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From the picture of baptism thus far presented from the Apostolic Constitutions, it would seem that adults of well-ascertained piety were alone considered proper subjects for baptismal initiation into the visible church. The only exception to this which we find
the first seven books, is a single passage of three lines, Bk. 6, c. 15, decisive enough as to the existence of infant baptism at the close of the third century (which no person doubts); but also proving, perhaps, unless indeed the passage is an interpolation, that infant baptism was not so customary as the person who forged these Constitutions desired it should be. The passage is, —
“Moreover baptize your children, and bring them up in the nurture and admonition of God. For the Saviour saith, Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not."
This is the only allusion to infant baptism in the first part of these Constitutions. No formulas are given any where for their baptism; but those originally intended for adults were used, as they are in the Episcopal church to this day. At the Reformation, an alteration of this part of the service was proposed. Archbishop Parker wrote, “Let this be considered.” Burnet Prot. Refor. Part 3, Bk. 6. But it remains still unaltered at this day-" to be considered" still, or like an old garment into which the new cloth must not be put, lest the rent be made worse. In his second volume of Church History, just published in this country, Dr. Neander speaking of the ancient formula of baptism says that "it originated in a period when infant baptism had not as yet come into existence."* Dr. Krabbe, himself a German Pedobaptist critic and professor, writing his prize Essay, comments upon this passage as a proof that these Constitutions could not have been written before the close of the third century.
“Near the end of c. 15, pedobaptism is commended : “ Moreover, baptize your children, and bring them up in the nurture and admonition of God.' For the Saviour saith, Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not. And this is altogether in harmony with
*In the last number of this Review, the important statement of Dr. Neander was noticed in relation to the general non-prevalence of infant baptism in the East during “ the first half of the period” from A. D. 312 to 590. * Among the Christians of the East, infant baptism, though acknowledged to be necessary [to salvation), yet entered rarely and with much difficulty into the church life,” etc.
the view which, already, we have often indicated in respect to the time of the Constitutions. It is ascertained that pedoba ptism does not belong to the apostolic age; and it is difficult to point out its existence before the time of Tertullian, who zealously opposed it. In his time, this practice seems to have been first coming into existence ; for the passages in Irenæus and in Clement of Alexandria will hardly bear criticism, and can prove the contrary of that for which they have sometimes been adduced. But after the time of Tertullian, it was rapidly introduced ; and about the middle and towards the end of the third century, it was received in the Alexandrian and North African church, and only there. It was constantly held to be apostolical, on the ground of Matt. 19: 14; which passage also our Constitutions adduce. Cyprian, in his 59th Epistle, declares himself entirely in its favor."
Afterwards, commenting on Lib. 7, c. 45, Dr. K. proceeds:
“It might seem remarkable that in all these regulations, the baptism only of persons grown up can be intended, which was performed with this solemn ritual, in which the person himself who is baptized takes a part ; while we, in another passage (p. 409), have seen that our Constitutions admit the baptism also of children. This circumstance, instead of tending to overthrow the assertions which we have made, confirms them. For exactly at the time of the origin of our Constitutions it was, when infant baptism and the baptism of persons grown up existed together. Till the fifth century this continues, and the baptism of the grown-up is the more prevalent; but then pedobaptism predominates, and completely displaces the baptism of adults. It is well known how very zealously Tertullian (de Baptismo, c. 18), opposed infant baptism; and although the council at Carthage, A. D. 253, with Cyprian at their head, declared themselves in its favor, yet only in the African church from that time it came gradually to prevail. In the Oriental church, on the contrary, the earlier usage remained till the fifth century.”
In the eighth book, however, written one hundred years later, i. e. at the close of the fourth century, that the baptism of young children was becoming more generally prevalent, is indicated by distinct allusions to their partaking of the communion, a custom coëval and coëxtensive with infant baptism. Thus, c. 13, when the virgins and widows have partaken of the elements, “afterwards the children, and then all the people in order.” The object of this arrangement seems to have been to attach superior sanctity to those who were baptized in early life, over those who deferred it to riper years. This we know from allusions in the Fathers; and no doubt it contributed to make infant baptism popular. Other passages, in chapters 8 and
12, may allude in part, if not entirely, to those like Basil, Gregory Nazianzen, and Augustine, who were made catechumens in infancy, but not baptized. It is, however, strongly indicative of the change which took place in the church during the century intervening between the first and last parts of this book, that while in the first seven books of the former period children are alluded to but once in connection with the church, in the eighth book alone they are spoken of some six times at least.
The view of infant baptism thus presented by the Apostolic Constitutions, is that of an institution existing and silently spreading; comparatively rare in the families of even the most pious Christians at the close of the third century, but becoming more common a hundred years later.
We have remarked, however, that we value the testimony of these centuries only for the light they throw upon the primitive practice of the churches; not as authorities in fact, only as witnesses ;—witnesses that when cross-examined often let out facts that directly disprove the correctness of their own practices and opinions.
It is so in this case. There is an institution more fully depicted in these Constitutions than almost any where else, that will enable us to determine with accuracy how far our views of the customary terms of admission to church-membership are correct. We mean that of the catechumens.
This order of the early church was most ancient. If not absolutely primitive, Augusti (translated by Coleman, Christian Antiquities, p. 529) seems to find distinct traces of it, A. D. 110, or within ten or twelve years of apostolic times. In Alexandria in Egypt, it probably flourished long before A. D. 170, when Pantanus had charge of the catechetical school; Eusebius, Lib. 6, c. 10, says " from the most ancient times.” In the time of Tertullian the order was old, established and universal. The discipline and instruction received in this rank was “usually an indispensable preliminary" to baptism. Coleman Antiq. p. 50. Cave Prim. Chris. Part 1, c. 10, p. 152.
Some interesting particulars are given as to the course of instruction given to the catechumens, in these Apostolic Constitutions, which will throw further light upon the terms of admission to the churches of Christ anciently.
“ He, therefore, who is to be catechized in the word of piety, let him be instructed before his baptism in the knowledge of the anbegotten God, in the understanding of his only-begotten Son, in the assured acknowledgment of the Holy Spirit. Let him learn the order of the several parts of the creation, the series of providences, the different dispensations of the laws. Let him be instructed why the world was made, and why man was appointed to be a citizen therein. Let him also know his own nature, of what sort it is. Let him be taught how God punished the wicked with water; and how he glorified the saints in each generation." “Let him who is coming to baptism learn these and the like things in his catechetical instruction.” Bk. 7, c. 39.
“ He must beforehand purify his heart from all wickedness of disposition, from all spot and wrinkle, and then partake of the holy things. For as the most skillful husbandman first cleareth his ground of the thorns which are grown up therein, and then soweth his wheat, so ought ye also to take away all impiety from them (the catechumens); and then to sow the seeds of piety in them, and bestow baptism. For thus our Lord exhorted us, saying, first, Make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28: 19); and then he added this, and baptize them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” c. 40.
The following “simple, solemn and truly Christian prayer" used to be offered up for the catechumens, probably in all the Eastern churches.
"O God Almighty, unbegotten and inaccessible, who only art the true God, the God and Father of thy Christ, thine only begotten Son; the God of the Comforter, and Lord of the universe; who, by Christ, didst appoint the disciples to be teachers, that men might learn piety; do thou thyself even now look down upon thy servants who are catechized in the gospel of thy Christ, and give them a new heart, and renew a right spirit in their inward parts, that they may both know and do thy will with full purpose of heart, and with a willing soul. Account them worthy of the holy initiation, and unite them to thy holy church, and make them partakers of the holy mysteries, through Christ, our hope, who for them suffered death; through whom glory and worship be given to thee, in the Holy Spirit, forever. Amen. Bk. 8, c. 6.
Desiring just now to show only the testimony of the catechumenical order as to the terms of admission to the church in primitive times, we confine our remarks on them to three points. 1. That this order, formed for purposes of elementary Christian instruction, embraced those born of Christian parents, as well as heathen. 2. That from the time of its complete institution, during the first four centuries, this was the only regular mode of approach to baptism. 3. That the catechumens of the first four
centuries were all unbaptized persons. If these three points are established, it will follow necessarily that at the time of the institution of the catechumenical order, the churches universally held it as a primitive truth, that the children of Christian parents equally with others needed Christian instruction before baptism; and consequently, that infant baptism must, as a system, be more modern than that of catechumenical instruction, and could only flourish in proportion as this latter became corrupted or decayed.
1. That the catechumenical system was one of elementary Christian instruction, and indeed nothing else, in its original nature and design, none will question. Nor can there be the least difficulty in shewing that those born of pious parents were always considered proper persons to become catechumens.
This Dr. Wall shews by reference to “many places” in Augustine. “We perceive,” says he, "by St. Augustine, that it was a common thing for the neighbors or any visitant to ask concerning a Christian's infant child, Is he fidelis or catechumenus ?” Wall 1, p. 118. This was A. D. 400, when infant baptism was becoming common in Africa; when the being a catechumen was often a merely nominal thing; but it shews that it was proper and common for the children of Christian parents to become or be made catechumens. From that day to this, the Romish church and the Greek church always go through the form of first making every child they baptize a catechumen; and except those in danger of death and baptized by laymen, this custom is never omitted. It was so in England to the time of Edward II. Instances are abundant in the fourth century, of children being catechumens; and for obvious reasons most of these must have belonged to Christian parents. Thus Basil, A. D. 350, exhorting the catechumens to baptism, says,
“Do you demur, and loiter, and put it off? When you have been from a child catechized in the word, are you not yet acquainted with the truth? Having been always learning it, are you not yet come to the knowledge of it? A seeker all your life long-a considerer till you are old ? When will you become one of us ?" (Basil Oratio Exhortatoria ad Baptismum.) Here it seems that the larger part of the catechumens had been made such in child
VOL. XIII. —NO. L.