On Baptismal “Regeneration”

Barnabas ca. 70-130

Let us further inquire whether the Lord took any care to foreshadow the water [of baptism] and the cross…Blessed are they who, placing their trust in the cross, have gone down into the water; for, says He, they shall receive their reward in due time: then He declares, I will recompense them. But now He says, Their leaves shall not fade. This means, that every word which proceeds out of your mouth in faith and love shall tend to bring conversion and hope to many. Again, another prophet says, And the land of Jacob shall be extolled above every land. Zep. 3:19 This means the vessel of His Spirit, which He shall glorify. Further, what says He? And there was a river flowing on the right, and from it arose beautiful trees; and whosoever shall eat of them shall live for ever. Eze. 47:12 This means, that we indeed descend into the water full of sins and defilement, but come up, bearing fruit in our heart, having the fear [of God] and trust in Jesus in our spirit. (Epistle of Barnabas Chap. 11)

Hermas ca. 100-150

And I said to him, I should like to continue my questions. Speak on, said he. And I said, I heard, sir, some teachers maintain that there is no other repentance than that which takes place, when we descended into the water and received remission of our former sins. He said to me, That was sound doctrine which you heard; for that is really the case. (Shepher of Hermas Bk. 2, Comm. 4, Chap. 3)

[B]efore a man bears the name of the Son of God he is dead; but when he receives the seal he lays aside his deadness, and obtains life. The seal, then, is the water: they descend into the water dead, and they arise alive. (Similitudes 9 Chap. 16)

St. Justin the Philosopher ca. 103-165

I will also relate the manner in which we dedicated ourselves to God when we had been made new through Christ; lest, if we omit this, we seem to be unfair in the explanation we are making. As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. (First Apology Chap. 61)

Theophilus of Antioch died ca. 185

On the fifth day the living creatures which proceed from the waters were produced, through which also is revealed the manifold wisdom of God in these things; for who could count their multitude and very various kinds? Moreover, the things proceeding from the waters were blessed by God, that this also might be a sign of men’s being destined to receive repentance and remission of sins, through the water and laver of regeneration—as many as come to the truth, and are born again, and receive blessing from God.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons  ca. 2nd cent.-202

And when we come to refute them [i.e. those heretics], we shall show in its fitting-place, that this class of men have been instigated by Satan to a denial of that baptism which is regeneration to God, and thus to a renunciation of the whole [Christian] faith.(Against Heresies Book I.21)

And dipped himself, says [the Scripture], seven times in Jordan. 2 Kgs. 5:14 It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but [it served] as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions; being spiritually regenerated as new-born babes, even as the Lord has declared: Unless a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Jn. 3:5 (Fragments from the Lost Writings 34)

Now, this is what faith does for us, as the elders, the disciples of the apostles, have handed down to us. First of all, it admonishes us to remember that we have received baptism for the remission of sins in the name of God the Father, and in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became incarnate and died and raised, and in the Holy Spirit of God; and that this baptism is the seal of eternal life and is rebirth unto God, that we be no more children of mortal men…(The Proof of Apostolic Preaching)

Clement of Alexandria ca. 150-215

Being baptized, we are illuminated; illuminated, we become sons; being made sons, we are made perfect; being made perfect, we are made immortal. I, says He, have said that you are gods, and all sons of the Highest. This work is variously called grace, and illumination, and perfection, and washing: washing, by which we cleanse away our sins; grace, by which the penalties accruing to transgressions are remitted; and illumination, by which that holy light of salvation is beheld, that is, by which we see God clearly. (The Instuctor Bk. 1 Chap. 6)

Tertullian of Carthage ca. 160-120

Now such remarks have I wished to advance in defence of the flesh, from a general view of the condition of our human nature. Let us now consider its special relation to Christianity, and see how vast a privilege before God has been conferred on this poor and worthless substance. It would suffice to say, indeed, that there is not a soul that can at all procure salvation, except it believe while it is in the flesh, so true is it that the flesh is the very condition on which salvation hinges. And since the soul is, in consequence of its salvation, chosen to the service of God, it is the flesh which actually renders it capable of such service. The flesh, indeed, is washed, in order that the soul may be cleansed; the flesh is anointed, that the soul may be consecrated; the flesh is signed (with the cross), that the soul too may be fortified; the flesh is shadowed with the imposition of hands, that the soul also maybe illuminated by the Spirit; the flesh feeds on the body and blood of Christ, that the soul likewise may fatten on its God. (On the Resurrection of the Flesh, Chap. 8)

St. Hippolytus of Rome ca. 170-276

When the elder takes hold of each of them who are to receive baptism, he shall tell each of them to renounce, saying, “I renounce you Satan, all your service, and all your works.” After he has said this, he shall anoint each with the Oil of Exorcism, saying, “Let every evil spirit depart from you.” Then, after these things, the bishop passes each of them on nude to the elder who stands at the water. They shall stand in the water naked. A deacon, likewise, will go down with them into the water. When each of them to be baptized has gone down into the water, the one baptizing shall lay hands on each of them, asking, “Do you believe in God the Father Almighty?” And the one being baptized shall answer, “I believe.” He shall then baptize each of them once, laying his hand upon each of their heads. Then he shall ask, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and died, and rose on the third day living from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of the Father, the one coming to judge the living and the dead?” When each has answered, “I believe,” he shall baptize a second time. Then he shall ask, “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit and the Holy Church and the resurrection of the flesh?” Then each being baptized shall answer, “I believe.” And thus let him baptize the third time. Afterward, when they have come up out of the water, they shall be anointed by the elder with the Oil of Thanksgiving, saying, “I anoint you with holy oil in the name of Jesus Christ.” Then, drying themselves, they shall dress and afterwards gather in the church. The bishop will then lay his hand upon them, invoking, saying,”Lord God, you who have made these worthy of the removal of sins through the bath of regeneration, make them worthy to be filled with your Holy Spirit, grant to them your grace, that they might serve you according to your will, for to you is the glory, Father and Son with the Holy Spirit, in the Holy Church, now and throughout the ages of the ages. Amen. (Apostolic Tradition, 21)

Origen ca. 185-254

We next remark in passing that the baptism of John was inferior to the baptism of Jesus which was given through His disciples. Those persons in the Acts (Acts 19:2) who were baptized to John’s baptism and who had not heard if there was any Holy Ghost are baptized over again by the Apostle. Regeneration did not take place with John, but with Jesus through His disciples it does so, and what is called the laver of regeneration takes place with renewal of the Spirit. (Commentary on John, Bk VI.17)

St. Cyprian of Carthage died ca. 258

[W]hen they come to us and to the Church which is one, they ought to be baptized, for the reason that it is a small matter to lay hands on them that they may receive the Holy Ghost, unless they receive also the baptism of the Church. For then finally can they be fully sanctified, and be the sons of God, if they be born of each sacrament; since it is written, Unless a man be born again of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (Epistle 71:1)

St. Gregory Thaumaturgus ca. 213-270

[S]ee John the Baptist as he baptizes One who needs no baptism, and yet submits to the rite in order that He may bestow freely upon us the grace of baptism. Come, let us view the image of our regeneration, as it is emblematically presented in these waters. (On Christ’s Baptism)

St Aphrahat the Persian ca. 270-345

For from Baptism we receive the Spirit of Christ. At that same moment in which the priests invoke the Spirit, heaven opens, and He descends and rests upon the waters; and those who are baptized are clothed in Him. For the Spirit is absent from all those who are born of the flesh, until they come to the water of re-birth; and then they receive the Holy Spirit….in the second birth, that through Baptism, they receive the Holy Spirit. (Demonstrations 6:14)

St. Athanasius of Alexandria ca. 293-373

For no longer according to our former origin in Adam do we die; but henceforward our origin and all infirmity of flesh being transferred to the Word, we rise from the earth, the curse from sin being removed, because of Him who is in us , and who has become a curse for us. And with reason; for as we are all from earth and die in Adam, so being regenerated from above of water and Spirit, in the Christ we are all quickened; the flesh being no longer earthly, but being henceforth made Word , by reason of God’s Word who for our sake ‘became flesh.’ (Four Discourses Against the Arians 3:26:33)

St. Hilary of Poitiers ca. 300-368

We are circumcised not with a fleshly circumcision but with the circumcision of Christ, that is, we are born again into a new man; for, being buried with Him in His baptism, we must die to the old man, because the regeneration of baptism has the force of resurrection. (On the Trinity, Bk IX)

St. Ephrem the Syrian ca. 306-373

Therefore, because the Spirit was with the Son, He came to John to receive from him baptism, that He might mingle with the visible waters the invisible Spirit; that they whose bodies should feel the moistening of the water, their souls should feel the gift of the Spirit; that even as the bodies outwardly feel the pouring of the water upon them, so the souls inwardly may feel the pouring of the Spirit upon them. (Homily on our Lord)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem ca. 313-386

Great is the Baptism that lies before you: a ransom to captives; a remission of offences; a death of sin; a new-birth of the soul; a garment of light; a holy indissoluble seal; a chariot to heaven; the delight of Paradise, a welcome into the kingdom; the gift of adoption! (Catechetical Lectures Prologue 16)

For since man is of twofold nature, soul and body, the purification also is twofold, the one incorporeal for the incorporeal part, and the other bodily for the body: the water cleanses the body, and the Spirit seals the soul; that we may draw near unto God, having our heart sprinkled by the Spirit, and our body washed with pure water. Heb. 10:22 When going down, therefore, into the water, think not of the bare element, but look for salvation by the power of the Holy Ghost: for without both you can not possibly be made perfect. It is not I that say this, but the Lord Jesus Christ, who has the power in this matter: for He says, Unless a man be born anew (and He adds the words) of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Jn. 3:3 Neither does he that is baptized with water, but not found worthy of the Spirit, receive the grace in perfection; nor if a man be virtuous in his deeds, but receive not the seal by water, shall he enter into the kingdom of heaven. A bold saying, but not mine, for it is Jesus who has declared it: and here is the proof of the statement from Holy Scripture. Cornelius was a just man, who was honoured with a vision of Angels, and had set up his prayers and almsdeeds as a good memorial before God in heaven. Peter came, and the Spirit was poured out upon them that believed, and they spoke with other tongues, and prophesied: and after the grace of the Spirit the Scripture says that Peter commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ Acts 10:48; in order that, the soul having been born again by faith, the body also might by the water partake of the grace. (Catechetical Lectures 3:4)

Council of Nicea I (1st Ecumenical Council) 325

Forasmuch as, either from necessity, or through the urgency of individuals, many things have been done contrary to the Ecclesiastical canon, so that men just converted from heathenism to the faith, and who have been instructed but a little while, are straightway brought to the spiritual laver, and as soon as they have been baptized, are advanced to the episcopate or the presbyterate, it has seemed right to us that for the time to come no such thing shall be done. (Canon 2)

St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 337-397

Therefore read that the three witnesses in baptism, the water, the blood, and the Spirit, 1 Jn. 5:7 are one, for if you take away one of these, the Sacrament of Baptism does not exist. For what is water without the cross of Christ? A common element, without any sacramental effect. Nor, again, is there the Sacrament of Regeneration without water: For except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Jn. 3:5 Now, even the catechumen believes in the cross of the Lord Jesus, wherewith he too is signed; but unless he be baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, he cannot receive remission of sins nor gain the gift of spiritual grace. (On the Mysteries Chap. 4:20)

St. Gregory Nazianzus ca. 329-389

Such is the grace and power of baptism; not an overwhelming of the world as of old, but a purification of the sins of each individual, and a complete cleansing from all the bruises and stains of sin.
And since we are double-made, I mean of body and soul, and the one part is visible, the other invisible, so the cleansing also is twofold, by water and the spirit; the one received visibly in the body, the other concurring with it invisibly and apart from the body; the one typical, the other real and cleansing the depths. And this which comes to the aid of our first birth, makes us new instead of old, and like God instead of what we now are; recasting us without fire, and creating us anew without breaking us up. For, to say it all in one word, the virtue of Baptism is to be understood as a covenant with God for a second life and a purer conversation. And indeed all need to fear this very much, and to watch our own souls, each one of us, with all care, that we do not become liars in respect of this profession. (Oration 40 On Holy Baptism 7-8)

St. Basil of Caesarea ca. 330-379

This then is what it is to be born again of water and of the Spirit, the being made dead being effected in the water, while our life is wrought in us through the Spirit. In three immersions, then, and with three invocations, the great mystery of baptism is performed, to the end that the type of death may be fully figured, and that by the tradition of the divine knowledge the baptized may have their souls enlightened. It follows that if there is any grace in the water, it is not of the nature of the water, but of the presence of the Spirit. For baptism is not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God. 1 Pet. 3:21 (On The Holy Spirit 15:35)

For prisoners, baptism is ransom, forgiveness of debts, the death of sin, regeneration of the soul, a resplendent garment, an unbreakable seal, a chariot to heaven, a royal protector, a gift of adoption. (Eulogies on the Martyrs and Sermons on Moral and Practical Subjects 13:5)

St. Gregory of Nyssa ca. 335-394

Assuredly this is plain, that because we are by birth flesh and blood, as the Scripture says, He Who for our sakes was born among us and was partaker of flesh and blood , purposing to change us from corruption to incorruption by the birth from above, the birth by water and the Spirit, Himself led the way in this birth, drawing down upon the water, by His own baptism, the Holy Spirit; so that in all things He became the first-born of those who are spiritually born again, and gave the name of brethren to those who partook in a birth like to His own by water and the Spirit. (Against Eunomius 2:8)

St. John Chrysostom ca. 349-407

[I]f no one can enter into the kingdom of Heaven except he be regenerate through water and the Spirit, and he who does not eat the flesh of the Lord and drink His blood is excluded from eternal life, and if all these things are accomplished only by means of those holy hands, I mean the hands of the priest, how will any one, without these, be able to escape the fire of hell, or to win those crowns which are reserved for the victorious? These verily are they who are entrusted with the pangs of spiritual travail and the birth which comes through baptism: by their means we put on Christ, and are buried with the Son of God, and become members of that blessed Head. (The Priesthood 3:5-6)

Blessed Jerome ca. 347-420

“Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but he that shall drink of the water that I will give him shall not thirst for ever. But the water that I will give him shall become in him a fountain of water, springing up into life everlasting. (Jn. 4:13-14)”; and again: “He that believeth in me, as the scripture saith: Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” For just as one who drinks of His teaching shall have within himself a living fountain, so too, one who believes in Him shall have, according to what is contained in the words of the Scriptures, rivers of living water flowing from his belly. Many refer the living waters to those who thirst, that is, at Easter and Pentecsost, when what is written is fulfilled: “Wash, be clean” (Is. 1:16).

St. John Cassian ca. 360-435

Whereas now, as you were born in a Catholic city, instructed in the Catholic faith, and regenerated with Catholic Baptism, how can I deal with you as with an Arian or Sabellian? … Acknowledge the sacraments of your salvation, by which you were initiated and regenerated. They are of no less use to you now than they were then; for they can now regenerate you by penance, as they then gave you birth through the Font. (On the Incarnation Bk VI, chapter 5, 18)

Council of Constantinople I (2nd Ecumenical Council) 381

[W]e acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins… (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed)

Blessed Augustine ca. 354-430

The Christians of Carthage have an excellent name for the sacraments, when they say that baptism is nothing else than salvation, and the sacrament of the body of Christ nothing else than life. Whence, however, was this derived, but from that primitive, as I suppose, and apostolic tradition, by which the Churches of Christ maintain it to be an inherent principle, that without baptism and partaking of the supper of the Lord it is impossible for any man to attain either to the kingdom of God or to salvation and everlasting life? So much also does Scripture testify, according to the words which we already quoted. For wherein does their opinion, who designate baptism by the term salvation, differ from what is written: He saved us by the washing of regeneration? Tit. 3:5 or from Peter’s statement: The like figure whereunto even baptism does also now save us? 1 Pet. 3:21 (The Merits and the Forgiveness of Sins, and the Baptism of Infants Bk. 1 Chap. 34)

[T]he sacrament of baptism is undoubtedly the sacrament of regeneration. (ibid., Bk. 2 Chap. 43)

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444

Except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. (Jn. 3:5) For since man is compound, and not simple in his nature, being combined of two, to wit, the sensible body and intellectual soul, he will require two-fold healing for his new birth akin to both the fore-named. For by the Spirit is the spirit of man sanctified, by the sanctified water again, his body. For as the water poured into the kettle, being associated with the vigour of fire, receives in itself the impress of its efficacy, so through the inworking of the Spirit the sensible water is trans-elemented to a Divine and ineffable efficacy, and sanctifieth those on whom it comes. (Commentary on John, Bk. 2 Chap. I)

Pope St. Leo the Great ca. 400-461

Faith cuts off from union with its body, persistently and truthfully proclaiming that men’s souls did not exist until they were breathed into their bodies, and that they were not there implanted by any other than God, who is the creator both of the souls and of the bodies. And because through the transgression of the first man the whole stock of the human race was tainted, no one can be set free from the state of the old Adam save through Christ’s sacrament of baptism, in which there are no distinctions between the re-born, as says the Apostle: For as many of you as were baptized in Christ did put on Christ: there is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Gal. 3:27-28 (Letters 15:10)

St. Dionysius the Aeropagite ca. 5th cent.

And the objective, the prime purpose of each sacrament is to impart the mysteries of the Deity to the one being initiated. Thus hierarchical lore has quite truly forged a name to signify the essential feature of what is being achieved. It is the same with regard to that sacrament of the divine birth. It first introduces the light and is the source of all divine illumination. And because this is so we praise it, giving it the designation of what it acheives, that is, illumination. It is true of course that all the hierarchic operations have this in common, to pass the light of God on to the initiates, but nevertheless it was this one which first gave me the gift of sight. (The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy Chap. 3.1)

Pope Gregory the Great ca. 540-604

Whosoever says, then, that sins are not entirely put away in baptism, let him say that the Egyptians did not really die in the Red Sea. But, if he acknowledges that the Egyptians really died, he must needs acknowledge that sins die entirely in baptism, since surely the truth avails more in our absolution than the shadow of the truth. (Book 11, Epistle 45)

St. John Climacus ca. 7th cent.

The tears that come after baptism are greater than baptism itself, though it may be rash to says so. Baptism washes off those evils that were previously within us, whereas the sins committed after baptism are washed away by tears. The baptism received by us as children we have all defiled, but we cleanse it anew with our tears. (Step 7, On Mourning)

St. Isaac the Syrian ca. 7th cent.

Of everything good wrought within you noetically and in secret, be certain that baptism and faith have been the mediators whereby you received it; through these you were called by our Lord Jesus Christ to His good labours, to Whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory, honour, thanksgiving and worship unto the ages of ages. Amen. (The Ascetical Homilies, Homily 1.43)

Repentance is given us as grace after grace, for repentance is a second regeneration by God. That of which we have received an earnest by baptism, we receive as a gift by means of repentance. Repentance is the door of mercy, opened to those who seek it. By this door we enter into the mercy of God, and apart from this entrance we shall not find mercy. (ibid., Homily 46)

Bede the Venerable ca. 673-735

The fact, therefore, that the water of the flood did not save those outside the ark but slew them without doubt prefigured every heretic who, although having the sacrament of baptism, is to be plunged into the lower world not by other waters but by those very waters by which the ark is raised up to the heavens. The number eight itself of the souls which were saved through water signifies that the holy Church receives the washing of baptism through the mystery of the Lord’s resurrection, that just as he rose from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also, cleansed from sins through the water of rebirth, may walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4)…For just as He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, o also He signified that through baptism the way to salvation and the entrance to the heavenly kingdom was open to us. (Commentary on 1 Peter)

1Jn 2:9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.

The Lord admonishes us to love our enemies. Therefore, he who says that he is a Christian and hates his brother is still in sin. And he did well to add, still, because surely all human beings are born in the darkness of vices, they all remain in darkness until they are enlightened by Christ in the grace of baptism. (Commentary on 1 Jn.)

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

When our Master descended from on high He by His own death destroyed the death taht awaited us. The condemnation that was the consequence of our forefather’s trangression he completely annihilated. By His Holy Baptism He regenerates and refashions us, completely set us free from the condemnation, and places us in this world wholly free instead of being oppressed by the tyranny of the enemy. (The Discourses Chap. V, 9)

St. Gregory Palamas ca. 1296-1359

And if the power of the intelligible animal is situated at the centre of the belly, since there the law of sin exercises its rule and gives it sustenance, why should we not place there “the law of the mind which combats” (cf. Rom. 6:23) this power, duly armed with prayer, so that the evil spirit who has been driven away thanks to the “bath of regeneration” (Tit. 3:5) may not return to install himself there with seven other spirits even more evil, so that “the latter state becomes worse than the first” (Lk. 11:26)? (The Triads C.8)

Comments

  1. I needed to read this right now, during a very dark time right before my baptism. I printed this out. Please, Mike, keep up your work, it helps me as I grow and get the strength to become more active.

  2. This is from my partner, Maximus. I will see you at your Baptism on Sat., Robert!

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