Heretics, Baptism by

Heretics, Baptism by When the line between the orthodox and the heretics, SEE HERESY, was clearly drawn in the early Church, the question whether baptism performed by heretics should be regarded as valid by the orthodox began to be mooted. It afterwards became of great moment, especially with regard to the claims of the Church of Rome.

1. As early as the 3rd century heretical baptism was pronounced invalid. Clemens Alexandrinus calls it false and foreign (Stromat. 1, 375). Tertullian declared that it was of no value (De Baptismo, cap. 15). "Cyprian, whose epistles afford the clearest information on this subject, followed Tertullian in rejecting baptism by heretics as an inoperative mock baptism, and demanded that all heretics coming over to the Catholic Church be baptized (he would not say re-baptized). His position here was due to his High-Church. exclusivism and his horror of schism. As the one Catholic Church is the sole repository of all grace, there can be no forgiveness of sins, no regeneration or communication of the Spirit, no salvation, therefore no valid sacraments, out of her bosom. So far he had logical consistency on his side. But, on the other hand, he departed from the objective view of the Church, as the Donatists afterwards did, in making the efficiency of the sacrament depend on the subjective holiness of the priest. 'How can one consecrate water,' he asks, 'who is himself unholy, and has not the Holy Ghost?' He was followed by the North African Church, which, in several councils at Carthage in the years 255-6, rejected heretical baptism; and by the Church of Asia Minor, which had already acted on this view, and now, in the person of the Cappadocian bishop Firmilian, a disciple and venerator of the great Origen, vigorously defended it against the intolerance of Rome. The Roman bishop Stephen (253-257) appeared for the opposite doctrine, on the ground of the ancient' practice of the Church. He offered no argument, but spoke with the consciousness of authority, and followed a catholic instinct. He laid chief stress on the objective nature of the sacrament, the virtue of which depended neither on the officiating priest nor on the receiver, but solely on the institution of Christ. Hence he considered heretical baptism valid, provided it had been administered in the right form, to wit, in the name of the Trinity, or even of Christ alone; so that heretics coming into the Church needed only confirmation, or the ratification of baptism by the Holy Ghost. 'Heresy,' says he, 'produces children and exposes them; and the Church takes up the exposed children, and nourishes them as her own, though she herself has not brought them forth.' The doctrine of Cyprian was the more consistent from the churchly point of view, that of Stephen from the sacramental. The one preserved the principle of the exclusiveness of the Church, the other that of the objective force of the sacraments, even to the borders of the opus-operatum theory. Both were under the direction of the same hierarchical spirit, and the same hatred of heretics; but the Roman doctrine is, after all, a happy inconsistency of liberality, an inroad upon the principle of absolute exclusiveness, an involuntary concession that baptism, and, with it, the remission of sins, and regeneration, therefore salvation, are possible outside of Roman Catholicism. The controversy itself was conducted with great warmth. Stephen, though advocating the liberal view, showed the genuine papal arrogance and intolerance. He would not even admit to his presence the deputies of Cyprian, who brought him the decree of the African Synod, and called this bishop, who in every respect far excelled Stephen, and whom the Roman Church now venerates as one of her greatest saints, a 'pseudo-Christum, pseudo-apostolum, et dolosum operarium.' He broke off all intercourse with the African Church, as he had already done with the Asiatic. But Cyprian and Firmilian, nothing daunted, vindicated with great boldness, the latter also with bitter vehemence, their different view, and continued in it to their death. The Alexandrian bishop Dionysius endeavored to reconcile the two parties, but with little success. The Valerian persecution, which soon ensued, and the martyrdom of Stephen (257) and of Cyprian (258), suppressed this internal discord. In the course of the 4th century, however, the Roman practice gradually gained on the other, was raised to a doctrine of the Church by the Council of Nice in 325, and was afterwards confirmed by the Council of Trent, with an anathema on the opposite view" (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, ch. 6 § 104).

2. The decree of the Council of Trent as to baptism by heretics is as follows: "If any man shall say that the baptism which is given by heretics in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, with the intention of doing what the Church doth, is not true baptism, let him be anathema" (sess. 7:can. 4). This, at first view, may appear liberal; but the indirect intention of it is to claim all baptized persons as under the jurisdiction of Rome. Canon 8 affirms that the baptized are bound "by all the precepts of the Church, whether written or transmitted." Canon 14 declares that any one who shall say "that those who have been baptized when infants are to be left to their own will when they grow up, and are not meanwhile to be compelled to a Christian life by any other penalty save exclusion from the Eucharist and the other seven sacraments till they repent," is to be anathema.

3. Luther admitted the validity of Romish baptism, and in this he is followed by Protestants generally, who do not rebaptize converts from Rome. The Protestant churches (except the Baptist) admit the validity of each other's baptism. See Herzog, Real-Encyklop. 7:538; Coleman, Anc. Christianity, p. 363; Elliott, Romanism, bk. 2, ch. 2; Guericke, Christl. Symbolik, § 59.

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