Skip to main content
Select Source:

baptism

baptism is the rite which admits a candidate into the Christian Church, and is considered a sacrament by most denominations. The paradigmatic baptism is that of Jesus himself. As recounted in the Gospels, Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan; after Jesus emerged from the water, the Holy Spirit descended upon him, in the form of a dove, and the voice of God spoke from heaven, declaring Jesus to be ‘my well-beloved son’. Hence the constituent elements of the baptismal rite are water and a Trinitarian formula: candidates are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. According to Matthew's gospel, Jesus commanded his disciples to baptize thus in his post-resurrection appearance to them in Galilee.

The origins of Christian baptism are probably found in the initiation rites of Jewish proselytes and, possibly, those of the mystery religions. Various baptismal rites were developed in the early Church, all designed to bring some or all of the body into contact with the baptismal waters. They generally involved immersion. This usually meant standing in water and having water poured on one's head and upper body. Such rites might involve triple immersion (in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) as outlined in the late-first-century practical teaching document, The Didache, in which Christians were instructed to baptize the candidate three times in running water or by pouring water over the head three times. The Apostolic Tradition, describing rites and practices in third-century Rome, stated that the baptismal candidates should remove their clothes and enter the waters of the baptistry, where they would be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Having been anointed with chrism (see below), they would put their clothes back on and enter the church to participate in the Eucharist for the first time.

Baptism was quickly seen as necessary for salvation and as the initial moment of redemption; many passages in Acts teach that baptism must be preceded by faith and the confession and renunciation of sins. Paul developed a theology of baptism in which believers, being baptized, come to union with Christ, share in His death and resurrection, are cleansed of their sins, and incorporated into the body of Christ. The believer's sins are metaphorically washed away in the rite. The water is the visible sign of God's grace.

Preparation for baptism in the early Church was serious and lengthy — it could take up to three years. Many public officials in the early Church, and in early Christendom especially, postponed baptism until the end of their lives, knowing that they would be ‘sullied’ by the activities of their public life. Early creeds developed as simple formulae of Christian belief to be used in the baptismal rite. In the first two centuries, bishops, priests, and deacons (all of whom could be women or men) conferred baptism, but gradually, as the bishop's role was expanded, and women were squeezed out of all of these ministerial positions, it came to be the bishop who baptized. In cases of necessity, baptism could be conferred by anyone — and thus, right through the Middle Ages and into the modern period, it was often the midwife who performed the baptismal rite when a newly-born baby's life was in danger. Easter and Pentecost were the traditional times for baptism, though some churches began to hold baptisms on other feasts, such as Epiphany or Christmas. Baptismal candidates have traditionally had sponsors or godparents to support them in the faith (who, in the case of infants, would accept Christ as the infant's saviour on his or her behalf).

Chrism — holy oil which is a mixture of olive oil and balsam, and consecrated by a bishop — is used in baptismal rites in Eastern Orthodox. Roman Catholic, and Anglican churches. It was used in early baptismal rites. Tradition has it that it is placed on the baptismal candidate's forehead, hands, and feet, to seal the points at which the devil might enter, but there are also understandings of chrism representing — by the richness of the oil and the sweetness of the balsam — the fullness of sacramental grace and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as the sweetness of Christian virtue. John Chrysostom, in the fourth century, wrote of baptismal candidates being anointed with oil from the top of the hairs of the head down to the feet and thereby becoming sharers in the true olive tree, Jesus Christ, and being healed of every trace of sin. An old Roman Catholic baptismal rite involved the offering of blessed salt to the baptismal candidate; this was probably based on the pagan Roman custom of placing a few grains of salt on the lips of an infant, eight days after its birth, to chase away the demons. Salt, because of its preservative quality, represented purity and incorruptibility.

The early Church seems to have baptized both infants and adults (though there is debate amongst historians about this). Gradually, infant baptism came to be the norm in Christendom, especially as a doctrine of original sin developed. Thus baptism became one of the seven sacraments in the Roman Catholic church. At the Reformation, Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin all retained infant baptism, though they interpreted the theology of it differently from the Roman Catholic Church. The Anabaptists rejected infant baptism, advocating believers' baptism, a response of faith by the individual to the gospel.

Today, some Christians — notably Baptists and many Eastern Orthodox — practise full immersion, that is the dipping of the whole body, including the face, into the water. In most Western churches, water is poured or splashed onto the head three times.

Jane Shaw

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"baptism." The Oxford Companion to the Body. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"baptism." The Oxford Companion to the Body. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 12, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/baptism

"baptism." The Oxford Companion to the Body. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/baptism

Baptism

Baptism


For Christians, baptism is one of the three rites of initiation which incorporate an individual into the Body of Christ that is, into membership in the Christian church (see 1 Cor.13). The others are confirmation and Eucharist. Baptism takes place when an individual is immersed or sprinkled with water while the baptizer recites this formula: "I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19). As a sacrament, baptism removes the sins of the newly initiated, which is in itself an unmerited gift from God. Christian baptism may be traced back to the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist in the river Jordan. Most Christian denominations require infant baptism because of Jesus' injunction, "Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit" (John 3:5), as well as the authority of St. Peter (Acts 2:38-39).

By the third century, the early church began to administer baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist to infants immediately after birth. The church recognized the spiritual equality of all of its members, whether children or adults. Writing about 80 c.e., Irenaeus of Lyons underscored this point: "For he [the Lord] came to save all of them through himself; all of them, I say, who through him are born again in God, the infants, and the small children, and the boys, and the mature, and the older people" (Adversus Omnes Haereses, Book 5).

The Traditio Apostolica (c. 217), which is attributed to Hippolytus of Rome, provides a third-century description of the rite of baptism and implications for children. The document notes that children are to be baptized before adults and that parents or relatives are to answer the prescribed questions if the children are unable to do so. Origen, a third-century theologian in the East, mandated infant baptism in his Commentarii in Romanos. Moreover, the Nicene Creed, which was drafted in the fourth century, acknowledged "one baptism for the remission of sins" and continued to associate confirmation and the Eucharist with baptism. By the time of Augustine of Hippo in the fifth century, the baptism of infants was widespread in the West. He recommended that children were to be baptized as soon as possible because of the high rate of infant mortality. According to St. Augustine, baptism removed both the original sin of Adam and Eve as well as any other sins. But the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) rejected both the early tradition of administering Eucharist to infants after baptism and the fifth-century custom of delaying confirmation and Eucharist for several years after baptism, and forbade infants from receiving the Eucharist until they had reached the age of discretion (i.e., seven). They equated spiritual readiness with reason.

After 1525, Anabaptists shared the view that physically immature children were also spiritually innocent, but they became the only Christian sect to deny the efficacy of infant baptism. Anabaptists insisted that preadolescent children could not be admitted into the church because they lacked faith. At the same time the Anabaptists comforted distraught parents by maintaining the belief that unbaptized children who died before adolescence were assured salvation because they were incapable of deliberate sin.

In the 1960s, the second Vatican Council authorized a ritual for the baptism of children (Ordo Baptismi Parvulorum, 1969) that discourages private baptisms. It prescribes that baptism is to take place in the parish church either within the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist or at least preceded by the Liturgy of the Word. The members of the parish are enjoined to assist the parents and the godparents in the education of children in the truths of the faith. Finally, the new rite stresses the inherent link between the three sacraments of initiation, even though in practice they are administered over an extended period of time (age eight for Eucharist and sixteen for confirmation).

See also: Catholicism; Christian Thought, Early; Communion, First; Protestant Reformation.

bibliography

Cullmann, Oscar. 1978. Baptism in the New Testament. Trans. J. K. S. Reid. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.

DeMolen, Richard L. 1975. "Childhood and the Sacraments in the Sixteenth Century." Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 66: 49-71.

Nocent, Adrian. 1997. "Christian Initiation." In Sacraments and Sacramentals, ed. Anscar J. Chupungco. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press.

Osborne, Kenan B. 1987. The Christian Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist. New York: Paulist Press.

Searle, Mark. 1980. Christening: The Making of Christians. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press.

Richard L. DeMolen

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Baptism." Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Baptism." Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 12, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/children/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/baptism

"Baptism." Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/children/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/baptism

Baptism

Baptism. The rite of admission into the Christian church, practised by all denominations. Its origin is probably to be sought in (i) the Jewish practice of baptizing proselytes; and (ii) the baptism administered by John the Baptist ‘for the forgiveness of sins’ (Mark 1. 4).

The doctrine which attended baptism in the early church was variable. Baptism might be, for example, the washing away of sins (Acts 2. 38), a dying with Christ (Romans, 6. 4), a rebirth (John 3. 5), or the occasion of the gift of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12. 13).

The theology of baptism gained precision in the 3rd and 4th cents., notably in the West in the writings of Augustine. The Catholic view which emerged was of a rite which works ex opere operato, which confers a ‘character’ on the recipient (who thus can never be rebaptized, even after apostasy).

The 16th-cent. Reformers modified that theology: Luther, reconciling the necessity of baptism with his doctrine of justification by faith alone, regarded baptism as a promise of divine grace after which a person's sins are no longer imputed to him or her. Zwingli, on the other hand, saw baptism only as a sign of admission to the Christian community. Calvin taught that baptism can only be of effect for the elect, who have faith (without which the rite is vacuous). The radical Anabaptists understood baptism exclusively as a response of faith on the part of the individual to the gospel, and thus rejected infant baptism.

In the most usual form of early Christian baptism, the candidate stood in water, and water was poured over the upper part of the body. This is technically called ‘immersion’, but the word is now more often used to refer to the method (used e.g. by Baptists and Orthodox) of dipping the whole body under water.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Baptism." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Baptism." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 12, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/baptism

"Baptism." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/baptism

Baptism

35. Baptism

See also 80. CHRISTIANITY ; 349. RELIGION .

Abecedarian
a member of a 16th-century Anabaptist sect who refused to learn to read, arguing that the guidance of the Holy Spirit was sufficient for the understanding of the Bible.
Anabaptism
1. a belief in adult, as opposed to infant baptism.
2. membership in various Protestant sects advocating adult baptism. Anabaptist, n., adj.
antipedobaptism, antipaedobaptism
the denial, on scriptural grounds, of the validity of infant baptism. antipedobaptist, antipaedobaptist, n.
baptisaphily
an interest in collecting Christian baptismal names.
catabaptist
an opponent of baptism.
conditional baptism
Christian baptism administered when there is doubt whether a person has already been baptized or whether a former baptism is valid.
hemerobaptism
the practice of ancient Jewish and early Christian sects involving daily ceremonial baptisms or ablutions. hemerobaptist, n.
holobaptism
a belief in baptism by immersion. Also called immersionism . holobaptist, n.
palingenesis
a belief that baptism effects a new birth or regeneration. Also palingenesy . palingenesist, n. palingenesian, adj.
parabaptism
a baptism that is in some way irregular or unauthorized. parabaptist, n.
pedobaptism, paedobaptism
the historic Christian practice of infant baptism. pedobaptist, paedobaptist, n.
ubbenite
a member of a sect of Anabaptists founded in Germany in 1534 by Ubbe Phillips.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Baptism." -Ologies and -Isms. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Baptism." -Ologies and -Isms. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 12, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/baptism

"Baptism." -Ologies and -Isms. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/baptism

baptism

baptism [Gr., =dipping], in most Christian churches a sacrament. It is a rite of purification by water, a ceremony invoking the grace of God to regenerate the person, free him or her from sin, and make that person a part of the church. Thus, baptism is usually required for membership in the church. In Roman Catholic and Anglican theology baptism is also held to confer an indelible character on the person, requiring him or her to worship. Formal baptism is performed by immersion (as among the Baptists) or by pouring or sprinkling water on the person to be baptized. This ceremony is accompanied, in churches that accept the dogma of the Trinity, by a formula asking the blessing of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In some churches the child is baptized soon after birth and has sponsors (godfather and godmother) who make declarations of faith in his name. The rite is sometimes called christening, and this term is applied especially to the giving of a baptismal name. Other churches withhold baptism until the person is relatively mature. Some Protestant groups, such as the Religious Society of Friends, reject all outward baptismal rites. Similar customs are known in many non-Christian cultures. The baptism of Jesus himself can be considered part of the founding of the Christian Church.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"baptism." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"baptism." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 12, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/baptism

"baptism." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/baptism

baptism

bap·tism / ˈbapˌtizəm/ • n. (in the Christian Church) the religious rite of sprinkling water onto a person's forehead or of immersion in water, symbolizing purification or regeneration and admission to the Christian Church. In many denominations, baptism is performed on young children and is accompanied by name-giving. ∎  a ceremony or occasion at which this takes place. ∎  a religious experience likened to this: baptism in the Holy Spirit. ∎ fig. a person's initiation into a particular activity or role, typically one perceived as difficult: this event constituted his baptism as a politician. PHRASES: baptism of fire a difficult or painful new undertaking or experience. DERIVATIVES: bap·tis·mal / bapˈtizməl/ adj.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"baptism." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"baptism." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 12, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/baptism-0

"baptism." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/baptism-0

baptism

baptism in the Christian Church, the religious rite of sprinkling water on a person's head or of immersing them in water, symbolizing purification or regeneration and admission to the Christian Church. Recorded from Middle English, the word comes via Old French and ecclesiastical Latin from ecclesiastical Greek baptismos ‘ceremonial washing’, from baptizein ‘immerse, baptize’.
baptism of blood the death by violence of unbaptized martyrs, regarded as a form of baptism.
baptism of fire a difficult or painful new undertaking or experience, from the original sense of ‘a soldier's first battle’.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"baptism." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"baptism." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 12, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/baptism

"baptism." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/baptism

baptism

baptism Pouring of water on a person's forehead or the immersion of the body in water, used as a rite of initiation into the Christian Church. Baptism is one of the sacraments of the Christian Church. The water symbolizes regeneration. Total immersion is practised by the Baptists. In churches that practise infant baptism, the rite is usually referred to as christening and is the occasion when a child is named.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"baptism." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"baptism." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 12, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/baptism-0

"baptism." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/baptism-0

Baptism

58. Baptism

  1. Aenon where St. John performed rites. [N.T.: John 3:23]
  2. Cornelius Roman centurion baptized by Peter. [N.T.: Acts 10, 11]
  3. John the Baptist prophet who baptized crowds and preached Christs coming. [N.T.: Matthew 3:113]
  4. scallop shell vessel used for conferral of sacrament. [Christian Symbolism: Appleton, 88]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Baptism." Allusions--Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Baptism." Allusions--Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 12, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/baptism-0

"Baptism." Allusions--Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/baptism-0