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9. Rites connected with Baptism - Ceremonies before Baptism

Antiquities of the Christian Church
XIV. Of Baptism

9. Rites connected with Baptism - Ceremonies before Baptism

  1. Catechetical instruction. A solemn preparation was always required before the baptism of adults in the ancient church. This preparation consisted, in part, in a course of instruction in the leading doctrines and mysterious rights of their religion; and partly in certain prescribed exercises immediately preceding the administration of the sacred rite. The religious instructions were the same that have been already detailed in treating of catechumens, and need not be repeated in this place. They are given at length in the Apostolical Constitutions, the Catechism of Cyril of Jerusalem, the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy of the Pseudo-Dionysius, and the works of Chrysostom, Ambrose, and Augustine.
  2. Covenant or vow. A subscription to the creed was required at baptism, accompanied with a seal. The whole transaction was regarded as a most solemn covenant on the part of the person baptized, by which he publicly, and with many impressive formalities, renounced the world, the flesh, and the devil, and gave himself up to Christ, lo be his forever, covenanting henceforth to live in conformity with these obligations. To this covenant they thus set their hand and seal. By the Greeks this was styled *, and the like; by the Latins, foedus, pactum, votum, etc., a seal, a promise, a covenant, a vow. St. Ambrose calls it a promise, a caution, an hand-writing, or bond, given to God, and registered in the court of heaven, because it is made before his ministers, and the angels who are witnesses to it. Many others speak of it in terms of similar import.
  3. Exorcism. This was another preliminary of baptism, derived, as it would seem, from the miraculous powers exercised by the apostles in healing demoniacs, and from the words of Paul in delivering over to Satan offending members of the church, 1 Cor. 5:3–5, and 1 Tim. 1:20. The notions which the Jews entertained of themselves as a peculiar people, holy and consecrated unto God, together with the similar ideas of the putting away of sin and Satan by Christians on their conversion to God, had apparently much influence in giving rise to the superstitious exorcisms of the ancient church.

    The historical facts in relation to baptismal exorcisms appear to be as follows:

    1. In the first century there appears no trace of any renunciation of the Devil in baptism.
    2. In the second and third centuries, this practice was in use, as appears from the testimonies of Tertullian and Cyprian, as well as from later writers who appeal to tradition.
    3. In the fourth century the fathers speak of exorcism, not as being absolutely necessary, nor as being enjoined in the Scriptures, but highly beneficial, inasmuch as without it children born of christian parents would not be free from the influence of evil spirits. 

    Cyril of Jerusalem is the first writer who makes mention of the form of exorcism. By him it is detailed somewhat at length. The ceremonies connected with it, were, with the exception of circumstantial variations, the following:

    1. Preliminary fasting, prayers and genuflections. These, however, may be regarded as general preliminaries to baptism.
    2. Imposition of hands upon the head of the candidate who stood with his head bowed down in a submissive posture. 
    3. Putting off the shoes and clothing, with the exception of an under garment. 
    4. Facing the candidate to the west, which was the symbol of darkness, as the east was of light. In the Eastern church he was required to thrust out his hand towards the west, as if in the act of pushing away an object in that direction. This was a token of his abhorrence of Satan and his works, and his determination to resist and repel them.
    5. A renunciation of Satan and his works thus, "I renounce Satan and his works, and his pomps and his services, and all things that are his." This or a similar form was thrice repeated.
    6. The exorcist then breathed upon the candidate either once, or three times, and adjured the unclean spirit in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, to come out of him. 

    This form of adjuration seems not to have been in use until the fourth century; and these several formalities were apparently introduced gradually and at different times. The whole ceremony was at first confined to the renunciation of "the Devil and his works" on the part of the person about to be baptized.

  4. Signing with the sign of the cross. To this the ancients attached great importance and ascribed to it a wonderful efficacy. It was, moreover, the sign and seal of faith, the surrendry of the candidate up to Christ, and the solemn indication that he had passed from a state of sin to a state of grace. It was given after the ceremony of exorcism, and immediately before baptism, the officiating person saying, "Receive thou the sign of the cross upon thy forehead and on thy heart." 
  5. Unction or anointing with oil. There were two anointings, one before and one after baptism. The latter was called by way of distinction, chrism. The former immediately followed the signing of the cross. Nothing was known of this ceremony until the third or fourth century; neither are writers agreed respecting the significancy of the rite. Cyril of Jerusalem says, "Men were anointed from head to foot with this consecrated oil, and this made them partakers of the true olive tree – Jesus Christ." Others refer it to the ancient custom of anointing wrestlers for the combat. Others suppose that it assimilated to Christ the anointed of the Lord; others again, that it symbolized the anointing of the Spirit. 
  6. Use of salt, and milk, and honey. These were generally administered to the candidate, as emblems, as it would seem, of spiritual things, with reference to the frequent mention of these things in the Scriptures. The explanations, however, are somewhat confused and unsatisfactory. The emblems of milk and honey were used as early as the third and fourth centuries – that of salt was introduced at a later period.

Ambrose De Sacrament, lib. ii. c. 2. De Initiat. c. 2: Augustin. De Symbolo ad Catech. lib. ii. c. 1: Hieron. Com. in Amos 6:14: Gregor. Naz. Orat. 40. De Bapt. p. 670, ed. Par. Chrysost. Horn. 6. in Ep. ad Coloss.: Hom. ad pop. Ant. p. 237. Const, apost. lib. viii. c. 41: Justin Martyr Apol. I. c. 61, apol. 11, p. 93. Bingham, bk. ii. c. 7, § 6: Jos. Vieccoraitis, De Ritibus Bapt. lib. ii. c. 27.
(No tag #1 appears in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)

Mart. Chladenii dissert, de abrenuntiatione baptismali. Viteb. 1713 4: Th. Stolle, De origine Exorcismi in bapt. Jenae, 1735. 4: Jo. Chr. Wernsdorf. De vera ratione exorcismorum eccl. veteris. Viteb. 1749. 4: J. M. KrafFt's ausfuhrlicbe Historie vom Exorcismo. Hamburg. 1750. 8.

Henke's All. Gesch. der chr. Kirche, i. 97: Stark's Gesch. des ersten Jabr. torn. iii. S. 203: Schröckh's chr. Kirchengisch. torn. iv. S. 25: Optatus Milevit De Schism Donat. Mb. xxiv. c. 6: Basil M. De Spiritu Sancto. c. 27: Gregor. Naz. Oral. 40.

Augusiin. De Fide, ad Catechumen. 2. 1.

Chryst. Horn, ad Baptiz.: Concil. Constant. Sub. Menn. act. 5.

Cyrill. Hieros. Catech. Mystag. i. § 2: Pseudo Dionys. De Hierarch. Eccl. c. 2: Gregor. Naz. Orat. 40: Ambrose, De Initial. c. 2: De Myster. c. 3: Hieron. in Amos 6:14.

Apost. Constit. lib. vii. c. 41: Tertull. De Cor. Mil. c. 3: Cyprian Ep. vii. De Lapsis: Jerome, Com. in Matl. xxv.

Assemani Codex. Lituig. lib. ii. c. 1. § 1–5.

Apost. Constit hb. iii. c. 17: Cyprian. Ad Demet. De Unitate. Eccl.: Cyprian. Ep. I. al Iviii.: Hieron. Ep. cxiii.: Augustin. Serm. De Temp. 101: Assemani cod. Liturg. lib. i. p. 43.

Pseudo Ambrosius. De Sacrarn. lib. i. c. 2: Justin Respons. ad Orthodox. Quaest. 137: Apost. Constit. lib. ii. c. 22.

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


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