s alleged silence on the post-baptismal anointing or imposition of hand that the
sequence of anointing, washing, and Eucharist found in the Acts of Thomas was that which was familiar
to the saintly doctor and that he knew nothing about a rite of Confirmation distinct from Baptism for the
giving of the Holy Spirit. But as we have earlier shown there is need for caution in ascribing such
importance to the Acts of Thomas. Moreover, we have already seen from the works of Firmilian of
Caesarea, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Jerome, and the decisions of the fathers who assembled at Laodicea
that a post-baptismal rite connected with the gift of the Holy Spirit was known to the Oriental Churches
way before St. John Chrysostom. St. Jerome, a contemporary of St. John Chrysostom, who like we have
already pointed out was ordained to the priesthood at Antioch certainly knew no church including that of
the Antiochene tradition which does not have a rite of Confirmation in its initiation ceremony. For he says
emphatically that a post-baptismal rite whereby the bishop ‘invoke the Holy Spirit upon’ the baptizands
‘by the imposition of hands’ was observed in the Churches spread across the known world. Theodore,
Bishop of Mopsuestia, who was a fellow student of John Chrysostom under the great Christian teacher
Diodore at Antioch, attested to the existence of a post-baptismal anointing which he connected with the
gift of the Holy Spirit:
“You draw, therefore, near to the holy baptism, and before everything you take off your
garments. As when Adam was formerly naked and was in nothing ashamed of himself, but after
having broken the commandment and become mortal, he found himself in need of an outer
covering, so also you, who are ready to draw near to the gift of the holy baptism so that through
it you may be born afresh and become symbolically immortal, rightly remove your covering,
which is a sign of mortality and a reproving mark of that (Divine) decree by which you were
brought low to the necessity of a covering. After you have taken off your garments, you are
rightly anointed all over your body with the holy Chrism: a mark and a sign that you will be
receiving the covering of immortality, which through baptism you are about to put on. After
you have taken off the covering which involves the sign of mortality, you receive through your
anointing the sign of the covering of immortality, which you expect to receive through baptism.
And you are anointed all over your body as a sign that unlike the covering used as a garment,
which does not always cover all the parts of the body, because although it may cover all the
external limbs, it by no means covers the internal ones—all our nature will put on immortality
at the time of the resurrection, and all that is seen in us, whether internal or external, will
undoubtedly be changed into incorruptibility according to the working of the Holy Spirit which
shall then be with us. While you are receiving this anointing, the one who has been found
worthy of the honour of priesthood begins and says: ‘So-and-so is anointed in the name of the
Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ And then the persons appointed for this service
anoint all your body. After these things have happened to you, at the time which we have
indicated, you descend into the water, which has been consecrated by the benediction of the

.St. John Chrysostom, Baptismal Catecheses, 2, 25-27.
priest, as you are not baptised only with ordinary water, but with the water of the second birth,
which cannot become so except through the coming of the Holy Spirit (on it). For this it is
necessary that the priest should have beforehand made use of clear words, according to the
rite of the priestly service, and asked God that the grace of the Holy Spirit might come on the
water and impart to it the power both of conceiving that awe-inspiring child and becoming a
womb to the sacramental birth….The priest stands up and approaches his hand, which he
places on your head, and says: ‘So-and-so is baptised in the name of the Father, and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit,’ while wearing the aforesaid apparel which he wore when you were on
your knees and he signed you on your forehead, and when he consecrated the water. It is in
this apparel that he performs the gift of baptism, because it is right for him to perform all the
Sacrament while wearing it, as it denotes the renovation found in the next world, to which you
will be transferred through this same Sacrament. He says: ‘So-and-so is baptised in the name
of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’ in order to show by these words who is
the cause of this grace. As he says: ‘So-and-so is signed in the name of the Father, and of the
Son, and of the Holy Spirit,’ so he says: ‘So-and-so is baptised in the name of the Father, and of
the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’ All this is in harmony with the teaching of our Lord who said:
‘Go you and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of
the Holy Spirit.’[]…The priest places his hand on your head and says: ‘So-and-so is baptised in
the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,’ and does not say ‘I baptise (So-
and-so),’ but ‘So-and-so is baptised’—in the same way as he had previously said ‘So-and-so is
signed’ and not ‘I sign So-and-so’—in order to show that as a man like the rest of men he is not
able to bestow such benefits, which only Divine grace can bestow. This is the reason why he
rightly does not say "I baptise" and "I sign" but ‘So-and-so is signed and baptised.’ In this he
immediately refers to the One by whom a person is signed and baptised, namely ‘in the name
of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,’ and shows that these are the cause of the
things that happen to him, and demonstrates that he himself is a subordinate and a servant of
the things that take place, and a revealer of the cause which gives effect to them…The priest
places his hand on your head and says ‘of the Father,’ and with these words he causes you to
immerse yourself in water, while you obediently follow the sign of the hand of the priest and
immediately, at his words and at the sign of his hand, immerse yourself in water. By the
downward inclination of your head you show as by a hint your agreement and your belief that
it is from the Father that you will receive the benefits of baptism, according to the words of the
priest. If you were allowed to speak at that time, you would have said: ‘Amen,’ a word which
we believe to mean that we subscribe to the things said by the priest, as the blessed Paul said:
‘He that occupies the room of the unlearned says ‘Amen’ at your giving of thanks.’ He shows
here that this word is said by the congregation at the giving of thanks by the priests to signify
by it that they subscribe to the things that are said. You are, however, not allowed to speak at
the time of baptism, as it is right for you to receive the renewal through the Sacrament, when
you are baptised, in silence and fear, while by inclining your head downwards you signify that
you subscribe to the things said by the priest. You, therefore, immerse and bow your head
while the priest says ‘and of the Son,’ and causes you with his hand to immerse again in the
same way. And you show that you subscribe to the words of the priest, and as a sign also that
you are expecting to receive the benefits of baptism from the Son, you bow your head. Then
the priest says ‘and of the Holy Spirit’ and likewise presses you down into the water, while you
immerse yourself and look downwards as a sign that here also you make the same confession
to the effect that you are expecting the benefits of baptism from the Holy Spirit. After this you
go out of the water. When the priest says ‘of the Father’ you immerse, bow your head, but do
not go out of the water; and when he says ‘and of the Son,’ you immerse and bow your head
likewise, but do not go out of the water; and after he has said ‘and of the Holy Spirit,’ he has
finished the complete call upon the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and so after immersing again
and bowing your head, you go out of the water of baptism, which, so far as you are concerned,
comes to an end, because, as you remember, there is no name left for you on which to call, as
the cause of the expected benefits…After you have received the grace of baptism and worn a
white garment that shines, the priest draws near to you and signs you on your forehead and
says: ‘So-and-so is signed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’
When Jesus came out of the water He received the grace of the Holy Spirit who descended like
a dove and lighted on Him, and this is the reason why He is said to have been anointed: "The
Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because of which the Lord has anointed me," and: "Jesus of
Nazareth whom God has anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power": texts which show that
the Holy Spirit is never separated from Him, like the anointment with oil which has a durable
effect on the men who are anointed, and is not separated from them. It is right, therefore, that
you also should receive the signing on your forehead. When (the priest) signs you he says: ‘So-
and-so is signed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,’ so that it may
be an indication and a sign to you that it is in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that
the Holy Spirit descended on you also, and you were anointed and received grace; and He will
be and remain with you, as it is through Him that you possess now the first fruits.” 304
There is nothing in this passage which suggests that Theodore was here fostering an innovation and
was not faithfully representing the Antiochene tradition on this matter as he has always known it. A
century earlier Pope St. Cornelius in his letter to Bishop Fabius of Antioch took it for granted that the
Antiochenes were familiar with the rite of imposition of hands after Baptism for the bestowal of the Holy
Spirit. In his question to Fabius ‘And since this [i.e. Confirmation] was not done, how could he have the
Holy Spirit?’ Cornelius assumed that Fabius shared the same theological stands with him on this matter.
This to Cornelius was the teaching of the Church not only in Rome but everywhere (note ‘did not receive
the other things of which one should partake according to the rule of the Church, in particular the sealing
by a bishop’). There is nothing in Eusebius’ History of The Church which suggests that either Bishop Fabius
or Eusebius that preserved that letter held a divergent position from that espoused by Cornelius. Even St.
John Chrysostom himself, elsewhere in another of his work demonstrated that he was unfamiliar with the
idea, sometimes ascribed by these men to the early Syrian Church, that the reception of the Holy Spirit
preceded the baptismal bath in Christian initiation. Commenting on Jn 3:5, he says:
“If someone should ask: ‘Why has water been mentioned as necessary for baptism?’—let us
also in our turn ask why earth at the beginning was employed for the forming of man. For, it is
altogether clear to all men that even without earth it was possible for Him to make man. Well,
then, do not be over inquisitive. However, that the part which water plays is essential and
indispensable you may learn from the following: When, on one occasion, the Spirit had come
down before the water, the Apostle did not remain satisfied with that, but as if the water was
necessary and not superfluous, see what he said: ‘Can anyone refuse the water to baptize
these, seeing that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?[Acts 10:47]’” 305
St. John Chrysostom certainly saw the sequence in Acts 10:47 where the bestowal of the Holy Spirit
comes before the washing with water as something unique. So the position he must have held must either
be that the Holy Spirit is mediated through Baptism or that the Holy Spirit is mediated through certain
post-baptismal rite or even both. Almost all his contemporaries (including those we have cited so far) who
spoke on this subject held both positions which are not by any means incompatible.306 That it was no less

.Theodore of Mopsuestia, Catechetical Homilies, 14.
. St. John Chrysostom, Homily 25 on the Gospel of St. John.
.Some scholars see this position of the fathers of this period as a sort of confusion. J.N.D. Kelly for instance says:
“From what has been said so far it should be clear that there was considerable confusion between the theology of
consignation, or chrismation, and that of baptism. Both rites, it would appear, were regarded as conferring the gift
of the Spirit and as uniting the believer to Christ. So long as the great sacrament of initiation remained an unbroken
whole, there was no serious disadvantage in this, and the confusion created no difficulty. Once unction and the
laying on of hands, however, were detached, the problem of the precise relation of the two rites became increasingly
urgent.” Early Christian Doctrines, p.435. But holding two truths which are not by any means incompatible is one
thing and knowing how to reconcile them is another. It is true that in trying to work out a way to reconcile both truth
or in trying to expound how both truths are related some would use inaccurate and even sometimes unfavorable
different in Chrysostom’s case can be seen from his Homilies on the First Epistle to the Corinthians which
he wrote at Antioch. There commenting on I Cor 12:13 ‘And were all made to drink of one Spirit,’ he says:
“But to me he appears now to speak of that visitation of the Spirit which takes place in us after Baptism
and before the Mysteries.”307 This passage shows that Chrysostom knows of a sacramental act for the
bestowal of the Holy Spirit during Christian initiation which comes after the washing with water and
before the Eucharist. That this sacramental act consist of an imposition of hand can be seen elsewhere in
his Homilies on the Epistle to the Hebrews composed sometime in 403/404 A.D while he was a bishop.
There commenting on Heb 6:2 he shows that he was familiar with an imposition of hand connected with
the washing with water and performed immediately after it for the communication of the Holy Spirit:
“But what is the doctrine of baptisms? Not as if there were many baptisms, but one only. Why
then did he express it in the plural? Because he had said, not laying again a foundation of
repentance. For if he again baptized them and catechised them afresh, and having been
baptized at the beginning they were again taught what things ought to be done and what ought
not, they would remain perpetually incorrigible. ‘And of laying on of hands.’ For thus did they
receive the Spirit, when Paul had laid his hands on them [Acts 19:6], 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. It is not open to them to say, If we live slothfully we will be baptized again,
we will be catechised again, we will again receive the Spirit; even if now we fall from the faith,
we shall be able again by being baptized, to wash away our sins, and to attain to the same state
as before. You are deceived (he says) in supposing these things.” 308
St. John Chrysostom in the above passage was using the Liturgical language in his day to interpret
that Scriptural text and he clearly implied that it was by the ‘laying on of hands’ that the Holy Spirit was
bestowed on the recipients of the Epistle to the Hebrews (and therefore all Christians) at the time they
were being received into the Church. For him the laying on of hands mentioned in the Epistle to the
Hebrews is not different from the laying on of hands after the baptismal washing mentioned in the Acts
of the Apostles. It is the same rite that is been spoken of in those two Scriptural documents. Thus, he does
not consider the post-baptismal laying on of hands mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles as an unusual
practice but sees it as something continually perpetuated in the Church and which even in the Apostolic
era was administered to each and every one of the faithful at the point of their entry into the Church. 309

terminology but this does warrant the thought that they were confused in holding both truths. This was the case
regarding the Christological teachings of the Church. If the Father is God, and the Son is God, then, how are they
related? If the Son is truly God and truly man, then what is the relation between the Divine and the Human nature?
In the pre-Nicene era there were Christian writers who used what we may today term inadequate expressions when
trying to express these truths but this in no way imply that they were confused or they were heretics. What we have
said regarding the Christological teachings of the Church also apply to the Sacramental teachings of the Church. The
point to note here is that the various teachings of the Church were still in their early stages of development in this
period and so such situations are to be expected.
.Ibid, Homily 30 on First Corinthians.
.Ibid, Homily 9 on the Epistle to the Hebrews.
.It is the same impression we get from the Sermon on the Feast of Holy Pentecost attributed to St. John
Chrysostom: “And, as it is written, ‘when the day of Pentecost was fully come, all the holy Apostles were assembled
with one accord in one place, and the Paraclete was sent to them under the appearance of tongues of fire.’ [cf. Acts
2:1-3] Having received the abundant promise of the Father and the Holy Spirit, they were strengthened, and they
manifested Him Who was sent to them, His grace and His power. The martyr and proto-deacon Stephen, filled with
the same Holy Spirit, Whom he received by the laying-on of hands of the Apostles, did great wonders and miracles
among the people.” Note the Scripture nowhere speak of the way and manner in which St. Stephen was baptized.
But for the author of this work, if genuinely St. John Chrysostom, the initiation ceremony of the Church always
And in another work where reference was again made to that event in Acts of the Apostles he appears to
have held the view that the right to administer the rite of laying on of hands for the bestowal of the Holy
Spirit belongs to those of certain ranks of the Church leadership (the successors of the Apostles i.e. the
bishop) alone: “As it appears Philip was one of the seven, Stephen was another. Although they were able
to baptize, the seven did not give the gift of the Spirit to those baptized; neither did they have the
authority to do so. This gift was a prerogative of the Twelve. Watch, then, that the deacons did not go out.
It was by divine economy that they went out [to baptize], inspite of the fact that they did not possess this
grace, since they had not received the Spirit. They had received the power to perform signs but not to
give the Spirit to others.”310 To me I think the difference in liturgical practices here is not that the pattern
of the initiation ceremony of certain Churches at one time lacked an action(s) after the baptismal washing
such as Confirmation for the bestowal of the Holy Spirit and perfection of baptismal grace. All the
Churches, both East and West, then had an initiation ceremony which included such. But the difference
lies in the fact that in some places the rite of Confirmation was also performed immediately after the
baptismal washing inside the baptismal pool while in others it was performed after the baptismal washing
only after the newly baptized must have come out of the baptismal pool. The former was that which was
observed in certain Oriental Churches while the later was observed in some Oriental Churches and the
rest of the Church. Both traditions we must say have their roots in the description of the baptism of Christ
found in the Synoptic Gospels.
The idea of liturgically celebrating the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation together in a single
ceremony of Christian initiation in the early Church was influenced by the event of the Baptism of Christ
in the Jordan. In the Gospel of St. Mark, we find the following narrative of that event: “In those days, Jesus
came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And forthwith coming up out of
the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit as a dove descending, and remaining on him. And
there came a voice from heaven: Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.” (Mk 1:9-11) Note
‘and forthwith coming up out of the water,’ (v. 10a, cf. Mt 3:16)—it was immediately after Christ was
baptized that he was anointed with the Spirit. The anointing of Christ with the Spirit is closely connected
to the baptism of Christ in the Jordan. This, as we have already seen, would lead the early Church to closely
link the rite of the laying on of hands (i.e. Confirmation), which was seen as a participation of the Christian
in the anointing of Christ,311 to the rite of Christian Baptism. Just as Jesus Christ in coming out of the water
in which he was baptized was anointed with the Spirit (cf. Acts 10:37ff), so also the Christian in stepping
out of the baptismal water is anointed with the Spirit by the laying on of hands (cf. Acts 19:1-6). Now, if
we look again at the narrative of the Baptism of Jesus found in the synoptic Gospels it would be discovered
that only St. Matthew and St. Mark emphasized that it was immediate after Christ left the water that he
was anointed with the Spirit. In St. Matthew’s text we read “And Jesus being baptized, forthwith came out
of the water: and lo, the heavens…” (Mt 3:16) and in St. Mark “And forthwith coming up out of the water,
he saw the heavens…” (Mk 1:10). St. Luke on his own part leaves this question open and anyone reading
Luke’s description of that event without any foreknowledge of the accounts of the other Synoptic authors

included a post-baptismal laying on of hands for the bestowal of the Holy Spirit and that was the pattern which was
observed when St. Stephen was baptized.
.Ibid, P.G. 60, 144:23-32.
.Pope John Paul II says: “In fact, the sacrament of Confirmation closely associates the Christian with the anointing
of Christ, whom ‘God annointed with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 10:38). This anointing is recalled in the very name
‘Christian’, which derives from that of ‘Christ’, the Greek translation of the Hebrew term ‘messiah’, whose precise
meaning is ‘anointed’. Christ is the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. Through the seal of the Spirit conferred by
Confirmation, the Christian attains his full identity and becomes aware of his mission in the Church and the world.
‘Before this grace had been conferred on you,’ St Cyril of Jerusalem writes, ‘you were not sufficiently worthy of this
name, but were on the way to becoming Christians’ (Cat. Myst., III, 4: PG 33, 1092).” The Holy Spirit and the
Sacrament of Confirmation, 1 (September 30, 1998).
can take his words as implying that the baptizing of Christ by St. John the Baptist and the anointing of
Christ by the Father occurred in the water. St. Luke’s account of that event reads: “Now it came to pass,
when all the people were baptized, that Jesus also being baptized and praying, heaven was opened; And
the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape, as a dove upon him; and a voice came from heaven: Thou art
my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.” (Lk 3:21-22). Note ‘being baptized and praying, heaven…’—
there is no interruption to the sequence. The baptizing, the praying, and the anointing all seem to have
occurred in the water. Again, only St. Luke in his version of that event mentioned the act of ‘praying’. The
same author explicitly stated elsewhere that the laying on of hands after the baptismal washing was
accompanied with prayer: “…when they [i.e. the Apostles] were come, prayed for them, that they might
receive the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 8:15) The connection between those two texts is not coincidental. Just as
Jesus Christ immediately after His baptism in the water prayed and was anointed with the Spirit, so also
the Christian immediately after his/her baptism in the baptismal pool is anointed with the Spirit by prayer
and the laying on of hands (cf. Acts 19:1-6). But since in Luke’s tradition there is the tendency of
understanding the whole event (i.e. the baptism with water and the anointing with the Spirit) as having
occurred in the water, certain Christian communities who in the earliest period were only familiar with
this tradition would go on to shape their initiation ceremony in such a way that the act of washing with
water and that of the laying of hands were both performed together in the baptismal pool. There is in fact
an old tradition which goes as far back as the second century which linked the Gospel of St. Matthew to
Palestine, the Gospel of St. Mark to Rome (St. Mark himself to Egypt), and the Gospel of St. Luke to Syria
(St. Luke himself to Antioch). Even if for the sake of argument one were to agree with some modern
scholars that this tradition is doubtful, such person must still recognize that what could have given rise to
this tradition is the fact that there was a sort of connection that the Christians at the turn of the first
century saw between those regions and those Synoptic Gospels. Part of this connection must have been
in the area of the Liturgy since this is where the Church from the very beginning had greatly utilized the
Gospel texts. Thus, it is no coincidence that the initiation ceremony of the Roman church—and the
Churches related to her—are shaped after the account of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan reported in the
Gospel of St. Mark (See the testimony from St. Hippolytus and the Africans above). In the Roman tradition
as we have already seen the rite for the bestowal of the Holy Spirit is performed immediately after the
newly baptized steps out of the baptismal pool. This is the same scenario in the Palestinian tradition
connected to the Gospel of St. Mathew (See Firmilian of Caesarea and St. Cyril of Jerusalem above).312 On
the other hand, the initiation ceremony of the early Syrian church—and certain Churches related to her—
is modeled after the account of Christ Baptism reported in the Gospel of St. Luke. In the early Syrian
tradition the baptismal washing and the laying on of hands occurs in the baptismal water, and both rites
are so closely linked together that it is difficult at times to differentiate them (See the Didascalia above).
This seems to be the tradition St. John Chrysostom had grown to know, see the text from his Baptismal
Catecheses where he says: “It is at this moment that, through the words and hand of the priest, the Holy

.Similar accounts of the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist are found in the apocryphal Gospels connected to
these areas. See, for instance, the Gospel of the Hebrews which dates from the first half of the second century and
which was familiar to the Palestinian and Egyptian Christians: “And it came to pass when the Lord was come up out
of the water, the whole fount of the Holy Spirit descended upon him and rested on him and said to him: ‘My Son,
in all the prophets was I waiting for thee that thou shouldest come and I might rest in thee. For thou art my rest;
thou art my first-begotten Son that reignest forever.” Fragments 2. Also see, the Gospel of the Ebionites which dates
from the 2nd century and used by the Jewish-Christian sect whose name it bears: “When the people were baptised,
Jesus also came and was baptized by John. And as he came up from the water, the heavens were opened and he
saw the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove that descended and entered into him. And a voice (sounded) from heaven
that said: ‘Thou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well pleased.’ And again: ‘I have this day begotten thee.’ And
immediately a great light shone round about the place.’” Fragment 3.
Spirit descends upon you”313 Again, see the liturgical books preserved in the Syrian Apostolic Constitution
composed around 400 A.D, where we find the following description of the Christian initiation ceremony:
“And when it remains that the catechumen is to be baptized, let him learn what concerns the
renunciation of the devil, and the joining himself with Christ; for it is fit that he should first
abstain from things contrary, and then be admitted to the mysteries…And after this vow, he
comes in order to the anointing with oil. Now this is blessed by the priest for the remission of
sins, and the first preparation for baptism…After this he comes to the water…And after this,
when he has baptized him in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, let
him anoint him with Chrism, and say: ‘O Lord God, who art without generation, and without a
superior, the Lord of the whole world, who hast scattered the sweet odour of the knowledge
of the gospel among all nations, do thou grant at this time that this chrism may be efficacious
upon him that is baptized, that so sweet odour of thy Christ may continue upon him firm and
fixed, and that now he has died with him, he may arise and live with him.’ Let him say these
and the like things, for this is the efficacy of the laying on of hands on every one; for unless
there be such a recital made by a pious priest over every one of these, the candidate for
baptism does only descend into water as do the Jews, and he only puts off the filth of the body,
not the filth of the soul. After this let him stand up, and pray that prayer which the Lord taught
From the above passage we could notice the following sequence anointing, washing,
anointing/imposition of hands. That is the sequence the Syrian compiler of this work was familiar with.
He is not aware of an initiation ceremony among Christians which does not have a post-baptismal act
which includes the imposition of hands. For we find him elsewhere in the same work again alluding to
such kind of sequence in his interpretation of the third century text of the Didascalia which we cited earlier
“For we stand in need of a woman, a deaconess, for many necessities; and first in the baptism
of women, the deacon shall anoint only the foreheads with the holy oil, and after this the
deaconess shall anoint them: for there is no necessity that the women shall be seen by men;
but in the laying on of hands the bishop shall anoint her head only as the priests and kings were
formerly anointed, not because those who are now baptized are being ordained priests, but as
being Christians, or anointed, from Christ the Anointed, ‘a royal priesthood, and an holy
nation,’ [I Pt 2:9] ‘the Church of God, the pillar and ground,’ [I Tm 3:15] of the marriage
chamber, ‘who in the time past were not a people,’ [I Pt 2:10]but now are beloved and chosen.
Thou therefore, O bishop, according to that type, shalt anoint the head of those that are being
baptized, whether men or women, with the holy oil, for a type of the spiritual baptism. After
that, either thou, O bishop, or a presbyter that is under thee, calling and naming over them the
solemn invocation of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit, shall baptize them in the water; and
let a deacon receive the man and a deaconess the woman, that so the conferring of this
inviolable seal may take place with becoming decency. And after that, let the bishop anoint
with chrism those that have been baptized.”315

.See above.
.Apostolic Constitution, 7, 40-45, 1.
.Ibid, 3, 16, 2-4. What is the meaning the Syrian compiler of the Apostolic Constitution attached to each of these
acts which he has always known to be performed during the Christian initiation ceremony? The following
understanding is provided by the compiler of that work: “This baptism therefore is given into the death of Jesus
[Rom 6:8] the water is instead of the burial, and the oil instead of the Holy Ghost; the seal instead of the cross; the
chrism is the confirmation of the confession.” (3, 17, 1) Again: “Now concerning baptism, O bishop, or presbyter, we
have already given direction, and we now say, that thou shalt so baptize as the Lord commanded us, saying: ‘Go ye,
and teach all nations, baptizing them into the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (teaching
them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you)’ [Mt 28:19]: of the Father who sent, of Christ who
came, of the Comforter who testified. But thou shalt first anoint the person with holy oil, and afterward baptize him
with water, and finally shalt seal him with the chrism; that the anointing with oil may be a participation of the Holy
But note the last phase in the first text which we cited from this work: ‘After this let him stand up…’
The implication here is that the sequence of those actions (the anointing, washing, and laying on of hands)
all occurred in the water.316
The early fathers were quite aware of the connection between the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan
and the Christian initiation ceremony. Thus, St. Cyril of Jerusalem in his Catechetical Lectures delivered
around 350 A.D says: “Baptized in Christ, and having put on Christ, you have become conformed to the
Son of God. God, indeed, having predestined you for adoption of sons, has conformed you to the body of
the glory of Christ. Become participant in Christ, you are rightly called Christ. But you were made Christs
when you received the sacrament of the Holy Spirit. And all these things were done symbolically, because
you are the images of Christ. And He, having bathed in the Jordan and the Holy Spirit descended personally
upon Him, Like resting on Like. And you also, when you came out of the pool of the sacred water, you
received the anointing, the sacrament of that which Christ was anointed, I mean to say, the Holy Spirit, of
whom the blessed Isaias said, in speaking of the name of the Lord: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, that
is why He has anointed me’ [Is].”317 St. Hilary of Poitiers, writing between the years 353-355 A.D., says:
“Moreover, the plan of the heavenly mystery is portrayed in him. After he was baptized, the entrance of
heaven was opened, the Holy Spirit came forth and is visibly recognized in the form of a dove. In this way
Christ is imbued by the anointing of the Father’s affection. Then a voice from heaven spoke the following
words: ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’ [Lk 3:22] He is revealed as the Son by sound and
sight, as the testimony of his Lord by means of both an image and a voice; he is sent to an unfaithful

Spirit, and the water a symbol of the death, and the chrism a seal of the covenant. But if there be neither oil nor
chrism, the water is sufficient both for the anointing, and for the seal, and for the confession of him that is dead, or
indeed is dying together with [Christ]. But before baptism, let him that is to be baptized fast.” (7,22, 1-4) Some have
taken the last passage as proof that in some quarters in the Syrian church the importance of the anointing (pre-
baptismal and post-baptismal) was played down. However, if we look at that text carefully and the whole tradition
on the matter it would be discovered that the author was merely speaking of a case of emergency Baptism and he
had no such intention to play down the importance of the anointing. The fathers before now who spoke on this issue
have always frowned at an understanding which seem to down play the importance of the post-baptismal rite which
consisted of an anointing with oil and laying on of hands, and whose performance was the responsibility of the
bishop. For them the initiation ceremony is incomplete without this post-baptismal rite which they connected with
the gift of the Holy Spirit (See above Pope St. Cornelius in Rome, the council fathers of Elvira in Spain, the council
fathers of Laodicea in Syria). But from some of these same fathers it can as well be gathered that there was equally
a sense of awareness that Baptism itself is sufficient for entry into the Kingdom of God if there was an obstacle (i.e.
sudden death due to illness) preventing one from completing the process of initiation by receiving Confirmation (see
above Pseudo-Cyprian, On Rebaptism, 4; Synod of Elvira, canon 77). This appears to be the stand point of the author
of the Apostolic Constitution. Note the following statement ‘for the confession of him that is dead, or indeed is dying
together with [Christ].’ The idea is that for those who in illness have been baptized, there is no course to fear for
their salvation if they are overtaken by death and so did not have the chance to complete the initiation process since
the washing with water itself is sufficient for entry into the kingdom of heaven. Again, when the compiler of the
Apostolic Constitution attached the following significance to the pre-baptismal anointing ‘the anointing with oil may
be a participation of the Holy Spirit’ he appears to be connecting the giving of the Holy Spirit in Baptism to the
baptismal anointing. This does not necessary imply that he could not have understood the confirmational
anointing/imposition of hands as the work of Spirit.
.The fact that the actions of the baptismal bath and that of the post baptismal Confirmation rite were both
perform in the water in the Syrian tradition could over time have led to a conflation of both actions in certain
quarters among the Orients to the point that their distinctiveness is lost sight off and one is considered to be less
important than the other or one is totally neglected for the other. See already the diverse views of the Syrian Gnostic
Christians in the Gospel of Philip, and the Acts of Thomas. Canon 48 of the Council of Laodicea may as well be a
reaction to such tendencies.
.St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures PG 32, 1088B-1089A, as translated in Jean Danielou, The Bible and
the Liturgy (Norte Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1956), 117
people who are disobedient to their prophets. As these events happened with Christ, we should likewise
know that following the waters of baptism, the Holy Spirit comes upon us from the gates of heaven,
imbuing us with the anointing of heavenly glory. We become the sons of God by the adoption expressed
through the Father’s voice. These actual events prefigured an image of the mysteries established for
us.”318 St. Optatus of Mileve, writing in the year 364 A.D, says: “It was right that the Son should be anointed
by the Father—God by God—as the Son asked and the Spirit announced that it had been promised—this
the Father fulfilled in the Jordan. For when the Son of God, our Saviour, came there, He was pointed out
to John with these words: 'Behold the Lamb of God; He it is who taketh away the sins of the world.'[Jn
1:29.] He went down into the water, not that there was anything in God that could be cleansed, but the
water had to come before the oil that was to come after, thus to commence and ordain and fulfil the
Mysteries of Baptism. For when the waters went over Him, and He was held in the hands of John, the
Mystery followed in due order, and the Father fulfilled that for which the Son had prayed, and the Holy
Ghost had announced was to come. The Heaven was opened, as the Father anointed. Forthwith the
spiritual oil descended in the likeness of a Dove, and sat upon His Head and flowed over Him. On this
account He was first called Christ, when He was anointed by God the Father. And lest it might seem that
the laying on of hands was lacking to Him, the Voice of God was heard, saying from the cloud: 'This is My
well-beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear ye Him.' [Mt 3:17; Mk 1:11; Lk 9:35; II Pt 1:17].” 319
Theodore of Mopsuestia in his Catechetical Homilies delivered between 382 and 392 at Antioch, says:
“When you have received grace by means of Baptism, and when you have been clothed with shining white
garment, the bishop comes to you, signs you on the forehead and says: ‘N…is signed in the name of the
Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ Because as Jesus came up from the water, He received the
Holy Spirit Who in the form of dove came to rest on Him; and further because it is also said of Him that
He was anointed with the Spirit; since, also those who are anointed by men with an anointing of oil, the
oil adheres and is not taken away from them, therefore you also must receive the signing on your
forehead, so that you may have this sign that the Holy Spirit has also come down upon you and that you
have been anointed with Him.”320
Coming back to the testimonies of the fathers on the existence of Confirmation, St. Ambrose, Bishop
of Milan, addressing the newly baptized during Easter Week (390/391 A.D), says: “You have descended
then [into the water]; remember what you replied [to the questions], that you believe in the Father, you
believe in the Son, you believe in the Holy Spirit… After this, of course, you went up to the priest. Consider
what followed. Was it not that which David says: ‘Like the ointment on the head, that ran down upon the
beard, the beard of Aaron.’ [Cf. Ps 132:2] This is the ointment of which Solomon also says: ‘Thy name is
as ointment poured out; therefore young maidens have loved Thee and drawn thee.’ [Cant
1:2.3]…Understand why this is done: ‘For the eyes of a wise man are in his head.’[Eccl 2:14] Therefore, it
flows upon the beard, that is, upon the grace of youth; therefore, ‘upon the beard of Aaron,’ that you may
become ‘a chosen race,’ [Cf. I Pt 2:9] sacerdotal, precious; for we all are anointed unto the kingdom of
God and unto the priesthood with spiritual grace.”321Elsewhere, we find the saintly doctor telling his
audience: “So recall that you have received a spiritual seal, ‘the spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the spirit of counsel and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and of piety, the spirit of holy fear,’ [Cf. Is

.Hilary of Poitiers, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, 2, 6.
.St. Optatus of Mileve, 4, 7.
.Theodore of Mopsuestia, Catechetical Homilies, 14, 27. Cf. The Bible and the Liturgy, Jean Danielou. p.118-119
.St. Ambrose, The Mysteries, 5-6 (28-30). A similar passage is found in another work of St. Ambrose: “Yesterday
we discussed the font, whose likeness is as a kind of sepulcher in which, believing in the Father and Son and Holy
Spirit, we are received and dipped and rise, that is, are resuscitated. Moreover, you receive myrrh, that is ointment
upon the head. Why upon the head? Because ‘the eye of a wise man are in his head,’ [Eccl 2:14].” The Sacraments
3, 1, ( 1).
11:2-3] and preserve what you have received. God the Father sealed you; Christ the Lord confirmed you,
and gave a pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts, as you have learned in the lesson of the Apostle [Cf. II Cor
5:5].”322The Holy Spirit is here connected to the post-baptismal rite which consists of an anointing with
oil. Still more clearly in the treatise the Sacraments which was compiled between the years 390-391 and
which contains sermons St. Ambrose delivered to the newly baptized, we are told that after the Baptismal
immersion: “There follows a spiritual sign which you heard read today, because after the font there
remains the effecting of perfection, when at the invocation of the priest the Holy Spirit is poured forth,
‘the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of virtue, the spirit of knowledge,
and of godliness, the spirit of holy fear,’[Cf. Is 11:2.3] as it were , seven virtues of the Spirit.”323 Like in the
earlier treatise cited, St. Ambrose here connects the Holy Spirit with the post-baptismal Chrismation and
he also pointed out that one of the effect of this rite is that of perfection.
Moving to the fifth century, in one of the hymns composed between the years 398 and 405 A.D by
the Christian Poet Prudentius of Saragossa in Spain mention is made of Baptism and Confirmation:
“O Christian soul, remember
Baptism’s dewy fountain,
The sacramental laver
And holy oil’s anointing.”324
Elsewhere in another work by the same Poet, in which he narrates an event which occurred in his
youth during the reign of Emperor Julian the Apostate, we are informed that on one occasion when the
Emperor came to a pagan shrine to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods, the old pagan priest could not
continue with the heathen ritual because their gods had flee due to presence of one of the Emperor’s
soldiers who was a Christian. The pagan priest cried out and said:
“Some Christians has crept hither unawares:
The band and the couch divine this race abhor.
Let him by water and by chrism signed
Depart, and let Proserpine return”325
Still in Spain, the Council of Toledo, assembled by Archbishop Patronus (or Patruinus), and attended
by 18 other bishops, in September of the year 400, declared “Although it is almost everywhere guarded
that no one make the chrism without the bishop, yet because, in some places or provinces, the presbyters
are said to make the chrism, it seem good that, from this time, no other but the bishop make the chrism,

.Ibid, 7 (42).
.Ibid, The Sacraments, 3, 2, (8).
.Prudentius, The book of Hymns for every day [The Cathemerinon], 6, 125-128.
.Ibid, The Divinity of Christ [Apotheosis], 485-488. Two centuries later, St. Gregory of Tours, narrates this incident
as well in his Glory of the Martyrs: “So our Prudentius records in his book written against the Jews. An emperor
advanced to offer a loathsome sacrifice to demons. After adoring the gods and kneeling before the images, he
watched the priests of these images who were sacrificing flocks of animals, whose heads had been wreathed in laurel
and crushed with axes. An old priest investigated parts of the internal organs with his blood-stained hands. After he
attempted to detect something divine among the fibers of the liver and the hearts of the animals, he noted that
everything was confused, and he was unable to discover for certain what he wished to learn. Distraught, he cried
out and said: 'Alas, alas, I do not know what is happening that is thought to be hostile to our gods. For I see that our
gods are scattering far away and accept nothing from the sacrifices we have prepared. The situation indicates that
this is due to respect for some gods who are usually hostile to us. It would be surprising if a worshipper of the God
Christ, who they claim was crucified, had not compelled our gods to flee. The censers of incense are cooling, the fire
of the altar wastes away, and the sword plunged into the victims is seen to become blunt. Look now, most sacred
Augustus, for someone washed in water and anointed with balsam; and let him immediately depart, so that the gods
whom we call might come.'” Glory of the Martyrs, 40. Note: ‘for someone washed in water and anointed with
balsam.’ The rites of initiation known to Prudentius was still the same in Gregory’s day.
and send it through the diocese; so that, before Easter-day, deacons or subdeacons be sent to the bishop
from the several churches, that the chrism, being immediately sent by the bishop, may arrive in time for
Easter. No doubt it is lawful for a bishop to make chrism at all times; but without the mind of the bishop
let not the presbyters presume to do anything. It is decreed that a deacon may not administer chrism, but
a presbyter may, in the absence of a bishop: but if the bishop be present, not without his command.” 326
The situation here was such that the Church was expanding tremendously and it was becoming more
difficult for the bishop to preside at every Baptism within his diocese. A solution to this by the council
fathers is that the presbyter could be delegated to perform the rite of Chrismation in the absence of the
bishop but that the consecration of the oil used in the rite must still be done by the bishop.
That the consecration of the oil used in Christian initiation is the sole privilege of the bishop appears
to be the stand point of the Africans as well. Thus, we find the Council of Carthage under Bishop Genethlius
of Carthage in the year 387 or 390, declaring: “Let no presbyter make the chrism, nor prepare the unction,
nor consecrate virgins, nor publicly reconcile anyone to communion.”327 In another Carthaginian Synod
held on the 28th of August in the year 397: “Let the presbyters who govern the diocesan church seek the
chrism before the feast of Easter, not from any bishop but from their own, and by themselves, or by one
of the same order, and not by one of the junior clergy.”328Again, in the Council of Carthage held under
Archbishop Aurelius in the year 419 A.D: “The bishop Fortunatus said, ‘If your holiness commands, I make
a suggestion. For I remember it was decreed in a former council, that chrism, or the reconciliation of
penitents, and moreover, the consecration of virgins, should not be done by presbyters. But if anyone has
arisen to do this, what is to be decreed concerning him?’ Bishop Aurelius said, ‘Your worship has heard
the suggestion of our brother and co-bishop Fortunatus; what do you say to these things?’ All the bishops
said, ‘Let not the confection of chrism nor the consecration of maidens be done by the presbyters; nor let
it be lawful for a presbyter to reconcile any one at public mass.’ This pleased them all”329Bishop Fortunatus
here was referring to the earlier canon by the Carthaginian synod of the year 390.
One of the bishops who sat in these African councils was St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. In his
writings mention is made of the sacrament of Confirmation on several occasions. Thus, writing between
401-403 A.D., the holy doctor says: “Why, therefore, is the Head itself, whence that ointment of unity
descended, that is, the spiritual fragrance of brotherly love,--why, I say, is the Head itself exposed to your
resistance, while it testifies and declares that ‘repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His
name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem’? And by this ointment you wish the sacrament of chrism
to be understood, which is indeed holy as among the class of visible signs, like baptism itself...”330Here it
is obvious that St. Augustine understood Baptism and the post baptismal Chrismation as two distinct
Sacraments. Elsewhere in one of his sermons delivered during Easter Sunday, he says to the newly
baptized: “For, unless the grain is ground and moistened with water, it cannot arrive at that form which
is called bread. So, too, you were previously ground, as it were, by the humiliation of your fasting and by
the sacrament of exorcism. Then came the baptism of water; you were moistened, as it were, so as to
arrive at the form of bread. But, without fire, bread does not yet exist. What, then, does the fire signify?
The chrism. For the sacrament of the Holy Spirit is the oil of our fire. Notice this when the Acts of the
Apostles are read…Attend, then, and see that the Holy Spirit will come on Pentecost. And thus He will
come: He will show Himself in tongues of fire. For He enkindles charity by which we ardently desire God
and spurn the world, by which our chaff is consumed and our heart purified as gold. Therefore, the fire,
that is, the Holy Spirit, comes after the water; then you become bread, that is, the body of Christ. Hence,

.First Council of Toledo (400 A.D), Canon 20.
.Council of Carthage (390 A.D), canon 3. See Hefele, History of the Councils, vol. II, P.390.
.Third Council of Carthage (397 A.D), canon 36.
.Council of Carthage (419 A.D), 6.
.St. Augustine of Hippo, Against the letters of Petilian the Donatist, 2, 104, 239.
in a certain manner, unity is signified.”331Augustine here connects the rite of Chrismation which is
performed after the baptismal washing with the mediation of the Holy Spirit. Similarly, in his Homilies on
the Epistle of John to the Parthians: “‘And you shall have anointing by the Holy One so that you may be
manifest to yourselves.’ [See I Jn 2:20] The spiritual anointing is the Holy Spirit Himself, the Sacrament
whose coming is in a visible anointing.”332 Augustine clearly understood that the working of the Spirit at
the post-baptismal rite of Chrismation is different from that received at Baptism although to him it is the
same Spirit that is received at both rites: “It is one thing to be born of the Holy Spirit, another to be
nourished by the Spirit”333; “The Holy Spirit is signified whether through the water for cleansing and
washing, or through the oil for exultation and inflaming of charity; nor indeed, although the signs are
different, does he differ from himself.”334 That this post-baptismal Chrismation include the laying on of
hands can be seen from the following works of Augustine: “He was baptized, he was sanctified, he was
anointed, the hand was laid upon him.”335Again:
“And if perhaps another reason may be advanced why the Holy Spirit was given twice, yet we
ought not to doubt that the same Holy Spirit was given when Jesus had breathed upon them
of whom He later said: 'Go, baptize all nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and
of the Holy Spirit,’ [Cf. Mt 28:19] a passage in which the Trinity is especially commended. And,
therefore, it is He who was also given from heaven at Pentecost, that is, ten days after the Lord
ascended to heaven. How, then, is He not God who gives the Holy Spirit? Nay rather, how great
a God is He who gives God? For none of His disciples gave the Holy Spirit. They indeed prayed
that He might come into them upon whom they laid hands, but they themselves did not give
Him. And the Church observes this custom even now in regard to its leaders. Finally, even when
Simon the magician offered money to the Apostles, he did not say: 'Give me also this power so
that I may give the Holy Spirit,’ but 'so that anyone,’ he said, 'upon whom I shall lay my hands
may receive the Holy Spirit.’ For the Scripture had not previously said that Simon saw the
Apostles giving the Holy Spirit, but: 'Simon seeing that the Holy Spirit was given through the
laying on of the Apostles' hands.’ [Cf. Acts 8:18-19] Therefore, our Lord Jesus Himself, too, has
not only given the Holy Spirit as God, but has also received Him as man, and for this reason He
was said to be full of grace and the Holy Spirit [Cf. Lk 4:1]. As it was written more plainly of Him
in the Acts of the Apostles: 'since God anointed him with the Holy Spirit [Cf. Acts 10:38].’
Certainly this was not done with any visible oil, but with the gift of grace which is signified by
the visible anointing whereby the Church anoints the baptized. Nor indeed was Christ then
anointed at His Baptism, when the Holy Spirit descended upon Him as a dove [Cf. Mt 3:16], for
He then deigned to foreshadow His Body, namely, His Church, in which those who are baptized
receive the Holy Spirit in a special manner; but we are to understand that He was then anointed
by that mystical and invisible anointing when the Word of God was made flesh, that is, when
the human nature, without any preceding merits of good works, was joined together to God
the Word in the womb of the Virgin, so as to become one person with Him. For this reason we
confess that He was born of the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary.” 336
Pope St. Innocent in his letter to Bishop Decentius of Gubbio written on the 19th of March in the year
416 A.D., says:
“In regard to the confirming of infants, however, it is clear that it is not permitted to be done
by any other than the bishop. For the presbyters, granted they be secondary priests, do not,
however, possess the summit of the pontificate. This pontifical power, however, by which they
confirm or confer the Spirit Paraclete, is show to belong only to bishops, not only by

.Ibid, Sermon 227.
.Ibid, Homilies on the Epistle of the Parthians, 3, 5.
.Ibid, Sermon 71, 12, 19.
.Ibid, Exposition of the Psalms108, 26.
.Ibid, Sermon 324.
.Ibid, On the Trinity, 15, 26 (46).
ecclesiastical custom but also by that passage of the Acts of the Apostles which declares that
Peter and Jon were directed to give the Holy Spirit to persons already baptized [Acts 8:14-17].
For it is permitted presbyters, when they baptize either without a bishop or in the presence of
a bishop, to anoint the baptized with chrism, but with chrism which has been consecrated by a
bishop; they are not permitted, however, to sign the forehead with the same oil, which is
signing pertains to bishop only, when they confer the Spirit Paraclete.” 337
St. Innocent here identifies the Sacrament of Confirmation with the rite of the imposition of hands
mentioned in Acts 8:14-17. For him the bishops as successors of the Apostles are the ordinary ministers
of this rite.
St. Isidore of Pelusium, who was born at Alexandria around 355 A.D and died about the year 435 A.D,
in arguing that Philip the deacon and Philip the Apostle are two distinct persons referred to Acts 8:14-17
as Biblical witness, sayings: “If he who baptized was one the Apostles, he had the authority of giving the
Spirit. But he baptizes only as a Disciple, whereas the Apostles, to whom this authority has been given
sanction the grace.”338 The idea that the bishop is the ordinary minister of the Sacrament of Confirmation
is clothed in those words.
St. Cyril of Alexandria, in his Commentary on the Twelve Minor Prophets written before 429 A.D.,
commenting on Joel 2:21-24 says: “The living water of holy Baptism is given to us as if in rain, and the
Bread of Life as if in wheat, and the Blood as if in wine. In Addition to this there is also the use of oil,
reckoned as perfecting those who have been justified in Christ through holy baptism.”339
Theodoret of Cyrus, writing sometime in the 430s and commenting on verse 3 of the first chapter of
the Songs of Song (“Thy name is as oil poured out”) says: “Bring to thy recollection the holy rite of
initiation, in which they who are perfected after the renunciation of the tyrant and the acknowledgment
of the King, receive as a kind of royal seal the chrism of the spiritual unction as made partakers in that
typical ointment of the invisible grace of the Holy Spirit.”340
St. Peter Chrysologus, Archbishop of Ravenna, who died in the year 450 A.D, says: “The Jew owed oil,
which by means of the Law’s bond he had taken to anoint kings, prophets, and priests as a prefiguration
of Christian chrism, until he would come into the presence of the very Leader of kings, prophets, and
priests, to whom the full hundredfold amount of chrism was to be given and poured out in its
entirety.”341Chrysologus was here referring to the postbaptismal Chrismation or Confirmation ritual.
Elsewhere, in one of his sermons on Epiphany, he connects the Chrismation with the Holy Spirit: “Today
the Holy Spirit hovers over the waters under the appearance of a dove [Cf. Mt 3:16], so that, just as that
dove announced to Noah that the flood that inundated the world had subsided [Gen 8:11], so too by this
sign it would be known that the unremitting shipwreck of the world had come to an end. But it did not
carry a branch from the old olive tree, as that one did, but pours out rich, new chrism all over his head as
Parent, in order to fulfill what the prophet said: ‘God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness
before your fellows.’[Ps 44(45):8(7)] Today ‘the Lord is over the waters.’ Correctly does it say ‘over the
waters,’ and not ‘under the waters,’ because Christ is not a servant to his Baptism, but he has authority
over the sacraments.”342
Salvian of Marseilles, in his work On the Government of God, written between 431 and 450 A.D, lists
“the grace of holy baptism, the unction of the divine chrism” among the blessings God bestows on

.St. Innocent I, Letters, 25, 3, 6.
.St. Isidore of Pelusium, Book I, Letters , 450.
.St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Twelve Minor Prophets, 32[331-332].
.Theodoret of Cyrus, Interpretation of the Canticle of Canticles, 1 .PG 81, 60.
.St. Peter Chrysologus, Sermon 126, 7.
.Ibid, Sermon 160, 4-5.
.Salvian of Marseilles, On the Government of God, 3, 2, 8.
In southeastern Gaul the Council of Orange held in the year 441 A.D declared: “That no minister who
has received the office of baptizing make a progress anywhere without chrism, since it has been decreed
among us that chrism shall only be once administered. But, concerning anyone who, through any
supervening necessity, has not been chrismed in baptism, the priest [sacerdos] shall be advised in
confirmation. For among some [‘us,’ in some copies] there is only one benediction of the chrism; [this is
said] not for sake of prejudging anything, but that it may not be thought necessary to repeat the
chrism.”344Although several details of this canon are not so clear we can at least gather from it that
Baptism and confirmation were already at this time being celebrated at least in certain places in the Latin
West as two distinct, successive actions.
Pope St. Leo who died in the year 461 A.D, in a letter to Emperor Leo, tells him that the savage murder
of Bishop Proterius at Alexandria has interrupted the sacrifice and cause the ‘hallowing of chrism’ to cease:
“Is it not clear which side you ought to support and which to oppose, if the Church of Alexandria, which
has always been the house of prayer, is not now to be a den of robbers [Lk 19:46]? For surely it is manifest
that through the cruellest and maddest savagery all the light of the heavenly mysteries is extinguished.
The offering of the sacrifice is cut off, the hallowing of the chrism has failed, and from the murderous
hands of wicked men all the mysteries have withdrawn themselves.”345 The reference here is to the
Eucharist and the Chrism associated with baptism. Elsewhere, in one of his Christmas sermons, the Pope
says: “you, dearly beloved, whom I address in no less earnest terms than those of the blessed Apostle
Peter, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession [I Pt 2:9], built
upon the impregnable rock, Christ, and joined to the Lord our Saviour by His true assumption of our flesh,
remain firm in that Faith, which you have professed before many witnesses, and in which you were reborn
through water and the Holy Ghost, and received the anointing of salvation, and the seal of eternal life.”346
A distinction between Baptism and Chrismation is here made, and both rites are clearly considered as
means of divine grace.
Gennadius of Marseilles, who flourished in the year 470 A.D, wrote: “If there are little children or
handicapped persons who cannot understand the teaching, those who present them are to answer for
them like someone answering for himself at baptism; then, strengthened by imposition of hand and by
the chrism they are to be admitted to the mysteries of the Eucharist.”347Elsewhere, he expressly says that
“the baptized person receives the Holy Spirit through the imposition of the [bishop’s] hand.”348
In an ancient homily on Pentecost ascribed to St. Faustus of Riez, who died around the year 490 A.D,
we read:
“What the imposition of hand bestows in confirming individual neophytes, the descent of the
Holy Spirit gave people then in the world of believers…the Holy Spirit, who descends upon the
waters of baptism by a salvific falling, bestows on the font a fullness toward innocence, and
presents in confirmation an increase for grace. And because in this world we who will be
prevailing must walk in every age between invisible enemies and dangers, we are reborn in
baptism for life, and we are confirmed after baptism for the strife. In baptism we are washed;
after baptism we are strengthened. And although the benefits of rebirth suffice immediately
for those about to die, nevertheless the help of confirmation are necessary for those who will
prevail. Rebirth in itself immediately saves those needing to be received in the peace of the
blessed age. Confirmation arms and supplies those needing to be preserved for the struggles

.Council of Orange (441 A.D), canon 2.
.St. Leo the Great, Letter 156, 5.
.Ibid, Sermon 24, 6.
.Gennadius of Marseilles, On Church Doctrine, 21.
.Ibid, 40. Cf. A.G. Martimort, The Sacraments, p. 57.
and battles of this world. But the one who arrives at death after baptism, unstained with
acquired innocence, is confirmed by death because one can no longer sin after death.” 349
Here we have a well-developed theology of the Sacrament of Confirmation.
St. Patrick the apostle of Ireland, in his letter to the soldiers of Coroticus written around 497 A.D in
which he chastised them for the barbaric acts they carried out against his flock, says: “They have chosen,
by their hostile deeds, to live in death; comrades of the Scotti and Picts and of all who behave like
apostates, bloody men who have steeped themselves in the blood of innocent Christians. The very same
people I have begotten for God; their number beyond count, I myself confirmed them in Christ. The very
next day after my new converts, dressed all in white, were anointed with chrism, even as it was still
gleaming upon their foreheads, they were cruelly cut down and killed by the swords of these same devilish
In the treatise On the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy written by an unknown author in Syria about A.D. 500,
we find the following description of the Christian initiation rites:
“When the Deacons have entirely unclothed him, the Priests bring the holy oil of the anointing.
Then he begins the anointing, through the threefold sealing, and for the rest assigns the man
to the Priests, for the anointing of his whole body, while himself advances to the mother of
filial adoption, and when he has purified the water within it by the holy invocations, and
perfected it by three cruciform effusions of the altogether most pure Muron, and by the same
number of injections of the all holy Muron, and has invoked the sacred melody of the
inspiration of the God-rapt Prophets, he orders the man to be brought forward; and when one
of the Priests, from the register, has announced him and his surety, he is conducted by the
Priests near the water to the hand of the Hierarch, being led by the hand to him. Then the
Hierarch, standing above, when the Priests have again called aloud near the Hierarch within
the water the name of the initiated, the Hierarch dips him three times, invoking the threefold
Subsistence of the Divine Blessedness, at the three immersions and emersions of the initiated.
The Priests then take him, and entrust him to the Sponsor and guide of his introduction; and
when they, in conjunction with him, have cast over the initiated appropriate clothing, they lead
him again to the Hierarch, who, when he has sealed the man with the most Divinely operating
Muron, pronounces him to be henceforward partaker of the most Divinely initiating
Elsewhere in the same work, he informs us that after Baptism: “there is another perfecting Service
of the same rank, which our Leaders name ‘Initiation of Muron.’”352The idea here is that the post-
baptismal anointing is a perfecting of what is begun at Baptism. He takes this up again: “…the consecrating
gift and grace of the Divine Birth in God is completed in the most Divine perfectings of the
Muron.”353Again: “The perfecting unction of the Muron gives to him who has been initiated in the most
sacred initiation of the Birth in God, the abiding of the supremely Divine Spirit; the sacred imagery of the
symbols, portraying, as I think, the most Divine Spirit abundantly supplied by Him, Who, for our sakes, has
been sanctified as man by the supremely Divine Spirit, in an unaltered condition of His essential
John the deacon, who was a deacon in the Church of Rome during the pontificate of Pope Symmachus
(498-514), in explaining to Senarius a Roman noble certain aspects of the rites of Christian initiation, says:
“Next the oil of consecration is used to anoint their breast, in which is the seat and dwelling
place of the heart; so that they may understand that they promise with a firm mind and a pure

.St. Faustus of Riez, Homily 29, on Pentecost, 1-2.
.St. Patrick, Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, 1, 2-3.
.Psuedo-Dionysius, On the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, 2, 2,7.
.Ibid, 4,1
.Ibid, 4, 3, 8.
.Ibid, 4, 3, 9.
heart eagerly to follow after the commandment of Christ, now that the devil has been driven
out. They are bidden to go in naked even down to their feet, so that having put aside the carnal
garments of mortality they may acknowledge that they make their journey upon a road upon
which nothing harsh and nothing harmful can be found. The Church has ordained these things
with watchful care over many years, although the old books may not show traces of them. And
when the elect or catechumen has advanced in faith by spiritual conveyances, so to speak, it is
necessary to be consecrated in the baptism of the one laver, in which sacrament his baptism is
effected by a threefold immersion…He is next arrayed in white vesture, and his head anointed
with the auction of the sacred chrism: that the baptized person may understand that in his
person a kingdom and a priestly mystery have met.”355
St. Gregory of Tours (539-594 A.D), in his History of the Franks, informs us that when Clovis, the first
king of the Merovingian dynasty, was converted to Catholicism (about 503 A.D), he “was baptized in the
name of the Father, Son and holy Spirit, and was anointed with the holy ointment with the sign of the
cross of Christ.”356
Among the canons which were drawn up in the Council of Braga (modern day Portugal), which met
in the year 563 A.D, there is one in which it is stated that a priest who ventures, after being forbidden, to
consecrate the chrism, or to consecrate churches or alters, shall be deposed from his office.357It should be
recalled that two centuries earlier a similar canon was enacted by the Africans. There we saw that the
privilege of consecrating the oil used in the rites of Christian initiation was reserved to the bishop. It is the
same stance that is been reaffirmed here. What this also implies is that although the bishop was
understood to be the ordinary minister of the rite of Confirmation there could have been cases in these
areas whereby simple priests were granted the faculty to confirm the baptized faithful. There are several
documents from this period which confirms our suspicion. See the 52 canon ascribed to the Second
Council of Braga (572 A.D) which reads: “It is not permitted to a presbyter to chrismate when the bishop
is present. A presbyter may not sign infants when the bishop is present, unless perhaps it was commanded
him by the bishop.”358 Also, see the testimony of Pope St. Gregory the Great, in his letter to Januarius,
bishop of Cagliari, written in the year 594 A.D: “It has to come our attention that some have been
scandalized because we forbade presbyters to touch with chrism those who are to be baptized. And we
did this, indeed, in accord with the ancient custom of our Church; but if some are in any way distressed
on this account, we allow that, where the bishops are lacking, presbyters may touch with chrism, even on
their foreheads, those who are to be baptised.”359 The practice of allowing priests to confirm which at first
started as an exception (at least since in the 4th Century) had in the course of the years in some regions
led to the idea of seeing the priest as the usual minister of Confirmation. This could be the meaning
behind the following canon from the council of Auxerre which was held in the year 578 A.D under Bishop
Annacharius of Auxerre and attended by seven abbots, thirty-four priests, and three deacons of that
diocese (it was a diocesan synod): “That the presbyters apply for chrism from the middle of Lent; and if
anyone, being detained by illness, is unable to come, let him send to his archdeacon or sub-archdeacon,
but with the chrismary and linen as the relics of saints are wont to be carried.”360 Also, see the Council of
Barcelona, held on the 1st of November in the year 599 under the presidency of the Metropolitan Asiaticus
of Tarragona and attended by twelve bishops which issued the following canon: “That when the chrism is
given to the diocesan presbyters for confirming the neophytes, nothing be accepted for the price of the
liquor, lest the grace of God, being affected by the price of the benediction, confound both buyers and

.John the deacon, Letter to Senarius, 6.
.St. Gregory of Tours, History of Franks 2, 31.
.Council of Braga (563 A.D), Canon 36.
.Second Council of Braga (572 A.D), canon 52.
.St. Gregory the Great, Letters, 4, 26.
.Council of Auxerre (578 A.D), canon 6.
sellers in a simoniacal death.”361 Again, the fathers of the Second council of Seville held in the year 619
were certainly reacting to such an idea when they enacted the following canon: “Nor indeed is it allowed
for presbyters to consecrate a church or an altar, to bestow the paraclete Spirit through the imposition of
a hand on the baptized faithful or on converts from heresy, to make chrism, to sign the forehead of the
baptized with chrism, and not to publicly reconcile any penitent in the dismissal, nor to send composed
epistles to anyone. All these things are illicit for presbyters because they do not have the perfection of the
episcopacy, which is decreed by the authority of the canons to be due to bishops alone…It is not permitted
to presbyters in the presence of the bishop to enter the baptistry nor to baptize or sign infants in the
presence of the bishop.” The intent of this canon as the last sentence seem to imply is not to convey an
idea that presbyters in whatever context were absolutely forbidden to perform those function but it is
meant to deal with Presbyters performing certain functions reserve for the office of a bishop without their
bishop’s delegation. Again, see the concern shared by St. Braulio (590-651 A.D.), Bishop of Saragossa, in
his letter to Eugene, Bishop of Toledo: “Your prudence certainly knows that the traditions of the canons
had been established that a presbyter should not dare to chrismate. But we know that all of Italy and the
East keep doing it to this day. Later, however, it was agreed that presbyters might chrismate, but with
chrism blessed by bishops. In this way it did not seem that this was the right of presbyters when they
consecrate the people of God from that holy oil, but the right of bishops, with whose blessing and
permission they may thus perform the offices of this kind, as it were by the hand of the bishop.”362 It was
such situation that confronted Pope St. Gregory in the passage cited above. In Sardinia simple priests
were already use to seeing themselves as the usual minister of Confirmation. Thus, there were aggrieved
when Pope Gregory in an earlier letter forbade them from performing that sacramental action. This made
Gregory to send them another letter (i.e. cited above) in which he not only pointed out that his action
were “in accord with the ancient custom of our Church” but at the same time reinstated that old aged
exceptional rule whereby simple priests can be delegated to perform that sacramental action in certain
St. Eulogius of Alexandria (581-607), interpreting Heb 6:2 according to the liturgical usage current in
his day says regarding those who had accepted the Christian faith: “It is necessary for those who come to
Christ first to renounce their sins,…and next to receive the redemption of their former sins through
Baptism…Then, having made progress, they become worthy of that advent of the Spirit, which comes
through the laying on of Apostolic hands, and to be taught the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead
and future judgment.”363 Here Baptism and the Confirmational imposition of hands are certainly
understood as two distinct sacramental rites.
St. Isidore of Seville (560-636) wrote:
“The Greek term ‘chrism’ is ‘unction’ in Latin. The word ‘Christ’ is also derived from this word,
and a person is sanctified after the application of unction. For just as remission of sins is granted
in baptism, so the sanctification of the spirit is administered through unction. This sacrament
derives from the anctient custom according to which people used to be anointed into the
priesthood or the royal office, for which reason Aaron was anointed by Moses. When this is
done in the flesh, it benefits in the spirit, just as in the gift of baptism also there is a visible act,
that we are submerge in water, but a spiritual effect, that we are cleansed of sins…The
sacramental ‘laying of hands’ is done to bid the Holy Spirit to come, invoked by means of a
blessing, for at the time the Paraclete, after the bodies have been cleansed and blessed,
willingly descends Father.”364

.Council of Barcelona (599), canon 2.
.St. Braulion of Saragossa, Letter 36.
.St. Eulogius of Alexandria, In Photius. Excerpt 2. Cf. Augustus Theodore Wirgman, Doctrine of Confirmation, p.
.St. Isidore of Seville, The Etymologies, 6, 19, 50-52.54.
Elsewhere he says: “But since after baptism the Holy Spirit is given through the bishops with the
laying on of the hand, we recall that the apostles did this in the Acts of the Apostles.”365
St. Hildephonsus of Toledo who died in 669 A.D, in his treatise On the Awareness of Baptism, says:
“After the washing, we are anointed with chrism, that from the name of Christ we may be called
Christians… But this anointing may become most powerful in this way, as the holy Pope Innocent
witnesses; thus he says it is not permitted to be done by anyone other than a bishop… After baptism the
Holy Spirit is aptly given with the imposition of the hands. For this the Apostle is shown to have done in
the Acts of the Apostles… It is therefore wholesome that after the example of Christ [Mk 10:13] a hand
on blessing is placed upon the faithful by the priest… After the washing at the font, after the renewal of
life, after the unction of the Spirit, the person is taught to pray with the words of truth.”366
During the first trail of St. Maximus of Constantinople in the year 665 A.D, when asked whether every
Christian Emperor is not also a priest and therefore possesses the right to determine dogma, the saintly
bishop replied: “He is not, for neither does he stand at the altar nor after the consecration of the bread
does he elevate it saying, ‘Holy things for the holy.’ Nor does he baptise, or perform the rite of chrismation,
or ordain and make bishops and priests and deacons; nor does he anoint churches, or wear the symbols
of the priesthood, the omophorion and the Gospel book, in the way in which he wears, as symbols of
kingship, the crown and purple robe.”367 A distinction between Baptism and Chrismation is here
Theodore of Tarsus, who was archbishop of Canterbury (668-90), in the penitential book ascribed to
him we read: “One person may, if it is necessary, be [god] father to a catechumen both in baptism and in
confirmation; however, it is not customary, but [usually] separate persons act as godparents in
each[office].”368 Here a clear distinction between baptism and confirmation can be seen. Elsewhere we
read: “No one may act as a godparent who is not baptized or confirmed.”369 The idea that Confirmation is
a completion of Baptism is found in this work as well: “We believe no one is complete in baptism without
the confirmation of a bishop; yet we do not despair.”370
Stephen of Ripon in his life of St. Wilfrid (d.709), written a couple of years after his death, reports
that “St Wilfrid was out riding on a certain day, going to fulfill his various duties of his bishopric, baptizing
and also confirming people with the laying on of hands...”371 This event occurred probably in south-west
Northumbria in the 670s.
Similarly, St. Bede, in the Life of St. Cuthbert written about 721 A.D, informs us that in St. Cuthbert
short time as bishop of Lindisfrane he travelled around his diocese, preaching, healing and administering
confirmation: “Now on a certain day, while he was going around his diocese dispensing words of salvation
in all houses and villages of the countryside, and was also laying his hand on those who had been lately
baptized, so that they might receive the grace of the Holy Spirit…”372The diocese of the bishop in certain
areas was getting bigger and this made it difficult for the bishop to be at every initiation ceremony. In the
absence of the bishop, the priest administers Baptism and the Eucharist to the people and they had to
wait till a later date for the bishop to come around to administer the Confirmation to them. This seems to
be the situation Stephen and St. Bede were alluding to in the passage from their respective works cited
above. Such situation would go on to have an effect, as would soon be seen, on the sequence of the rite

.Ibid, On the Church’s Institution, 2, 27, 1.
.St. Hildephonsus of Toledo, On the Awareness of Baptism,
.Anastasius Apocrisiarius, Relatio motionis (Corpus Christianorum Seies Graeca 39, 27. 183-190)
.Theodore of Tarsus, The Penitential 2, 4, 8.
.Ibid, 2, 4, 9.
.Ibid, 2, 4, 5.
.Stephen of Ripon, Life of Bishop Wilfrid, 18.
.St. Bede, life of St. Cuthbert, 29.
of initiation in certain areas. Thus, instead of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist; the sequence
would then become Baptism, the Eucharist, and Confirmation (see already in Alcuin below). Elsewhere in
his Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, St. Bede wrote: “It must be noted that Philip, who was the
evangelist of Samaria, was one of the seven, for if he had been an Apostle, he himself undoubtedly could
have laid on the hand that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For this belongs to bishops alone. For it is
allowed to priest, whether they baptize without the Bishop or in the presence of the Bishop, to anoint the
baptized with chrism, but with chrism which has been consecrated by the Bishop; not, however, to sign
the forehead with the same oil, which belongs to Bishops alone, when they convey the Comforter Spirit
to the baptized.”373
Pope St. Gregory III, in a letter to St. Boniface, the Apostle of Germany, written on the 29th of October
in the year 739 stated that in the course of Boniface’s conversion of the people of Bavaria: “Those who
were baptized with a formula expressed in a heathen tongue, provided their Baptism was performed in
the name of the Trinity should be strengthened through the hands of imposition and of the holy
St. Alcuin of York (735-804 A.D) in his letter to Odwin written around 798 A.D. describes how the
neophyte, after the reception of baptism and the Eucharist, prepares to receive the Holy Spirit by the
imposition of hands: "Last of all by the imposition of the hands by the chief priest he receives the Spirit of
sevenfold grace, that he who has been endowed in Baptism through the grace of eternal life may be
strengthened through the Holy Spirit to preach to other.”375The interposition of the Eucharist between
Baptism and Confirmation clearly demonstrates that these men understood Confirmation to be a rite
distinct and separable from Baptism.
Magnus, Archbishop of Sens, in a treatise written in the 790s, after alluding to white garments with
which the Neophytes are clothed and the baptismal anointing, he adds: “Then after all the sacraments of
baptism have been completed, they finally receive the spirit of sevenfold grace through the imposition of
the hand by the chief priest, so that they may be strengthened in right faith through the Holy Spirit. And
therefore the imposition of the hand follows, so that the Holy Spirit may be called upon and invited
through a blessing. Then it should be known that as the other sacraments of baptism happen visibly
through priests, and they are consecrated invisibly through the Lord, so also the grace of the Holy Spirit is
handed over through the imposition of the hands of the bishops to the faithful, and confirmed by the
Lord.”376Here we find the teaching that the effect of Confirmation is that of strength. And Like Baptism,
Confirmation was understood as a means of divine grace and thus a true and proper Sacrament.
Theodulf (760-821), Bishop of Orleans, in emphasizing the need to instruct those coming to Baptism,
says; “Let all the faithful be reminded that generally everyone from the youngest to the oldest learn the
Lord’s Prayer and the Creed. And it ought to be told to them, that the whole foundation of the Christian
faith rests on these two maxims. And unless anyone holds these two maxims in their memory and believes
them with all his heart and repeats them most often in prayer, he is not able to be catholic. For it is
established that no one is anointed or baptized nor is anyone received from the font and neither does he
hold anyone in the presence of the bishop for confirmation, unless he holds in his memory the Creed and
the Lord’s Prayer except for those, who by reason of their young age someone leads in speaking.”377
Elsewhere, in his treatise on Baptism, he connects the Holy Spirit with the rite of Confirmation: “Verily the
Grace of the Spirit is conveyed to the faithful by the Laying on of Hands, and the ministry of Bishops.”378

.Ibid, Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles. PL, 92, 961.
.St. Boniface, Letters, 24[45].
.St. Alcuin, Letters 134. PL. 101, 104.
.Magnus of Sens, Pamphlet on the Mystery of Baptism.
.Theodulf of Orleans, First Episcopal Statute, 22.
.Ibid, On the Ordinance of Baptism, 17.
Jesse, Bishop of Amiens, in a letter on Baptism written probably in the year 812 A.D., says: “After
these things let the Bishop confirm him on the forehead with the chrism; and so the Imposition of the
Hand takes place, that the Holy Spirit being invoked and invited by benediction may descend upon them
after the example of the Apostles.”379 Jesse is certainly familiar with a Confirmational rite performed by
the bishop for the bestowal of the Holy Spirit which consisted of the laying on of hands and anointing with
Leidrad (799-816), Archbishop of Lyon, in his book On the Sacrament of Baptism written around 812
A.D, says: “Done in part by the Lord Jesus Christ, this is fulfilled all the more in his members, and daily. It
might be said that the Lord put on vile clothing when ‘knowing no sin He was made sin for us’ [II Cor 5:21],
‘took our infirmities upon himself and bore our sicknesses’ [Mt 8:17]. Yet since there was in him no guilt
to carry away, but ‘he was wounded because of our guilt’ [Is 53:5], the vile garments were taken from him
with the wiping-away of our sin, so that rising in him, we hear, after our baptism: ‘Behold thou shalt have
new garments to wear.’ And so the Song of Songs asks: ‘Who is this who makes her way up’ all in white
[Cant 3:6; 8:5]? Then we receive anointing on the head as though in fulfillment of the words: ‘A clean
mitre they should place on his head. And they put new garments on him.’”380The anointing spoken of here
is certain the confirmational anointing which in several places is performed after the clothing of the
neophytes in white robes. Leidrad was also familiar with the action of laying on of hands connected to rite
of Confirmation as can be seen elsewhere while alluding to the testimony found in the Acts of The
Apostles: “Therefore in Baptism is given the remission of sins, in the Laying on of Hands are bestowed the
gifts of miraculous powers.”381
One of the pupils of Alcuin, Amalarius of Metz (780-850), who became bishop of Treves (Trier) about
811, in his treatise On the Offices of the Church, says: “There is this difference between our Baptism and
that of the Apostles, because they were first baptized with water, and then first received the Holy Ghost
by the breathing of Christ, whilst Christ was yet on earth, and afterwards from Heaven on the day of
Pentecost. But we are baptized in the presence of the Bishop at the same time as we receive the Holy
Ghost by the Laying on of the Hand of the Bishop.”382Amalarius here connects the Holy Spirit with
confirmational imposition of hands. Elsewhere commenting on St. John the baptist’s words ‘He shall
baptize you in the Holy Ghost and fire [see Mt 3:11],’he wrote: “We are baptized with the Holy Ghost and
with fire. We are baptized with the Holy Ghost, when we are washed from our sins; which washing the
white garments signify, which are used in Baptism over the whole body. . . We receive the baptism of fire
by the laying on of the hand of the Bishops.”383 For Amalarius, Baptism and Confirmation are clearly two
distinct Sacraments and he understands that the Holy Spirit is given in each of these Sacraments. He is
also clear that the right to administer Confirmation belongs to the Bishop alone.
The second council of Chalons held in the year 813 A.D, reacting to an abuse of receiving this
Sacrament more than once which sometimes was due to careless on the part of the clergy, decreed: “It
has been told us, that some people are confirmed two or three times by the bishops, who themselves are
unconscious of it. Whence it has seemed good to us, that confirmation, like baptism, should by no means
be repeated.”384
Another pupil of Alcuin, Rabanus Maurus, Archbishop of Mayence, in his book the Instruction of
Clerics written sometime in the year 819 A.D. says; “Finally the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, given through
the grace of eternal life, is bestowed on them by the bishop through the imposition of the hand, so that

.Jesse of Amiens, Epistola De baptism (Letter on Baptism),.
.Leidrad, On the Sacrament of Baptism, 8.
.Ibid, 7.
.Amalarius of Metz, On the Offices of the Church, 4, 29.
.Ibid, 1, 27.
.Second Council of Chalons (813), canon 27.
they may be strengthened through the Holy Spirit for preaching to others the same gift which they
received in baptism. For the baptized are signed with chrism on the top of the head by the priest, but on
the forehead by the bishop, so that the descent of the Holy Spirit upon them may be signified in the first
anointing to consecrate the dwelling for God, and the sevenfold grace of the same Holy Spirit may be said
to come on them in the second with all fullness of sanctity and knowledge and strength.”385Rabanus in
this passage was attempting to explain the relationship between the rite of Baptism performed by a priest
and that of Confirmation performed by the bishop. In this attempt although inadequate
phraseology/language are sometimes used386which is indeed not surprising for a man in his time, it is still
clear from his writing that Baptism and Confirmation were understood as two distinct Sacrament, that the
effects of Confirmation is that of strength, and that the rite of Confirmation consist of ‘the imposition of
the hand’ and ‘the anointing on the forehead by the bishop.’
Walafrid Strabo (808-849), the Benedictine Abbot, who at one time studied under Rabanus Maurus,
in his theological work Book on the Origins and Development of Certain Matters in Church Practice(‘De
exordiis et incrementis quarundam in observationibus ecclesiasticis rerum’), written between 840 and
842 for Reginbert the Librarian, says “Others have added to Baptism the unction of the chrism, which no
one doubts to have been taken from an ancient usage, since in the earliest times Baptism was wont to be
confirmed by the Imposition of Hands, which it is said that Peter and John did in Samaria, which
Confirmation both at that time pertained to the office of the Chief Pastors of the Church, and without
doubt does so pertain at the present time. Wherefore in the Canons it is frequently forbidden to priests
to consecrate the chrism, or to sign the baptized on the forehead, which belongs to Bishops alone.” 387
From the writing of Strabo and Rabanus it appears that there were two anointing after the washing with
water. One was part of the rite of Baptism and could be performed by a priest and the other was part of
the rite of Confirmation and was performed by the bishop alone.
Jonas of Orleans (760-843), who succeeded Theodulf in the See of Orleans in the year 818 A.D, is
clear in asserting that the right to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation belong to the Bishop alone
and he cites as Scriptural proof the texts from the Acts of the Apostles: “…the Acts of the Apostles teaches
that it belongs to the Bishop alone to convey the Holy Spirit to the faithful by the imposition of hands.”388
The sixth council of Paris held in the year 829 A.D., saw it fit that bishops should administer the
Sacrament of Confirmation fasting and thus decreed: “It has come to our ears, that in some provinces
most of the bishops confer the Holy Spirit, by the imposition of hands, after eating and drinking, which
seems to all of us unsuitable to so excellent a ministry; and that henceforth it ought not to be done…For
as baptism, except in case of sickness, is not celebrated but by fasting priests, so also the delivering of the
Holy Ghost, except in the same case of sickness, is to be celebrated by fasting pontiffs. Indeed, it is meet

. Rabanus Maurus, The Instruction of Clerics, 1, 29-30.
.See for example his attempt to explain the fact that the Holy Spirit is receive in both Baptism and Confirmation,
where he seems to connect the giving of the Holy Spirit in Baptism to the baptismal anointing: “Nor is it strange that
the man should be twice anointed with the same chrism for receiving the Holy Spirit, when the same Holy Spirit was
given to the Apostles themselves twice over –that is, once upon earth when after his resurrection the Lord breathed
upon them, and once from heaven, when, after the ascension of the Lord, he came upon the Apostles on the day of
Pentecost in fiery tongues, and granted them to speak in the tongues of all nations.” (ibid, 1, 30). Again: “The fact
that the unction of the chrism follows upon Baptism is because the Holy Spirit, who through that chrism sanctifies
believers by the infusion of His own power, descended upon Jesus immediately after His Baptism in the form of a
dove. That dove, which at the flood brought back to the ark a branch of olive with green leaves, was showing a type
of this, signifying surely that the Holy Spirit confers the verdure of Heavenly grace upon the faithful through the
anointing of the chrism in Baptism.” (ibid, 1, 28) The comment here is on the baptismal anointing and not the
confirmational anointing.
.Walafrid Strabo, Book on the Origins and Development of Certain Matters in Church Practice, 26.
.Jonas of Orleans, De Institutione laicali (rules of Christian life for laymen), 1, 7.
that the chief priest of Christ should first prepare, in their own hearts, a house for the Holy Ghost, by
fasting and prayer; and so, by the imposition of hands, deliver him to the rest of the faithful in praying.
Moreover, as baptism is delivered to the faithful at two seasons, to wit, Easter and Pentecost, so let the
delivering of the Holy Spirit, by imposition of hands, be; except as has been said, in the case of the sick,
and those in danger of death; to whom, as the grace of baptism is to be supplied, so also, without delay,
is the gift of the Holy Ghost to be delivered.”389This text shows that the council fathers clearly understood
that Baptism and Confirmation were two distinct Sacraments.
Hincmar (808-882 A.D), Archbishop of Reims, France, after highlighting several ways in which the
action of laying on of hands is used in the Church, adds: “But when it is used for Confirmation or Ordination
it must be held to be for a Sacrament, and not for prayer alone, which imposition the holy Fathers have
forbidden to be repeated.”390 Here we find the teaching on the ‘character’ of Confirmation. That it cannot
be repeated.
Herard, Archbishop of Turin, in a synod which he held in the year 858 A.D and in which several laws
were promulgated for the clergy, there is one relating to confirmation which reads: “Let those who are
adults come fasting to Confirmation, and let them be admonished to make their confessions first, so that
they may come in purity to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”391
Photius, who became Patriarch of Constantinople in the year 858 A.D wrote a letter criticizing the
Westerners in the following terms: “Likewise, they persuaded them that all who had been chrismated by
priests had to be anointed again by bishops. In this way, they hoped to show that Chrismation by priests
had no value, thereby ridiculing this divine and supernatural Christian Mystery. From whence comes this
law forbidding priests to anoint with Holy Chrism? From what lawgiver, Apostle, Father, or Synod? For, if
a priest cannot chrismate the newly-baptised, then surely neither can he baptise. Or, how can a priest
consecrate the Body and Blood of Christ our Lord in the Divine Liturgy if, at the same time, he cannot
chrismate with Holy Chrism? If this grace then, is taken from the priests, the episcopal rank is diminished,
for the bishop stands at the head of the choir of priests. But the impious Westerners did not stop their
lawlessness even here.”392 We have already seen that in the earliest times in both East and West the
Bishop alone was considered as ordinary minister of the rite of Confirmation or Chrismation but from the
4th Century we began to find the bishops in certain regions in certain exceptional cases delegating this role
to simple priests. This, as we have explained earlier, in the course of the years in some regions led to the
idea of seeing the priest as the usual minister of Confirmation. This appears to be the case with Photius.
However, from the passage above it can be seen that in the eyes of Photius Baptism, Chrismation, and the
Eucharist are three distinct rites that are of the supernatural order and are not man made.
Aelfric (955-1020 A.D), in his Homily for the Holy Day of Pentecost: “They [the Apostles] set their
hands over believing men, and the Holy Ghost came to them through their bishoping. Bishops are of the
same order in God’s church, and hold the institution in their bishoping, so that they set their hands over
baptized men, and pray the Almighty Ruler to send them the sevenfold gift of his Spirit, who liveth and
reigneth ever without end. Amen.”393
St. Peter Damian (1007-1072) wrote: “In Baptism, the Holy Spirit is given for pardon, here (in
Confirmation) for combat; there we are cleansed from our iniquities, here we are fortified beforehand
with virtues. Does not the consecrated hand impress the unction of the sacred chrism upon the brow as

.Sixth Council of Paris (829), canon 33.
.Hincmar of Rheims, De Capit Eccl ,16.
.Herard of Tours, Capitula. 75
.Photius, Letter 1, 13, 7.
.Aelfric, Homily for the Holy Day of Pentecost. Cf. Benjamin Thorpe, The Homilies of the Anglo-Saxon Church, vol.
I. P. 329.
the portal of our earthly house? Nor is any one without distinction chosen as the officiant of so great a
mystery, but the Bishop alone.”394
Lanfranc (1005-1089 A.D), Archbishop of Canterbury: “every doctor who converts unbelievers to the
Faith, first of all lays the foundation in their minds by telling them that they must repent of their sins, and
believe in God, and be baptized for the remission of sins, and be perfected by the laying on of the hands
of the Bishop for the purpose of receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”395
Eadmer (1060-1126 A.D), in his account of the life of St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, narrates:
“The next morning Anselm left Wissant and after a few days came to Saint Bertin, where he
was received with great rejoicing by the monks, clergy and people, who kept him there for five
days. During this time, at the request of the canons, he consecrated an altar at Saint Omer.
When he had done this, some of the notabilities among the inhabitants came to him,
beseeching him on bended knees, to confirm their children by the laying-on of his hands, and
by anointing them with the holy oil. To this he replied: ‘I shall gladly receive for this purpose
those for whom you make your request; and if there are any others in need of the sacrament,
I shall not turn them away if they come.’ They admired the goodness show in his ready reply,
and thanked him with exuberant rejoicing. Their children were confirmed, and thereupon they
filled the whole city with the words they had heard from his lips. Then might you have seen
men and women, great and small, rushing from their houses and running eagerly to our
lodgings to receive this sacrament. For at that time many years had passed among these people
during which no bishop had been allowed to perform this office among them. At last, on the
sixth day, when he had already confirmed a vast multitude, and the long journey which lay
ahead of us that day compelled us to hasten our departure from this place.” 396
The event here described occurred from November 9th 1097 A.D when St. Anselm left Wissant to 16th
November of the same year when he left St. Omer. It should be noted that the bishopric of Therouanne,
in which St. Omer was situated, had had a troubled history of successive intrusion and depositions during
the previous twenty years. Hence the statement ‘at that time many years had passed among these people
during which no bishop had been allowed to perform this office among them.’ However, from the event
one could observe the Catholic populace in these area understood Confirmation to be a distinct Sacrament
in its own right.
Theophylact, Archbishop of Achrida (modern Ohrid) in Bulgaria who died in the year 1107,
commenting on Acts 8:17 says that “after the Baptism the Holy Ghost comes upon those who are baptized
in the Name of the Lord Jesus, by the Laying on of Hands with prayer. Wherefore this order is thus
preserved unto the present day.”397
Hugh of St. Victor (1096-1140 A.D): “Since in Baptism a full remission of sins takes place, what does
Confirmation confer? The Spirit is given in Baptism for remission, but here [.i.e. in Confirmation] for
strength, for through it we are armed against our invisible foes. A man can be saved without this
Sacrament if he does not pass it by from contempt.”398
Peter Lombard (1095-1160): “This Sacrament cannot be accomplished by any others except Bishops,
nor from the time of the Apostles is it recorded to have been administered by any others save the Apostles
themselves, nor can or ought it to be done by any others save by those who hold their place in succession
from them (in the Apostles). The virtue of this Sacrament is the gift of the Spirit for strength, which in
Baptism was given for remission.”399

.St. Peter Damian, Sermon 1. De Dedicatione Ecclesiae
.Lanfranc, Commentary on Heb 6. Cf. Cf. Augustus Theodore Wirgman, Doctrine of Confirmation, p. 314-315.
.Eadmer, Life of Saint Anselm, I2, 15.
.Theophylact, Commentaries . Cf. Augustus Theodore Wirgman, Doctrine of Confirmation, p.
.Hugh of St. Victor, De Sacramentis Christianæ Fidei
.Peter Lombard, Sentences 4.
Many more passages from Christian authors and synods from the first twelve centuries of the Church
can be cited to the same effect. But those we have given are enough to show that the early centuries of
the Church were quite familiar with a Confirmational rite distinct from Baptism, which conferred the Holy
Spirit. We can see from those same passages that the contrary opinion held by the reformers that
Confirmation was formally nothing but a sort of catechism in which adults confirm or endorse the
promises made for them when baptized as infants, finds no warrant in the NT and is quite unknown in
these early centuries. In fact, the contrary opinion held by the Reformers on this matter cannot be traced
further back than the sixteenth century. Also, unknown in these early centuries is the idea put forward by
some of the Reformers that the special rite for the bestowal of the Holy Spirit performed by the Apostles
and of which two cases were narrated by St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles was meant to cease after the
death of the Apostles. Rather, the testimonies from the early centuries show that the Church from the
time of the Apostles till the present day continued to perform that rite believing it was meant to endure
for all time. The question we then pose to men like Boettner and Brenner who today reject the Catholic
doctrine of Confirmation is: Where did the Church learn her doctrine of Confirmation, if not from the
Apostles themselves? And from whom did the Apostles receive this doctrine, if not from Our Lord Jesus
Christ Himself? Boettner had said in criticism, “Roman theologians are uncertain as to the time when this
so-called sacrament was instituted.” But the same can be said of Baptism.400 But has he ever inferred from
this like the rationalistic critics do that Baptism was not instituted by Christ? The fact that the exact time
of institution for most of the Sacraments of the Church cannot be establish from the Scriptures does not
prove that they were not instituted by the God-man Himself Jesus Christ. As pointed out earlier, only God,
or the God-man Jesus Christ, can by virtue of His Own authority, link up the communication of Divine
grace with an outward rite. The Apostles it should be recall regarded themselves merely as “ministers of
Christ, and dispensers of the mysteries of God.” (I Cor 4:1). Therefore, even if it so happens that no explicit
directive from Christ can be found in the NT for most of the Sacraments, the very fact that the Apostles
performed these outwards rites which convey inward grace, presupposes their ordinance by Christ.
Moreover, like we again pointed out earlier not everything Christ did was recorded in the NT. The NT is
clear on this: “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; which, if they were written every one,
the world itself, I think, would not be able to contain the books that should be written.” (Jn 21:25). Now,
from the NT we can at least gather that Christ promised to impart the Holy Spirit to His Apostles (Jn 14:16-
17. 26; 16:7-8; Lk 24:49; Acts 1:5). It is also evident in the NT that Christ fulfilled that promise on Pentecost
day when the Holy Spirit descended on His followers congregating in the upper room (Act 2:4). Now the
question is how did He intend to convey this same grace of Pentecost to his followers in every age
(including us today)? He did promise to impart this same grace to all the future faithful (Jn 7:38-39) hence
He must have given the Apostles instruction (at least on certain specifics) on the way and manner he
wants them to convey this grace to others. Therefore, when we see the Apostles in the NT using a rite
distinct from Baptism which consists of the laying on of hands and prayer to convey this grace (Acts 8:14-
19; 19:6) it stands to reason that Christ must have been the author of that rite. 401

. “The exact time of the institution of Baptism cannot be established from Holy Writ. Theologians are divided in
their opinion. Some assign as the time of institution the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan (Petrus Lombardus, Sent IV
3, 5: St. Thomas, III 66, 2: Cat. Rom. II 2, 20); others the conversation with Nicodemus (Peter Abelard; cf. Bernard
of Clairvaux; Ep. 77), others the promulgation of the mandate of Baptism before the Ascension (Hugo of St. Victor,
De sacr. II, 6, 4: Mag. Roland). The first two views are based on the improbable assumption, that the baptism of the
Disciples [Jn 3:22; 4:1] was Christian sacramental Baptism. Against the first opinion we may note above all the silence
of Holy Writ; against the second, the external circumstances, in which the words of Jesus on the necessity of Baptism
for salvation were spoken. The probabilities are in favour of the occasion in Mt 28:19; still the mandate of Baptism
does not exclude an earlier institution.” Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, P. 351.
.Whether one considers the tradition of the promise of the grace of Pentecost as a genuine statement from Christ
or not the fact remains that since in this period the promise of that grace is linked to an actual statement of the God-
Man shows that the Church already at that time understood that the rite used for conveying such grace owes its
origin to Him.