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5. Times of Baptism

Antiquities of the Christian Church
XIV. Of Baptism

5. Times of Baptism

The time of administering the rite was subject to various changes from age to age, of which the most important are given below, in their chronological order.

  1. In the apostolic age the administration of this ordinance was subject to no limitations either of time or place. Acts 2:4, 8:38, 9:18, 10:47, 16:33.
  2. The account of Justin Martyr gives no definite information on this point; but it would seem from this author that baptism was regarded as a public and solemn act, suitable to be performed in any assembly convened for religious worship. Tertullian, however, speaks of Easter and Whitsuntide as the most appropriate seasons for administering this rite, and appeals, not to tradition, but to arguments of his own, in confirmation of his opinion. Other writers refer to apostolical tradition, and an ancient rule of the church. 
  3. In the sixth century, the whole period between the Passover and Pentecost, and Easter and Whitsuntide above mentioned, were established by several councils as the regular times for baptism, cases of necessity only being excepted. The ordinance, however, was usually administered, by common consent, not by any authority of the church, during the night preceding these great festivals. Easter-eve, or the night preceding the great sabbath, was considered the most sacred of all seasons. And this period, while our Lord lay entombed in his grave, and just before his resurrection, was regarded as most appropriate for this solemn ordinance, which was supposed to be deliverance from the power of sin and consecration to newness of life. Comp. Rom. 6:3.

    The illuminations on this night, which are mentioned by several writers, had special reference to the spiritual illumination supposed to be imparted by this ordinance, which was denominated *, illumination, as has been already mentioned in § 1. For similar reasons baptism, which was considered peculiarly the sacrament of the Holy Ghost, was regarded as appropriate on the day of Pentecost, Whitsuntide, commemorative of the descent of the Holy Spirit.

  4. To the festivals above mentioned, that of Epiphany was early added as a third baptismal season; the day on which our Lord received baptism being regarded as peculiarly suited to the celebration of this ordinance. It appears probable, however, from a sermon of Chrysostom on this festival, that this was not observed as a baptismal season by the churches of Antioch and Constantinople. Gregory Nazianzen, on the other hand, appears to have been acquainted with the custom of baptizing on this day. It was also observed in the churches of Jerusalem and of Africa. In Italy and France it was discountenanced.

    The churches of France and Spain were accustomed to baptize at Christmas, and on the festivals of the apostles and martyrs.

    The observance of these days was not considered by the churches as essential to the validity of baptism, or as an institution of Christ or his apostles, but as a becoming and useful regulation. "Every day is the Lord's," says Tertullian, *' every hour, every season, is proper for baptism." 

From the tenth century the observance of stated seasons for baptism fell into disuse, though a preference still remained for the ancient seasons. Children were required to be baptized within a month from their birth, at eight days of age, or as soon as possible.

The church at different times manifested a superstitious regard for different hours of the day, choosing sometimes the hours of our Saviour's agony on the cross; at another, the hours from six to twelve; and at another, from three until six in the afternoon. These in times fell into disuse. In protestant churches, no particular hour or day is observed for the celebration of baptism. It is, for the most part, administered on the sabbath, during divine worship, and in the presence of the congregation. If upon another day of the week, it is to be attended with appropriate religious solemnities.

Natalis Alexandri Dissert, de baptismi solemnis tempore. S. Thesaur. theol. Venet. 1762. 4: De baptismate paschali etc. liber. ex Onuphrii Pauvinii Veron. comraentariis: cum corollariis Job. Marc. Suaresii. Romae, 1556. 4.
(No tag #1 appears in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)

De Bapt. c. 19.

Leo M. Epist. 4. ad Sicil. Ep.: Sirlcius Ep. ad Hemmer. c. 2: Socrat. e. h. lib. i. c. 5: Anibros. de Mysi. Pascbal. c. 5: Augustin Serm. De Temp. 160.

Concil. Autissiodor, A. D. 578. c. 18: Concil. Matiscon 2. c. 3: Gelasius Eplst. 9.

Euseb. Vit. Constant, lib. iv. c. 22. comp. c. 57: Gregor. Naz. Orat. 42. Gregor. Nyss. Orat. 4: Socrat. e. h. lib. vii. c. 5: Cyrill Hierosol. Procatech.c. 15.

Opp. tom. ii. p. 367 seq.

De Bapt. c. 19. comp. also Basil. M.: Horn. 13, Exborlat. ad Bapt. Chrysostom Horn, in Act.: Auguslin De Qiiadrages. Serm. 6.

(* denotes Greek text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)


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