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Thoughts on Baptism

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    CHAPTER XIII. HISTORY AND TRINE IMMERSION. INTRODUCTION.—THEODORET—SOZOMEN

    We have been requested to notice the historical argument in favor of trine immersion. It is a well-known fact that history is the main reliance of the trine immersionists. The Greek of the New Testament is decidedly against them. The analogies of the language of Scripture are against them. And the facts of Scripture are against them. But, fortifying themselves with historical statements, tracing the practice, as they claim, almost to the very time of the apostles, they do not find it very difficult to build up inferences from the Scriptures in their favor. The inferences in themselves are very weak, as we have before shown. They think these inferences are justified by the evidences drawn from history. And thus it every way appears that history is their chief dependence.TOB 135.1

    These people publish a paper in Illinois, at the head of which stands Eld. J. H. Moore. He has written a pamphlet of 64 pp., with the following pretentious title: “Trine Immersion traced to the Apostles; being a Collection of Historical Quotations from Modern and Ancient Authors, proving that a Three-fold Immersion was the OnlyTOB 135.2

    Method of Baptizing ever practiced by the Apostles and their Immediate Successors.” We think that neither the contents of the book nor the facts justify this flaming title.TOB 136.1

    Eld. Moore frequently quotes from Eld. James Quinter. Eld. Quinter wrote a tract entitled, “The Origin of Single Immersion.” These two works have been forwarded to us with the request that they may be noticed. We will now comply with that request. We wish to make here a few statements which we hope the reader will bear in mind.TOB 136.2

    1. Nothing can be justly inferred from the early practice or the early mention of a practice among the successors of the apostles, inasmuch as the wildest errors and boldest innovations are found among the immediate, successors of the apostles. Dr. Miller, of Princeton, quoted by Campbell in Debate with Rice, says:—TOB 136.3

    “We are accustomed to look back to the first ages of the church with a veneration nearly bordering on superstition. It answered the purpose of popery to refer all their corruptions to primitive times, and to represent those times as exhibiting the models of all excellence. But every representation of this kind must be received with distrust. The Christian church, dining the apostolic age, and for half a century, did indeed present a venerable aspect. Persecuted by the world on every side, she was favored in an uncommon measure with the presence of the Spirit of her divine Head, and exhibited a degree of simplicity and purity which has, perhaps, never since been equaled. But before the close of the second century the scene began to change; and before the commencement of the fourth a deplorable corruption of doctrine, discipline, and morals, had crept into the church, and disfigured the body of Christ. Hegesippas, an ecclesiastical historian, declares that ‘the virgin purity of the church was confined to the days of the apostles.’”TOB 136.4

    Milner certainly could not be accused of undue prejudice against the early traditions and customs of the church, but he says:—TOB 137.1

    “Superstition had made, it seems, deep inroads into Africa. It was rather an unpolished region, certainly much inferior to Italy in point of civilization. Satan’s temptations are suited to tempers and situations; but surely it was not by superstitious practices that the glad tidings of salvation had been first introduced into Africa. There must have been a deep decline. One of the strongest proofs that the comparative value of the Christian religion in different countries is not to be estimated by their distance from the apostolic age, is deducible from the times of Tertullian.”TOB 137.2

    Very many of the innovations which finally gained a footing in the church are traced to Tertullian. He first mentions sprinkling in connection with baptism. In his work “On Baptism,” chap. 2, he says:—TOB 137.3

    “Without expense, a man is dipped in water, and amid the utterance of some few words, is sprinkled, and then rises again, not much or not at all the cleaner, the consequent attainment of eternity is esteemed the more incredible.”—Edition of Clark, Edinburgh; also in chap. 12. He is the first to mention sponsors in baptism, and other appendages to the rite, and we shall show that he is the first to mention trine immersion.TOB 137.4

    2. We are not to infer that an early practice was derived from the apostles because we find mention of the practice, but find no mention of its origin. Scarcely a single innovation or dogma peculiar to the Romish Church can be traced to its origin. The Catholics base their argument on this fact, that you cannot trace their origin; that being practiced so early, the practice must have been derived from the apostles. But Arch-bishop Whately draws an argument against them from this same fact; inasmuch as the Scriptures thoroughly furnish the man of God unto all good works, if these dogmas had been promulgated by the apostles we could easily trace them to that source. The following will illustrate this point. Bingham, in Antiquities of the Christian Church, speaking of the “Baptism of Bells,” says:—TOB 138.1

    “The first notice we have of this is in the capitulars of Charles the Great, where it is only mentioned to be censured.”—Book 11, chap. 4, § 2.TOB 138.2

    It was then in practice. Bishops baptized bells, but when and where this originated, how it came to be a part of Christianity, we have no means of ascertaining. Shall we therefore conclude that it was derived from the apostles?TOB 138.3

    3. As it will not be safe to infer anything from a practice because it was early mentioned, so we may not infer its genuineness because it was generally received. For (1) Party spirit ran high; opposition of parties was most bitter, and the weaker parties were very early crushed out by power, oftener than they were subdued by argument. (2) As it was adjudged by the empire that “the primacy should remain with the elder Rome,” so the authority of the empire was called in to put down everything which opposed the doctrines of the bishop of Rome. And by this means heresies were extirpated; and the writings of the heretics, being condemned, were destroyed. So now we have only the writings of the orthodox party, which then meant, as it now means, the strongest party, and all the writings of that age of superstition and error have passed through the hands of those who were unscrupulous in molding everything to suit their purpose.TOB 138.4

    To show that we may not implicitly follow that which history affirms so early and so generally obtained, we refer to the fact that the historical testimony in favor of infant baptism makes it to have been both early and general. The evidence in its favor is far greater than that in favor of trine immersion. And with this was introduced infant communion. Thus Dr. Schaff:—TOB 139.1

    “In the Oriental and North African churches prevailed the incongruous system of infant communion, which seemed to follow from infant baptism, and was advocated by Augustine and Innocent I., on the authority of John 6:53. In the Greek Church this custom continues to this day, but in the Latin, after the ninth century, it was disputed and forbidden.”—History of the Christian Church, vol. 2, p. 516.TOB 139.2

    Bingham says infant communion existed in the days of Cyprian, an African bishop in the third century. The Greek Church, to which trine immersionists refer with such an air of triumph, affirm that trine immersion, infant baptism, and infant communion, all came down from the days of the apostles, and may all be deduced from the Scriptures. We have elsewhere shown the absurdity of claiming scriptural authority for trine immersion. In history it is not as strongly fortified as infant baptism. Of the three unscriptural rites above referred to, now held by the Greek Church, trine immersion has the least plausible argument in its favor.TOB 139.3

    And, 4. We must exercise due caution in receiving the statements of historians of the middle ages; for, (1) They knew no more of the facts of the first centuries, personally, than we know. They derived their knowledge from those who wrote before themselves. (2) They lived in an age when almost unbounded confidence was placed in tradition; when almost any writing which was received and indorsed by the church was accepted as authority without further questioning. This will be seen as we present our argument.TOB 140.1

    We will now notice two statements by Eld. Quinter in his tract. He says:—TOB 140.2

    “Chrystal, in his book entitled, ‘History of the Modes of Baptism,’ quotes Theodoret, Bishop of Cyprus, an author of an Ecclesiastical History and various other works, and who lived in the latter part of the fourth and early part of the fifth century, as follows: ‘He (Eunomius) subverted the law of holy baptism, which had been handed down from the beginning from the Lord and from the apostles, and made a contrary law, asserting that it was not necessary to immerse the candidate for baptism thrice, nor to mention the names of the Trinity, but to immerse once only into the death of Christ.’”TOB 140.3

    We cannot say that Theodoret never wrote these words, but the quotation comes to us with a suspicious bearing. 1.There is not the slightest evidence in existence that it was handed down from the apostles. This was a very common method of enforcing any and every practice, even before the time of Theodoret. 2.Theodoret himself was a zealous partisan on the orthodox side, who bitterly opposed dissenters, and he lived when the controversy on the Trinity ran very high, and we shall show that respect for the doctrine of the Trinity was one ground of advocating trine immersion. We shall refer to this statement ascribed to Theodoret again.TOB 141.1

    This next quotation is offered from Sozomen. We quote again from Eld. Quinter’s tract:—TOB 141.2

    “The following is the language of Sozomen in regard to the origin of single immersion. It occurs in his Ecclesiastical History. He lived, according to Cave, about the year a. d. 440. ‘Some say that Eunomius was the first who dared to bring forward the notion that the divine baptism ought to be administered by a single immersion; and to corrupt the tradition that has been handed down from the apostles, and which is still preserved by all (or among all).... But whether it was Eunomius or any other person who first introduced heretical opinions concerning baptism, it seems to me that such innovators, whoever they may have been, were alone in danger, according to their own representation, of quitting this life without having received the holy rite of baptism; for if, after having received baptism according to the ancient mode of the church (i. e., by trine immersion), they found it impossible to reconfer it on themselves, it must be admitted that they introduced a practice to which they had not themselves submitted, and thus undertook to administer to others what had never been administered to themselves (i. e., single immersion unto the death of Christ). The absurdity of this assumption is manifest from their own confession; for they admit that those who have not received the rite of baptism have not the power of administering it. Now, according to their opinion, those who have not received the rite of baptism in conformity with their mode of administration (i. e., single immersion) are unbaptized; and they confirm this opinion by their practice, inasmuch as they rebaptize (i. e., by single immersion) all those who join their sect, although previously baptized (i. e., by trine immersion) by the Catholic Church.’—Chrystal’s History of the Modes of Baptism, p. 78.”TOB 141.3

    These are the words ascribed to Sozomen by the trine immersionists. The following are the exact words of Sozomen copied from his History:—TOB 142.1

    “Some assert that Eunomius was the first to maintain that baptism ought to be performed by immersion, and to corrupt, in this manner, the apostolic tradition, which has been carefully handed down to the present day.... But whether it was Eunomius, or any other person, who first introduced heretical opinions concerning baptism, it seems to me that such innovators, whoever they may have been, were alone in danger, according to their own representation, of quitting this life without having received the rite of holy baptism; for if, after having received baptism according to the ancient mode of the church, they found it impossible to reconfer it on themselves, it must be admitted that they introduced a practice to which they had not themselves submitted, and thus undertook to administer to others what had never been administered to themselves. Thus, after having laid down certain principles, according to their own fancy, without any data, they proceed to bestow upon others what they had not themselves received. The absurdity of this assumption is manifest from their own confession; for they admit that those who have not received the rite of baptism have not the power of administering it. Now, according to their opinion, those who have not received the rite of baptism in conformity with their mode of administration, are unbaptized; and they confirm this opinion by their practice, inasmuch as they rebaptize all those who join their sect, although previously baptized by the Catholic Church.”TOB 142.2

    A fierce controversy long raged in the church as to whether baptism by heretics, or those who did not conform to the dominant party, was to be accepted as valid. It will be seen above that every reference to single and trine immersion was put into this extract, not by Sozomen, but by the man who quoted it in favor of trine immersion. They may indeed say that that is what Sozomen meant, but if Sozomen was not able to say what he meant, and needs to stand corrected at this day, then he is not competent to testify in this or any other case. It needs no words of ours to brand the course of Chrystal as dishonorable in palming on his readers this quotation for the words of Sozomen.TOB 143.1

    We do not dispute that trine immersion prevailed to a considerable extent in the days of Sozomen; but we strongly object to any controversialist making him many times say that which he never said at all. But our opposers may ask. What else could it mean, if trine immersion then existed? We answer, 1. If we could discover no other meaning, we still denounce the course as unworthy, of weaving into a historical quotation that which we think it means while it does not say it. The Catholic Church, in all her pious frauds, never went beyond this. 2. We find historical reference to sprinkling in the church about two and a half centuries before Sozomen wrote. Now inasmuch as Sozomen spoke disparagingly of immersion (not of single immersion) he may at that time have referred to sprinkling as the preferable mode. But, 3. Whatever mode Sozomen meant to indorse, it is condemned by his own words, for he speaks in favor of a “tradition handed down from the apostles.” He knows but little of church history who dots not know that tradition had obtained a standard position in the fifth century. And we promise to show, also, that the first authority for trine immersion rested it on tradition only.TOB 144.1

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